Francis Crawford/Christian Stewart, written for aurilly in Yuletide 2013. PG-13.

She had been trying, with some success, to allow Francis laughter.

Diverges from canon part-way through The Game of Kings: Francis and Christian, happy and whole.

All Scots transcriptions from The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature. I'm exceedingly grateful to beta bethia_cathrain, ambushed in the pub for emergency Scots and English both!

 


Twa Turtledoves, and a Cockerel in Clover
Jay Tryfanstone
December 2013

 

 

The Old Queen had sent the solitary diamond of her soul, the red-headed, impetuous, riddle-quoting Young Queen, to France in the very teeth of a Scottish winter. Battered and valiant, the three galleons that had borne her kingdom’s hope away from the gale-tossed Scottish seas out-sailed the sentinel English galleys and rounded, not the guarded Irish straits, but the wrack-tossed shattered rock of the northern shore. From that perilous passage, beating free into the wind from France, they had brought Mary the Young Queen, the Queen of Scots, Marie la reine d’Ecosse, safe to her lodging in Henry II’s politic hands.

With the French galleons triumphantly departed and the Scottish fleet reduced to a gaggle of herring boats and a ceremonial barge of moth-eaten accoutrements, the Queen Dowager’s Herald had waited for spring, and with him waited Christian Stewart, red-headed herself and chafing too against the constraints of wind and weather. Not for her the drills and spars and border skirmishes out of which the Queen’s Herald forged military steel from his new-appointed honour guard. Betwixt parlour and still-room and her mother-in-law’s windblown herb garden, Christian Stewart paced and packed, bottled liniments and hemmed petticoats, amassed a wardrobe startling in its immensity and attempted, fruitlessly, to stop her adopted family raiding their jewelry casks and equipping her with enough enameled chains, fobs and assorted clanking hardware to sink the unfortunate ship on which she would finally embark.

Christian, being blind, would never see the full glory of the Culter family jewels, but the effect, she was assured, was sufficiently splendid to belie the Scottish crown’s barren coffers. Half of diplomacy was pique and show, a negotiation of players, and Christian, no stranger to the Dowager’s court, understood better than most the importance of her part. To posture, to smile, to riddle with Queens and dance with kings, to carry the fate of her nation – all exasperating, beloved six years of her - safe in her own hands, she would do far more than bear the weight of Sybilla’s repurposed sapphires around her neck.

On this shining morning, though, dressed for disembarkment on foreign shores, she wore not sapphires but emeralds, her own, fat and smooth to her fingers. The deck was sun-warmed and unaccustomed still beneath her feet, her bags were packed, her maid and her groom already ashore. Remained Christian alone, her face turned to the salt scent of the breeze. Sound, her own world, gave her the slap and whine of tarred rope against the mast, the shouts of Dieppe dockers and Leith sailors, the clatter of armour and hooves and the sharp command of a French cavalry officer, raucous seagulls and the creak of the dockside crane, the windblown snapping silk of embroidered pennants and the rich rustle of her own skirts. Then, the jangle of spurred boots.

Those footsteps she knew, a delicately precise warning laid on the wooden planks of the deck when he could be as silent as a hunting cat when he chose, the Queen Dowager’s Herald, Francis Crawford. Her husband.

“Might I join you?” Francis asked, the pitch of his voice light against the breeze. He smelled of spice and breakfast wine. “We shall perch on the rails like twa turtledoves en counterpointe.”

“You mix your languages,” said Christian, obligingly shifting a little sideways. The ship rolled with her, a sidling wallow that suggested the turn of the tide.

“Rather the dove than the crow, my lady bricht,” Francis said.

The rail tightened, his weight added to hers. “Sweet-tongued and violet-breasted? Heaven forfend,” said Christian. “Are they eviscerating that horse, or is it merely dying?”

“In misery cleppit,” said Francis. “We have unloaded our baggage, and are proceeding to livestock.” By the direction of his voice, he was watching the docks. “Our escort is here, bountifully equipped, a little hasty. King Henri has sent Condé.”

They knew each other, Francis and the Prince. It was a double-edged sign of favour, a royal welcome. “We too are, I understand, flying all our pennants,” said Christian.

Clad for display, she was wearing Sybilla’s second-best gown of Lyons velvet, recut and lavishly embellished, under the emeralds, a gift not of poverty but bolstering support. Francis, with five years spent youthful and rebellious at the University of Paris, had burned through Henri’s court and knew it from stateroom to salon, boudoir to brothel. The Queen Dowager had extracted promises of safe passage for her favourite, but King Henri had not forgotten.

“My probity might be problematical, mine heart, but yours is unimpeached,” Francis said. He hesitated, Francis, who never stumbled. “It is not too late. To risk you is...almost-”

Gif my hairt be your hairtis serviture... I married you, did I not?” said Christian.

“A choice of eminent respectability,” Francis agreed. “Ane blist band... A! fredome is a noble thing!” he recited, wry and wicked ‘Alas, that folk that evir wes fre - I seem to remember quoting you that first poem.”

He had, his hands on hers, partner and not liege-lord in the curtained closeness of their marriage bed. ‘Glad is my hairt with yow, sweit hairt, to rest...’

Privately, she had sworn never to put a bridle on her marriage, but it was Christian who had discovered the cage she had dreaded instead a portcullis raised. At court and without, in Culter, in her lands and in his, she was her own woman, made so by her own enterprise and Francis’ trenchant belief in her ability to negotiate, blind, a world she would never see. She had never doubted his respect: love, she had not expected, but had, to her astonishment, both received and given. In measure full.

“You did,” said Christian. “And matrimony is...not a decision I have yet to regret. Should I leave you unarmoured? Besides. I was told there are elephants in the King’s menagerie, and perfumiers in his attics.” She was smiling, her head bent to the sound of Francis’ voice.

“God grant I never give you cause so to do,” said Francis, and then added, his voice edging towards a familiar rhythm, “The stew, the mud, the cockerel I be – but not unamoured-”

She elbowed him in the ribs, and her Majesty’s own most puissant and noble herald, Francis Crawford of Lymond and Culter, snortled. Christian had been trying, with some success, to allow Francis laughter.

In front of her this new world with its courts and kings, its masques and menageries and its bemusements and beguilements. And at her side, always, lethally witty, felicitous as a stiletto in silk, Francis. Beloved.

The shouts of the sailors on the docks had ceased, leaving the gentle slap of waves against planking and the faint whistle of the wind in the shrouds, the occasional stamp of a horse’s hoof on cobbles and the muted jingle of ceremonial harness. Their escort was waiting.

“Shall we?” she asked.

Francis’ elbow was, as she expected, waiting for her hand. Under her touch, the sleeve of his jacket was heavy velvet, the stitching a rich embossment of metal thread. His shirts were voile, his doublets of silk and damask, his cloaks good Midculter wool trimmed with sable. He was lustrous in array, her husband, a feast day cornucopia of textural delight. Today, though, he was not garbed for her pleasure alone, nor she for his. The court awaited.

Head high, Christian stepped away from the rail, towards the quarterdeck.

Francis’ hand covered hers. “Then let us adventure here together,” he said, his head bent to hers. Then, closer, warmer, he said to her, “Dear heart. Mine own dear...my wife.”

 

 

 

Notes:

‘Twa turtledoves’ is a reference to the ballad Twa Corbies, itself the Scottish version of the English The Three Ravens, first recorded in 1610.

A! fredome is a noble thing!’ comes from John Barbour’s The Bruce, c. 1370.

Giff I be lustie in myne array’ is from William Dunbar’s how sould I Governe me? c. 1500.

Gif my hairt be your hairtis serviture’ is from the anonymous Haif hairt in hairt, one of the few early Scottish poems thought to have been written by a woman. Dating to c.1550, it’s probably a little late for this story, but still, fitting.