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.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

HOME STRETCH! 75% there! New update! New writing masterclass / editing offer!

Hello everyone! As of this morning we are 75% funded -- 3/4 of the way to The Scottish Boy being *snif* a real book that you can hold in your hands and others can buy in actual bookstores! Before we get to this update's new excerpt, a couple things. As you know, the book is already completely written. The reason it's got such a big funding target is it's LONG: 135,000 words is approximately 530 pages, and though those pages go by FAST because the book is an edge-of-the-seat thriller, that adds more to printing, editing, typesetting et cetera than the usual 70-90,000 word novel. 

In order to get us across the line, if you've been thinking of upgrading to the actual hardback edition from the electronic edition, please consider doing so now!

Also, if you are a writer yourself and are working on a comic or novel, I legitimately teach writing masterclasses (for Litreactor and Writers Digest) and if you make a pledge at the GBP500 (short story) level, if you wish instead of a story, you can choose for me to tutor you / edit your comic script or prose fiction script. Not only do I have all my comics writing masterclass handouts and lectures ready to go, I'm a great (if tough and very honest) editor and I know how to get things made. So think about it. If my skills would help you in some way with YOUR projects, I will personally do that to the best of my abilities for a high pledge. Because we are SO DARN CLOSE, and also because I really like working with newer writers and helping them grow / filling them with enthusiasm.

Now, this week's excerpt. Harry is invited to Court at Windsor for the Christmas holidays, and he meets several important characters. We begin in the middle of a royal stag-hunt.

* * *

The King looks over his shoulder and grins when he sees Harry gaining on him. “Sir Harry,” he calls out. “Well ridden!” He motions for Harry to ride next to him. They’re at an easy canter; the dogs having momentarily lost the scent and slowed.

Edward seems so young to him then. The King is only three years older than Harry himself, yet he bears the weight of a fractious kingdom on his shoulders with ease. It's this that makes Harry's breath catch in the King's presence. This effortless grace of true royalty, managing all of England while Harry struggles with a few hundred acres in Devon.

Harry swallows his thoughts as he remembers his manners. “Thank you for inviting me,” he stutters. “This is my first time at Windsor, or at court at all. It's an honor.”

“It won’t be your last,” says the King. “We’ve a celebratory tournament coming up in the New Year in Dunstable. We expect you to be there, and show all the promise in the main competition you used to show as a squire.”

Harry is momentarily speechless. That the King would take notice of him, of his progress in tournaments – it was his teenage dream come true. And a sarcastic part of him whispers, who's left to die for this one.

Then the King’s eyes narrow. “Are you simply exceptionally fond of that color, or do you only have one set of clothes?”

“Er,” Harry says, glancing down and blushing. “It’s a very comfortable tunic.”

The King throws his head back and laughs.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry can see Rabbie riding up on the King’s other side, and he realizes his time with Edward is about to end. “I’m sorry,” Harry whispers.

The King waves off his apology. “No, it’s quite all right. We’d far rather our knights out-ride us than out-dress us.”

Harry’s eyes widen, and before he can stop himself he says, “Is that a dare, Your Majesty?”

That warm grin splits the King’s face again. “Yes,” he says. “Get to the stag first and we’ll give you all the clothes you can carry.” The King spurs his horse into a gallop.

Harry leans forwards and urges Libby on, and they both tear away from Rabbie, who is cantering up behind them, calling out and asking if His Majesty has heard the new joke going ‘round.

When they corner the stag, Harry’s horse is half a head in front of the King’s. Harry reins back at the last moment, allowing Edward to make the kill.

Harry doesn’t think more of it but at None, shortly after dinner, a tailor and three apprentices arrive at Harry’s little pavilion. The apprentices bear bolts of fabric: costly sky-blue linen and fine Bruges wool in several colours; a heavier winter-weight wool for cloaks; soft leather, and furs for trimming. Shiny ribbons and threads for embroidery. The tailor brings two mostly-completed suits of clothes, tunics and pourpoints, an aketon for under his armor, tight woolen hose to replace his looser breeches, and fine, slim linen under-shirts. He makes Harry put on each piece of clothing inside-out, then cuts the seams and re-marks them for better fit. Then he disappears again with the clothes. The bolts of fabric stay, and are apparently a gift. There’s enough there for each person at Dartington Hall to get fabric for a new tunic or cloak and thus, with one offhand action, the King has brought their little Devon estate the best Christmas it has had in Harry’s memory.

Kit pulls out a deep purple heavy wool and is stroking it, staring at the color. It’s a shade that neither he nor Harry have ever seen in a fabric before.

The tailor arrives the next morning with the completed clothes. He's accompanied by a palace servant who explains that Harry is to perform in the game at dinner, and must come immediately to practice. Harry slips into the outfit indicated for him and follows, immediately tangling the long liripipe tail of his hood in his legs. The courtier rolls his eyes and shows Harry how to wrap the ridiculous tail over his shoulders.

Harry fidgets as he walks. Court clothes are tight. And stiff. And short. And the damn hood tail keeps unwrapping itself off his shoulders, as if the garment has it in for Harry. As beautifully made as the clothes are, they make Harry painfully aware of the fact that he’s wearing them, with their subtle but definite restrictions on his movements.

The game turns out to be a tableau of the hunt, with the twelve most eligible bachelors at court portraying beasts of the forest. Each is given a tabard of emerald damask gilded with leaves and vines, to wear over their tunics, and a visor to wear over their heads. The king is Lionel, the lion, of course. Harry is the stag. Rabbie is a boar, and even though it’s probably a reference to his coat of arms it still feels sharply appropriate for his brusque manners and blocky features.

While they wait their turn, their papier-mâché beast heads in their hands, Rabbie offers him double what he paid for Libby. Harry remembers the gashes from the spurs on Rabbie’s palfrey after the hunt and politely declines.

So Rabbie offers him triple.

Harry points out that they aren’t likely to go hunting again this week as the King seems to value variety over habit.

Rabbie grumbles and moves to sit closer to the King.

The performance goes well, and afterwards each of the “beasts” is paired off with one of the eligible ladies at court, for a dance. Harry is chosen by Alys de Morton, who is as elegant as she was the first day, this time in a forest-green over-dress with a saffron under-dress.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers. “I don’t know how to dance.”

“Just follow,” she whispers back. “It’s quite simple, really. And it’s I who must apologize, about dinner the other day. I do enjoy your company and I fear you think that is not so.”

Harry inclines his head. He has been avoiding her; easier to do that than face the inevitable disappointment as she passes him over for someone closer to her rank. “But there are so much better for you to spend your time with,” he says as they spin around the hall in a complicated formation.

“In pocket, yes, but not in spirit,” Alys replies. “And I have enough lands of my own that I need not be impressed by theirs.”

Harry blushes. “Well that’s good, for I have only a tiny corner of Devon.”

“I’ve heard Devon is pretty. Is your corner such?” she asks, her eyes warm and her smile wicked.

"It’s the most beautiful place on earth,” he smiles.

The dance draws to a close and they face each other for the final steps. “I would like to see it one day,” Alys says as she releases his hand and flows into a curtsey.

“I would like that, too, milady,” Harry replies as he bows to her. And he finds he's not simply being polite – he really would like to walk around Dartington with Alys and hear her quick, clever take on things. Annie would love her. Iain would… Iain would hate her. At first.

He stops again at the chapel after supper and prays until late in the night. Again, it’s empty but for a friar or two from the nearby cloisters. It seems everyone at court is too busy this week with matters temporal to bother with the sacred.

For the first time, however, Harry feels he is as he wishes to be. He only thought of Iain once that day, and without the hot curl of lust that usually waylays his mind. He thinks of Alys more often now, but even that is appropriate: courtly admiration, rather than base, sinful desire.

The next morning is Sunday. No games are planned. Instead, the court is expected to go to Mass with the King at noon, but their time is their own before that. Harry rises early to find both Lower and Upper Wards still sleeping off the previous night's amusements. He decides to explore the royal gardens, which are spectral in the late-November morning fog. Burlap shrouds protect the more delicate bushes, and the skeletons of perennials still reach their withered stalks heavenwards. The distant lamentations of peacocks sound like the cries of lost souls.

Harry assumes he’s alone, until he rounds a corner and finds himself not twenty feet away from a white lion. His hand drifts to his sword-hilt, but the beast merely blinks red eyes at him and shakes its mane, then turns to go. Its huge feet are soundless on the frosty ground. The lion fades back into the mist, white on white, and Harry is left wondering whether it had existed at all, or had been some strange vision.

“It’s an albino,” says a voice behind him. “Gift from the doge of Venice.”

Harry turns. Nearby, on a bench under a rose bower, sits the Green Knight, the lord with the trimmed beard and the merry eyes. Alys’s friend. The man sees the confusion on Harry’s face and bows slightly. “Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, at your service.” Then he pats the open space next to him on the bench. “Come. Sit with me.”

Harry introduces himself, though he feels Arundel knows exactly who he is already, and begs to remain standing.

Arundel shoots him a suit yourself look, then asks, “What do you know of French politics, Harry?”

“I know little, and care less,” Harry replies, as he begins to trace connections between Alys’ interrogation of him and the Lord Arundel whose presence in Carlyle had caused Iain to be thrust into Harry’s care by Montagu in the first place.

He still doesn’t know the reason for the game between Montagu and Arundel, nor where he or Iain fit on their chessboard. But to admit that, Harry feels, would be fatal. So he must continue to play, though he doesn’t know the rules, or the goal.

Arundel raises an eyebrow at Harry’s blasé answer. “You should care. There’s going to be war.”

“Now that we’ve solved Scotland?” Harry says.

Arundel snorts. “Please. We’ll never solve Scotland, not as long as the Scots are in it. That moron Balliol can’t even hold a candle without spilling wax; he’s never going to hold the North.” Then Arundel favors him with a cockeyed smirk. “But I hear you’re aware of the tenaciousness of the Scottish, firsthand?”

Harry glances over his shoulder at the position of the sun. Even it is choosing to be unhelpful, hidden behind a screen of featureless grey cloud. "I’m sorry, milord, I must go. I have an appointment.”

Arundel reaches out and seizes Harry’s sleeve, pulling him closer. Those dark eyes now are steely, and his voice drops to a near-whisper. His words turn Harry’s blood to ice: “There is a rumor, Harry. Of an inconvenient boy. Do you know how Edward is going to justify war with France? Get the barons to cross the channel for him, when they wouldn’t for his grandfather?”

“I…” Harry stutters. He has no idea.

Arundel’s lip curls. “His mother, Isabella, is a daughter of Philip the Fair. Which makes our king a direct successor to the house of Capet, who have ruled France since the year dot. In England you can succeed down the female line, Henry II proved that. In France, you can’t. Not yet. But thanks to Isabella’s scheming, there are no other Capet heirs. Edward is it. Or should I say, there are no other known Capet heirs.” He lets go of Harry’s sleeve, and pats his hand instead. “Just rumors.”

They stare at each other for a moment, before Arundel smirks again and says with a shrug, “French politics, Harry. Fascinating stuff.”

“And what’s your angle?” Harry asks.

“I’m your friend, Harry,” Arundel says mildly, his eyes wide in mock affront.

Harry smiles thinly. “There are no friends at court, only advantages,” he replies.

Arundel looks at him with a curious respect, and a little smile plays on his face. “Those are awfully astute words for someone on his maiden visit to court.”

Harry glances down at his feet. “I'm an astute man.”

Arundel makes a face. “No you’re not. You’re a hedgerow knight half a generation off tilling your fields yourself. Don’t lie to me, Harry. You're not good enough at it. Who coached you? Not Montagu; he wouldn’t help his own mother unless there was profit in it.”

“I’m not lying,” says Harry as evenly as he can.

“Dammit, boy, you are,” Arundel hisses, leaning forwards. “Those are the words of someone who’s lost at court and lost badly. That's the only way you learn that lesson. I know because my father was executed by Roger Mortimer. We lost everything, Harry. Everything. That’s how I know there are no friends at court. But what burns me up with curiosity, farm boy, is how you learned this lesson. Or who learned it for you.”

“Sir Simon told me,” Harry replies, as mildly as possible.

“Do not lie to me, Harry,” Arundel growls.

“Don’t try to play me, Richard,” Harry counters, tensing for a fight.

But then Arundel slumps back, the exaggerated poses and tension slipping off him like water. “I’m actually not,” he says simply. “My ward, Lady de Morton, likes you. And I hate to see a good man caught up in something he doesn’t understand.”

Arundel looks up at Harry, expectant.

Harry says nothing. He can’t incriminate himself, or Iain, if he stays silent.

Finally Arundel gets up and pats him on the shoulder as he goes. “When you want a primer on French politics, come see me. Knowledge is power, Harry.”

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