Bloodstained Throneby Simon Beaufort
The new 'Sir Geoffrey Mappestone' mystery - When the former crusader knight Geoffrey Mappestone and his friend Roger of Durham try to slip out of England to the Holy Land, a ferocious storm destroys the ship they are on and casts them ashore. The two knights are unwillingly thrust into the company of other shipwrecked passengers, and while attempting to evade the unwelcome attention of the more dangerous members of the group, they become unwillingly drawn into a plot to overthrow the king and return England to Saxon rule . . .
An aspiring pilgrim's efforts to leave England for a return trip to the Holy Land seem to be cursed.
Geoffrey Mappestone's fellow JerosolimitanusRoger of Durham certainly thinks God has cursed their trip, especially when they're shipwrecked not far from the site of the Battle of Hastings. They're forced to protect a mixed group of survivors, including two women, Philippa and Edith, who may have murdered the husband they shared, the mysterious Juhel who probably pushed his friend overboard, and the most dangerous of the group, Magnus, a Saxon who claims to be the true king of England. They ultimately seek shelter at a monastery after being chased through swamps by the pirates whose ship they were traveling on. Roger has helped himself to some of their gold as restitution for the loss of his horse. The monastery is uneasily shared by Normans and Saxons, and it soon becomes apparent that Magnus and his half brother, another claimant to the throne, are planning to overthrow Norman rule. Geoffrey is poisoned, villagers are slaughtered and another murder occurs before Geoffrey, who is known for his sleuthing ability (Deadly Inheritance, 2010, etc.), can untangle the deadly plots and escape with his life.
The final score: one clever twist and a truly overwhelming richness of historical detail.
Read an Excerpt
The Bloodstained Throne
By Simon Beaufort
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2010 Simon Beaufort
All rights reserved.
Near Pevenesel, Late September 1103
The groans of the dying ship were terrible to hear. The tearing of her hull and the snap of her spars and masts were audible even above the crashing of waves and the manic shriek of wind. The sails were reduced to tattered rags, and the ship's carved bow was little more than splinters. Planking and stores ripped from her were thrown ashore by waves twice the height of a man.
Overhead, the afternoon sky was dark, although rent now and then by slashes of lightning. Thunder growled, but in the distance now, indicating that the storm was finally moving west. Miraculously, some passengers and crew had survived. A few were still flailing in the breakers, while others were in small groups ashore, huddled around the scanty possessions they had managed to salvage.
It was thanks to Captain Fingar's skill and experience that anyone had survived at all. When the ship's hold had flooded suddenly, Fingar had known she was lost, so he had driven her towards shore to give everyone a better chance. But within moments of scraping the bottom, the ship began to disintegrate.
Sir Geoffrey Mappestone was among the lucky ones. He had guessed as soon as he had heard the roar of breakers that the ship was doomed, and he had managed to warn his companions, seize his saddlebag and unleash his dog. The horses, however, had been tethered aft, and although he had tried his best to reach them, the task was impossible. It was a sickening wrench to lose his warhorse: the animal had carried him into battle when Jerusalem had fallen to the Crusading army three years before, and he could not imagine life without it. Geoffrey was a knight, trained from an early age to fight on horseback. Now he had no horse he was unable to suppress the sense that he was less of a man because of it.
'I told you we should never have sailed in this weather,' said his friend accusingly, spitting to remove the taste of salty water from his mouth.
Sir Roger of Durham was a massive, powerful man with a thick black beard and long raven curls, both cultivated in accordance with latest fashions at Court. Geoffrey preferred to keep his light-brown hair short, military fashion, and was clean-shaven, indicating Roger had adapted far more readily to civilian life than had Geoffrey. Both wore surcoats that proclaimed them Jerosolimitani – those who had rallied to the Pope's call to wrest the Holy City from the infidel. Their surcoats, armour and small arsenal of weapons had been the first items they had bundled up to save from the wreck.
The two made unlikely companions. Roger was blunt, transparent and suspicious of anything he did not understand – and since he was illiterate and deeply superstitious, this meant there was a great deal he deemed heretical or sinister. By contrast, Geoffrey had occasionally considered dedicating his life to scholarship. Unusually for a knight, he could read and write, and he owned a deep love of books and scrolls.
'The weather was fine when we left Bristol,' he said, watching the dying ship writhe in the waves. It was ugly to behold, and when a shrill cry sounded, he hoped it was a gull, not a horse.
'But there were omens,' countered Roger. 'And you ignored them. Your wife and your sister urged you to remain at Goodrich, and I said the same. But you knew better, and now look where it has landed us.'
'At least we are landed,' said Geoffrey's squire, Bale, loyally defending his master, although he had not approved of the journey either, when celestial phenomenon had warned against it. He nodded towards the churning sea. 'We might still be out there.'
Geoffrey glanced at the other survivors, noting that many were missing – Vitalis, an old man with whom he had quarrelled, and his two female companions; there had been a monk and a pair of Saxons, too ...
'Vitalis will not be missed,' said Roger, reading his thoughts. He glanced at Geoffrey, a hard look in his dark-brown eyes. 'I do not take kindly to men who make accusations, then use their age as an excuse to avoid a duel.'
'He was not in his right wits,' said Geoffrey.
'He deserved to drown,' Bale declared harshly. 'No man should accuse Sir Geoffrey of cowardice and live to tell the tale.'
'He did not accuse me of cowardice!' objected Geoffrey, startled by the way Bale had interpreted the argument from two days before.
'It does not matter exactly what he said,' stated Roger, his abrupt tone indicating he thought his friend was quibbling. 'He insulted your family, and you should have fought him for it. Now he is drowned you will not have the chance to kill him.'
'Perhaps God took Vitalis's life because he spoke unjustly,' suggested Bale. 'The wicked are often struck down for their sins, and Sir Geoffrey is a Jerosolimitanus, so He will disapprove of people saying nasty things to him. Father Adrian loved talking about holy vengeance.'
His eyes took on a curiously pious expression, although Geoffrey strongly suspected that Goodrich's gentle parish priest had actually been trying to warn Bale to curb his violent instincts. Bale was a huge hulk of a man, larger even than Roger, with a bald, shiny head and uncannily expressive eyes. His immense strength, combined with a passion for sharp implements, made him a sinister and unnerving figure. The people on Geoffrey's estates had been delighted when he had agreed to take the man as his squire, and it was clear they hoped he would never return. Geoffrey understood their unease; he was wary of Bale himself.
'There are still men in the water,' Geoffrey said, scanning the tossing sea. 'Vitalis may yet come ashore.'
'Those are sailors,' said Roger. 'They went back to see what they could salvage before the ship is lost completely. Fingar is one of them; I recognize his orange hair.'
Geoffrey set off towards them. 'If they have gone back, then perhaps we can do something for the horses —'
Roger's heavy hand clamped around his arm to prevent him from going farther, although his voice was gentle when he spoke. 'It is too late, lad. The stern went under first, and they were drowned long before we reached the shore. The sailors are used to the sea and know how to rescue stuff from it, but we are not. It would be madness to attempt it.'
'That is true,' agreed Roger's squire, a sturdy Saxon youth by the name of Ulfrith, whose thick yellow locks were a mad tangle from their time in the water. 'I grew up on the coast, and the sea is treacherous at this time of year.' Tears filled his eyes. 'Poor Lady Philippa! I cannot ...'
He trailed off, and Geoffrey rested a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. Ulfrith had been smitten with one of the female passengers and had been grieving for her ever since Geoffrey had pulled him from the waves. Ulfrith had loved the horses, too, but their loss seemed nothing compared to that of the woman he had idolized.
'Vitalis was stupid,' said Bale, studiously looking in the opposite direction to Ulfrith's unmanly display. 'You told him to take off his armour before we swam for the shore, because it would drag him under, but he refused.'
'Worse yet, he accused you of wanting to steal it,' said Roger, indignant on Geoffrey's behalf. 'The man was insane! What could you do with a tiny mail tunic and a blunt old sword? You tried to help him and he repaid you with nastiness.'
Roger patted his own armour – knee-length mail tunic with gauntlets and hood, boiled leather leggings, surcoat and a conical helmet with a distinctive Norman nosepiece. He had donned it all the moment he was on firm ground, in anticipation of an attack by locals, who might kill survivors so they could claim salvage.
'It was a good idea, Sir Geoffrey, to put our equipment in a barrel and tow it ashore,' said Bale. 'But it is a shame you could not devise a way to save the horses, too.'
'Of course,' said Roger, turning accusing eyes on his friend, 'they would not have died had you listened to the heavenly portents ordering you to stay in England.'
Geoffrey winced. He did not share his companions' belief that the omens were aimed at his intended journey to Jerusalem, but he hated the fact that he was responsible for the horses' deaths.
'Not one beast has come ashore,' elaborated Bale. 'Poor things! It would have been better to have cut their throats than for them to drown.'
There had been a number of passengers aboard the ship – Captain Fingar was quite happy to accept paying fares for a journey he was making anyway. His ship Patrick traded between Dublin and Ribe in Denmark, carrying hides and linen one way, and timber and furs the other. It did not sound especially lucrative, but Fingar was clearly wealthy, and Geoffrey suspected that the large crew and abundance of weapons were not just for defence: Patrick was owned by pirates.
Autumn was normally a good time for sea-travel, and most of the ships Geoffrey had approached in the port of Bristol had been full. He was beginning to think they might have to go home again, when Patrick had put in, ostensibly for repairs, although she docked in a quiet backwater that was the haunt of those who preferred to unload their cargos away from the King's taxors. Whether her goods were smuggled or stolen from another ship was impossible to say, but the number of guards and their furtive demeanour indicated it was one or the other.
Geoffrey was not the only one desperate enough to accept a berth on a ship operating outside the law. So had Sir Vitalis and his two women, a monk, and their servants. Vitalis, a crusty old knight from Falaise, owned lands in the ancient Danish diocese of Ribe, and he and his ladies were going to visit them. Meanwhile, Brother Lucian maintained he was on official Benedictine business. With his shiny black hair and ready smile for the ladies, everything about Lucian said he hailed from wealth. He was too young and handsome to be trusted out alone by any sensible abbot, and Geoffrey had not believed him when he said he had been carrying important documents.
When they had embarked, they discovered Fingar already had four other paying passengers, who had joined Patrick in Dublin. These comprised an uncommunicative Saxon and his servant who were secretive to the point of rudeness; a loquacious Breton named Juhel; and a Norman called Paisnel who had been lost overboard several days before.
During his career as a soldier, Geoffrey had spent a fair amount of time on ships, mostly in the Mediterranean Sea, travelling at the command of his liege lord, Prince Tancred. Patrick, however, was like no other. Normally, tents were rigged on deck for passengers, but Fingar claimed such clutter would interfere with safety. His fares had the choice of eating and sleeping on the open deck or crawling on top of the Irish leathers in the holds.
Geoffrey was blessed with a strong stomach, although even he had been sick in the monstrous seas in the Channel. His fellow passengers fared worse. Vitalis, the silent Saxons and the servants spent most of their time in the hold, vomiting what little they managed to eat. Geoffrey suggested they might feel better away from the odoriferous hides, but they groaned they were too ill to move. The longest conversation he had had with the Saxons – the squire was called Simon, but he had no idea of the master's name – comprised them ordering him away when he tried to help them.
Vitalis's women – each separately introduced as his wife – were more robust and made regular forays to the deck, where they stood clutching the rails and screeching at the size of the waves. They were often joined by Brother Lucian, who flirted outrageously despite the fact that he appeared at times when he should have been reciting his holy offices. It had not escaped Geoffrey's attention that Lucian had not prayed when they were in danger, although every other soul on board had done so with increasing desperation.
Paisnel and Juhel had also been largely unaffected by the elements. Paisnel was the more likeable, a serious, sober senior clerk in the service of the Bishop of Ribe. His friend Juhel was a parchment merchant, and when he was not chatting to his fellow passengers, he talked to his pet chicken, a pale-brown bird with wicked eyes.
But, Geoffrey reflected sadly as he huddled with his companions in the biting wind and stinging rain, trying to regain his strength after the desperate struggle ashore, he could see none of them on the beach.
'What shall we do?' asked Bale eventually. 'We cannot sit here all day. It is too cold.'
'We should wait for the captain to say something,' said Ulfrith. 'He is in charge.'
'Not any more,' argued Bale. 'Besides, all he is interested in is rescuing what he can from the waves before they move in.'
Geoffrey looked to where Bale pointed and saw a tremor in the vegetation behind the shore. People were gathering, watching the survivors but making no attempt to help.
'Locals,' said Ulfrith uneasily. 'They are hoping we will all die, so they can claim what is washed ashore. Folk like them killed shipwrecked mariners when I was a boy.'
'They had better not try anything with us,' said Roger grimly, fingering his sword.
Geoffrey was glad they had all donned their armour. Mail was not total protection against arrows, but it would give them a chance to fight back, should the villagers be rash enough to attack two fully armed Norman knights and their squires.
'They will,' predicted Ulfrith. 'But not yet – they are not stupid. They will wait for nightfall, when we fall asleep from exhaustion.'
Roger scowled. 'They are already growing bold. Look at that fellow with the green hat there. He has been watching us from behind that tree since we first reached the shore.'
'We should offer to help Fingar deploy sentries,' said Geoffrey. It would not be easy to protect themselves in the dark, but it would be foolishness itself not to try.
The captain, however, was unreceptive to Geoffrey's suggestion to move inland and find shelter. Fingar was a short, powerful man with red hair and a scar that ran from the centre of his forehead, down his nose and across his lips, to end at the cleft in his chin. It was perfectly symmetrical, and Geoffrey wondered how it had happened.
'I am not playing milksop to passengers,' Fingar growled, his attention on the seething waves and those of his men who still floundered in them. The rest sat in deflated, sullen groups around their salvage. 'I am busy.'
'Busy doing what?' asked Geoffrey. 'Nothing is coming ashore in one piece, and smashed planking and soaking pelts cannot be of value to you. We should make our way to the nearest settlement for —'
Fingar rounded on him with a fury that would have made most men take a step back. 'You do not know what you are talking about! We need to gather every scrap of timber or leather that washes ashore if we want a chance of buying a new ship. And my obligations to you finished when you reached the shore, so you can make your own way.'
'We do not need your protection,' said Geoffrey irritably. 'But you can see from here that the locals have arrived and are just waiting for the right time to attack. None of us will be safe once night falls, so it is better to pool our —'
'No one will dare attack me,' said Fingar with great finality. 'Now bugger off.'
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and strode towards the thundering surf, where two of his men were struggling with a barrel. Its side was stoved in and its contents lost, and Geoffrey wondered why they were so determined to have it. Disgusted and bemused, he headed back to where Bale and Ulfrith were packing sodden belongings into the saddlebags, aware that the silent locals had edged much closer.
'No!' howled Bale, whipping around suddenly, knife in hand. 'Get away!'
By the time Geoffrey reached his companions, the hapless villager was staggering to safety, trailing blood behind him. The other villagers, clutching a haphazard array of cudgels and pikes, watched tensely, ready to flee if anyone should give chase.
'That will warn them to keep their distance,' said Roger, watching Bale wipe the blood from his blade with a handful of seaweed.
'It will warn them to be careful,' countered Geoffrey. 'The fellow in the green hat is now even closer – so is that large man by him. Fingar will be in trouble tonight if he does not post guards.'
'There is still no sign of our fellow passengers,' said Roger, again scanning the turbulent sea. 'I can only see crew.'
'What a pity Lucian is dead,' said Ulfrith with undisguised malice. Normally affable, Ulfrith had taken strongly against Lucian, whose courtly manners had made him feel gauche and loutish in front of Lady Philippa. He heaved a melancholy sigh. 'Poor ladies! They were so lovely. I cannot imagine why either married Vitalis. He was old enough to be their grandfather.'
'Perhaps he was their grandfather,' suggested Bale. 'I did not see him demanding his conjugal rights the whole time we were aboard.'
Carefully, he began to pack away the ink pots, pens and parchment that had been in the bag Geoffrey had saved, although his disapproving expression indicated he thought his master should have taken the other one – containing clothes and a small store of gold coins.
'He was seasick,' explained Ulfrith. 'Although I suspect an hour or two with Philippa would have cured any sickness of mine.'
'And I could have managed a bout with the other one – that Edith,' said Roger salaciously. 'She was a fine, strapping wench, with plenty of meat for a man to —'
Excerpted from The Bloodstained Throne by Simon Beaufort. Copyright © 2010 Simon Beaufort. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Beaufort is a historian who lectures at the University of Cambridge.
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