"Lewis Chessman found in drawer expected to raise £1m at Sotheby’s auction"
Imagine my dismay when these headlines broke. What are the odds! Just as I was wrapping up the first draft of “Missing Pieces”, my second novel about the 50 (now 49!!) missing Lewis Chessmen, this cheeky little character turned up in a drawer in Edinburgh. It is the only piece to be found since the original 1831 discovery in the sandhills of the beautiful and magical Isle of Lewis, Scotland.
The exquisitely craved ivory chess piece actually fetched £1.6 million for the fortunate owner. So how much was paid in 1831 to Sprot Macleod the crofter who found the original hoard? Very likely nothing, for just a few years later he and his family were homeless as a result t of the barbaric Scottish Clearances.
Intrigued? Well here’s an excerpt that will give you a taste of how I have interlaced fact with fiction to bring to life the untold story behind the history of the Missing Pieces of the Lewis Chessmen. Told in the voice of Sprot's courageous wife Mhairi, it pick up the story as she is facing the Church Elders.
Putting my hands behind my back I crossed my fingers, for my next sentence would be a another lie. A lie not even Calum knew of. ‘Four score and some more there were in all including one buckle.’
As the words tumbled from my mouth, I forced myself not to think about the small bag of treasures I had set aside, in it some forty or so of the smaller pieces. I tried hard not to hear my mother’s words to me as a child. “You’re a sly one Catherine Mhairi.” Sly or not I had no intention of giving over all the treasure. Not yet.
The men at the table watched me, waiting on me, like greedy children hankering for a piece of fudge. I uncrossed my fingers. The lie had passed. I continued.
‘They’s all made from the tusk of the walrus I believe. This here is just one of them.’
I dug into my pocket and retrieved the piece I’d chosen as a display; a queen, Reverend Munro had told me. I felt the mood shift as they passed it around. Exchanging a knowing look with Munro, I watched with pride as their staunch, cynical faces changed to astonishment and wonder. One by one they turned the queen over in their hands. I watched as they examined the delicacy of her fingers as she, this noble queen, held her face in what? Fear? Awe? I had not been able to decide. I saw too how they noted the skillfully carved robes that enfolded her and then gasp as they turned the regal piece over to see the unquestionable craftsmanship of her ancient throne.
I heard them mutter to each other. ‘Four score, she says’ and ‘Yes, walrus ivory, I am sure.’ When all had seen the piece, I held my hand out and took it back, slipping it into my pocket. Reverend Munro nodded for me to proceed. We’d rehearsed this next bit many times. I folded my hands before me and pulled myself to my full height. In the voice I used to instruct my children to leave their play and get ready for dinner, I laid out my demand.
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