Friday 22 December 2017

Diamond Tales: The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas by Cryssa Bazos

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
Cryssa Bazos

A new land with the promise of a fresh beginning beckons—or does it? Following on from the pages of Traitor’s Knot and what awaits James and Elizabeth Hart in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century...

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 no one.
“Perhaps if you wrote to…William Jackson,” Elizabeth suggested, substituting the name they called Charles Stuart even in private. “Let him know you’re here.”
James shrugged on his coat and adjusted his sleeves before answering, “I have – the day after we arrived.”
“She could make an exception and welcome the man who saved her brother.”
“Cromwell’s spies are everywhere, 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.”
Elizabeth watched from the frost-laced 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.
Their landlady’s son, Pieter, darted across 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.
A gentleman walking in the opposite 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 way.
Elizabeth stepped away from the window. This was her morning ritual, before she fed 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.  
Their lodgings were crowded and carried a 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 only redeeming feature of the room was 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.”
Down the flight of stairs, the door opened, 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. 
“I see you,” she said, as a way to invite him inside. “What is your mother baking?”
Quick as an arrow, Pieter dashed up the 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.
Pieter!” The landlady called out from the bottom of the stairs.
“I must leave, Mevrouw,” he whispered to Elizabeth before creeping back downstairs.
A few moments of silence were shattered by 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.
Her father-in-law settled himself on a stool by the fire. The rattling cough in his chest had worsened and needed to be treated. His skin was pallid and clammy.
“Here, Father.” Elizabeth placed a cool 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 nearby.”
Elizabeth left Thomas with Jennet and 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.
Apotheker? Ja.” the woman said in response to Elizabeth’s question. She gave brusque directions before returning to work.
Elizabeth followed the winding streets. 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. 
The sign of a mortar and pestle indicated 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, Mevrouw.”
While she waited, Elizabeth looked around 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.”
The man’s brow lifted, and his tone turned to annoyance. “Ik spree geen Engels.” He returned to the scale and continued his work.
Elizabeth realized her error. She should have brought someone with her who knew the language. Even Pieter could have helped.
The bell jingled behind her, and a 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.
Gooten morgen,” he said with an elegant nod.
Elizabeth returned his greeting, her tongue tripping over the unfamiliar words.
“Perhaps then I should say good morning, Mistress.”
Elizabeth smiled in relief, for this man was clearly a countryman. “Glad I am to hear the King’s English spoken.”
“Do they still call it that?”
The archness of his question made Elizabeth 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 familiar.”
The gentleman bowed slightly. “Sir Edward, at your service. Scribe and scholar.”
“You were walking along Lau Mazirellaan earlier and spoke to my husband.”
“Indeed. I take an interest in every corner of this fair city and mark every flower and bird that I come across. People too,” he said. “And your name, Mistress?”
She hesitated a fraction. “Elizabeth Hart.”
“Hart?” The man’s smile deepened. “Very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Elizabeth glanced at the apothecary who 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, sir?” 
“Perhaps I can translate?” Sir Edward said. 
Elizabeth set aside her reservations. Her 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.”
Sir Edward translated, and the apothecary responded enthusiastically. He even gave Elizabeth a nod of approval. Off he jogged to his storeroom.
“You are far from home, Mistress,” Sir Edward said while they waited.
A rush of melancholy assailed Elizabeth. “We had no choice. One day I hope we will return.”
“May the future hold more promise,” he said. “But know, you are not alone.”
The apothecary returned with the items and included a bag of lavender.
“To sweeten the air,” Sir Edward translated.
Dank je,” Elizabeth said directly to the apothecary.
“Now that you have everything in hand, Mistress, I must take my leave.”
“But I have interrupted your business, sir,” she said. “You have not purchased a single item.”
Sir Edward smiled. “I have no need for an apothecary.”
The hairs on her nape lifted. Her initial unease flared again. “Then why are you here?”
He appeared to be measuring his response 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.”
Elizabeth frowned trying to puzzle his meaning. “Do you have your answer?”
Sir Edward smiled and tipped his hat. “God speed, Mistress Hart. Give my regards to your husband.”

As the shadows lengthened and the streets 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. 
James’s footsteps sounded on the creaking 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.
“I’ve done what I could, love,” he admitted 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 well hidden.”
“Forget the token,” she said. “We’ll find another way to seek our fortune.”
After a moment, he said, “You deserve better.” 

The next morning, James did not leave their lodgings. 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.
Mevrouw, I got an orange in my shoe!”
Elizabeth noticed that he held a sealed 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.”
James cracked the seal, and his eyes widened. 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 Sint-Nicholaas.”

“Your audience with the lady has been arranged, compliments of William Jackson.
Your humble servant,
Sir Edward Nicholas.”

An image of a diamond had been pressed into the seal. Elizabeth glanced at the blue and white Delft tiles with the horseman encircled with diamonds.
A good omen indeed.

© Cryssa Bazos

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.

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About Traitor’s Knot
England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.
Royalist 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 highwayman.
Elizabeth 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.
The lovers’ 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.

Traitor's Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.

Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 


  1. A very enjoyable read, Cryssa, thank you. It reminded me of the three years I lived in Holland at the time of Sinterklaas and Zwarte piet in early December. Your vivid description means I can picture so well the houses in the oldest streets of Den Haag and those decorative tiles around the fireplaces.

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy! I'm so glad you felt I was able to capture that feeling!

  2. Fabulous - like Nancy, I was reminded of my years living in the Netherlands, and leaving 'clogs' outside in the hope of finding an orange there the next morning! And to this day, my mother still collects Delft plates. But I digress - what a wonderful story, with such cinematic images. I love the way your characters move - their actions are human, natural, and I could 'see' every scene so clearly. And in a few short words, the danger was summed up completely: who can be trusted? Wonderful story, thank you :-)

    1. Thank you so very much, Annie! I really appreciate hearing that. I adore those Delft plates and tiles and it was that image that first came to me when I was thinking about the story.

  3. Lovely story, Cryssa - as has been said, beautiful descriptions

  4. What a lovely read!Love how vividly you paint the setting.

  5. Such a treat to read your beautiful descriptions, Cryssa! Thanks for a lovely reading break this morning. I shall revisit this throughout the day in my mind's eye.

  6. I loved Traitor's Knot and what a fabulous continuation. I smelt the damp of their lodging, I walked down the street with Elizabeth, and heard Pieter's exuberance. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Alison! That's a wonderful complement!

  7. Merry Christmas, Cryssa ... and thank you. Having never been to Holland, I was having a hard time imagining this aspect of the lost Royalist years. Now I have something different to think about all day. Lovely.

    1. Merry Christmas to you too! This is a period that I want to explore more in future stories. Thanks so much.

  8. A treat that made me smile, and a great follow-up to Traitor's Knot. Evocative description of 17th century Netherlands. I love the country, the culture and the language. Gelukkig Kerstmis.

  9. A great read Cyrssa. Sorry for the slowness to comment and share. We got news of a new granddaughter and all plans went out the window.

    1. That’s huge news! Congratulations! Now that is a diamond of a present!


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