Dear readers, tonight with me is the world famous trombonist, Shawn Kleiner. He is here to tell us of his recent trip to Scotland with his girlfriend Amy – and what happened when she stranded him in a Scottish castle tower overnight.
Tell us about your life—back before this whole story started.
At the time, I had it all. Or I thought I did, anyway. I was rich. Well, I still am. More money than I know what to do with—except of course, provide for James—that’s my son, he’s just over a year old now—and make sure he’s well prepared for what’s coming if I can’t stop it.
But look, I’m already thinking ahead. You’re asking about the past. At least, the recent past, not the past I’m talking about. Yeah, before this whole thing started—it seems like centuries ago. I was the featured soloist in this small Midwestern orchestra, and I made them great. Not bragging, just saying how it is.
So we were playing all over the country and all over the world, you know? I was onstage, girls loved me. And I was throwing these great parties and women were throwing themselves at me, I was having a great time and I had this reputation for incredible luck. Until I gambled my trombone away, just before a major concert on our tour in Scotland. I thought I couldn’t lose. And somehow I did. And Conrad was going to have a fit if I didn’t get it back and it just went downhill from there.
I lied to Amy—that’s my girlfriend—or was, it’s hard to say now—to get the trombone back and cover up and one thing and another, we ended up in the half-ruined tower of Glenmirril. I was going to completely win her over with a midnight picnic and instead, she got all pissed and took off, left me there in all this mist. And I woke up—well, I woke up in the wrong century.
You know most people don’t believe that. They know you have a reputation for making up stories. But if we did believe you—what century?
Yeah, well, God’s got a sense of humor, doesn’t He? One time I ever tell the truth is the one time no one will believe me. I woke up in 1314. June, to be exact, about two weeks before the Battle of Bannockburn.
What was Bannockburn?
Yeah, everybody knows Braveheart. Thanks, Mel Gibson. No, really, I mean that. It makes it easy to explain Bannockburn. William Wallace dies at the end of Braveheart, 1305. Robert the Bruce picked up where he left off. The Bruce was completely unfairly portrayed in the movie, by the way. I never mentioned that to him. It’s not like he even knows what movies are.
Anyway—Edward I died in 1307, leaving the running of England in the not so capable hands of Ed Junior. That was a good thing for the Scots, and by the time I showed up, Bruce had taken back just about everything the English had taken. Except Stirling.
Edward Bruce, Bruce’s brother, was supposed to besiege it. He gets bored sitting around, so he makes a deal with Mowbray, who was commanding Stirling, and long story short, it forced a pitched battle, exactly what Bruce tried to avoid. So there we were, maybe 5,000 of us against 20,000 English.
That was Bannockburn.
It’s a sight to behold, thousands of knights on these giant war horses and tens of thousands of foot soldiers coming at you, the earth shaking under your feet as they charge, and the sun flashing off their helmets and spears…. And there are old men and boys all around you, ready to die as they come at us.
But…I’ll let you read about it for yourself.
Tell us just a little about your earlier years. They had something to do with how you got along in medieval Scotland, I understand.
[Shawn laughs.] Yeah. My dad. Best times of my life are the times I spent with my dad. We were like fish—swimming, boating, Polar Plunge charity events in the winter, always on the water, in the water, and always knowing my mom was back there on the shore, waiting, having as much fun watching. My dad’s grandmother grew up on the Isle of Skye. He spoke Gaelic and English both, as native languages. He took part in re-enactment groups and taught me Gaelic. God was at work, Niall would say. I’d just say it turned out to be lucky.
What was your life like in medieval Scotland?
No lattes, for starters. [Shudders.] You don’t want to know a world without lattes!
Okay, seriously…they’re brutal. They’ll stab with a pitchfork for kissing their daughters. And a whole lot worse for not doing what Ed Junior wants you to do. But…they’re good. They’ll stand for what they believe. They’ll fight for what is right. They’ll stand by you and they’ll die for you. [Bows head.] And Niall…well, he may die for what I did. Back at the end of Book Four.
What did you do for the two years you were there? I mean—assuming I believed your story. I’m still not sure I do.
I fought…fight…will fight?—this tense thing is confusing—with the Bruce and James Douglas. It’s not like I really wanted to, but it seems people in the 1300s get a little bit testy when you say no. And then there’s Niall—I’m forever, I mean was forever, having to save his medieval heinie. Okay, I guess I can’t entirely blame him. And he’s got a point when he says he dragged my two halves off a battlefield.
So yeah, that’s what I do there. I mean, did there. Then. Try not to get killed. Try not to let my friends get killed. Got some medieval lunkheads pissed off at me—or rather at Niall, who they thought I was—because I mentioned to James Douglas that maybe if we’re the good guys, none of our guys should be, you know…dragging women into deserted houses when we sack towns. It was for the gold, by the way, to fight a war Ed Junior insisted on continuing. We asked for peace. Over and over. He wouldn’t give it, so yeah, we raided English towns to try to force him to want peace and to get money to continue to stand against him.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
The answer should be Coldstream—Skaithmuir. Hardest battle James Douglas ever fought, he said later. I was there. In the thick of it. Eight against one. Yeah, that was pretty scary looking at them across the field, an army eight times our size, armed and mounted, where we expected a few foragers. I embarrassed myself after that one.
But the thing is, it’s not ‘scary’ once everything starts because instinct and adrenaline take over. What’s scariest is being back in my own time, hearing these things about Niall, about my son, and there’s nothing I can do and nothing’s happening to me, so there’s no adrenaline to block out the fear. There’s just this continual horrible knowledge that people you love are walking straight into this horrible thing and you can only sit and watch—and shout and try to warn them but you know it’s going to happen and somehow you have to live with knowing it.
It sounds like you became part of their world. Made friends?
There’s Hugh, the Laird—even though he did threaten to hang me, which I thought was pretty rude on a first meeting—Owen and Lachlan, even though they don’t even realize I’m someone other than Niall. I miss them all. Red. I love that kid. It kills me that I’m another father figure who disappeared on him—even though none of us could exactly help it. Okay, well, I could. I went up to that tower. I wanted to get back to my own time, to apologize to Amy, to make it up to her, to do it right this time.
Mostly, there’s Niall. Life is hella funny, isn’t it? We couldn’t be more different. We didn’t think much of each other. He got on my last nerve. Mr. Perfect. Lording it over me. Making me be Brother Andrew and…well, and somewhere along the way, things changed. I guess we got used to each other. We got used to being each other, and working together. He’s my brother. I would die for him. How’s that for a change?
And Christina. But…well…maybe I shouldn’t mention that. She was just this woman, you know, this medieval woman. It’s not like there ever could have been anything between us. Not as things stood.
What do you do now that you’re back?
I’m back to playing trombone on the great stages of the world. I write music, arrange music, publish music, I’m a master musician with an excellent head for business. Not bragging, just saying. (Oh, man, that phrase still makes me think of Allene and laugh. She just couldn’t get our modern idioms.) I spend time with my son, James, and I’m grateful. I thought I’d never see him. Never even know if she had a boy or a girl, back when I was caught in the past. Instead, I came back to find him only a few months old.
I’m trying to win Amy back, make it up to her. Show her I’ve really changed.
Tell us more about Amy.
Well, there’s Amy. She’s the most beautiful woman I ever saw, with this long, thick, black hair to her waist, and incredibly talented—she went to Juilliard—and I didn’t tell her so often enough. She always thought I was so much better than the face I showed the world. I hope I’ve finally been all she believed I could be. I hope she’ll marry me.
At the same time, I can’t shake Christina from my mind. I kissed her fingertips once. [Laughs.] That was it. Party like it’s 1399, huh? Actually, it was a good 85 years earlier than that. I made fun of Amy for being ‘Victorian’ and now I’m in love with someone who’s downright medieval? But she had the most beautiful voice—like a clarinet. And she looked at me like—like I was someone really amazing, instead of like someone who did…the things I did. [Hey, Mom, don’t ask, okay? Maybe you shouldn’t read this interview. You don’t want any more ugly surprises. That video of me and Caroline on YouTube was bad enough.]
What is the best thing about it?
Two years ago, I would have thought I’d say Jacuzzis, lattes! The best wines again, the New York Steakhouse. Red satin sheets. You can hit on women and nobody stabs you in the chest with a pitchfork.
But the best thing is—seeing my son. Holding my son. Seeing his smile. And being able to tell Amy I’m sorry. Going to bed at night under warm sheets, having enough food to eat, being confident I’m going to live through the day.
Coming to terms with Clarence—that’s another complicated story. I would have once said he ruined my life. But—well, I’ve learned a lot. [Stares out the window a moment.] I’ve realized I’ve made my own mistakes and done my own share of hurting—really hurting—other people.
Is it all you hoped for, then, being back?
[Looks out the window for a time and sighs.] Not sure I want to talk about it. Yeah, the orchestra replaced me, but I’m bigger than before. Money is pouring in. Yeah, Amy had…this guy. Angus. He ‘gave her coffee’ while I was caught in the 1300s. I don’t get it. Coffee? Who falls in love with a guy over coffee when, hey, she could have me. Plus twenty acres and a mansion.
Okay, seriously—Angus isn’t that bad. I’d like him if it weren’t for the part where my girlfriend is in love with him. He’s kind of like Niall. One of those annoying Perfect types, always doing the right thing and all. But he’s not bad, for all that. He’s a cop and plays bagpipes and does mountain rescues—at least he did until he fell off that cliff. We’ll see how it goes.
Yeah, anyway, I’m winning her back. She’s falling in love. It’s great with James. We’re going to be a family.
But it’s like I’m always trapped in the past. See, I managed to cross back to my own time in the middle of a battle. The thieving MacDougalls attacked Glenmirril—that’Niall’s home. And Christina had this vision…and it’s a long story. But I had to get to the tower and this little creep (I’m being polite, you know what I really want to say but my mom might be reading), Duncan MacDougall, was there and I killed him as I disappeared into my own time with Amy and James in the tower.
So here I am reading these parchments Niall and Allene and Christina left for me and it’s killing me that I left them there to die. They won the battle for Glenmirril, but MacDougall Senior blames Niall for his son’s death.
Then there’s Simon Beaumont—the Butcher of Berwick. He’s got knowledge of our time and he’s planning to use it to destroy the future. And it’s somehow tied up with James, and I can’t let him be sucked back into medieval times and I can’t let Beaumont do these things, and I can’t sleep at night knowing what MacDougall has planned for Niall.
What did you first think when you realized Niall was in danger?
I thought…there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. I built a life on being in control, on making things happen, on making things happen the way I wanted them to. If I wanted someone in the orchestra, they were in. If I wanted them gone, they were gone. Anyone I wanted to play with, any group, I could make it happen. If I wanted people to lie for me to keep Amy in the dark, they did it. I was Shawn Kleiner. I could do anything.
And now all of a sudden, the one time it really matters—my friend, my brother—this unthinkable, unspeakable thing is going to happen and there’s nothing I can do.
What does the future hold for you?
You’re kidding, right? What does the future hold for me? Are you trying to be funny? You know you’re talking to someone who was caught in the past for two years and is now facing the very real possibility that my best friend, my brother, is going to be killed back there. The only future I can even consider…is the past.
Laura Vosika , author of the beloved Blue Bells Chronicles, is a writer, musician, poet, and mother. She runs Gabriel’s Horn Press, and does readings and open mics around the Twin Cities for music, poetry, and her novels. She has appeared in The Star Tribune, and on WCCO and Channel 12, and hosts Books and Brews LIVE monthly at Barnes & Noble.
She lives in Minnesota with the 4 youngest of her 9 children, three cats, and a large Irish Wolfhound (not that they come in any other size!)
You can find Shawn on the pages of The Blue Bells Chronicles, starting with
Blue Bells of Scotland up to the latest release, volume 5
The Battle is O’er.
Join us next week to meet a young musician who was locked for a year in a basement, as she tells us of her two unique dads. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.
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