“Thirteenth-century Edinburgh comes off the page cold and convincing, from the smoke and noise of the tavern kitchen to Holyrood Abbey under a treacherous abbot. Most enjoyable.” THE LIST
In the spring of 1297 the English army controls lowland Scotland and Margaret Kerr’s husband Roger Sinclair is missing. He’d headed to Dundee in autumn, writing to Margaret with a promise to be home for Christmas, but it’s past Easter. Is he caught up in the swelling rebellion against the English? Is he even alive? When his cousin, Jack, is murdered on the streets of Edinburgh, Roger’s last known location, Margaret coerces her brother Andrew, a priest, to escort her to the city.
She finds Edinburgh scarred by warhouses burnt, walls stained with blood, shops shutteredand the townsfolk simmering with resentment, harboring secrets. Even her uncle, innkeeper Murdoch Kerr, meets her questions with silence. Are his secrets the keys to Roger’s disappearance? What terrible sin torments her brother? Is it her husband she glimpses in the rain, scarred, haunted? Desperate, Margaret makes alliances that risk both her own life and that of her brother in her search for answers. She learns that war twists love and loyalties, and that, until tested, we cannot know our own hearts, much less those of our loved ones.
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A Wake and a Burial
Dunfermline, 26 April 1297
Sleet drummed against the parchment window beside the door. Logs sizzled and popped in the fire circle. A water jug stood ready for dousing embers that might fly outside the ring of stones. After devoting so many hours to the altar cloth neither woman wished to chance any damage. The firelight picked out the colours on the long linen draped across the women's laps, a paschal lamb sitting at the foot of a crucifix, a crown of thorns in the grass beside him. Margaret leaned away from the fire, towards the oil lamp on a small table at her side, preferring its steady light for the fine needlework. Now and again she glanced up at Katherine, smiled unsteadily if she caught her goodmother's eye, then bent back over her work. Katherine did likewise. Each forced a brave face for the other. Each saw the questions, the sorrow, the fear in the other's eyes.
Roger Sinclair — Margaret's husband, Katherine's son — had been gone more than five months. And now his cousin Jack, who had departed in search of Roger three weeks past, had been brought home in a shroud.
Margaret pricked her finger for the third time and judged it best to put her work aside before she stained it with her blood. She cut her thread and tucked her needle into a cloth in the basket at her side. Rising, she sucked at the puncture as she opened the street door, stepped out into the chill, wet evening, lifting her face and spreading her arms to the icy drizzle.
'The draught, gooddaughter,' Katherine said.
Margaret stepped back over the threshold, shut the door. 'It is so warm by the fire I cannot breathe.'
The unhealthy flush of her goodmother's face made Margaret feel even hotter. Nor could Katherine mask her sweaty odour despite all the lavender water she wore.
'My old bones enjoy heat.'
Old bones. Katherine would not have said that before Roger disappeared. She had aged in his absence. And today she had received another blow with the news of Jack's death. It was more than the loss of a nephew — Katherine had raised him as a second son.
Margaret resumed her seat, taking care not to wrinkle the cloth as she lifted it. She considered Katherine's fleshy body — her goodmother indulged excessively in food as well as heat — and judged her shoulders more rounded than they had been the past summer, the joints on her hands more knobbly. Perhaps there was more grey in her brows.
'You are not old.'
'I ken my own body, lass.' Katherine did not look up.
Margaret picked up her basket as if to take up her needle again, but she could not sit still. 'I'll sit the lykewake this evening.'
'It is over cold in that hut,' Katherine protested. 'I lasted but a few short prayers — me, with all this flesh protecting my bones from the cold. And you are so much thinner.' She shook her head at Margaret. 'I cannot allow it. What would Roger say if you lost fingers or toes keeping vigil over his cousin?'
What would Roger think? Margaret could not guess. Out of their two years of marriage she could count on one hand how many months he had been home. She hardly knew him any better than she had at their betrothal. Before her marriage she had dreamed of their life together — she would share in the concerns of his shipping business, entertain the prominent burgesses of Perth, bear children, run an efficient household, comfort Roger and the young ones through their illnesses. Instead, she was commonly alone, the burgesses gossiped about her husband's long absences, and as for children, there were none — they had little chance of being conceived. She did not know which possibility was more frightening — that Roger was caught up in the fighting against the English king, perhaps lying injured somewhere, or that he was away from her this long while by choice.
And since learning of Jack's violent death an even greater fear gripped her — that Jack had been killed because he was searching for Roger, which meant her husband was in danger.
Katherine moved from fretting about Margaret to reassuring her. 'Celia is out there, ready to affright any evil spirits with candles.' Celia was Katherine's maid.
'A member of the family should keep the lykewake,' Margaret said.
She regretted her words when she saw Katherine's small frown. Her goodmother had been kind to her, welcoming her warmly at Yuletide and again at Easter, weeks when Margaret's house in Perth would have echoed with her loneliness.
'I should keep the lykewake, not a mere servant — that is what I meant,' Margaret appeased. 'Not that you should do it. You must ready the house for those who will come for the burial.'
Katherine relented when Margaret promised to wrap herself in two mantles, her coarse plaid one over the fine wool one her goodmother had given her at Christmas.
The ground in the frosty evening yard gave Margaret pause. It was rough and slippery, sleet washing over the frozen ruts in the packed earth. The hut was not far. Light from the lantern she carried already danced on the door of the small building. But she would last no longer than Katherine if she had wet feet. She took time to strap wooden pattens over her soft, worn shoes, then she gathered her skirts in hand to cross the expanse.
Margaret slowed as she approached the hut. When she had last seen Jack he had been bright-eyed and laughing with the prospect of a journey. Her burden of dread had lifted a little with the possibility that the months of waiting, of uncertainty, might be about to end, that she would learn what had delayed Roger. At least something was being done. But if Jack had discovered anything he had sent no word before his death. Margaret knew no more than before, and now had lost the person who had seen to Roger's business in his absence — Jack had been his cousin's factor, representing Roger at the port of Perth, arranging sales of the goods in the warehouses. He had also been a good friend to Margaret.
The shed was lopsided, made of mud and twigs, roofed with old thatch. When Margaret pulled at the door it stuck and she had to yank it, rattling the flimsy structure.
The maid jumped up with a cry. Shielding her eyes from the lantern's bright glow, she cried, 'Who comes here?'
'It's Margaret.' She fumbled at the lantern shutters with frozen fingers.
'I was feart you were an evil spirit,' said Celia.
'As I would have been,' said Margaret, shutting the door. 'That is why we are here, to keep the evil spirits from Jack's departing soul. Though I think his soul must have passed before he came here.' He had been found in Edinburgh three days earlier.
Celia hugged herself as a gust of wind from the open door blew out a candle.
'It is a night for spirits,' said Margaret.
'Aye, it is.' Celia lit the candle from another. 'And a cold one.' The mantle she wore looked warm — Katherine treated her servants well — but as Celia turned from the candle and shook out her skirt Margaret saw that it was damp from the rivulets that criss-crossed the packed earth floor.
Margaret held out the lantern. 'Take yourself off to bed. I shall watch till dawn.'
'You are kind, Dame Kerr, but my mistress told me to bide until sunrise.' Celia settled back down in her chair in the corner, tucking a loose strand of dark hair into her cap and patting it primly. She was a tiny woman of an age with Margaret, not yet twenty, with a pale complexion and dark eyes under heavy brows. 'I'll not disturb your prayers.'
Celia answered only to her mistress, and even then she was very stubborn — a trait tiny people often had, it seemed to Margaret. She did not bother to argue with Celia. Neither did she intend to let the woman interfere with her farewell to Jack.
The sputtering candles burning at both ends of the shrouded corpse scented the air with beeswax but could not mask the other, stronger odour of decay. Dried herbs had been added to Jack's shroud before it had been sewn shut, as was the custom, but they were no longer equal to the task.
Sewn shut. Margaret had only her brother Andrew's terse description of Jack's wounds — the slashed stomach and throat, related dispassionately. Not that Andrew had reason to sorrow, no more than for any man's death. Her brother, a canon of Holyrood in Edinburgh, had brought Jack's body home, but she doubted the two had ever spoken more than a few cordial words of greeting. It seemed to her that someone who had cared for Jack should witness his wounds. In fact, having had so little acquaintance with him, Andrew might even have made a mistake in identifying the body as Jack.
'How can I know it is him?' Margaret whispered as she stood over the shrouded figure.
'Father Andrew said as much, Dame Kerr,' said Celia.
Andrew had taken his vows before Margaret met Roger and his family. He had come to her wedding, where he would have met Jack, but she did not know of another time he might have seen him. A mistake was possible. Still, the prospect of opening the shroud filled her with dread.
If she had her mother's gift of second sight she might spare herself this added grief of seeing Jack's handsome face transformed by hideous death. But though Margaret looked much like her mother, she did not have her gift. She must deal with the world more directly. She must see the body.
'Bring my sewing basket to me, Celia. Make sure that my scissors and a good needle are in it.'
She saw Celia's uncertainty. 'I pray you, go.'
'Widow Sinclair will wonder why you want your sewing things.'
'Tell her I must occupy my hands.'
Celia looked doubtful, but with a nod she departed.
Once alone, Margaret knelt beside the bier and bowed her head. She prayed that God would not take offence at what she was about to do. She prayed, too, for Jack's soul. And, as always, that Roger was safe. 'Bring him home to me, dear Lord.'
Celia returned with the basket.
'I shall need the lantern,' Margaret said. 'You are free to cross back to the house if you like, though it will be dark.'
Celia shook her head. 'You need someone to hold the light for you if you mean to take the stitches out neatly.'
'It is best that no one knows of this but us.'
'I don't gossip.' It was a statement, not a vow.
But Margaret was grateful. 'God bless you, Celia.'
'Where would it be best for me to stand?'
Margaret indicated a place near the head of the shroud. 'I need see only his face.'
Silently, Celia took her position. Margaret was grateful the maid asked no more questions. And why should she? It was reasonable to have some small hope that Andrew had made a mistake.
The stitches at the top of the shroud were tiny and even. Margaret worked to keep her hand steady. There was no cause to let others know she had unwrapped the corpse. As she picked at the stitches in the dim light and the cold, her sight blurred and her fingers grew clumsy. Celia took the scissors and handed Margaret the lantern.
'The lantern warmed my hands,' Celia said. 'If you hold it while I finish the tearing out, you will have warm fingers to sew.'
The lantern did warm Margaret's hands. And when Celia stood back, proclaiming the stitches all undone, Margaret thought herself ready to look at Jack, then sew the shroud closed. She pulled back the cloth.
The sight of him shattered her. Jack's blond lashes should rest on pale, high cheekbones. Instead they were almost invisible in the folds of bloated eyelids, cheeks. Yet she could not stop there. She tugged further at the shroud with stiff, impatient, careless fingers.
Celia grabbed her hands, but Margaret struggled to free herself. 'I must see his wounds. I must see them.'
'Let me do it,' Celia said. 'You will tear the shroud.'
His body was unrecognisable, the flesh discoloured, the wounds gaping perversions of the body's form, obscenely intimate, exposing the inner maze of blood and tissue. The odour made Margaret gag. Why had she done this? This was not Jack, but his lifeless, bloated shell. She lifted the shroud to begin rewinding it, caught his right hand in a fold of the sheet. Something slipped from his hand — a small stone with a hole in the centre. She plucked it from the sheet, tucked it up the tight sleeve of her shift.
'Shall we add more dried herbs?' Celia asked quietly.
'What does it matter?'
Silently they bent to their work in the candlelit shed, the wind moaning and pushing at the fragile hut, the rain drumming overhead.
That Jack's good deed should come to this. Margaret remembered the day, just over a month past, when the plan had been hatched. She was at home in Perth, making use of a rare dry afternoon in March with a tolerable wind. Margaret and her servant had strung rope in the garden between two apple trees and hung out the bedding to air. She was hanging some of Roger's clothes as well. Five months he had been gone, and the clothes in the chest smelled musty. If the airing did not help, she would add them to next week's laundry. Margaret's hands were soon stiff with the cold, but the sunshine cheered her.
An errand, she could not recall what, brought Jack to the house. He strode into the yard, graceful and twitching with energy like a fine horse, wearing his best clothes, a green tunic with a white shirt beneath, brown leggings, soft blue shoes with long points and matching felt hat. How fine he looked. And she could tell by his posturing that he knew it.
'I am bidden to dine with Alan Fletcher.' Jack looked smug. Alan was a wealthy and influential merchant in Perth, and Jack had ambitions. 'I told him that I thought it high time I went in search of Roger. Master Fletcher has proposed a bit of business for me to do in Edinburgh and will provide the horse for the journey.' A welcome offer. With no shipping from Berwick or Leith since the English had seized the ports the previous summer, the coffers were almost empty, and hiring a horse for such a journey was out of the question. Margaret needed her mare here.
Still, she had been puzzled. She had worried about Roger all this time, but all the while Jack had assured her Roger was not headstrong and he could take care of himself. 'Why now?'
'I did not want — God help us, Roger is home.' Jack had just noticed the hanging clothes. 'No wonder I confuse you.'
'No, Roger is not home. Tell me more about your plan.' Easter was upon them. Perhaps she might ride south with him to Roger's mother in Dunfermline for the holy day.
But Jack said he must leave at once, and Margaret had much to do for the household before she could depart.
'Why this haste?' she asked.
'Seize the opportunity.' He had glanced round, then lifted her hand and kissed it. She pulled away from him, her face burning, and Jack grinned. 'I cannot kiss my cousin?'
'It is good you take such an interest in searching for Roger,' she said rather more loudly than necessary, 'but why search for him in Edinburgh? He would not ship from there.' His purpose in setting out had been to find an alternative port now Berwick was in English hands. He had said he would begin with Dundee.
Jack still teased her with his eyes. 'It was from Edinburgh he wrote to you. I may find a trace of him.'
It was true — she had received one letter from Roger in late November saying he would be home by Yuletide. The messenger had come from Edinburgh. 'And if his trail leads you beyond Edinburgh, will Alan Fletcher approve your continuing with his horse?' Her father and Fletcher had long ago fallen out over the man's miserly ways. He would expect a full accounting from Jack.
'Such a fuss! Do you not wish to find Roger?'
'Sweet heaven, you know that is not why I ask.'
But it had been the way of arguments with Jack. Teasing, playful. He had been such a vital presence.
And now here he lay.
Margaret's vigil began in tears. But as the hours slipped by her eyes dried, her sorrow replaced by a more selfish emotion. Fear. For herself, for Roger. Whoever had so savagely murdered Jack might be after Roger. After all, Jack's business had been Roger's business, Jack's kin were Roger's kin.
In the early morning Margaret's brother, Father Andrew, relieved her at the watch. After Celia took her leave, Margaret watched Andrew for a sign that he noticed the shroud had been opened and resewn.
He knelt beside it, said a prayer, then settled on the stool Celia had vacated, rubbing his hands together. 'I don't need to tell you it's a cold morn. You must have frozen in here all the night.'
'I preferred that to warming the lyke. Jack is four days gone.'
'Aye.' Andrew ran his hands through the dark hair that curled round his tonsure. He could be handsome if his mouth did not have such a downward curve, if his deep brown eyes met one's own more often.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Trust Betrayed"
Copyright © 2000 Candace Robb.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this novel and I am looking forward to the sequel. I found the setting to be very convincing. One of the criterion for a book being readable and engrossing is that I am surprised to look up from the page and find that it is not a wet, chilly spring outside, it's the middle of summer and in the 90s.Robb notes that she has made a judicious use of Scots words, since lowland Scots actually sounded pretty much like the northern English. She does have a glossary in the back, which was very helpful once I found it. Also very useful are a series of maps zeroing in from a map of Britain to the neighborhood of Edinburgh where most of the action takes place.These are not the most charming characters that I have ever met in fiction, although I became fond of some of them, but they are very real: complex, fallible and struggling with the dilemmas in their lives. I care very much what happens to them and I am anxious to read the next installment to find out.The complexity of the Scottish political situation is made plain: there are two chief Scottish contenders for the throne, and unfortunately their adherents sometimes fight one another more than the English who are subjugating them.I love the cover design and illustration by John Martinez.
Good quick read with a decent plot.
A Trust Betrayed by Candace Robb is the first in the Margaret Kerr of Perth series of mysteries. It's 1297 in Scotland. Edward the Longshanks, King of England, is butchering his way through Scotland. Scotland is divided in its loyalties between John Balliol and Robert Bruce. Things are going to hell in a handbasket, and Margaret Kerr's life is no exception.Her husband has been missing for months. Margaret sent his cousin Jack to Edinburgh to find him. Jack is murdered. Unable to stay in Dunfermline with her goodmother (mother-in-law) any longer, Margaret travels to Edinburgh with her brother Andrew, a priest, and Celia, a maid provided by her mother-in-law. Staying with her uncle, Murdoch, in his inn and tavern, Margaret helps him while she tries to find out what's happened to her husband Roger. She doesn't much like the information that turns up.This is another good book. The setting is perfection. Edinburgh occupied by English soldiers. William Wallace sneaking rides on ferries. A stubborn woman who insists on the truth from people who don't want the truth to hurt her. Robb has a light touch with Scots dialect, which makes the narrative very accessible. And--true to life--all the loose ends aren't tied up neatly at the end.
1297 scotland. Margaret Kerr's husband of 2 years has been away from home many months with no word and his cousin who went to look for him has been murdered, his body returned by Canon Andrew, her brother. she travles to Edinburgh to investigate and finds the town occupied by Edward I's army and everyone has secrets. She stays with her uncle murdoch at his tavern. Everyone knows all the answers she is seeking but because no one will tell her she causes trouble. this gets old and boring. There seems to be no really good reason why she is kept in the dark. The entire book would have been better condensed into three tight chapters. we know that athis is the beginning of a series dealing with the rebellion. My least favorite of the Robb books.
First novel in a series (of three so far). Young woman searching for missing husband during times of Scotish wars of independence vs. English king.
I've been a Candace Robb fan for years. I appreciate the chance to review this series although I'm not really sure what I was expecting. I knew this was a completely different series, but I think it is very unfortunate that fans of Ms. Robb's blockbuster Owen Archer series (such as myself) immediately compare Margaret Kerr to Owen - without meaning to. It's hard not to expect this new protagonist to be just like him and to be engaged with her right away. She is truly her own person in her own new kettle of fish. Admittedly, Margaret is hard to become attached to - in the beginning. She is a bit of a pain and I didn't gel with her "woe is me" aura. BUT, as the story progresses and she starts showing what she's actually made of, I got to like her. (I'm reading the 2nd book now and I can definitely say that I'm liking her more and more all the time.) The storyline continues to build and I'm enjoying this series. I think readers need to stay with her and she'll become beloved too. I think any fan of historical fiction and her writing, knows that Candace Robb is a master at bringing history to life for us. Medieval Scotland is one of my favorite time periods to read about. The obvious extensive and meticulous research she does shines through in her stories.
We follow Margaret Kerr on a journey through Bravehart's Scotland, where fearsome politics and personal betrayal parallel the beginnings of Margaret's self awareness and growing ability to respond to adventure, adversity, and disappointment. Uniqe plot twists surprise and delight in this very readable adventure of a bright, but unadventuous woman, who must come through some real and difficult circumstances. And in doing so shows us that women have always had to face adversity with courage. And a little romance never hurts!
In 1297 Scotland, Margaret already shocked by her husband Roger Sinclair not returning home from a trip to Edinburgh five months ago is further stunned. Roger¿s cousin Jack, who went in search of his missing relative, has just returned home in a shroud. Jack allegedly died in a barroom brawl. Upon inspecting the corpse, Margaret realizes that someone deliberately and viciously murdered Jack. Unable to sit and wait any longer, Margaret travels to Edinburgh in search of her spouse and Jack¿s killer. She will soon learn why no one including relatives and her husband wants Margaret in the city, let alone her investigating a murder. Readers can trust that Candace Robb will never betray their belief in the quality of her historical novels. Her latest tale is a historical mystery that is enriched with a strong feel of the era. The story line is exciting as the intrepid Margaret conducts her amateur sleuthing over the objections of seemingly everyone. A TRUST BETRAYED is hopefully the beginning of a new series from one of the better authors of medieval tales (see the Owen Archer novels for wonderful fifteenth century period mysteries). Harriet Klausner