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Authors: Simon Beaufort

The Bloodstained Throne

BOOK: The Bloodstained Throne
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Recent Titles in the Sir Geoffrey Mappestone Series
THE BISHOP’S BROOD
THE KING’S SPIES
THE COINERS’ QUARREL
DEADLY INHERITANCE
THE BLOODSTAINED THRONE
THE BLOODSTAINED THRONE
Simon Beaufort
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First world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2010 by Simon Beaufort.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Beaufort, Simon.
The Bloodstained Throne. – (A Sir Geoffrey Mappestone mystery)
1. Mappestone, Geoffrey, Sir (Fictitious character) –
Fiction. 2. Shipwreck victims – Fiction. 3. Great Britain –
History – Norman period, 1066–1154 – Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
823.9′14-dc22
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-095-1 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6917-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-264-2 (trade paper)
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.
For Ken and Janie Thomas, the dearest of friends
One
Near Pevenesel, Late September 1103
The groans of the dying ship were terrible to hear. The tearing of her hull and the snap of her spars and masts were audible even above the crashing of waves and the manic shriek of wind. The sails were reduced to tattered rags, and the ship’s carved bow was little more than splinters. Planking and stores ripped from her were thrown ashore by waves twice the height of a man.
Overhead, the afternoon sky was dark, although rent now and then by slashes of lightning. Thunder growled, but in the distance now, indicating that the storm was finally moving west. Miraculously, some passengers and crew had survived. A few were still flailing in the breakers, while others were in small groups ashore, huddled around the scanty possessions they had managed to salvage.
It was thanks to Captain Fingar’s skill and experience that anyone had survived at all. When the ship’s hold had flooded suddenly, Fingar had known she was lost, so he had driven her towards shore to give everyone a better chance. But within moments of scraping the bottom, the ship began to disintegrate.
Sir Geoffrey Mappestone was among the lucky ones. He had guessed as soon as he had heard the roar of breakers that the ship was doomed, and he had managed to warn his companions, seize his saddlebag and unleash his dog. The horses, however, had been tethered aft, and although he had tried his best to reach them, the task was impossible. It was a sickening wrench to lose his warhorse: the animal had carried him into battle when Jerusalem had fallen to the Crusading army three years before, and he could not imagine life without it. Geoffrey was a knight, trained from an early age to fight on horseback. Now he had no horse he was unable to suppress the sense that he was less of a man because of it.
‘I told you we should never have sailed in this weather,’ said his friend accusingly, spitting to remove the taste of salty water from his mouth.
Sir Roger of Durham was a massive, powerful man with a thick black beard and long raven curls, both cultivated in accordance with latest fashions at Court. Geoffrey preferred to keep his light-brown hair short, military fashion, and was clean-shaven, indicating Roger had adapted far more readily to civilian life than had Geoffrey. Both wore surcoats that proclaimed them
Jerosolimitani
– those who had rallied to the Pope’s call to wrest the Holy City from the infidel. Their surcoats, armour and small arsenal of weapons had been the first items they had bundled up to save from the wreck.
The two made unlikely companions. Roger was blunt, transparent and suspicious of anything he did not understand – and since he was illiterate and deeply superstitious, this meant there was a great deal he deemed heretical or sinister. By contrast, Geoffrey had occasionally considered dedicating his life to scholarship. Unusually for a knight, he could read and write, and he owned a deep love of books and scrolls.
‘The weather was fine when we left Bristol,’ he said, watching the dying ship writhe in the waves. It was ugly to behold, and when a shrill cry sounded, he hoped it was a gull, not a horse.
‘But there were omens,’ countered Roger. ‘And you ignored them. Your wife
and
your sister urged you to remain at Goodrich, and I said the same. But you knew better, and now look where it has landed us.’
‘At least we
are
landed,’ said Geoffrey’s squire, Bale, loyally defending his master, although he had not approved of the journey either, when celestial phenomenon had warned against it. He nodded towards the churning sea. ‘We might still be out there.’
Geoffrey glanced at the other survivors, noting that many were missing – Vitalis, an old man with whom he had quarrelled, and his two female companions; there had been a monk and a pair of Saxons, too . . .
‘Vitalis will not be missed,’ said Roger, reading his thoughts. He glanced at Geoffrey, a hard look in his dark-brown eyes. ‘I do not take kindly to men who make accusations, then use their age as an excuse to avoid a duel.’
‘He was not in his right wits,’ said Geoffrey.
‘He deserved to drown,’ Bale declared harshly. ‘No man should accuse Sir Geoffrey of cowardice and live to tell the tale.’
‘He did not accuse me of cowardice!’ objected Geoffrey, startled by the way Bale had interpreted the argument from two days before.
‘It does not matter exactly what he said,’ stated Roger, his abrupt tone indicating he thought his friend was quibbling. ‘He insulted your family, and you should have fought him for it. Now he is drowned you will not have the chance to kill him.’
‘Perhaps
God
took Vitalis’s life because he spoke unjustly,’ suggested Bale. ‘The wicked are often struck down for their sins, and Sir Geoffrey is a
Jerosolimitanus
, so He will disapprove of people saying nasty things to him. Father Adrian
loved
talking about holy vengeance.’
His eyes took on a curiously pious expression, although Geoffrey strongly suspected that Goodrich’s gentle parish priest had actually been trying to warn Bale to curb his violent instincts. Bale was a huge hulk of a man, larger even than Roger, with a bald, shiny head and uncannily expressive eyes. His immense strength, combined with a passion for sharp implements, made him a sinister and unnerving figure. The people on Geoffrey’s estates had been delighted when he had agreed to take the man as his squire, and it was clear they hoped he would never return. Geoffrey understood their unease; he was wary of Bale himself.
‘There are still men in the water,’ Geoffrey said, scanning the tossing sea. ‘Vitalis may yet come ashore.’
‘Those are sailors,’ said Roger. ‘They went back to see what they could salvage before the ship is lost completely. Fingar is one of them; I recognize his orange hair.’
Geoffrey set off towards them. ‘If they have gone back, then perhaps we can do something for the horses—’
Roger’s heavy hand clamped around his arm to prevent him from going farther, although his voice was gentle when he spoke. ‘It is too late, lad. The stern went under first, and they were drowned long before we reached the shore. The sailors are used to the sea and know how to rescue stuff from it, but we are not. It would be madness to attempt it.’
‘That is true,’ agreed Roger’s squire, a sturdy Saxon youth by the name of Ulfrith, whose thick yellow locks were a mad tangle from their time in the water. ‘I grew up on the coast, and the sea is treacherous at this time of year.’ Tears filled his eyes. ‘Poor Lady Philippa! I cannot . . .’
He trailed off, and Geoffrey rested a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. Ulfrith had been smitten with one of the female passengers and had been grieving for her ever since Geoffrey had pulled him from the waves. Ulfrith had loved the horses, too, but their loss seemed nothing compared to that of the woman he had idolized.
‘Vitalis was stupid,’ said Bale, studiously looking in the opposite direction to Ulfrith’s unmanly display. ‘You told him to take off his armour before we swam for the shore, because it would drag him under, but he refused.’
‘Worse yet, he accused you of wanting to steal it,’ said Roger, indignant on Geoffrey’s behalf. ‘The man was insane! What could you do with a tiny mail tunic and a blunt old sword? You tried to help him and he repaid you with nastiness.’
Roger patted his own armour – knee-length mail tunic with gauntlets and hood, boiled leather leggings, surcoat and a conical helmet with a distinctive Norman nosepiece. He had donned it all the moment he was on firm ground, in anticipation of an attack by locals, who might kill survivors so they could claim salvage.
‘It was a good idea, Sir Geoffrey, to put our equipment in a barrel and tow it ashore,’ said Bale. ‘But it is a shame you could not devise a way to save the horses, too.’
‘Of course,’ said Roger, turning accusing eyes on his friend, ‘they would not have died had you listened to the heavenly portents ordering you to stay in England.’
Geoffrey winced. He did not share his companions’ belief that the omens were aimed at his intended journey to Jerusalem, but he hated the fact that
he
was responsible for the horses’ deaths.
‘Not one beast has come ashore,’ elaborated Bale. ‘Poor things! It would have been better to have cut their throats than for them to drown.’
There had been a number of passengers aboard the ship – Captain Fingar was quite happy to accept paying fares for a journey he was making anyway. His ship
Patrick
traded between Dublin and Ribe in Denmark, carrying hides and linen one way, and timber and furs the other. It did not sound especially lucrative, but Fingar was clearly wealthy, and Geoffrey suspected that the large crew and abundance of weapons were not just for defence:
Patrick
was owned by pirates.
Autumn was normally a good time for sea-travel, and most of the ships Geoffrey had approached in the port of Bristol had been full. He was beginning to think they might have to go home again, when
Patrick
had put in, ostensibly for repairs, although she docked in a quiet backwater that was the haunt of those who preferred to unload their cargos away from the King’s taxors. Whether her goods were smuggled or stolen from another ship was impossible to say, but the number of guards and their furtive demeanour indicated it was one or the other.
Geoffrey was not the only one desperate enough to accept a berth on a ship operating outside the law. So had Sir Vitalis and his two women, a monk, and their servants. Vitalis, a crusty old knight from Falaise, owned lands in the ancient Danish diocese of Ribe, and he and his ladies were going to visit them. Meanwhile, Brother Lucian maintained he was on official Benedictine business. With his shiny black hair and ready smile for the ladies, everything about Lucian said he hailed from wealth. He was too young and handsome to be trusted out alone by any sensible abbot, and Geoffrey had not believed him when he said he had been carrying important documents.
BOOK: The Bloodstained Throne
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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