Blythe Gifford – In which we create a Happy Ending
On February 19, TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL, the final book in The Brunson Clan trilogy, hits the shelves. And with its publication, I’ll achieve my goal in writing the series: To give Johnnie Armstrong a happy ending.
Let me explain.
The trilogy is set on the Scottish Borders during the early Tudor era. Constant war, along with a bleak, hilly terrain ill-suited to settled agriculture, and inheritance laws that split land into smaller and smaller parcels all combined to make it difficult to keep body and soul together.
This was the land of the Border Reivers. To survive, the Reivers, a term applicable to both English and Scottish families, “made a living” by stealing from one another, or, alternately, by collecting “blackmail” from those who could pay to be left alone. Whether there was a formal war or an uneasy peace, the Borders were, in effect, a war zone for 300 years.
The “war” was only marginally between Scotland and England. More often, it was among the various families on either side of the dividing line. Loyal to family above king, these folks had feuds that rivaled the famous Hatfields and McCoys They were beyond the law of either government, and usually even beyond the reach of the special Border Laws that were developed in a joint Anglo-Scots effort to bring order from the chaos.
“The Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong,” the story of an execution of a famous Border Reiver, was one of these.
Now Johnnie Armstrong, or Johnnie of Gilnocke, as he was also called, was one of the most notorious Reivers on the Borders. Finally, King James V of Scotland rode into the land himself in a desperate attempt to restore order to the most lawless ground on the island. (Some suggest he did it because he had something to prove to his uncle, King Henry VIII of England.) At the top of King James’ list was Johnnie Armstrong, also called the “King of the Borders.”
Of course, history is written, or rewritten, by the storytellers. To the king and the people he preyed on, Johnnie Armstrong might be a despicable man. But to the songwriter who penned the “Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong,” his hero was a gallant thief, protecting Scotland from the English, and just trying to make his way in the world.
According to the balladeer, Johnnie was not lawfully tried and convicted, but basely murdered when he was lured to a meeting with the king by a “loving letter” that insisted he come unarmed.
He did exactly that, along with forty retainers, dressed in their finest splendor to honor the king, expecting to be welcomed with open arms and royal hospitality.
Instead, he and his crew were seized by the king’s men labeled traitors, and fitted with hanging nooses. Armstrong bargained for his life, and that of his men, with everything he could think of.
He offered the king all manner of gifts, including “four and twenty milk white steeds” if he were spared. His final offer was that the king should receive yearly rent, more accurately, the “blackmail” from all dwellers in the area of the Borders where Johnnie held sway, from “Gilnockie to Newcastleton.”
The king had no sympathy and was not open to a bribe.
Facing death, Johnnie made an impassioned speech, claiming he had never harmed a Scot, but only the English. The truth of this claim might be open to dispute. To the local people he had preyed upon, Johnnie’s death might have been a welcome relief.
But it is also hard to summon sympathy for the king as he is portrayed in the ballad, so deceitful that he tricks his subject into a trap. The song also suggests the king was jealous of Johnnie’s fine clothes, another less than admirable trait, and perhaps even his title of “King of the Border.”
Finally, as he realizes he is to die, Johnnie says (according to the ballad) “I have asked grace at a graceless face, but there is none for my men and me.”
So poor Johnnie and his men were hanged and lived no more. Neither, legend has it, did the trees from which they swung.
Well, that didn’t seem right. So began the story of the Brunson Clan. Oh, my Brunsons are NOT the Armstrongs. Indeed, finding the “real story” behind the ballad proved that the stories live longer than the truth. So I told it my way, which mean changing virtually everything. But finally, at the end of TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL, the king appears, ready to punish the Brunsons and…
Well, let’s just say no trees die at the end of the book except those that provided the paper.
So, are you a sucker for a happy ending?
A lucky reader who comments on today’s blog will be randomly selected to win a signed copy of (your choice) RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR (Book 1), CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD (Book 2), or TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL (Book 3). US and Canadian addresses only, please.
Book Three of the Brunson Clan Trilogy
TORMENTED BY HER INNOCENCE
As leader of his clan, Black Rob Brunson has earned every dark syllable of his name. But, having taken hostage his enemy’s daughter in a fierce act of rebellion, he is tormented by feelings of guilt and torn apart with the growing need to protect her—and seduce her!
Stella Storwick feels Rob’s disdain from the first. Then slowly she starts to see behind his eyes to a man in turmoil. Something he has no words for, something that can only be captured in a heart-wrenching kiss....
“Each story in the series becomes more powerful than the one before, as readers become invested in the characters and their struggle to remain sovereign. The historical backdrop enhances this captive/captor romance that is at once emotionally powerful, tender and exciting.” 4-Stars, RT Book Reviews
Blythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, she’s launched a Harlequin Historical trilogy set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era: RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012; CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, January 2013; and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL , March 2013. The Chicago Tribune has called her work "the perfect balance between history and romance." Visit her at www.blythegifford.com, www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford, www.twitter.com/BlytheGifford, or www.pinterest.com/BlytheGifford.
Cover art and copy text © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited; Cover art & copy text used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited; ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license. Author photo by Jennifer Girard.