Read Whited Sepulchres Online

Authors: C B Hanley

Whited Sepulchres

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For P.A.E., P.C.S.

and our friend from Fenoli.




Ye are like unto whited sepulchres,

which appear beautiful outward,

but are within full of dead men’s bones,

and of all uncleanness.

Matthew, ch. 23, v. 27




Title Page





Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen


Historical Note

Further Reading

About the Author



One of the joys of publishing a book is being given the opportunity to say thank you to all those people who helped, in many different ways, during the creation of it. So here goes …

My editor Matilda Richards is a huge supporter of my work, and it’s brilliant to be able to talk to someone who empathises so completely not just on series direction, but also on vital things such as the correct placement of commas. Jamie Wolfendale and Maria Fallon, also of The History Press, have worked tirelessly to promote my books, and neither of them minded being contacted, probably more often than absolutely necessary, by an author who is a bit clueless about marketing.

Stephanie Tickle and Andrew Bunbury, my two best critical friends and readers, neither of them afraid to call a spade a spade, went through early drafts of
Whited Sepulchres
in great detail and offered many helpful insights and suggestions. The fact that they frequently came up with completely different and opposing comments about the same passages only made the redrafting process more interesting.

I’m very grateful to Sarah Jones, equine vet, for her advice on horses. My questions on how to train and ride them, and how they might react in certain circumstances, were probably fairly straightforward; the one on how somebody might go about putting down a crippled horse with only a hunting knife to hand probably less so.

My fellow historians (and fellow devotees of bacon sandwiches) Julian Humphrys and Sean McGlynn have been hugely supportive in all sorts of ways, with words of encouragement, practical advice and the sourcing of presentation and review opportunities. My non-mediaevalist colleagues at work, particularly Susan Brock, Caroline Gibson and Nick Monk, are also owed a debt of gratitude, basically for putting up with me going on and on about stuff which probably doesn’t interest them in the slightest …

Last but certainly not least, my thanks and love go to my husband James (who also added another map to his collection!) and our children. I couldn’t do any of this without you.

Chapter One
Conisbrough, June 1217

The wedding was only a week away, and there was still so much to do. Edwin splashed some water on his face and hands, pulled his new tunic over his head, grabbed the piece of bread his mother held out to him and ran out of the door, knotting his belt around his waist as he went.

It was high summer, the feast of St John the Baptist, and even at this early hour the sun was bright. As he jogged up the village’s main street towards the castle, Edwin appreciated the cool morning air, knowing that it wouldn’t last, and that it would be another blazing day later on. It wouldn’t be pleasant sitting in the steward’s cramped office, which tended to get a bit airless, but he supposed he should be grateful that he wouldn’t be out toiling in the furnace-like fields like most of the other villagers. And, thank the Lord, there would be no violence, no danger, and no death. It had been four weeks since he’d returned from Lincoln, and he could still smell the blood.

Since he’d been back, everything had been different. He hadn’t managed a whole night’s sleep, for a start, which was making him jumpy and increasingly lightheaded. He spent his nights tossing and turning on his straw palliasse, trying to blot out the visions of battle which filled his head. The heat didn’t help, but for the first summer in his life he wouldn’t leave the cottage door open overnight to let in some cool air. Instead he shut it fast, and had even fitted a wooden bar. His days weren’t safe, either: he couldn’t get over the feeling that he needed to look over his shoulder all the time, that horrors were hiding just out of his field of vision, reaching for the corner of his eye. Every shadow made him jump.

He shivered, and found to his surprise that he was already outside the door to the earl’s council chamber: he’d walked right through the castle wards, into the keep and up the stairs without even noticing. He was breathing heavily and the headache which had been hanging around for days was making him feel dizzy. He stood for a moment, leaning his head on the stone wall to soak up some of its coolness, before standing upright and inhaling. He smoothed down his hair and his tunic, and knocked.

The door was opened from within and Edwin was greeted with a smile by Adam, the earl’s junior squire, as he entered. Adam closed the door behind him and Edwin stood in silence until such time as the earl should notice him, exchanging a glance with Martin, who was looming in the corner. Martin nodded to him briefly, but he was busy trying not to make a noise as he scolded the new young page, who was fidgeting.

The earl was in the middle of a conversation with Sir Geoffrey.

‘… and so it is the only honourable thing to do.’

The old knight gestured. ‘But surely, my lord, a little unnecessary? After the recent events in Lincoln, the regent will be well aware that you have returned to his fold, and so will Prince Louis. There could be no doubt.’

Edwin felt a jolt at the mention of the word ‘Lincoln’. He had to get over this. It was a place which would doubtless be mentioned frequently in the months and years to come. He needed to put the terror behind him and be proud that he’d managed to serve his lord so well. He needed to drown out the sight and smell of the blood by thinking of the one more pleasant memory from his time away. He let his mind drift a little, encouraging it to recall the face, the summer-blue eyes … he sighed, and then remembered where he was and hoped that nobody had noticed. Fortunately the earl hadn’t, and was continuing.

‘No, I think it must be made more formal.’ His tone was firm. ‘I will send a letter to Louis over my seal, informing him that I am leaving his camp and have returned my allegiance to its rightful place with our lord king and his regent. A copy of this should also go to the regent himself, so that there can be absolutely no doubt about my loyalty. I don’t want questions to arise later which might endanger us all.’

Edwin could see that Martin was looking at him with a questioning expression, having finished his whispered rebuke of the page, and he surprised himself by realising that he knew exactly what their great lord was talking about. He was involved in affairs of the realm. How far he had come … he tried to intimate with an inconspicuous nod of his head that he would explain it all later, and Martin seemed satisfied.

The earl had moved on to brusque instructions to Sir Geoffrey. ‘Have Hamo arrange the scribing … oh no, better not to take him away from his other duties just at the moment, or this wedding will never happen. Father Ignatius will have to do it. Damn it!’ He slapped the table, making them all jump. ‘I need a dedicated clerk these days now that we all have to do so much reading and writing. I thought you were going to send to the abbey for someone?’

‘I did, my lord, and he should be here within the next few days.’

The earl looked as though he was going to make an angry retort, but he reined it in and merely nodded. ‘Good. And the sooner the better, although now is not an ideal time to be adding someone new to my close household.’ He poked at the pieces of parchment in front of him in a lacklustre fashion. ‘Anyway, speaking of household …’ He turned briskly and Edwin was glad he’d been paying attention.

‘Weaver, good.’ The earl always called him that, and Edwin was more or less getting used to it, although it was his father’s name, not his. Which was odd in itself, as he didn’t think his father had ever actually been a weaver, but he didn’t have time to think about it as the earl was continuing. ‘I have no particular duties for you this morning, so I’m sure you’ll be wanted down in the steward’s office. Is William still ailing?’

‘Yes, my lord. His injury is healing, but slowly.’

‘Hmm. Well, no doubt Hamo is doing an admirable job covering for him.’

Edwin couldn’t think of a polite answer to that, but he had to say something. ‘Yes, my lord.’

The corner of the earl’s mouth twitched. ‘Very tactful. And no doubt he is scratching everyone the wrong way as he goes about his business, and most men are looking for an opportunity to push him down the stairs as well?’

Edwin opened his mouth but it wasn’t his place to criticise a senior member of the household, so he said nothing and felt awkward.

But it seemed the earl was not testing him; he laughed and waved Edwin away. ‘Off with you, then. I trust you to keep some sort of order in my household. If I need you for anything I’ll send Thomas.’

Edwin bowed – he was getting slightly better at it but it still wasn’t perfect – and left the room.

As Martin watched Edwin leave, he thought to himself what an unusually good mood the earl had been in since he’d arranged a new marriage for his sister. It wasn’t as if he was a bad master at any time, really: it was just that he had an unpredictable temper – not surprising given that he was a Plantagenet, a family said to descend from the devil – and he tended to get irritated by small things, which didn’t make life easy for his squires. Still, at the moment all was sunshine, and the earl was full of smiles and carefree movements.

Martin wished his own life could be carefree, but it certainly wasn’t at the moment. He had two main problems which filled his thoughts from morning until night, and often during the hours of darkness as well. Firstly there was – but before he had time to dwell on it, his attention was distracted by Thomas, who seemed completely unable to stay still. And that, of course, was his other difficulty. If only the boy –

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