Authors: Cora Harrison
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective
Table of Contents
MY LADY JUDGE
A SECRET AND UNLAWFUL KILLING
THE STING OF JUSTICE
WRIT IN STONE
EYE OF THE LAW
SCALES OF RETRIBUTION
DEED OF MURDER
LAWS IN CONFLICT
CHAIN OF EVIDENCE
CROSS OF VENGEANCE
VERDICT OF THE COURT
available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2014 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2014 by Cora Harrison.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Harrison, Cora author.
Verdict of the court.
1. Mara, Brehon of the Burren (Fictitious character)–
Fiction. 2. Women judges–Ireland–Burren–Fiction.
3. Murder–Investigation–Fiction. 4. Sieges–Fiction.
5. Burren (Ireland)–History–16th century–Fiction.
6. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8378-0 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-528-4 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
This book is dedicated to my friend and former colleague Judith Harper because she likes Mara’s scholars and picked out Enda as a particular favourite. She, like me, knows the satisfaction of hearing about former pupils’ successes and the feeling of sadness when a particularly gifted young person does not carry the promise forward into adulthood.
As always, thanks are due to my agent, Peter Buckman, who works so hard on my behalf; to my editor, Anna Telfer, and the team at Severn House who cheer me with their appreciation and stop me making terrible errors; to my family and friends who put up with having bits of Brehon Law inserted into most conversations and to my dog, Lily, who is my faithful companion during the hours of writing and who stops me overdoing my journeys with Mara through the Burren by firmly putting her paw on the keyboard and indicating that it is time for a real walk.
(The Testament of Morann)
‘Let him (the King) not elevate any judge unless he knows the true legal precedents.’
One of the most important decisions that a King must make is in the appointing of a Brehon (judge) to administer justice in the kingdom. A Brehon must be a person of virtue and integrity as well as having a deep knowledge of all things pertaining to the law.
here was a light frost over the landscape when Mara, Brehon of the Burren, set out from that kingdom to spend the Christmas of 1519 at the King’s court. It made everything look incredibly beautiful, she thought, as she stood holding the reins of her horse and waited, looking across the landscape, while her five scholars fastened their satchels to the sides of their ponies. She had lived at Cahermacnaghten on the western edge of the Burren ever since her birth forty-six years ago but she never tired of the view from the gate. She looked lovingly over the stone-paved fields where the limestone glistened in the early morning sunshine, its silver-whiteness contrasting with the red berries of short, stunted holly bushes that grew here and there in the grykes or cracks between the giant slabs of stone. A tiny wren had been pouring out its winter song from the feathery twigs of a juniper tree but just as Mara had climbed onto the broad back of her new horse, six majestic swans flew overhead, the vibrant throbbing of their wings silencing the tiny bird until they passed on their way towards one of the seasonal lakes in the valleys. A minute later the swans had disappeared; the wren had taken up his song again and a red-breasted robin chirped from the stone wall of the enclosure, almost touching the hand that she had placed on the gate pier. In the distance the flattened cone of Mullaghmore Mountain was an exquisite shade of palest blue, slightly paler than the cloudless sky above them.
‘Wait, everyone! I’ve forgotten my throwing knives. I’ve forgotten my throwing knives, Brehon,’ shouted nine-year-old Cormac, the youngest scholar at the Cahermacnaghten School and Mara’s son by her second marriage to King Turlough Donn, lord of three kingdoms in the west of Ireland: Thomond, Corcomroe and Burren. The King had other sons by a previous marriage and Cormac had been destined to become a lawyer like his mother and her father before her, but at the moment his throwing knives were his most important possession. Mara sighed slightly as she watched her son racing back across the paved yard towards the scholars’ house in the Cahermacnaghten Law School. What did he expect to do with them at a Christmas feast? she wondered. It had been her intention that Cormac would qualify as a lawyer, and then as professor, even perhaps take over the school at Cahermacnaghten from his mother, but, though clever and quick to learn, his interests were those of his warlike father and he would, she knew, prefer to be a soldier. This was not something that Mara wanted for him. There were enough of the O’Brien clan already jockeying for the high position of
or heir and she had no desire to see her son amongst them. By his last wife, Turlough already had grown-up sons and a grandson of seventeen, as well as innumerable nephews and cousins.
Ten years, thought Mara. Ten years ago, on Christmas Day, I was married to Turlough Donn O’Brien. The marriage, which had been followed six months later by a son, had been a successful one. Each lived their own lives, coming together as frequently as they could, but also enjoying the liberty to follow the path laid down for them; the one as king of three kingdoms, and the other in maintaining law and order in the smallest of these kingdoms, investigating crimes, drawing up contracts, teaching a school of young people to follow in her footsteps – Mara’s life, like Turlough’s, was a happy and fulfilling one.
Normally her scholars would return to their own families for Christmas and she, her husband and her son would spend Christmas together, alone except for servants, but this year was special. This Christmas was the twentieth-year anniversary of Turlough Donn’s accession to the leadership of the powerful O’Brien clan. On this day in 1499 he had been inaugurated on the mound of Magh Adhair, the white rod of leadership placed in his hand and he had sworn to protect his people and to be a true and just leader. He had carried out those promises well, thought Mara, his reign was a peaceful and successful one and he had defended his people against the assaults of neighbouring chieftains and against the insidious influence of the English king – King Henry VIII – who would have liked to have the whole of Ireland under his rule and to impose English law and English customs on a people to whom they were alien.
Turlough was a good man, a good soldier, a good husband and father, she thought affectionately, as Cormac, her son, and his son, came running back from the scholars’ house brandishing the set of throwing knives slotted into a leather belt, far too long for his narrow waist, but his prize possession. If young Cormac grew up to be as good a man as his father she would be satisfied. The schooling would do him no harm, but it looked unlikely that he would want to be her inheritor. Her position of maintainer of the law was a worthy one; but perhaps not one that suited her son’s nature. Her father had been Brehon of the Burren, and the fact that she was an only child had probably tempted him to allow her a place in his law school. Later he grew proud of her brains and when he had died just after Mara’s sixteenth birthday, when she had already qualified as a lawyer, he had bequeathed the law school to her. She had rapidly taken her examinations to become an
, or professor, and then had qualified as Brehon, or judge and magistrate, and had maintained law and order in the Kingdom of the Burren ever since, hardly ever stirring from that one hundred square miles of limestone, flowers and sweet grass. A happy life and a satisfying one, she thought. But now she had to attend the festival and to leave her kingdom for a few days.
‘And if any problem should arise that Fachtnan cannot deal with or if he is incapacitated in any way,’ said Mara to her farm manager, ‘just send immediately over to the Brehon of Corcomroe. Either he or his assistant will deal with it.’
‘Don’t worry, Brehon,’ said Cumhal. ‘Nothing will happen over Christmas. Everyone will be too busy feasting and enjoying themselves quietly with their own families.’
‘But there might be a crime at Bunratty Castle,’ said Cormac hopefully as they rode away from the massive walls that enclosed the law school on the western boundary of the Burren. ‘There’ll be hundreds of people there and they’ll all be drinking and strong drink leads to fierce fights; the King told me that; he told me to steer clear of mead for that reason.’
‘Our Brehon won’t have to deal with it, though; that will be for Brehon MacClancy to solve,’ said Domhnall, Mara’s grandson. Fourteen-year-old Domhnall was the eldest scholar at the law school, and although Cormac was his uncle, in reality Domhnall was a figure of authority in the law school and all of the other boys obeyed him without question. His word was law in every respect and although a very peaceful boy himself, his best friend Slevin, less than a year younger, was quick with his fists to punish any disobedience.
Mara smiled to herself as her argumentative son subsided without a word. Domhnall, she thought, with a slightly regretful glance at her son who was busy making sure that each one of his throwing knives was slotted into position, Domhnall was the scholar who would make a good Brehon and a good head of the law school when she felt herself too old for the position. Of course he was quite right – any crime, any disturbance, any trouble that occurred at the King’s court at Bunratty would be for Brehon MacClancy to deal with. She could relax and enjoy a week of leisure and her scholars would love the crowds and the excitement and feasting that would take place at the most splendid castle in Ireland, according to Turlough. And if there was a tiny regret in her mind that she and her husband and her son could not spend Christmas quietly together in her beloved Burren, well that regret was quickly banished. Mara had never been inclined to waste time grieving for the unattainable.
The short winter day was almost over by the time that Mara and the five boys arrived within sight of Bunratty Castle. She had been a little worried when the light had dimmed by the time they crossed the Six Mile Bridge and they descended onto the path that wound through the marshes towards the city of Limerick. However, they only had another few miles to go and Bunratty Castle, standing on a small promontory overlooking the River Shannon, was visible even from this distance. It looked as though every window was illuminated. The castle was a large one, with four towers built around a central block, each tower culminating in a small flag-bearing turret. The main building had two large halls, private apartments for guests of honour and in addition about twenty-four private sleeping places within the four towers. Mara sighed at the thought of all the guests with whom she would have to make polite conversation. The boys, however, she knew, would have a wonderful time and all of their families had been delighted to give them the opportunity of spending Christmas at the King’s court. Cormac, in particular, was wildly excited, not just at the prospect of seeing his father whom he had not met for months but because on his last weekend visit in the early autumn he had made two new friends while visiting Bunratty. One of Turlough’s comrades, Maccon MacMahon, chieftain of the MacMahon clan, was there at the time. He had brought with him his two youngest children, ten-year-old twins, who were being fostered by Brehon MacClancy at his ancestral castle at Urlan. Maccon MacMahon would, of course, be present for the festivities and Turlough had sent word to Cormac that the twins had been invited as well. Mara and everyone at the law school had heard a lot about these twins – Cael and Cian were their names, apparently, and according to Cormac, they had, all three of them, great ‘
’ together climbing around the leaded turrets and pelting the good-natured cook, Rosta, with hazel nuts for ammunition and taking instruction from him on how to cook fish pie and how to kill the salmon in the river by the use of throwing knives. There were also whispered stories of underground passages and raids on houses in the village around the castle and all in all, Mara had an uneasy feeling that it might not be going to be a restful Christmas if these two were as wild as Cormac’s account of them implied. Brehon MacClancy was a widower who spent most of his time at Bunratty Castle so the twins had probably got a bit out of hand, she thought. There was, apparently, no formal law school at Urlan Castle, but it had been a custom, from time immemorial, for the MacMahon children to be fostered by one of the MacClancy law family.