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Robb's usual lively, endearingly detailed evocation of late-14th-century England, along with a convincing plot and a believable cast of characters, make this one of the veteran webspinner's better outings.
Owen Archer crouched beside the unmoving figure. "My lord, are you
injured?" As he searched for a pulse the bishop stirred beneath him.
Slowly Wykeham raised his head. "Archer. I do not think I am
injured." He was very pale and his breathing shallow. By now masons
and soldiers crowded around the kneeling pair, and Alain, one of the
bishop's clerks, assisted Owen in helping Wykeham to his feet.
"My lord-" Alain shook debris from his master's robes. Once on his
feet Wykeham held himself erect. "I must remove myself from the
danger," he said, stumbling as he stepped away from Alain.
The clerk caught his arm. Excellent reflexes for a man who looked to
Owen a pampered noble. The crowd parted for Wykeham and Alain. Owen
followed close behind. Halfway through the palace garden the
bishop's other clerk accosted Owen.
"Your men were to guard Bishop William," Guy said, shielding his
eyes and squinting at Owen. He had the ruined sight and stained
fingers of a scholar. "Your master has much experience on building
sites," Owen said. "He knows they are unsafe, that he must have a
care." "Are you calling him careless?" Guy demanded. One of
Thoresby's servants saved Owen,summoning him to the archbishop's
"I shall see to Bishop William," Brother Michaelo assured him. As
Owen entered Thoresby's parlor the aging archbishop reached down to
a fist-sized clump of something on the table before him and poked
idly at it, making it flake and finally crumble. "Your Grace," Owen
Thoresby did not look up. "Crushed stone," he said. "Better than a
crushed skull, that is what you are thinking." Now the archbishop
raised his head, fixed his deep-set eyes on Owen. "But you must do
much better than that, Archer. Wykeham's enemies must not find him
easy prey while he is a guest in my household." Aged he might be,
but when Thoresby spoke in such a quiet voice it raised the hackles
on Owen's neck as it always had. "It might have been an accident,
Your Grace." "He must not have accidents while here." "He would have
been safe had he not slipped away." "It is your duty to ensure his
safety with or without his cooperation."
A curse rose in Owen's throat, but he swallowed it back. "How did
this happen, Archer?" "He chafes at such close guard, Your Grace."
"Chafes," Thoresby growled, turning away. "Has there ever lived a
being more dangerous to himself than this obstinate and
contradictory bishop? He swallows his pride to appease friends of
Lancaster, but rides openly across the country to prove he is not
afraid of the duke, belatedly worries about his safety and demands a
constant guard, then escapes his guard to prove-what? Damn him." The
archbishop turned back, his bony face twisted in temper. "He won't
be caught here in York, Archer, I won't have it!" He pounded the
table, flattening the pile of crushed stone. Owen knew his best
defense was silence.
Thoresby pressed his temples and muttered a prayer, composing
himself. "Perhaps he realizes he has overestimated his importance to
Owen judged it safe to speak. "I do wonder about this issue with the
duke. He is sailing home with his new wife, aye, and will be closer
to Wykeham than he has been in a long while. But he comes to plot
his acquisition of the crown of Castile and Le?n, does he not?"
Lancaster had recently wed Constance, the daughter of the late King
Pedro of Castile. "He has far more important things to consider than
his irritation with the bishop." "Lancaster's net is wide, his
coffers deep, and the number of his retainers greater than that of
any man in the realm save his father the king. Wykeham is right to
fear him. But I do not understand this chafing you speak of. He
asked for my protection. Indeed, he asked for you by name. Have you
offended him, Archer?"
"If I have, I know not how." Owen did not like the way Thoresby was
studying him. "He has asked many questions about your time in Wales.
You were working for Lancaster-I'd forgotten that." "On your orders,
Your Grace." Owen did not believe Thoresby had forgotten that. He
had recommended Owen to the duke. Owen had not gone willingly. The
inducement had been the opportunity to accompany his father-in-law,
Sir Robert, on a pilgrimage to the holy city of St. David's,
fulfilling a dream that Owen could not deny the elderly man. Owen's
assistance had been Thoresby's gift to Lancaster to ensure his
continuing favor now that Thoresby and the king were at odds.
"You returned long after the work for which Lancaster said he needed
you had been completed." Thoresby's expression grew cold. "Perhaps
Wykeham knows something I do not, is that it? I did not ask enough
questions about that time? Did Lancaster give you any instructions
to which I was not privy?"
This was a twist Owen had not anticipated, that Wykeham might
mistrust his Lancastrian connections. He prayed Thoresby could not
see the twitching of his blind eye beneath the patch. "He did not
speak of the bishop of Winchester."
"Anything." "He spoke only of the missions you know of." It was
ludicrous for Thoresby to question Owen so. "I chose to serve you
rather than the duke of Lancaster." "That was many years ago. A man
can change his mind. What did you do in St. David's?" "Your Grace,
you know that I remained on the orders of the archdeacon of St.
"I know some of the tale, but I do not believe I know all." And Owen
did not wish him to know more. For in Wales Owen had been
indiscreet-to the point of treason. But it had to do with the desire
of his Welsh countrymen to thrust off the yoke of England, not with
Lancaster's machinations. It was quite possible that Wykeham knew of
Owen's flirtation with treason, having been lord chancellor at the
time. Owen had thought himself safe. It was more than a year ago
that he had returned, and in that time no one had confronted him
about it. Perhaps there had simply been no need to use the
information until now.
"Perhaps I should question Brother Michaelo," Thoresby said. His
secretary, Michaelo, had accompanied Owen to Wales, though he had
returned to York before Owen was delayed in St. David's. It was
plain Owen must humble himself, not give Thoresby cause to probe.
"I'll speak to my men, Your Grace, impress upon them the importance
of the bishop's safety."
Thoresby lowered himself down into his cushioned chair. "Good." He
pushed the crumbled stone aside. "How is your wife?" "She has
regained much of her strength, Your Grace." "I keep her and all your
family in my prayers," Thoresby said in a quiet voice that held no
threats. Crouching atop the masons' scaffolding, Owen Archer looked
down on the pile of stones and tiles stacked in the south yard of
York Minster, more than thrice a man's height. He was looking for
signs that someone had climbed the mound and waited for the bishop
of Winchester to walk past two days earlier. But it was no good-Owen
needed to get closer. Holding on to the scaffolding with one hand,
he stepped down onto the pile and balanced there, testing its
stability. A few tiles moved, but he was able to find a reasonably
firm footing. Slowly shifting his weight, he lowered himself into a
crouch on the stones and tiles.
"I cannot see you now, Captain," shouted Luke, a mason who stood
below. So someone could have hidden up here, out of sight of the
bishop as he walked by.
"Now back up toward the south transept," Owen shouted. Shortly, Luke
came into view. "I see you now." On hands and knees, Owen pressed
lower. "Gone now." The mason laughed self-consciously. Grabbing a
tile, Owen crawled forward with an uneven motion. "Now walk toward
the chapel again," he called. The mason soon reappeared, and Owen
rose a little and tossed the tile, then flattened again. He felt the
pile shift beneath him, but kept his head down.
"Just missed, Captain, and I do not think I would have seen you if I
had not known to look."
Owen sniffed, rolled over onto his side, eased up on his knees.
Unless his sense of smell had weakened with his easy life, it was
human urine he smelled. A long watch challenged a man's bladder.
Someone might have lain in wait here, though he would have risked
being seen. As Owen crawled back toward the scaffolding he was
visible to several of the masons at work on the chapel. Surely they
would have noted an intruder in such an unusual place. They claimed
they had been working on a different wall that day, farther down,
but the supposed attacker could not have foreseen that. Most
baffling was the question of how the person had hoped to predict
precisely when Wykeham would wander toward the masons. With his
well-known passion for building it was inevitable the bishop would
frequent the site while he was staying at the archbishop's palace
next door, but someone would have needed to lurk on the stack
indefinitely. Owen thought it unlikely. "I am coming down," he
Once more on the scaffolding he had a view of the city, the Ouse
Valley, the Forest of Galtres. He looked away and climbed down. In
his youth such heights had not bothered Owen, but since losing the
sight in his left eye he did not trust his judgment of just where
the edge lay, doubting what he thought he saw, unsure of his
Some placed the blame for what had happened to Wykeham at the feet
of Sir Ranulf's family. Owen could not believe they were involved.
Proud they were, and angry about what had befallen Sir Ranulf, but
surely they would not stoop to such depths to seek vengeance.
Wykeham himself suspected John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster. With
the king in his dotage and Prince Edward an invalid, the king's
second living son was eager to establish his power, and weaning the
king from Wykeham was rumored to be a high priority. But Owen could
not imagine the duke behind such an act, either. In fact, he thought
the incident had probably been an accident, with no one but a
careless worker to blame for it. Luke was waiting at the foot of the
scaffolding. "I heard you moving around up there. But I do not
suppose the bishop would have made note of such noises. He would
have thought it was one of us."
"You stand by your statement that you saw no one lurking about?"
Luke stiffened. "Why should I lie, Captain?" "Why indeed." Owen
silently noted that the mason had answered a question with a
Luke reached up-Owen was taller than most men-and touched the beard
that followed Owen's jawline. "Your hair's so dark, the stone dust
shows. It's on your curly pate as well." Brushing dust from his
hair, Owen thanked the mason for his assistance and headed for the
minster gate. He suspected the mason was holding something back,
perhaps the clumsiness of a fellow worker, but Owen had wasted
enough of this fine day.
There was much to do in the apothecary garden before the first
frost, and he did not want Lucie to grow impatient and see to it
herself. She was still weak. Bending still sometimes made her dizzy.
Just before Lammas day Lucie had fallen from a stool while replacing
a large jar on a shelf in her apothecary. The jar had badly bruised
her left hand and cut her arm as it shattered. But far worse, she
had lost the child who would have been born a few months hence. She
had bled much during and after the accident, particularly when she
lost the child, and her strength had been slow in returning despite
Magda Digby's tisanes of watercress, nettles and beetroot, and her
Aunt Phillippa's additional concoctions of eggs and cabbage. The
physicks could not restore her spirit. For days Lucie lay in bed
whispering prayers of contrition. Cisotta, the young midwife who had
attended Lucie in those first days, had assured Owen that women
often behaved so after losing a child, some even after having a
healthy baby. But when Magda Digby had returned from a birthing in
the country and took over Lucie's care, Owen could see her concern.
Long after they had closed the account books Lucie and Owen lingered
at the table in the hall in the pool of lamplight. Jasper, Lucie's
apprentice and their adopted son, had gone to see a friend, and
Phillippa and the children were in bed. Such a quiet moment seemed
rare to Owen these days. Lucie did not seem to welcome idleness, but
sought activity until she dropped onto the bed, exhausted. He knew
she did not wish to think of the child they had lost. Even now her
hands were not idle; she was tying mint sprigs together, her long,
slender fingers moving quickly. The ghost of a smile touched her
lips-in fact, her pretty face was alight with a calm contentment.
She loved her garden almost as much as her first husband had, found
in working with the plants a peace much as Owen's mother had so long
ago in Wales. He wished Lucie might have known his mother-they had
much in common, a gift for healing, for knowing the right
combination of herbs and roots for a person's ailments. His mother
would have liked the level regard with which Lucie viewed the
world-though of late there was a darkness in her gaze.
Tonight Owen noted deep blue shadows beneath her eyes. "You should
have left the mint harvest to me," he said. "I took joy in it." She
lifted one of the sprigs, held it close so he could smell it. "A few
more days and it would be too late. Perhaps if Wykeham forgets about
his mishap the other day you can help me with some of the other
autumn chores." "I am afraid he means to keep me occupied." "I am
sorry for that." As Lucie reached for another clump of mint she
winced, withdrew her hand, and pressed the other to her shoulder.
"It is painful?" "It aches, yes, but lying abed will not mend it."
She shook her head at him. "And your worry weakens me." She had made
this argument before. "You think-she fell once, she shall fall
again. You think the accident has changed me forever." He did not
know how to answer this. It was true and not true.
He knew now that it could happen. "I meant nothing but that I had
promised to harvest the mint. Guarding the bishop of Winchester put
it out of my mind. He wishes to ride to his former parish of
Laughton. He means to rebuild the church."
"Where is that?" "At the south end of the shire. Near Sheffield."
Several days' ride, he guessed. "He wishes to go soon?" "Aye. He had
thought to leave it until his business with the Pagnells was
concluded. But Lady Pagnell refuses to see him yet. The journey
would fill the time."
"Poor Emma. Her mother's presence is making everyone in her
household ill at ease." "She is a difficult woman?" He had met Lady
Pagnell only at formal events. "Yes, both she and her steward are
intrusive guests. Emma came today, asking for a sleep potion for
herself. I shall make up something to soothe her-Jasper!"
Their fourteen-year-old adopted son had come rushing in, panting and
flushed from a good run, skidding to a halt by the table. Lucie
steadied the pile of books as he dropped his hands onto the table,
leaning, catching his breath. He raked his pale hair back from his
face with an impatient gesture. "There is a fire in Petergate.
The house of the bishop of Winchester."
Excerpted from The Cross-legged Knight
by Candace Robb
Copyright © 2002 by Candace Robb .
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.
Posted December 9, 2008
In England in 1371, the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, wants to regain his position of lord chancellor of the realm if he can avoid the plots against him led by John of Gault, Duke of Lancaster. William and his entourage travel to the palace of the Archbishop hoping to make peace with the Pagnell family who blame him for their father¿s death in a French prison. The family believes the Bishop stole some of the ransom money, which led to the French king¿s refusal to release his prisoner. While the bishop looks at a church that is being rebuilt, a piece of the roof falls off and nearly kills him. He believes it is a Lancastrian plot to murder him and becomes further convinced when his York property burns to the ground, killing a herbalist and severely wounding a tenant¿s servants. The Archbishop charges his steward and captain of his guard to find out who is responsible for these events, a job made easier in resolving but more difficult on Owen Archer¿s gut by his wife¿s insisting she help him. The events of this book take place during the period the Duke of Lancaster tries to establish his influence over his nephew who will one day be King Richard II. Knowing the time frame help the reader understand the political undertones of the story line that serves as a reference point to the behavior of the characters. Owen Archer is a heroic figure who worries so much about his wife that he endears himself to the audience. THE CROSS-LEGGED KNIGHT is a fascinating historical mystery. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.