My dear blogging partner, you may not be aware of this, since you are not a Garwood lover like me, but her first historical in approximately 7 years is to be released in just a couple of months. It has prompted me to do a bit of re-reading of some older Garwood releases.
I started with The Secret and I tried to look at it with a critical eye. I know that the complaint some level toward her books is that they lack a certain historical realism. It reads authentically to me. They wear plaids which I didn’t realize until lately wasn’t recorded as Highlander attire until about 1560. This book is set in 1181. But I swear that there isn’t any faux Highlander dialect. Okay, maybe a lass or five here and there, but no dinnae’s and couldnae’s.
Fortunately for me, though, I can overlook the historical missteps and appreciate “The Secret” for the story.
Lady Judith Hampton, an English girl, and Frances Catherine Kirkcaldy, a Lowlander Scottish girl, met when they were four and began a lifelong friendship that withstood separation and racial emnity. As the very first sentence begins “They became friends before they were old enough to understand they were supposed to hate each other.”
Frances Catherine’s mother and her grandmother both died during birthing. When it came time for Frances Catherine to give birth, she calls in the promise her husband made to her when they wed – to fetch Judith from England. Patrick, her husband, must petition the Council for permission to bring an Englishwoman into their midst.
His brother, Iain, is the clan’s Laird, but he serves in an advisory position to the Council and must use advocacy to sway the five members to his side. The clan’s ruling structure is a source of infinite frustration for Iain. He wants power to act, rather than to have to use pretty language to convince each Council member to give approval. In the end, though, it is determined that Patrick’s word must be kept, because “Only the English break their pledges . . .not the Scots.”
Iain and four warriors travel to England to fetch Judith Hampton, ready to take her by force because they don’t believe she is willingly going to come to Frances Catherine’s aid.
Not only is Judith willing to go, “She was waiting on her doorstep.” Since Frances got married, Judith has scoured the English countryside for information about mid-wifery to save her best friend and awaits the opportunity to assist Frances. Ironically, when Judith is given the chance to assist another clanswoman, she is horribly frightened. She admits that the most she planned to do was pat Frances Catherine’s back, let the midwives do the work and give suggestions. “Oh God, how arrogant I am,” she admits.
Iain is one of those tremendously rigid Garwood heroes who doesn’t know what to do around women, having been used to ordering men around, proceeds to order Judith around. Of course, Judith never obeys. It isn’t that Iain is being intentionally high handed, he simply doesn’t know any other way to interact. In response to Judith’s dismay over having to be a midwife, Iain responds:
“No matter how horrible this birthing was, in time you’ll get over it.” She looked up at him with the most astonished expression on her face. He nodded to let her know he meant what he’d just said. “That’s an order, Judith, and you will obey it.”
Judith, of course, won’t obey him because she thinks his demands are a bit unreasonable.
You told me I’d be under Patrick’s protection,” she reminded him. “Therefore, he would be responsible for me, Iain, not you.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “But I’m laird and Patrick therefore answers to me. Now do you understand?”
She pulled her hand away. “I understand you think that both you and Patrick can give me orders,” she replied. “That’s what I understand.”
. . .
“Judith, I won’t allow insolence.”
His voice was soft and without a hint of anger in it. He’d simply made a statement of fact. She responded in kind. “I wasn’t being insolent,” she said. “At least not on purpose.”
Her sincerity was very apparent. He nodded, satisfied. Then he tried to explain her position again. “While you’re on my land, you will obey my orders, because ultimately I’m responsible for you. Do you understand?”
“I understand you’re sinfully possessive,” she replied. “And Lord, I am weary of this conversation.”
and she’s not above twitting his unreasonable demands.
“Iain, may I please speak to you in private for just a moment?” Judith asked.
Judith wasn’t daunted. There was more than one way to flay a fish. “Patrick?”
“I have need to speak to your laird in private. Would you arrange it please?”
Patrick looked as though she’d lost her senses. Judith let out a sigh. She tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “I’m following the chain of command around here. I’m supposed to ask you and you’re supposed to ask the laird.”
The title suggests that the story is about secrets and it does have something to do with those. Judith and Frances Catherine know each other’s secrets, even ones that could cause the other terrible harm. Their absolute trust in each other allows these secrets to be shared. Iain wants that same trust from Judith but recognizes overtime, that some things can’t be ordered.
The Secret is classic Garwood. The narrative portions are sometimes flat, but her humor and wit show through in nearly every dialogue exchange. I marked so many passages in my re-reading that if I quoted them all in this letter, it would take you days to read. In fact, you should probably just read the book. Oh, I know you won’t. Garwood is just not to your taste. I don’t mind that but I also hope you don’t mind that I waxed rhapsodic about an old favorite.
Chat with you soon,
This 1992 book is still in print and can be purchased at Amazon.com.