Face Down O’er the Border
Kathy Lynn Emerson
The year is 1577, and Mary, the abdicated queen of Scots, is a prisoner in England. But Mary’s Scotland is a wild and foreign land with strikingly different laws: murder is a civil matter not prosecuted and sometimes settled with money. Does Scotlands political unrest tie in with the murder of Susanna’s friend Catherine? And even if Susanna Appleton can find her Catherine, who has disappeared in the company of a notorious spy, what will become of Catherine’s young children? An authentically historical tale of intrigue in ye old Isle.
“. . . plunges readers into the middle of Scottish domestic drama and political intrigue from the first page. . . . Vividly realized strong female characters, well-paced plot, seamless dialogue and intriguing historical details add up to a compelling period tale” Publisher’s Weekly
“Emerson keeps the complicated tale moving at a brisk pace, with motives, mysteries, surprises and new aspects to familiar characters from previous books in the series . . . a worthy addition to an interesting and entertaining series.” Mystery News
Originally published by Perseverance Press in 2007
August 27, 1577
Glenelg House, Burgh of the Canongate, Scotland
Catherine heard someone shout her name. The noise made her head throb. Other pains stabbed at her from a dozen directions. One hip hurt abominably. So did her right elbow.
“Catherine! Get up! Do you hear me, Lady Glenelg? Arise at once.”
The meaning of the sharp-voiced words took time to penetrate layers of confusion. Even after she understood the commands, Catherine could not seem to make her limbs respond. Only with a great deal of effort did she manage to open her eyes.
A woman hovered above her, visible in silhouette. For one disoriented moment, Catherine thought she might be an angel.
The steel busks in Catherine’s body-stitchet soon disabused her of the notion that she was dead. They pressed painfully against her quilted underbodice. Heavy folds of fabric twisted around her lower limbs, and the padded roll known as a French farthingale, designed to hold out the skirt under which it was worn, had been shoved out of position to make an awkward lump beneath her buttocks.
Puzzled, Catherine let her eyes drift closed again. Something was not right. If she had fallen—she must have fallen, she decided, for she could feel the smooth marble of the staircase landing beneath one hand—and her farthingale was out of place, then shift and underskirt and skirt should be in a welter around the middle of her body, not wrapped around her ankles.
“Catherine!” This time the voice seemed familiar, but Catherine could not put a name to it. Before she was able to respond, blackness engulfed her.
A shoe prodded Catherine’s shoulder, bringing her back to consciousness. She blinked and her surroundings came into focus. This time the period of disorientation was shorter. She realized almost at once that she was lying on her back on one of the landings of the new staircase. It turned in broad flights around a square stone newel. Because the back of her head ached so much, she decided she must have struck it against the wall or the steps as she fell.
She could not remember doing so.
The woman came into Catherine’s line of vision. She was a very large woman, and her face matched her girth, replete with double chins and deep pouches under the eyes. Catherine stared into their green depths without recognition until the musky perfume the woman wore stirred a memory. It slipped away again before she could grasp it.
“Up with you,” the woman said, sliding her hands under Catherine’s shoulders and lifting until Catherine achieved a sitting position. “Give me a moment and I’ll move her off your feet.”
Her? Another wave of confusion engulfed Catherine, but it ebbed the instant the other woman shifted her bulk. The cloth twisted around Catherine’s legs was not her own brown velvet skirt. It was black, trimmed with golden crowsfeet.
“Jean,” Catherine whispered in horror as her gaze traveled along the distinctive fabric to the back of her mother-in-law’s head. A thin line of blood stained snowy white hair. An unpleasant odor emanated from the ominously motionless body.
Abruptly, Catherine found the strength to move. Scrambling to her knees, she scuttled backward, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and the corpse. She came up hard against a wall.
The big woman knelt with some difficulty, since she wore a Spanish farthingale to hold out her cinnamon-colored skirts, and turned Jean’s body over to reveal eyes that were wide open and seemed to stare accusingly at Catherine. Using the wall for balance, Catherine attempted to get to her feet, but a wave of dizziness defeated her. She landed on her rump with a startled cry.
“What happened here, Catherine?”
“I do not know. I cannot remember.”
The woman gave Catherine a puzzled look but did not pursue the matter. She closed Jean’s eyes and laid her gently on her back and then, with considerable effort, regained her feet. Advancing on Catherine, she hauled her upright. “Where are the servants?”
Catherine struggled to recall. “An errand. Jean sent them away.”
The relief Catherine felt at being able to remember something faded as she once more had to acknowledge that she did not know. There were gaps in her memory and the more she tried to fill them, the more elusive her recollection of recent events became.
“What do you remember?”
Assisted by the other woman’s arm around her waist, Catherine climbed the staircase with slow, unsteady steps. The woman already seemed to know the way to Catherine’s chamber.
“Who are you?” Catherine asked when she was seated in the room’s single chair and had removed her silk-lined caul, already dislodged by the fall, to feel gingerly at the lump at the back of her head.
The woman looked surprised by the question. “You do not remember me, either?” “You seem familiar, but no, I do not know your name.”
“I am Annabel MacReynolds.”
Shocked, Catherine stared at her. The Annabel she had known had been a beautiful young woman at the court of Mary, queen of Scots, slender and vivacious, clever and amusing. A dozen years ago, they’d been good friends. Catherine had helped Annabel learn to speak English without an accent and Annabel had taught Catherine to dance.
Annabel poured water into a basin and dipped one corner of her handkerchief into it. “I have changed, yes. But this is not the first time you’ve seen me since returning to Scotland. Think, Catherine.”
As she leaned closer, dabbing at Catherine’s cheek and making it sting, Catherine once more inhaled Annabel’s musky perfume. A fragment of memory surfaced. Annabel—this older, larger Annabel—here in Glenelg House. She’d come at Catherine’s request, agreed to help find a way to remove Catherine’s eight-year-old son, Gavin, from danger.
Alarm had Catherine on her feet and this time she fought back a wave of dizziness. “Cordell,” she whispered. She knew where Gavin was, but what had happened to her seven-year-old daughter?
This time an answer surfaced without effort and she sagged onto the purple velvet cushions, weak with relief.
“She is safe?” Annabel inquired.
“Yes. With her nurse. Avise took her to Greenside to hear a concert by the town waits.”
But how long ago had that been? A glance at the window told Catherine no more than that it was still day. Anything from an hour to an entire afternoon might have passed since Avise and Cordell left Glenelg House, and Catherine could not remember any of it.