The Disorderly Knights
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Dorothy Dunnett



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First published in Great Britain by Cassell and Company Ltd 1966

Published by Michael Joseph 1997

First published in Penguin Books 1999

Published in this edition 2017

Copyright © Dorothy Dunnett, 1966

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Cover design: Cover images © British Library Board / Bridgeman Images and © Rafael Valls Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

ISBN: 978-0-141-94926-0


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Frequently described as the finest historical fiction writer of her time, Dorothy Dunnett earned worldwide acclaim for her blend of scholarship and imagination. She is best known for her two superb series of historical fiction – The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolò – set in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and ranging across Europe and the Mediterranean, and for King Hereafter, the eleventh-century story of Earl Thorfinn of Orkney whom Dorothy believed was also King Macbeth. In 1992, Dorothy Dunnett was awarded the OBE for her services to literature, and in 2014 Dunnett’s most enduring hero, Francis Crawford of Lymond, was voted Scotland’s favourite literary character – beating the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and Ivanhoe. Dunnett died on 9 November 2001, having sold half a million copies internationally.

Books by Dorothy Dunnett


The Game of Kings

Queens’ Play

The Disorderly Knights

Pawn in Frankincense

The Ringed Castle



Niccolò Rising

The Spring of the Ram

Race of Scorpions

Scales of Gold

The Unicorn Hunt

To Lie With Lions

Caprice and Rondo


King Hereafter

In affectionate memory
of my grandparents, Annie and Martin Halliday,
and of my father, Alexander Halliday,
who was born in Valetta, Malta

The Lymond Chronicles

Foreword by Dorothy Dunnett

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 mostly fictitious. The countries in which he practises 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. He fights for the Knights of St John in Malta and Tripoli, and assumes the role of Ambassador at the Topkapi Palace of Suleiman the Magnificent. He shares, for a while, the half-crazed rule of Ivan the Terrible in Moscow.

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 the 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 then I looked behind him, and saw another man, and another story. Or, perhaps, the same one.


Author’s Note

As with the two previous books in this series, The Disorderly Knights is based on fact. The attacks on Malta, Gozo and Tripoli took place in 1551 broadly as related, including the perfidy of the Grand Master, the trick by which Mdina was saved, the weakness of the Governor of Gozo, and the attempt by the Calabrian recruits to blow up the citadel of Tripoli, together with the part played by the French Ambassador in saving the garrison.

In the last part of the book, the feud between the Scotts and the Kerrs and its climax is authentic also, as was the betrayal of Paris by Cormac O’Connor. The rest is conjecture.


All the following are recorded in history save for the characters distinguished by an asterisk.

Members of the Noble Order of Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta:

JUAN DE HOMEDÈS, Grand Master of the Order, 1536–53


*GRAHAM REID MALETT, (Gabriel) Grand Cross of Grace and Hon. Bailiff of the Order

LEONE STROZZI, Prior of Capua and Commander of the King of France’s Mediterranean fleet

FRANCIS OF LORRAINE, Grand Prior in France of the Order, and brother of the Scottish Queen Dowager

*JEROTT BLYTH, of Scotland and Nantes, Knight of the Order

GALATIAN DE CÉSEL, Knight of the Order and Governor of Gozo

NICHOLAS UPTON, Turcopilier or Officer of the English Tongue within the Order

SERVING BROTHER DES ROCHES, of the Châtelet, Tripoli

MICHEL DE SEURRE, Sieur de Lumigny, Knight of the Order

BAILIFF GEORGE ADORNE, Knight of the Order and Governor of Mdina

MARSHAL GASPARD DE VALLIER, Knight of the Order and Governor of Tripoli

SIR JAMES SANDILANDS OF CALDER, Preceptor-General of the House of Torphichen of the Order in Scotland

Other French, or in the French Service:

ANNE DE MONTMORENCY, Marshal, Grand Master and Constable of France

PIERO STROZZI, Seigneur de Belleville, Count de Languillara, Florentine colonel of infantry under the King of France and brother of Leone Strozzi

GABRIEL DE LUETZ, Baron et Seigneur d’Aramon et de Valabrègues, French Ambassador to Turkey

HENRI CLEUTIN, Seigneur d’Oisel et de Villeparisis, French Ambassador and Lieutenant-General to the King of France in Scotland

NICOLAS DE NICOLAY, Sieur d’Arfeville et de Bel Air, cosmographer to the King of France


CORMAC O’CONNOR, heir to Brian Faly O’Connor, rebel Irish chieftain against England

*OONAGH O’DWYER, his former mistress

GEORGE PARIS, an agent between Ireland and France

Scots, or Closely Connected with the Scots:


*RICHARD CRAWFORD, third Baron Culter, his brother

*SYBILLA, the Dowager Lady Culter, his mother

*MARIOTTA, Richard’s Irish-born wife

*KEVIN CRAWFORD, Master of Culter, Richard’s infant son

SIR WALTER SCOTT OF BUCCLEUCH, Warden of the Middle Marches and Justiciar of Liddesdale

SIR WILLIAM SCOTT OF KINCURD, Younger of Buccleuch, his heir

JANET BEATON, Lady of Buccleuch, his wife

GRIZEL BEATON, Lady (Younger) of Buccleuch, sister to Janet Beaton and wife to Will Scott

ROBERT BEATON OF CREICH, Captain of Falkland, their brother

MARY OF GUISE, Queen Mother of Scotland, and mother of the child Mary, Queen of Scots

SIR WALTER KERR OF CESSFORD; SIR JOHN KERR OF FERNIEHURST - Heads, respectively, of the two main branches of the important Scottish lowlan family of Kerr, at feud with the Scotts

SIR PETER CRANSTON OF CRANSTON, a Border landowner, neighbour of the Kerrs and the Scotts

*JOLETA REID MALETT, sister to Sir Graham Reid Malett

*EVANGELISTA DONATI OF VENICE, Joleta’s governess and duenna

SIR THOMAS ERSKINE, Master of Erskine, Chief Scots Privy Councillor and Special Ambassador

MARGARET ERSKINE, née Fleming, his wife

JENNY, LADY FLEMING, mother to Margaret Erskine, and former mistress to the King of France.

ADAM BLACKLOCK, artist; FERGIE HODDIM OF THE LAIGH, lawyer; RANDOLPH BELL, (Randy) physician; ALEXANDER GUTHRIE, lecturer and humanist; HERCULES TAIT, diplomat and antiquarian; LANCELOT PLUMMER, engineer and architect; ARCHIE ABERNETHY, former Keeper of the French King's menageries; THOMAS WISHART, (Tosh) acrobat -Men and officers of St. Mary's - JOHN THOMPSON, (Jockie, Tamsin) sea rover; HOUGH ISA, a friendly lady open to barter


*KATE SOMERVILLE, mistress of Flaw Valleys

*PHILIPPA, her daughter


Turks, or in Turkish Pay:

DRAGUT RAIS, Anatolian corsair in Turkish service

SALAH RAIS, corsair in Turkish service and joint lieutenant with Dragut

SINAN PASHA OF SMYRNA, General in command of Sultan Suleiman’s expedition

THE AGA MORAT, Lord of Tagiura and ally of the Sultan Suleiman

*SALABLANCA, a Moor from Spain enslaved by the Knights

*GÜZEL, companion to Dragut Rais

*KEDI, a nurse


WILLIAM FLOWER, Chester Herald (England)

ADAM MACCULLO, Bute Herald (Scotland)

ROBBIE FORMAN, Ross Herald (Scotland)

Part One



Mother’s Baking

(Catslack, October 1548)

On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.

News of the English attack came towards the end of the ceremony when, by good fortune, young Scott and his aunt Grizel were by all accounts man and wife. There was no bother over priorities. As the congregation hustled out of the church, led by bridegroom and father, and spurred off on the heels of the messenger, the new-made bride and her sister watched them go.

‘I’m daft,’ said Grizel Beaton to Janet Beaton, straightening her headdress where her bridegroom’s helmet had knocked it cockeyed. ‘And after five years of it with Will’s father, you should think shame to allow your own sister to marry a Scott. I’ve wed his two empty boots.’

‘That you havena,’ said Janet, Lady of Buccleuch, lowering her voice not at all in the presence of two hundred twittering Scott relations as they gazed after their vanishing husbands. ‘They aye remember their boots. It’s their empty nightgowns that get fair monotonous.’

Being a Beaton, Will Scott’s new wife was riled, but by no means overcome. The war between England and Scotland was in its eighth year and there had been no raid for ten days: it had seemed possible to get married in peace. Creich, her home, was too far away. So Grizel Beaton had chosen to marry at Melrose, with the tarred canvas among the roofbeams patching the holes from the last English raid, and the pillars chipped with arquebus shot.

Duly packed like broccoli into lawn, buckram and plush and ropes of misshapen pearls, she had enjoyed the wedding, and even the cautious clash of plate armour underwriting the hymns. Lord Grey of Wilton with an English army was occupying Roxburgh only twelve miles away, and had twice emerged to plunder and burn the district since October began. If the wedding was wanted at Melrose – and Buccleuch, as Hereditary Bailie of the Abbey lands, had fewer objections than usual to any idea not his own – then the congregation had to come armed, that was all. The Scotts and their allies, the twenty polite Frenchmen from Edinburgh, the Italian commander with the lame leg, had left their men at arms outside with their horses, the plumed helmets lashed to the saddlebows; and if there were a few vacant seats where a man from Hawick or Bedrule had ducked too late ten days before, no one mentioned it.

For a while, standing next to her jingling bridegroom, her gaze averted from his carroty hair, Grizel had thought the other absentees had escaped his attention. Then, as alto and counter-tenor rang from pillar to pillar, the red head on one side of her leaned towards the unkempt grey one on the other and hissed, ‘Da! Where are the Crawfords?’

And Buccleuch, the bride saw out of the tail of her eye, sank his head into his shoulders like a bear in its ruff, and said nothing. For by ‘the Crawfords’, Sir William Scott meant not Lord Culter and his wife Mariotta, or even Sybilla, their remarkable mother; but the only man in Scotland Will Scott had ever obeyed without arguing: Francis Crawford of Lymond.

And it was then, as the Bishop bored on through the pages of print which were making these two man and wife, that the Abbey’s chipped door-leaf moved and a man entered, in the blue and silver livery of Crawford, to speak quietly to one of the monks. From bent head to devout head, the word travelled. Lord Grey of England, guided by a Scotsman, renegade chief of the Kerrs, had burned Buccleuch’s town of Selkirk to the ground, despoiled his castle of Newark, and was advancing, destroying and killing along the River Yarrow, through the trim possessions of the Scotts and their friends.

The wedding ended, hurriedly, on a surge of masculine bonhomie and relief. Five minutes later, followed by the red-eyed glares of their womenfolk, Buccleuch and his friends and his new-married son had plunged off to join Lord Culter, head of the Crawfords, and Francis Crawford his brother, to fight the English once more.

* * *

Sentimentally, Will Scott thought, it made his wedding-day perfect. Cantering, easy and big-limbed, through the bracken of Ettrick-side, with leaves stuck, lime-green and scarlet on his wet sleeves, blue eyes narrowed and fair, red-blooded Scott face misted with rain, he was borne on a vast, angry joy.

The lands of Branxholm and Hawick and all Buccleuch possessed in these regions had been a favourite target while King Henry VIII of England and his successor had tried to resurrect their overlordship of Scotland and seize and marry Mary, the child Queen of Scotland, to Henry’s son Edward, now the young English King.

They had failed, despite the great English victory at Pinkie, and timber and thatch had risen in Buccleuch’s lands again, and the thick stone towers – his father’s at Buccleuch and Branxholm, his own at Kincurd, his grandmother’s at Catslack – still survived. After Pinkie, the English army had retired, leaving their garrisons to police the outraged land; and Sir William Scott had left Branxholm to join the roving force then commanded by Crawford of Lymond.

By the following summer, when Francis Crawford disbanded his company, Buccleuch’s heir had turned into a tough and capable leader of men, and the child Queen Mary had been sent for safety to France, at six the affianced bride of the Dauphin.

In return, the King of France had filled Scotland with Gascon men-at-arms, Italian arquebusiers, German Landsknechts, a French general, a French ambassador and an Italian commander in French service, the last of whom was riding now at Will Scott’s left side, his Florentine English further cracked by the jolt of the ride.

‘The little bride shed no tears,’ said Piero Strozzi, Marshal of France, in sombre inquiry. He rode with animal grace; a man of near fifty, just recovered from a hackbut shot outside Haddington which would leave one leg shorter than the other all his life. Beneath the umber skin, the basic shapes of his face were deeply plangent, denying his notoriety as a practical joker: only Leone his brother was worse. But today, riding against the muddling wind, in and out of the rain, his plumes dripping wetly from his bonnet and the black hair before his ears in wet rings, Strozzi’s theme was the bereft bride.

‘She has known you some weeks, it is true?’

‘Grizel? I’ve known her a while, Marshal. Her older sister is my father’s third wife.’

‘There is sympathy between you?’

Will Scott grinned. Grizel Beaton had slapped his face four times, and apart from those four small misjudgements, they had never touched on a topic more personal than which of Buccleuch’s bastards to invite to the wedding. But he liked her fine; and she was good and broad where it would matter to future Buccleuchs, which summed up all his mind so far on the subject.

‘She’s a canty wee bird,’ said Will Scott now to the Marshal. ‘But plain, forbye. Couldna hold a candle, ye ken, to Lord Culter’s wife. You’ve met the Crawfords?’

So, duly turned from discussing the bride, ‘I have met the Crawfords,’ the Marshal Piero Strozzi said. ‘The lord is most worthy and the Dowager mother enchanting. And the youngest brother Francesco is fit for my dearest brother Leone.’

A smile twitched Sir William Scott’s mouth. As Prior of the Noble Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem and commander of the King of France’s fleet off the Barbary coast, Leone Strozzi, however practised with infidels, was not necessarily fit for Crawford of Lymond.

Will Scott said nothing. But he wondered why the Marshal Piero also smiled.

* * *

Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch was happy, too, because he had caught the Kerrs at it again.

All over the middle Borders their land marched with his, and he loved them as he loved the Black Death. It was a Kerr of Ferniehurst whose timely murder had sparked off the holocaust of Flodden thirty-five years ago. Thirty-two years ago, a Kerr of Cessford had been involved in a little foray led by Buccleuch; and the Kerr had got himself killed. After that, despite damnable pilgrimages on both sides and eternal vows of reconciliation, despite Buccleuch himself, like his father before him, having to take a Kerr woman to wife (she was dead), the Scott–Kerr feud had flourished.

That it was discreetly refuelled from time to time by the English was subconsciously known to Sir Wat, but he chose to ignore his son’s hints on the subject. A number of Scottish lairds, professing the reformed faith rather than the Old Religion of the Queen Dowager, were interested in an English alliance, and not averse to traffic over the Border. Others with homes at or near the frontier itself had had to give up the costly luxury of patriotism.

Still others, among whom the Douglases and the Kerrs could sometimes be glimpsed, were not exactly sure which nation would triumph when the smoke cleared away, and were prepared with spacious burrows in all directions. It had been a fairly safe wager for some time that Sir Walter Kerr of Cessford and Sir John Kerr of Ferniehurst, their sons, brothers and diverse relations had been selling information to the English … so safe that, after the late brush with the English at Jedburgh, the Governor of Scotland had been persuaded to place the three leading Kerrs temporarily under restraint.

Unhappily, the hand of Buccleuch was rarely invisible. Suspecting, rightly, that the old man had engineered the whole episode, Andrew Kerr, Cessford’s brother, had ridden straight to the English at Roxburgh, and showering Kerrs upon the welcoming garrison, had induced them to burn and plunder the whole of Buccleuch’s country twice in four days, with a force many times the size any Scott and his son could muster.

And now, ten days later, a third attack had been launched, and to Buccleuch’s ears came the confirmation he longed for. The Kerrs, the weasels, were on horse with the English. Swearing with great spirit from time to time, always a good sign with Sir Walter, he flew through the filmy splendours of autumn, primed to nick Kerr heads like old semmit buttons.

* * *

On the low hills above Yarrow, where the woodcutters of Selkirk had cleared a space among the birch and the low, fret-leafed oak, a group of men were working with sheep, the arched whistles coming thin over the ling, and the dogs running low through the bracken as the ewes jostled past staring glassily, the black Roman noses poking as the owners were hoisted rib-high in the press.

The two men lying prone on the heather were watching not the sheep but the valley below, filled now with a mist of fine rain. Both were bareheaded, blending into the autumn rack of the hillside, where the glitter of helmets and the flash of wedding plumes would have betrayed them. Their eyes were fixed eastwards, on the Selkirk road, where hazily in the distance black smoke hung in the air and there was a rumour of shouting.

Nearer at hand, dulling now in the rain, an aureole bright as a sunset showed where, over the next hill, something was burning. The younger of the two men stirred, and then moved backwards and on to his feet, still well masked from the road; and without doing more, drew the attention of the twenty men on that hillside to where he stood still, his yellow hair tinselled with moisture, his long-lashed blue stare on the vacant road, far below, along which the English would ride.

The noise increased. ‘Here they come,’ said Crawford of Lymond to his brother and smiled, still watching the road. ‘Gaea, goddess of marriage and first-born of Chaos, defend us. The Kerrs and the English are here.’

Richard, third Baron Crawford of Culter, grinned and rose cautiously also. Square, brown-haired and thick with muscle, with skin like barked hide after a summer’s campaigning about his Lanarkshire home, he believed his brother’s present imbecile plan would either kill all of them or brand them as liars for life. It seemed unlikely, unless you knew Lymond, that twenty men could put an English army to rout.

News of trouble at Selkirk had met the Midculter party halfway on their long journey to the wedding at Melrose. Efficiently, the Crawfords had taken action. Their womenfolk were given shelter in the nearest buildings at Talla. A messenger was sent ahead to Melrose to warn Wat Scott of Buccleuch, and another south-east to the old castle of Buccleuch to summon the hundred German soldiers quartered there by the Government. There was no time to send to Branxholm, Buccleuch’s chief castle, where four hundred others stood idle.

By now, the Buccleuch Germans should be waiting in the next valley at Tushielaw. Sir Wat Scott and his new-married son, with perhaps two hundred Scotts, should have left Melrose and be entering the other end of that valley, where Ettrick Water ran between high, wooded hills from burned-out Selkirk to Tushielaw and onwards west. And here, above the valley of Yarrow, Lord Culter and his brother and twenty men from Midculter in their wedding finery with, thank God, half armour beneath, waited to intercept the English army on its plundering march, with two shepherds, twelve arquebuses, some pikes, some marline twine, a leather pail of powder, shot, matches, some makeshift colours, and eight hundred rusted helmets from the Warden’s storehouse at Talla.

The English were slow in coming; not through any unfamiliarity with the route, but because the thatches were taking a long time to burn. They had taken a good few beasts and as much corn as they could carry, firing the rest. Most of the cottages they passed were empty, the owners either hiding up the glens or fled to one of the keeps. Lord Grey had paused to attack one or two of the latter as well, but with less success: the stone walls were thick, and needed the leisure of a good-going siege.

But Newark fell, which gave him great pleasure. They had attacked this castle in vain once before: it was the Queen’s, garrisoned by Buccleuch. This time they used fire and got in, though four of Buccleuch’s men fought to the end and had to be killed, and an old woman got under someone’s sword. The Murrays at Deuchar held out, and no one troubled unduly with them; but Catslack was a Scott stronghold and they burned that, though the man Andrew Kerr who had stopped to rummage at Tinnis came spluttering up with a parcel of relations to complain that the assault party had made away with a Kerr.

‘My dear friend.’ William Grey, thirteenth Baron of Wilton, had been fighting in Scotland for months and disliked the country, the climate and the natives, particularly those disaffected with whom he had to converse. ‘You are mistaken. Every man in this tower wore Scott livery.’

‘It wasna a man,’ said Andrew Kerr broadly. ‘T’was my aunty. I tellt ye. I’m no risking cauld steel in ma wame for a pittance, unless all that’s mine is well lookit after –’

‘An old lady,’ said Lord Grey with forbearance, ‘in curling papers and a palatial absence of teeth?’

‘My aunt Lizzie!’ said Andrew Kerr.

‘She has just,’ said Lord Grey austerely, ‘seriously injured one of my men.’

‘How?’ The old savage looked interested.

‘From an upper window. The castle was burning, and he was climbing a ladder to offer the lady her freedom. She cracked his head with a chamberpot,’ said Lord Grey distastefully, ‘and retired crying that she would have no need of a jurden in Heaven, as the good Lord had no doubt thought of more convenient methods after the seventh day, when He had had a good rest.’

A curious bark, which Lord Grey had come to recognize as laughter, emerged from the Kerr helmet. ‘Aye. That’s Aunt Lizzie. She’ll be deid then, the auld bitch,’ said her nephew. ‘Aweel, what are we waiting for? There’s the rest of Yarrow tae ding.’

And so, jogging onwards with his mixed English and German light horse and the small, spare-boned party of vengeance-bent Kerrs, Lord Grey passed along Yarrow Water in the half-light towards St Mary’s Loch, doing sums in his head connected with time, speed, and a quick return along Ettrick to Roxburgh in the early afternoon. Then his advance scouts came spurring. ‘Horsemen on the hillside, my lord.’

Familiar words. He checked over the possibilities. Traquair was wounded in bed. Thirlstane wouldn’t trouble him. Scott of Buccleuch and most of his relations were at Melrose, and Andrew Kerr had bribed every cottar in miles not to let the news through. There were plenty of steadings, of villages and keeps in the district, but none so crazy as to throw a handful of men against five hundred English, for the Scottish army under the French Commander and the Earl of Arran, the Governor, had withdrawn to Edinburgh.

Unless it had advanced from Edinburgh again. ‘What colours?’ Grey said sharply.

‘Red and white, my lord. They seem in great numbers. Advancing down the Craig Hill from Traquair.’

From Traquair. From Peebles. From Edinburgh. And wearing the Governor’s colours.

And then Lord Grey saw them, with his own eyes, through the veiling rain, glittering between oakscrub and thorn, threading through the wet beeches and the flaming clusters of rowan, pouring down the hillside like cod from a creel; steel helms by the hundred, with swords brandished among them, and pikes sparkling, and small firearms, let off here and there as his enemy paused to take aim.

If Arran had come, he wouldn’t have less than a thousand foot, and at least a company of light horsemen as well. With all the impetus of that hill behind him, he would crush Grey’s smaller force as he liked. Grey’s men were tired; they had nearly finished their work; they had a criminal disadvantage of terrain …

On his left, bruised mud running over the hill, was the Tushielaw Pass to Ettrick Water. Lord Grey called, loud and clear. His trumpeter blew. And the English army, wheeling, started south at a gallop over the hill pass into Ettrick, followed by twenty men and eight hundred sheep in steel helmets.

By the time Lord Culter and his brother plunged down the last of Craig Hill to the road, the force of Lord Grey of Wilton was a thin ribbon coiled on the bare hillside, pricking faintly with steel. Lymond drew rein beside his brother. ‘The wind is dropping.’ It was true. Already, on the low ground, the white mist was thickening. As the twenty screaming men behind him jostled to a halt he added, ‘We could follow and see the fun. If they hear us, they’ll run all the faster.’

Richard, his face scarlet, was hoarse with shouting and laughter. He said, ‘I was going to follow anyway, and I’m damned sure you were. Come on.’

Beside him, ‘Come oan?’ said a voice. ‘Aw, but that’s hardly right, master. That isna fair on the yowes.’

Through the reverberant air, Richard gazed at one of the two shepherds at his knee. ‘On the yowes – ewes?’ he repeated. ‘We’ve done with them. They can go back uphill where they were. And I’ll see your masters don’t lose by it.’

‘It’ll take half the nicht tae put them back, they’re that excited.’

‘I’m sorry. But you won’t regret it, I promise.’

‘Ach, it’s no that,’ said the older of the two shepherds dourly, and a sudden grin cracked the furzy face wide open. ‘But I’m awful anxious to get hame afore nightfall. The sicht o’ eight hunner sheep in steel helmets is fairly going to put my auld dame off the drink.’

Thus, pursued by shadowy hoofbeats, my lord Grey, as he omitted to report that night to his loving friends, E. Somerset and J. Warwick, hurled himself up Megs Hill and down the Kip to meet Ettrick Water at Tushielaw; and to meet also Buccleuch’s hundred Germans, rising fremescent from their ambush in the mist and thinly echoing, with frightening aptitude, the native cries of their fellow-countrymen under Grey.

There was a Teutonic crash of great brevity; then the English company set off east up Ettrick valley, hotly pursued by a small number of Germans on horseback, the Crawfords and a great deal of noise.

At Oakwood, soaked, exhausted, their cold flesh chafed raw by their armour, the English army careered round a hillock to see, looming up through the mirk, the porcupine spears of Wat Scott of Buccleuch. Hung with fur, feathers and jewellery, silver-buttoned and slashed and puckered and decorated over their armour like so many armadillo queens of the May, Will Scott’s wedding party flung itself with evangelical fervour straight at its prey.

With a single accord, and no orders spoken, the army of Lord Grey of Wilton broke ranks and rode belly flat on the moss for the haven of Roxburgh.

Much later, riding in rollicking company back to Melrose, Lord Culter expressed his regrets to Buccleuch on the death of his mother. ‘Catslack was burning before ever we reached it,’ he said soberly. ‘But it was her own choice to stay, it seems. And she did some damage first.’

Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch fumbled for a moment under his chin, and then pushed his heavy headpiece roughly back off his brow. He pointed. ‘Did the same tae me once, the auld besom. I’ve got the scar yet. An auld de’il wi’ a chamberpot. Huh!’ He pulled down his helmet. ‘She’ll be able tae keep Yule in hell wi’ her nephews, and they a’ nicked already like targets wi’ the aim o’ their wives.’

* * *

‘Andrew Kerr was with them,’ Sir Wat counted afterwards, when the gentle festivities of marriage had been resumed at Melrose at dusk on the same day. ‘And the Laird o’ Linton was there, and George Kerr o’ Gateshaw. And I saw Robin Kerr o’ Graden, and of course the hale o’ Cessford’s household and natural bairns and bairns’ bairns and cousins and them that owes him and Ferniehurst a tack all over East Teviotdale. There’s some of them’ll be nursing a guid scratch or two on their hinder-ends this night … Man, it was a rout.’

‘I imagine,’ said Piero Strozzi, his dark face impassive, ‘that my lord Grey’s army would not relish their defeat either.’

‘Oh, aye, the English,’ said Buccleuch absently.

‘We are, after all, at war with them and not with the Kerrs,’ the Marshal said mildly.

To the Frenchmen risking their lives to drive the English from Scotland, such a feud seemed no doubt an ill-timed indulgence. To Buccleuch, any comment from a foreigner was a piece of damnable impertinence, no less. He said, ‘And what pains the Marshal in that? Because we sit here in bows and silk sarks, it doesna mean we couldna jummle the English and the French off our own turf if need be, and mind our own affairs too. Ye didna fare so sweetly yourselves the other week in yon bicker at Haddington, after raxing yourselves in Edinburgh killing poor folk as they walked their ain causeway …’

But halfway through this, Lord Culter had kicked the fiddler on the ankle and the fiddler, a man of sense, struck up a dance tune, while every Scott present rose hastily to his or her feet. Among them Sir William Scott, his arm in his bride’s, leant over his father. ‘You’ve a few quarts in you, Faither?’ he said.

‘No more nor him!’ retorted the head of his house, surprised and irritated, with a wave at the Marshal.

‘Aye, well. He isna going daft in the heid. Take a dance with Janet, Faither,’ said Will Scott kindly, and whirled off with his new lady wife.

Looking round for sympathy, Sir Wat found himself indeed standing eye to eye with his wife. ‘Fegs,’ said the Lady of Buccleuch, fixing him with a calculating eye. ‘If you’re going to fight the English single-handed, you’ll be needing your strength. I’ll dance with Marshal Strozzi, if he’ll have me.’

And as the Marshal, his face marvellously tutored, rose and made her a bow, Janet Beaton of Buccleuch took his hand and led him over to Will Scott and her sister Grizel whose wedding day, if memorable, was not what every girl would expect.

Later, the Florentine made a point of finding Lord Culter and congratulating him on the success of the day.

Richard Crawford, who was by no means a stupid man, smiled slightly and said, ‘I am sure you realize the scheme was not of my devising. The peculiar imagination of the Crawfords is the inheritance of my brother Francis.’

‘I am sorry not to see him tonight,’ said the Marshal politely. Lymond, with the Midculter men, had ridden back to Talla to join his mother and sister-in-law and escort them safely home, leaving Richard to represent the family at the belated festivities. ‘You are both of formidable calibre, my lord; you do not need me to inform you of that. I merely wondered whether, as the younger and therefore freer of you both, he had considered a captaincy abroad? The King of France, I know, would be happy to employ him, and I am sure my brother would press the claims of his crusading Order, were they to meet. Has he ambitions in Scotland, your brother Lymond? Or is he well-disposed towards France, or to the Religion? Or –’ he smiled a little–‘has he commitments quite incompatible with a life sworn to chastity …?’

In the last few months, Richard Crawford of Culter had become very used to such questions. For sheer decency’s sake, he seldom answered them. He rarely felt qualified to answer them, anyway. But here, from one of the great soldiers of Europe, was an inquiry without inquisitive intent.

He said carefully, ‘Francis has led a company of his own, you may know, in this country and abroad. But as to the future … I have no idea of his plans, or his ambitions. He may have none. He has no ties here that I know of, other than what you might expect. As for religion …’ Lord Culter strove for tact. ‘In Scotland, perhaps, we tend to extremes. There is a devotee of the Old Religion among us – you may have met him. Peter Cranston is his name –’

‘– Who is so fanatically religious that he makes all men atheists. I have met him. I have met some of your Lutherans too, mostly in prison. But it seems to me that your Government tolerates both, except where the Reformers threaten alliance with England. And your brother, after all, risked a good deal recently to keep your Queen out of English hands. I should judge him to be perhaps a man of humanist principles …?’

He was offering more leeway than Richard, on his brother’s behalf, was prepared to accept. The Order of St John, which had crept so obliquely into the conversation, was the supreme fighting arm in the known world of the Holy Catholic Religion. ‘I should hesitate to attribute anything to him at the moment, even principles,’ said Lord Culter, smiling. ‘But you are free to try.’

Marshal Strozzi studied his well-groomed hands. ‘There are three men I should like your brother to meet. One is my brother Leone, now in charge of the Mediterranean fleet in action against the Turks. One is the Chevalier de Villegagnon, a soldier and sea captain to equal any in the Order of St John. And the last is also in the Order: a Grand Cross of Grace named Sir Graham Reid Malett, known to a great many people as Gabriel.’

As he spoke the last name he looked up, in time for nothing but Lord Culter’s habitually unexcited grey gaze. ‘I’ve heard the Prior here talk about Gabriel,’ said Richard serenely. ‘He seemed at times to be confusing him with the Pope.’

‘When you meet him, you will realize why,’ said the Marshal simply. ‘He is one of the Order’s great names. You should be proud of him. His forebears were from Scotland, although he has no family now save a sister, a child of thirteen called Joleta, who lives in a convent on Malta. And in her also you would find something rare.’

A swift vision of his brother Francis posing as a man of humanist principles crossed Richard’s mind. His voice wary, ‘A beauty?’ he asked.

The Marshal looked at him. Then, unexpectedly, he laughed. ‘You are applying mundane standards,’ he said. ‘You cannot do that either to Graham Malett or his sister. Your brother will understand when he meets them.’

Richard was silent. He doubted it. If Joleta Reid Malett was as plain and as pure as she sounded, she was out of Brother Francis’s territory, thank God. For Brother Francis’s standards were mundane, all right. And high.

* * *

Not long after that, Sir William Scott took his bride by the hands, and drawing her from the throng said, ‘Well, as you see, I came back. Were ye worried?’

‘Worried? What about?’ said Grizel, and as his mouth opened, added prosaically, ‘Janet said that as a widow woman with no protector, I’d need to wed an Englishman or a Kerr.’

Her husband’s features resumed command of themselves. ‘And which would you choose?’ he inquired.

‘Well now. The English make bonny speeches, but they run to an awful wee man. And the Kerrs … there’s something unchancy about a left-handed race.’

‘I’m right-handed,’ offered Will Scott.


‘And six foot three in my hose.’

‘Uh-huh. I didna say I wanted to run up a beanpole. Nor have I heard hide nor hair of a speech, bonny or otherwise.’

‘I’m saving it,’ he said austerely, ‘till I’ve the theme for it.’

Oh!’ said Grizel Beaton (Younger) of Buccleuch, with a squeal of delight. ‘Will Scott! Are we having our first married set-to?’

They had come to the quiet wing of the house, and the suite where their chamber lay. ‘Aye we are,’ said her husband, a large hand closing round her arm, as he felt for the latch with the other.

‘I enjoyed it. And what next?’ she asked, doucely.

‘We get reconciled,’ said her husband, steering her through the bedroom door smartly and allowing it to close fast behind them. The tapers fluttered and straightened, bright in Grizel Beaton’s wide, critical eyes. ‘Are ye reconciled?’ he inquired.

‘I’ve been reconciled for eighteen hours, Will Scott,’ said his aunt. ‘And if ye don’t win me ower soon, I’ll be past it.’