Winter Wonder – a Story for the Dark Days

Mary strained her eyes trying to see in the gloom. Her cloak slipped from her shoulder and she had to release Lennox’s arm in order to catch it. He waited while she knotted the ties at her throat.

“I think Red Will has caught one of the thugs Rintoul uses to guard his door,” Lennox said.

Mary heard the excitement and satisfaction this caused her husband, but she quailed. Memories crowded in now and she knew a man had taken hold of her person and lifted her bodily from the flags. His strength had been too great for her and despite thrashing her feet and screaming, she’d been subdued. She let a hand stray behind her head to where a small lump gave testimony to the vicious nature of the encounter. What if this was one of the men who had knocked her out and carried her to the waste ground where she was found unconscious beneath Duff? She bent and lifted a large stone. Curling her fingers around the makeshift weapon steadied her nerves.

“I have issue I want to take with him, if it is,” she murmured, and felt her husband’s breath hot in her ear.

“No, my love, leave this to Red Will, and to me.”

Mary bridled, but kept behind Lennox as he crept forward. Red Will grunted some words that caused him to pause and study the door of Rintoul’s house. Donal came out of the shadows and trussed the prisoner. They gagged him, too, and settled back among the detritus on the street to wait. Mary supposed that was what the thug had been persuaded to reveal – Rintoul or a visitor was about to leave.

Just as the cold seeping through her boots and up the muscles of her legs caused Mary to think she might never walk again, the door scraped inwards. Illuminated by a wall sconce, Lady Grizel stood trembling in the entrance. Behind her a thin and angular male leant against the entry.

Lennox moved swiftly forward and would have laid hands on his mama to pull her out of his firing line, but she spoke.

“Lennox! Unhand me, sir. I have here the family jewels and a paltry set of rubies and garnets your wife prizes.” Mary heard the imperious tones which were much at odds with the circumstances Lady Grizel must find herself in. “Mister Rintoul has been kind enough to guard them for me. When a dastardly plot became known to me, I turned to him in your absence.”

“Really, mama?” Lennox said. “And when we return to Queen Street, will we find the jewels in this leather pouch – or a set of paste replicas?”

It was impossible to make out Lady Grizel’s expression, but Mary watched the shadows dance macabrely and knew she must be shaking.

“Come, Calder, you would hardly call your own mother a liar, would you?” the man in the doorway spoke with such sneering insolence, Mary knew Lennox was right. The jewels his mama held were fakes.

“Would I not, Rintoul? Then let me send that title to you.”

“It is an insult, sir. My man will call on you in the morning.”

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

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Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

and she slid to the floor.

When Mary roused , Lennox had propelled himself onto his knees and was crawling towards her. The servants were racing back from wherever they’d hidden, and she heard Lennox’s shout and Agnes’s strident, almost accusatory tones, chiding the master.

“Agnes, where are ye, woman?”

“Here, sir. Did my lady tak fricht ower the mention o the Grassmarket?

“Of course she did. Can you lift her if Malcolm helps?” Lennox asked. Mary heard the frustration in his voice. No doubt he wanted to be able to lift her himself, but he was weak from the blood he’d lost. She stirred and let out a tiny moan to alert them to the fact she was awake.

“Lady Calder,” Agnes said. “Let me help, ma’am. Here Malcolm slide your arm below my lady’s shoulders.” Working together they managed to raise Mary onto the chair she’d left so precipitously. She watched through lowered lids as Malcolm turned to the Master and helped him onto another chair.

“We make a fine sight, do we not?” Mary asked her lord, although she thought he might be in no mood for levity. “Why does the Grassmarket upset me, Lennox, when the shadow in my memory lurks in woods?”

“We think they took you there,” he said abruptly. “To the stand of trees along by the Boroughloch. It is to my shame that I did not put the incident into its proper perspective. Wilson and Mama are connected by their love of the table.”

Mary wiped her brow with the cloth Agnes handed her. Her dress began to feel tight once more and she breathed slowly.

“My ruby and garnet set is missing,” she said bleakly.

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

“He’s hurt. Agnes, tell me. How badly?” Mary pleaded, but the maid was obdurate. She  set her bulk between Mary and the stairs, and it was only when Alfie barrelled through the front door into the downstairs hall that she was distracted by the commotion.

Mary took instant advantage and slid onto the staircase. She needed to hold the curving rail because, despite the huge bowl of porridge, she was weak from lack of food. it must be a long time since I ate well, she thought. One by one the stairs led her down into the hall where her eldest, Alfie, stood against Malcolm’s rigid figure in shock.

Mary crossed to him and laid a trembling hand on his head before turning to Lennox and Lady Grizel. When her mama-in-law stood up, she turned to Mary with huge accusing eyes.

“I asked you to stay upstairs, Mary,” she said in urgent tones. “This is not a sight for one so recently recovered from serious illness.”

Mary nodded in the automatic way she knew she used when dealing with her mama-in-law and side-stepped around her.

Lennox lay stretched on the turkey rug. His head was to one side and a huge gash ran down his cheek. Duff limped into the hall and Alfie roused. Mary watched him bounding to the dog and throwing his arms around its neck.

“Mama, he’s hurt. Duff is hurt.” Alfie shook his head in an effort to stay the tears she saw were threatening. Then his eyes widened and he let out a squeal, “Papa!

It caused everyone in the hall to turn as one towards Lennox.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

…and the story continues

Lennox set Mary down on the tiles in their vestibule, but she knew his attention was all on the deerhound which hadn’t followed them back as ordered.

“He’s caught a scent,” she said, but it sounded fearful and didn’t sit well with her wish to instil a little light into their dark days. “Probably a rat has stayed out too long after the sun rose.”

“It’ll be a rat, I’m sure,” Lennox said. His teeth ground and gave his face a fearsome expression that made even Mary quail. “Please, my love, go into the parlour and eat. I will return as soon as may be.”

“But, Lennox…” she began before realising she was talking to an empty hall. She stretched a hand out to correct her balance and then moved slowly into the breakfast parlour.

 

Mary heard noon strike on the hall clock and fidgeted with the book lying open on her lap. She’d remembered something else and was anxious to share it with him. The dank smell of the morning that had so unsettled her, made sense when she saw the shadow moving in the trees. There had been a shadow before. Only, it hadn’t remained a shadow, she thought.

She stood and crossed her drawing room to gaze out over the north of the city. The Forth lay sparkling in winter sunshine. The thriving city went about its daily business. Carts and carriages, beggars and Dukes thronged the streets.

One o’clock, two struck. But, Lennox and Duff did not return. It was looming dark at around three when she heard the confusion downstairs. Rousing from a doze in her chair, Mary crossed the room and when Agnes came pelting in from the landing, stopped.

“Agnes, your frighten me,” she said.

“It’s the maister. ma’am,” Agnes wheezed out the words. “Lady Grizel says ye mon wait here.”

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

“Oh Lennox, until these last few moments, I don’t think I knew I was ill and in need of getting better,” Mary said. She flinched as her husband’s expression clouded with pain and his bright eyes remained dark. What had caused this huge disruption in their lives? Whatever it was, she decided, enough was enough. She could see her family had suffered, too, and she must make some effort to shake it off.

“Then that is good,” Lennox said, interrupting her thoughts. “The doctors asked us to keep you as quiet and untroubled as we could.” He shifted his weight and she watched the long ripple of muscle beneath his shirt. He was carrying her carriage cloak and within seconds had it draped around her, lifting her with ease to slide the thick wool beneath her thighs. The movement, the feeling of being in someone else’s power, caused a shiver along her nerves.

“Thank you, but you, sir, will be ill shortly. What devil possessed you to come out of the house wearing no coat?” Mary was surprised by the pleased glint of amusement on Lennox’s face.

“Now that last dose of tincture has worn off, your tongue is as to the point as ever.”

Mary dropped her gaze and studied her hands. Why, she wondered, was there a ring of red marks on the back of her right? Had someone bitten her?

Visitor’s Post Winter Wonder – a story for the Darker Days

Displacement Cover MEDIUM WEBANNE STORMONT provides today’s extract of Winter Wonder, continuing the Scottish Regency story set in Edinburgh. When I invited a few folk to carry the story on, I was a little nervous, but I think you’ll agree, Anne’s continuation is flawless.

Winter Wonder, continues

Was it the smell of her own fear? Was that it? Mary could smell it now. That and the smell of rotting leaves. Panic arose within her. She had to get out. Out of the confines of the house. Away from the stares of her mother-in-law and the servants.

She pushed back her chair and ignoring the startled look on Lady Grizel’s face, she excused herself.  

A little while later, Mary was seated on a bench in the Gardens. She tried to ignore Agnes hovering around her. She breathed in a much more pleasant scent than the one that had driven her from the house. It was the cold, fresh air. She closed her eyes and tipped her face toward the weak December sun.

And then she felt it again. Lennox’s hand on her shoulder. His lips brushed the side of her face and he whispered, “It will get better, my love.”

DISPLACEMENT is a novel, by Anne Stormont.

From the Scottish Hebrides to the Middle-East, Displacement is a soul-searching journey from grief to reclamation of self, and a love-story where romance and realism meet head-on.

Anne blogs at putitinwrting, here: http://putitinwriting.me

 

 

Winter Wonder – A Story for the Darker Days Scottish Regency

Mary laid her hand on the cloth beside her plate and waited while the dizziness in her head settled. She thought there might have been a great deal of dizziness over the last days while autumn melted into this December gloom. Still dark at ten of the clock.

“I am a little dizzy, ma’am,” she said and was more troubled by the countess’s silence than she would have been by one of her sharp set-downs. Mary lifted the hand and smoothed her curling hair off her cheeks. Agnes had tutted and fussed, but eventually allowed it would do for a domestic day.

“I think I feel the weight of Lennox’s Deerhound against my side when I waken. Why should that be?”

For a few moments she thought Lady Grizel would continue silent, but she relented at last.

“Because you may be remembering his weight against your side. He kept guard over you after…”

“After what? Do not stop there, please. I think I am walking into a dream this morning. You and Agnes, and even Malcolm are so strange. What has happened and where are the children? I do not hear any rumpus from the top floor.”

“Mama did not mean to scare you, my love,” Lennox said from behind her. “But the physicians want you to remember by yourself.”

“Lennox. remember what?”

“We need to find out, my dear. In the meantime, will you not eat some porridge. You are sorely starved, I think.”

Winter Wonder – A Story for the Darker Days

“Very well, Malcolm,” Mary conceded reluctantly. The man was lying, she felt sure. “Is the Dowager Countess abroad?”

“No, ma’am…” Malcolm was interrupted by the clatter of Lady Calder’s walking stick as she made her slow and painful way from the door to take a place at the table. Mary frowned in concern. Her mama-in-law’s health did not improve. While she grieved over the lady’s loss of mobility, Mary was aware the pain affected her temper woefully.

“Indeed I am, Mary, although you caught me by surprise, I’ve risen to join you. Enough, Malcolm. Her ladyship and I will serve ourselves.” Grizel spoke from the doorway and she sounded, Mary thought, as testy as ever.

“Good morning, ma’am. Do you know where Lennox has taken himself? He goes out so early these cold mornings.”

“Does he?”  Lady Grizel sank onto a chair. “Your complexion has suffered badly from the weeks indoors, Mary. We must take advice before you go abroad and meet respectable folk.”

The words stung Mary’s conscience. Respectable folk, her mama-in-law said. Didn’t she always meet respectable folk? Waves of mist ebbed and flowed in her brain. How long had she been indoors and why? What event had kept her indoors? Why didn’t she remember?

And where was Lennox?