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
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
Elizabeth suggested, substituting the name they called Charles Stuart even in
private. “Let him know you’re here.”
sleeves before answering, “I have – the day after we arrived.”
the man who saved her brother.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.”
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.
him inside. “What is your mother baking?”
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.
The landlady called out from the bottom of the stairs.
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.
stool by the fire. The rattling cough in his chest had worsened and needed to
be treated. His skin was pallid and clammy.
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
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.
Ja.” the woman said in response to Elizabeth’s question. She gave brusque
directions before returning to work.
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.
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,
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.”
to annoyance. “Ik spree geen Engels.”
He returned to the scale and continued his work.
have brought someone with her who knew the language. Even Pieter could have
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.
morgen,” he said with an elegant nod.
tripping over the unfamiliar words.
was clearly a countryman. “Glad I am to hear the King’s English spoken.”
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
at your service. Scribe and scholar.”
earlier and spoke to my husband.”
of this fair city and mark every flower and bird that I come across. People
too,” he said. “And your name, Mistress?”
pleased to make your acquaintance.”
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,
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.”
responded enthusiastically. He even gave Elizabeth a nod of approval. Off he
jogged to his storeroom.
Edward said while they waited.
“We had no choice. One day I hope we will return.”
said. “But know, you are not alone.”
included a bag of lavender.
je,” Elizabeth said directly to the apothecary.
Mistress, I must take my leave.”
sir,” she said. “You have not purchased a single item.”
unease flared again. “Then why are you here?”
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.”
meaning. “Do you have your answer?”
speed, Mistress Hart. Give my regards to your husband.”
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.
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.
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
another way to seek our fortune.”
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.
I got an orange in my shoe!”
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.”
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
audience with the lady has been arranged, compliments of William Jackson.
the seal. Elizabeth glanced at the blue and white Delft tiles with the horseman
encircled with diamonds.
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
1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament
executed King Charles I.
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
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.
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.
loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.
Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds