For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)

BOOK: For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Contents

Rights Page

Introduction

The Coroner's Tale

For the Love of Old Bones

The Amorous Armourer

A Clerical Error

The Coroner’s Tale was first published in Great Britain in 1999 as part of Chronicles of Crime, by Headline Book Publishing, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH.

For the Love of Old Bones was first published in the United States of America in 2000 as part of Murder Most Medieval, by Cumberland House Publishing Inc., 431 Harding Industrial Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37211.

The Amorous Armourer was first published in Great Britain in 2001 as part of The Mammoth Book of More Historial Whodunnits, by Constable Publishers, 3 The Lanchesters, 162 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 9ER.

A Clerical Error was first published in the United States of America in 2002 as part of Murder Most Catholic, by Cumberland House Publishing Inc., 431 Harding Industrial Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37211.

This ebook first published as a collection in 2012 by the Michael Jecks Partnership

Copyright © 2012 Michael Jecks

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All characters and events in this book are described for the storyline of each short story and are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

This ebook is produced by the Michael Jecks Partnership

INTRODUCTION

It was in 1998 that I was first approached to write a short story for an anthology.

By then I had been writing professionally for four years, and it was a pleasant surprise to see that short story editors had an interest in me. It didn’t occur to me at the time that the amount of time involved in writing, reading, editing and preparing a short story for publication in an anthology would be nearly as much as preparing and beginning a major novel.
 

That is one of the learning processes of being a writer.

Still, I wrote THE CORONER’S TALE in between two novels, and was delighted to see it appear in 1999 in the second Ellis Peters’ memorial anthology, CHRONICLES OF CRIME.
 

I enjoyed the experience and so, when a year or so later I was asked to write FOR THE LOVE OF OLD BONES for an American publisher, I was very happy. It first appeared in MURDER MOST MEDIEVAL in 2000.
 

THE AMOROUS ARMOURER appeared in 2001 in a massive collection called THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF HISTORICAL WHODUNNITS, and A CLERICAL ERROR came out in 2002 in MURDER MOST CATHOLIC.
 

In recent years I have written more medieval stories, especially the enormously popular Medieval Murderer series, but at the same time short stories have tended to lose their glitter, unfortunately. The magazines which used to provide a useful medium for them have tended to disappear, and the leading publishing houses cannot be bothered to try to sell anthologies.
 
It takes a lot of effort. Buyers tend to avoid them because many people don’t like the sense of flipping from one style of writing to another. But the short story is a good vehicle. It is a little like poetry: concise, well-defined, and generally with a strong feel for character and place.
 

That is why I am glad that electronic publishing has given authors like me an opportunity to put their tales out into the world again. So I am compiling this list of medieval stories, and hope soon to be able to provide a separate selection of stories that are not, like these, related to Baldwin and Simon.

 
All these four were slightly different takes on my normal series, and provided this author with a pleasant interlude each year.
 

I hope you enjoy them.

Michael Jecks

Northern Dartmoor

Devon

THE CORONER’S TALE

I’ll always remember Sir Baldwin de Furnshill as he was in that dingy alley near the inn in Crediton. He was in his element, studying that corpse. Mind you, I prefer not to recall the scene in too much detail. I can still smell the sharp, rank tang of urine, the sweetness of putrefying fruit, the soft mustiness of the decaying dog’s corpse. Next to them, the faint whiff of perfume from the slight body was like a breath of fresh air.

She was young – not yet out of her teens – and living I would have found her greatly attractive. Her body was still coltish, but her well-rounded figure was that of a mature woman, while her face had the same high brow and delicately arched eyebrows as my own good wife, partly covered by the long tresses of yellow-blond hair which had been jerked from under her wimple in her final throes.

I shook my head. It wasn’t difficult to infer what had happened. Like so many girls before her, and no doubt countless others who would follow, she had, probably unknowingly, fired a man’s lust.

‘It’s easy to see how it occurred, Sir Baldwin,’ I said. ‘She was accosted here in the alley, and when she refused him, he tried to force himself on her. She tried to escape; he killed her.’

Sir Baldwin nodded, but I could see I wasn’t holding his interest. His lean face with its neatly trimmed beard was focussed on the body.
 

‘Murder, certainly,’ he said heavily as he squatted, thoughtfully studying her hands. ‘No rings, although this, her wedding finger, shows an indentation as if she wore one very recently. No purse either; both must have been stolen. She hasn’t cut her hands, so she put up no fight. Perhaps he came upon her from behind and she didn’t realise he was there.’ He glanced up at me. ‘Do you object to …?’

‘Carry on,’ I said, waving a hand dismissively.

Under my gaze he and his servant removed her tunic, wimple, undershirt and skirts, and left the girl naked under the sky. Slim and pale as marble where the moonlight caught her, she appeared almost to shine. For me, Sir Eustace of Hatherleigh, Coroner to King Edward II, in this the fourteenth glorious year of his reign, the sight was nothing new, and yet it made me shake my head with sadness to see such beauty destroyed, ready only to be set kneeling in her grave, bowing to her God as she awaited the resurrection. I loathe to see any waste of human life, but this in particular was painful. I couldn’t help thinking of my own sweet Lucy, lying quietly at home in her bed at this moment, her little face so serene and peaceful in sleep. Lucy is twelve, almost old enough for her own husband, and surely only six or seven years younger than this child.

As I sighed and considered the pity of the life ended for so little reason, the knight rolled the small form over and over and exposed her back. He pointed to the stab wound, and I nodded again while the priest at my side crossed himself.

‘Stabbed after being raped – or perhaps before,’ the knight concluded as he stood, wiping his hands free of her blood on a piece of her clothing. ‘And with a blade one inch wide at the thickest. It really is most difficult to find a murderer when we don’t even know his victim’s name,’ he continued, frowning.

I nodded, but not without a slight sense of disappointment. It sounded as if he was not going to trouble himself over the case, and yet why should he? He’d been dragged here with me away from the great church hall where we had been feasting with the Dean to celebrate St Boniface’s day. I was uncomfortably aware that the best of the food would already have gone while we stood there studying her small form. And even so he had managed to learn a little from her.

‘She was no servant or villein. Her hands are unmarked, and if she had been used to menial work they would have been calloused.’

‘I, Sir Eustace of Hatherleigh, Coroner, declare that this young woman was stabbed to death here on this evening, June the fifth, in the fourteenth year of our King, Edward the Second,’ I intoned solemnly. I always find that making the formal statement helps the locals to come to terms with the discovery of a body, not that it mattered in this case. No one could possibly know her.

The people in this area were thin, hungry-looking tatterdemalions. This part of the town was inhabited by the poor, who eked out a living by helping farmers during the summer months and fighting for any humble work for the rest of the year. Their money would go on ale, while they would beat their children if they complained for lack of food. For the most part they were of the lowest class imaginable. If they’d possessed any pride or common dignity they would have gone to a manor and served a lord rather than live in such squalor. Surely the status of a villein would suit them better than filthy poverty. Yet some folk will always assume that freedom is better than serving a lord. They forget that freedom to live is often the same as freedom to die.

I think Sir Baldwin saw my look, for he gave a wry little smile. It made his face move oddly, twisting the side where a long scar ploughed the line of an old wound, running from temple to jaw. I’ve heard it said it was won in Acre many years ago when he fought to save that last Christian city in the Holy Land from the Moorish hordes, but I never dared ask him. Sir Baldwin gave the impression that he had an aversion to revealing his past, and such an enquiry would have been impertinent.

In any case, for all his vaunted understanding of human nature, he completely misunderstood my feelings about the citizens haunting the alley. They were all of them hanging around to see the body. It was right that the jury of fourteen should witness the body’s inspection, but it was obvious that most of the men there that night were only satisfying a prurient interest; they inspired my contempt.

He waved a languid hand towards them. ‘This child does not look as if she came from the same stock as these poor fellows, does she? They are all emaciated and worn down from their work, but look at her: well-fed and an easy life, if I am any judge,’ he said softly in his quiet, contemplative voice. Then, casting an eye over the audience, ‘Ralph, have you seen her before?’

The man to whom he called was one of a small crowd of townspeople. I had them waiting so I could get their names, for these men lived nearest the alley. That was the nice thing about my business in towns: it was always easy to find out who lived closest so that the fines for breaking the King’s Peace could be imposed. Out of town things were often more difficult, especially when the locals refused to pay my fees, the ignorant cretins. One vill towards Tedburn refused to pay my charge, so I refused to view the body. By the time they agreed, the corpse was rotted, and to protect it they’d had to go to the bother of setting a hedge about it. I fined the lot of them double for wasting my time. You can’t let these people get away with such wilfulness.

Looking at these folks again, I must say I wasn’t impressed. Ralph was a sallow, gaunt-looking man in his early twenties, with fair hair that seemed to have dirt ingrained in it. The other neighbours were no better looking, all being wan, stooped, bandy-legged fellows.

Nearby was another huddle of locals, some of whom I recognised, like the tall and melancholy John, who owned the alehouse on the Exeter Road. At his side was the innkeeper, Paul, greying and harassed, avoiding my gaze, nervously lifting his hand as if trying to conceal himself behind it. Standing behind them I could see the tranter, Edward. Usually a cheerful, confident little man, he kept his eyes fixed firmly on the body, his lips pursed in a thin line of anger. These churls are all the same; no doubt they all had their minds fixed on the fine they must pay.

Ralph shuffled forward, his head down. He mumbled for a moment, and I snapped at him to speak up. The trouble one has with these people!

‘Sir Baldwin, I saw her here this afternoon going past my place, but never before that, I swear.’

‘You were the first finder of the body, weren’t you?’ I demanded. It helps to keep a stern tone with his sort. ‘You’ll have to be amerced to make sure you come to the court. Give your details to my secretary here.’

He shuffled a bit more at that. I could see Sir Baldwin wanted to question him further, but to tell the truth I was more interested in getting back to the Dean’s feast than staying out there in that dank and noisome alleyway. While Ralph muttered to the priest at my side, the townspeople gradually drifted away until we were almost alone. The innkeeper and his friends were all gone before Ralph had finished. Once he had, the knight spoke again.

‘Ralph, tell me, which direction was she going in?’

‘First time I saw her, she was walking towards Paul’s place, the inn. She looked exhausted, like she’d only just arrived; her clothes were covered in the red dust you get on the roads around here, and she was stumbling a bit, as if she’d covered a lot of miles since daybreak. Later I saw her leaving Paul’s and go down to the alehouse at the bottom of the hill. I reckoned she was looking for a place to stay the night.’ He looked down at her sadly. ‘Poor lass! She must have come here for the market, and this was her reward.’

‘When was this, when you saw her?’

‘A little before dark, because I had to go out to get rid of some rubbish, and it was while I was there by the gutter that I saw her the second time.’

‘Was she alone?’

‘Yes, sir. Paul came out and watched her, but so did I: she was such a pretty young thing, and yet seemed so sad. I watched her until she entered the alehouse.’

BOOK: For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Far From Home by Anne Bennett
The Apocalypse Reader by Justin Taylor (Editor)
BOOK I by Genevieve Roland
Run (Run Duet #1) by S.E. Chardou
Jasper John Dooley, Left Behind by Caroline Adderson, Ben Clanton