Nigel Tranter: The Wisest Fool

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Nigel Tranter The Wisest Fool
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    The Wisest Fool
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    Исторические приключения / на английском языке
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James groaned, slumped in his saddle, all the brightness suddenly gone out of his day.

Lennox cocked an eye at Heriot. 'You reckon we should turn and go home, my friend?"

"Scare that But it behoves us all, I think, to gang warily. At this stage."

"Lest the Englishmen spoil us! I swear you break His Grace's heart!"

"Be quiet, Vicky Stewart!" James cried loudly-and then glanced quickly, almost furtively behind in case any of the illustrious party riding immediately at his back should have heard. Lowering his voice, he went on, "Man-d'you now see how wrong you were? About the knightings. He's aye complaining, Geordie- my lord high and righteous Duke o' Lennox, carping at me for making knights o' ower many o' these English bodies. Sakes-he doesna ken the elementals o' it! You tell Irim, Geordie. Why I sent for you. How many knights have I made since I crossed yon brig at Berwick, eh? How many, aye-and how much. You'll ken"

"How many…? Ah… thirty-four, Sire. No, thirty-five, counting that Forester at Widdrington, after the hunt."

"Na, na-forget him. That was just to show yon man Carey that he canna badger me into honouring him. He wants to be a Lord o' Parliament He canna abide his father-most unduteous. The Lord Hunsdon. So Sir Robert wants to be one better-a viscount, no less! Never ceases to deave me for it, the man. A' because he brought me word first o' auld Elizabeth's death I was for showing him that I can raise up who I will, see you. That I'm no' dependant on the likes o' Robert Carey! Thirty-four, say you? How much, then, man-how much?"

"Well, Sire-I have had to gang warily likewise, mind. Your Grace will not want talk, a comparing of costs, as you might say. And I must judge the fleece before I clip it! Not all you have chosen are rich men…"

"A pox on you-we ken a' that! Are you failing me, Geordie Heriot? Making excuses? How much, this far? Out with it."

"Twenty-eight thousand, five hundred pounds, Sire. Leastways, notes of hand therefor." "English money? Sterling?" "Sterling, yes." Lennox whistled below his breath.

James grinned, chuckled. "Aye, well. No' bad, Geordie-no' bad. For two-three days. And how much does my Annie owe you now? Can you mind?"

"Seventy-five thousand pounds, Sire, more or less. Pounds Scots, of course."

"Guidsakes-so much as that I Save us-women are the devil! What does she do with it all? Does she eat jewels, man? I blame you, Geordie-aye tempting her wi' your gewgaws and trinkets. It's no' right Vanity it is. There'll be a judgment on such vanities, mark my words." "Her Grace is generous towards others, Sire…"

"Ooh, aye-generous! Fine, that! But-och, well this will more than pay for it, eh? How much is that in Sterling? Seventy thousand pounds Scots?"

"Seventy-five thousand pounds, Sire. Say six thousand pounds Sterling-since it is Her Grace. But, h'm, may I remind you, Sire, that Your Grace owes me more than that? One hundred and eighty thousand pounds Scots, indeed." "Dear God!" A single hoot of laughter erupted from the Duke of Lennox.

James glared at his cousin. "Here's no laughing matter. One hundred and eighty thousand pounds Scots! Na, na-you exaggerate, Geordie man. It's no' possible."

"No mistake, Sire. One hundred and eighty-four thousand, seven hundred and fifty pounds to be exact. Or, if you prefer it, fifteen thousand, three hundred and thirty-three pounds Sterling."

The King raised his heavy head with an accession of dignity. 'You have the mind o' a huckster, Master Heriot Pounds, shillings, groats and placks!" "Precisely, Your Grace. But then, I am a huckster!"

"M'mmm. Aye. But, man-it canna be so much as that? But a month past it was little more than half o' that."

"Your Grace perhaps forgets the chestful of rings which you ordered. And give out to all and sundry, on this your royal journey."

"Rings? Them? Och, but they're no' real gold, Geordie. Just covered wi' gold."

"Nevertheless, they cost money, Sire. So many. And engraved with your royal sign."

"Aweel, if you say so. But, Geordie-there'll still be something left for me, out o' a' these knighthoods, man? You'll no' swallow it a'?"

"To be sure. Even with due and proper interest, Your Highness is five thousand pounds in credit. Sterling."

"There! You see, Vicky? And you berate me. Guidsakes-what would you have? Your king a pauper? Indebted? Aye-and how much does the Duke o' Lennox owe you, Geordie Heriot? Eh? How much our righteous Duke?" "That, I fear, I am not at liberty to say, Your Grace. You would not have me break the confidence of those who deal with me? But this I can say, that my lord's indebtedness is but a small sum, a mere trifle. Not like many of Your Grace's Court that I could name!"

"Ha! You say so? But-more o' this anon. There's some-to-do ahead. Here's a mannie coming…"

A gallant was riding back from the Captain of the Guard's advance party. He doffed his bonnet low.

"Your Grace-a deputation from York. Has Sir Andrew your royal permission to present them?" "Ooh, aye. York's a fine rich town, they tell me. Have them up."

The magnificent towers of the mighty cathedral, with all the lesser spires and massive walls, had been looming before the cavalcade for long, in this flat, green country, and by now they were only some three miles off. A party of richly-robed and bejewelled citizens were brought up to genuflect before the monarch, who considered them assessingly from those knowing gazelle's eyes of his, while the royal trumpeter blew a flourish to halt the mile-long column behind.

"May I present to the King's Grace three gentlemen of the city of York?" young Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehirst, Captain of the Royal Guard, said. "Sheriffs, they say. And those, behind, sergeants or something such."

"Not so," a tall, thin and stately elderly man declared, his bow as dignified as his voice and carriage. "I am Sir "William Ingleby, High Sheriff of this entire great county and duchy of York. These two are the Sheriffs of the city, George Buck and John Robinson. The Sergeants behind are of, h'm, a different sort We come to pay our proper respects to Your Majesty, seek your gracious goodwill for duchy and city, and your royal confirmation of our ancient charters and privileges."

James eyed the speaker thoughtfully, plucking at his sagging lower lip. "Is that so?" he said.

The other blinked. "Yes, Sire. We ask you to accept the esteem and support of the greatest county and second greatest city of England. In proof whereof the city Sheriffs present to Your Majesty these tokens."

His Majesty's regard lightened a little at the word tokens-but fell again when the tokens proved to be no more than the Sheriffs' white wands of office held up for him to touch. He tapped their wood distastefully.

"Ooh, aye," he said. "Esteem and support, is it? You could scarce offer your sovereign lord less, I jalouse! Your simple duty, man."

"Yes, to be sure. Your Majesty. Of course." Ingleby looked a little worried. "York will not be found wanting, I assure you. Yes. And these, Sire, are the Sergeants-at-Arms. By name Wood, Damfort and Westrope." "And what do they bring me? More esteem, man?" "Er, their maces, Sire. Symbols of their authority. To offer you."

"Hh'mm." James touched the handsome extended jewelled maces, one, two, three, as though they might have burned him. "I will consider the matter o' your privileges and charter hereafter," he added, licking thick lips. "After I have tasted the flavour o' your esteem." He raised his voice. "On our way, Dand." And, as the horses moved forward, he jerked his over-large head in a see-you-to-it gesture to George Heriot

As the distinctly upset representatives of York were all but brushed aside by the resumed royal progress, Heriot fell back and dismounted, to speak with the High Sheriff.

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