Peter Tremayne is one of the best loved writers of historical mysteries, his novels and stories published in over a dozen countries around the world. An Ensuing Evil collects for the first time fourteen of his historical mysteries ranging in time and place from 7th-century Ireland (featuring his best known sleuth, Fidelma of Cashel) and 8th-century Scotland (featuring the real-life Macbeth) to the recent history of Victorian England and beyond. These fourteen tales of murder, mayhem and mystery each display Tremayne's usual mix of compelling historical detail about the time period and a baffling puzzle that will delight and confound his ever-growning legion of fans.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.79(d)|
About the Author
Peter Tremayne is the pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis, a well-known historian. As Tremayne, he is the author of fourteen widely acclaimed historical mysteries, most recently The Leper's Bell. He lives in London.
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An Ensuing Evil and Others
Fourteen Historical Mystery Stories
By Peter Tremayne
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Peter Tremayne
All rights reserved.
Night's Black Angels
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse; While night's black angels to their preys do rouse.
— Macbeth, Act III, Scene ii
"It is plainly murder, my lord," the elderly steward announced unnecessarily.
What else could a stab wound in the back mean but murder? It would hardly be self-inflicted. The fact that Malcolm, the son of Bodhe, prince of the House of Moray, lay stretched on the floor of his bedchamber with the blood still seeping across his white linen nightshirt did not need a fertile imagination to conjure an explanation of what had befallen the young man.
The corpse lay facedown on the wooden floorboards, clad in nothing else but the shirt, which meant that he had just left his bed to greet his killer. A bloodstained knife had fallen nearby, apparently dropped by the assassin in his haste to be gone.
MacBeth, son of Findlay, the Mdr-mhaor or petty king of Moray, which was one of the seven great provincial kingdoms of Alba, answering to no man except the High King, whose capital was south in Sgain, stared down with a grim face. Indeed, this was his castle, and the dead man was his wife's brother. He stood with a cloak wrapped around his shoulders to protect him from the night chill. It had been but only a few minutes ago when he had been roused from his sleep by his anxious steward and requested to come quickly to the bedchamber of Malcolm.
It certainly needed no servant or seer or prophet to tell MacBeth that someone had entered this chamber and brutally struck down the young prince and then discarded the weapon.
"Is the castle gate still secured?" he demanded, his voice raised as if in irritation and glancing into the corridor, where a warrior of his personal bodyguard stood impassively.
"Aye, noble lord," replied his steward, an elderly man named Garban. "As custom decrees, the gate was secured at nightfall and will not be opened before dawn. Your warriors still stand sentinel at the gate and walk the ramparts."
"So the culprit may yet be within these walls?"
"Unless he has wings to fly or be a mole that can burrow under the walls," agreed the old servant.
MacBeth nodded in grim satisfaction. "Let it continue to be so, for we many yet snare this evildoer. Now where is Prince Malcolm's servant? Why is he not here?"
"He was injured, noble lord. He now is being attended to, for in truth, he received a blow to the head, which caused it to bleed. He it was who discovered the body of his master."
"Then send for him straightaway, Garban. And send for my brehon to oversee these matters, according to the law. There is little time to delay in our pursuit of this assassin."
While a king or even a chief could be a judge and arbitrator in the law courts, it was, by law, known that a professional and qualified lawyer, a brehon, had to sit with the king to ensure the letter of the law was obeyed and a fair judgment delivered.
The old steward was turning toward the door when there was a cry at the portal, and MacBeth turned to see his newly wed wife, the Lady Gruoch, standing there, a hand to her mouth. Garban, the steward, jerked his head to her in nervous obeisance before he hurried forward to carry out MacBeth's instructions.
MacBeth turned to his wife. He had thought her still sleeping when he had left the bedchamber to follow Garban. "Madam, I am afraid your brother is dead," he greeted her quietly, not knowing what else to say but the blunt truth.
Lady Gruoch had seen much violence in her five and twenty years. It had been only one year ago that her first husband, Gillecomgain, the previous petty king of Moray, had been slaughtered in his castle near Inverness with fifty of his warriors. The castle, with its occupants, had been razed to the ground with fire. No one was caught, but whisper had it that the man who ordered the deed was none other than the man whose bed she now shared and who had been acclaimed with the mantle of Mdr-mhaor to replace her dead husband. Yet the Lady Gruoch had long been persuaded to discount such a notion, and she had come to love the young red-haired monarch who offered her and her baby, the young Prince Lulach, his protection.
Gruoch had not been in the castle of Gillecomgain at the time of the attack but away visiting with her newly born son. The people of Moray, bereft of their ruler, turned to MacBeth, whose father Findlay had been king before Gillecomgain. For kingship, like chieftainship, descended by the rule of the ancient laws of the brehons and not by the inheritance of the firstborn male. A king, or chief, had to be of the blood, but they were elected to their office by their derbhjine, four male generations from a common great grandfather. The law of succession had always been thus so that the most worthy and able should succeed.
No one questioned that MacBeth was worthy or that he was able. Indeed, he was also of the blood royal, for he was grandson of the High King, Malcolm, the second of his name to sit on the throne at Sgain. Thus the red-haired young noble had been duly installed as the petty king of the province.
Within the year, MacBeth had convinced the Lady Gruoch that he had not been responsible for her husbands death and had won her love. Scarcely a month had passed since their marriage, at which he had even adopted her son, the baby Lulach, as his own. Yet the evil whispers still remained, and some said that he was ambitious and was only reinforcing his claims to the High Kingship because Gruoch, too, had been the grandchild of a High King, Kenneth III, who had died some thirty years ago. Only in these lands, which comprised the former ancient kingdoms of the Cruithne, was a succession through the female allowed by Brehon Law, but the Pictish custom, as it was called, had not been claimed since Drust Mac Ferat ruled over two hundred years before. So the gossip did not hold water.
More logical tongues pointed out that the Lady Gruoch's brother, Malcolm Mac Bodhe, as grandson to Kenneth III, had a more popular claim to the throne as next High King. Even if he had not, it was well known that Malcolm II, who had sired only daughters, did not favor his grandson MacBeth, or, indeed, any member of the Moray House. The old king favored his grandson, Duncan Mac Crinan, the son of the Abbot of Dunkeld, and son of his eldest daughter.
The old king and his grandson, Duncan, were of the House of Atholl, and they maintained they had a superior right to the High Kingship at Sgain than the House of Moray, even though his second daughter, the Lady Doada, had married Findlay of Moray and was MacBeth's mother. The death of Gillecomgain in the previous year was attributed by many of the House of Moray as being a deed carried out at the whispered order of Malcolm II to ensure that Duncan was placed on the throne. Gillecomgain alive had been a threat to Atholls claims. Gillecomgain had been slaughtered. But Malcolm Mac Bodhe, grandson of Kenneth III, had become the next challenger to the continued Atholl dominance at Sgain. Some were already acclaiming him as successor to Malcolm II.
But now Malcolm Mac Bodhe, too, was dead; lying on the floor of his bedchamber in MacBeth's castle. Murdered.
The young king appeared troubled as he stood regarding his tearful wife, who stood, leaning against the doorjamb, her breast heaving, a hand across her trembling mouth.
"There will be many who will blame me for this death, my lady," MacBeth addressed the grief-stricken young woman quietly. He held out a hand to comfort her.
She took it and gave a single heartrending sob, trying, at the same time, to gain control over her feelings. The years of threatening danger had taught her to suppress her emotions until she could indulge in them without distraction.
"How so, my lord?" she asked, succeeding in the effort.
"They will say that I have killed, or had killed, your brother, in order to secure my place nearer the throne at Sgain."
The woman's eyes widened, and she shook her head vehemently. "I will swear that you never left my side since we parted from my brother after the meal last night."
"Can you so swear?"
"Aye, I can, for I have not closed my eyes these last hours. You know well that I am still beset by nightmares and have visions of our being burnt while we slept, as happened to my as happened to Gillecomgain, your cousin. I heard Garban come into our chamber and ask you to follow him here — that is why I came after you to see what was amiss."
"They will say that your witness for me is what might be expected of a wife or that you had good cause to see your brother dead so that your husband could claim the throne that you might sit by his side as queen at Sgain. Indeed, some might even say that, while I slept, you did the deed yourself for ambitions sake."
The Lady Gruoch paled as she stared at him. "What fiendlike creature will people have me be?" she whispered in shock. "To kill my own brother? Even to think such a thought is to pronounce speculations hateful to the ears of any justice."
"It may be said just the same," pointed out MacBeth impassively. "Many things are said and done in the court of my grandfather at Sgain. I do not doubt that the vaulting ambition of my cousin Duncan, the son of my mothers own sister, will do more than make hateful speculations to secure the throne. His father, the unnatural abbot of Dunkeld, even tries to poison the entire Church against anyone who stands as rival to the resolution of his son to secure the throne."
"I fear that it is so," sighed Gruoch. "I have long labored, as you know, in the belief that the destruction of Gillecomgain was brought about by your grandfather, who encouraged the rumors which laid the deed at your door."
MacBeth lowered his head. It was true that rumors still circulated accusing him of Gillecomgain's death. "There will be more whispers yet," he agreed heavily, "unless we speedily resolve this unnatural death of your brother."
A tall elderly man stood at the door. It was clear that he had just come from a deep sleep. His hair was a little disheveled, and his clothes had not been put on with care.
"Garban has informed me of these tragic events, noble lord," the man muttered, his eyes moving swiftly from MacBeth to Gruoch and to the body on the floor. They glinted coldly in the candlelight and seemed to miss nothing.
"I am glad that you have come, Cothromanach. It needs your skilled touch here, for I was saying to the Lady Gruoch, there are many who will wish to taint me with this killing. Your word is needed that this matter has been properly conducted and resolved so that none may level any accusation against me."
Cothromanach, the brehon, set his face stonily. "The truth is the truth. I am here to serve that truth, my lord."
MacBeth nodded. "Indeed, let us proceed with logic. Garban has told you that we have a witness to this deed in the prince Malcolm's servant?" Cothromanach nodded. "I am told that he has been sent for."
"He has. The Lady Gruoch and I were in our bedchamber until Garban summoned me. The Lady Gruoch says that she is prepared to state that I did not rouse from our bed all night. I have told her that her testimony might be dismissed on grounds of her relationship to me."
The brehon pursed his lips wryly. "Madam, is there any other witness that will say that you and your husband did not stir until Garban summoned your husband here?"
Gruoch thought a moment and then nodded in affirmation. "Little more than an hour ago, I asked my maid Margreg to bring me mulled wine to help me sleep. She entered our chamber with the wine while my husband slept on obliviously."
MacBeth raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I did not hear her."
"You were tired, my lord, after yesterdays hunt and last nights feasting."
"This is true. So Margreg brought wine and saw me sound asleep beside you? This, you say, was but an hour ago?"
"It was so."
MacBeth turned to the brehon. "And I was roused to come here but a quarter of the hour past, and if the deed were committed not long before, it would mean that we have the best witness yet in the maid."
"What makes you think the deed was done but an hour ago?" queried the brehon.
"Easy to tell. We have a witness to the deed." He turned to his wife to explain. "I have sent for your brother's servant, who, it appears, was attacked by the assassin. He has already indicated the time to my steward, Garban."
The Lady Gruoch stared at him in surprise. "This servant was attacked by the assassin? Then we have no need fear our innocence of the deed."
MacBeth sighed: "Perhaps," he said softly. "Truth does not still malicious tongues."
"You sound defensive, lord," observed the brehon. "As if you already stand accused and found guilty."
"It is why I want you to examine this matter closely, Cothromanach. I fear it may be so unless I demonstrate that I had no hand in this. Now, here comes Garban and Malcolm's servant. Do return to our chamber, my lady, and dress yourself, for it is near dawn and this may be a long day." He paused and turned to Cothromanach. "That is, unless you wish the lady to stay?"
The elderly brehon shook his head. "I have no objections to the Lady Gruoch withdrawing."
As Gruoch left the chamber with a single glance back to where her brothers body lay, old Garban came forward. Behind him followed a younger man, tall and well built. There was a gash over his eye that still seeped blood. His face was pale, and he walked with an unsteady gait. He stood hesitating before MacBeth, looking from him to the brehon.
Old Garban gave him a gentle nudge forward.
"Tell my noble lord your name, boy."
The young man took a pace forward. "I am called Segan, noble lord," he muttered, his eyes downcast.
"How long have you been in the service of the prince Malcolm?"
"I have served him ever since I can remember, and my father before me was a steward in the house of his father, the prince Bodhe."
"Then this will not take long, Segan. Tell us the circumstances in which you received this blow to your head and how you discovered the prince?"
"Little to tell, indeed, noble lord. Prince Malcolm had retired after the feasting last evening and went straightaway to his bed. He told me that he would not want me until the morning. So I, too, went to my bed —"
"Which is where?" Cothromanach, the brehon, suddenly interrupted.
"In that small chamber opposite," the young man indicated through the open door.
Garban, the steward, intervened with a clearing of his throat. "I placed the servant there so that he might be near his master in case of need," he explained to the brehon.
"What then?" MacBeth did not wait for the brehon to acknowledge the explanation.
"I fell asleep. I do not know what time I was awakened nor what had awakened me. Perhaps it was the sound of something falling to the ground. I roused myself and listened. All was quiet. I went to my door and opened it. I thought that I heard a sound from Prince Malcolm's room.
"Wondering if anything was amiss, I went to his door and called softly. There was no answer. I was just about to turn back into my chamber when I heard a distinct sound from this room. I called Prince Malcolm's name and asked if he needed anything.
"There was no response, and so I tried the chamber door. It was secured."
"Secured?" interposed Cothromanach quickly.
"It was Prince Malcolm's custom to secure the door to his bedchamber from the inside." The young servant hesitated and dropped his gaze. "These are troubled and dangerous times, lord. There are many who would not weep over Prince Malcolm's death."
"Go on," the brehon instructed.
"I called again. Then I heard the bolt being withdrawn. I tried the handle and this time the chamber door swung open. I took a step inside and saw the prince even as you see him now, lying on the floor there. The blood on his shirt and the knife at his side."
MacBeth glanced toward the brehon and saw his puzzled gaze. He preempted the question. "You saw Malcolm lying there and saw all this clearly? How so?"
"How so?" repeated the young man in a puzzled tone, not understanding what he meant.
"Was the room not in darkness?"
"Ah." Segan shook his head. "No, there was a candle alight by the bedside, even as it is now."
MacBeth turned to examine the candle and saw that scarcely a half-inch of tallow was left flickering in its holder. Satisfied, MacBeth turned back in time to see the young man wince and stagger a little.
"Are you hurt?" intervened the brehon anxiously.
"I am a little dizzy still. Yet I rebuke my own stupidity," lamented the young man. "I cannot believe that I could be such a dimwit. Seeing the body, I took two steps toward it, and then something hit me from behind. Now I realize, whoever had drawn the bolt still stood behind the door, and who would it be but the assassin? I came in, like a lamb to the slaughter, and thus he could strike me down from behind."
Old Garban nodded in support. "It could happen to anyone, seeing their lord dead. It was a natural error. No blame to the young man."
Excerpted from An Ensuing Evil and Others by Peter Tremayne. Copyright © 2006 Peter Tremayne. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
NIGHT'S BLACK ANGELS,
AN ENSUING EVIL,
METHOUGHT YOU SAW A SERPENT,
THE GAME'S AFOOT!,
THE REVENGE OF THE GUNNER'S DAUGHTER,
THE PASSING SHADOW,
THE AFFRAY AT THE KILDARE STREET CLUB,
THE SPECTER OF TULLYFANE ABBEY,
THE SIREN OF SENNEN COVE,
THE KIDNAPPING OF MYCROFT HOLMES,
A STUDY IN ORANGE,
THE EYE OF SHIVA,
MURDER IN THE AIR,
THE SPITEFUL SHADOW,