Book 2 of the Mary, Queen of Scots trilogy
Available in paperback.
Mistress Sinclair is made nurse to Queen Mary's new baby son; but how will her wild daughter Leezie cope with the courts and streets of Edinburgh - and how will Edinburgh cope with Leezie?
Years that changed the face of Scotland.
It was dark in under the turf roof, and the mess was incredible. Ma's pot of oatmeal and onions for the black puddings, the box of precious salt and the big basin of pig’s blood were all spilled over the earth floor and trampled in. Someone - dad, of course - had been sick. The jar of honey was smashed and running into the blood - after all the stings I'd had getting it! - and the hay we'd stored in the butt end of the house was scattered and trampled. The plaids were a mucky, sticky huddle by the heather bedpile. Feuch!
Well, let dad right it all. I was done with here.
I went over to lift ma's plaid, hoping it wasn't too dirty - what on earth...?
Under the plaids, half-burrowed into the heather, lay my dad. Drunk? Blind drunk. Dead drunk. Not even a twitch as I tugged him out of his cocoon to flop bonelessly onto the earth floor, snoring through his greasy whiskers.
I looked at him, and considered. My knife was to hand. Nobody knew he was there. I could stab him; throw burning peats from the fire onto the heather and roast him; twist his plaid round his face to smother him. Nobody would know. Here was my chance.
But I was going to a new life in Edinburgh. No, I'd leave dad. I spat on him, picked up ma's wrap and turned away.
In the doorway the Queen’s Messenger moved forward, and looked down at dad. "Your step-father? Well, Leezie? Are you no goin' to use that sharp wee cuttie?" Resenting his interference, I shook my head, and went to pass him. "That's a good lass. I'm glad you've the sense. It's a hard enough life, without addin' murder to it."
My mind suddenly went red again. He'd not lived in pain and fear and hatred of dad, listening in horror and guilt to ma whimpering and crying, to the thud of blows I couldn't stop. He'd never lain under the rafters clutching a knife, praying for the strength and courage to strike down if the ladder creaked under a man's weight. How dare he tell me I was a good wee lassie, as if I was a bairn?
I wanted to hit him. But he was going to take ma and me away to safety, to serve the queen. I couldn't.
With the hot rage on me, I had to do something, or my head would burst.
I went back out and gave ma her plaid. Then I crossed the yard to where the pig guts I'd dropped lay trodden and muddy in the dust. I picked them up, all greasy, and went back in, the men crowding curious behind me. They whistled as they saw dad. Lifting his head, I carefully draped the squelchy guts round his neck. I rubbed them stinking into his hair and nose and beard. I poked the dripping ends in his ears and snoring, snorting mouth.
Round me, the moss-troopers were choking with laughter, reeling about and holding each other up as they imagined his waking. I led them back out to the light like a queen myself with her train, and smiled sweetly again at Geordie Dalgleish, who was laughing till he took three tries to mount his horse.
"Dod, Leezie!" he spluttered at last through the guffaws. "That's the best joke I've seen this ten year! What an afternoon! Wait till I tell the Earl! He'll be sorry to lose ye, he will that! A lassie wi' spirit like yours should go far, Leezie, far! I wish ye good fortune, lass! A' the luck in the world!"
"Maybe it's Embra town ye should wish luck to, Geordie!" a voice howled from the back, and he guffawed again.
"But what'll ye do there, lass? There's few pigs' guts in Embra!"
"I'll find somethin', Maister Dalgleish," I assured him. I felt grand - till I turned and saw ma. She was already mounted before Master Matheson, warm in his cloak and cradled sideways in his arms to favour the broken bone, but sniffing miserably. I ran over to her, while the rest climbed on their wiry ponies. "What's wrong, ma? Is yer arm that sore? Is there anythin' I can do?"
They looked down at me, and together shook their heads. "No, lassie, no," ma murmured. "It's just - ach, it's nothin'."
Master Matheson settled her more comfortably. "Cheer up, Mistress Hepburn," he said. "It'll be different in Edinburgh. More civilised. There'll be a big change, you'll see." She nodded and gave him a watery smile.
Change in what? In me? Why? There was nothing wrong with me!