Kings pinnacle, p.1
Kings Pinnacle, p.1Robert Gourley
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A March Hare Novel: Book 1
By Robert Gourley
Copyright 2013 by Robert Gourley
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Kings Pinnacle is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Certain real life characters and real life events are described in the book, but they are also used fictitiously. Any other resemblances to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Cover photograph by Robyn Michelle Photography.
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Table of Contents
Kings Pinnacle Part 1
Kings Pinnacle Part 2
Kings Pinnacle Part 3
Kings Pinnacle Part 4
Kings Pinnacle Part 5
Kings Pinnacle Part 6
Author’s End Note
About The Author
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I would like to thank editors Nancy Gourley and Deloris Glenn, and I would like to dedicate this book to my wife Nancy.
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Kings Pinnacle Part 1
“In times of eld, it was believed that the human spirit shared a bond with all things divine. This sacred hand-fasting ceremony between this lassie, Elizabeth Murray and yon lad, Alexander Mackenzie is a tradition that dates back o’er the ages to symbolize that they will nae longer be twa, but will be ane, ye ken,” said the old Scottish Presbyterian minister with a wink at the bride.
Alex smiled at the wink even though he had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach as he glanced over at his bride-to-be standing beside him. Pushing down the worry and chalking it up to butterflies, he returned his gaze to the minister who had just begun the hand-fasting ceremony.
The old minister was reciting the ceremony from memory, while he leaned heavily on his dusty, decrepit lectern. As the rite dictated, the reverend stopped and picked up a ceremonial rope, which he wrapped around the joined hands of the young couple standing in front of him. Just as he began tying a knot in the rope to signify the bond, the front door of the toll house crashed against the front wall. A highly polished black boot had kicked it all the way open, interrupting the ceremony.
A few people who lived nearby and some other folks that had happened to be in the vicinity had been rounded up to witness the ceremony. This small group of people was standing just behind the couple, partially blocking the reverend’s view of the door. The old minister paused in tying the knot, stepped out from behind his lectern to stand beside it, and rose up on his tip-toes, trying to look over the tops of the heads of the congregation. The happy couple and all the witnesses also turned toward the door to see what all the commotion was about.
The year was 1770, and the ceremony was being conducted in the toll house on the Scottish side of the Coldstream Bridge, which spanned the River Tweed between the Village of Coldstream, Scotland and the English village of Cornhill-on-Tweed. Coldstream was one of those small, sleepy communities on the southeastern border of Scotland that was convenient for elopers from England who wanted to marry under Scottish laws and without publicity. The reverend was also the toll collector for people and freight passing over the bridge, but most of his income came from performing marriage ceremonies and hand-fastings rather than from collecting tolls.
The locals who lived on both sides of the boundary between England and Scotland still referred to it as “The Border” even though that term had been forbidden by King James I in the early 1600s. The toll house at the Coldstream end of the bridge was famous throughout England and Scotland for hosting weddings and hand-fastings for couples that came across from England, because the Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act did not have jurisdiction in Scotland. In Scotland, it was legal for males to marry at age fourteen and females at age twelve. Gretna Green, in the southwest of Scotland, was a much more popular marriage destination just over the border, because it was the first village in Scotland on the main carriage route from London to Edinburgh.
The border between Scotland and England had been created by the Treaty of Union in 1707, which united England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The official border ran along the River Tweed in the east to the Solway Firth in the west. This border formed a boundary of two distinct legal jurisdictions, since the Treaty of Union guaranteed the continued separation of English law and Scottish law.
“What in the name of all that’s holy is going on here?” asked the reverend in a raised voice.
“Now that’s exactly what I want to know,” replied the intruder who had just kicked open the toll house front door.
“And just who are you, sir and what do you want?” asked the minister.
“Patrick!” shouted Elizabeth Murray, interrupting the reverend, as she recognized her cousin Patrick, who was leading the band of young men that had just entered the toll house.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked Elizabeth.
The group of young men had walked through the toll house door and continued to the far end of the room where the ceremony was taking place. Elizabeth’s cousin Patrick was leading the way.
“Ye can’t marry him, Betsy,” said Patrick, pointing a finger at the bridegroom, Alexander Mackenzie.
“And just why can’t I?” replied Elizabeth with a pout.
“For one thing, you’re too young.”
“I’m sixteen and so is Alex.”
“Yes, you are, but the age of legal capacity is twenty-one, Cousin,” said Patrick with a smirk.
“It is in England, but we happen to be standing in Scotland, where the age of legal capacity is fourteen, Cousin,” Elizabeth replied sarcastically.
“That may be true, but you still can’t marry without your father’s consent until you are twenty-one, Cousin,” Patrick replied with equal sarcasm.
“I can if I am in Scotland.”
In 1753, the English Parliament had passed the Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, which codified that if either party to a marriage was not at least twenty-one years old, then both sets of parents had to consent to the marriage.
“We’ll see about that, lassie. Besides you’re English and he’s a Scot. There are laws against international marriages, and you’re not going to marry a Reiver anyway,” said Patrick with an evil smile.
Patrick was correct; there were laws against international marriages, but these laws were widely ignored by the church and the authorities. The bridegroom, Alex Mackenzie, was in fact one of the last Reivers in existence. By the middle of the 1600s, the authorities had largely wiped out the border outlaws, called Reivers. But even in the late 1700s, the border was still thinly populated, and there were often conflicts that sprang up. The lives of the people who lived along the border were frequently disrupted by these clashes and altercations. The border was often a lawless place where tensions ran high and feuds erupted between rival clans over the slightest incident or insult. At one time, it had been generally sanctioned by the authorities for the so-called Reivers to conduct raids on both sides of the border, as long as the people who were being raided did not have powerful allies or kin among the raiders, but that was no longer the case. All of the Reivers had been hunted down long ago, or so everyone thought.
“Who says I’m a weaver?” interjected Alexander Mackenzie, smiling his disarming smile and stepping up beside Elizabeth.
Alex had quietly untied and removed the ceremonial rope from his and Elizabeth’s hands in case he needed to move quickly.
“I don’t even own a loom,” he said with a grin.
“Everyone knows that there haven’t been any Reivers in Scotland or in England for over a hundred years.”
“Well, I guess I will just have to call you an outlaw instead of a Reiver then.”
Alex had noticed that the young man named Patrick was dressed the latest British fashions made popular in London; he was obviously a wealthy young dandy. The men standing behind Patrick had spread out in a line all the way across the little toll house, ready to cut off any attempt to bolt past them toward the main door.
Alex knew he was in trouble; he was unarmed except for a knife in his boot, and his brothers were nowhere in sight. They didn’t even know where he was or that he was formally hand-fasting Elizabeth Murray. When cornered, Alex’s usual initial instinct was always to fight, but his intellect often overrode his instinct and determined that he should flee. In this case the odds were ten to one against him. Fighting didn’t seem to be much of an option.
“Do you want to come peacefully, or do you want to do it the hard way, laddie?” asked Patrick.
“There’s no need for violence, sir; you’ve got my hand on it,” said the smiling Alex as he stuck out his hand as if to shake hands with Patrick and give him assurance that he would not try to escape. At the same time, he raked his long blond hair back out of his eyes with his left hand.
At first, Patrick was puzzled by the offer to shake hands. But after he considered it for a few moments, he finally decided to accept the offer. When he reached out to clasp hands, Alex reached past Patrick’s hand, grabbing his wrist instead. He then took a small side-step and pulled Patrick’s arm as hard as he could, spinning him around in a half circle right into the old reverend, who was still standing beside his lectern. The minister was completely caught off guard by the unexpected collision, as was Patrick. So the reverend instinctively wrapped both of his arms around Patrick just as the young man barreled into him. Their feet tangled together as they stumbled backward. Both men lost their footing and went down to the floor in a tangled heap. Patrick quickly tried to get from on top of the old reverend and regain his feet.
As soon as the collision occurred, Alex turned and ran like a hare, past the old reverend’s lectern, toward the back of the toll house and away from the men blocking the front door. He knew that there was another door on the side of the toll house that led out into a small garden tended by the reverend and his wife.
He threw open the side door and dashed outside. Shouting, “Sorry, Reverend,” over his shoulder, he raced past the small vegetable garden and around the toll house to the rail where his horse Hack was tied. Alex had already untied Hack at the hitching post and was running alongside him away from the toll house by the time Elizabeth, Patrick, and the other young men spilled out the toll house front door into the road.
Hack was a spotted bay pony, and he was born to run. Hack instantly knew that something was up when he saw Alex dash up and untie him. Alex had grabbed the reins on the fly and continued sprinting alongside Hack for a short distance. Then he grasped the saddle horn and leaped into the saddle of the running horse in a single bound, yelling, “Yeah, Hack!”
Border horses were unmatched in speed and stamina, and Alex had owned Hack since he was a colt. In addition to his speed, Hack could also pick his way across boggy moss lands where Alex couldn’t see the trail. Hack and Alex were like brothers, rather than horse and master. Alex had always had a way with horses. No one really understood why; they just accepted it as a fact.
“Never trust the hand of a Reiver,” Alex shouted over his shoulder as he flew out of sight around the bend in the road before Patrick and his companions could even mount their horses. Patrick knew he couldn’t catch Alex, so he stopped in his tracks and threw his reins to the ground with a dejected look.
It was almost spring weather, near the end of March, and it had been unseasonably warm for northern England or southern Scotland. The leaves were just beginning to bud on some the trees that grew along the road. The grass was just showing a hint of green in a few places as the dust that was thrown up from Hack’s hooves settled back down on the road.
The border area was also very thin on law enforcement with the king located so far away in London. It was ripe for plunder and robbery. Most of the land was not really arable but it could be used for grazing. Outlaws often rustled cattle and sometimes kidnapped people for ransom. The Reivers had been all but stamped out long ago, but one small band still existed on the border--the one that Alex belonged to.
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“You’ve done me a great service, Pattie, and I’ll not forget it,” said retired British Army General Sir James Murray, as he took another puff on his long-stemmed pipe.
The general and Patrick were standing in the library of the Murray’s manor house on his estate near Rothbury, north of Newcastle. They were both looking out the window in front of the fireplace at the horses being worked out on the race track beside the house. Patrick had been in the house many times since he was a youngster. Sir James Murray was his mother’s younger brother and a family favorite. He threw lavish parties at his manor house and was a well-respected lord in northeast England. However, those who knew him well also knew that he was ruthless and greedy. He prided himself on his thoroughbred horses but couldn’t quite achieve the success at horse breeding and racing that he thought he deserved.
“Uncle Jamie, if you don’t mind my saying so, you are going to have to do something about my cousin Betsy, and do it fairly quickly I’m afraid,” Patrick said in an exasperated tone.
“You’re right Pattie, I know it. I should have married my daughter off at least a year ago, but she can be very strong-willed. She told me that this border ceremony was just a hand-fasting and not a full blown wedding, but I intend to do something about her as soon as I can arrange it. Sir George Hastings has a country estate over near Alnwick, and he lost his wife recently in child bearing. I am of a mind to marry Elizabeth to him,” replied Sir James.
“How did the Mackenzie runt get involved with Elizabeth anyway?”
“It was actually partially my own fault. I hired the lad as a hostler and horse trainer last year. He and that horse of his, which is nothing more than a cur, can outrun the fastest of my thoroughbreds, and I thought he could help me improve the performance of my stock. The lad appears to have a way with horses, you know,” replied Sir James.
“But recently, for some reason, Mackenzie was gone more than he was here,” Sir James continued. “My head groomsman caught him and Elizabeth in a compromising situation behind the stables and the lad lit out like his shirt was on fire. I thought that was the end of it, but I was wrong.”
“You know what they say, ‘An outlaw by the grace of blood’, and I intend to see if he bleeds,” said Patrick. “A commoner, like the Mackenzie runt, has no place in English society, and I intend to make an example of him, so that everyone who knows him will learn what happens to commoners who try to marry into the nobility.”
Patrick firmly believed in the divine right of kings and nobles whose duty it was to rule the lesser peoples of the earth. He thought that you were either born to rule or else you were common folk. It was unthinkable for a common person to try to improve his station in life. Patrick had been born in Edinburgh. He was Lord Pitfour’s second son and was raised among a number of major figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, including the philosopher and historian David Hume and the dramatist John Home. He had a large number of cousins through his English mother's family including Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet Commodore George Johnstone, and, of course, retired General Sir James Murray.
Since Patrick was his second son, Lord Pitfour and his wife encouraged Patrick toward a career in the military at an early age. He was educated at the London Military Academy and served briefly in Germany with the R
Even though his fate had allotted him the role of the second son, Patrick felt that he was meant to be a solider and was satisfied with his lot in life. He had a military mind, but he was not well adapted to leading men. He had no empathy at all for the men that served under him, and he gave them very little thought and consideration. His military interest lay in firearms, swords, artillery, fortifications and other such military subjects.
As he gazed into the fire in the fireplace, Patrick kept thinking about that phrase written by his Scots Greys commanding officer on his performance report that was filed with the Greys’ adjutant.
“…possesses a fine military bearing and mien, although he is not well-favored by the men under his command.”
Patrick didn’t care if the men under his command favored him or not. He was a Lord’s son, and he expected the men under his command to follow his orders, and follow them to the letter, without question. He had expressed that sentiment to his Greys’ commanding officer, who was also a Lord’s son, just prior to his discharge. The fact that he had brought up several of his men in front of a court martial for failure to follow orders never entered into his thinking about why he might have been discharged from the Greys. He was actually still quite puzzled about his discharge. He suspected that it was most likely a personality conflict with his commanding officer.
“Thank you, Pattie. As a reward for your service to me and for a small favor I shall ask of you, I intend to purchase you a commission to command a company in Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Johnstone’s Highland Light Infantry, the Seventieth Foot,” said Sir James.
“Uncle Jamie, I can’t thank you enough. You really are much too generous,” said Patrick, even though it was exactly what he had been angling for. In fact, he had done everything in his power to deliver that suggestion indirectly to his uncle.
Kings Pinnacle by Robert Gourley / History & Fiction / Western have rating 2.1 out of 5 / Based on32 votes