Illicit union sanctuary, p.1

Illicit Union_Sanctuary, page 1

 

Illicit Union_Sanctuary
 



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Illicit Union_Sanctuary


  ILLICIT UNION:

  Sanctuary

  By

  Rhonda Hughes

  Cover design by Naoma Stiltner

  Utilizing the portrait by

  Frans Pourbus the Younger

  To Naoma

  Who brainstormed with me

  Copyright pending

  Prologue

  1612, Whitehall Palace

  Listening to sleet splattering the diamond panes of glass, Lady Margaret Chilliam replayed her father’s lecture on the eve of her departure for the Court of St James. Had it been over two years since then?

  Baron Worton had drawn himself up and fixed her with grave eyes – those changeable eyes assuming an ominous beige lacking the more uplifting greens and yellows. Eyes much like her own. He growled, “Never forget, missy, royalty lives by its own rules. They murder and call it an execution. Thievery is but requisitioning. The hopes and dreams of others count for naught if they conflict with the royal design – whether the obstacle be a swineherd or a great family.”

  The Baron paused to peer down his long nose at Margaret expectantly, yet another trait they held in common. Both the nose and its haughty usage. She hastily nodded agreement.

  His brows knit together as he warned, “Royalty are not bound by loyalty not even to their own family. They will use you with gracious appreciation then never look back. And oh oh, Missy, should you raise their ire against you, past deeds count for naught.”

  His wagging finger joined the discourse, “Even worse, their households are filled with snares and traitors. Back stabbing is a fine art much admired. Those fancy courtiers and bejeweled ladies cultivate genteel viciousness and the servants are mere instruments of their masters, who are official employers. Some, high and low, undertake lofty missions of international importance. Others pursue incredibly petty goals.”

  Trying to look suitably solemn, Margaret replied, “Yes, father.”

  His face softened, he continued, “Ah, my sweet Meg, I dread sending you forth into the midst of deceit, ambition, and cruelty. I cannot bear, however, to break your heart.”

  His fingers swept through his lank brown locks wherein gray steadfastly invaded. Her father heaved a sigh, “If I refuse this royal appointment to the Princess’ household, I fear you will hate me as did your sister Alfreda when I sent her off to Scotland.”

  At this point the Baron became heated, “Although the Scottish marriage worked out quite well for your sister, she nonetheless retains the idea I do not love her as I should. Naturally your brother William echoes Alfreda’s opinion.” His broad hands grasped either side of her face, “I could not bear for you to feel the same, my sweet child. So go, but go cautiously.”

  “I will take care, father. I swear I will.” Assured Margaret relishing the tenderness of his caress.

  From there he had went on with specific instructions on topics ranging from finances, manners, private means of communication with her family, and lastly security. This all culminated when he handed over a stout lock, “When you have people about you, no matter how much you trust them, keep the lock on your trunk. Understand?”

  Margaret had eagerly nodded time and again as he went on, “Thieves come at all levels of society. And when you are alone, put the lock on your door if possible. If not possible barricade the door. Don’t trust their locks; too many have keys. Feel free to claim you have mislaid your key or the door is jammed if someone comes knocking whom you dare not refuse but fear to welcome.”

  Looking back, Margaret could see the wisdom of his advice. Her father, however, had underestimated the lock picks of the royal household; although Baron Worton’s astute appraisal of the Court of St James proved true. Intrigue, back stabbing, and gossip were ongoing pursuit – for most. Despite her father’s worries, all had gone fairly well these past two years. Nonetheless, recalling his concern warmed her soul on this cold winter’s evening. Poor father, he had worried so.

  Foreseeing a serious bout of homesickness, Margaret decided on a pleasant distraction: She took up her brand new journal and laid pen to the pristine first page.

  The Journal of Margaret Chilliam

  Whitehall Palace

  On this the second day of January

  In the year of our Lord Sixteen Hundred and Twelve.

  The fresh year swept in on bitter winds determined to drive out yesterday’s merriment. Let it bluster and blow. I aspire to nothing more than to dally by this well-stoked fire. The clamor of freezing rain against glass doth render me smug, for I need not sally forth from this circle of warmth. Even my meals will be brought on a tray, and no lessons shall we have this day.

  God hath showered upon me so many blessings. The counting of which would consume the better part of this book of bound blank pages bestowed upon me by my darling charge, Princess Elizabeth. Looking over my shoulder when I tore away the wrappings, she quipped that I had such a love of books I should write one myself. How she giggled. Later in a private moment – she urged me to fill these pages with an account of the courtships and delights sure to enthrall both of us this year.

  If last year were any indicator, the wooing of my beloved pupil will only grow more heated. Thus far, first one prince then another has set his ambitions towards A marriage with our beautiful, gracious, and gifted princess. This year will see her wed. I pray happily so. As for me, her kind ambitions for my personal happiness please me, but alas, I see no great love in my future - this year or any other.

  God’s bounty included more than this journal. My elder sister Lizbeth sent me drawings from her children and perfume. Lucy sent me a supply of ink and quills, whilst my youngest brother Hugh contributed paper for correspondence. My father and Ethel sent me Chapman’s Iliad, which I have already read having borrowed it from the King’s library. Possessing my own copy, however, is most gratifying. My brother William may yet send a gift once he docks in England.

  I must mention how Alfreda dispatched a huge shawl of clever weave which keeps me warm even now as the rain turns to sleet. Her note touted the fineness of the wool sheared, dyed, carded, spun, and loomed in Black Bannoch. She took care to mention mine is green as best suits my coloring. She stated if anyone should express an interest, the wool can be dyed a rustic red, a hearty yellow, and a pale pink. Let it never be said Alfreda is less than enterprising.

  Well enough, for now. I must prepare the Princess’ lesson for tomorrow.

  Late evening on this self-same night

  Before I lay myself down, I want to note an odd occurrence. (I really should be away to bed, but I so love having a journal.)

  Beyond the time one would expect a caller, I answered a summons to my door and beheld our Prince of Wales bearing gifts. I thought he sought his sister, but he asked in such a respectful manner if he might intrude upon me. What could I do but give him the obedience we all owe our Prince and future monarch? With a low curtsey which would have impressed Alfreda, I bade him enter.

  The Prince and his sister are boon companions when circumstances permit. Many a conservation have I enjoyed with The Prince of Wales concerning religion, literature, and history, he being learned beyond his 17 years. So felicitous are our relations, the prince has at times instructed me to use his familiar name, Henry. I always fall back into formal address as soon as it seems not rude.

  He pressed upon me the beribboned gifts he bore. I straightaway promised to give them to his sister when we convene for our daily lesson, but he laughed and said they were for me.

  My heart nearly stopped when I beheld one of King James’ newly printed Bibles. I tried to demure citing the expense, but he easily overrode my objection. I could not refuse, for I so longed to call such an extravagant treasure my own. The other gift, while aligned with a
cceptable expense, disturbed me all the more in that it was an article of clothing. True, twas merely a pair of garters which he hastened to explain would hold my sleeves up and out of the ink forever soiling them when I write. Nonetheless, twas an oddly intimate gift.

  Prince Henry lingered by the fire chatting about nothing of great importance. Some great matter seemed to weigh on his mind. Finally, he took his leave with obvious reluctance perhaps dreading to face whatever preoccupied his mind.

  I suppose the prince will soon remove his household to whatever lodge or manor where he will while away the winter with studies, hunting, and congenial company. Truly I am touched he hand delivered my wondrous Bible and pretty garters. Truly touched.

  Inverness, Scotland: The 7th of January 1613

  (One year later)

  Chapter One

  Eyes drifting from one furnishing and fixture to another, Margaret Chilliam carefully noted a decided lack of decorum, cleanliness, and suitable company. What she saw made her clutch her valise all the tighter. Where was the ‘tidy’ inn with respectable guests and delectable meals?

  With a bang that nearly propelled Margaret back out the door, the porter from the ship slammed her trunk down, “’Ere ye go, Miss.” He eyed her suspiciously, “You are a stayin’, right?”

  Wondering how many of the tartan clad on-lookers spoke English, Margaret stalled, “’Er . . . huh . . .”

  A second porter slung her small portmanteau atop her trunk, kicked the trunk, cleared his throat, and emphasized, “There you go.”

  Clutching the wooden handles of her huge bag, Margaret followed his line of vision to her reticule dangling from her belt. She hastily loosened the drawstring, withdrew a single copper coin, noted his frown, and made it two. None too graciously, he reached out for the gratuity. Weighing the heft of the coins, the English porter grumbled, “Oh, you’re gonna fit right in - ‘ere in the ‘ighlands.”

  For the second time, the barkeep solicited, “Mistress?”

  Relieved to hear English, her mouth opened to frame a response, but he rushed in, “Mistress, are you staying? Should my man take your luggage up? I’ve a nice room.”

  The barkeep skewered the various flotsam and refuse scattered throughout the room tipping tankards and lolling before the fire, “A snug room with a solid door and sturdy lock, right next to me and my missus.”

  With this one statement, the man transformed from a whore-mongering knave to a genteel proprietor.

  Margaret exhaled tension explaining, “I know not if I will have need of your hospitality. I was told I could get a hot meal here and hire some conveyance. Of course if no escort and mount can be found, I will need the room.”

  “Ye think to start out this day? To where?” Spoke out an elderly man wearing a bizarre layering of clashing plaids. He shook his head going on to suggest, “Best hire that room, mistress, and for a day or three. Tis bad weather, and my bones say the worst is not here yet.”

  “Hopefully not.” Protested Margaret. She turned her back on the gawking by-standers to address the innkeeper. “Do you know of anyone who might take me into the Highlands?”

  “Yer in the Highlands.” The comment sprang from behind her instigating gales of laughter. Even her honorable host joined in.

  When their mirth permitted, Margaret in her best school room mien snipped, “Deeper into the Highlands to Black Bannoch.”

  “Black Bannoch? What cause have ye to visit there?”

  The sharp inquiry forced Margaret to face the intrusive knave; alas, she must know who bothered to query her plans. Nervously she chided, “And what concern is that of yours?”

  A dark haired, bearded man of some goodly height stood with his mouth hanging open. He offered no excuse for his boorish question.

  ~~~~~~~~

  Farquhar McGillivray, titular laird of the McGillivrays, now knew who the young English lady intended to visit. Those full lips forever pursed in disdain, her unremarkable brown hair severely parted in the middle, those lifted brows above accusatory eyes – yes indeed – Gilly recognized Lady Margaret Chilliam. She had look down her long nose at him before. There stood the sister of Alfreda, Lady McBain the mistress of Black Bannoch. Idly Gillie wondered if his friend and overlord, Laird McBain, had any idea that his priggish sister-in-law, that paragon of courteous rudeness, was coming to visit. Probably not, for Lyall would have bemoaned hosting an in-law for the winter.

  No wait.

  The visit made perfect sense. After all Lady McBain was approaching confinement with her second bairn. Her mother-in-law had attended when Lyall’s wee son came into the world. This time she must have wanted her own family at hand. Only Alfreda would beg a lady to travel through the Highlands in the dead of winter.

  Being as how he owed Laird McBain more than a small measure of gratitude and counted the Lady of the McBains as a dear friend, the job of escorting her disagreeable sister fell squarely on Gillie. Spending any portion of time with Alfreda’s haughty elder sister ought nearly even the score between Laird McBain and Laird MacGillivray. Unless Lyall held it against Gillie for the rest of their lives.

  On the up-side, Alfreda’s spinster sister anticipated hiring transportation and security, so why not profit as well? Not that any amount would be ample recompense for the torture of Lady Margaret Chilliam’s company.

  Drawing a deep breath, he announced, “I’ll take ye to Black Bannoch. I’m going by there in any case.” Wagging a prohibitive finger, Gillie laid out the rules. “We are not leaving today, but in the morning – we’ll see. I am traveling light with a companion, you’ll make three. I suppose you can ride, being as how you are Lady McBain’s sister.”

  ~~~~~~~~~~

  Dreading the part where she would fall short in comparison to her vivacious younger sister, Margaret countered, “Being easy in the saddle is probably the only thing my sister and I have in common.”

  His succinct reply, “Yes, I know,” Further mystified Margaret.

  She advanced a few steps to better scrutinize his face. Framed by long scraggly curls and topped by a tam pulled low, she had little to work with - eyes so dark they seemed black, well-modeled brows, and rather aristocratic nose. A bushy beard obscured all below. Still the man seemed familiar, his plaid of brown, green, and blue even more so. She demanded, “Who are you?”

  Rising, he dusted off the tartan wrapped about his torso - forming a sash in the front and a cape behind. Sweeping her a graceful bow, he proclaimed, “A thousand pardons, Lady Chilliam. Farquhar MacGillivray at your service.”

  The innkeeper provided a further introduction: “Laird MacGillivray. The MacGillivray of the MacGillivrays.”

  Someone from the back of the tap room shouted out, “For what it’s worth.”

  Jeering mayhem erupted. Above the cacophony, a deep voice boomed out, “Did ye turn her a manly leg, Gillie? Och nae, ye have on your breeches and boots. Too bad.” The rising volume of their laughter and taunts drowned out all else the heckler said.

  Little did it matter for the name ‘Gillie’ prodded a vague memory, and when the man swirled about looking daggers at all those mocking him, Margaret remembered having seen those wrathful ebony eyes before.

  ~~~~~~~~~~

  Better than most, Gillie enjoyed a bawdy gibe. Wallie, however, went too far in suggesting, “Ye should nab this sister of Lady McBain’s and get yourself one of those generous dowries.” Insulting. Ridiculous. And in this case impossible since he knew this particular lady all too well. Alfreda’s obnoxious sister held forth no prospects nor allure. Even if Gillie could muster the fortitude to wed her, an English snob such as Margaret Chilliam would not so much as wipe her feet on an impoverished Scotsman, laird or no laird. Furthermore, the king would not court Baron Worton’s approval as he had for Laird McBain.

  Still he could not strand Lady McBain’s kin right when Alfreda needed a female companion; moreover, Gillie needed the money. So before he again looked the appalling prude straight in the face, The MacGillivray set a re
solute smile upon his face and steeled himself for one long journey to Black Bannoch.

  Without a trace of a smile, she admitted, “Oh I remember you now. You were Lord and Lady McBain’s guest last summer. We met in London at Alfreda’s reception.”

  Gillie enjoyed correcting Lady Chilliam, “Actually, we met first at Ammavale, your father’s estate. And again at Whitehall, when The McBain was kind enough to introduce me to the King. ”

  The ever aggravating Wallie drawled, “Oooo, hob-knobbing with royalty are ye now, MacGillivray?”

  The retort, “That I am. I’ll be sure to mention ye next time I have the ear of The Stuart,” shut his yapping mouth

  Others, however, were not so easily intimidated. A barrage of rude comments babbled forth. Chief of which, “Did ye keep yer back to the wall, Gillie?” demanded a response.

  So Gillie leveled a malicious glare in the miscreant’s direction, “Rory, I’ll be sure to convey yer interest in the king’s sexual fancies. Or should I just mention ye are at his disposal?” That shut everyone’s mouth; nonetheless, Gillie suggested, “Lady, perhaps we should avail ourselves of Rob’s private dining room and privily discuss our travel plans?”

  ~~~~~~~~~~

  This MacGillivray had given voice to Margaret’s own thoughts. She took in the stares of those straining to hear every word and the covert glances being exchanged across the room. Stealthily, she tried to eye each one in turn searching for a visage she had hoped to never see again. The rogue was not present, in person. Nonetheless, discussing their travel plans in front of any audience would be dangerous.

  The landlord gestured toward a hallway. Forced to rely upon this stranger’s sense of propriety, she acquiesced to a proposal which - in London - would occasion a scandal. One simply did not dine alone with a man, certainly not in an inn. In London, her reputation would be ruined.

 
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