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Authors: Susanna Gregory

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

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BOOK: The Hand of Justice
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‘That is not our problem,’ said Thorpe loftily. ‘The town will pay – as it will pay the compensation owed to me and Edward
for our unjust banishment. After all, it is only fair.’

Neither Bartholomew nor Michael could think of much to say as they walked to Tulyet’s house on Bridge Street that evening.
They were appalled by Edward’s plan to sue Lavenham and, while they hoped the law would be sufficiently sane to see the claim
for the outrage it was, their recent experience with England’s eccentric legal system and its dishonest clerks did not fill
them with confidence.

‘I cannot believe this,’ said Michael, as they passed the outskirts of the Jewry. A miasma of rosewater still encased him,
and Bartholomew tried to keep his distance. ‘If the Mortimers gain a single penny over Thomas’s death I shall join those restless
peasants who are urging rebellion, and overthrow the King myself.’

‘Michael!’ exclaimed Bartholomew, glancing around him uneasily. The monk’s voice had been loud, and there were plenty of people
close enough to have heard. ‘You are always warning me about making treasonous remarks, but I have never made that sort of
proclamation on the High Street.’

‘Well, I am angry,’ pouted Michael. ‘And disillusioned. I have been upholding University laws for five years now, and I thought
right was on my side. But, in the last two weeks I have seen murderers pardoned; I have seen them awarded money for their
“suffering”; I have seen a drunken merchant crush folk under his cart with no reprisals; I have seen Deschalers, Warde and
Bottisham dead by foul means and I do not know why; and I have seen Bosel callously dispatched to protect Thomas’s precious
reputation. And now Edward plans to sue the destitute Lavenham.’

‘We do not know Lavenham is destitute,’ said Bartholomew. ‘He may have a fortune secreted away – he certainly still has his
share of the King’s Mill. And he may be dead and therefore beyond the Mortimers’ clutches. We do not know Bosel was killed
to protect Thomas, either. Constantine says not. And finally you know as well as I do that “right” and “justice” have nothing
to do with the law, so you cannot be disillusioned.’

At Tulyet’s house, Michael rapped on the door, becoming impatient when it was not answered immediately. He had missed a number
of snacks that day, so was hungry and wanted to get at Mistress Tulyet’s lamb and Lombard slices as soon as possible.

‘Summer must be closer than I thought,’ said Tulyet, ushering them inside. ‘I can smell blossom. Rather strongly, actually.
Or perhaps one of the Frail Sisters passed this way, and her scent lingers.’

‘Weeds,’ said Tulyet’s wife, coming to greet them and also detecting something aromatic. ‘Like lily of the valley
or some such plant. No. It is less pleasant than that. Henbane. I believe that reeks at this time of year.’ She inspected
the bushes that grew along the front of her house.

‘Henbane killed Warde,’ said Michael, making his way to Tulyet’s solar and oblivious to the mortified expression on the faces
of his hosts as they identified the origin of the stench. ‘It is not hard to believe that something so foul-smelling contains
such a virulent poison.’

‘And Bess,’ said Bartholomew, not wanting her to be forgotten. He entered the solar behind Michael and was surprised to see
Stanmore there, sipping warmed wine by the hearth. The clothier winked at Bartholomew and told him that it was more pleasant
to inveigle invitations from friends than to dine alone while his wife was away.

‘God’s angels!’ exclaimed Michael suddenly. ‘What is that?’

He pointed to an object that lay on its side in one corner of the room, all wooden legs and frayed fur, like a Trojan horse
that had seen some terrible wars. Its face was unscathed, however, and Bartholomew immediately recognised the beady, malevolent
eyes and grinning, tooth-filled mouth of the toy Quenhyth had crafted.

‘We have young Quenhyth to thank for that,’ said Tulyet with a fond smile. ‘He gave it to Dickon when he hurt himself, and
it has become his favourite toy. I offered to return it, since it was originally intended for Quenhyth’s brother, but the
kind lad said we could keep it.’

Bartholomew imagined that Quenhyth’s generosity had nothing to do with kindness. He knew he was likely to be asked to help
tend Dickon in the future so would not want to accept the toy back and run the risk of being speared by Dickon’s wooden sword
when their paths next crossed.

‘What is it?’ asked Michael dubiously, picking up the object by one of its legs. It had suffered during its few days
in the Tulyet house. One of its feet had broken, there were bald patches where its fur had come off, and it was missing its
tail.

‘It is a rat,’ came the piping, childish voice of Dickon from behind them, where he had been eating the sugared cherries off
the tops of all the Lombard slices. ‘You stink! I am a Saracen!’

With a wild whoop and little warning, Dickon produced the dreaded sword and rushed at Michael, brandishing it to show he meant
serious harm. Bartholomew had never seen the monk move so fast, and Dickon’s weapon succeeded only in cleaving thin air. Aggrieved
to be deprived of his target, the brat looked around furiously, and drew breath for another attack.

‘Dickon!’ shouted Tulyet. ‘What have I told you about assaulting guests?’

Dickon’s dark eyes settled rebelliously on his father, and then with calm deliberation he issued another ear-piercing war-shriek
and aimed for Michael a second time. This time the monk was ready. He gripped the rat in both hands and used it to block the
sword’s hacking blow. The toy disintegrated in his hands, the head skittering off to land in the fire and the body falling
in two unequal pieces to the floor. Michael was left holding a hind leg that ended in some vicious-looking splinters. Dickon
gaped at the shattered ruins in disbelief, and his little sword dangled at his side.

‘Oh, dear,’ said Michael flatly. ‘Now look what you have done.’

Slowly it dawned on Dickon that his rat was irreparably damaged. He opened his mouth and roared his fury at the world – and
at Michael in particular – with all the power his lungs could muster. Bartholomew winced, certain it was not normal for a
small child to generate such volume.

‘You will hurt your throat,’ he warned, although whether
Dickon heard him was a matter of conjecture. He considered repeating the message, then decided that a sore throat might actually
benefit Dickon’s parents. He should not deprive them of a quiet week by attempting to soothe the brat.

‘I will take him to the garden,’ shouted his mother. ‘You said you wanted to talk, and you will not be able to do so with
him here. Do not forget to bar the door. He will not stay outside for long.’

‘Do hurry back,’ said Michael to Dickon, with what Bartholomew thought was raw menace. ‘I would like to play with you again.’

Dickon’s howls stopped, and he regarded Michael with a coolly assessing eye. Bartholomew watched him reach the understanding
that Michael was not someone who would be easily bested. Dickon was the first to look away. He continued his bawling, although
not quite as loudly, as his mother led him away by the hand.

‘Are you sure he is yours, Dick?’ asked Michael, following Tulyet into the chamber he used as an office and watching him secure
the door in a way that would have probably deterred several real Saracens. ‘Only I have heard that the Devil occasionally
sires a child.’

Tulyet was not amused. ‘Matt says he will grow out of his tantrums soon. We probably should not indulge him so, but my wife
still has not forgotten the time when ruthless men stole him from us.’

‘I would like to see them try now,’ said Bartholomew, thinking that anyone who deliberately sought out the company of Dickon
deserved everything he got. Stanmore added a nod of heartfelt agreement.

‘He is a dear child,’ said Tulyet. ‘But I can barely remember what it is like to have a peaceful home. Still, he will soon
be old enough to play with other children, and that may calm him.’

‘Julianna’s daughter?’ suggested Stanmore. ‘She is a brat who knows her own mind. You should betroth them. It would be an
excellent marriage for both children.’

‘An excellent marriage for their parents, perhaps,’ said Bartholomew. ‘But they would probably kill each other on their wedding
night.’ He thought he heard Stanmore mutter ‘quite’.

Tulyet poked the fire in the hearth until there was a merry blaze. Shadows flickered across the walls, making the murals seem
alive, with leaves moving in a breeze and strange beasts lurking among the foliage. Tulyet gave a hearty sigh when Dickon
gave his most almighty screech yet, and made a comment about how difficult it was going to be to get him to sleep that night,
after the excitement of the day.

‘He shouted “fire”,’ said Bartholomew, going to the window and throwing the shutter open. So far, Dickon’s parents had kept
him away from flames, but the physician knew it was only a matter of time before the hellion learned it was a usefully destructive
force. He did not want to be sipping wine in Tulyet’s sealed office while the house burned, and end up like Bernarde.

‘He saw the blaze this afternoon,’ said Tulyet. ‘He is just playing.’

‘No!’ said Bartholomew, leaning out of the window. ‘There
is
a fire. I can smell it.’

He followed Tulyet out of the office and along a corridor to the pantries. A pile of kindling stood in the middle of the floor,
and the room was full of thick, white smoke. Bartholomew snatched up a pan of water and dashed it over the flames, while Tulyet,
Stanmore and Michael kicked the thing apart and stamped out the cinders. There was a rich stench of burning fat, and Bartholomew
realised someone had added fuel to the sticks, to ensure the fire would catch.

‘How odd,’ said Stanmore, regarding it with a puzzled expression. ‘Which of your servants would light a fire on
the floor, when there is a perfectly good hearth for that kind of thing?’

‘This is not the work of a servant,’ said Bartholomew. ‘Someone lit it with the express purpose of burning Dick’s house to
the ground. The oil was added to make it burn more quickly. Besides, no retainer is foolish enough to set a blaze in the middle
of a room, then leave it unattended.’

‘You mean someone wanted Dick to go the same way as Bernarde?’ asked Stanmore, aghast.

‘Bang!’ came Dickon’s strident voice from the garden. ‘Pow!’

‘Is anyone with him?’ asked Tulyet, watching as his wife and most of their household crowded into the pantry to inspect the
mess. ‘It is getting dark, and I do not want him to let the chickens out.’

‘I will go,’ said Bartholomew, relieved to be away from the smoke, because his throat was still raw from inhaling so much
of it earlier that day. He entered the cool garden and took a deep breath of spring-scented air before beginning to look for
Dickon. It was not difficult to locate him. He was screaming happily as he whirled his wooden sword around his head.

‘Yah!’ he screeched, stabbing some bushes. Suddenly, there was a rustle and someone broke free and raced across the garden
towards a wall at the rear. Dickon was after him in a trice, whooping his delight at the prospect of live quarry. His victim
reached the wall and began to scale it, driven to a new level of acrobatic achievement by the sword. Dickon jabbed hard at
the leg that dangled so tantalisingly in front of him, and there was a shriek of agony. The boy’s face creased into a satisfied
grin, and the intruder disappeared over the top. There was a thud, a grunt of pain and then uneven footsteps as the would-be
arsonist limped away.

‘Pow,’ said Dickon, pleased with himself. ‘He dead.’

* * *

‘Are you sure you did not see who it was?’ asked Tulyet, as they sat in his office – barred again against juvenile invasion
– and poured more wine to wash the smoke from their throats. ‘It would be good to know the identity of the man who just tried
to incinerate me and my family.’

‘He was just a shadow and he ran too fast for me to see,’ said Bartholomew. ‘It was unfortunate for him that he did not run
faster still, because then Dickon would not have tried to sever his leg.’

‘It serves him right,’ said Tulyet unsympathetically. ‘Damn the fellow! Now I shall have to organise guards to protect my
house, and I do not have men to spare. I need them all in the town. It felt very uneasy earlier tonight, as though we are
on the brink of another riot.’

‘But who would want to kill you?’ asked Stanmore. ‘
And
damage the King’s Commission, since two arson attacks in a day are more than coincidence.’

‘Well, it was not Bernarde,’ said Tulyet. He had closed the window shutters, but the racket made by Dickon as he screeched
his way around the herb beds was still very audible. ‘It was definitely his body we found in the ruins of Lavenham’s house.
There were things other than his keys that allowed us to identify him – the buckles on his shoes, his mouth of crowded teeth,
and a ring.’

‘So, if we assume that whoever killed Deschalers and Bottisham also set Lavenham’s fire, then Bernarde is in the clear,’ said
Stanmore.

‘Actually, he is not,’ said Bartholomew. ‘How do you know he did not set the blaze, then get caught in it accidentally?’

‘That is unlikely,’ said Michael. ‘Only a fool would allow himself to be ensnared in the inferno he had created, and our killer
is not a fool. However, I think Bernarde
was
innocent of all these crimes – although I cannot say the same for Lavenham and Isobel. They have disappeared, and if
that is not a sign of guilt, then I do not know what is. We have a witness who saw Bess in their shop moments before she was
poisoned, and they will know we want to interview them about it.’

‘We need look no further than Thorpe and Edward Mortimer for all this chaos,’ said Tulyet firmly. ‘They are the obvious culprits.
Perhaps one of them attacked my house, too. Could the intruder have been either of them, Matt?’

‘I could not tell,’ repeated Bartholomew. ‘Dickon had him on the run too soon. It could have been anyone – Rougham, for example.
His College is deeply involved with the Mortimers, and we cannot discount the possibility that he poisoned Warde with Water
of Snails. Also, he is so keen to claim the Hand of Justice for Gonville that I think he would stop at nothing to get it.’

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
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