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Authors: C B Hanley


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For P.C.


who, without knowing it, gave me an idea.


Woe unto the bloody city!

It is all full of lies.


Nahum, ch. 3, v. 1


It was quiet.

Too quiet.

He peered out from his hiding place in the fetid alley and looked up and down the remains of the street. By the faint light of the crescent moon he could see that it was empty, the shattered buildings yawning to the sky and the roadway strewn with rubble. The only movement came from something scuttling through the gutter, no doubt one of the rats which had become fat since the invasion started.

The streets of Lincoln were not a safe place to be, in the spring of this year of Our Lord twelve hundred and seventeen; the French, together with those rebel Englishmen who had joined forces with them, had attacked and taken the city, and there had been burning, plunder, bloodshed and murder. It had fallen quickly, despite the best efforts of the townsfolk to defend it, for they were civilians, not men of war like the seasoned troops who had faced them across the walls and through the bloodied streets. Only the castle had held firm, and the nobility and knights, the real fighting men, were trapped in there, defending the last Royalist stronghold in the region. Meanwhile the invading forces kept the town in a suffocating grip while they sought to capture the castle, by starving the garrison into submission and smashing the walls down with their monstrous siege engines. For weeks the smell of terror had lain over the city like a pall, and the castle walls shivered under the onslaught. And yet through it all the citizens tried to maintain the vestiges of their old lives. They traded when they could; they ate and drank when the means were available. And they sought out old friends.

He was headed towards the northern part of the town, which became more dangerous as he drew nearer to the castle, and the stillness of the night had aroused his suspicions. On previous occasions when he had crept through the streets after the curfew, he had heard the groaning of the engines and the crashing of huge missiles into the walls; he had been forced to avoid gangs of French and rebel English soldiers, stamping about the town in search of disquiet or rebellion, or simply trying to cause some trouble of their own. But tonight there seemed to be nobody around. Where were the invaders? Perhaps they were guarding their siege machinery on the south side of the castle, but here to the north-east they had cleared the area in front of the massive structure and left it empty, with only the ruins of the razed houses thrusting their charred beams towards the night sky.

It was quiet.

There was nothing else for it – he couldn’t stay here, so he either had to go forward or turn back. He slipped out of the alley and stole along the street, picking his way through the debris and trying to remain silent. His senses screamed at being out in the open and he tried to keep to the gloom surrounding the ruined houses as far as possible. Gradually he crept nearer to his destination, but still not near enough. He stopped again and crouched in a shadow, considering his position. What if he were to be attacked? What would happen to his family? How would they survive without him? But still he was drawn to continue. He forced himself to swallow the fear and stand up.

He had reached the end of the safe cover and only open space beckoned. He would be expected. She would be looking out for him. He would only be out in the open for a few moments. He must do it. Do it now. His heart was so loud it must be giving his position away anyway. He stood up.

It was at that moment that a figure arose from the shadows behind him and struck him down. He was conscious of the searing, splitting pain in his head for only a fraction of a moment before he fell forward into the darkness.


The publication of this book would not have been possible without the help and support of many people, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to thank them heartily.

Firstly I would like to thank Matilda Richards and Ross Britton of The History Press and its crime imprint The Mystery Press; their tireless efforts to improve, market and support my work are much appreciated (chocolate cake on the way next time I visit …).

I’d also like to express my gratitude to those who read early drafts of
The Bloody City
and offered extensive and incredibly useful feedback: Richard Skinner, Stephanie Tickle and Roberta Wooldridge Smith; and to Andrew Bunbury (a man who can spot a tautology at a hundred paces) for reading a later version. Thanks are also due to Adam Cartwright and Sumila Bhandari, who both had the misfortune to share an office with me at work while I was writing the first draft and who often found themselves drawn into impromptu conversations about plot, dialogue or background.

It’s either a symptom of modern life or proof that I don’t get out much, but I have a large and supportive community around me on the social networking site Twitter; some of these people I know personally and others only virtually, but they cheer my days with their wit and offer encouraging comments when I need it. I shall thank Andrew Buck, Kate Haigh, Julian Humphrys, Greg Jenner, Richard Sheehan and Jemima Williams by name, and hope that everyone else will realise that I’d list them all if only I had the space on this page. Keep it up, everyone!

Last but certainly not least, my thanks and love go to my husband James (for another super map as well as everything else) and our children. The fact that they put up with me at all is a source of constant wonder.









Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve



Historical Note

Further Reading

About the Author


Chapter One

The pain was unbearable.

Edwin had no idea who had first considered the back of a horse a suitable means of transport, but clearly he’d been out of his mind. Every mile, every yard, every step, was agony. To make it worse, nobody else around him seemed to be suffering in the same way: they all rode as though the horse were a part of them, rising and falling easily in the saddle and even turning to talk and jest with those around them. But then again, most of them were knights, men who had been trained in the saddle and who had probably learned to ride before they could walk, whereas he, Edwin of Conisbrough, was just a commoner who had never ridden further than a few miles on the slowest of nags.

What was he doing here? Just a week ago he had been the acting bailiff on the earl’s Conisbrough estate, spending his time organising the work of the villagers and dealing with petty disputes over a few yards of land. But all that had changed when a murder had been committed and Edwin had been set to finding the culprit. He had done so successfully, but in many ways – so many ways – he wished he hadn’t. Yet here he was, suddenly promoted, not as bailiff but to an as-yet unnamed position in the earl’s personal retinue, as his ‘man’ – or a useful person to have around, as the earl had put it. He, Edwin, a personal servant of William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom … in his most fevered dreams he couldn’t have imagined such a thing, and it still seemed barely real. He hadn’t yet become accustomed to the position and wasn’t sure what his function was exactly; his only duties appeared to be to keep his eyes and ears open and to wait for the earl to order him to do something. In the meantime he would sell his soul to be able to get off the back of this horse.

They’d been on the road all day yesterday, as they made their way from Yorkshire southwards to Newark, where they were to meet up with the army of the regent. Edwin had only the haziest idea of where Newark might be – once it had passed noon, he was already further from his home village than he had ever thought to be in his life – but anyway, this was not to be their final destination. Once the army was complete, they were to march upon the city of Lincoln, which was held by French forces, in order to recapture it. Presumably this was to be achieved by fighting, something about which Edwin knew nothing, and he wondered how in the Lord’s name he was to be of help during the campaign. Still, his place was to serve the earl, no matter what he was asked to do, so he supposed he’d better get used to following orders without really knowing why.

They’d made camp overnight at a place called Retford, and Edwin had been amazed at how smoothly everything had functioned. Everyone – or at least everyone except him – seemed to know exactly what he was doing, and in almost no time a small thicket of tents and campfires had appeared, horses had been fed and watered, and a meal had been cooked. Not that Edwin had eaten any of it: he hadn’t been sure where he should go, as he didn’t belong to any of the retinues, and when he’d edged diffidently up to the central area of the camp where the earl’s personal staff were, he had been told in no uncertain terms by Hamo, the earl’s supercilious marshal, that the victuals there were not for the likes of him, so he should begone and seek his meal somewhere more befitting his station. The result had been that he’d wandered hungry around the camp before finding a place to rest, wrapping himself in a blanket and sleeping alone and miserable on the cold ground. And to think it was only a short time ago that he’d envied those who were about to go on campaign while he was left behind. What was it he’d thought in his naivety?
Honour and glory and a chance to see the world
. It wasn’t turning out the way he’d expected.

So now here he was after a second day in the saddle, on fire with agony at every step, waiting for the moment when he could dismount and rest. He was hot and sweaty, itching under his clothes, and he was so hungry that his stomach was growling, but he wasn’t sure he would have the energy to try and find whatever the correct source of food was supposed to be. Hopefully he could just prepare his horse for the night and then sleep, assuming the earl didn’t want him for anything, which hadn’t been the case thus far. When was this journey to end? He’d had no idea that the realm could be so vast. He kept his eyes on the road and tried to switch off his mind to the pain, as the movement of the horse went on and on and on.

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