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Authors: Veronica Heley

Longsword

BOOK: Longsword
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Table of Contents

Cover

By the same author

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

By the same author

MURDER AT THE ALTAR

MURDER BY SUICIDE

MURDER OF INNOCENCE

MURDER BY ACCIDENT

MURDER IN THE GARDEN

MURDER BY COMMITTEE

MURDER BY BICYCLE

MURDER OF IDENTITY

MURDER IN HOUSE

MURDER BY MISTAKE

MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR

MURDER IN MIND

MURDER WITH MERCY

MURDER IN TIME

FALSE CHARITY

FALSE PICTURE

FALSE STEP

FALSE PRETENCES

FALSE MONEY

FALSE REPORT

FALSE ALARM

FALSE DIAMOND

THE SIEGE OF SALWARPE

THE TARRANT ROSE

MY LORD, THE HERMIT

LONGSWORD
Veronica Heley

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

    
 

This title first published in Great Britain in 1982 by Corgi Books

Corgi Books are published by Transworld Publishers Ltd,

Century House, 61-63 Uxbridge Rd,

Ealing, London, W5 5SA

Originally published under the pseudonym of
Victoria Thorne
.

eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital

an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 1982 Victoria Thorne.

The right of Veronica Heley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0134-8 (ePub)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This eBook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

Chapter One

The man broke out of the forest, and came to a halt. Across his path lay a dusty road, and beyond that rose the curtain walls and towers of a large castle. It was not at all what he had expected to see. He looked about him. He was a tall man, and despite his homespun cloak, there was an air of authority about him. A party of beggars were advancing towards him along the road.

“Give ye good day, sirrahs!” said the tall man. “What is the name of this place?”

“Castle Mailing,” said the leader of the beggars. The lone traveller turned and looked at the castle with renewed interest. The beggars had also halted, and were looking at him.

“Are you on the road, like us?” asked their leader. There was a protrusion under the traveller's cloak behind his right shoulder which betrayed the presence of a sword. The tall man started, and drew the hood of his cloak further forward over his head. The beggar persisted. “If you're down on your luck, you're in good company. Why not step along with us awhile? There's pickings in plenty, for those who can use a sword.”

The lone traveller shook his head.

The beggar shrugged. “If you change your mind. … It's nigh on sunset, and we have an appointment with the Lady of Mailing.” The traveller lifted his head in surprise. “Oh, not that way!” the beggar assured him. “I meant only that she distributes alms at the gate at sunset. If you can feign illness, she might even give you a bed for the night.” He began to adjust his arm in a bloodstained sling, while one of his fellows bandaged an eye, and a third practised a limp.

The traveller shook his head once more, and walked back along the road to where a spring tumbled down the bank. The beggars went on their way. Only when they were some distance off did the traveller push back the hood of his cloak and dash water over his face. His eyes were heavy-lidded from lack of sleep, and his dark red hair tousled. Though the cloak he wore was that of a peasant, the rest of his attire proclaimed him to be of noble birth. His linen shirt was of the finest weave, and the supple leather of his tunic and boots were fastened with gilded tassels. He drank, made the best toilet he could, and then sat down at the wayside to consider what he should do next.

He had been travelling since the middle of the previous night, without stopping to eat or drink. He had thought he would be far to the south of the forest by this time, and it was a blow to find that he had mistaken his way and arrived at Castle Mailing instead.

The hue and cry would have begun at dawn – or perhaps later in the morning – it would have depended what time they had seen fit to send for the prisoner … and then dogs, men and horses would have set off in pursuit of the fugitive. …

Gervase Escot drew in his breath and put his head in his hands. Even now he could not believe it.

Six months ago; nay, even three … his uncle had been planning that Gervase should marry the Lady of Malling, and now he was a fugitive whose only chance lay in escaping abroad before the sheriffs caught up with him … for a theft he had not committed. …

They would not look for him in this direction. The dogs might well have followed him to the stream, but finding no trail on the far side would conclude, rightly, that he had intended to wade downstream till he could strike through the trees south-west to the downs, and the sea beyond. It must have been somewhere along the stream that he had missed the turn to the sea and safety.

His stomach contracted. There was a sick taste in his mouth. Food he must have, and a horse, yet he knew that he had only enough money in his wallet for a loaf of bread. How would it be if he were to join the crowd of beggars at the castle gate, and beg for bread from the woman who was to have been his wife?

The idea amused him. His mouth twisted, and his eyes, which were more yellow than hazel, narrowed. He was not a handsome man, though well-made, with a long, lean frame. His hands and feet were slender, his shoulders supple. His height alone would have made him noticeable in a crowd, but his auburn hair and narrow head, with its strongly-marked nose and chin, rendered him memorable. He had the ugly, humorous look of one who has battled long with life, and for the most part been the victor.

But not this time.

He groaned aloud. It was in his mind to curse the day he was born, but then he reflected that his mother must have done enough of that since, in bearing him, she had given up her own lease on life. Again his lips twisted. He rose to his feet and, adjusting the harness in which he carried his sword behind his shoulder, he pulled the hood over his head and took the path to the castle. He would not beg for food while he had a few pence left in his wallet, but he would take a look at the Lady of Malling before he went on his way.

The castle wall was built of granite blocks, with here and there a turret peering down on those who walked below.

The road bent to follow the curve of the wall, and presently a small postern gate came into view. Here a trestle table had been set up, in front of which stood a crowd of beggars, together with a plainly-dressed woman and two children. Gervase stepped into the shadow of the wall, and drew his hood further over his head. He thought it was lucky he had never been to Malling before, nor met its Lady.

A dark-haired girl of middling height came out of the postern, and looked around her. Then she withdrew, letting the gate bang to behind her. One of the beggars called after her to make haste, for they were hungry, and it was nigh on sundown.

Doubtless the girl – a waiting woman by the plain cut and drab colour of her gown – had gone to fetch her mistress, but women were notoriously bad at keeping to time, and the Lady of Malling might be some while yet.

Gervase straightened his shoulders, and pushed himself off the wall. He would not wait on the Lady of Malling. What! Hang around to catch a glimpse of some woman who could mean nothing to him now?

His movement caught the eye of the leader of the beggars Gervase had encountered earlier. The four men were huddled together, talking in low voices and casting uneasy glances around. Gervase hesitated. The men were plotting something. No doubt he was imagining things, but he had gained the impression that they intended some villainy when they met the Lady of Mailing. Yet what was that to him? Nothing.

The dark-haired girl hurried out of the postern once more, this time carrying a large basket piled with bread and scraps of meat. She called to someone behind her to hurry, for they were already past the hour. An elderly woman in the wimple and apron of a servant followed her, also bearing a basket, and entreating her mistress in a tone of despair: “Wait, my lady – it is not seemly, indeed it is not …!”

The girl lifted her basket onto the trestle with an effort, and smiled both at the elderly woman, and at the people waiting for alms. “Indeed it is, nurse!” she said. “Shall these poor folk go hungry because Anselm is busy and the others too proud to help me? Come, good people … here is some bread for you … and for you … What, man! That is a painful sore on your face; sit over there till I have finished, and I will dress it for you. …”

Gervase stood still. Was this in truth the Lady of Malling? Was this the famous beauty of whom he had heard so much? This squat, black-browed girl with a figure that hardly showed to advantage in a high-necked, long-sleeved, drab gown, and whose skin spoke of exposure to the weather? Was this the girl who had presided over the last tournament at York, and been acclaimed Queen of Beauty in countless ballads and poems?

Gervase laughed aloud. What folly! The girl was no more of a beauty than he was, and he knew that he was accounted an ugly man. He thought it was ever so, that rumour multiplied rumour until a girl who was well enough to look at – provided she be well-dowered – must ever be spoken of as a beauty. He was well out of the marriage, whatever else befell him.

The girl looked up from examining the child which the plainly-dressed woman was pushing forward. She had heard Gervase's laugh, and as she raised her eyes in enquiry, her own lips formed a smile. It was as if she were saying, Tell me why you laugh, and I will laugh, too.

Then eye met eye, and the tall man laughed no more. Neither did the girl. A frown formed on her brow, and she bent her head once more over the ailing child, while her cheek suffused with colour. He turned his back, biting his lip. He said to himself, “She is not a beauty … no, far from it! And yet her eyes are so deep and dark, and her smile so lovely … her face is too wide for beauty, her brow too low, but her features mirror every thought … skin like that should be soft to touch. Her hair is so pretty, curling so wildly … a pity to confine it in a net … she has a charm, an innocence … and yet a mind of her own. …”

At that point the girl gave a cry of protest, which brought Gervase round to face her. The beggars … he had thought as much! There was trouble afoot, with the girl objecting to their demand for a bed that night.

“No and no!” she said, stepping back, and emptying the last of the crusts onto the table. “You were this way last week, and your arm seemed well enough to me then … and your companions no worse … and surely it was your left arm, and not your right?”

BOOK: Longsword
12.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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