Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Anne Lyle’s Mal Catlyn from The Merchant of Dreams.
Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year. But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.
When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice—and a conflict of loyalties that will place Mal and his friends in greater danger than ever.
We don’t have Black Friday here in England, and in Elizabethan times gifts were given at New Year, not Christmas. However, I thought it might be fun to take my hero Mal Catlyn shopping in my home city of Cambridge, where he attended university some 430 years ago…
* * *
I open my laptop, ready to dive into the next scene. For a moment my fingers hover over the keys. How to start? Ah yes…
“As Mal watched, the air before him grew hazy and bright, like a patch of sunlight–”
On cue the winter sun comes out, illuminating my tiny study but giving little warmth.
“–except that this light was greenish, like sun through leaves…”
I look up. The sunlight really is sort of green. I shiver, and the cat scrambles out of my lap and flees the room with a yowl, grey fur bristling. What the–?
The light is brighter now, more like a tunnel in the air, lined with trees. A feeling of queasy disbelief settles in my stomach; this can’t be happening. And yet there he is, small and far away but unmistakable in his black Elizabethan garb: Mal Catlyn, hero of two novels so far (plus the one I’m working on). I swallow and slowly close my laptop. A moment later he steps through, large as life and twice as handsome. Also frankly rather pungent, but that’s sixteenth-century personal hygiene for you.
He frowns at me and stares about him, at the bookshelves, the desk–and at me.
“This is not Venice.”
“No, I sent you back to England, remember?”
He still looks confused. Well, our timelines are badly out of sync, to be fair. That’s what happens when you’re writing a book whilst the previous one is about to be published.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” I ask.
“Damned if I know. The last thing I recall was thinking that I should buy a gift for Hendricks. I know she keeps rebuffing me, but…” He shrugs helplessly.
“Sorry. My bad.” I grin at him. “Still, whilst you’re here, perhaps we can pop into Cambridge and find something for her.”
“We’re in Cambridge?”
“Uh-huh. Well, in one of the villages, as it would have been in your day. But you’ll have to leave the rapier and dagger here. I can really do without you getting arrested.”
I take his elbow and lead him downstairs. Get the bus, or walk? Walk, I think; it’s only three miles, and it will give him time to get used to the twenty-first century.
* * *
By the time we reach the city centre he’s lost that shellshocked look and is grinning with pleasure at the sight of familiar places.
“Midsummer Common! And Jesus College. Now I know where I am. Come, I will take you to my old college, Peterhouse.”
He steps into the street into the path of an oncoming bicycle, and I grab his arm and pull him back just in time. Pedestrians, however, seem to be avoiding us. Maybe they think he’s in costume because he’s handing out fliers for a Shakespeare play; not an uncommon occurrence in this city. At least in the cold winter air the smell is less noticeable.
“Let’s go to the Christmas market,” I say. Better there than some overheated department store where he’ll attract far too much attention.
We skirt round the back of Emmanuel College and out onto Parker’s Piece. The centre of the park has been turned into a European-style Christmas market, full of carved wooden toys and gingerbread Santas. At least here he can buy something that won’t cause too much comment back in 1595.
We wander the aisles for a while, him gawping at all the wealth on show, me surreptitiously admiring his…ahem…clothes. That black pearl earring really does look rather dashing…
“What do you think she would like?” he says at last.
I ponder for a moment.
“It had better not be anything too feminine,” I say at last. “That might cause comment, seeing as how everyone still thinks she’s a boy.”
He nods. “Very true. Perhaps a warm hat, or some fur-lined gloves? Very practical in our cold English winters.”
He has a point; back in his day the River Thames regularly froze over, sometimes thick enough to skate on.
“Not very romantic, though,” I reply. “How about a gingerbread heart?”
His expression clouds, and I curse silently. Stupid of me, to forget that unfortunate incident with Sandy and the gingerbread doll in the first book. I wrote it, after all.
“How about one of these?” I say quickly, steering him away from the gingerbread stall towards one with displays of carved wooden boxes. “Useful but pretty.”
“Aye.” He smiles again. “She would like one of these very much. She once told me she had a box like this when she was ‘prenticed to Naismith, but it was destroyed in the theatre fire.”
He lifts the lid, and turns pale at the price on the label inside.
“Sweet Jesu, that’s more than I earn in a year!”
I peer over his shoulder. “It’s a little expensive – tourist prices – but nothing I can’t afford. Thanks to you.”
I take out my purse and hand a couple of notes to the stallholder. She wraps it in brown paper stamped with silver stars, and I gesture for her to give it to Mal. He bows to her, and then to me, so elegantly I feel a bit dizzy.
“Alas, I must go, madam,” he says. “I am expected at Ca’ Ostreghe for supper.”
The green glow starts to form behind him. I edge us both between a couple of stalls, hoping the shoppers put the apparition down to too much mulled wine on an empty stomach.
“Just be careful,” I call after him as he disappears. “And don’t forget who you bought that present for.”
A moment later he’s gone, and I’m alone under the blinking red and green lights of the gingerbread stall. I smile to myself as I head towards the bus stop. Boy, am I glad he never worked out who I am, or there’d have been hell to pay for what I put him through.
Too late, I remember he left his rapier at my house. Oh well, now we both have a souvenir of our encounter…
Meet Anne Lyle!
Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.
It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in imaginary pasts or parallel worlds. Her Elizabethan fantasy series debuted earlier this year with “The Alchemist of Souls”, and the sequel “The Merchant of Dreams” is due out this month. She is currently working on the final volume in the trilogy, “The Prince of Lies”.
Want to purchase Anne’s novels?
Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the madness with 32 authors while #giveaways ensue during #BlackFriday (Nov23-Dec24) http://tinyurl.com/LEBlackFriday2012 #paranormal #fantasy
Thank you Anne for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Anne is giving away a copy of The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: What kind of gift would you give a girl who was pretending to be a boy, and you knew differently? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered. (UK, EU, US or CAN only)
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.