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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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‘Thorpe and Mortimer killed them,’ came a low voice close behind him that made Bartholomew jump out of his skin. ‘They thought
we would blame Quenhyth.’

‘Dame Pelagia,’ said Bartholomew, standing up quickly. He supposed he should not be surprised to see her, now that the murderer
was unveiled and all that remained was to work out the answers to one or two loose ends. ‘How do you know Thorpe and Edward
murdered the Lavenhams?’

‘Because I saw them,’ replied the old lady. ‘Unfortunately, I was too far away to prevent it from happening. They wanted the
Lavenhams’ gold, and killed them for it near the Small Bridges after dark. They carried the bodies to the mill, where I watched
them set the fire. Young Lenne may have
thought
the blaze was his doing, but all he did was give Thorpe and Edward the idea.’

‘Lenne did not burn the mill after all?’ asked Bartholomew.

‘His pathetic little blaze flickered out within moments. Thorpe and Mortimer watched him, and I thought they intended to kill
again, but they merely decided to carry out what he had failed to do. They wanted you to believe they were dead.’

‘But they did not take my Corpse Examiner into account,’ said Michael proudly. ‘I have always said it is good to
hire a physician who can tell his men from his women.’

Bartholomew was too agitated to be amused. ‘Where are they now? What do they intend to do?’ He realised that part of his unease
was because he did not trust Dame Pelagia, and he had the distinct impression there was something she was not telling them.

She gave one of her enigmatic smiles. ‘Who knows?’

Michael was morose again. ‘I suppose we shall have to go through all this again in a couple of weeks, when they decide to
return.’

‘The King would not like that,’ said Dame Pelagia. ‘He is fond of this town – probably because it is good for imposing extra
taxes – and he does not want to see it in flames. A destroyed city is not a good source of revenue.’

‘The King is expecting a great deal of revenue from Deschalers’s death taxes,’ said Michael bitterly. ‘The town is obliged
to pay them all. God knows how we shall find the money, what with the Great Bridge falling to pieces and fire damage to repair.
And what about this compensation – or does the fact that Thorpe and Mortimer murdered the Lavenhams for gold absolve us of
that?’

‘I shall have a word with a Westminster clerk or two about Deschalers’s taxes,’ said Dame Pelagia comfortably. ‘His heir will
be ordered to pay, have no fear. And you can forget about the compensation, too. I doubt Thorpe and Mortimer will press their
claim for it.’

‘We thought they intended to use the Hand to cause trouble in the town,’ said Michael. ‘As revenge for being sent into exile.
But we were wrong.’

‘They were opportunists,’ said Pelagia. ‘The Hand presented them with an opportunity to stir up strife, and it was easy for
them to give it a new name – to increase its importance and put strain on the relationship between University and town concerning
its ownership. But that is not why they came.’

‘Why, then?’ demanded Bartholomew. He held his ground when the bright, intelligent green eyes settled on him. He wanted answers
and felt the old lady had them; he would not allow her to intimidate him into not asking the questions that burned in his
mind.

Dame Pelagia smiled, showing small yellow teeth, like Michael’s. ‘You will have to work that out for yourself. I do not see
why I should explain everything to you.’

‘They wanted revenge on some of the people who brought them to justice for their original crimes,’ said Michael, thinking
hard to make the evidence fit into a pattern that made sense. He could not bear to leave his grandmother’s challenge unanswered.
‘We thought they came to bring chaos and tumult, but they were not so ambitious.’

‘Then they aimed to leave with as much gold as they could carry,’ said Bartholomew. ‘Mortimer never intended to run Deschalers’s
business, which is why he dismissed the apprentices and cared nothing about retaining the goodwill of the other merchants.’

Dame Pelagia smiled. ‘You are both right. Because they inspired such terror, folk attributed to them a grander plan than they
were capable of carrying out. They did nothing to dispel these rumours, which elevated them to a status they should never
have been given. They are loutish youths, of average intelligence and mediocre fighting skills. You discovered that, Matthew.’

‘You mean when Edward attacked me on the High Street?’ asked Bartholomew. He thought back to the struggle, and recalled his
pride when he had defeated a man whom everyone held in such fear.

‘Exactly. He and Thorpe beat Ufford in a brawl, but there were two of them, and poor Ufford is not the swordsman everyone
imagines. He prefers reading to fighting, and even
you
could defeat him in a fair contest. All these things were
gossiped about and exaggerated. There was no plan to destroy the town. That was all in your fevered imaginations.’

‘But they wanted to kill Michael, the Sheriff and my brother-in-law,’ said Bartholomew. ‘And possibly me, too. They have tried
three times now.’

Dame Pelagia raised her eyebrows. ‘I only know of once: in Dick Tulyet’s house the night Mortimer tried to set it alight.
He has a gash on his leg – inflicted by Dickon’s wooden sword.’

‘They have been trying to get several of their intended victims under the same roof at the same time,’ said Bartholomew. He
was gratified to see he had her attention. ‘Their first attempt was last Monday, when Dickon had the pea in his ear. Thorpe
asked whether Michael was going to join us. Had I said he was, I think they would have done something then. The second attempt
was at Michaelhouse a week later.’

‘The inexplicable invitations to the midday meal,’ said Michael, wanting to show his grandmother that Bartholomew was not
the only one who could think. ‘They sent messages to Oswald and Dick, asking them to Michaelhouse, but both declined for
different reasons. We were fortunate.’

‘Yes, there were nettles to eat that day,’ said Dame Pelagia disapprovingly. ‘I do not allow weeds to pass my lips personally,
but there is no accounting for taste.’

‘That was the day Thorpe came to hear Matt’s lecture,’ Michael went on. ‘We knew he planned some sort of mischief, but did
not know what – not at the time.’

‘Their attempts were bumbling at best,’ said Dame Pelagia. ‘And grossly incompetent at worst. You were never in any real danger.
But they would have persisted until they died in the attempt.’

Bartholomew eyed her warily. ‘What makes you think they will stop now?’

Her eyes twinkled. ‘I have had a word with them. Their killing days are over.’

‘Were you ever in Albi?’ he asked, when he saw she was going to say no more on the matter. ‘Thorpe and Mortimer are supposed
to have learned their fighting skills there.’

‘I saw Wynewyk in Albi once, with a group of travelling clerics,’ said Dame Pelagia. ‘But Thorpe and Mortimer strayed no farther
than Calais. They were too frightened to go deeper into France.’

‘A false connection,’ said Michael. ‘They must have heard Albi mentioned, and decided it sounded more impressive than Calais.’

‘And you have no idea where they might be now?’ pressed Bartholomew, regarding Michael’s grandmother intently.

She smiled and reached up to pat his cheek with a hand that was surprisingly soft. ‘Look after my grandson, Matthew. But I
have tarried here too long, and the King needs me in other places.’

She turned and walked away. Langelee waited nearby with a splendid palfrey, and they all watched her spring lightly into the
saddle. Then she gave them a jaunty wave and was gone.

‘I imagine Thorpe and Mortimer fled for their lives after she spoke to them,’ said Michael, answering Bartholomew’s question
as they turned back to the ruins of the mill. ‘They are not stupid, and will not risk making an enemy of her.’

‘It is a bit late for that,’ said Bartholomew. ‘They made an enemy of her two years ago. That is why she came back.’

‘Yes, I suppose it was,’ said Michael.

In order to reach the bridge that would take them back into the town, Bartholomew and Michael had to pass the King’s Mill.
As they walked, the physician became aware of an uncomfortable scratching sensation near his neck. He rubbed it impatiently,
then stared in surprise at the
parchment that fluttered to the ground. He retrieved it and scanned its contents, while Michael watched with raised eyebrows.

‘She must have put it there when she touched my face,’ said Bartholomew. ‘I should have guessed her small demonstration of
affection would have another purpose.’

‘What does she say?’

‘She explains how Quenhyth killed Deschalers and Bottisham, dropped them in the mill engines, and then escaped without being
seen by Bernarde.’

‘Damn!’ muttered Michael. ‘I had hoped to discover that for myself, to impress her with my insightful analysis of facts. Did
you know she deduced Quenhyth was the killer before you did? She had pieced the mystery together from conversations with Bess
and Redmeadow. We made mistakes, Matt. We should not have dismissed Bess as a rambling lunatic, and
I
should not have assumed that Bottisham and Deschalers’s deaths were connected to the mill dispute. That led us badly astray.
Of course
she
did not make such a basic error of judgement.’

‘And what did she plan to do about Quenhyth?’ asked Bartholomew. ‘Stab him during mass? Poison him at his lessons?’

‘She planned to inform me about him,’ said Michael sharply. ‘And let justice take its course, on the understanding that the
King would not be so free with his pardons in the future. But tell me what she fathomed about Quenhyth’s escape.’

‘Come with me,’ said Bartholomew.

Wreckage from Mortimer’s Mill was still bobbing and swirling in the river, and it meant the King’s Mill could not operate
that day. The Millers’ Society did not want to make expensive repairs because charred wood was entangled in their waterwheel,
so it had been hauled clear of the water that surged below it. Bernarde’s slow-witted son
had opened the building, ready to accept grain for future grinding, but the apprentices had been given an unexpected day off.
The lad nodded a greeting to Bartholomew and Michael as they entered his dead father’s domain, but made no move to follow
them inside, or even to ask what they were doing.

‘She says there is a pit near the waterwheel that allows routine maintenance to be carried out,’ said Bartholomew, walking
to the far end of the building. ‘This allows the wheel to be inspected while it is turning, so you do not have to shut the
whole thing down every time it needs a little grease. Dame Pelagia believes Quenhyth hid in it after the murders, and waited
until the mill was deserted again before escaping.’

‘But that means he was here while we inspected the bodies,’ said Michael, aghast.

‘That is what she says. No wonder he was so well acquainted with the details of our investigation the day after – he knew
Edward Mortimer was on our list of suspects, for example.’

‘God’s blood!’ breathed Michael. ‘That is a sobering thought! I should have considered the possibility that Bernarde did not
see the killer because the killer was still here. That was another mistake we made: Bernarde forgot to mention this pit, and
we took his word that there was nowhere for a killer to hide.’

‘It is easy to say that now,’ said Bartholomew. ‘But you had just discovered the mutilated corpses of two men you knew – one
of whom you liked. You should not be too hard on yourself.’


She
does not make stupid errors,’ said Michael bitterly. ‘How can I ever hope to attain her standards when I am so careless?’

Bartholomew peered into the pit, which was exactly where Dame Pelagia had said it would be, then jumped
back in alarm. He gazed at Michael in disbelief, then leaned forward to look again, to be sure that what he had seen was really
there.

‘Do not emulate her too closely, Brother,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I have just discovered Thorpe and Mortimer, both dead
from knife wounds. There can only be one person who killed them, and who chose such an appropriate hiding place for their
bodies until she was safely away.’

‘No, Matt,’ said Michael, manoeuvring himself into a position where he could see the corpses for himself. ‘My grandmother
had nothing to do with their deaths – they killed each other. They are both holding daggers, and you can see the dust all
over their clothes from where they struggled with one another. Look at Thorpe’s hand – he is even holding a tuft of Mortimer’s
hair, ripped out during the fracas.’

Bartholomew saw he was right. ‘And part of the floor is broken here, suggesting that it crumbled under them as they fought,
and toppled them down into the pit.’ He measured the stab wounds against the widths of the blades, and found they matched
precisely.

‘It was a case of a falling out among thieves,’ said Michael. ‘Perhaps they quarrelled over the gold they stole from Lavenham.
Or perhaps their murderous inclinations simply boiled to the surface and they were obliged to relieve them on each other.’

Bartholomew supposed he was right. There was certainly no evidence to suggest anything else had happened. ‘Then where is Lavenham’s
gold?’ he asked. ‘It should be here.’

But the box of coins was nowhere to be found, and there was something rather too neat about the pair in their pit and their
conveniently simultaneous deaths. Bartholomew glanced at Michael, and saw he was not the only one troubled by the tidy conclusion
to the case.

‘Do you think … ?’ began the physician uncertainly.

‘I do not think anything,’ replied Michael softly. ‘And neither should you.’

Two days later, Bartholomew was deeply engrossed in the book Wynewyk and Paxtone had gone to such pains to secure for him,
when Michael wandered nonchalantly into his chamber. The physician was in the enviable position of having a room to himself
again, because Redmeadow did not want to sleep in a place where his classmate had died, and had gone to share with the Franciscans
instead. Bartholomew smiled at the monk and leaned back on his stool, stretching muscles that had grown stiff from too much
sitting in one position. The smile faded when Michael waved something at him.

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
8.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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