The Kadin – Bertrice Small

WIPING HIS HANDS on his shirt, James IV, king of Scotland and the Mes, leaned back in his chair and surveyed the scene before him. On his left sat Patrick Leslie, lord of Glenkirk, who at the moment was engaged in conversation with James’s lovely mistress. James’s eyes swept the room. A minstrel sang a sad song of the Borders, and the unusually warm March day made the hall reek of the long, unaired winter. The king noted from beneath hooded eyelids that many eyes were darting back and forth between himself and Patrick Leslie. Good, he thought Let the scheming bastards wonder! Dear God! Why are there so few I can trust? But he already knew the answer to that question. On his right sat the Hepburn of Hailes, newly created earl of Bothwell, who, James saw, had an ardent admirer in the person of a young red-headed girl who was sneaking a look at Bothwell from beneath her lashes. “They say you seek to wed with a Gordon, my lord.” “At court only two days, Mistress Leslie, and already up on the gossip?” the earl replied, looking down at his little admirer. “Choose Lady Mary, my lord. She is bonnie and sweet of temper.” “And Lady Jane?” said Bothwell. “She has cat’s eyes and the Devil’s own temper—so I am told,” she added demurely. Lady Jane Gordon, who was sitting on the other side of the earl, glowered at the child. “Since when does my cousin Jamie allow young brats at his table?” she demanded.

“I am not a brat my lady.” Lady Jane Gordon rose from her seat “I have half a mind to box your impudent ears,” she snapped. The little girl stood, legs apart, facing her beautiful antagonist “‘Stand Fast’ is my family’s motto. Yours is something about ‘cunning,’ isn’t it Lady Jane?” The room became deathly quiet as Lady Jane Gordon, hands raised, advanced on Janet Leslie. But Janet didn’t wait for the regal hands of Lady Jane to smack her. Instead, fists flying, nails raking, Janet flew at her. Caught oʃ guard, Lady Jane Gordon screamed in surprise and tried to protect herself. Laughing, the earl of Bothwell stood up and, prying the child loose, swung her up in his arms. “Put me down,” shrieked Janet beating at his chest with her hands. “Hold, lassie, the battle is over, and you’ve won.

Hush now,” murmured the earl, setting her down. Janet looked up at him with her green eyes. “Give us a smile now, lass.” The corners of the little girl’s mouth curled up, and she said, “You smell of heather and the moors, my lord.” Bothwell grinned delightedly, and the king snapped, “Will someone send that ɻirtatious minx to her bed before she starts a feud between the Leslies and my Gordon cousins?” Patrick Leslie rose and walked over to claim his wayward daughter. Janet’s face darkened. “I’ll not go,” she shouted, “unless Bothwell takes me!” The hall erupted with the loud guʃaws of the men mingled with the embarrassed titters of the women, all of whom knew too well the earl’s reputation with the ladies. “God’s nightgown,” roared James. “How old is that wench of yours, Leslie?” “Ten, sire.” “God help us all when she’s fourteen! Shell turn this court upside down.

Very well, my lady Janet Lord Both-well will escort you to your apartments. Leslie, you come with me.” James faced the hall. “The rest of you, get out and go back to your schemes and intrigues! The feast is over.” The king moved swiftly to his own quarters with Glenkirk following. Settling himself in a chair, he looked up at the Highland chief standing before him. “So, my lord of Glenkirk, it takes a royal summons to get you to court,” said James Stuart. “Aye, Your Majesty.” “Yet you were one of the few Highland chiefs who supported me against my late father. Why is that?” “I felt Your Majesty had the right on his side.

In his day your father was a great king, but he grew old and foolish, and Scotland needed a young man to rule her. So I supported Your Majesty. I have kept from court because my estates need me and, as Your Majesty well knows, I am not a man of intrigue. Intrigue is necessary to survival here in Edinburgh.” “Perhaps not a man of intrigue, Patrick Leslie, but certainly one of great diplomacy. That is why I have summoned you.” The lord of Glenkirk looked puzzled, but James continued. “I am the ɹrst king of the Scots to send ambassadors to represent me in other countries. I want you to serve as my ambassador to the duchy of San Lorenzo.” “Your Majesty will forgive my ignorance,” said Patrick, “but where is San Lorenzo?” James Stuart laughed.

“I didn’t know of it myself until several months ago. It’s a tiny country on the Mediterranean, but it is vital to our merchant trade with Venice and the East Our dear cousin Henry of England has been trying to get a toehold there for several years, but his emissaries are as dour and as pinchpenny as Henry himself. They annoy the duke, who is a man of culture and generosity. He sent a delegation to me this Christmas past I sent them back with many ɹne gifts and the promise that I should send an ambassador come spring.” “But Your Majesty,” protested Patrick, “I am no court gallant! I am a simple Highland chief. I know only of my lands and my people. Surely there is someone more suited than I.” “Nay, my lord. I want you. For all your talk, I know you to be an educated man, a man with a silver tongue, they say.

The duke of San Lorenzo is a man of elegant tastes. Those wily fools my cousin of England has sent to him have angered him to the point of turning to me simply to annoy Henry. Scotland is a poor country, Patrick. With a haven of safety in the Mediterranean where our ships can stop to replenish their water and supplies, we can trade with the Levant, and England will pay dearly for what we can bring back! I have asked nothing of you before, my lord, but I ask this. Do not make me command it I value your friendship and loyalty too much.” “But who will look after my estates and my people?” “We shall send your cousin, Ian. He is honest and loyal. Also, he has angered too many husbands and fathers here at court with his winning ways. We will choose him a good wife and send him to Glenkirk as steward over your estates.” “How long must I stay in San Lorenzo, sire?” “I shall ask you to remain only three years, Patrick.

Then I shall send someone else, and you may return. Take your household and family with you.” James rose and stood by the window. “You have two children?” “Aye, Your Majesty. My son, Adam, who is six, and Janet my daughter.” “Ah,” smiled the king. “The little redheaded wench who bested Lady Jane Gordon tonight What a vixen! Is she bethrothed?” “She is only ten, sire.” “Many a lass has been wed that young. The duke of San Lorenzo has an heir, a boy of fourteen. We should not be displeased if he is taken with your girl.

However, that is not a command. He could turn out to be a snaggle-toothed dolt and I should not like to see one of our Scots lasses wasted on a fool.” “Thank you, Your Majesty,” said Patrick wryly. “You will be ready to leave within the month. Sir Andrew Wood will arrange for your passage and that of your family and servants—and, Patrick, because I wish to do the duke honor, I am creating you earl of Glenkirk.” The interview was at an end. Patrick Leslie bowed low and backed out of the room. His head was whirling. Earl of Glenkirk! Ambassador to the duchy of San Lorenzo! A possible marriage for his daughter with one of the oldest—albeit smallest—royal houses in Europe! He should be elated, yet he wasn’t He felt sad, as if he had lost something very dear to him Cursing his mystical Celtic heritage, he shrugged and hurried oʃ to tell his family the news. 2 SAN LORENZO basked beneath the warm September sun.

Its emerald-green hillsides, tumbling gently to the sea, ɻashed occasional spots of red, yellow, and orange ɻowers. To the south, the vineyards burst with plump purple and gold wine grapes; and in the valley beyond the coastal hills, the ripening grain eagerly awaited the harvest Perched precariously above the Mediterranean in wild and colorful disorder was its capital. The cobbled streets of the town ran up and down past houses of every hue, not one the same. Hence its name, Arcobaleno, meaning “rainbow” in Italian. Overlooking the town sat the palace of Sebastian, duke of San Lorenzo. Slightly below it facing on the sea, was the pink marble villa where his excellency, Patrick Leslie, earl of Glenkirk, ambassador of His Most Catholic Majesty, James of Scotland, had resided for two years. Lady Janet Mary Leslie sat cross-legged upon her bed, brushing her long, red-gold hair. Her green eyes sparkled mischievously at her eight-year-old brother, Adam, who impatiently paced the room. “For heaven’s sakes, Jan, can’t you hurry? You’ve kept Rudi waiting almost an hour now!” She laughed. “You may go on if you wish, Adam, but I’ll bet Rudi won’t go without me.

” “You are a vixen, Janet Leslie, just as father says,” retorted the boy. “And you, Master Saucebox, are allowed to ride with us only because ‘tis more seemly now that I am of marriageable age!” “Hah,” snapped Adam. “Marriageable age, indeed! Father will not allow your bethrothal to Rudi until you are at least fourteen!” “He never said that to me.” “One does not discuss these things with a mere female,” said Adam loftily. “You were eavesdropping! Oh Adam, tell me what father said! I’ll give you one of Fiona’s puppies when they’re born.” “Pick of the litter?” Janet debated. She wanted to give Rudi the best pup, but her curiosity was too great, so she nodded her consent Adam climbed upon the bed next to his sister and said in a conspiratorial voice, “I wasn’t really eavesdropping, Jan. Father forgot I was waiting for him. I overheard him talking to Duke Sebastian last night He said he felt even fourteen was too young, but he’d permit it provided the marriage isn’t celebrated until you are sixteen or seventeen.” “You’re a liar, Adam Leslie!” “I am not! Ask him yourself!” Janet jumped oʃ the bed and, giving a shake of her hips to settle her long skirt ran from the room She was a tall girl for her age, and the recent onset of puberty had matured her slender body.

Her mind raced as she traveled the corridor to her father’s suite. She had hoped next Christmas would bring the announcement of her bethrothal to Rudolfo, heir to the duchy of San Lorenzo, with their marriage to follow within the year. Pushing past a startled servant she burst into her father’s rooms. Patrick Leslie had been lying upon his bed fondling a well-endowed, golden-skinned brunette. He leaped up, smothering an oath. “You have been told not to enter my chambers without knocking, Janet!” “You would not have heard me, my lord father.” She mocked a curtsy. “I want to speak with you on a matter of great importance.” Patrick turned to the girl on the bed. “Get out!” The girl rose slowly, her mouth sulky.

“But don’t go far,” he added. Her mouth turned up in a smile, the girl slipped out “And now, my lady, what is so important that you burst into my rooms unannounced?” “Adam said he overheard you tell Duke Sebastian you would not permit my bethrothal until I was at least fourteen, and then no marriage until I’m sixteen.” “Your brother has large ears and talks too much,” answered Patrick. Then it’s truer?” “Aye, Jan.” “Why, father? Why must you do this to me? Fourteen Is not too young to be wed.” “I will not have you die at fifteen in childbirth, like your mother, or Adam’s!” “God’s foot!” she swore. “I’m nothing like Meg in either face or form, and as for Agnes, she was frail. Leslie women have always been good breeders, and I’m Leslieborn.” The last was said proudly. Patrick winced.

He adored his daughter and always had. Why did time go so quickly? Yesterday she was but a wee lass climbing into his lap to wheedle a story out of him. Now she stood before him, no longer a child, but—dammit!—she was not yet a woman, either. Janet continued. “Look, father.” She pulled her skirt tight across her ɻat belly, revealing a wide span between hip bones. “Grandmother says I’m meant to bear children. So do Brother Dundas and Padre Gian.” “Goddamn your grandmother and those prattling priests to Hell!” he shouted explosively. “I’ll not see you wed at fourteen! What do you know of marriage, and for God’s sake, don’t quote the catechism to me! You think it will be all fetes and hunting parties.

Well let me tell you, my ɹne lady, it won’t be! You’ll be expected to produce an heir posthaste, and then protect the precious succession with a gaggle of brothers and sisters. At the ɹrst sign you are with child, you’ll be cloistered like a nun. As for Rudi, you’ll scarce see him, except for the bed!” “That’s not so!” Janet stamped her foot at him. “Rudi is every bit the gentle knight” “Aye, in the courting. But once the marriage is consummated and you are big with child, he’ll be off with some appealing creature like the one who waits for me now.” “I’ll have him get me with child,” she retorted deɹantly. “Then you’ll have to let us wed!” Patrick Leslie grabbed his willful daughter by her arms and stared down into her face. His ɹngers pressed cruelly into her soft ɻesh. His voice was dangerously low. “I’ll not be defied, mistress.

If you should dare to try to force my hand, I’ll ship you back to Scotland to a convent; and, bairn or no, you’ll remain there until you rot! Do you really think Rudi would wait? He’d marry some Medici or some princess from Toulouse.” Releasing her, he took the heart-shaped face in his strong hand and looked down at his stubborn daughter. “Och, Jan. I’ve had you such a short time. Would you leave me so soon?” “But, father, I am a woman.” “By scarce two months,” he observed wryly. “Oh, you are impossible,” she shouted. Patrick burst into laughter. “All right, you witch. I’ll compromise with you, but only providing my physician says you are strong and ɹt If he agrees, the betrothal will be announced next Christmas as Duke Sebastian desires.

” Janet’s face lit up. “But” he continued, “the wedding will not take place until your fifteenth birthday.” Janet picked up her skirts and danced about the room. Thank you, father! Thank you! I must go tell Grandmother Mary and Adam.” Whirling by him, she planted a kiss on his cheek and danced out of the room “You may go in now,” she told the waiting brunette.

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