Read The Hand of Justice Online

Authors: Susanna Gregory

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

The Hand of Justice (8 page)

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Michael sighed. ‘Dick thinks they may have persuaded that madwoman to give it to him, but I disagree. She seems too witless
to entrust with such a task.’

‘I have heard so many rumours about that pair that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction,’ said Wynewyk, beginning
to walk again. ‘What really happened? Are they the Devil’s spawn, as Agatha the laundress claims? Or are they poor misguided
children, as Master Kenyngham would have me believe?’

‘Neither,’ replied Bartholomew. ‘They are just men who killed without remorse or hesitation, solely to realise their own plans
for revenge and riches.’

‘They were caught – thanks to some clever investigating by me – and confessed to their crimes,’ elaborated Michael rather
smugly. ‘Did you know that Thorpe’s father is Master of the Hall of Valence Marie? It is hard to believe: a high-ranking scholar
spawning a murderer.’

‘Master Thorpe is the man who first found the sacred Hand of Valence Marie,’ mused Wynewyk, changing the subject. ‘I heard
the Hand came from a local saint, and is imbued with great power.’

‘The Hand was hacked from the corpse of a simpleton,’ corrected Bartholomew firmly. ‘It is
not
imbued with any kind of power, sacred or otherwise.’

‘That is not what most folk believe,’ argued Wynewyk. ‘It is stored in the University Chest in the tower of St Mary the Great,
and people petition it all the time. Many of them have had their prayers answered. To my mind – and theirs – that makes it
a genuine relic.’

Bartholomew was exasperated when he turned to Michael. ‘I told you to destroy the thing three years ago, Brother. You had
the chance: you could easily have tossed it into the marshes. But you insisted on keeping it, and
now it is too late. It has become an object of veneration – again.’

‘Again?’ asked Wynewyk. ‘It has been worshipped before?’

‘Briefly,’ said Bartholomew. ‘When it was first dredged from the ditch outside Valence Marie. But we proved beyond the shadow
of a doubt that it was hacked from Peterkin Starre – because his corpse happened to be available at the time – and it is not
and never has been sacred.’

‘The fascination with it will not last,’ insisted Michael, although he sounded uneasy. ‘These things come and go, and what
is popular today is forgotten tomorrow. And anyway, it is not my business to decide what should and should not be destroyed.
I pass that responsibility to the Chancellor.’

Bartholomew laughed in disbelief. ‘I am not a complete innocent, Brother! Everyone knows Chancellor Tynkell does exactly what
you say, and there is only one man who determines what happens in the University these days: you. If you wanted these bones
destroyed, they would have vanished by now.’

Michael grinned, unabashed by the reprimand and amused that his friend had so accurately described his relationship with the
Chancellor. Tynkell was indeed becoming a figurehead, with Michael holding the real power. Tynkell had expressed a desire
to resign and allow Michael to take the reins, since he was already making most of the important decisions, but the monk demurred.
He liked things the way they were – it was useful to have someone to blame when anything went wrong.

‘Tynkell does listen to my advice,’ he confessed modestly. ‘But destroying the Hand would have been an extreme reaction –
and one that could never be reversed. I thought it might come in useful one day, and that it would be safely anonymous in
the University Chest.’

‘Not safely anonymous enough, apparently,’ grumbled
Bartholomew, unappeased. ‘Wynewyk is right: there are always pilgrims around the tower these days. It will not be long before
we have a wave of religious zeal to quell, and there is no reasoning with folk once they have decided upon issues of faith.
The Hand has always been dangerous. Look what happened to Thorpe’s father over the thing.’

‘What?’ asked Wynewyk, intrigued. ‘Anything to do with his son?’

‘No, nothing like that,’ replied Bartholomew. ‘But, as you just said, Master Thorpe was the one who found the Hand in the
ditch outside his College. The King and the Bishop of Ely were so angry with him for starting what might have become a powerful
cult that they forced him to leave Valence Marie and take a post at a grammar school in York.’

‘York,’ said Wynewyk with distaste. ‘I have heard it smells of lard. But Master Thorpe is not in York. He is here, in Cambridge.’

‘He was reinstated after a series of appeals to the King,’ said Bartholomew. ‘Apparently, his successor was not gentlemanly
enough, and kept wiping his teeth on the tablecloth during meals.’

‘Nasty,’ said Wynewyk with a fastidious shudder. ‘The Bishop of Norwich does that, too.’

‘Since then, Master Thorpe has impressed everyone with his diligence and scholarship,’ continued Michael. ‘He is a changed
man, but, unlike his son,
he
has changed for the better.’

Wynewyk became aware of the passing time with sudden alarm. ‘We should not be reviewing ancient history now, my friends. We
should be debating with the scholars of Gonville and, unless we hurry, they will assume we are too frightened to meet them.
The honour of Michaelhouse is at stake – we must run.’

* * *

St Mary the Great was the town’s largest and most impressive church. Its chancel had recently been rebuilt, replacing the
narrow pointed lancet holes of an earlier age with great windows full of delicate tracery. These fabulous arches, so vast
and open that it seemed they would be incapable of supporting the weight of the roof above them, allowed sunlight to flood
in and bathe the building with light and warmth. The coloured glass that had been used in places caught the sun’s brilliance
and accentuated the scarlets, golds and emeralds of the wall paintings.

Over the last few weeks Bartholomew had noticed more and more people praying outside the church, and there were often folk
kneeling on the roughly paved ground by the tower. There were three there that morning, busily petitioning the Hand that languished
in the University Chest just above their heads. One was John of Ufford, a son of the Earl of Suffolk, who was learning law
so he could forge himself a career at Court. He was a pleasant enough fellow, with a perfectly straight fringe of dark hair
over his eyes. He nodded a greeting as the Michaelhouse men passed, raising one hand to touch a sore on his mouth as he did
so.

‘If you leave it alone, it will heal more quickly,’ said Bartholomew, unable to help himself. The lesion looked as though
it was played with constantly, and he knew it would only disappear if it was granted a reprieve from the sufferer’s probing
fingers.

‘I am praying to the Hand of Valence Marie,’ said Ufford. He looked frightened. ‘This sore might be the first sign of leprosy,
and I need the intervention of a powerful saint to help me.’

‘It is not leprosy,’ said Bartholomew, wondering whether Rougham had been talking to him. The Gonville physician had a nasty
habit of diagnosing overly serious ailments in his patients so that he could charge them more for their ‘cures’.

‘No?’ asked Ufford with sudden hope. ‘Are you sure?’

‘If you keep your fingers away from it, and do not smother it with salves, you will notice a difference in a week. It needs
clean air and time to heal, nothing more.’

He followed Michael and Wynewyk inside the church. It was packed to overflowing. Public debates were important occasions –
particularly the end-of-term
Disputatio de quodlibet
– and representatives were present from every College and hostel, many wearing the uniform of their institutions. There was
the black of Michaelhouse and the dark blue of Bene’t, mixed with paler blues and greens from places like King’s Hall, Valence
Marie and Peterhouse. Among them were the blacks, browns, greys and whites of the religious Orders, and the whole church rang
with the sound of voices – some arguing amiably, others more hostile. Although debates were designed to bring scholars together
in an atmosphere of learning and scholasticism, they were also often used as excuses to re-ignite ancient feuds and hatreds,
and Bartholomew noticed that Michael had arranged for a large contingent of beadles to be present, too.

‘There you are,’ said Ralph de Langelee, Master of Michaelhouse, when he spotted his three colleagues. His barrel-shaped soldier’s
body cut an imposing figure, and other scholars gave him a wide berth as he shoved his way through them. He was no one’s idea
of an academic, with a mediocre intellect and only a hazy grasp of the philosophy he was supposed to teach, but he was an
able administrator, and a definite improvement on his predecessor. ‘I know I told you not to arrive too early – to dull your
wits in mindless chatter while you wait for the
Disputatio
to begin – but I did not expect you to cut it this fine.’

‘Not knowing whether your opponents will arrive is a sure way to unsettle the enemy,’ said Michael comfortably, glancing towards
the place where the scholars of Gonville Hall had gathered.

‘Well,
I
was beginning to think you had decided not to come, too,’ said Langelee, a little irritably. ‘And Gonville have been claiming
that their minds are too quick for us, and we have decided to stay away, rather than risk a public mental drubbing.’

‘We shall see about that,’ said Wynewyk, grimly determined. ‘The likes of Gonville will not defeat
me
in verbal battle!’

Langelee started to move towards the dais that had been set up where the nave met the chancel. ‘Do not underestimate Gonville,
Wynewyk: they are very good. We are not talking about Peterhouse here. Well, are you ready? Have you spent the morning honing
your debating skills on each other, as I recommended?’

‘We do not need to practise,’ declared Michael immodestly. ‘Although, I confess I have not taken part in a major
Disputatio de quodlibet
since the Death.’

‘The subject you three will be asked to debate could be anything – theology, the arts, mathematics, natural philosophy, even
politics,’ said Langelee, as if his Fellows might not know. ‘That is the meaning of
quodlibet
: “whithersoever you please”.’

‘Thank you, Master,’ said Michael dryly. ‘I am glad you told us that.’

Bartholomew ignored the monk’s sarcasm. He was looking forward to the occasion, and was honoured that Langelee had chosen
him to stand for Michaelhouse. ‘These debates are opportunities for us to express opinions and ideas with a freedom not always
possible within the rigid constraints of more formal lectures,’ he said.

The others regarded him uneasily. ‘I hope you do not intend to say anything that might be construed as heresy,’ said Langelee.
‘I should have thought of this before inviting you to represent us. I had forgotten your penchant for anathema.’

‘He will not say anything inappropriate,’ said Michael firmly, fixing his friend with the kind of glare that promised all
manner of retribution if he was disobeyed. ‘Spouting heresy will see Michaelhouse disqualified, and none of us want that –
nor do we want inflammatory remarks to spark a riot.’

Langelee arrived at the dais, and looked his three Fellows up and down before sighing in exasperation. ‘I told you to dress
nicely, Bartholomew, and you have turned up looking like a pauper from Ovyng Hostel.’

‘This is my best tabard,’ objected Bartholomew indignantly. He glanced down at the stained and crumpled garment. ‘But I had
to visit Isnard earlier, to change the bandages on his leg, and some—’

‘No details, please,’ said Langelee firmly. ‘If you are to stand near me for the next two hours, I do not want to know the
origin of any peculiar smells. Still, I suppose I can rest easy knowing you have clean fingers.’ He started to chuckle, convinced
as always that Bartholomew’s obsession with rinsing his hands after dealing with bloody wounds and decaying corpses was an
unnaturally fastidious fetish.

Michael saw that his friend was about to begin a lecture on hygiene, so he intervened hastily, nodding to where the scholars
of Gonville Hall were waiting. ‘We are supposed to be arguing with them, not each other. We should start, or they really will
think we are afraid of them.’

‘Michaelhouse will see these upstarts off,’ proclaimed Wynewyk fiercely. He cleared his throat and looked uneasy. ‘At least,
we stand a fighting chance if the Chancellor selects a decent Question.’

‘That is why I chose you three to argue on our behalf,’ said Langelee. ‘You are our best lawyer; Michael’s knowledge of theology
surpasses anyone’s except gentle old Kenyngham’s – but he lacks the killer instinct necessary
for this kind of event; and Bartholomew can cover the sciences. Gonville will crumble before our onslaught.’

‘They will,’ vowed Wynewyk with keen determination. ‘I prayed to the Hand at a special mass held in St Clement’s Church last
Wednesday, and asked it to let us win. So, what with our wits and the intervention of a saint, victory will be ours for certain.’

The atmosphere in the church was one of excited anticipation. Every scholar from Michaelhouse was present, standing on the
left of the dais. To the right were the scholars of Gonville, who were mostly priests dressed in habits of brown or white.
Bartholomew glanced at the assembled faces in the nave, recognising many; some were friendly, others were not. None were indifferent:
everyone had chosen a side. The end-of-term
Disputatio
was an important occasion, because students had been scarce since the plague and the College that won it could expect more
applicants. It was not just simple intellectual rivalry that made this particular debate such an intense affair: there were
financial considerations, too.

Someone waved to Bartholomew, making encouraging gestures. It was Thomas Paxtone, who had recently arrived at King’s Hall
to take up an appointment as Regent Master of Medicine. After so many years with only the conservative Peterhouse medic Master
Lynton, it was a pleasure to have Paxtone in Cambridge. Bartholomew wished he felt as positive towards the second arrival,
Rougham of Gonville; although they both maintained an outward show of cordiality towards each other, there was active dislike
festering beneath their veneer of civility.

BOOK: The Hand of Justice
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Exile by Rebecca Lim
Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins
Shipwreck Island by S. A. Bodeen