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Land of Shadows: A Medieval Mystery
     

Land of Shadows: A Medieval Mystery

by Priscilla Royal
 

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A royal birth, a nobleman’s death, a scarlet woman’s murder…

In March, 1279, Edward I takes a break from hammering the Welsh and bearing down on England’s Jews to vacation in Gloucestershire. The royal party breaks the journey at Woodstock Manor. And there one life begins as Queen Eleanor labors to birth a new daughter, and one draws to an

Overview

A royal birth, a nobleman’s death, a scarlet woman’s murder…

In March, 1279, Edward I takes a break from hammering the Welsh and bearing down on England’s Jews to vacation in Gloucestershire. The royal party breaks the journey at Woodstock Manor. And there one life begins as Queen Eleanor labors to birth a new daughter, and one draws to an end when apoplexy fells Baron Adam Wynethorpe.

Hotfoot to the baron’s deathbed comes his elder son, Hugh, a veteran of Edward I’s Crusades, who can’t shake off the battle horrors he’s witnessed. The baron’s daughter, Prioress Eleanor, has already arrived, bringing along both her sub-infirmarian, Sister Anne, and the monk, Brother Thomas, to tend her father. Awaiting Hugh is his bastard son, Richard, a youth filled with rebellion…and a secret.

The royal manor is packed with troubling guests including a sinister priest, an elderly Jewish mother from nearby Oxford mourning a son hanged for the treason of coin-clipping, contentious and greedy courtiers, and a lusty wife engaged with more than one lover. Quite soon, the wife is found hanged. Eleanor and Sister Anne persuade the High Sheriff of Berkshire that Mistress Hawis’ death was not a suicide. In fact, many at the manor had reason to wish Hawis dead. One suspect is…Richard.

In her twelfth novel, once again, “Royal amplifies and deepens her series characters in the service of a clever plot that elevates her work to the top rank of historical mystery writers.” –Publishers Weekly Starred Review for Satan’s Lullaby, eleventh in a medieval mystery series recommended by Sharon Kay Penman and compared to Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfaels

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/07/2015
Royal’s thoughtful 12th medieval mystery (after 2015’s Satan’s Lullaby) takes Prioress Eleanor and Sister Anne, a skilled “sub-infirmarian” who nurses the sick, from Tyndal Priory to Woodstock Manor, where the prioress’s father, Baron Adam of Wynethorpe, has been struck by apoplexy during a royal visit. Another visitor to the dying baron is his son and heir, Sir Hugh. Accompanying Hugh is his bastard son, Richard. Meanwhile, Hawis, an attendant to the queen, is found hanged in her chambers at the manor. Since the queen is recovering from childbirth, Alan FitzRoald, the high sheriff of Berkshire, is keen to keep the news of Hawis’s death from the monarch until she’s stronger, and he asks Eleanor’s help in ascertaining how the woman died. Anne’s conclusion that Hawis wasn’t a suicide leads to Richard’s surprise confession to murder. Royal matches a clever story line with intelligent characterizations, while providing a disturbing look at anti-Semitism in 13th-century England. (Feb.)
GoodReads
The Medieval Mystery series is currently one of my favorite mystery series. The author manages to write with a consistency I find extremely appealing. There was one novel that fell well below my expectations but the overall quality of the books in this series is quite good. This latest addition to the series does not disappoint.~~~Part of what I find so appealing about this series are the characters. The exclusion of Crowner Ralf from this novel was a tiny letdown. Prioress Eleanor continues to grow and it seems her feelings toward Brother Thomas have finally calmed to the point where they are no longer a distraction, not only to Eleanor but also the reader.~~~With this novel, I felt the author did an excellent job capturing the attitude of the era towards the Jewish population in England. (view spoiler)~~~I look forward to the future adventures of Prioress Eleanor, Brother Thomas, and the community of Tyndale.
PW
Royal's thoughtful 12th medieval mystery (after 2015's Satan's Lullaby) takes Prioress Eleanor and Sister Anne, a skilled "sub-infirmarian" who nurses the sick, from Tyndal Priory to Woodstock Manor, where the prioress's father, Baron Adam of Wynethorpe, has been struck by apoplexy during a royal visit. Another visitor to the dying baron is his son and heir, Sir Hugh. Accompanying Hugh is his bastard son, Richard. Meanwhile, Hawis, an attendant to the queen, is found hanged in her chambers at the manor. Since the queen is recovering from childbirth, Alan FitzRoald, the high sheriff of Berkshire, is keen to keep the news of Hawis's death from the monarch until she's stronger, and he asks Eleanor's help in ascertaining how the woman died. Anne's conclusion that Hawis wasn't a suicide leads to Richard's surprise confession to murder. Royal matches a clever story line with intelligent characterizations, while providing a disturbing look at anti-Semitism in 13th-century England.
Goodreads
An enjoyable medieval mystery set in the 13th century, at the time of Edward I and his Queen, Eleanor. Queen Eleanor is giving birth again, something she did rather often, so royalty and nobility have gathered. Baron Wynethorpe, suffering from a stroke, is also at the manor and his passing explains the presence of his son, daughter and grandson. These two events have brought together a great deal of people from all walks of life, and there are several secrets, intrigues and quarrels, both political and religious. When Mistress Hawis is found hanged and the Sheriff (after some persuasion) agrees it's not a suicide, an investigation must take place, with a whole host of suspicious characters available.~~~This book was immersive, taking me back to the political machinations and cultural problems of the 13th century. At a time when injustice was everywhere, I enjoyed following the mystery and unraveling what had happened. A thoroughly enjoyable medieval whodunit, with a complex societal dynamic.
Booklist
Royal begins with the historical fact that in March 1279 Queen Eleanor of Castile stayed at Woodstock Manor in Oxfordshire to bear her thirteenth child, a girl, Mary. Surrounding that birth is a marvelous tale of intrigue, violence resulting from prejudice, and grace gained through caring. Also at the manor is Prioress Eleanor, attending her dying father, but her filial devotion is interrupted by the hanging of one of the queen's ladies in waiting. Prioress Eleanor's nephew, Richard Fitzhugh, is a suspect, and the victim's husband accuses a Jewish woman and her two granddaughters, who are at the manor seeking the queen's mercy, the woman's son [having been lynched and her home confiscated by agents of the king. Prioress Eleanor and a monk traveling with her, Brother Thomas, believe neither story and work to find the true killer, aided by Eleanor's brother, nursing battle scars from the Crusades, and the honest local sheriff. This twelfth in the series will appeal to fans of Ellis Peters and Peter Tremayne.
NetGalley
An interesting well written mystery set in England during the rule of Edward I. The murder mystery concerns the possibly suicide by hanging of a queen's lady in waiting. It is part of a series about Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas who solve murders. I have not read the earlier books and this did not hamper my reading of this book. In this book Eleanor is at court, along with her troubled brother Hugh, as her father is ill. Tied into the mystery are the trials and perscuitions of the money lending Jews under Edward I. I thought the background was very well done and I totally recommend this book.
Kirkus Reviews
2015-10-20
Death lurks behind every door in medieval England. Prioress Eleanor, her sub-infirmarian, Anne, and her adviser, Brother Thomas, have rushed to Woodstock Manor, where Eleanor's father, Baron Adam of Wynethorpe, lies dying. Also present is the baron's son, Sir Hugh, a crusader who has never mentally recovered from the hell of the holy war, and Hugh's illegitimate son, Richard, who's afraid to tell his father that he wants to be a priest rather than a warrior. And the entourage of Queen Eleanor has been staying at Woodstock ever since she was obliged to stop there to give birth to a baby girl and rest until she can join her husband, King Edward I, who's off hunting. When Eleanor and Anne are asked to view the body of one of the queen's ladies found hanged, they determine that her death was murder. Eleanor and Thomas, who have solved many crimes (Satan's Lullaby, 2015, etc.), are compelled to investigate when young Richard confesses to the killing. The other likely suspects, whom Eleanor has befriended, are Chera, an elderly Jewish woman, and her two granddaughters, who have come to beg the queen to help them after Chera's physician son was accused of coin clipping and killed in a raid on the Oxford Jewish community. Now that all their possessions have been confiscated in the king's name, Chera wants to return to her relatives in France. Edward, fortified by other sources of money, has turned against the Jews his father invited to England as moneylenders. The dead woman whored for her husband, who sold the gifts given to her by infatuated young men, so there are plenty of other suspects. But the grieving prioress must struggle to clear Richard and Chera even as more people are murdered. Readers entranced by Royal's vivid historical descriptions will have an altogether easier time than Eleanor with its elementary mystery.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781464205118
Publisher:
Poisoned Pen Press
Publication date:
02/02/2016
Series:
Medieval Mysteries Series , #12
Pages:
236
Sales rank:
1,166,356
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Land of Shadows

A Medieval Mystery


By Priscilla Royal

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2016 Priscilla Royal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0511-8


CHAPTER 1

Baron Adam of Wynethorpe opened his eyes.

How long had he lain in this bed? Time had an unnatural feel. He no longer had any sense of it.

A tall nun leaned over and smiled at him.

Although her features were indistinct, he was certain he knew her. A memory flickered. Was it she who had come with his daughter and saved his grandson's life many years ago?

He struggled to speak, but his words were unintelligible. Trying again, he failed and grew angry with frustration. Had he been bewitched?

"I am Sister Anne, sub-infirmarian from your daughter's priory at Tyndal," the nun said.

Adam tried to smile, but he could not feel one side of his mouth. That she had understood what he wished to ask was a miracle, he thought, for he was only able to utter grunts and gasps.

"I am here, Father." This woman's soft voice was at his ear. "Hugh should arrive soon, but the snows have kept Robert at Wynethorpe Castle."

It was his youngest child, and he was relieved she was beside him. As much as he loved all three of his children, it was his daughter, Prioress Eleanor, who gave him the greatest joy. If he could not reply with speech, at least he was still able to nod.

His daughter took his hand and placed his palm against her cheek. "You have suffered apoplexy," she said. "Sister Anne, Brother Thomas, and I came to Woodstock Manor as soon as we received word."

In acknowledgement of what she just said, he blinked. His eyes were heavy with fatigue and he let them remain shut for a moment. It was then that the memory of what had happened to him returned.

King Edward, Queen Eleanor, and chosen members of their court had gathered at this manor in Oxfordshire before traveling on to Gloucestershire where the royal couple spent every March. Baron Adam was one of the few who always accompanied them to their secular retreat at Quenington, a manor actually owned by the Knights Hospitaller. One evening, while the king was in conversation with him, the earth inexplicably rose to smite Adam. His last thought, before all went black, was to wonder how this extraordinary event could even occur.

When he awoke from a strange sleep and even more peculiar dreams, he was lying in this bed. His grandson, Richard FitzHugh, was by his side. The youth smiled, then bent closer to say that Prioress Eleanor, her talented sub-infirmarian, and Brother Thomas had been summoned from Tyndal Priory.

Before he drifted back into an uneasy slumber that day, Adam felt relieved that his beloved daughter would be accompanied by Brother Thomas. If he was going to die, he wanted to confess and receive the comfort of the Church from a man of God whom he respected. Not only had Brother Thomas proven his loyalty to the Wynethorpe family, but he had become an advisor and confidant to young Richard when the lad's own father was fighting in Outremer and Wales. Sometimes, Adam thought, his grandson was closer to Brother Thomas than he was to his actual father.

A chill struck him. Was he dying now? He opened his eyes wide.

The world he knew was still there.

Sister Anne lifted his left arm and ran something along it, then looked down at the baron.

He felt nothing. Assuming she had reason for this, he shook his head.

She gently laid his arm down and smiled, but her eyes lacked brightness.

Now he was certain he would not recover. Sister Anne's smile was meant to convey hope, but her eyes betrayed her. Had he not learned to read a man's true thoughts behind the public expressions, Adam would never have survived the court of kings, let alone won victories to benefit his family's fortunes.

"Are you able to eat some soup?"

Looking at his daughter, he saw she held a bowl. Despite the crackling fire not far from him and the bright tapestries hanging from the walls, the room felt so cold. A light steam rose from the food. He managed to utter something that almost sounded like yes.

Sister Anne draped a cloth under his chin and over his chest. Eleanor sat on his right and dipped a spoon into the thick meat broth. "Sip it, Father," she said. He could hear her tears even if she did manage to hide all other evidence of them.

As he drew the warm soup into his mouth, he felt a sudden panic. Could he swallow it?

"If you cannot eat, spit it out, my lord," the sub-infirmarian said.

Once he relaxed, he was able to do so. After a third spoonful, he grunted.

His daughter understood he wished no more and gave the bowl to a servant to remove.

The soup tasted like metal, even if the smell suggested the broth had been made with fresh meat and pungent spices. If he could not taste food, he no longer cared to eat it. And the effort to suck up the three spoonfuls had exhausted him.

Although he slept, the rest never chased away fatigue. When he awoke, he felt as weary as he did when he fell asleep. Now, as he faded again into his world of curious dreams, he looked around the room one last time.

In the corners, there were odd shadows he hadn't noticed before. Glancing at the window, he knew it was daylight. Perhaps, he thought, the sun is too weak to chase away all hints of Satan's hour?

But his eyelids grew heavy as iron, and they closed against his will. There were people in the room, and he knew they must be speaking. Most assuredly, his daughter was praying, but he heard nothing except a distant mumbling. The hush weighed down on him like a great tapestry. In the past, this would have been frightening. Instead, it brought him a curious tranquility.

Yes, he decided with relief, I am ready to die. I shall not fight against Death when he takes me by the hand and leads me to God's judgment.

With that thought, Baron Adam of Wynethorpe fell into a sleep that some would call the harbinger of the eternity for which he now longed.

CHAPTER 2

The sun tried to erase the memory of the great storm that had just passed through, but it failed despite the now-dazzling light.

During the early morning hours, black clouds had turned the land dark with pelting rain, and winds howled like the damned in Hell. Outside the walls of Woodstock Manor, large branches lay scattered across the road like dead soldiers on a battlefield, and a few trees leaned sharply, victims to a fierce wind that rarely struck this part of England.

It also left foul mud, Brother Thomas thought with disgust, as he watched his feet sink into the tan muck. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Richard FitzHugh trudging back and forth with undefined purpose. The lad seemed oblivious to the mud covering his boots.

"I doubt your father will arrive this soon," the monk said to the nervous youth. "The roads on which Sir Hugh will travel may not be passable."

Richard looked down at the ground. They were standing in the middle of what was, only yesterday, a byway to the manor. Now a stream of rushing water gouged a path where horses and wagons must pass. As treacherous as the journey would be through this, it promised to be even worse when the earth dried into a surface so rough it might break a horse's leg.

With a sheepish look, the youth nodded to the monk and turned back to the gates of the manor house.

Brother Thomas followed. If I had had a son, he thought, as he climbed with Richard up the slight incline to the manor, I would have wanted the boy to be like him. Sir Hugh was rarely with the lad, and the monk had become like a father to him, a situation Thomas relished.

He loved Richard's cleverness. At fifteen, the youth often thought like a boy, but he showed evidence of becoming a thoughtful and capable man. As a child, Richard had visited Tyndal Priory and delighted Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas with his harmless antics and surprising wit. He was also eager to learn, asking endless questions of the adults. Some might have found this habit annoying. Neither aunt nor monk did.

Richard was now grieving over the impending death of his grandfather, a man who might have frightened him at times but one whom he admired. Baron Adam was like a mythological knight to his grandson: loyal counselor to his king, brave in battle, faithful in both body and heart to his dead wife, generous to the Church, and fiercely devoted to family.

But something else was also troubling the young man, and Thomas did not know the exact cause. Baron Adam's mortal illness did not completely explain Richard's pale countenance and obsessive restlessness. These signs developed only after he learned that Sir Hugh was traveling to Woodstock Manor.

"Your father is traveling as quickly as he can," Thomas said, concluding that the youth's reaction might be fear that Sir Hugh would not be here in time for the baron's death.

Richard shuddered and wheeled around. His eyes were dark with unmistakable terror.

Although the lad looked like Sir Hugh, with his height, broad shoulders, and muscular build, Thomas had never seen a fear so profound in the father's eyes, even when he was facing death in a cave from an angry sea rising to drown him. There must be more worrying Richard than the need for a father's comfort in the face of his grandfather's death.

"Aye, Brother, he will." Richard wrapped his arms around his chest.

Others might assume he felt the chill in the air. Thomas knew he was trying to calm himself.

"Since my Uncle Robert cannot be here, and Sister Beatrice is too frail to travel from Amesbury Priory to be at her brother's bedside, my lord father will be here if he has to propel himself and his men through a great mud sea to do so."

There was much pride in those words, but the monk also sensed a hint of disdain. Youths longing to attain the status of manhood often grew unsettled under the rule of fathers, but the monk hoped there was no possibility of conflict now between sire and lad. Hearts were bruised enough with sorrow over the baron's pending death.

At the same age, Thomas had felt obliged to win his father's high opinion. Since he was only his father's by-blow, he knew from boyhood that he must earn his security. He succeeded and was sent to cathedral school so he might gain a fine position in the Church. Never once had the monk uttered a disparaging word or tone of voice when he spoke of his father. He knew how tenuous life could be for one born out of a brief tryst. Did Richard? Like Thomas, Richard was illegitimate.

A crow flew overhead and landed on a nearby tree limb.

Clinging to the swaying branch, the bird cawed with braying sharpness as if determined to remind all living things that he was considered a harbinger of death.

The young squire looked up at the creature and trembled.

Thomas had counseled the boy in discretion when the youth was ready to leave his grandfather and Wynethorpe Castle for a position as a page in the king's court. Since then, the lad had never shown any inclination to disregard this counsel. Had something happened recently to make him grow less amenable?

Richard stared at the crow for an instant longer and then continued on to the manor entrance.

Try as he might, the monk could not think of anything that had altered, other than Richard's position from page to squire.

When had he first noticed the change from shyness around Sir Hugh to this thinly masked discontent? Although Thomas had 8 Priscilla Royal fallen from grace when he was caught in the arms of a man he loved deeply, he knew Richard did not suffer this particular torment.

The youth had always confided his fears to the monk. Why had he remained silent about whatever was troubling him now?

Thomas stopped at the gate and found a rock against which he could rub his boots. The result did not make him happy.

The anticipation of having to clean them thoroughly later did not please.

As they entered the courtyard, Richard stopped to talk to a young man of his own age who was surrounded by several playful young hounds.

Thomas raised his face to the sun. It had now grown surprisingly warm for the end of March, especially after that brutal storm. Opening his eyes, he realized that the windows of Queen Eleanor's lying-in chambers were immediately above.

The young men gestured with enthusiasm as they began a debate over the merits of various hunting dogs.

Thomas turned his thoughts to the health of the king's wife.

He had heard that she was recovering apace.

By the grace of God, the birthing of a baby girl had gone well. The king had waited, pacing outside the chamber where his beloved wife was struggling to preserve her own life while bringing forth another. He refused to leave until he could see her and the child. From all reports, King Edward had looked down on little Mary in his arms with besotted adoration, suggesting she would be favored, as his daughters always were.

Considering the royal couple's fondness for the tales of King Arthur, Thomas was surprised the little one had not been called Guinevere, in hopes that she would be the means by which the legends would be fulfilled. And wasn't this bright sun an omen of a glorious future? He realized he was grinning over his idle musing.

"Shall you share the joke with me, Brother?" Richard's eyes were twinkling.

This was the boy the monk knew best, one who enjoyed a bit of gentle mischief. "I have decided that the sun might foretell the return to England of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere." Richard gestured at the departing varlet des chiens with his bounding pack of dogs. "My friend has recently become the assistant to the Master Huntsman and concurs with his master that the earth is growing warmer. As a consequence, our queen's hunting dogs may be shifted soon from their higher beds to the oaken ones on the ground. Now which event do you consider more likely, Brother? The return of the legendary king or imminent arrival of summer?"

"You trust this young man's reasoning?"

"When he was still the page to the kennel, and let me sleep with the dogs on occasion, he taught me how to heal their feet with salted water. I would trust my own feet to him before I would the court physician. Considering how much you walk, Brother, would you not have confidence in such a man?"

Thomas looked down at his booted feet, bearing the evidence of his march through the dense road mud, and then glanced back up at the sun. "As difficult as it is to believe your friend now, I suspect he is more likely to be right than those who talk of King Arthur returning from Avalon."

The two laughed heartily as they walked into the manor where a warm fire and a fine mulled wine with honey and ginger awaited them in the dining hall.

Perhaps, Thomas thought, the youth would confide in him now.


* * *

Richard warmed his hands around the cup of wine. "I grieve over my grandfather dying."

"He will have a good death," the monk replied, noting the youth's moist eyes. "All mortals are flawed, but your grandfather has been a far better man than most. God will surely be kind to his soul."

"It was he who arranged for me to become a page in the king's court." Richard sipped at the cup, then put it down on the table, and gazed into the distance.

"It was also your father who ..."

"He was with our current king in Acre. It was my grandfather who did this. I have tried to be worthy of his kindness." The tone was brusque, but his smile softened it.

"And you are now a squire," Thomas replied. "I have heard that King Edward will take you into his own service. That brings great honor to your family." He had never tried to hide his pride in the lad's accomplishments and did not do so now.

Richard stared at his cup with an expression of uneasiness he did not disguise.

"If you are thinking of your birth, you need not. Your father acknowledged you soon after you were born. Your grandfather could not have done more for you, had you been the child of a lawful wife. Prioress Eleanor, your uncle, and Sister Beatrice have taken you into their hearts. You are a Wynethorpe."

"And you, Brother, what do you think?"

Thomas blinked. Should he ask Richard what had happened to cause this apparent unease or was the youth about to tell him? He chose to let the young man speak further if he wished. "My own father was of high rank, but my mother's station was not," he continued. "I do not even know her name, yet he educated me for the Church as he might any younger son. You have met others of similar birth who have proven themselves and received a father's welcoming embrace into the family. That place is yours already. What cause do you have to doubt it?"

"That is not what I meant. Do you think I serve the family well?"

"Yes." Thomas was emphatic.

"And should I now fail?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Land of Shadows by Priscilla Royal. Copyright © 2016 Priscilla Royal. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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.

Meet the Author

Priscilla Royal, author of twelve books from Poisoned Pen Press in the Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas medieval mystery series, grew up in British Columbia and earned a BA in World Literature at San Francisco State University where she discovered the beauty of medieval literature. Before retiring from the Federal Government in 2000, she worked in a variety of jobs, all of which provided an excellent education in the complexity of human experience and motivation. She is a theater fan as well as a reader of history, mystery, and fiction of lesser violence. When not hiding in the thirteenth century, she lives in Northern California and is a member of California Writers Club, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

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