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Diamond Tales: The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas by Cryssa Bazos





The English Civil War is over, and Charles (acclaimed as Charles II) is in exile with many of his supporters. The time and the place is fraught with danger, for who knows who is watching and why…



The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

A new land with the promise of a fresh beginning beckons—or does it? Following on from the pages of Traitor’s Knot and what awaits James and Elizabeth Hart in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century…

Two weeks after arriving in Holland, Elizabeth and
James Hart were just another group of English exiles flooding The Hague,
despite his service to the Crown. Though he denied it, Elizabeth knew James was
worried. She’d often caught him brooding over his prized token, turning the
royal coin, thumb over forefinger. The golden profile of Charles Stuart winked
in the firelight, minted when the promise of regaining his English throne had
not yet been dashed. This coin should have granted James an audience with
Charles’s sister, the Princess of Orange, and from that, possibly a lease of
lands, but the guards of the Binnenhof had their orders. The Princess would see
no one.

“Perhaps if you wrote to…William Jackson,”
Elizabeth suggested, substituting the name they called Charles Stuart even in
private. “Let him know you’re here.”
James shrugged on his coat and adjusted his
sleeves before answering, “I have – the day after we arrived.”
“She could make an exception and welcome
the man who saved her brother.”
“Cromwell’s spies are everywhere,
infiltrating Royalist circles,” James said. “The Princess needs to be careful
as to who she receives.” He brushed a kiss on Elizabeth’s forehead. “I’ll
somehow find a way, my love.”
Elizabeth watched from the frost-laced
window as he emerged into the street below. As he had every day these past two
weeks, James headed down the cobbled street towards the stables where he kept a
stall for Sovereign. Each day had been the same. Ride out into the city to
connect with other Royalists; find someone who had the Princess’s confidence.
Their landlady’s son, Pieter, darted across
James’s path with his stick and ball, the lad’s white-blond hair ruffling as he
ran. Normally, James would have called out a greeting to him, but this morning
he barely seemed to notice.
A gentleman walking in the opposite
direction stopped James to ask a question. The man’s silver hair and white lace
collar stood out against the darkness of his velvet cap and cloak. They spoke a
moment before parting. James glanced back at the man before continuing on his
way.
Elizabeth stepped away from the window. This was her morning ritual, before she fed
their infant son, Thomas, but she never owned to it. Soon their maid, Jennet,
was stirring the embers and her father-in-law had risen to break his fast.  
Their lodgings were crowded and carried a
lingering dampness. Wide wooden planks, knotted and rough, were begrimed with
layers of soot that had deposited into the crevices, beyond the reach of a
scrub brush. Elizabeth craved fresh air and the refreshing scent of salt on the
breeze, but she daren’t open the window for the acrid scent of tar and muddy
canal would have filled the room. Her father-in-law’s chill had worsened, and
this would have further aggravated his condition.
The only redeeming feature of the room was
the blue and white Delft tiles surrounding the hearth. Diamonds graced the
corner of each tile, and at their centre, a figure charged on horseback. He was
a clever fellow wearing a Dutch-styled hat with a jaunty feather. His cloak
bellowed out, and the horse reminded her of Sovereign. When the landlady had
first shown them the room, Elizabeth drew James aside and pointed to the tiles.
“A promising omen, surely.”
Down the flight of stairs, the door opened,
and the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg wafted upward. Elizabeth spied the top of
Pieter’s white head, but he remained crouched mostly out of sight. 
“I see you,” she said, as a way to invite
him inside. “What is your mother baking?”
Quick as an arrow, Pieter dashed up the
remaining steps. “Treats for Sinterklaasfeest.”
The lad spoke with a heavy Dutch accent. “Sint-Nicholaas
will be in harbour tonight, and he’ll fill my shoes with treats!” He then
rhymed off his favourite biscuits.
Pieter!
The landlady called out from the bottom of the stairs.
“I must leave, Mevrouw,” he whispered to Elizabeth before creeping back
downstairs.
A few moments of silence were shattered by
Pieter receiving a scolding. Elizabeth didn’t need to fully understand Dutch to
realize she was warning her son away from them. The woman treated them no
better than lepers, except that she welcomed their coin.
Her father-in-law settled himself on a
stool by the fire. The rattling cough in his chest had worsened and needed to
be treated. His skin was pallid and clammy.
“Here, Father.” Elizabeth placed a cool
compress across his forehead. If she had her stores of herbs, she could have
mixed a warm poultice for him. “I’ll seek out an apothecary. There must be one
nearby.”
Elizabeth left Thomas with Jennet and
headed out. She found her landlady sweeping the doorstep. A grey woollen shawl
was draped across her broad shoulders, and the tip of her nose was bright red.
Apotheker?
Ja.
” the woman said in response to Elizabeth’s question. She gave brusque
directions before returning to work.
Elizabeth followed the winding streets.
There was a crackle in the air as people rushed to get their work done before
the eve of St. Nicholas. She jostled her way down the crowded streets, past
slow moving carts filled with goods. Tempers became frayed, and a fight nearly
broke out over an overturned barrel of oranges. 
The sign of a mortar and pestle indicated
she’d found the apothecary. Above the door, a tinkling bell sounded as she
entered. Behind the counter, a thin man measured a white powder on a scale. He
barely glanced up and said, “Een moment,
Mevrouw.”
While she waited, Elizabeth looked around
the shop. A sudden wave of nostalgia for her aunt’s stillroom swept over her. Glass
jars filled with dried compounds filled the shelves. A small fire burned in the
brazier. “I need some assistance, sir.”
The man’s brow lifted, and his tone turned
to annoyance. “Ik spree geen Engels.”
He returned to the scale and continued his work.
Elizabeth realized her error. She should
have brought someone with her who knew the language. Even Pieter could have
helped.
The bell jingled behind her, and a
gentleman entered the shop. He wore a black broadcloth coat with a crisp lace
collar. A black, velvet cap was set atop thick silver hair. Elizabeth
recognized him immediately – the man who had passed James on the street.
Gooten
morgen
,” he said with an elegant nod.
Elizabeth returned his greeting, her tongue
tripping over the unfamiliar words.
“Perhaps then I should say good morning,
Mistress.”
Elizabeth smiled in relief, for this man
was clearly a countryman. “Glad I am to hear the King’s English spoken.”
“Do they still call it that?”
The archness of his question made Elizabeth
uneasy. She should have taken better care with her words. Too late she
remembered James’s warning of Cromwell’s spies. “Forgive me, but you look
familiar.”
The gentleman bowed slightly. “Sir Edward,
at your service. Scribe and scholar.”
“You were walking along Lau Mazirellaan
earlier and spoke to my husband.”
“Indeed. I take an interest in every corner
of this fair city and mark every flower and bird that I come across. People
too,” he said. “And your name, Mistress?”
She hesitated a fraction. “Elizabeth Hart.”
“Hart?” The man’s smile deepened. “Very
pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Elizabeth glanced at the apothecary who
was, by now, following their conversation with open interest. She couldn’t
tarry any longer and addressed him, “Do you not speak the least English,
sir?” 
“Perhaps I can translate?” Sir Edward
said. 
Elizabeth set aside her reservations. Her
father-in-law needed his physic, and Sir Edward carried himself with courtesy.
“I must make a poultice of mustard seed and mint to relieve the ague. A tincture
of water-agrimony as well.”
Sir Edward translated, and the apothecary
responded enthusiastically. He even gave Elizabeth a nod of approval. Off he
jogged to his storeroom.
“You are far from home, Mistress,” Sir
Edward said while they waited.
A rush of melancholy assailed Elizabeth.
“We had no choice. One day I hope we will return.”
“May the future hold more promise,” he
said. “But know, you are not alone.”
The apothecary returned with the items and
included a bag of lavender.
“To sweeten the air,” Sir Edward
translated.
Dank
je
,” Elizabeth said directly to the apothecary.
“Now that you have everything in hand,
Mistress, I must take my leave.”
“But I have interrupted your business,
sir,” she said. “You have not purchased a single item.”
Sir Edward smiled. “I have no need for an
apothecary.”
The hairs on her nape lifted. Her initial
unease flared again. “Then why are you here?”
He appeared to be measuring his response
before he replied, “An acquaintance asked me to find a diamond in a coal bin, a
truly difficult matter to accomplish with discretion. In these dim times, one
may not easily discern between gems and glass.”
Elizabeth frowned trying to puzzle his
meaning. “Do you have your answer?”
Sir Edward smiled and tipped his hat. “God
speed, Mistress Hart. Give my regards to your husband.”
As the shadows lengthened and the streets
grew more settled, Elizabeth drifted to the window to wait for James’s return.
Perhaps today he’d return with good news. She spied him coming down the street,
his gait slow and his shoulders hunched forward. With a sigh she stepped away
from the window. They’d have to wait another day. 
James’s footsteps sounded on the creaking
stairs, and Elizabeth rushed to greet him. She thought to mention Sir Edward,
but James’s weariness made her put it aside. Later. Elizabeth linked her fingers with his and drew him to a seat
by the fire. When she would have gone to fetch him his supper, James halted her
with a touch. His arm curled around her waist, drawing her closer to him. His
grey eyes were shadowed, and he searched her face without saying a word. She
stepped into his embrace and wrapped her arms around him, holding him tight.
“I’ve done what I could, love,” he admitted
to her in a low tone. “What connections I thought I had, I can’t find. My old
commander, the Earl of Northampton is away from the city, and his servant won’t
admit to his whereabouts or accept a letter on his behalf. There’s a rumour of
the king’s factor in the city but no one can say who he is. If he exists, he’s
well hidden.”
“Forget the token,” she said. “We’ll find
another way to seek our fortune.”
After a moment, he said, “You deserve
better.” 
The next morning, James did not leave their lodgings.
He spread out a backgammon board between himself and his father. Little Thomas
sat on his lap and gnawed on one of the draughts. The door creaked at the
bottom of the stairs, and Pieter dashed up to the second floor.
Mevrouw,
I got an orange in my shoe!”
Elizabeth noticed that he held a sealed
letter, and the lad seemed to remember it at the same time. “A gift for Mijnheer,” he said, handing the letter
to James. “From Sint-Nicholaas. He must not have known where your shoes were,
for he left it outside our door.”
James cracked the seal, and his eyes widened.
He looked up, and for the first time in two weeks, he gave her an unguarded
smile. “As the lad says,” he said handing her the letter. “A gift from
Sint-Nicholaas.”
“Your
audience with the lady has been arranged, compliments of William Jackson.
An image of a diamond had been pressed into
the seal. Elizabeth glanced at the blue and white Delft tiles with the horseman
encircled with diamonds.
© Cryssa Bazos





Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, is published by Endeavour Press.

About Traitor’s Knot

England
1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament
executed King Charles I.

Royalist
officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to
raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a
highwayman.

Elizabeth
Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the
new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a
garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by
her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The
lovers&rsquo. Loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight
his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save
him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Traitor’s Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted
loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.



Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

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