For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series) (6 page)

BOOK: For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)
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After he had let it out, there was little more for me to say. I walked away and left the knight and his friend still talking to the Frenchman, but l wished to hear no more of their inquiry. If they wanted more, they could come and find me.

I left the camp, seeking the stream that Roger had apparently discovered. It was a short distance away. Some twenty yards farther up was the corpse of a sheep, and as I drank I saw that it had horns still attached to its skull. As soon as I had drunk my fill, I walked up and pulled them off. They would decorate a walking stick.

It was relaxing here, listening to the chuckle and gurgle of the water. I rested upon a rock and stared at the water for a time, considering. So much had happened recently: there was the horror of finding that the Abbot wanted our relics, to help him persuade gullible peasants and townspeople to give him more money in exchange for prayers said within the church. The shock of learning that he had made up his mind before the arguments could be put before him. And last there was the terror in Humphrey's eyes when the Abbot had fondled and caressed him after the meeting, promising him wealth and advancement should he agree to share the Abbot's bed.

Humphrey had lost the veneer of calmness he had developed over such a long period. It had been appalling to him to discover that the Abbot was corrupt —
perverted
! How could he respond, he asked, and I told him: simply refuse and walk from the Abbot if he tried it again.

But now I had to cover my face in my hands at the result.

I arose preparing to return to the camp, when I heard the scream. Eerie, it seemed to shiver on the air as a gust wafted it toward me. It was as if a hand of ice had clutched at my heart. A trickle of freezing liquid washed down my spine, and I felt the hairs of my head stand erect.

All at once I remembered the stories of ghosts and demons on the moors. This grim wasteland was home to devils of all kinds who hunted fresh souls with their packs of baying wishhounds. This shriek sounded like that of a soul in torment, and my hand grabbed at my crucifix even as I mouthed the paternoster with a shocked dread.

Before I could finish, Sir Baldwin was at my side, his sword in his hand. 'Where did it come from?' he rasped, staring northward from us.

For the second time that day, I was glad to see him, and for the second time I could tell him little. 'Up there somewhere.'

He gave me a twisted little grin. 'This is hardly what a monk should be used to.'

'I'm not!' I said grimly. The sight of his unsheathed sword had recovered a little of my courage. The blade was beautiful, fashioned from bright peacock-blue steel.

He motioned with it. 'Shall we see what caused that noise?'

'Very well.'

I had no desire to see this, but equally I had no wish to appear a coward. Also, if it were a human or mortal beast creating that unholy row, I would be safe enough with the knight; while if it were the noise of a devil seeking a soul, I should be as safe out in the moors as I was in the camp. Either way, I knew that however strong my faith should have been, I would feel happier with this armed man at my side.

'I've told the servants to guard the camp,' Bailiff Puttock said, striding toward us. He carried a coil of rope over one shoulder.

'Good,' Sir Baldwin said absently. 'Brother Peter thinks the noise came from over there.'

The Bailiff chuckled. 'I'm afraid not. The wind can do odd things to sounds out here. No, it would have come from there.' He pointed, and soon was leading the way.

The scream came again as we clambered over rocks and tussocks of loose grass. It was also damp. 'What could that noise be?' I asked.

Bailiff Puttock cast me a smiling glance. 'Haven't you got bogs near Launceston? It's the sound of a desperate man bellowing for help after falling in one of our mires. Not a nice way to die, that.'

I realised then what my eyes and feet had been telling me. The ground here trembled underfoot as I placed my feet upon it, and the grasses each carried an odd, white pennant at the tip of their stems: this was no grass, it was a field of rushes.

'Watch my feet and step only in my own footprints,' the Bailiff commanded.

I was happy to obey him. When I lost concentration for a moment, my leg slipped up to the shin in foul, evil-looking mud. I muttered a curse, and as I pulled my foot free, there came another cry. It scarcely sounded human.

We scrambled up to the top of a ridge, and upon the other side we had a clear view for some miles. There, at the edge of a field of white rush flowers, we saw a man's head. His arms were outspread and one gripped at something, a bush or twig.

'He's further gone than I'd thought,' the Bailiff muttered before springing down the gentle incline, the knight, his sword now sheathed, and I stumbling along as best we could. At the base of the hill was a kind of path made of stepping-stones and we had to hop from one to another until we came close to the mire.

'Christ Jesus; praise the saints! Thank you, thank you, thank you!'

'My God!' I said. 'It's him!'

The Bailiff grinned. 'Meet Hamo!'

It took time to persuade the moor to give up its victim. When we finally hauled him from the filthy mud, he lay sprawled like a drowned cat rescued from a rain butt, as if he were already dead. Bailiff Puttock bound his arms with his rope. Soon Hamo gave a convulsive gasp, almost a sob, his face red and fierce after his struggle.

'The bastards,' he wheezed. 'They threw me there to die, God rot their guts!'

'You,' Sir Baldwin said mildly, 'are arrested.'

'What for?' the man demanded suspiciously.

'The murder of Abbot Bertrand,' Bailiff Puttock said, firmly binding his hands. 'You stole his horses last night and stabbed the Abbot when he lay on the ground.'

Hamo shrugged expansively. 'I'll hang for the horses, and you can only hang a man the once, but I never killed him. That was why my gang threw me in the mire to die, the bastards! Because they heard a rumour that an Abbot had been killed; but it wasn't me. I saw him fall like he'd been struck dead while we fought, but then there were two other men to worry about. I didn't have time to stab him. Do you know where the gang lives? I can take you there if you want to kill them.' He shivered, casting a glance back at the mire.

'We'll think about it. Do you swear on your soul that you didn't kill the Abbot?' the Bailiff asked.

'I swear it on my soul and on my mother's soul. I never hurt the man. He fell before I could strike him.'

It was clear that the two were impressed by his assertions. Sir Baldwin prodded him with his sword while the Bailiff gripped the rope's end, and I wandered along cautiously in their wake.

Returning we took a longer path, one which was, I am glad to say, less soggy than the one we had taken on the way to find this barbarous fellow. Before long we had got back to the camp and had bound our captive to a tree. He nodded and grinned to the men gathered there, but he was refused any wine or water from our stores. Since he had stolen our stocks, we reasoned it was hardly reasonable that he should take a share in what was left us.

'Why didn't you take the Abbot's crucifix?' the Bailiff asked.

'I didn't even see it. Look, there was a fight, right? I waded in quickly so that our boys could cut the horses free and lead them away. I stood against the Abbot, but he suddenly fell; when he did, I was beset by two more men. He grudgingly nodded toward Roger and Charles. ‘I didn't have time to feel the man's body. Almost as soon as he fell there was a shout and we withdrew. That's all I know.'

'What of these others?' Sir Baldwin said, indicating Humphrey and me.

'I saw that one,' he said, nodding toward me. I hit him early on. Not hard, but he dropped. The other one - I don't remember.

'So you, Brother Humphrey, are the only one who is not accounted for,' Sir Baldwin said softly.

'Sir Baldwin, that is outrageous!' I roared. 'Dare you suggest…'

'Quiet, father, let me ...'

The Bailiff's jaw dropped. 'You…you are his father?'

I sank wearily to a rock and passed a hand over my forehead. 'Yes,' I admitted. 'I was the evil fool who raped his mother, may God forgive me! And I murdered the Abbot.'

'Father, no! It was me he insulted!'

'Bailiff, I know what I am saying,' I said again. In truth, it was a relief to end the anticipation. ''My son was in danger from the Abbot. I had to protect him. The Abbot wanted him to go to his bedchamber. He told me, and I sought to defend him as best I could.' I stood and patted my son's shoulder. 'When I saw the fight, it was as if I saw the means. I threw a stone at the Abbot hoping that he would falter and be struck down, killed. He fell, and I then went and stabbed him when no one else was watching.

'Interesting,' Sir Baldwin said. 'Yet you were yourself unconscious during the attack.'

'I fell but I was only bewildered for a moment. As soon as I came to, I saw what was happening. There was a rock by my hand and I hurled it at him.'

'And?' Bailiff Puttock asked.

'What do you mean, '
and
'?'

'You threw the stone at him, jumped to your feet, and hurled yourself across the camp to stab him?'

'Yes,' I said.

'Where is your knife?'

His words made me blink. I hadn't thought of that. I don't wear a knife. My eating knife was on the packhorse. I had already told them that. 'My knife ... I dropped it after -'

'Father, stop it!'

I couldn't restrain him, my boy threw himself at my feet. 'I didn't kill him and neither did you! You never threw a rock. You had collapsed! I saw you.'

'So who did kill him?' I asked, and now, I confess, I was too astonished to be more than a little bemused by the course of events.

'Him!' Humphrey spat, pointing at Brother Roger. 'When I saw you had fallen, I cried out. The Abbot thought I had been hurt and leapt to my side. Roger knocked the Abbot down in a fit of jealousy, and I think he stabbed the Abbot later when no one was watching.'

'Me? Why should I do this?'

'Because the Abbot had thrown you over. He thought you pretty when you were a choirboy, and I suppose he loved you in a way, but then he wanted me instead, and you couldn't cope with that, could you?'

'I was fighting with him, and I fell, just as did your father.'

'My father has blood on his head and a lump - what do you have?' Humphrey sneered.

It was with a sense of - I confess it - disbelief that I realised what my son had noticed. The Frenchman had said that he was dreadfully knocked, had taken a horse because of his supposed pain, and yet he had no bruise, no lump, no blood. And he could stand and debate with Humphrey.

As the thought came to me, I saw him stand, white-faced with rage. Suddenly, he whipped a hand beneath his robe and pulled out a knife. He launched himself on my boy.

I suppose I didn't think of the danger. All I knew was that my boy was at risk. Did I appreciate I was risking my own life? I don't know. Perhaps there was an awareness, but no matter. I would do it again if I had the opportunity.

You see, all my son's life I had seen him walk in shame, paying the debt that I had created for him. This at least I could do for him: I could protect him, and hopefully prove that his father was himself forgiven by God for his great sin.

Yes, I jumped forward and threw my arms about Brother Roger. The first stab was nothing, a thud against my breast as if he had clenched a fist and thumped me with it; the second made a huge pain which is with me still, and my left arm was made useless. Still, I could hold on with my right, and this I did. I held him until Bailiff Puttock struck him smartly with the pommel of his sword, and Brother Roger collapsed with me on top of him.

This is the truth, as I believe in the life to come. Oh, Holy Lady, take me and heal me from the sins and pain of this world!

My son, farewell!

Sir Baldwin watched as Brother Humphrey finished the dictation and set the paper aside, sniveling, dropping his reed. The knight's attention went to the frankly bemused expression on the face of the outlaw. Near him lay the knife that had fallen from Brother Roger's hand. Baldwin stared at it a long moment, then at the felon. Slowly, he turned away and faced the group again.

'We must take the body of Brother Peter with us. Perhaps we could put it on the stretcher with the Abbot,' he said, walking around the group.

Simon kicked the unconscious Brother Roger. 'We have to get this shit back to town as well. And then organise a posse to get the rest of them.'

'They'll be long gone by now,' Sir Baldwin said. He looked toward the outlaw. There was a profoundly innocent expression on Hamo's face. 'You! Where will your gang be tonight, do you think?'

'They said they were going to head down toward Dartmouth. There're always women to be bought in a sailor's town.'

'There you are,' Baldwin said. 'Now, I know it is not within our jurisdiction to arrest a monk, because he falls under Canon Law, but do you think we could tie this fellow and ensure he doesn't try to run away?'

Bailiff Puttock was about to answer when a scrabbling of feet and a gasp made him turn. Where the felon had squatted bound to a tree, there remained only a coil of rope. Hamo was pelting away over the coarse grass.

As the Bailiff made to chase after him, Sir Baldwin put a hand to his arm. 'Leave him, friend. There have been enough deaths already. Let's allow one man to remain alive.

'But he and his gang started all this!'

'Yes, I know. But under Canon Law no monk or cleric can be hanged. This man murdered his Abbot, an act of treachery as well as homicide, but can't swing; that felon didn't kill anyone, but he would be hanged as soon as he appeared in a town. Is that justice? Let him go.'

The Bailiff watched the man disappear among the thick rocks of the moors. 'So long as the damned cretin doesn't fall into another mire again,' he said with resignation. 'I'll be buggered before I save him a second time!'

THE AMOROUS ARMOURER

When he crouched at the body’s side and studied the small, insignificant-looking wound, Sir Baldwin de Furnshill, Keeper of the King’s Peace for Crediton in the county of Devonshire, was struck by the melancholy atmosphere of the place.

BOOK: For the Love of Old Bones - and other stories (Templar Series)
2.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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