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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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Bartholomew was surprised to feel the prick of tears behind his eyes, and supposed he must be more tired than he had thought.

‘Thank you,’ he said as Wynewyk came to stand next to him.

‘You almost caught me with it once,’ said Wynewyk, smiling at the memory. ‘Lavenham lent it to me for a day, and I brought
it here to show Paxtone. I fell asleep waiting for him, and the next thing I knew was Michael trying to grab it from my lap.’

‘I remember,’ said Bartholomew. ‘I saw something hidden under Gratian’s
Decretia
.’

‘Rougham was a wretched nuisance,’ Wynewyk went on. ‘He somehow guessed what we were trying to do, and went to extraordinary
lengths to thwart us. He claimed he did not want your mind sullied further with heathen texts, and did all he could to persuade
the Lavenhams not to sell it to us.’

‘He foiled you at every turn,’ mused Bartholomew, recalling what he had overheard. He was ashamed now of what he had thought.

Wynewyk did not seem to notice his chagrin. ‘Then we were afraid it had gone up in smoke, along with Lavenham’s house. Paxtone
had a good look for it in the rubble – you doubtless wondered why he was covered in soot – but it was nowhere to be found.
But then we discovered it in the most unlikely of places.’ He gestured for William to continue.

‘I was called to give Thomas Mortimer last rites,’ said
William. ‘Property he had looted from the Lavenhams was spilling from his clothes, so Wynewyk and I gathered it up to return
it to them. The book was one of the items.’

‘It was Quenhyth who tried to steal the Dumbleton from the hall, you know,’ said Wynewyk, when Bartholomew seemed unable to
speak. ‘Not Thorpe, as we assumed. After I repaired the chain, I caught him at it again. The chest made him greedy, because
it was somewhere private to store stolen goods. But I must tell Paxtone that all our plotting paid off. He will be delighted.’

‘Wait for me by the gate,’ Bartholomew called after him. ‘I would like to go with you.’

Bartholomew handed the book to William while he raked out the fire, keen now to finish with Quenhyth’s business, and spend
some time with two men who had been to such lengths on his behalf.

‘My God!’ breathed William suddenly. ‘I hope that is not what I think it is.’

Bartholomew looked to where the friar pointed. His mouth went dry when he saw that some of the charred embers were hand shaped.
He poked them with the stick, revealing large blackened finger bones and the remains of a blue-green ring. He exchanged an
uneasy glance with the friar.

‘So, Quenhyth stole the Hand of Justice,’ he said. ‘We thought he might have done, and I should have guessed where he had
put it. Still, at least we know the thing was not holy, or it would not have been eaten by flames.’

‘Oh, dear,’ said William nervously. ‘This is all rather embarrassing.’

‘Only if people find out about it,’ said Bartholomew, raking vigorously, so the bones broke up and became indistinguishable
among the charred remains of the chest. He scooped up the ashes and wrapped them in the material that had held the book. William
followed him out of
the garden and watched while he flung the parcel into the river. It sank slowly from sight.

‘Find out about what?’ asked William.

Later that night, the Fellows of Michaelhouse sat quietly in the conclave. Bartholomew was reading Ibrahim’s book, completely
absorbed, and Wynewyk watched, smiling at his friend’s pleasure. Langelee was telling Suttone how annoyed he was over the
loss of Quenhyth’s fees, while William wrote a letter to the Chancellor, resigning as Keeper of the University Chest. When
he passed the document to Michael, to check for errors in the grammar, the monk tore it up and threw it in the fire. He gave
the friar a conspiratorial wink, and William grinned back in startled delight.

‘I do not want him reclaiming his post as Junior Proctor,’ Michael muttered to Bartholomew, as the Franciscan went to celebrate
his unexpected reprieve by fetching wine from the kitchen. ‘I know he caused havoc as Keeper, but I think he has learned his
lesson. He is safer where he is.’

‘What is that?’ demanded Langelee, looking out of the window at the reflected light dancing on the College’s pale walls. ‘And
listen!’

He flung open the window shutter and the Fellows exchanged horrified glances when they detected the unmistakable sounds of
riot – people shouting, dogs barking, the frightened whinnying of horses and an occasional scream. Feet hammered on the ground
as folk ran here and there, and torches sent eerie flickers into the darkness.

‘Stay here,’ ordered Michael, reaching for his cloak. ‘All of you, except Matt, who may be needed professionally. Bar the
gate and be ready to douse fires. I do not like the look of this.’

In St Michael’s Lane, apprentices were everywhere. Scholars were out too, wearing the uniforms of their hostels
and Colleges, and Bartholomew saw students from Gonville nudge each other and edge closer to Stanmore’s lads. He did not think
they were about to exchange pleasantries about the cloth business, and ordered his brother-in-law’s boys home. They grumbled
and kicked at the ground in frustration, but did as they were told. Michael did the same with the scholars, threatening them
with a night in his cells, if they did not obey.

‘Will this town never be still?’ demanded Michael, as he turned into the High Street and saw that he and Bartholomew had only
scratched the surface of the problem. People were massing, running down the High Street in the direction of the Trumpington
Gate. He snatched the arm of someone who darted in the opposite direction. It was Ufford from Gonville Hall.

‘This chaos is Rougham’s fault,’ said Ufford in disgust. ‘He went to pray to the Hand of Justice, to ask for absolution for
selling rat poison to Deschalers, but Father William would not let him near it. They began to argue, and William ended up
confessing that the Hand has been stolen. Unfortunately, they were overheard.’

‘By whom?’ asked Michael.

‘By Mayor Morice. He has been telling everyone – and the townsfolk want it back.’

‘Oh,’ said Bartholomew guiltily.

‘But why is everyone storming around?’ asked Michael. ‘It
was
stolen, but that is no reason for all this mayhem. Rioting will not reveal what happened to it.’

‘Because Morice says Mortimer and Thorpe have it,’ said Ufford, glancing around uneasily. No ambitious courtier with good
family connections wanted to be caught up in anything as unseemly as a brawl, and he was anxious to be away. ‘He says they
came to Cambridge with the sole purpose of reclaiming the Hand, and it is in their possession. Thank God we did not let Thorpe
bring it to
Gonville, or
we
would now be under siege instead of Mortimer’s Mill.’

‘The mill is being attacked?’ asked Michael. But Ufford was gone, making his way to the quiet end of town, where he would
secure a room in a respectable tavern and emerge only when the fighting was over.

Bells were sounding the alarm, and soldiers on horses thundered along, all heading for Mortimer’s Mill. The roads and lanes
were full of shouting, clanging and general alarum. As the noise levels increased, more folk spilled into the streets to join
the throng, or to cover their windows with planks of wood to protect them from looters. Furious hammering joined the cacophony.

‘Look!’ cried Bartholomew, pointing into the night sky. It was stained orange, indicating that a steady blaze was burning
somewhere. He and Michael joined the stream of people flooding down the High Street, through the Trumpington Gate and along
the side of Peterhouse to the river.

‘We do not know who fired Mortimer’s Mill,’ panted Sergeant Orwelle, who trotted along next to them. ‘There are rumours that
it was scholars – because Edward Mortimer and Thorpe stole the Hand of Justice from St Mary the Great. Both felons are now
hiding in the mill. But there are also rumours that the fire was set by townsmen – because of what happened to Lenne and Isnard.’

By the time they arrived, Mortimer’s Mill was well and truly ablaze. Flames danced high in the air, lighting the onlookers
with an amber glow. Some folk cheered, but most just stood and watched, uncomfortable with the sight of another building consumed
by fire. Because there was so much wood and grease, it was being devoured like kindling, and Bartholomew knew it was as doomed
as Lavenham’s shop had been. Flames licked over the great waterwheel, painting its shape in the sky.

On a balcony at one end Bartholomew saw two figures standing side by side. One was taller than the other, and they were unmoving,
watching the crowd as intently as the crowd watched them. Flames licked all around them, lighting them as dark silhouettes
against a dazzling orange curtain.

‘Mortimer and Thorpe!’ yelled Michael in horror. ‘They will die if we do not help them! Fetch water, quickly!’

‘It is too late, Brother,’ said Bartholomew in a soft voice, barely audible above the snap and pop of burning. ‘They are already
dead. It is corpses you see there, not living men.’

‘I suppose that explains why they are not moving,’ said Michael unsteadily. ‘I thought it was unnatural. I hate fires, Matt.
I hate the smell and the sound. They make me feel helpless.’

‘We
are
helpless,’ said Bartholomew, watching the still shapes as the mill blazed ever more fiercely. He wondered whether enough
of them would be found the next day to give them a burial, and whether he would be able to prise them apart. He had seen enough
of such infernos to know the two would be a fused, indistinguishable mass, barely recognisable as human. Sickened, he wandered
to the river, where he stared at the flames’ reflections dancing in the water. He jumped in alarm and spun around when he
became aware that someone was standing close behind him.

‘It is done,’ said Lenne in a soft voice. Bartholomew could see his white teeth gleaming in the darkness. ‘Thomas Mortimer
will never kill an innocent man again, and my poor mother and father are avenged. He and his mill are no more than ashes,
to be blown away by tomorrow’s breeze.’

‘You did this?’ asked Bartholomew, aghast. ‘You set the fire?’

‘Why not? The law failed me, so I decided to exact my own justice. But I left no evidence. No one will be able to prove that
his death was anything other than an accident. Just like my father’s.’

‘But Thomas died yesterday,’ said Bartholomew, realising that Lenne did not know. ‘He was crushed by a beam in the inferno
that destroyed Lavenham’s shop. I saw his body myself. You have killed his nephew and Thorpe instead.’

‘Truly?’ asked Lenne uncertainly. ‘I only returned tonight, and have not wasted time in gossip. I did not know my mother’s
curse had already worked.’

‘Sergeant Orwelle said you had gone home.’

‘I had, but I could not rest easy knowing that the man responsible for the deaths of my parents walked free.’ He took a deep,
shuddering breath. ‘Well, I suppose it does not matter. I have rid the town of two men who are violently hated. Folk will
probably thank me for what I have done.’

‘That does not make it right,’ said Bartholomew.

‘Right!’ sneered Lenne, and Bartholomew saw for the first time that he held a knife. ‘What does this town know about right?
It allows drunken sots to trample frail old men, while self-confessed killers enjoy King’s Pardons. There is no such thing
as “right” here.’

‘Thorpe and Edward did not harm you,’ argued Bartholomew. ‘It is not for you to punish them. Tulyet was right: the law may
not be just, but it is all there is between us and mayhem.’

‘Except that its very existence is sometimes the cause of that mayhem,’ said Lenne. ‘Goodbye, Doctor. I have seen enough,
and I shall never visit Cambridge again. If you promise to look the other way and watch the sparks until I have gone, I will
spare your life. And if you ever repeat this conversation to anyone else, I shall deny that I was here.’

Bartholomew turned around, seeing the dancing cinders that lit the sky in a celebration of orange and yellow, and when he
looked behind him some moments later, he was alone.

EPILOGUE

The following morning, just as dawn was breaking and an early mist hung over the river like a pale grey veil, Bartholomew
and Michael walked to the blackened spars and timbers that were all that remained of Mortimer’s Mill. Others were already
there – soldiers to prevent anyone from straying too close to what was a dangerous structure, and townsfolk waiting for the
soldiers to look the other way, so they could see whether there was anything worth salvaging. For a while Bartholomew thought
the great waterwheel had survived, for it looked charred, but otherwise unharmed. Then a soldier leaned on it and there was
a tearing groan as the whole thing collapsed. From the direction of Michaelhouse came a screeching echo, as Walter’s peacock
answered it.

‘Are you sure you have not made a mistake?’ asked Michael of his Corpse Examiner yet again. ‘It would be easily done in all
that confusion last night. Look again, now it is light, so we can be certain.’

‘It is not necessary, Brother. I am sure. But I will check again if it makes you happy.’

Bartholomew crouched by the blanket that covered the two corpses, which had been recovered from the mill after the fire was
out, and repeated the examination he had now conducted three times. He assessed the teeth that were conveniently exposed by
the loss of facial tissue, the bones of the pelves and the shape of the heads.

‘Well?’ demanded Michael.

‘As I said, neither of these is Thorpe or Mortimer. One
is a female, and the teeth of both indicate older people, not men in their prime.’

‘Damn!’ breathed Michael. ‘Then they are still at large. They used the confusion created by the fire to let folk believe they
are dead, and now they intend to conduct their mischief from afar. This is terrible! At least when they were here, I could
watch them.’

‘I am fairly sure these are the bodies of Lavenham and Isobel,’ said Bartholomew. ‘God alone knows how they ended up here,
after we thought they had escaped from Cambridge.’

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
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