The Scottish Boy

By Alex de Campi

A violent, sexy thriller about a 14th century English knight and his Scottish prisoner, by bestselling writer Alex de Campi and with illustrations by Trungles.

Friday, 2 November 2018

1/3 of the way there! WOW! Thank you. Have another excerpt, and some history

Hey everyone! Wow, the end of our first week and we're already 1/3 of the way there. Thank you. THANK YOU. My anxiety thanks you, too. I've got some really cool updates coming up in the next week or two (a map! more Trungles art! mmmaybe a bookplate design!) but for the moment I thought you'd like another excerpt... plus a note on life in 1333 and a note on my very non-English inspiration for the novel. Meanwhile, if you'd share this fundraiser with your friends, I'd be ever so grateful. 31% there, yay, still 69% (*snerk*) to go.

The below excerpt actually happens BEFORE the excerpt on the main page, and I've always loved it because it feels very true about lifechanging, momentous occasions -- they're supposed to be the thing we remember most, and clearly, but we're all usually so overwhelmed that our brains don't actually grab onto the memories and store them in the way we want. You're supposed to have the main event perfectly in your head afterwards, and instead you have maybe one or two dumb cutaways and that's it. 

From The Scottish Boy, Chapter 1. (1300 words):

Sir Simon de Attwood had been slain on Halidon Hill. His old coat of mail had been no match for a Scottish spear. 

The Scots had been massacred; a good third of their men-at-arms slain by the English longbowmen arrayed by Henry of Beaumont. English casualties were light, and Harry knew he shouldn't resent a drop of English blood against the tide of Scottish crimson spilt, but why Attwood? He hadn't even wanted to fight.

A terrible, crushing sense of culpability settles over Harry's shoulders. It’s his fault. For urging Sir Simon to accept the King's summons, though he was old, and reluctant. For not being there to defend him. For wishing so hard and often to be out from under Sir Simon that God must have seen it as a prayer, and answered it with the terrible blind precision of the Almighty.

Now Harry stands in the muddy marshalling-field outside Berwick, at the entrance to Sir Simon's tent, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. His skin burns under the dust of the road, burns with shame and sorrow. Sir Simon's two servants, after telling him of their master's death, had made themselves scarce. Nothing had been touched, inside. Spare swords, a change of clothes, a patched wool cloak. Sir Simon's little psalter lies open on the travelling chest to Psalm 23, his favourite. It is as if Sir Simon would walk back in at any moment.

But he won't.

He’s gone.

Lady Joan de Lyon is gone, too.

Harry's father, Sir Geoffrey, is gone so long ago his existence seems no more real than Sir Galahad's, a set of ghostly footsteps for good young boys to follow.

And Harry stands alone in the midst of a camp seething in celebration of great victory, while he has only a pageant of ashes to share.

* * *

Harry blinks and shakes his head. What to do now? Pack up Sir Simon's things. Head back to the West Country, to manage his little estate. All this bright glory belongs to other people, never to him.

Harry becomes aware that a voice is calling his name; had perhaps been calling him for a while. He turns, squinting into the sun. Rabbie is standing there, staring at him, as if seeing a ghost. A rough beard darkens his cheeks. 

“It is you!” the big squire booms out, striding forwards to clap Harry on the back. “Harry! You missed out on all the fun.” Rabbie is a little shorter than Harry, with close-cropped dark curly hair, narrow, deep-set brown eyes, and heavy cheekbones. He had always been an angular kid, and as Rabbie had grown up his sharp features hadn't filled out so much as they had hardened.

Harry gives Rabbie a thin smile. He doesn't have much to say. “You made it through okay?” he manages at last.

Rabbie grins. “Made it through? I cut down five of those bastard Scots. C'mon,” he says, slinging his arm across Harry's shoulders, “there's dinner in the hall. I'll tell you all about it.” Harry fidgets, petty and diminished. Rabbie has a way of making him feel like a little boy, though he's only two years younger, 19 to Rabbie's 21.

 Harry tags along silently as Rabbie brags about the battle on Halidon Hill, how the Scots turned tail under English arrows, how English knights cut the fleeing rebels down and sent them to Hell. He swallows down the bile that rises in his throat. This isn't valour. It didn't sound like his daydreams, stabbing retreating knights in the back, even if they were Scottish. He couldn't bring himself to say that to Rabbie who, like him, has a father to avenge. He knows little of Bannockburn; maybe the Scots hadn't fought fair there. Maybe that's why they'd won.

He picks up the thread of Rabbie's story again, something about how the Scottish are more like animals than people with their strange, grunting language, bare feet and long hair, and is about to comment when he realises where they're going.

It's a huge canvas tent, and lords in bright, expensive clothes mill about its entrance. Above it flies the red-and-gold three lions pennant of England. Harry is in his drab travelling clothes, unwashed and dirty from the road, and Rabbie is taking him to eat in the King's hall.

Harry freezes. He is going to see the King. For the first time.

Rabbie looks up at him, concern softening the usually harsh line of his mouth. “C'mon, Harry. You look like you're about to fall over. Come get some food.”

And Harry doesn't want this, doesn't want Rabbie's pity, doesn't want to be the poor country cousin constantly in need of everyone's charity. He would have wrenched away but his stomach chooses that moment to let out a loud gurgle. So he allows himself be towed into the hall and sat down on a bench with Baron Montagu's cheerful, rambunctious crew, all casually loud in the way of people used to being looked at, to being admired.

Harry doesn't see the King. For that he's thankful. He tears into the chicken, and bread and cheese, and the small beer, and mutters polite if terse responses to the condolences he gets from Montagu's crew.

Harry doesn't see the King until there is a hand on his shoulder.

And Harry looks up and it's him, tall and blond and in scarlet and gold, with a gold circlet in his hair. Harry stutters and blushes and mentally tries to work out the mechanics of extracting his large frame from his seat on the bench and bending to one knee.

King Edward smiles at him and pats his shoulder. “No need, Harry.” The other men around the table nod at the King, easy and familiar in his presence. “We wanted to pass on our sympathies for your loss, for both your losses--”

God's teeth, Harry thinks, now even the King pities him-- 

“--and to ask you to come forwards to the front of the hall, with Rabbie.” 

Harry blinks. What?

Then he notices Rabbie is already up front, in the no-man's-land near the King's own table, on one knee. Harry gulps, and nods, stumbling as he rises from the bench.

The King waits for him, like an indulgent older brother, and looks him up and down as he stands. Harry realises he's as tall as the King, maybe even a little taller, so he hunches his big shoulders slightly. The King notices and laughs, a ringing, beautiful sound. He shakes his head as he turns. “You are the West Country personified, aren't you? We've seen haystacks smaller than you. Good thing you have to kneel for what's coming.”

It's only then that Harry understands what the King is doing. Harry's skin prickles with nerves as he takes his place next to Rabbie. He glances over, eyes wide and questioning, but the other boy won't meet his gaze. Rabbie looks forwards, solemn, as the King draws a sword and taps Rabbie three times on the shoulders. “For your valour on Halidon Hill. Rise, Sir Robert Ufford.” And then the sword is touching Harry's shoulders, and Harry's heart is beating so fast he can't breathe, and through the ringing in his ears Harry can barely make out the King saying “Rise, Sir Harry Lyon”, and it's the moment Harry has been looking forwards to since he first picked up a practice sword, the moment he was sure he would remember for the rest of his life but even as it's happening it’s running out between his fingers like water.

And then he's left standing there, next to Rabbie, as the King sheaths his sword and turns back to Queen Philippa. The moment is over. Rabbie claps him on the shoulder again, and Harry is dimly aware that the assembled knights are cheering and thumping their tables as they walk back to their bench.

He's a knight. 

He is a knight.

And he's done nothing to deserve it.


On England in 1333: (this is also in the Drunk History 'zine, which you can pledge for as a reward!)

Let's talk about England in 1333 and how it got there. The first thing to bear in mind is, all the nobility speak French! Yep, really. But not Parisian French. They speak Norman French, which is like actual French but with a weird accent and a shit-ton of Viking loan words.

Most of us know about William the Conqueror, the Norman (eg northwestern French) lord who sailed across to England in 1066 and, well, conquered it. The nobility of England from then on were the Norman-French knights who came across the Channel with him. What most of us don't remember is that less than 200 years before, around 880, a Viking knight named Rollo conquered Northeastern France, became the first Duke of Normandy, and installed all his Viking buddies in positions of power.

So the Norman knights who conquered England in 1066 were only a few generations off being Vikings themselves. But they all spoke their odd French dialect, and so everyone in England who was anyone continued to speak that odd French dialect. The actual peasantry spoke English, at least in England. Wales and Scotland were still independent during these periods and even (mostly) through the timeline of this story. The languages spoken in those countries were their native Celtic variants (Welsh and Scots Gaelic, respectively), though there was some odd Germanic Lowland Scots kicking around the borders. (Are we getting to understand why the English language is a hot mess? Just in this paragraph we're talking about Viking languages, Old French, Germanic/Friesian dialects, and two very disparate Celtic languages on top of the peasant vulgate. I'd like to apologise unreservedly to anyone who ever had to take English as a foreign language, I'm so sorry none of it makes sense, thank you for making the effort.)

Despite, y'know, hating each other, the Welsh and English and Scots and English did intermarry, and nobles are nobles, so (for example) Scottish nobles at the court of Robert the Bruce would have dressed like European nobles and most would have spoken French. It was, after all…

(wait for it)

...the lingua franca of the era.

(Ignore Rabbie Ufford, he's just a xenophobic douchebag, the Scots were well civilised in that era. Also ignore Braveheart. Woad wasn't a thing.) Also, important to note: kilts did not exist at this time. There were no clan tartans, no kilts, not even any great kilt / great cloaks. I know non-Scots or overseas people of Scottish heritage are super into kilts but they didn't even appear as plaid cloaks until the 16th century. And the kilt as we know it today was a product of the industrial revolution because catching your great kilt / full body kilt in a bit of machinery led to Bad Things Happening. So: don't bother me about kilts, kthanxbai.


Briefly on the book's distant inspiration: 

A lot of this story's origins came about because of my low-key obsession with the Japanese epic tales, especially Heike Monogatari and Genji Monogatari. (Read Heike first; there’s a lot of wrongcockery in the beginning of Genji that’s a little hard to get over. Also, Genji is by far the least interesting character in his own story, fight me. Fact fans, Genji Monogatari was written in the 11th century by a woman, and is one of the earliest novels in any language.) Oh, and the Royall Tyler translations are the best English ones.

What fascinates me about these tales is they focus not so much on the winners of historical conflicts, but on the losers. And, more specifically, what happens to their mistresses and bastard children and allies. What do you do when you’re best buds with the Emperor, and then he’s not Emperor any more? Especially if you’re a woman, and your societal role has very strict rules. In honour of this, I’ve named the chapters of The Scottish Boy after Japanese gangster / noir films.

Many of the major noble characters (Montagu, Ufford, Edward, etc) are real people, although their deeds are occasionally fictitious. Most of the history involving battles and the activities of named kings and queens actually happened, and all the tournaments in Part Two really happened when and where I describe them. If you're interested in this period, my favourite two books on it are Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and Edmund Barber's Edward III & the Triumph of England. (I want to love Weir's biography of Isabella, but it manages to be both pedantic and sensationalist in ways that irk me. YMMV.)

Feel free to ask me any questions about the book, its influences, or indeed Western Europe in the 14th century! I live for this stuff.


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