Authors: T. K. Roxborogh
ALSO BY T.K. ROXBOROGH
Fat Like Me
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 T.K. Roxborogh
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
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Cover design by Lisa Horton
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no! it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
—Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare
O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou may’st revenge. O slave!
Act III, Sc 3,
by William Shakespeare]
Just as William Shakespeare used real history as the basis for the characters in his play, this novel draws on his created history contained within ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’. I have done what
often did: take a real story and people from history and asked, ‘I wonder what would happen if
. . .
?’ Though many of these characters did exist and some of the events contained within this story did happen, this is a work of fiction and should, therefore, not be read as an accurate historical account of events at the time. I have tried as much as possible to draw upon the vocabulary that was in use during the Elizabethan era rather than 11th-century Scotland, as I imagined myself sitting at Shakespeare’s desk penning this sequel. I have endeavoured to source the origins of words, beliefs, practices and anything else of the time I am writing about because I do want things to be authentic. However, Shakespeare played around with history, as many other authors have, so I make no apology for twisting the facts to fit my narrative. One of my rules in the writing of this series is this:
if it existed before 1614 then it is allowed to be used in my writing.
This is fiction but I have spent endless hours in books devoted to medieval medicine, Scotland, Norway, Normandy, costume, weaponry, crops, food . . . you name it, I’ve probably researched it! So, if there is a historical error, consider it author’s licence. Don’t tell me flagstones didn’t exist in 11th-century housing – I KNOW! But Shakespeare and I don’t care. We just want to tell a story and give you a sense of place and pain and pleasure.
England, July 1053
leance held his breath. The stag had sensed him, perhaps, because it lifted its head, drops of water falling from its
. The young man knew, however, that he could not be seen. His dark hair and clothes blended well into the dark browns and greens of the forest, making him almost invisible.
Carefully he lifted the crossbow and aimed for the place above the stag’s eye. A bolt there would mean the animal would die immediately and therefore not suffer. It would also mean a better price for its pelt. This stag would be an excellent trophy. The animal was large and its hide, carefully prepared, would fetch a good price at the market. Fleance readied himself. In a moment the stag would be his.
Behind him, a twig snapped.
The stag spun on its heels and bolted into the dense wood. Fleance also spun, his crossbow at the ready, his bright eyes searching for the source of the sound within the forest’s shadows.
Another sound; footfalls definitely and the sound of heavy breathing. Whoever it was, was headed his way. He steadied the weapon, waiting for the first sign of movement.
‘Pox,’ Fleance cursed, lowering the bow to his feet. ‘Damned child.’ But his heart was still thrashing. What if she’d not shown herself soon enough? He might have . . .
‘Flea?’ Keavy called again. ‘Where are you hiding?’
Fleance rubbed his forehead, took a deep breath and answered, ‘I’m not hiding, bairn. I’m hunting.’
Keavy clambered over a log, puffing, her thick, black braid swinging wildly. Despite his frustration, Fleance couldn’t help smiling as she tried straightening her long skirts into order. ‘Da will whip you.’
‘If I’d brought home our dinner and the skin, Magness’d be writing a song ’bout it before supper,’ Fleance said. He picked up his crossbow, annoyed that he had, yet again, lost a precious prize and a means to contribute food and coins for the family.
‘Ma says you must come home and fetch the wood. We’re having visitors.’
Fleance looked at his adoptive sister. Visitors? This was out of the ordinary. Magness and Miri usually avoided contact with outsiders. ‘Who?’
Wee Keavy flashed him her cheeky grin. ‘The new family Ma met in the village last month. You know, the ones who travel between here and Scotland. Rosie and her folks. They’ve been north and are planning to stop in here on their way home – I heard Ma talking with Da about it.’
Fleance’s stomach leapt.
He had first laid eyes on her over three weeks ago and had been working hard to distract himself from the strange, empty feeling which sat just under his ribs each time he remembered that meeting. Well, some good would come out of today after all. He’d take a visit from Rosie over a fair price for a pelt any time, even if it did mean a diet of mushrooms and goat’s cheese.
‘You like Rosie, doncha?’ Keavy asked, grinning. ‘Ma says she can tell.’
This child was too quick. To distract Keavy from his embarrassment, he changed the subject slightly. ‘Their visit will mean a night of arguments.’
‘Aye. Ma has already started at him.’ Keavy stopped, put her hands on her hips and mimicked her mother. ‘
I’m telling you, Magness man. ’Tis time to go back tae Scotland.
’ She sighed. ‘It’s going to be a long night.’
Fleance nodded. ‘Well, you just keep us all entertained with your music, lass, and that might take their minds off of things.’
‘Ma says nothing will keep your mind from Rosie.’
‘Why you . . . ?’
But the wee monkey was already skipping away back towards their encampment. Fleance felt his face warm further and his heart race.
. If only . . . He shook his head. He mustn’t think such thoughts. Still, Fleance followed Keavy, his steps quick like his heartbeat.
Fleance’s adoptive parents, Magness and Miri, were travellers and camped in different parts of the countryside in England’s north as the mood took them.
The camp where they had set up a number of weeks earlier was one they visited regularly. It was close to a small village but still offered privacy – something Fleance knew Magness valued highly. Tightly organised within a small clearing, the covered wagon and two tents pressed in against one another. In the centre of the small campsite, a large fire pit sat smouldering. It needed feeding immediately and Fleance felt a twang of guilt that he had not set about making the pile of firewood he’d promised Miri earlier in the day.
He shrugged off his cloak and draped it over a tree. Then, he picked up the axe and began chopping the two logs Magness had stacked against the wagon. It wasn’t long before a fresh pile of split wood had raised itself behind Fleance, who was thinking once more of Rosie as he worked.
It had been less than a month ago – one of the rare times he’d travelled with Miri into the village to trade some of the pelts
d. On the way, they had stopped at a public house for some ale. Once he’d finished tending to Willow, he’d joined his adoptive mother inside the small, dark building – it was refreshingly cool after the warmth of the summer day.
Fleance had found Miri at a table with two women – one about Miri’s age; the other, much younger. All three turned towards him as he approached.
‘Ah, there you go, lad. Come and meet Rebecca and her daughter, Rosie. They’ve not long moved to this part of England,’ Miri had said. ‘Rebecca’s husband, Dougal, is a cooper and is looking to make a living in this part of the world.’
He had sat down on a stool. ‘This is Flea,’ Miri added.
‘Flea,’ Rosie had said, bowing her head slightly, her voice low and husky. Fleance noticed her long dark hair was tied into a thick braid that hung nearly to the middle of her back. Stray curls were escaping around her face and her green eyes seemed to hold a secret mischief. Then she smiled and he could not drag his eyes away from her mouth – it was perfect: full, red lips; small, straight teeth. And her skin was as clear and flawless as a young babe’s. It was all he could do to refrain from reaching out his hand to touch her face to see if she were real.
‘Cat got your tongue?’ Miri had laughed. ‘Where are your
Fleance shook himself. ‘Sorry, Miri. Greetings . . . Rosie. And to you, Rebecca.’
Rebecca twittered. ‘How did you get your lad to speak so well then, Miri?’
‘Ah, truth is, he’s not my lad,’ Miri sighed. ‘Spoke like that when we found him ten years ago. He were a bit older than Keavy is now and a right proper boy he was. Magness says he’s got royal blood in ’im.’
‘Weel,’ said Rebecca, ‘whatever it is, ’tis a nice wee bit of something. But your name, lad. Seems a strange one to christen a babe.’
Fleance felt his face redden but Miri came to his rescue.
‘It suits him well: he’s quick and strong and can disappear into the woods like a flea on a dog’s back.’
He looked at the girl for her reaction and was relieved to see her smiling warmly at him.
The women had chattered on but Fleance ignored them. The publican brought over his drink but, the whole time he had sat there, he barely touched it. Instead, he kept stealing glances at the beautiful creature who sat across from him.
‘Are you planning on roasting a town?’
Fleance swung the axe into the block and turned to face
. ‘I got lost in my thoughts.’
Magness grinned and began piling the firewood onto the crook of his arm. ‘Ah, boy, she’s lovely but nae woman is worth losing y
nd over.’ He turned and walked towards the fire pit.
Fleance wiped his sleeve over his sweating face. ‘I’ll tell Miri you said that.’
Magness chuckled. ‘You do that, boy, and me an’ you will spend the nights with the wolves.’
Shaking his head, Fleance also stacked the firewood into the crook of his arm, a lightness in his heart reminding him of how grateful he was for Magness and Miri: a pair of displaced Scots who had found him as a young boy, alone and afraid in the southern parts of Scotland; a couple who had taken him in and treated him as their own.
They were good folk, but Magness kept away from the crowds; he was distrustful of outsiders. Something had happened to them both, he was sure, but they had never told anyone. There was a hardness in Magness’s manner when sparring and training which made Fleance wary.
Miri appeared. ‘
you’re doing what you promised. Bless my heart, boy. Being in love has turned you into a milkmaid.’ Miri kicked Fleance’s foot. ‘Ah, Flea, she’s worth it, ‘n’ all.’
‘Miri. Leave the boy alone.’
Miri turned to her husband. ‘And why would I be doing that? Look how much work I had to do to get you to notice me, you silly lump of soil.’
Fleance smiled. ‘’Tis all right now, Miri. I just lost sight of time.’ He brushed flecks of wood from his shirt. ‘Is there anything else you need me to do now?’
‘Go wash your face, bairn. ’Tis smeared with the Lord knows not what. Can’t have the young lass seeing you this way.’ And she pushed him towards the barrel of water.
Even though the water was cold, Fleance’s face burned thinking of Rosie.
The pig had been cooking some three hours before Rosie’s family entered the clearing. ‘Magness!’ cried Rosie’s stout father. ‘Get them drinks ready. It’s been a long day.’
‘Only long, Dougal, my man, ’cos you haven’t passed an ale house.’
‘Not so. The horse is unwilling, the women are grumpy; and I’ve had neither a good night’s sleep nor a meal in three days.’
Magness laughed. ‘Aye, that’s good reason enough to break open the barrel.’
Within moments, it seemed to Fleance, there was laughter and happy talk and, among it, stood Rosie.
After the meal, Fleance deliberately sat next to her beside the fire. He was entranced with the smell of lavender and soap which sweetly lingered around her hair and body. Lavender – it was the only thing that could help him sleep. Miri had discovered his difficulty many years before and now, every night, if the season allowed, his pillow was stuffed full of lavender to help allay the twitching he suffered.
Rosie smelt like his comfort. There was no way she could know or understand such things but it was enough for him to move towards her. Occasionally, he had met girls who smelt acrid and foul. Others were not so bad, but none as delightful as she.
He studied her every movement and word, delighting in her gentle teasing and her energy.
‘Why does Da think that the nobility are foolish?’ Rosie asked when there was a lull in the talk.
‘Shush, Rosie. You’ll just encourage him,’ Rebecca scolded.
Rosie did not give up. ‘Da? Is it because you can’t abide the tax you have to pay on the barrels?’
‘You don’t understand.’ Dougal positioned himself comfortably against a tree. ‘I can barely make a profit what with the money I have to pay for the oak and iron and then give to the Master.’ He lifted his tankard to his mouth and drank. ‘I’ve a mind to add
y business and begin making the stuff meself,’ he said, waving the cup in the air. ‘That way I double my profits but still only pay the same rate on tax.’
Rosie pointed at her father’s stomach. ‘I think much of your profit would end up there,’ she said, grinning.
Dougal patted his belly. ‘Aye, a great storehouse – no better place for good ale.’ He drank again and then turned to Magness. ‘What do you think?’ The two men began discussing the various rates of tax on the people they both came across.
Beside Fleance, Rosie sighed. ‘So boring,’ she whispered. She stood up and went over to their wagon. He watched her go and delighted in seeing the jumping light from the fire highlight the lovely curves of her hips and swelling of her breasts. Inwardly, he shook himself. It was not honourable to think about her in that way all the time.
When she came back, she was carrying a clay pot and sat down beside her mother. Fleance watched as she gently unwound the grey bandages from her mother’s hands. He had heard Miri telling Magness of the stiffness and twisting that Rebecca suffered in her hands and how Rosie was called upon to do all the harder tasks for both women. Rosie scooped up some ointment and began to carefully massage it into the knotted fingers and joints of her mother’s hands.