The Mysterium: A Hugh Corbett Medieval Mysteryby P. C. Doherty
In The Mysterium, a new installment in the "deliciously suspenseful" Hugh Corbett Medieval Mystery series by P.C. Doherty, Sir Hugh Corbett is ordered to investigate the murder of a Chief Justice in the King's Court.
February 1304--London is in crisis. A succession of brutal murders shocks the city as it comes to terms with the fall from power of/i>/i>… See more details below
In The Mysterium, a new installment in the "deliciously suspenseful" Hugh Corbett Medieval Mystery series by P.C. Doherty, Sir Hugh Corbett is ordered to investigate the murder of a Chief Justice in the King's Court.
February 1304--London is in crisis. A succession of brutal murders shocks the city as it comes to terms with the fall from power of Walter Evesham, Chief Justice in the Court of the King's Bench. Accused of bribery and corruption, Evesham has sought sanctuary to atone for his sins. When Evesham is discovered dead in his cell at the Abbey of Sion though, it appears that the Mysterium, a cunning killer brought to justice by Evesham, has returned to wreak havoc. Sir Hugh Corbett is ordered to investigate the murder. Has the Mysterium returned or is another killer imitating his brutal methods? As Corbett traces the ancient sins that hold the key to discovering the murderer's identity he must face his most cunning foe yet.
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The MysteriumA Hugh Corbett Medieval Mystery
By P. C. Doherty
Minotaur BooksCopyright © 2012 P. C. Doherty
All right reserved.
1Botleas: a crime so serious, there can be no financial compensation'Archers forward, notch!' Ranulf-atte-Newgate, Clerk in the Chancery of Green Wax, raised his sword and stared across the sprawling cemetery that ringed the ancient church of St Botulph's Cripplegate in the King's own city of London. Ranulf was in armour, a mailed clerk, hauberked and helmeted. In one hand a kite-shaped shield was raised against the bowmen peering from those arrow-slit windows in St Botulph's tower. This full-square, sturdy donjon towered over the cemetery, an ideal refuge for the miscreants who had escaped from nearby Newgate. Ranulf felt exhausted. The chain-mail coat weighed heavy, his arms ached and the cold morning breeze was chilling his sweaty body. The helmet with its broad nose guard pressed down tightly and his cropped red hair itched. He stared across at his master Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal, who was similarly armed, though he had not yet donned his helmet. Corbett's olive-skinned face was drawn, dark shadows circled his deep-set eyes and his black hair was streaked with glistening grey. He was so sweat-soaked he hadpulled back his chain-mail coif, and was staring fixedly at the church.'Sir Hugh, on your mark?'Corbett gripped his sword and stared around what used to be God's acre at St Botulph's but was now a battlefield. The dead sprawled under rough sacking that hid the gruesome sword and axe wounds to face, neck, chest and belly. Corbett closed his eyes and muttered a requiem for the dead. He should not be here in this slaughter yard. On this mist-hung morning he should be in his own manor at Leighton, sitting in his chancery chamber with his beloved books or walking out with the Lady Maeve. He opened his eyes and stared at the Welsh archers in their brown leggings, their Lincoln-green jerkins now covered in blue, red and gold royal tabards.'Archers, on my mark!' he shouted.They thronged forward, longbows notched, bearded faces beneath their steel sallets tense and watchful. Behind the row of bowmen stood a huge cartload of straw and oil waiting to be torched. From beyond the cemetery walls rose the muffled clatter of the citizens of London who had thronged to watch this deadly confrontation reach its bloody climax.'Sir Hugh, Sir Hugh Corbett?' called a clear voice.Corbett lowered his sword and groaned as Parson John, vicar of the parish, pushed his way through the thronging archers, holding a crucifix.'Sir Hugh, I beg you wait.' Parson John grasped the wooden pole of the cross more tightly and knelt before the Keeper of the King's Secret Seal. 'I beg you.' He lifted his unshaven face. It wasthin, haggard, the green eyes red-rimmed. 'No more of this. Let me talk to these malefactors.' He paused and ran a hand through his cropped blond hair. Corbett noticed how the tonsure was neatly cut, the fringe over the broad brow laced with sweat, the furrowed cheeks stained with dust.'Father,' Corbett crouched down to face him squarely, 'look around you. Sixteen dead here, more in the church, your own people cruelly slain. These felons are condemned men, rifflers who broke out of Newgate. They have slaughtered again and again, not only here, but yesterday in Cheapside, along the streets of Cripplegate and more elsewhere. Then there are the women they abducted.' He swallowed hard. 'At least their screams have stopped. The church is now encircled, it has to be stormed.' He saw tears in Parson John's eyes. 'I know,' whispered Corbett. 'These are hard times for you. Your own father's fall--''My father has nothing to do with this.''I don't agree,' hissed Corbett, his voice turning hard. 'Your father may well have something to do with it. My orders are explicit. Sir Ralph Sandewic has now retaken Newgate. I will storm the church, your church, and bring this bloody mayhem to an end.''Sir Hugh.' Ranulf was pointing to the top of the church tower. Figures could be seen darting between the crenellations; similar ominous movements could be glimpsed at the narrow windows. Corbett followed Ranulf and put on his helmet, he then stood up, ignoring the priest, who still knelt grasping his cross.'Mark!' Ranulf screamed. The mass of Welsh archers obeyed; their great yew bows, primed and curved, swung up. 'Aim,' Ranulfbellowed, 'loose.' A shower of barbed shafts, a cloud of feather-winged death, streaked into the sky. Most of the arrows clattered against the rough stone of the church, but screams and a body toppling from the tower top showed that some of the archers had found their mark. At Ranulf's orders more volleys were loosed, driving the defenders from the parapet and the various windows. The bowmen advanced. Fresh clouds of arrows shattered against the stonework. The great war cart was dragged forward, its pointed battering ram jutting out. The combustibles were fired, the oil, tar and ancient kindling roaring like a furnace as a group of sweating archers, protected by their comrades, pushed at the long poles, driving the cart down the slight incline towards the great double doors of the church. Corbett flinched as an arrow whipped by his face. He screamed at the archers to push harder. The cart lurched forward, flames and smoke billowing up. He roared at the men to let go and retreat from the few enemy bowmen who still manned the windows. The cart held true, trundling down the slope and crashing into the main door. As the sharpened battering ram wedged deep into the wood, flames roared along it.Corbett and Ranulf, protected by a screed of archers, now retreated out of bowshot. The Welsh kept up their arrow storm as the two man took off their helmets, pushed back their coifs and gratefully washed hands and faces in a bucket of rather dirty water. The captain of archers, Ap Ythel, brought blackjacks of ale and a platter of hard bread from a nearby tavern. As Ranulf chattered to the master bowman, Corbett ate and drank greedily, staring at the conflagration around the main door. He feltexhausted. He'd been in his chancery chamber at the exchequer in Westminster when the royal courier had arrived. The riffler leaders Giles Waldene and Hubert the Monk had been consigned to Newgate with at least two dozen of their coven, all victims of the sudden fall from grace of Walter Evesham, the chief justice. Corbett ruefully wished they'd been lodged in the Tower. Waldene and the Monk had been committed to the infamous pits, their followers left in the common yard, where Waldene's gang had clashed with Hubert's. The fighting had spread, other prisoners becoming involved. The Keeper of Newgate and his guards had proved woefully inadequate. The great prison yard had been reached and its gates stormed. The King's chancery had dispatched urgent writs to the Constable of the Tower Sir Ralph Sandewic, a veteran experienced in crushing riots in Newgate and the Marshalsea. He in turn had called on Corbett as senior chancery clerk, who had summoned Welsh archers camped near the Bishop of Ely's Inn.The escaped prisoners, ruthless and merciless, had fought their way along Cripplegate or escaped out on to the wild heathland beyond the walls, where Sandewic was waiting with his men-at-arms. The old constable had shown no mercy. Any prisoner caught was asked one question: 'Are you from the Land of Cockaigne?' Sir Hugh Corbett, for his own mysterious purposes, had insisted on this. A blank look or a refusal meant immediate decapitation. The severed heads of the fugitives, tarred and pickled, already decorated the spikes along London Bridge. Other felons had fought their way into St Botulph's yesterday evening, just as the compline bell tolled. Parson John had been surpliced, ready to chant the day's last praises to God, when they had burst in. The priest hadescaped; others were not so fortunate. Robbed and slain, they were tossed through the open door before this was sealed and blocked. Several women had been taken prisoner, and when Corbett and his archers reached St Botulph's, they could hear the screams of the unfortunates who were being raped time and time again. Eventually the terrible screaming had ceased, and Corbett believed the women were dead. Once organised, he'd launched an assault, which was savagely repulsed; only then did he learn that the escaped prisoners had also pillaged the barbican tower at Newgate and seized bows, arrows and all the armour of battle.'Sir Hugh?' Ranulf, red hair damp, green eyes in his white face bright with the fury of battle, was eager to finish this. 'Soon?' he demanded. 'Soon we'll attack?'Corbett nodded. Ranulf saw this as an opportunity to excel, to prove that he, a chancery scribe, was as valiant as any knight in battle. Corbett looked beyond Ranulf at the cart, which was now a blazing bonfire.'It's caught the door,' Ranulf murmured. 'Master, we are ready.'Corbett rose and followed Ranulf out into the cemetery, keeping to the trees and crumbling crosses of the headstones. They moved down the side of the church, where a group of men-at-arms stood waiting with a makeshift battering ram, a long sharpened log swung by chains from a wooden framework. Corbett stared at the narrow corpse door. It was undoubtedly blocked, but it was still vulnerable.'Listen.' He pulled the chain-mail coif over his head. 'Bring the ram up as quickly as possible. The felons will be gathering near the main entrance. There are no windows above the corpse door,and those to the side are narrow. We must force that entrance as quickly as possible.' The men-at-arms, all liveried in the arms of the royal household, grunted their assent.Corbett and Ranulf helped lumber the ram across the broken ground, squeezing past the funeral monuments. They reached the church without trouble. Immediately the ram was swung back, crashing into the corpse door so hard it began to buckle. Corbett quietly prayed that the felons would remain massed near the main entrance. The pounding continued. Welsh archers began to feed their way across, bows at the ready; others armed with round shields and short stabbing swords followed. The pounding hammered on remorselessly. An ear-splitting crack and the corpse door snapped back on its hinges. An arrow whipped through the air, skimming over their heads. In reply, the Welsh archers loosed a shower of shafts. Screams and yells echoed. Ranulf, helmet on, followed Corbett into the darkness of the church. Shadows emerged. Corbett parried and thrust with a hulking brute garbed in a woman's dress, his painted face all bloodied. The stink from his body was foul. Corbett drove the monstrosity back, fending off the huge mallet his opponent whirled. An arrow cut through the air, taking the felon full in the face, and he toppled to the ground, writhing in his death throes.Corbett wiped the sweat from his face. Smoke from the main door seeped through the nave, which was now riven with the clash of steel, the hiss of arrows, groans and screams. Men staggered away clutching blood-bubbling wounds. As the burning door at the main entrance began to crumble, the ram that pierced it, still smouldering and licked by dying flames, was pushed deeperinto the nave. The door finally collapsed, and archers, braving the fire flickering around the lintel, clambered over the smoking wood and poured into the church. The battle was over.Some of the prisoners tried to escape, only to be cut down or forced back. A few attempted to hold out in the tower; they were pushed to the top, but none chose to jump, as Ranulf remarked, and resistance faded. Corbett ordered chains and ropes to be brought. At last a long line of felons, about twenty in number, lay shackled in one of the darkening aisles, kicked and cursed by the archers. Corbett, joined by Parson John and Ranulf, watched as the bodies of the victims, men and women, some very young, were brought out. They had all been stripped, horribly abused and tortured, their skins scorched by candle flame. Corbett ordered them to be decently tended, and Parson John had all the corpses, including two archers, laid out along the centre of the nave. Corbett had wandered many a battlefield, but this sight was truly piteous. Some of the victims had perished quickly from arrows embedded deep in their chests, others had taken time to die.'Harrowing and hideous!' Corbett crossed himself and stared around. The church was like a flesher's stall, awash with blood, littered with the detritus of battle. Sheets were brought out and flung over the corpses. Master Fleschner, the parish clerk, was summoned. He first retched and vomited, then began the grisly task of listing those killed: Margaret-atte-Wood, spinster of Jewry, Aegidius Markell, vintner of Moletrap Alley, along with all the other innocent victims of the murderous anarchy.The archers, with stronger bellies, complained of being hungry. Ranulf, who'd walked the length of the long line of gruesomecorpses, ordered their captain to requisition food and drink from nearby taverns and cook shops. Corbett just stared at a wall painting of a demon with bat-like ears, the torso and cloven feet of a goat, its eyes grisly black in a fiery red face.'There are demons and there are demons,' Ranulf remarked, coming up behind him. 'Those in the flesh are worse.''Much worse,' Corbett whispered. 'See what they did, Ranulf? God knows why. Some souls like nothing better than to see the world crack and collapse in a welter of killing.''I have to anoint the dead.'Corbett looked over his shoulder at Parson John, eyes staring in a pallid face.'I'll give them general absolution but I want to anoint each one. I think I should do that, and afterwards ...' The parson gestured round. 'This church is polluted; it will have to be reconsecrated. It happened so quickly, Sir Hugh. Early yesterday evening we had gathered, as we always do, the Guild of St Botulph's, to sing compline ...''Father, go home.' Corbett beckoned an archer across. 'Take Parson John to the priest's house,' he ordered quietly. 'Make sure he drinks a deep cup of claret. Only then let him come back and do what he wants.'Parson John looked as if he was going to object, then he shrugged and walked off. Screams and groans echoed from the shadowy transepts where the prisoners lay huddled. Ranulf had gone amongst them, kicking and lashing out with the flat of his sword. Corbett went and grasped his arm. Ranulf turned, fist raised, his lean face tense with anger. His green eyes seemed larger, red hair fannedhis face like a halo of flame, spittle frothed at the corner of his mouth.'Leave it,' Corbett ordered. He stared Ranulf down, gripping him by the wrist. 'Leave it, Ranulf. We'll try them by due process of law, then,' he glanced down at the prisoners, 'we'll send them to God's tribunal.''Aye, and I'll join you in that.'Corbett looked round. Sir Ralph Sandewic, Constable of the Tower, emerged from the shadows, his craggy face wreathed in a smile, his snow-white hair, parted along the middle, tumbling down to his shoulders. Dressed in half-armour, he stood fingering the hilt of his great sword, then he raised a hand and snapped his fingers. Two men-at-arms wheeled their barrow forward. Corbett stared down at the severed heads piled there: the jagged necks, half-closed eyes popping out, mouths and noses encrusted in blood. Flies and insects crawled over the mottled skin of the dead faces. Corbett swallowed hard. He'd seen too much. He walked away even as Ranulf helped Sandewic push the barrow in amongst the chained prisoners so that they could stare, as Sandewic put it, on their own future.Corbett went outside. The cemetery was now being cleared, all the corpses removed, only black stains on the icy grass showing where they had sprawled. Archers were collecting spears and arrows, scraps of clothing and armour. The fire at the great door had been doused, the half-charred battering ram pulled away. An archer brought across a tankard of ale. Corbett thanked him and gulped it to clear the smoke and dirt from his mouth. He breathed in deeply, then summoned an archer and sent him out of thecemetery beyond the lychgate, where a horde of city bailiffs and men-at-arms kept the curious at bay. A short while later the archer returned with a Friar of the Sack he'd found preaching from a cart on the approaches to Cripplegate. A beanpole of a man, the friar's lugubrious face was redeemed by merry eyes. Corbett fished in his purse and brought out a coin.'For the poor. Brother, you are an ordained priest?''Fifteen years in all,' quipped the friar, blessing Corbett. 'I carry my licence if you want--''No,' Corbett breathed, 'I do not want to see it.' He licked his lips. 'I am Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal. I am also the King's commissioner in these parts, with the power of oyer and terminer.''To hear and to finish,' the Franciscan translated. 'And I,' he extended a hand for Corbett to clasp, 'am Brother Ambrose of the Order of the Sack, summoned I suppose to attend the dead?''Or those about to die,' Corbett replied wearily. 'I've taken prisoners. You'll shrive them if that's what they want, yes?'The friar pulled a face, then looked over his shoulder. Sandewic had emerged from behind the church, a two-headed axe over his shoulder. The men-at-arms beside him carried a blackened block, scarred and bloodstained.'I see.' The friar rubbed his face. 'Yes,' he continued as the block was set down with the axe beside it. 'Death has truly set up camp in God's acre.'Corbett stared up at the sky. The day was drawing on, the sun was strengthening; the mist that had swirled over this cemetery had gone, as had the silence. The sounds of the city echoed clearlyacross the wall: the rattle of carts, the furious shouts of traders, the cries of children and the clop of horses. Corbett smelt the fragrance of the still damp grass, then that other, more pervasive tang, of spilt blood and rent flesh. He crossed himself and went back through the corpse door into the nave.Ranulf had prepared everything. The offertory table had been moved just before the entrance to the beautifully carved rood screen, three stools behind it. On the table, now draped with a purple altar covering, stood two lighted candles, a book of the Gospels and a drawn sword. Corbett nodded at Sandewic and took the stool in the centre. Master Fleschner, the parish clerk, would serve as scribe, leaving the dead to Parson John, who was moving from corpse to corpse, a stole around his neck, a phial of holy oils in his hands. Every so often Corbett would capture the words of the swiftly whispered prayer: 'Go forth, Christian soul ...'Corbett blessed himself, then stood up. The church was now silent except for the muttering of the priest and the groans and cries from the prisoners. Welsh archers, bows notched, stood guard at all doors and in the sanctuary, whilst on either side of the nave thronged Sandewic's men-at-arms. Corbett, one hand on the Gospels, the other grasping the hilt of his sword, loudly proclaimed how, by the terms of his commission, Edward, 'by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine, demands that all mayors and bailiffs et cetera recognise Sir Hugh Corbett as the King's Commissioner of Oyer and Terminer, to hear and determine all cases ...' Once finished, he sat down.'You know,' he declared to his two companions, 'these areadjudged felons taken in arms against the King. They are guilty of murder, rape and pillage. Each will face the same charges and be asked to reply. I have one question for each of them: are you from the Land of Cockaigne?''What is this?'Sandewic and Ranulf spoke almost together.'You ordered me to ask those taken out on the heath the same question,' the constable declared. 'The Land of Cockaigne? What is that to these felons?''Cockaigne,' Corbett replied, 'is a fool's version of life: a glutton's kingdom where food and drink present themselves already prepared. Pigs trot up fully roasted, a carving knife deep in their flanks. Geese fly but they are already spitted and cooked. Larks, grilled to crispness, swoop into your mouth. Buildings are made of food; the roofs are pancakes, the fences sausages, dripping on the floor.' He smiled at his companions' puzzlement. 'That is all I can say for the moment. It's a place of nonsense where ducks are shoed and the hare chases the fox. Apparently it's a cipher used by one of the King's spies,' he whispered. 'God knows who he or she is, but,' he stared into the darkness, 'it's quite apposite, eh?' He pointed to the sheeted corpses. 'A world turned topsy-turvy, where the innocent suffer and the guilty escape.''Not now,' Ranulf murmured.'I am not talking about those waiting to die,' Corbett observed, 'but Giles Waldene, the King of Ribauds, and Hubert the Monk. They both lie in the pits at Newgate. They did not join this affray. They'll claim no knowledge of it and demand to be tried by their peers. I wonder.' He pointed across the nave to where the captainof archers and his company were pulling the prisoners to their feet. 'Did any of those suspect?''What?' Sandewic grated.'That in their midst was a traitor who would sell them body and soul to the King's justice? Someone who, for profit perhaps, would turn King's Approver and become their destroyer. God knows why that riot took place and who caused it. We may be doing God's work, perhaps the King's, but,' Corbett added grimly, 'the devil's also! He must be ravenous for the souls of those we are going to judge.''Such is life,' Sandewic retorted. 'Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between good and bad.' He pointed across the nave. 'Let's not keep the demons waiting.'The trials began. According to law, the felons had no real defence. Indicted already, they'd then 'broken from the King's jail to carry out hideous depredations against the Crown's good and faithful servants, as well as horrid blasphemy against Holy Mother Church'. Each of the prisoners gave his name to the parish clerk, who was sitting at the end of the table, busy keeping a record. The accused was then faced with a list of gravimina, or charges, and invited to reply, which was usually in the form of a curse or a mouthful of spit. When the question about the Land of Cockaigne was first asked, the parish clerk glanced up in surprise; thereafter each prisoner shook his head and continued with the usual tirade of abuse.Sentencing was a foregone conclusion: 'Guilty!' Corbett declared. 'Proven as charged with no defence.' Once sentence was passed, the condemned were hustled out into the cemetery.The Friar of the Sack, seated in the shadow of a buttress, offered to shrive them; some accepted, others refused. All were eventually dragged to the block, hands tied behind them. Two archers made each of them kneel, forcing the condemned man's head to one side against the block whilst the executioner, with unerring accuracy, brought down the heavy double-headed axe. Its hard, chilling thud echoed through the opened corpse door, as Sandewic murmured, like the sound of hell's gate slamming shut. Sometimes the prisoner protested and struggled, only to be knocked senseless.Corbett, mouth dry, continued. The line of prisoners shortened. Parson John, further down the nave, finished his ministrations and sat with his back to a pillar, watching the grim process of law being carried out. Corbett called a brief halt as the bells of other churches rang out the Angelus. From the nearby streets the market horns brayed, the signal for trading to cease so that the guildsmen and stallholders, as well as their customers, could adjourn to the taverns, wine booths, cookshops and pastry houses to break their morning fast. Corbett asked for watered wine and stood in the Lady Chapel. He drained his cup, then knelt at the prie-dieu. Parson John came up, asking in a whisper when this would all be over. Corbett just knelt, staring up at the statue, and shook his head. The parson repeated his question. Corbett turned.'It's never over, priest,' he murmured. 'Don't you see?' He pointed to a wall painting to his left, Cain slaying his brother with the jawbone of an ass. 'That's what we are, Father, killers to the bone, all of us, sons and daughters of Cain.''Not all of us!''Aren't we?' Corbett asked hoarsely. 'If not with knives and clubs, don't we slay each other in our souls? Aren't such thoughts the dreadful parents of our deeds?'The priest stepped back, face shocked. He stared open-mouthed at Corbett, then, spinning on his heel, walked off into the gloom of the church.'Master, Master.' Ranulf approached softer than a cat, beckoning with his hand. 'Sandewic has been out to see the heads piled in their baskets. He's like a farmer with choice plums. He says he'll decorate the bridge, the Tower and every wall spike in Newgate. By the way, where is Chanson?' he continued. 'Our Clerk of the Stables appears to have--''Our Clerk of the Stables,' Corbett retorted, coming out of the Lady Chapel, 'is carrying documents to the King, who, I believe, is flying his hawks in the woods outside Sheen. There's been trouble in the Narrow Seas. French privateers--''Sir Hugh,' Sandewic called, 'we should begin again.''And again, and again ...' Corbett murmured.It was late afternoon by the time they were finished and the last ominous thud echoed through the church. All the felons bar one had been tried and executed. The sole survivor was Thomas Brokenhale, alias John Chamoys, alias Reginald Clatterhouse, alias Richard Draper, also known as Lapwing. Sandewic reported how Lapwing had been seen in the company of the prisoners at Newgate early the previous afternoon. He had then disappeared, but returned mid-morning to watch events from near the lychgate. One of the Newgate gaolers had recognised him as a visitor to Waldene's coven in prison. Lapwing had been held fast in thecellar of a nearby tavern before being dragged across for investigation. A young, cheery-faced rogue, he confessed to having some knowledge of both Waldene and Hubert the Monk. He had not, however, so he claimed, raised a hand against man or maid. No, he knew nothing about the Land of Cockaigne, but he did know his rights. 'I'm a clerk,' he protested, showing the faint tonsure almost overgrown by his dirty reddish hair. More importantly, he could recite the first verse of Psalm 50. Have mercy on me oh God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offence.'I'm a clerk,' he repeated. 'I demand to be tried by Holy Mother Church. I am not subject--''Shut up!' Sandewic bawled. 'You're guilty and you'll die with your coven.'Corbett intervened. Lapwing, whoever he was, had pleaded the law. More importantly, Corbett sensed the man was telling the truth. He was not like the rest of the rifflers and ribauds, who lived for the day and certainly didn't care for the next. Sandewic, however, proved obdurate. Offended by Lapwing's insolence, the constable wanted the accused's head, and bellowed that he'd even risk excommunication by the bishops. They had cursed him before and they'd certainly do it again. He didn't give a demon's fart for their arrogance.Sandewic's shouting attracted the attention of his men-at-arms, who thronged across the nave. Corbett became uneasy. Ranulf rested his hand on the hilt of his dagger. Sandewic bawled for his sword. Lapwing's smile faded, and he hastily scrabbled at a secret pocket in his jerkin, brought out a thin scroll and handed this toCorbett. The Keeper of the Secret Seal unrolled it, read the contents, smiled and looked at Sandewic.'Listen to this, Master Constable!' he said. '"The King to all faithful subjects. Know you that Stephen Escolier (also calling himself Lapwing) of Mitre Street, Cripplegate, is a faithful servant of the Crown, a clerk of this city. Know you that whatever he has done, he has done for the good of the Crown and the safety of this Realm."' The writ was witnessed by a leading judge, Hervey Staunton, and his henchman Roger Blandeford, and sealed with the King's personal signet. Corbett handed it back to Lapwing, who smiled, winked at Sandewic and swaggered out of the church.Corbett wearily declared he was finished. 'What had to be done,' he declared, 'has been done.'He left the church, going across the busy street into the Burning Bush tavern, where he and Ranulf had stabled their horses. He was washing his hands and face in a bowl at the lavarium when he heard Ranulf groan. He glanced back at the door. Chanson stood there, hopping from foot to foot.'The King wants us?' Corbett breathed.'Yes, Sir Hugh, he does,' Chanson called back. 'He is waiting at the Abbey of Syon on Thames. Lord Walter Evesham has been horribly murdered.'THE MYSTERIUM. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Doherty. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Mysterium by P. C. Doherty Copyright © 2012 by P. C. Doherty. Excerpted by permission.
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