For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series) (5 page)

BOOK: For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)
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'They could think of taking such a relic back to France?' Sir Baldwin asked with frank astonishment.

I allowed a little acid into my voice. 'It's the way of the French. Now that they have installed the Pope in Avignon they feel that they can win any argument they wish.'

'But to take the bones from a place like Launceston! It is not as if there is much else for the people to venerate there!'

'No, indeed. Launceston is far from civilization. It is an outpost on the fringes of society; without the few items we have, how can we hope for God's grace to protect us?'

Bailiff Puttock watched the men. 'And you say that this Brother Charles is French? Let's ask him about last night.'

My companion Brother Charles was a short, thickset man of maybe five-and-twenty years. Originally from the southern provinces of France, near the border with Toulouse, his tonsure was fringed with sandy coloured hair. Upon being called to meet with the knight and his comrade, Brother Charles appeared nervous, as if he feared their presence.

Bailiff Puttock spoke first. 'I hear you're from a French abbey, come here to remove English relics?'

Brother Charles threw me a helpless look. 'I was commanded to join my Abbot, it is true.

'To take away bones from Launceston?°

'That was the plan. The mother-abbey has need of them.'

'So does Launceston,' the Bailiff snarled gruffly.

'My Abbot decided. I was ordered to join him together with my friend Brother Roger and these other good monks, Humphrey and Peter, from the monastery of Launceston.'

'Very well. What happened last night?'

'My Lord, I was preparing some pottage for our evening meal when I heard a shout. It was one of the grooms. I looked up and saw him toppling over. A great bear of a man stood behind him, grasping a heavy staff. It was awful! I was about to rush to help the groom when I saw there were more attackers. I thought it better to go to the Abbot's side and help defend the camp.'

'Where was everyone else?' Sir Baldwin asked.

'I can hardly recall, Sir Baldwin. It is all so confused in my mind. The men attacked so swiftly ... I was at the fire when I heard the first scream. When I turned I saw Brother Peter crumple. Abbot Bertrand still had Brother Humphrey and Brother Roger with him. There was so much shouting - so many cries and screams. One of our servants was felled and then I realised a man was near me, the same gross fellow who had hurt Brother Peter. I avoided his club and went to my Lord Abbot's side.

'But when I got there, two men rushed at us, and I only had time to grab a stick and thrust at them, but missed, I fear. I was knocked back, driven toward the fire again, fearing all the time that the big man who had knocked Brother Peter down could strike me from behind. The Abbot fell. I saw him, I think. It was all so confused! Then they were pulling away, and we heard the sound of our horses cantering away. The men laughed as they scurried off. And I saw my Abbot on the ground.'

'Did he say anything?'

'No. He was dead. The blade that struck him down killed him instantly. He made no sound.'

'How close was he to you?'

'He was only a few yards from me.' Brother Charles belatedly came to understand that the questioning was focusing unpleasantly upon him. 'But we had all gathered close to each other.'

Sir Baldwin held up his hand. 'Do not worry yourself. We only wish to see the fight through your eyes. Tell me, what was the Abbot like?'

Brother Charles threw me a confused, desperate look, and I interjected, 'Sir Baldwin, what has this to do with his death? Surely, it would be better for us to continue on our way and warn others of these thieves before they can harm other travellers?’

'Yes, but please humour us. This Abbot of yours - was he a generous, kindly fellow?'

I gave a brittle smile. One should hardly speak ill of the dead, but ... I chose the path of least trouble. 'He was deeply religious and devoted to his abbey.'

Sir Baldwin eyed me with a faint grin. 'He was not your friend, then.'

There was no need for me to say anything. I merely hung my head.

'Was it the bones?'

I met his eye with stern resolution. 'Sir Baldwin, I feel that your questions are bordering upon the impertinent. You are questioning me about a matter that is of little, if any, concern to you. An abbot has been murdered and that offence falls under Canon Law. It is not within your jurisdiction. However, we do have a responsibility to others to see to their protection. For that reason I should like to hurry to Tavistock. In addition, I have to take the good Abbot's body to the abbey for burial. Should we not continue on our way?'

The way was hard. Devonshire has few good roads. All of them involve climbing hills and dropping into rock-strewn valleys with few good bridges over the chilly, fast streams. It was a miracle that none of us broke an ankle on the treacherous soil, or fell into one of the foul-smelling bogs.

The knight and his friend were good enough to lend their horses, one to me, one to poor Brother Roger. He, too, had been struck down in the attack, and he rode slumped, his head rocking as if he were dozing. Once I had to hurry to his side and hold him upright when he all but fell from the saddle.

After that I felt I had little option but to accede when the Bailiff suggested that we should stop again. It led to my feeling fretful and irritable, but I could see no alternative.

We had come to a pleasant space in which strange buildings of stone abounded. They might have been ancient huts for shepherds like the man who had helped us and who now traipsed along gloomily. He had been told that he should join us so that his evidence could also be given alongside our own.

Many men worked the moors, I reflected. Miners scrabbled for tin, copper, and arsenic on the wildlands; farmers raised their sheep and cattle; builders dug quarries. All lived out there, in the inhospitable waste.

Yet none could be seen from here. The moor stretched five leagues, maybe, north and south of this point, and was at least four leagues wide. That was why gangs of thieves and outlaws could easily lose themselves. Even now they could be up there watching us, laughing as they sat astride our own ponies.

The thought made me shiver with anger. Knaves like them deserved to die!

The Bailiff and the knight approached Humphrey almost as soon as we had stopped, and I pursed my lips with annoyance. It was obvious that they intended to question him as they had Brother Charles, and l wasn't going to have it. Instead, I called Brother Humphrey to me, asking him to join me in prayer.

He did so with alacrity, and I smiled, glad to have rescued him. I also caught sight of the speculative expression on the knight's face. It was suspicious, as if he thought I was behaving oddly, but I didn't care. I took Humphrey's hand and led him away, sitting with him on a stone and murmuring the prayers for the office of Sext. It was surely about noon.

While we prayed and offered ourselves once more to God, I saw Brother Roger walking away to fetch water. It was a relief, for I was sure that as soon as they could, the knight and the Bailiff would be after him as well with their questions.

Finishing our prayers, I patted Humphrey's arm and he gave me an anxious smile in return. Poor Humphrey was plainly scared. His pale grey eyes were fearful, darting hither and thither like those of a hunted animal. The affair was taking its toll on the nineteen-year-old, and I gave him a reassuring grin.

I was about to offer him some advice when he stopped me. 'Last night - I have to tell someone ...'

'Shh!' I hissed. I could sense the two pests approaching. Their shadows loomed.

'Brother Humphrey, we'd like to ask you what you saw last night,' Bailiff Puttock said.

The knight hunkered down beside us. 'It's hard to understand why the Abbot should have died. Especially since he had money on him, money that was not taken but was instead left at his side. Did you see him stabbed?'

'No, Sir Baldwin. I could scarcely see anything.'

'You weren't knocked unconscious?' the Bailiff asked.

'No.'

'You came from Launceston with Brother Peter here, didn't you?'

'Yes. We were both sent to persuade the Abbot against taking our relics.'

'But he decided to in any case?'

'They wouldn't listen to us!' Humphrey stormed. 'It wasn't fair! They'd already decided to steal our ...

I interrupted hastily. 'This was no theft, Humphrey. It was their right and their decision.'

'The relics are ours! They should remain in Cornwall!'

'Did you like the Abbot?' Sir Baldwin asked.

Humphrey looked at me, and I glanced at the knight with an annoyed coldness. 'Sir Baldwin, what has this to do with anything? The Abbot - God bless his soul! - is dead. What good can raking over other people's feelings for him achieve?'

'Brother, you were unconscious and couldn't have seen much,' Bailiff Puttock said easily, 'but we have to find out as much about these robbers as we can because we have to catch them. All we want is to gain a good idea of exactly what happened last night.'

Before Humphrey could answer, I peered over my shoulder. Brother Roger had not returned. 'Go and seek Brother Roger. I fear he could have become lost. God forbid that he should be swallowed in a mire.'

When he was gone, I faced the two once more. They exchanged a look.

'Brother Humphrey is well known to me, and I would prefer that you didn't question him too deeply. It could harm him.'

'What's that supposed to mean?' the Bailiff demanded. 'The man's fine, but you seem determined to protect him from our questions. Why?'

'Because he is not well,' I told him harshly. 'Good God! Can't you see? The fellow is a wreck.'
 

'Because of the attack?'

I took a deep breath. 'No, because his father was a clerk in Holy Orders who raped a nun. Humphrey is convinced that his whole existence is an affront to God.'

'Christ's bones!' the Bailiff gasped. 'The poor bastard!'

'So I would be most grateful if you could leave the poor fellow alone. He needs peace, and the attack itself has severely upset him. I should have thought that you would have been able to see that!'

The two apologised handsomely. It was plain that the Bailiff was shocked by what he had heard. And who wouldn't be? The story was one to chill the blood - being born as a result of the rape of one of Christ's own brides was hideous. It had marked out poor Humphrey from early on: the product of an heretical union.

'Did the Abbot know of his past?' Sir Baldwin asked.

‘Yes, I would imagine so. Naturally. Abbot Bertrand would have known the history of all his brethren, even those from a small daughter house like ours.'

I saw the knight's attention move behind me and turned in time to see Humphrey leading Brother Roger back into the makeshift camp. The Frenchman looked confused and happily took his seat on a satchel, while Humphrey solicitously spread a blanket over his knees and patted his hand. I called to him sharply and asked him to fetch a wineskin. We could all do with some refreshment.

Only a few moments after the knight and Bailiff had risen, they began to move in the direction of Brother Roger. I followed them, pointing out that the poor lad was dazed still from his wound.

'I understand that, but I would still like to ask him a little about the attack,' the knight stated in what I can only call a curt manner. He was growing testy.

'There seems little need. I have told you what I saw, and you know who the killer is.'

'You have told us that you did not see anyone stab him,' the Bailiff said. 'We still have to see whether anyone might have seen who actually did.'

'Good God above! I told you about our attackers - what more do you want?'

'A witness who saw a man shove a knife into your Abbot's back,' he said shortly.

I could feel the anger twisting my features as I trailed after them toward the sitting monk, and I was forced to pray for patience in the face of what felt like overwhelming provocation.

Brother Roger was young, only perhaps twenty-two. Looking up with a mild squint against the brightness of the day, he had to keep closing his eyes as we spoke, as though the sun's light was too powerful for him.

'My friend, these men wish to ask you about the attack last night to find out whether you saw the leader of the outlaws stab ...'

The knight interrupted me. 'Brother Roger, you were yourself knocked on the head. When did you waken?'

'This morning. I was unconscious for some hours. And my head!' He winced. 'It was worse than the headache after an evening drinking strong wine!'

'What do you remember of the attack?'

‘I was near the Abbot, and when the first cry came to us, he was on his feet and rushing for the horses, but he was stopped. A group of the felons appeared, and we ran to the Abbot's side to protect him. I was there at his right hand,' he added with a hint of self-consciousness.

'Did you see anyone stab him?'
 

'No.'

Brother Charles had approached and now he interrupted. 'I saw him crumple like an axed pig. One moment up and fighting; the next, collapsed in a heap. It was as if he had been struck by a rock.'

'You are sure of this?' the knight pressed him.

'Oh, yes,' Charles said emphatically. 'He fell because he was struck on the head.'

'One of the outlaws could have heaved a stone at him,' the Bailiff said pensively.

'Perhaps,' Sir Baldwin said. 'Tell me, Brother Roger: the Abbot, was he always a bold man?'

'Very brave and courageous. He would always leap to the front of any battle. He had been a knight, you see. He was Sir Bertrand de Toulouse before he took Holy Orders.'

Now Baldwin's brow eased. The frown that had wrinkled his forehead faded. 'So that is why he was so keen to be at the forefront of the fighting!'

'Yes. He would always go to a fight to protect his own. And, of course, he saw a man attacking Humphrey,' he added with a faintly sneering tone to his voice.

'Humphrey was sorely pressed?' Bailiff Puttock asked.

I shot the loathsome Frenchman a look of warning but he met it with sneering complacency. 'No, Bailiff. Abbot Bertrand was a sodomite; he wished to preserve the life of the man he adored.'

BOOK: For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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