Today is the US rerelease of The Shadowy Horses, one of my favourite Susanna Kearsley novels (you can read Ana, Kelly and my thoughts on this book here). In honour of that, Susanna Kearsley is here to tell us a little bit about Robbie, one of the characters in that book. He also happens to be the main character in her next book, The Firebird, which is out next year and I am beyond thrilled to have an exclusive excerpt for us to see a grown up Robbie!
I felt something of that childlike fascination in my twenties, when I came across the book The Alexandria Project by Stephen Schwartz, the story of a research team that went to Egypt with the aim of trying to find Alexander the Great’s tomb and other ancient sites that had been “lost to history”, by making “rigorously controlled” scientific use of psychics and remote viewing (“seeing” things that are “inaccessible to normal senses due to distance, time, or shielding”). I was particularly struck by the account of how Canadian psychic (and I use the word apologetically, because he disliked being called that) George McMullen was able to provide Schwartz with amazingly accurate and verifiable information simply by walking over an area.
When I discovered that McMullen had also done pioneering work with Canadian archaeologist Dr. J. Norman Emerson on Iroquoian sites in my own province of Ontario, I was even more intrigued. Further research led me to other psychics like Stefan Ossowiecki, who earlier in the 20th century had been able to confirm archaeological data by psychometry—the ability to know things about an object by holding it—and remote viewing, until his tragic death at the hands of the Nazis in 1944.
This “intuitive archaeology”, as Dr. Emerson called it, was a whole different field than I’d ever encountered, and the more I read about it, the more I knew I wanted to write about it.
That’s how Robbie, the eight-year-old psychic who sets things in play in The Shadowy Horses, first came into being. The fact that he came into the book as a boy, not a man like the men who inspired his character, probably has at least something to do with my own childhood memories of watching that long-ago dig, and my sense of the past as a thing that was tangible.
Writing Robbie’s character, I loved how his abilities connected past and present. Here he is, at the very beginning of the dig, being questioned by the dig’s team leader, Peter Quinnell:
Robbie, still poking about with his stick, looked round a second time. ‘Aye, Mr. Quinnell?’
‘Mr. Sutton-Clarke’s afraid we might be digging in the wrong place for our ditch.’
‘The ditch the soldiers dug?’
Robbie screwed his eyes up while he gave the matter thought.
‘No, it’s here. It’s all filled up, like, but it’s here.’
‘Good lad.’ Quinnell turned back to Adrian like a proud father. ‘You see? There’s no need to worry. If you’d just be so kind as to verify my measurements…’
A few minutes later, as Wally Tyler’s spade attacked the toughened sod, my shoulders lifted in a little sigh.
Such a pity, I thought, that Quinnell would be disappointed. It didn’t seem fair.
‘The ditch is here,’ repeated Robbie, but he wasn’t talking to Quinnell. He’d come round to stand beside me and his blue eyes tilted up to meet my doubting ones, offering reassurance. ‘It’s OK, he’s going to find it.’
No one can really be psychic, I reminded myself firmly. But Robbie only smiled as though I’d told him something funny, and went bouncing off to throw his stick for Kip.
I’d never done that with a character—let him age from a boy in one book to a man in another—but Robbie came into the new book, The Firebird (which will be out next spring) with all of the characteristics that made me so fond of him when I first “met” him, and it was a pleasure to write him again.
And so here, exclusively for readers of Historical Tapestry, is a first look at Robbie McMorran some twenty years after the time of The Shadowy Horses, as seen through the eyes of my heroine, who herself has the ability to “see” the past, though not as well as Robbie.
By the time I got my own door open he was there to hold it for me. Of all the men I’d ever dated, he remained the only one who’d ever done that.
‘Well,’ he said, when I remarked on it, ‘you’ve led a sheltered life. As I recall, you said you’d only had two boyfriends afore me. Unless you’ve had a couple since...’
I turned to look at him, expecting that his blue eyes would be teasing, and instead found they were nonchalantly guarded, and a bit too unconcerned.
I said, ‘I haven’t.’
And then, because I couldn’t hold his gaze, I looked away. There had been moments when I’d wondered whether Rob was seeing anyone, because it seemed a bit too unbelievable that after these two years he’d still be unattached, but when he’d come to Ypres with me I’d known without a doubt he wasn’t seeing anybody at the moment. He was far too much a gentleman to spend this kind of time with me alone, if he already had a girlfriend. He’d have counted it as being disrespectful to the both of us.
He swung my door closed and walked round to lean against the bonnet, and although the sun was too high now to catch him in the eyes, he took the dark sunglasses from his pocket, put them on, and settled back to look more keenly at…well, at whatever he was looking at.
I couldn’t tell, from watching him, if he was seeing things as they were now or as they had been, but I had the sense that he was standing with one foot in each reality, a bridge between the present and the past.
I let a moment pass in silence before prompting him with, ‘Well?’
‘Well, it’s a fair-sized town, Calais. We’re in the old part of it, now, the part that stood within the town walls, with the moat all round it, back in Anna’s day. But even so, there were a lot of streets and houses then, and it was busy all the time with people, so there’s not much point in wandering round,’ he said, ‘to look for her. Like looking for a needle in a haystack.’
I had no doubt, having seen him work, that he could have found one of those, if he had set his mind to it. But clearly he had settled on a plan.
I prompted, ‘So?’
‘So, Calais was a guarded town. With walls. If Anna had been coming from the Channel side, by boat, with Father Graeme, they’d have had to use the harbour to the north. But when they left the convent, back in Ypres,’ he told me, ‘they were on the road. And if they travelled overland, as we did, they’d have come straight through that gate.’
I came around to lean beside him on the car, and looked. ‘Where is it?’
‘You tell me.’
‘Rob, I can’t—’
‘You’re away off to Russia the morn,’ he reminded me. ‘When were you planning to practise?’ He had me there. Fully aware of it, he said, ‘I ken that you do things by touch. I’m not thinking you’ll see it the same way that I do, but you should be able at least to sense where the gate was, like you did with the convent.’
I gave it my best shot.
It took a few minutes. It wasn’t a small mental tug at my sleeve this time, as it had been in Ypres; more like a settling sensation of certainty, knowing without knowing why. ‘There.’ I pointed. ‘I think it was there. Am I right?’
For an answer, he draped an arm over my shoulders. ‘Let’s see.’
Thank you for letting me share this. I hope you’ll love Robbie as well, when you meet him.