As indicated in my post Gull and Chain, I have devoted most of my writing time this summer to developing my period piece taking place at a fictional flax farm manor in Northern Ireland, Ken Kerr. And, because I am odd, I have to make this love story as tragic as humanly possible, because flax is not very sexy my fellow Forgers, and I feel romance is dead. DEAD.
(Oh, these young folk...if they only knew how love stormed those seas of doubt and romance rode those exotic waves of passion -- before the click of an app. Tsk. Tsk. Yes, I'm Mister Romantic! I know what I'm lecturing you about!).
In all seriousness (although romance is truly dead, except perhaps at the Moir homestead...I strongly suspect each of Mike's fables is analogous to a steamy autobiographical moment), fewer than fourteen days have I missed not expanding or editing or totally deleting scenes and descriptions from my story. With the help of Google Docs, I find myself reconsidering and rewriting my Irish story's dialogue, paragraphs, and chapters during traffic jams on Meridian Street, on my small breaks between assays and timed conditions, and --much to the annoyance of my family-- in-between having ordered dinner at Mama Corolla's and waiting for its delivery.
"No, Scott. I'm not giving you my phone. Ah! Don't-touch-my-phone. I'll put it away. Geez." (Psst! Romance. Is. Dead. White. Clam. Linguine. Arrives!)
I share one of those edited chapters (but new to you. Please share your expert critiques. I have several drafts ahead of me, no 'doubt'): Doubt and Petulance. My protagonist, Sir Robert Taylor, is the son of an abusive English baron. I thought Sir Robert's impulsive and indecisive behavior; his tormented, doubting mind could be explained partially by living under his misanthropist father's rule. I counter that force, albeit unevenly (and purposefully), with the creation of a kind, thoughtful, and honest grandfather who knows all too well his grandson's predilection to solitude, to reading fiction and writing poetry instead of mastering Hedge Manor's land and farm wealth; and to survive yet another day regardless of accomplishment.
I also needed to discovery how Sir Robert ends up owning an old flax farm and manor in Ireland that comes with a lovely and brilliant lady, Ceara, and her equally brilliant, if more sensual brother, Hugh. Ah...is that fair? To claim Hugh sensual? Or, was Hugh only a man whose knots unto Sir Robert simply could not be undone?
Doubt and Petulance
“Doubt is the greatest flaw among men. And you, so educated!”
He witnessed his oft scowling and morose father scold and extinguish the delight and cheerfulness that was his grandfather when time came to deciding Sir Robert’s fate. There must have been hundreds of situations, the compliant and fledgling Robert Taylor then thought, when that wisdom regarding doubt could be the wrong antidote, or unfair. Men had worse flaws than doubt. Yet: Hugh.
His grandfather wanted him to go to Oxford, to enter the Clergy – or go into Mathematics.
“Both disciplines lead you and your followers to ultimate truths.” He happily concluded as he led his grandson to his father’s bureau – and then stiffened his spine at the doorway as if he were entering Satan’s den. By wary eye, he instructed his grandson’s spine to harden, too, before they entered and again when they finally stood in the presence of the leviathan behind the desk who was finishing signing his bible of property ledgers.
The hurried and deep scratches the man made with his pen: sadistic.
“Why you two look so dumbfounded? Which is it? Fickle as cock robins, are you?”
His father insisted his son go to Antrim and manage the baron’s recently purchased flax fields – and reset the stone and reclaim the household of a Ken of Kerr upon the recent death of the Catholic tenant who managed to keep his manor and some flax fields, in contract.
Flax fields? What was Sir Robert to do with flax?
They both stood there, staring down at the businessman who was no real father but only a scowl that occasionally barked, and spat...and knocked.
We fickle as robins.
His grandfather knew of Sir Robert’s weaknesses; his grandson’s own troubling demeanor to set to rhyme his natural sentiment rather than to prose his inheritable influence. His father respected only the brawn of his son’s shoulders and the young man’s newly sprouted beard -- and loathed the meandering, reserved spirit who would some cursed day inherit his and his grandfather’s wealth. No matter. As the selfish Baron had reproached him during breakfast or demonstrated in the fields full of laborers or berated him whilst hosting mortified guests at their manor near Appleby; Sir Robert was to be “broken to fundamentals and rebuilt a man so as to earn my title and pound wealth -- and not by my blood will you do boy, but by my design, and only that!”
The scoundrel needed his son to go to Antrim “set cross that piss of sea”. Yet -- and never a doubt -- his grandfather knew his grandson was not fit for such adventure; such independence. He knew his grandson was one to be kept, in comfort – if not in hiding from the reaches of his own father. And, when the moment came to discuss Oxford or Proprietor, Grandfather and Grandson hesitated…hesitated for just a few ticks of the clock whilst the Miser of Westmorland seethed over the display of grown men in doubt.
...The greatest flaw.
He remembered his grandfather’s response. He remembered instant fear for his grandfather’s safety.
“Is it fair to delay this boy’s education for a debtor’s plot of grass? And in that woeful land? Is there honor in that, James? And, for God's sake, James. What has God planned for Robert’s talent? He has a duty to determine his own honorable profession and not to be...cast off to the wilderness. Now, you needn’t be so frustrated, James. Oh -- and please don’t sigh like a petulant boy. Hear us out. Robert and I have discussed this at some length. We agree his skills are better suited to vocations of-.”
“—Maths and Gospels? Not this again. He’s no wise man. He adrift! And he’s no Enchanter, either. Imagine him before the church -ha! Empty hexes, grand sorcery. Who would believe him in their time of need?”
“Robert would make fine clergy. Or, Lecturer of --”
“Lecturer of elves and fairies.”
“We know he’s fit for failure of the most sordid affairs. A man with no spine is susceptible to any and all disease. Buggery, no doubt, he'd make a fine pillow --”
“Enough! You disgusting.... Enough!”
“I am the one who has had enough! His escape to college will not do. Why: So he can learn how to bugger by profession? No! His duty is to find his spine. His duty is to bleed, like I have very well to do. His duty is to enlarge my investments – not to delight in his fancyin’! What investments have he ever sacrificed, whilst I gave him sup and shelter? None. None! An’ those writings? He scarcely comes out of his room, he and his bloody quill, whilst I have studied well and took to the bleed of both mind and body. If my spine bends, then so will his. So must his! Duty to this family is his duty – Mathematics and sorcery can wait. He will learn all he needs to know by calculatin’ the trade – look at me, boy Robert! I’m your father and not that old fool!”
“He is no longer a boy. He is a man. And, because he is a man, his duty is only to himself. We are finish here, James.”
“No we ain’t, old man. I’m not finished with you. You dare lead my boy away from the only contract he can never escape, and that is the contract he has with his father. I bailed you and mum from the bloody thieves you had foolishly loaned our wealth– for so long have I cared for your interests and hers; but, if God’s pulpit is what this dandy prat wishes to scrutiny, then he will learn it in the wilds of Ireland by saving them wretched squalor under the crack of his whip. I said look at me, boy!”
Sir Robert startled and gasped as his father’s fist seemed to split the desk. His grandfather only raised a brow. He was never surprised by his son’s behavior, for he was always, always one division and two sums ahead of the miser’s own selfish calculations. Sir Robert reaffirmed his spine; watched through his eye’s periphery how his grandfather merely tapped his bent fingers on the desk, looked straight ahead towards the chairs against the wall -- as if addressing counsel. He then politely, yet directly, stated, “As I understand the situation, your Catholic debtor was the last of his kind to hold onto his small plot and manor whilst working under the former proprietor. If Robert is to govern over the till, then he will do so only if he is Lord of it all.”
“Lord? Of it all? Oh, no old man. Not my fields. Not ever – and never with my waking-”
“--He will be the rightful Baron of the newly acquired fields as well as the Manor. Kerr, is it, my boy?” His grandfather asked Sir Robert, yet waited for no answer and reset his graying, yet stealthy eyes on the festering beast. “He will be Lord of the Manor Kerr and all its domain, or I will bequeath more of my property to your cousin Frederick, and without hesitation. I believe he is to be married this time next year?”
“Them my fields, old man -- what you haven’t already tossed to the dogs! And you are aware these here fields near town -- that I alone tilled and toiled; they belong to me. To me!”
“No. They belong to me. Only Antrim --”
“I alone own them fields in Antrim!”
“Yes, indeed. Only Antrim, James. I own all but a few lots of Hedge Manor. You haven’t enough acreage to sustain your needs here or across the sea. Look here, son. You haven’t much choice, James, seeing as how I am still of sound body and mind. As well, it is only fair. Now, sit back in your seat. Go on, sit down and let us discuss this as gentlemen. You can make this arrangement work for you. If Robert fails, then you will have proven your acrimony. If he succeeds, then you get your crop - and your coin -- and your rightful place guiding your son’s prospects, sticking your damn pitchfork in him wherever you care to plant it. And, as per my contract, I will guarantee your share of Hedge Manor -- before I am called.”
The beast; he seethed and looked down at his ledgers – his thumb bending the corner and creasing the pages gently; an unusually gentle fidget of a tyrant. Sir Robert remembered thinking he might have to knock his father down if he so sprung forth and knocked his grandfather -- or, he would have to take the blow himself. Yet, suspiciously, his father was nodding.
Never had I seen him nod.
“It does seem fair, now that you have put it forth. You must -- I said look at me, boy. Listen carefully. You can be Lord of the squalor. Baron of all of Ireland’s bogs. I don’t give a damn. It is all yours, but only after he puts in writing my fair share of Hedge n' fields. And, I will add to that contract -- for I won’t accept such a contract without it -- Stewart’s blacksmith shop and livery -- or no deal. And, for sure, you are quite correct, old man. I won’t trust upon your death that you will give me what is mine. No, no. Never.”
The tyrant, he seemed delighted. He grinned as he took his seat. “As for you…. Look at me boy. Give me my crop when it due – and I don’t give a damn whatever else becomes of you and your unearned title. Still, I give you bit of advice in return: never find yourself in debt to me, boy Robert. For, I will have it all whatever you managed to have gained. I’ll rip away every stone from them fields – and your stones along with them. And as far as what’s fair is bein’ tossed about, Clergyman…” The Tormenter then rose from his seat and set his dirt-brown eyes on the old man; the beast’s heavy chest expanding over the desk from the infernal raging inside his otherwise emptiness, “if this lilly-daint so much as misspells our name on an order, or if he casts a shadow on it with any poor shade of light, then I’ll have his goddamned, willow-boy fanny chopped off and sittin’ right on this here desk -- to shove my quill!”
His father then sprang round the desk and spat towards Sir Robert’s feet. He remembered his grandfather pushing his revolting son backwards – a hard, good thump on the chest despite his own frailty. Sir Robert remembered then looking down at his boots as he heard his father slam the door behind them; imagined seeing his fine leather boots covered in his father’s venom – but finding nothing wet or poisonous burning through his soles. He remembered his father’s spilled tea, too, and it all over the desk...and its terrible stench of sour milk and anise.
To this day, the stench of anise came forth whenever Sir Robert felt shoved about, cornered, or reprimanded.
He then remembered his grandfather’s hand on his back-- its warm, familiar heat as his grandfather massaged and led him out of that dank room...and his surprise when his grandfather felt the strength to crack a joke about how even Satan would have agreed to thread the flax after engaging “this abhorrent, petulant creature of ours.”
Flax? What am I to do with flax?
“Now you are aware,” At the foot of the stair, his sighing grandfather leaned against him and wiped his forehead with his kerchief, “once the spark is set in your father’s mind, he then kindles his own fire with the home and all its furnishings.” His grandfather held onto the banister, seemed determined to go up without Sir Robert’s aid, but then turned and pointed his bent and fragile index finger at him, the wet kerchief wadded in his palm, “Give him his crop and always on time. More importantly, never perform a transaction with that -- with your father without witness. Never, son, without witness -- do you hear me, Robert? Good. And, then be done with him. Put him out of your mind and soul. And, for God’s sake, appreciate every minute you can tick away without your father’s presence.”
|All is gray when Flax is blue....|
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