Read an Excerpt
The Crediton KillingsA Knights Templar Mystery
By Michael Jecks
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Michael Jecks
All right reserved.
When he halted his wagon, he grunted with the effort of clambering down from his perch, then winced as his sleeve caught on a splinter and the cloth ripped. The short, chubby man stood by his horse inspecting the tear disconsolately. That, for his wife, would be the last straw, he thought.
Sensing her master's wandering attention, the horse dropped her head and began to crop the grass. The man glared at her; the sound of stems being ripped drowned out the faint musical tinkle at the extreme edge of his hearing. He slapped the horse, but she ignored him, used to his clouts and curses.
He was not overly bothered. On the busy road from Exeter to Crediton there were all manner of travellers; this jingling sound probably heralded another fishmonger, or maybe a party of merchants. Shrugging, he flattened a horsefly that had settled on his forearm, then stood scratching idly at a flea bite on his neck, hands and nails stained orange-red from the blood, while he squinted back along the road.
Other sounds distracted him too: the chattering of the birds in the trees, the chuckling and gurgling of the stream, and the rustling of the leaves overhead as the breeze gently teased the branches. He turned his eyes skyward, and wished that the draft would reach down and cool him. Even under the trees, the heat of the August sun was stifling.
Kneeling by the stream, he scooped water over his head, rubbing it into his face, puffing and blowing with the sharp coolness. He came upright slowly, shaking his head, a stout man in his early thirties, round-faced and heavy-jowled, with a thin covering of sandy hair encircling his balding head. His belly demonstrated all too eloquently how fond he was of food and drink. He had an air of robust good humor, and was always ready with a smile and a joke for his customers; few left his shop near the shambles without grins on their faces. His business was still young, and he was keen to make sure that all who visited him wanted to return.
Remembering why he had stopped in the first place, he lifted his tunic and turned away from the roadside, morosely contemplating the rippling stream before him while he gratefully emptied his bladder. He should never, he thought, have accepted all that ale from the farmer . . .
He straightened his hose reflectively. His wife would be bound to be irritable after waiting so long. He had promised to be back quickly after picking up the two calves' carcasses which were now in the back of the wagon. He glanced at the sun and grimaced. It must be midafternoon at the earliest! Mary's tongue would be strengthened and matured with the passage of time like a strong cheese -- and all her bitterness was sure to be focused on him.
"Hah!" he muttered under his breath. "If a man can't take a drink with a friend when he's tired, what is the point of life?" Scratching at another flea bite on his chest, he lumbered back up into his seat and retrieved the reins, snapping them. His old horse tore up a last mouthful of grass and leaned forward in the traces, jolting the wagon and making the man swear. "God's blood! You old bitch, be easy! Do you want me to fall off?"
The rumble and clatter of the wagon as it jolted along gradually eased his tension, and he slumped, hardly taking notice of his direction. There was little need, in any case. The old beast knew the way home to Crediton, and did not have to be touched with the whip or reins to take the correct path. Flies left the calves' carcasses behind as the wagon bumped, and he swore as he waved them away.
Adam was no fool. He knew full well that he was not an ideal husband, and he could easily imagine that Mary had been nervous when they first married, but he judged that his solid career and the money he lavished on her were together enough to please her. Small in stature, she reminded him of a bird, with her slender figure, tiny bones and bright eyes. She was even shorter than he, by at least half a head, and he enjoyed the sense of control this height difference gave him, though he was quick to admit, if only to himself, that he would never consider using it, he was too fearful of hurting her feelings. Adam was not like other men he knew: he did not believe in beating his wife.
The horse was toiling up the hill now, and there were only another three or so miles back to town. Sunlight sprinkled through the branches above to form golden pools on the ground, and he allowed his eyes to ease themselves shut as his head nodded under the soporific effect of the regular hoofbeats. It was the ale, he thought to himself. He should never have had so much. Belching, he began preparing excuses in case Mary was in a bad mood. Merely saying he had accepted the farmer's offer of a drink after a morning's hot and sweaty work would be unlikely to win her over.
At the top of the hill the horse paused; he was about to snap the reins in irritation when he heard the noise again, and turned in his seat to stare behind him. This time it sounded like a troop of soldiers, he thought, but he could see nothing. The road twisted too tortuously between the trees for him to be able to see more than a few tens of yards. Giving a suspicious grunt, he jerked the reins and set off down the hill toward Crediton. He did not want to meet with armed men so far from home.
Excerpted from The Crediton Killings by Michael Jecks Copyright © 2005 by Michael Jecks. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.