I thought I’d share a peek at one of the snippets from my novel “Passages”, which is the fourth and final book of my series. (For those who don’t believe me when I say I’m really working on it!) I posted this on a now defunct blog a while ago, but I thought I’d repost it here where it may get a little more sunshine. Forgive me if it is redundant.
Flashback Memory: Passages, Chapter 3
The long, hot summer of 1617 brought three things to the house of Stonehaven; a drought, a deal, and a new daughter.
The blessing of an unusually mild winter had translated into a nearly dry spring, and by mid-August, the blessing had become a full blown curse. Plantings done optimistically early had grown slowly, and withered in dried fields. Second and third plantings had done little better, and it was beginning to be obvious there would be little barley and wheat for the coming winter. Crofters from remote tenants beseeched Edward for extended terms in fulfilling their quotas, indeed asking for subsidies from neighboring counties—as if the rains had fallen there.
William dealt with the correspondences for Edward, taking over the duties by degree from the aging duke. Edward was keen to advise, warning William of the pitfalls of being too lenient or too stern when it came time for collecting the revenues. “Good will can be your best investment, however too much generosity will breed a generation of leeches,” he had warned. William listened with interest, but made his own decisions on who would receive leniency, and who would earn a penalty. For the most part, Edward deferred to William’s decision, only raising a concern once over William’s plan to buy grains from France, rather than depend upon his own crofters.
“Their fields will barely sustain their own families this winter, Father. I cannot ask them to starve when there are other resources.”
“And how do you intend to pay?”
“You did not give me Sutherland without knowing the wealth of wool that comes from the flocks did you?”
Edward relented, agreeing, though clearly skeptical the scheme would work. William drafted the agreements himself then had them scrutinized carefully by Peter Garland for integrity, and practicality.
“I would leave room for negotiation of price here, Will,” Peter advised. “I’ve had dealings with Marquis LeReau in the past. He is very shrewd. Honest, but shrewd.”
“What do you suggest?”
Peter grinned, “Offer a bit more than wool. The Marquis has an appetite for Scottish ale that is particularly difficult to come by in the north of France.”
William agreed eagerly, “And I have a fondness for his wine.”
“Which he sells for far more than he should…”
“I’m willing to pay his price for wine, if he shall lower the cost of the grain. Put that in the proposal.”
Edward clapped his hands, offering congratulations from his chair near the window. “Well done, lad. Well done, indeed.”
“Thank you,” William beamed, always pleased with praise from the duke. “But it is only words on parchment until the marquis agrees.”
“Oh he will,” Edward assured him. “I happen to have one more thing for you to add to your bargain should he balk.”
Edward laughed to himself, folding his hands upon his chest. “I do.”
Peter and William exchanged curious glances. “Tell me what to add, my lord,” Peter began, his quill poised over the parchment.
“Oh no, not in writing my friend. This is one of those matters that is best served…” he thought for a moment for the right word, “over ale.”
“Ale, my lord?”
William burst out laughing. “Who was she?”
“Ah, you know my style well, lad!” Edward chuckled. “Her name was Paulette, and that is all you need to mention.”
William raised a brow, “Oh? Do we not get to hear the tale of Paulette and the marquis?”
“I’m afraid not. I gave my word, the tale would die with me.”
“Well then, he will know it is a hollow threat, my lord,” Peter said, placing down the quill. “LeReaux knows your word is as solid as gold, so I do not see how this could be a bargaining tool.”
Edward grinned, giving William a mischievous wink. “Explain it to him, William.”
“But I am trying to understand it as well, Father. If you gave your word. . .” he stopped to think. “Brilliant!”
“Ah you’ve figured it out.”
“But?” Peter sat back, clearly frustrated. “Would you please explain it to me?”
“It’s very simple, Peter.” William laughed. “Father didn’t give his word to the marquis.”
“But he just said he did—” Peter’s eyes went wide in sudden understanding. “You gave your word to Paulette.”
Edward applauded. “Indeed I did, but the marquis doesn’t know that. In fact, he doesn’t even know that I know about the lass at all, so this is very strong chip indeed.”
“One that I shall hold only as a last resort, father,” William said as he took the parchment from Peter for one final review. “I should not like to gain a reputation of making treaties by tricks—”
Peter coughed, covering a not so subtle grin.
“That was a long time ago, and you of all people should not be laughing,” William scolded, though he found a grin of his own creeping to his face. “Touché.”
“Well there is a difference here,” Peter said, suddenly serious.
“And what is different? Trickery is trickery, and a dangerous road to consider.”
“This isn’t about trickery, my lord. It’s about sex and wine, and a Frenchman’s reputation.”
Edward nodded. “You only need mention her name, William. Trust me.”
Dubious as it sounded, William tucked the information about this mysterious Paulette away, doubtful he would resort to what seemed nothing short of blackmail. The document was scribed, signed and sealed, and sent by ship that very afternoon. A fortnight later William read the marquis’ rejection, demanding twice the amount wool and for half the barley, and four times the fair price for the wine, while offering only a third of the price requested for the ale. William took the quill, and scrawled his one word reply: “Paulette”.
Two weeks later, enough wine for all of Stonehaven arrived by ship, just in time to celebrate the birth of William’s daughter Cyslie. In honor of her birth, every family received a bottle of French wine and enough grain to see them through the winter.