About the author:
Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction author and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, is published by Endeavour Media and was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and a finalist for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, The Severed Knot, was long listed for the 2018 HNS New Novel Award and will be released spring 2019.
"Music has always inspired me. My writing process involves writing with a soundtrack. The songs are carefully curated to evoke an emotional response specific to my story and my characters. The Severed Knot is my latest novel in progress. It’s the story of two people who have been ripped away from their homes in Scotland and Ireland and transported as bondservants thousands of miles away to Colonial Barbados. Iain Johnstone and Mairead O’Coneill will do anything to return home, even risk their lives.
The following piece is an excerpt from The Severed Knot...."
* * *Iain Johnstone refilled his cup and headed over to Alastair. He found an empty spot to stand beside the master boiler and greeted him with a nod. “They play well,” he said nodding to the odd collection of musicians gathered together on the platform of the crushing mill. “Have they been at it for long?”
“When they can,” Alastair replied curtly.
“Tam mentioned they fashioned those drums with skins.” Iain searched for common ground. He felt dropping the sub-overseer’s name couldn’t hurt.
Iain shook his head. “I’ve had other concerns in my life.”
“Shame,” Alastair said with a curl of his lip. “Look around. Music can make life bearable.”
Iain didn’t answer. Nothing would make this place bearable to him. The old ballads never failed to trigger memories of childhood and a simpler time, but music was what you did on a winter night during winter quarters. It passed the time, not changed the world.
A new tune started, this time with the pipers leading the chorus.
“Were you a musician before?” Iain asked him.
“Not hardly,” Alastair said. Iain detected a slight bitterness. “I was a chandler in Glasgow.”
Mairead hovered close and drew Iain’s attention. She watched the performers as though the rest of the world mattered naught. She kept her hands against her thigh, and Iain couldn’t help but notice how her fingers moved in a strange pattern with the music.
“She’s a good lass,” Alastair said, pulling Iain’s thoughts back. He muttered his agreement and took another sip of mobbie. “I’ve heard you look out for her.”
Iain hadn’t realized that had been obvious. Tam maybe had mentioned it? “She doesn’t deserve to be here.”
“Aye, she doesn’t, but she is.”
“Nor me or my men, you know this.”
Alastair shrugged. “But we’re all here now. Fate can be a bitch.”
Iain gave a grudging smile and lifted his cup. “Do you not miss Scotland?”
Alastair snorted. “The damp, the cold? My old bones welcome this heat. This place will either destroy you or it will make your fortune—which one depends on the strength of one’s mettle. In the end, few return back from whence they came.”
Iain tossed back the rest of his mobbie. Damn that. Not only would he survive, he’d find his way back to Scotland. If Alastair wanted to feel better about staying in this hellhole, let him square that with his conscience.
“You don’t believe me,” Alastair said. “Think only a fool would remain, given the chance?” He hopped down from the barrel and gave a nod to Iain. “Right then, I’m off.”
The song ended, and Iain watched Alastair enter the crushing mill. He disappeared for a moment, and when he reappeared he cradled a violin in the crook of his arm.
Iain couldn’t sit there any longer. Passing by the keg, he dropped the cup on top and manoeuvred through the crowd to head back to his hut.
Tam stopped him. “Where are you off to, Scotsman? You’re truly sour, man.”
“I’ve had enough.” Iain patted the man on the shoulder and attempted to move past him. Before he did, he glanced to the crushing mill in time to see Alastair handing the violin to Mairead. The rapt expression on her face made him pause. She handled the instrument reverently, as carefully as a woman cradling her bairn. Iain had never seen her eyes so round, her normally wary expression so soft.
Mairead lifted the violin to her collar bone and adjusted her grip. She tried a few tentative plucks and adjusted the tuning until the chord sounded right. Then she lifted the bow against the strings and started to play.
The sound that came from her violin was low, wistful, and with a melody that stirred long-buried hopes. Both light and dark notes rounded each other out, and she pushed the tune further along. A low drum beat joined in, and she adjusted her rhythm slightly to hit the rising notes with the downbeat.
Then the main melody started.
Iain knew this song—an old Scottish ballad, one of his favourites. It called to mind the longing of home. It had been the song that he had sung to himself during the gruelling journey from England.
The words had always stirred him, providing comfort during all those times he had been away on campaign, far from home. But Mairead’s rendition added layers he had never heard. The mournful tone of the violin spoke of the wind in the firs and smoky twilight clinging to the mountains. A flight of swallows darting in a cold twilight sky, and the cry of terns riding a lonely sea breeze. It called to memory swiftly flowing burns bordered with purple heather, and the hope of love reunited.
Iain felt it deep in his bones. Each note ripped through his defences, stone and mortar. Everything melted away. He forgot the crowd, forgot his situation and the harshness of the sugar cane fields. Only Mairead and her song remained.
He moved closer to the platform. Mairead stood several feet away, her eyes closed and head tilted sideways. Her lashes fanned her flushed cheeks, and her mouth was slightly parted. At times a smile flitted across her lips, while at others, her brow puckered into a frown, but always, her expression remained enraptured. He watched fascinated as the bow danced over the strings, directed by nimble fingers.
Iain hung on every note as though it were the last. Good, sweet Lord he didn’t want it to end.
The music trailed off, and Mairead drew her last pass with the bow. Her hand stilled and she went limp. A tear ran down her cheek. When she opened her eyes, her unfocused gaze met his. It shot right through him.
Everyone burst into applause, alternatively whistling and clapping, as though the earth hadn’t just shifted.
© Cryssa Bazos
song: “The Tern and the Swallow” by Cara Dillon evokes a longing for home and perfectly captures both Iain and Mairead’s deep-seated desire to return home and the awareness of each other.
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For more information about Cryssa
Traitor’s Knot is available in eBook and Paperback through .
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