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The Last TemplarA Knights Templar Mystery
By Jecks, Michael
Avon BooksISBN: 0060763442
Simon Puttock felt elated, but not without a certain trepidation, as he meandered along the road that led from Tiverton to Crediton, letting his horse take him at a slow walk as he thought about his new position.
He had worked for the de Courtenays for many years now, as had his father before him, and he supposed that he should have expected a promotion -- but he had not. It had been completely unexpected, a sudden shock; if they had told him he was to be imprisoned for robbery, it could not have surprised him more. Naturally he hoped that his lords were satisfied with his work over the years, but he had never dreamed of being given his own castle to command, especially one so important as Lydford, and every now and again a quick smile cracked the serious expression on his face as his glee momentarily flared, quenching his nervous contemplation.
The de Courtenays, the lords of Devon and Cornwall, had been able to rely on Simon's family for decades. Peter, his father, had been the seneschal of their castle at Oakhampton for twenty years before his death two years ago, carefully looking after their es-tates and keeping the peace during the long, regular absences when the de Courtenay family went to visit their lands farther north. Before that, Peter's father had been the family's chamberlain and had fought loyally with his lord in thetroubled times before King Edward came to the throne. Simon was immensely proud of his forebears' association with, and honorable service to, this ancient family.
But even after so long in the de Courtenay family's service, the honor of being given the castle of Lydford to look after was still an unexpected delight -- and a fearsome opportunity. If his tenure was successful and the land was profitable, he could expect to become wealthy, a man of power and influence in his own right. Of course, as the bailiff of the castle, he was also held responsible for any failures: for lower tax revenues, for reduced productivity from the demesne lands -- for anything. Now, on his way home to his wife, he was gathering his thoughts, framing the best way of putting to her the possibilities and options that the role presented. Being a realist, he not only felt pride at the recognition he had been offered; he was also aware of the awesome immensity of the job that he had been given.
Ever since the Scots had defeated the English army at Bannockburn two years before, matters had got progressively worse, he knew. It was not just the continual attacks on the northern shires by the Scots or their invasion of Ireland, it sometimes appeared that God himself was angry with the whole of Europe and was punishing it. For two years now the whole country had been blighted, suffering under the worst rainstorms ever known. Last year, thirteen hundred and fifteen, had not been so bad down here in the far west; his peo-ple had hardly noticed any lack of essentials. Now, though, in the late autumn of thirteen sixteen, the rain had again been constant, and it had ruined the harvest for a second year. In other counties the people had been reduced to eating their horses and dogs in the vain search for sustenance, although it was not quite so bad yet here in Devon. It did mean that there would be a lot to plan for, though, and in his new job as the bailiff of Lydford castle, Simon intended to do all he could to help the people he was responsible for.
Lost in his thoughts, he had a deep frown on his face as he rode. He was a tall and muscular man with a body honed from riding and hunting, in his prime at nearly thirty years old. His hair was thick and a uniform dark brown, with no gray or white hairs to mar the youthful looks that hid his age so well. His complexion was ruddy from the days regularly spent in the open air and the saddle. Fortunately his daily exercise had so far prevented the build-up of fat that he remembered so well hanging under his father's chin as heavy jowls, making him look so much like one of his mastiffs, but he could still feel the early onset of thickening around his waist from the heavy beer that his household was so proud of.
From his sun- and wind-burned face his dark gray eyes looked out with a calm confidence. He was fortunate to have grown up near Crediton, and to have been taught how to read and write by his father's friends in the church -- a fact that would surely make him unique among the other bailiffs in the district -- and he was confident that he was fully capable of the responsibilities that had been given to him.
Looking up at the sky he could see it was already starting to darken as the sun slowly sank over to the west, and he threw a glance back at his servant, who plodded along behind on his old carthorse. "Hugh," he called, resting his hand on the rump of his horse as he twisted in his saddle to face backward, "I think we'll stop off at Bickleigh for the night, if they'll let us. It'll be dark long before we get home to Sandford."
His servant, a lean, morose, dark-haired man with the narrow, sharp features of a ferret, glared back. His demeanor was that of a prisoner being taken to the gallows who had been asked about the weather -- angry at the interruption of his thoughts and suspicious of the reasons for the comment.
Satisfied that the remark was made with no malicious intent, he grunted his assent as he lolled in his saddle. He had no desire to ride any farther tonight, and Bickleigh was known to have a good stock of wine and beer -- it would be a fine place to rest as far as he was concerned ... Continues...
Excerpted from The Last Templar by Jecks, Michael Excerpted by permission.
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