Read The Canterbury Murders Online

Authors: Maureen Ash

Tags: #Arthurian, #Cozy, #Historical, #Mystery, #Religion, #Women Sleuths

The Canterbury Murders

BOOK: The Canterbury Murders
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The Canterbury Murders

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

THE CANTERBURY MURDERS

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / June 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Maureen Ash.

Cover design by Judith Lagerman.

Border art © Griesbach & Martucci;

Canterbury Cathedral © Dorling Kindersley/Thinkstock;

Canterbury Westgate Towers © Standa Riha/Shutterstock.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61321-4

INTERMIX

InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group

and New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Contents

Also by Maureen Ash

Title Page

Copyright

Epigraph

List of Characters

 

Prologue

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

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Epilogue

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

About the Auhtor

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Henry IV Part II Act 3

William Shakespeare

PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS

Bascot de Marins—A Templar knight

Gianni—A mute Italian boy, former servant to Bascot, now a clerk

Nicolaa de la Haye—Hereditary castellan of Lincoln castle

Miles de Laxton—Knight in Nicolaa’s service

Gilles de Laubrec—Knight in Nicolaa’s service

Clare—Nicolaa’s sempstress

MONARCHS AND NOBILITY

John—King of England

Isabella—Queen of England

William Marshal—Earl of Pembroke

Hubert Walter—Archbishop of Canterbury

Arthur—Count of Brittany

ROYAL SERVANTS

Nicholas de Criel—Constable of Canterbury castle

Molly—King John’s washerwoman

Guillaume Aquarius—King John’s bath attendant

Marie and Yvette—Queen Isabella’s attendants

Inglis—Steward of royal townhouse

Godwin—Cook

Simon and Alfred—Menservants

Andri and Denis—grooms

Dauton—Steward of Watling Street townhouse

CANTERBURY TOWNSFOLK

Maud Cooper—Molly’s sister

Edith Bottler—Maud’s neighbour

Cecily Wattson—Inglis’ paramour

Martin de Ponte—Vintner

Ailwin, Turgot and Eric—Martin de Ponte’s employees

MERCENARIES

Almaric Chacal

Godeschal de Socienne

TEMPLE EWELL PRECEPTORY

Henry Verdun—Preceptor

ROUEN CASTLE

William de Briouze—Constable

Prologue

Rouen Castle, Normandy

April 1203

The hour was late, approaching midnight, and only the echoing footsteps of the men-at-arms on patrol broke the silence in the great fortress. The chamber in which John, king of England and duke of Normandy, was sitting was a small one, situated in the lower reaches of the castle and just above the corner of the undercroft where the prison cells were located. The room was dimly lit, two wall torches and a thick beeswax hour candle on the table providing the only light. William de Briouze, the constable of the castle, stood quietly in the shadows on the far side of the room, waiting to learn the reason he had been summoned.

Finally John spoke. “Bring the prisoner to me, Briouze. I will make one final attempt to bring him to obedience.”

The constable, a burly knight with a broad fleshy face, hesitated, regarding John warily. The glimmer of light from the torches and candle reflected off the deep auburn highlights of the king’s dark beard and hair; his features were handsome, but the weighty responsibilities that had fallen on his shoulders since he had been crowned king had furrowed deep and ragged creases on his brow. He had the haggard look of a beleaguered man.

“Are you sure it is wise to see your nephew so late at night, sire?” Briouze asked, gesturing to the hour candle. It was nearly gone, barely half an inch remaining. “You are tired and the day has been a long one. Would it not be better to wait until morning?”

John did not answer immediately. He looked down at the table in front of him at the repast he had ordered earlier—a pot of eels preserved in brine, a dish of boiled radish condiment, and a loaf of fine white manchet bread, all neatly laid beside a folded linen napkin and an eating knife. His stomach turned at the thought of tasting it. To such a pass had events finally brought him, so that even his favourite foods no longer held any appeal.

“It may not be wise, Briouze, but it is necessary,” he finally said. “It has been nine long months since I captured Arthur when he laid siege to my mother at Mirabeau, and still he refuses to reaffirm his allegiance to me, or apologise to his grandmother for his callous treatment. Time grows short; I cannot wait any longer.”

The constable shook his head in commiseration. Arthur, after renouncing his fealty to John for the province of Brittany, had joined forces with Philip, king of the French, in an attack on Normandy, and had tried to take John’s mother, Arthur’s own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, hostage, intending to use her as a pawn to force his uncle to acquiesce to Philip’s demand that the province be relinquished to French rule.

The king reached for his wine goblet and took a sip. “The celebration of Eastertide is about to begin. It may be that contemplation of Our Lord’s suffering on the cross has put Arthur in a more conciliatory frame of mind. That is my hope, small though it may be. But in any event, I will only give him this one last opportunity to submit to my authority. If he does not comply, I will have no recourse but to carry out my threat to punish him. I have no other choice.”

Reluctantly Briouze went through the door leading down to the prison cells and, a few minutes later, returned with the king’s nephew, Count Arthur of Brittany. The lad was tall and strong-boned for a youth of sixteen years, but even so, he had not yet reached the full strength of manhood. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, he came to stand before his uncle with an insolent sneer on his face.

“Well, Uncle, once again I am to be favoured with the pleasure of your company,” he said mockingly and with a glance at the laden table. “What, do you have a new wine for me to try, or some delicate morsel you have had prepared for my delectation? But no, I think not,” he added, his tone changing, becoming hard and full of contempt. “It is far more likely you have devised some new argument that you foolishly believe will win me over. If so, you are mistaken. Unless your guilty conscience has finally prompted you to order my release, we have nothing to say to each other, and you are wasting my time.”

John, his choler rising at Arthur’s arrogance, quashed the impulse to answer in kind. “This is the last time I shall speak to you, Nephew,” he warned quietly. “If you do not agree to end your treacherous ways, you will pay the penalty proscribed by law.”

Arthur gave a bitter laugh. “
My
treachery? And what of yours, Uncle? It is I who should be sitting on the throne of England, not you. Will you stand up before your nobles and admit that you stole the kingship from me? Will you cede your crown and place it on my head? My actions were justified; yours are not. It is you who should stand trial, not I.”

“There will be no more discussion on this subject, Arthur,” John replied tersely. “You know as well as I that your claim has no substance. My brother Richard, as he lay dying, designated me as his heir, and this was attested to by unimpeachable witnesses. I did not steal the monarchy from you; it is mine by right.”

Arthur leaned forward, placing his fists on the table so that his face was inches away from John’s. “You are a thief and a hypocrite,” he spat. “A cowardly dog born of that scheming witch I have the misfortune to call grandmother. Both you and she played my grandfather false, and now you conspire together to cheat me—the only son of a brother who was older than you—out of his inheritance. I will never again bow my knee before you, no matter how long you keep me in your foul prison.”

The king looked up into the face of his nephew, so like that of his father, Geoffrey, the brother John had disliked most of all his siblings, and his temper finally snapped.

Rising from his seat, he pushed the lad roughly in the chest so that Arthur stumbled backwards. “Have a care with your tongue, stripling, else you may find yourself without it.”

“Ah, yes,” Arthur replied disparagingly. “You have already threatened to blind and castrate me, and now you would render me mute as well. How caring you are to your kin, my fine uncle. It was your betrayal that killed your own father and when Uncle Richard died, you rejoiced at his death—the world would not be surprised if you maimed and tortured a mere nephew.”

The spiteful allegations, although containing a modicum of truth, enraged John. Turning to Briouze, who had been waiting by the door that led down to the undercroft, he said through gritted teeth, “Take him back to his cell. I was a fool to think I could make him see reason. He is incapable of it.”

The constable took a step towards Arthur, but before he could take hold of him, the lad leapt forward and, seizing the eating knife that lay on the table, sprang at his uncle. “Let’s see how
you
fare without your sight, you whoreson,” Arthur cried, the small blade glittering as he thrust it at John’s eyes.

The king reacted quickly, grasping his nephew’s wrist and wrenching it savagely, so that Arthur was forced to drop the weapon. But the lad continued to struggle and John, furious with his effrontery, raised his other hand and gave his nephew a backhanded slap across the face that sent him reeling. With a violence born of anger, the king upturned the table at which he had been sitting and smashed it into Arthur’s chest, propelling the young nobleman backwards so that he crashed to the floor, his head striking the hard stone tiles with a sickening thud. The thick oaken table teetered for a moment, and then crashed heavily on top of his legs.

Briouze rushed across the room and knelt beside Arthur’s prone figure, then looked up at the king. “He is unconscious, sire,” he said.

“For that I am grateful,” John declared, shaken by the incident. “His tongue is silent at last.”

The constable picked up the small blade that had fallen from Arthur’s hand. The edge was sharp. “He could have done you a grave injury with this. It is fortunate you were able to disarm him.”

“The malicious pup—I will endure no more of his impertinence,” John proclaimed. “Take him back to his prison and deny him food until he agrees to do my bidding. Mayhap a week without sustenance will render him amenable.”

Briouze, bending down, lifted the table and saw that one of Arthur’s legs was crooked at an unnatural angle. The constable ran his hands over the limb, but he could not find any injury except at the kneecap, which appeared to have taken the brunt of the blow. Then he noticed a narrow stream of blood trickling slowly and steadily from the back of Arthur’s head. “His pate is bleeding quite badly, sire,” he said to John. “I fear it will take some time for him to recover his senses.”

“If he is incapable of walking,” John responded angrily, “then carry or drag him back to his cell; I care not which. Just remove him from my presence.”

The constable did as he was bid and, hefting Arthur aloft in his brawny arms, carried him to the door and left the chamber. John surveyed the disarray the argument had caused. The platter that had been on the table lay overturned on the floor and the food flung against the wall, the pungent smell of the spilled radish condiment filling the room. The hour candle had toppled over and lay, extinguished, amongst the rushes, and the wine John had been drinking had spilled and mingled with the traces of Arthur’s blood. Reaching down, the king picked up his wine cup from the floor and refilled it from a flagon that stood on a small table on the far side of the room. A deep swallow helped to calm him and he began to belatedly regret his display of temper. Despite his threats, he had no real desire to inflict any injury on Arthur, and had truly believed that eventually his nephew would capitulate. But there had been no sign of him weakening; he had been, as always, obdurate and sarcastic, and his arrogance had fuelled John’s frustration to breaking point.

Damn him, the king thought. These last months had been disastrous—King Philip of France had persuaded not only Arthur but also most of John’s other vassals in the surrounding provinces, to defect to his cause; Philip had then begun to ferociously attack Normandy, taking many of the castles on the border so effectively that John’s Norman nobles had begun to desert him; his treasury was even emptier than it had been at Richard’s death—the litany was long and daunting. Arthur’s continuing defiance was but one more addition to the toll.

As he stood there ruminating on the impossibility of the situation, the cathedral bells tolled the hour of midnight, signaling the onset of Eastertide. John drew a deep breath and bowed his head in observance of the holy season, praying for heavenly guidance. Little did he realise that the events of that evening would indeed bring about a change in his fortunes, but in a manner he could never have foreseen, nor would have wished.

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