Read The Hand of Justice Online

Authors: Susanna Gregory

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Historical

The Hand of Justice (3 page)

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
5.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Bartholomew regarded his friend askance, amazed that the monk could think about his stomach when they might be about to witness
a disaster. Michael had always been big – tall, as well as fat – but his girth had expanded considerably over the last five
years. Satisfaction with his lot as Senior Proctor – he was, by virtue of his own machinations, one of the most powerful men
in the University – had occasioned a good deal of contented feeding. This meant that the tassels on the girdle around his
waist hung a good deal shorter than they should have done, owing to the ever-expanding circumference they were obliged to
encompass.

Michael had been to some trouble with his appearance that day, in honour of the debate and the meal that was to follow. His
dark Benedictine habit was immaculate, and he wore a silver cross around his neck, in place of the wooden one he usually favoured.
His plump fingers were adorned with jewelled rings, and his lank brown hair had been carefully brushed around his perfectly
round tonsure.

By contrast, Bartholomew’s black curls had recently been shorn to an uncompromising shortness by an overenthusiastic barber,
so he looked like one of the many mercenaries – relics of the King’s endless wars with France – who plagued Cambridge in search
of work. His clothes
were patched and frayed, but of reasonable quality, thanks to the generosity of a doting older sister. His hands were clean,
his fingernails trimmed, and frequent College feasts had not yet provided him with a paunch like the ones sported by so many
of his colleagues. His profession as a physician saw to that, giving him plenty of exercise as he hurried around the town
to visit patients.

‘Here we are,’ said Michael, grabbing Bartholomew’s arm as their part of the crowd suddenly surged forward, much to the chagrin
of people who were waiting on the other side. There were indignant yells and a considerable amount of vicious shoving that
saw more than one bloodied nose. The monk thrust the toll-fee into the hand of a grubby soldier without breaking his stride.

‘Walk near the edge, Brother,’ advised the soldier, assessing the monk’s bulk with a critical eye. ‘You are less likely to
drop through there, than in the middle.’

‘Lord!’ muttered Bartholomew, not liking the unnatural rocking motion under his feet as they began their traverse. ‘We should
have hired a boat.’

‘They are all engaged,’ replied Michael, nodding to where the rivermen were running a brisk trade below. Even boys with home-made
skiffs were busy, ferrying small animals and light packs across the green, filthy water.

The Great Bridge was not very big, despite its grand name, and it did not take long to cross it, as they were forced to move
quickly by the press from behind. Once on the other side, most people continued straight down Bridge Street, aiming for the
Market Square, although some went to homes in the maze of alleys and streets that radiated out from the town’s main thoroughfares.
Bartholomew glanced behind him, still half expecting to see the bridge crumble beneath the mass of humanity. He noticed some
folk entering the nearby Church of St Clement, and wondered whether they were going to offer thanks for a safe crossing.

‘There is Thomas Mortimer again,’ he said, as the miller’s cart clattered towards them at a speed that was far from safe.
He leapt back as it passed uncomfortably close before lurching towards the High Street. ‘It is not yet noon. I know the Lilypot
is popular with men who love their ale, but even they tend not to be drunk this early.’

‘It is because the Mortimer family is so prosperous at the moment,’ said Michael, aiming for Gonville Hall with single-minded
purpose. ‘Thomas owns the only fulling mill this side of Ely and his brother runs the town’s biggest bakery. They are making
a fortune, and Thomas has good cause to celebrate. Still, their success will cause trouble eventually: the other burgesses
will resent their riches and there will be all manner of jealous rivalries. I am just glad it is not
I
who will be called upon to sort them out. I have my hands full with the upcoming debate.’

‘The one on Saturday?’ asked Bartholomew, increasing his pace to keep up with him. The monk did not usually walk fast, but
was evidently prepared to make an exception when good food was waiting. ‘When Michaelhouse will compete with Gonville Hall
in the end-of-term debate – the
Disputatio de quodlibet
? Why should that take your time?’

‘Because any large gathering of scholars means trouble for a proctor, as you well know. Even a serious academic occasion,
like the
Disputatio
, may give rise to rioting or just plain bad behaviour.’ Michael grinned, pushing his concerns aside for a moment as he considered
another aspect of the occasion. ‘Michaelhouse has not been invited to take part in a quodlibetical debate of this magnitude
since the Death, and defeating Gonville will give me a good deal of pleasure. They are excellent scholars, and I shall enjoy
pitting my wits against equal minds.’

‘God’s blood!’ exclaimed Bartholomew, ignoring the monk’s arrogant confidence. ‘Mortimer has just driven into Master Warde
from the Hall of Valence Marie. He
cannot control his cart in that state. You
must
say something before he kills someone, Brother – regardless of jurisdiction.’

‘It is my jurisdiction now a scholar is involved,’ declared Michael grimly, hurrying towards Mortimer’s horses, which had
been startled by the sudden and unexpected presence of a scholar under their feet, and were rearing and bucking.

Bartholomew hauled Warde away from the flailing hoofs, while Michael snatched the reins from Mortimer’s inept hands and attempted
to calm the horses.

‘Watch where you are going!’ Warde shouted furiously, fright making him uncharacteristically aggressive. He leaned close to
the miller, taking in the bloodshot eyes and glazed expression, before pointing an accusing finger. ‘You are drunk!’

‘I am not,’ slurred Mortimer. All three scholars were treated to a waft of breath thick with the fruity scent of ale as he
spoke. ‘I have only rinsed the dust from my throat. Ferrying bales of cloth from the quays to my fulling mill is thirsty work.’

Michael was unimpressed. ‘Then rinse it with weaker ale,’ he snapped. ‘You cannot careen all across the street as if you are
the only man using it.’

Infuriated by the reprimand, Mortimer snatched the reins from the monk and flicked them sharply so that the leather cracked
across the horses’ flanks. One reared again, then both took off at a rapid canter. Bartholomew watched them go, then turned
to Warde. The Valence Marie Fellow was a tall man with yellow-grey hair that he kept well oiled with goose fat. He had a reputation
for brilliant scholarship and boundless patience with his students, and the physician both liked and admired him.

‘I have had a tickling throat for the past week,’ said Warde with a rueful smile. ‘But the shock of near-death under Mortimer’s
wheels has quite put it from my mind:
I no longer feel the urge to cough. Perhaps he has cured me. Or perhaps the prayers I have offered to sacred relics for my
recovery have finally been answered. However, I can assure you that my relief has nothing to do with the potions Rougham prescribed
for me. I should never have engaged him over you, Bartholomew.’

‘Then why did you?’ asked Michael bluntly. ‘Matt is a much better physician.’

‘Because Rougham was present when the malady first afflicted me,’ said Warde apologetically. ‘He offered me his services and
that was that. I was stuck with him.’

Warde chatted about how he was looking forward to the forthcoming
Disputatio
for a few moments, then headed for St Clement’s Church, where he said a special mass was being held to honour a much-loved
saint. Bartholomew wanted to know which saint could attract the enormous congregation that was gathering, but Michael was
impatient for food, and pulled him down the High Street towards Gonville Hall, where his whole groat’s worth of meat was waiting.
They had not gone far when there was a scream and a sudden commotion. Voices were raised and people began to run, converging
on bodies that lay scattered in the road.

The first thing Bartholomew saw was Thomas Mortimer, sitting on the ground with his legs splayed in front of him and a startled
expression on his face. Of the horses and cart there was no sign, and the physician assumed they had galloped off on their
own. The second thing he spotted was the crumpled form of an old man with a broken neck. And the final thing was a fellow
named Isnard, who lay in a spreading pool of blood.

‘God damn you to Hell, Thomas Mortimer!’ Isnard roared, trying to reach the bewildered miller and give him a pummelling with
his fists. His face registered bemused
shock when he found he could not stand, and he grabbed his bleeding leg with both hands. ‘Look what you have done!’

Bartholomew knelt next to the old man, sorry to recognise him as the barber who had shorn him of hair just the previous day.
The merest glance told him there was nothing he could do, so Michael eased him out of the way to begin his own ministrations,
muttering a final absolution and anointing the body with the phial of chrism he kept for such occasions. Although Michael
was a monk, rather than a priest, he had been granted special dispensation to offer last rites during the plague, and had
continued the practice since.

Bartholomew turned his attention to Isnard, an uncouth bargeman who sang in Michaelhouse’s choir. He was as tall as the physician
but almost as broad as Michael, which made him a formidable opponent in the many brawls he enjoyed in the town’s various taverns.
He earned his living on the river, using his massive strength to service the boats that travelled through the Fens to supply
Cambridge with grain, stone, wool and other goods. His thin hair was plastered in greasy strands across the top of his head,
but this was more than compensated for by the luxuriant brown beard that hung almost to his belt.

‘What happened?’ Bartholomew asked, pushing away Isnard’s hands so he could inspect the wound in his leg. It was a serious
one, with splinters of bone protruding through the calf in a mess of gore and torn muscle. Bartholomew knew it could not be
mended.

‘I was talking to old Master Lenne when that drunken sot trampled us both into the ground,’ yelled Isnard, outraged. He was
not feeling pain, because the shock of the injury was still too recent. But he would, Bartholomew knew, and then the agony
would be almost unbearable. One of Bartholomew’s students, a lad called Martyn
Quenhyth, was in the crowd that had gathered to watch, so he sent him to fetch a stretcher. Isnard should be carried home
before his anguish made him difficult to control.

‘I did not,’ said Mortimer, sobering up quickly as the seriousness of his situation penetrated his pickled wits. ‘I was just
moving along and they ran in front of me.’

‘Lies!’ bellowed Isnard. ‘How could Lenne “run” anywhere? He is an old man!’

‘Did anyone actually see what happened?’ asked Michael, watching Bartholomew tie a tight bandage below the bargeman’s knee
to stem the bleeding.

‘I did,’ said Bosel the beggar, whose hand had been severed by the King’s justices for persistent stealing, although he claimed
its loss was from fighting in the French wars. He was unusually well dressed that morning, because some kind soul had given
him new clothes. ‘I saw Thomas Mortimer deliberately aim at Isnard and Lenne and ride them down.’

Bartholomew was sceptical. Bosel was not noted for his devotion to the truth, and might well stand as a witness against one
of the wealthy Mortimer clan, just so he could later retract his statement – for a price. He had done as much before.

‘Anyone else?’ asked Michael, looking around at the crowd and apparently thinking along the same lines. Bosel would not make
a credible witness.

There were shaken heads all around. ‘But Mortimer
is
drunk,’ added the taverner of the Brazen George. ‘I know a man out of his senses from ale when I see one.’

‘Not me,’ persisted Mortimer, white-faced and uneasy. ‘There was nothing I could do to avoid them. They just raced in front
of my cart.’

‘We did not!’ objected Isnard hotly, wincing when Bartholomew tightened the bandage. ‘See to Lenne, will you, Doctor? I saw
the cart hit him, and he needs your
help more than I do. I know he gave you that fierce haircut, but you should not hold it against him. He no longer sees very
well.’

Bartholomew said nothing, and concentrated on covering Isnard’s exposed leg bones with a piece of clean linen in an attempt
to protect the injury from the filth of the street. It was Michael who leaned down and put a comforting hand on the bargeman’s
shoulder.

Isnard’s jaw dropped in horror when he understood what their silence meant. ‘Lenne is dead?’ he gasped in disbelief. ‘Mortimer
has
killed
him?’

‘I have killed no one,’ said Mortimer, coming slowly and unsteadily to his feet. No one made any attempt to help him. ‘I am
going to be sick.’

The spectators watched in distaste as the miller deposited his ale into the brimming gutters that ran down the High Street.
Bending close to the drains’ noxious fumes and unsavoury contents made him more ill than ever, and it was some time before
he was able to stand, ashen-faced and trembling. He wiped a sleeve across his mouth, and eyed his audience defiantly.

‘I am not drunk,’ he persisted sullenly. ‘I had an ale or two in the Lilypot, but I am not drunk.’

‘Perhaps not now he has donated half a brewery to the gutter,’ muttered Michael to Bartholomew. ‘But I will swear in any court
of law that he was unfit to drive a cart, and so will you.’

But all Bartholomew’s attention was focused on Isnard, whose outrage had dissipated when his body had finally registered that
it had suffered a grievous insult, leaving him cold, clammy and breathless. Bartholomew had seen men die from the shock of
serious injuries, and he did not want Isnard to expire in the grime of the High Street. He glanced up briefly, silently willing
Quenhyth to hurry with the stretcher.

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
5.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Avalon Revisited by O. M. Grey
Damage Control - ARC by Mary Jeddore Blakney
Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood
She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens
The Symbolon by Colvin, Delia
Shimmer by Darynda Jones
Perv (Filth #1) by Dakota Gray
Fast Lane by Lizzie Hart Stevens