Authors: Maureen Ash
Tags: #Arthurian, #Cozy, #Historical, #Mystery, #Religion, #Women Sleuths
Templar Knight Mysteries
The Alehouse Murders
Death of a Squire
A Plague of Poison
Murder for Christ’s Mass
Shroud of Dishonour
A Deadly Penance
The Canterbury Murders
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THE CANTERBURY MURDERS
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / June 2013
Copyright Â© 2013 by Maureen Ash.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
Border art Â© Griesbach & Martucci;
Canterbury Cathedral Â© Dorling Kindersley/Thinkstock;
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“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
Henry IV Part II Act 3
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
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
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
Simon and Alfred—Menservants
Andri and Denis—grooms
Dauton—Steward of Watling Street townhouse
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
Godeschal de Socienne
TEMPLE EWELL PRECEPTORY
William de Briouze—Constable
Rouen Castle, Normandy
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. â€œBring the prisoner to me, Briouze. I will make one final attempt to bring him to obedience.â€
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 kingâ€™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.
â€œAre you sure it is wise to see your nephew so late at night, sire?â€ Briouze asked, gesturing to the hour candle. It was nearly gone, barely half an inch remaining. â€œYou are tired and the day has been a long one. Would it not be better to wait until morning?â€
John did not answer immediately. He looked down at the table in front of him at the repast he had ordered earlierâ€”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.
â€œIt may not be wise, Briouze, but it is necessary,â€ he finally said. â€œIt 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.â€
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 Johnâ€™s mother, Arthurâ€™s own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, hostage, intending to use her as a pawn to force his uncle to acquiesce to Philipâ€™s demand that the province be relinquished to French rule.
The king reached for his wine goblet and took a sip. â€œThe celebration of Eastertide is about to begin. It may be that contemplation of Our Lordâ€™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.â€
Reluctantly Briouze went through the door leading down to the prison cells and, a few minutes later, returned with the kingâ€™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.
â€œWell, Uncle, once again I am to be favoured with the pleasure of your company,â€ he said mockingly and with a glance at the laden table. â€œWhat, 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,â€ he added, his tone changing, becoming hard and full of contempt. â€œIt 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.â€
John, his choler rising at Arthurâ€™s arrogance, quashed the impulse to answer in kind. â€œThis is the last time I shall speak to you, Nephew,â€ he warned quietly. â€œIf you do not agree to end your treacherous ways, you will pay the penalty proscribed by law.â€
Arthur gave a bitter laugh. â€œ
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.â€
â€œThere will be no more discussion on this subject, Arthur,â€ John replied tersely. â€œYou 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.â€
Arthur leaned forward, placing his fists on the table so that his face was inches away from Johnâ€™s. â€œYou are a thief and a hypocrite,â€ he spat. â€œA 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 meâ€”the only son of a brother who was older than youâ€”out of his inheritance. I will never again bow my knee before you, no matter how long you keep me in your foul prison.â€
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. â€œHave a care with your tongue, stripling, else you may find yourself without it.â€
â€œAh, yes,â€ Arthur replied disparagingly. â€œYou 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 deathâ€”the world would not be surprised if you maimed and tortured a mere nephew.â€
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, â€œTake him back to his cell. I was a fool to think I could make him see reason. He is incapable of it.â€
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. â€œLetâ€™s see how
fare without your sight, you whoreson,â€ Arthur cried, the small blade glittering as he thrust it at Johnâ€™s eyes.
The king reacted quickly, grasping his nephewâ€™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 Arthurâ€™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 Arthurâ€™s prone figure, then looked up at the king. â€œHe is unconscious, sire,â€ he said.
â€œFor that I am grateful,â€ John declared, shaken by the incident. â€œHis tongue is silent at last.â€
The constable picked up the small blade that had fallen from Arthurâ€™s hand. The edge was sharp. â€œHe could have done you a grave injury with this. It is fortunate you were able to disarm him.â€
â€œThe malicious pupâ€”I will endure no more of his impertinence,â€ John proclaimed. â€œTake 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.â€
Briouze, bending down, lifted the table and saw that one of Arthurâ€™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 Arthurâ€™s head. â€œHis pate is bleeding quite badly, sire,â€ he said to John. â€œI fear it will take some time for him to recover his senses.â€
â€œIf he is incapable of walking,â€ John responded angrily, â€œthen carry or drag him back to his cell; I care not which. Just remove him from my presence.â€
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 Arthurâ€™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 Johnâ€™s frustration to breaking point.
Damn him, the king thought. These last months had been disastrousâ€”King Philip of France had persuaded not only Arthur but also most of Johnâ€™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 Johnâ€™s Norman nobles had begun to desert him; his treasury was even emptier than it had been at Richardâ€™s deathâ€”the litany was long and daunting. Arthurâ€™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.