Authors: Dorothy Dunnett
“Dunnett is a name to conjure with. Her work exemplifies the best the genre can offer. It combines the accuracy of exhaustive historical research with a gripping story to give the reader a visceral as well as cerebral understanding of an epoch.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“Dorothy Dunnett is a storyteller who could teach Scheherazade a thing or two about suspense, pace and invention.”
—The New York Times
“Dunnett evokes the sixteenth century with an amazing richness of allusion and scholarship, while keeping a firm control on an intricately twisting narrative. She has another more unusual quality … an ability to check her imagination with irony, to mix high romance with wit.”
“A very stylish blend of high romance and high camp. Her hero, the enigmatic Lymond, [is] Byron crossed with Lawrence of Arabia.… He moves in an aura of intrigue, hidden menace and sheer physical daring.”
—Times Literary Supplement
“First-rate … suspenseful.… Her hero, in his rococo fashion, is as polished and perceptive as Lord Peter Wimsey and as resourceful as James Bond.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A masterpiece of historical fiction, a pyrotechnic blend of passionate scholarship and high-speed storytelling soaked with the scents and colors and sounds and combustible emotions of 16th-century feudal Scotland.”
—Washington Post Book World
“With shrewd psychological insight and a rare gift of narrative and descriptive power, Dorothy Dunnett reveals the color, wit, lushness … and turbulent intensity of one of Europe’s greatest eras.”
—Raleigh News and Observer
“Splendidly colored scenes … always exciting, dangerous, fascinating.”
“Detailed research, baroque imagination, staggering dramatic twists, multilingual literary allusion and scenes that can be very funny.”
“Ingenious and exceptional … its effect brilliant, its pace swift and colorful and its multi-linear plot spirited and absorbing.”
Dorothy Dunnett was born in Dunfermline, Scotland. She is the author of the Francis Crawford of Lymond novels; the House of Niccolò novels; seven mysteries;
, an epic novel about Macbeth; and the text of
The Scottish Highlands
, a book of photographs by David Paterson, on which she collaborated with her husband, Sir Alastair Dunnett. In 1992, Queen Elizabeth appointed her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Lady Dunnett died in 2001.
THE LYMOND CHRONICLES
The Game of Kings
The Disorderly Knights
Pawn in Frankincense
The Ringed Castle
Dolly and the Singing Bird (Rum Affair)
Dolly and the Cookie Bird (Ibiza Surprise)
Dolly and the Doctor Bird (Operation Nassau)
Dolly and the Starry Bird (Roman Nights)
Dolly and the Nanny Bird (Split Code)
Dolly and the Bird of Paradise (Tropical Issue)
THE HOUSE OF NICCOLÒ
The Spring of the Ram
Race of Scorpions
Scales of Gold
The Unicorn Hunt
To Lie with Lions
The Scottish Highlands
(in collaboration with Alastair Dunnett)
Copyright © 1975 by Dorothy Dunnett
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Cassell & Company, Ltd., London, and in the United States by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, in 1975.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Checkmate / Dorothy Dunnett.
Sequel to The ringed castle.
Random House Web address:
In the end, as in the beginning
who was the inspiration of the
legend of Francis Crawford
and whose love of Scotland
in word and deed
has done more for her
than Lymond ever could
When, a generation ago, I sat down before an old Olivetti typewriter, ran through a sheet of paper, and typed a title,
The Game of Kings
, I had no notion of changing the course of my life. I wished to explore, within several books, the nature and experiences of a classical hero: a gifted leader whose star-crossed career, disturbing, hilarious, dangerous, I could follow in finest detail for ten years. And I wished to set him in the age of the Renaissance.
Francis Crawford of Lymond in reality did not exist, and his family, his enemies and his lovers are merely fictitious. The countries in which he practices his arts, and for whom he fights, are, however, real enough. In pursuit of a personal quest, he finds his way—or is driven—across the known world, from the palaces of the Tudor kings and queens of England to the brilliant court of Henry II and Catherine de Medici in France.
His home, however, is Scotland, where Mary Queen of Scots is a vulnerable child in a country ruled by her mother. It becomes apparent in the course of the story that Lymond, the most articulate and charismatic of men, is vulnerable too, not least because of his feeling for Scotland, and for his estranged family.
The Game of Kings
was my first novel. As Lymond developed in wisdom, so did I. We introduced one another to the world of sixteenth-century Europe, and while he cannot change history, the wars and events which embroil him are real. After the last book of the six had been published, it was hard to accept that nothing more about Francis Crawford could be written, without disturbing the shape and theme of his story. But there was, as it happened, something that could be done: a little manicuring to repair the defects of the original edition as it was rushed out on both sides of the Atlantic. And so here is Lymond returned, in a freshened text which presents him as I first envisaged him, to a different world.
In 1961 the initial manuscript in the Lymond Chronicles,
The Game of Kings
, was first launched in the United States of America. It had the great good fortune to be received and handled by a lady whose name is still known and respected throughout the publishing world, the late Lois Dwight Cole.
To Lois, for her unfailing support and interest throughout the series, my thanks will always be due.
I should also like to pay tribute to the Librarian and staff of The London Library, who have aided me so courteously over the years to assemble fact as well as fantasy.
The verse quoted at the head of each chapter is taken from the prophecies of Michel Nostradamus.
Liepard laisse au ciel extend son oeil
Un aigle autour du soleil voyt s’esbatre
Quand ceux du pole arctiq unis ensemble
Et Orient grand effrayeur et crainte
What the celebration at the castle had been, Austin Grey never discovered. He rode in to his tryst at the
and found the inn ankle-deep in drunk burghers, thronging the common room and spilling out into the courtyard where inoffensive travellers like himself were attempting to sup their bread and mutton and chicory salad in the airless July dusk of Douai.
He avoided using his title. Money, and a steady, effective insistence, procured a room for him. There he removed the dust of his two days’ journey through French-speaking Flanders from Calais.
He had meant to dine indoors, but the heat and the smells forced him down to the yard where he cut food as best he could, between the elbows of a wheezing book-pedlar and a talkative merchant from Antwerp, playfully intent on the bodice-strings of the serving-maids. A group of students somewhere under the gallery were hymning cuckoldry
(co co co co dae)
with an artistry worthy of a Magnificat; and a pair of fishmongers, locked in liquescent brotherhood, reeled up and sent his cup rolling. A black-eyed Piedmontese slid past, limping, with a dubbed duckwing cock churring under his elbow.
There was no sign so far of the man he had come to Flanders to rescue. Austin Grey sat, seemingly quite at his ease, expertly deflecting the attention aroused by his uncommon good looks and reviewed, without pleasure, the mission he owed to his uncle, of the English fortress at Guînes, beside Calais.
‘If Francis Crawford wishes to leave Western Europe,’ irritably had said Lord Grey of Wilton, ‘then it is England’s duty to help him. Do you want him to lead the French armies into battle against us? Do you want him to go home to Scotland and encourage his countrymen to cross the Border and march into England? If he intends to go back to Russia, I for one will be happy to send him. You have his message. There is no doubt that it is authentic. Go to Douai and fetch him. You won’t be in any danger. He’s already thirty miles on the wrong side of the French frontier if he’s got there. He’ll be skulking, not you.’
And seeing the sleek, grey-bearded head turning to other business already—‘You have considered,’ had said Austin Grey gently, ‘that this may be a French trap?’
And his uncle, an irascible but by no means unjust man, had laid down his pen. ‘This I can tell you. If anyone else here were able to recognize Crawford of Lymond or be recognized by him, I should send him in your place. But I really cannot see any man laying an ambush for you at Douai, with Pembroke and the whole English army to one side of him and King Philip at Valenciennes on the other.
‘We are invading France, Austin; and this man, if he stayed in France, could be a danger to us. It is enough to know that the French will not lightly release him, and that he has turned to us for help.
‘You dislike him,’ had said Lord Grey, folding his hands and raising the combed grey beard at his nephew. ‘You cannot possibly dislike him as much as I have reason to do. But you will go to Douai. You will tell no one your mission; and you will take the most excellent care that no one discovers that Crawford has crossed into Flanders. For much as I esteem our lady Queen’s husband, I should prefer King Philip of Spain to win this war and those after it with the distinguished commanders he has, and without the services of your much-sought-after gentleman at Douai.’
But the man best known briefly as Lymond had not come to Douai, and now the torches were lit and full night had fallen. Also, as the tavern trestles were cleared and pushed together to form a square-walled platform, the presence of the duckwing was abruptly accounted for.
The fatherless only son of a despot and the last of a long line of soldiers, Austin Grey, Marquis of Allendale, had been compelled as a boy to witness altogether too many cockfights. He rose, intent on leaving the courtyard, and halted.
In front of him, blocking his way, stood the Italian he had already observed in the Piedmontese bonnet. In either hand this time the man held a linen bag within which something live struggled and grumbled. He smiled, displaying a swollen, broken-toothed mouth and reaching across, hooked both bags into place on the wall behind Austin’s shoulders and stood back, arms akimbo, regarding him. ‘You wish to lay a wager, monsieur?’
He was a travelling cock-master, and there would be others with him. Austin said, also in French, ‘Later. Just now I wish to hear the singers.’
‘Les Amis de Rabelais? We had them last year. They perform at the castle. Four students from Montpellier, monsieur.’
He knew that already, having been struck half-way through his meal by the quality of the singing, close as a toothcomb. All Calais spoke of them. The cocker said, ‘But being English, monsieur, the words maybe escape you?’
His French was good but not good enough, apparently, to pass him off as native. They were singing
Je fille quant Dieu
with the Swiss counter-tenor, silk in the weave, in the girl’s part. Austin said, ‘Thank you. I know both meanings of
,’ and made smiling to pass.
The cocker stood aside. ‘Saucy, yes? And the Battle of Marignon? Ah!’ And raising a mellifluous tenor he warbled:
‘Soyez hardis, en joye mis
La fleur de lys
Fleur de hault pris
Y est en personne
Suivez Francoys …
He broke off, grinning, to a chorus of drunken hissing and catcalls.
. Austin Grey stared at the Italian cocker and the cocker, grinning, addressed him in perfect English. ‘Go and hear the singers, Lord Allendale. That is where you will find him.’
He went and heard the singers: four young men in breech hose and buff jerkins led by solid Hunno, the bass: Andreas, the lank, pale-headed Saxon tenor, Oswald of Basle, baritone, brown, energetic and cheerful; and auburn-haired Hilary from the eastern cantons whose ragged moustache and bleeding cheek told of the violent and continuing battle to defend his virility. From behind the moustache emerged the delicious head-voice of a eunuch, while the three others chanted, with the force and precision of wire-weavers:
La plus belle de la ville, c’est moy
La plus belle de la ville, c’est moy
Non est, non est, je vous jure ma foy
Non est, non est, je vous jure ma foy …
Then someone shouted a pleasantry and the next moment Hilary had leaped straight into the thick of the crowd, followed protesting by his three colleagues striving to restrain him. Deafened and buffeted, Austin was standing, searching in vain for his quarry, when Francis Crawford made himself known, as a quick, amused voice in the mêlée. ‘Faith has a fair name, but falsheid faris bettir. In your room, after the cockfight.’
But when Grey twisted round, there was no one behind him that he recognized.
He would have gone to his room then and there, but the Piedmontese cocker waylaid him. ‘You heard him? Till then, you’re to stay in the courtyard.’
‘Who are you?’ said Austin Grey.
He had wound a filthy scarf round the torn mouth, but you could tell the dark face was grinning. ‘A friend. Did you not see who he was?’
‘He spoke from behind. No,’ said Austin.
‘The counter-tenor. There he is, at the cock platform. Go and watch. But do not speak to him,’ said the cocker; and grinning, made off through the crowd.
Austin gazed at his back. Then he forced his way with extreme firmness to the mat-covered platform of trestles.
Les Amis de Rabelais were there, vociferously proclaiming their bets from the opposite side of the platform. And there, visibly battered, his fists full of livres and sols and deniers, was Hilary of the tousled red hair, bouncing with glee like a clown on a clock spring.
It couldn’t be. This half-fledged, ebullient Graindor could never be the man who controlled armies in Russia; whose skill in war was so celebrated that Lord Grey was prepared to take any risk to help him leave France; and even to keep him out of the hands of his allies.
And yet … Take away the moustache, and the hair, and you had a man nearer thirty than twenty; whose eyes had seen more than the frets of a lute and the inside of a medical college, and who had learned lessons other than his praxis and chirugia and theoria.
It was Francis Crawford of Lymond. He drummed his fists on the ledge, and talked and quarrelled and shrieked with his friends, casting no single glance in Austin’s direction. But Austin, all through the fight, watched him silently.
It was not, he thought, acting. Most men of war delighted in cock fighting. Socrates had drawn from it an example of valour; the sons of the Emperor Severus had been brought to watch it daily before being sent to reduce England. And Themistocles had braced his army to vanquish the Persians with the same analogy:
Behold: these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children; but only because the one will not give way to the other
. In Christian lands, to give one’s cocks strength, one fed them filched bread from the altar-table.
Austin continued to watch. The docked birds dashed to each other and remained beak to beak, each shaved serpent neck straining upwards. Then came the familiar, blustering rattle as of a masterless sail in a whirlwind. Beating, gnawing and striking the cocks sprang from the mat, wrung together, and the red-haired student screeched and shot his arms over his head, half concussing a dyer and knocking a barber’s hat over his face like a chafing dish.
Then the birds dropped, in a fury of warm, gouting blood and black feathers, and Austin saw that the birchen grey, a big eight-pound fowl, had a spur sunk up to the hilt in its enemy’s neck, and the fight was already over.
He would have gone then to his room, but the crowd behind held him
stapled fast to his place. They took the dead bird out for the pot, and the owner, his beaming face red in the torchlight, lifted the victor tenderly in his thick hands and with his tongue began searching its injuries.
Soon, stinking with curative urine, it would take a pat of sweet rosemary butter and be put to stove in the straw of its sweating basket. It had been fortunate. He had seen a fight between two wounded cocks last a couple of hours, even though the spurs were cut smooth and sharp with a penknife. As the ancients had said: in their raging pride, indifferent to pain and injury, they would fight to the end of their powers.
Looking through the eyes of the man opposite you could, he supposed, see a barbaric magnificence in it. You could admire the quick, graceful movements of the bird they now put on the mat, with its tight glossy plumage and muscular thighs; brilliant yellow on shoulder and saddle. Or the sprightly strut of its black and red adversary, the polled head darting and glinting; the spurs growing low and wicked and curved on the white and sinewy legs.
They liked to fight, it was said. It was their instinct. They would seek battle regardless of the presence of man, and would pine if denied it. And here, in the darting bodies, the sparring, the dodging, the high, rustling flirts when with beak, foot and spur, bird grappled with bird, there was strength and fire and a most unflinching valour for men to admire and emulate.
Half an hour went by of the struggle. By the end of it the golden fowl, slashed and impaled, was sorely beaten, but continued steadily to attack its superb and untouched antagonist.
Then it weakened. In silence among the screaming spectators Austin Grey watched the tired legs beginning to tremble; the beak to open; the tongue to palpitate. One barred yellow wing trailed on the mat and when, in the flurries, it sought to grip with its beak, the rich red wings of its foe beat it down, and the other’s strong spurs struck again and again, at its head, its throat or its neck, or the place in its back where, sinking through, the sharpened point would spear through its vitals.
Austin had laid no wagers. But when, in one such bustle, the golden cock struck to the head and against all expectation, the bigger bird disengaged and dropped aside, staggering, he was glad; as if he and not the duckwing had been suffering. Then he saw what the chance blow had done. The black-breasted red had lost the use of its eyes.
Silence fell. The yellow bird, its abdomen slit, was almost vanquished. It moved as if drunk, toppling first on its breast and then on its ragged docked tail and you could see sweat, like citrines, on the torn feathers. It lay, red eyes glaring its challenge.
And the red, strong still, trod forward groping in darkness and found and gripped the fallen bird with its beak. Then, beating down its cut wings, it attacked and went on attacking its enemy’s body.
It should have been the end. The yellow bird twitched and raised its stained head. It lifted itself, shivering. It stood, and might have fallen.
Instead, in a single magic explosion of courage and anger, it hurled forward the naked head and caught the blinded red foe by the throat. Then springing high in the air, the yellow cock brought down its spurs in a stroke no living bird could have fended.
The black-breasted red toppled and lay, in the jumping, glistening stream of its blood. And the yellow stepped on its back, and moved its one wing, and throwing back its gored head, crowed in triumph.
Courage, of a noble and humbling order. Courage of the brute, subject to neither reason nor discipline. Courage which could inspire emulation or greed, or brutality. What were they celebrating now, these bellowing figures about him, but a win against odds, and the making or losing of money?
Opposite him, the red-haired student had won his wager. The others had thrown him in the air and he descended upside down, in a rain of silver, attempting through hiccoughing laughter to semaphore to himself a serving of Auxerrois.
It was easy now to get away from the mat. Austin Grey turned, his face unsmiling, and ran up the gallery stairs to his chamber.