Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf's Church

Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf's Church

by Indrek Hargla


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The first in a series of books that have taken Europe by storm and are soon to be filmed, featuring a chemist-turned-sleuth who battles ignorance and superstition—as well as killers—in a beautiful setting and in a gripping and mysterious era of history

The Apothecary Melchior series plunges the reader into 15th-century Tallinn when Estonia is at the edge of Christian lands and the last foothold before the East: a town of foreign merchants and engineers, dominated by the mighty castle of Toompea and the construction of St Olaf’s Church, soon to become the tallest building in the world. Apothecary Melchior is a divisive figure in the town: respected for his arcane knowledge and scientific curiosity but also slightly feared for his mystical witch-doctor aura. When a mysterious murder occurs in the castle, Melchior is called in to help find the killer and reveals a talent for detection. But Tallinn has a serial killer in its midst, and Melchior is tested to the limit in a plot with as many twists and turns as the turreted castle itself. Melchior uncovers a mystery surrounding St Olaf’s and a secret society that has been controlling the town for years, uncovering truths about the town that may spell danger.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780720618440
Publisher: Owen, Peter Limited
Publication date: 02/01/2016
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Indrek Harkla is one of the best selling Estonian authors working today. His Apothecary Melchior stories now run to six volumes, and film versions are currently in production.

Read an Excerpt

Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf's Church

By Indrek Hargla

Peter Owen Publishers

Copyright © 2010 Indrek Hargla
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7206-1844-0



Henning von Clingenstain, former Commander of the Teutonic Order in Gotland, was roaring drunk. Truth be told, he was roaring drunk for the fifth day in a row, and if the local commander had not fed him generously – food had been brought out from the kitchen of Toompea Small Castle from morning to evening – he would already have collapsed from a beer-induced stupor and blacked out long ago. Yet Tallinn appeared to be a prosperous and good-natured town, not like Visby. Here people enjoyed eating and drinking. It was customary in Tallinn to make merry just as the people in Clingenstain's home town of Warendorf once had. And Spanheim, the local commander, seemed to be this town's king of merrymaking. For five consecutive days and nights the table had been groaning under the weight of beer, wine and more of the town's best and finest. It would have been a sin to turn it all down, just as it was actually a sin to quaff and gorge it all down – but Clingenstain had already taken care of that earlier in the day by having his confession heard by the Dominican Prior. Needless to say, forgiveness had been bestowed for his overeating and excessive drinking. Naturally.

Clingenstain now felt, however, that he might have had enough – his innards churned, his head buzzed and his thoughts were muddled. Only now did he begin to make sense of what was reality and what was just an intoxicated illusion, now that, after a few blunders, he finally found the side portal from the northern wing of the castle that passed above the moat, straight from one fortress to the other – from the Small Castle of the Order to the Great Castle, or Toompea, as it was also known. Some attendant opened the door for him, and the Knight staggered towards his lodgings. Curses, I am seeing devils, he thought. A soldier of Christ shouldn't see devils.

He stepped out into the mild May night and filled his lungs with fresh air. The darkly glimmering walls of Toompea resembled shadows of a palace of darkness closing in around him. The jolly songs of the Commander's musicians still sounded in his ears, and, truth be told, the festivities at the castle were probably still under way. The cobblestones, however, rose up from the ground and scuffed against his foot. He stumbled and fell. If he wished to reach his dwelling without incident he would require assistance.

'Jochen, you son of a whore,' he roared. Where was his squire now? He should be at his master's side like a loyal dog, not doing the town in the company of wenches.

'Jochen,' he bellowed again, 'I am blind drunk, and you have climbed up into an attic with some washerwoman. Jochen, you knave!'

The page did not appear. Commander Clingenstain stood in the middle of Toompea, alone except for some attendants of the Teutonic Order who were tending a fire near the stables on the other side of the moat. The walls of St Mary's Cathedral, the Dome Church, loomed over the castle.

'I'll have you skinned tomorrow,' vowed Clingenstain, and he lurched ahead. Pages be damned. He wasn't so helpless at all; he could make it by himself. He definitely remembered where he was lodged; it was not far from here, a house that butted up against the stronghold wall. He could do it alone.

The Commander did not notice a solitary figure breaking away from the dark castle wall, trailing him stealthily as he stumbled towards his residence. He did not notice that the dark form followed him up to the door of the house, carefully keeping to the shadows. He did not even notice that the figure stood beside him when he, after several clumsy attempts, at last managed to unbolt the main door. The dark figure held the door open with his foot after Clingenstain had made his way inside. Clingenstain stood in the spacious entry hall and squinted against the light. Someone, probably Jochen, had lit the candles on the candelabra, and the bright light almost blinded him at first. He leaned against the mantelpiece and picked the candelabra up from the table. There should be a door here somewhere that led to the bedroom, if he remembered correctly, and in that room was a bed. He attempted to shrug off his coat but became entangled and almost fell. If only that slave were here to help him undress.

'Jochen,' he yelled again. 'Aha, there you are, you lout.'

He glimpsed hazily from the corner of his eye that someone had entered through the front door. It had to be Jochen, of course – who else? – but his eyes were not yet accustomed to the light.

'I'll slice your ears off from your head next time. Where've you been, dog?'

The dark figure approached the Commander, who, squinting, had just managed to form the thought that Jochen should really be of shorter stature and did not usually wear such a coat. Yet this was all he to think before the stranger grabbed him suddenly by his shirt and shoved him with great force. Clingenstain fell, as if he had been struck by a bolt of lightning.

'Thief, burglar,' he sputtered. 'How dare you, you dog. I am a Knight of the Teutonic Order.'

The stranger kicked him in the chest, and the Commander doubled over from the pain. The intruder pulled out a sword from beneath his coat.

Clingenstain felt that he was incapable of standing up and much less of fighting, but the abrupt sense of danger and pain sobered him up instantly. He could almost make out the features of the stranger's face from beneath his hood.

'Who ... who are you?' he demanded.

'Someone who has prayed that he might take your filthy soul,' the stranger replied.

'Jochen! Help!' Clingenstain tried to shout, but the cry came out weakly and could not be heard in the street through the thick stone walls.

With his sword in one hand the stranger again grabbed the Commander by his shirt and heaved him on to the table. The Knight tried to struggle and fight, but he was no match for the intruder.

'What do you want?' Clingenstain finally managed to say.

'Justice,' came the reply. The unknown man forced him against the table with one hand and clenched his sword more steadily with the other. 'This is precisely how it must unfold – with you writhing on the ground, terrified and crying for help. You will die without making peace with the Lord, and all your sins will go with you to the grave. It is the road straight to hell, Clingenstain.'

Death? Is this really my death? The thought flashed through the Commander's mind. Such a death, and in Tallinn not on the battlefield; not holding a sword in his hand but here in some burgher's house in Tallinn, drunk, and by the blade of a thief. Virgin Mary, it was not supposed to happen this way. Not here and not now. I do not deserve this. His thoughts were sober but his body unresponsive.

'Who are you?' he enquired again.

Instead of replying the stranger raised something up before Clingenstain's eyes. He could not make out what it was at first, but his eyes finally focused. He also saw the stranger push the hood back from his face. That face ... that face ... and that object in his hand, that was ... It was impossible. He recognized that face. Yes, now he recognized it.

Yet Clingenstain's time was up. He understood this unequivocally. He perceived it clearly through his weakness and his helplessness. For an instant he even saw in his mind's eye the saints looking down at him from the heavens with pity and indifference. Yes, said the saints' gaze, here and now, Henning von Clingenstain, right here and right now your end has come, and we cannot prevent it.

A strong hand seized Clingenstain by the jaw and forced his mouth open. One more powerful burst of pain shot through the Commander's body as the stranger stuffed the item that had been held before his eyes into his mouth.

'This is exactly how it will unfold,' said the man. 'Even begging for mercy will not do you any good. Until we meet in hell.'

He rammed the Knight's head against the table, raised his sword with both hands and slashed downwards.

Henning von Clingenstain felt how the sword ground against his neck. He even felt how the strong blow sliced through his spine. It was painful, unbearably painful, but that pain was nothing compared with what awaited him.



Melchior Wakenstede, Apothecary of the town of Tallinn, had just risen from the breakfast table where his dear Keterlyn had stuffed him full of freshly baked bread and a generous slice of rich lard and entered the front room of his living quarters – Tallinn's pharmacy – where the most ordinary of workdays should await him. He would hear about the townspeople's recent illnesses and old pains; he would hear dozens of rumours; and he would sell some medicinal treatments and sweets and a few flagons of his own fine pharmaceutical elixir. He would see ailments and diseases; he would also see the healthy and the strong, who would step into the pharmacy simply to gossip and swap news, purchase strong elixirs and chew on sweet cakes or aniseed sweets. He would fulfil his duties and be satisfied and happy in doing so, just as he probably still should be, on the threshold of his thirty-first year of life, by the blessing of his patron saint and to the joy of his noble father – may he rest in peace at the right hand of the Virgin Mary.

Melchior Wakenstede was born in the city of Lübeck, whence his father had relocated to Tallinn more than twenty years ago. Melchior the Elder came to this new land where everything was being built, to a land that had not long ago been won from the grip of pagans and which had been dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Melchior even remembered from his boyhood the stories of those old warriors who had entered his father's pharmacy from time to time to buy ointments for their aching joints. They spoke of how they had battled against the local pagans when their forces surrounded Tallinn. This all seemed hard to believe now, because the grandchildren of many of these so-called pagans visited his pharmacy each and every day. Even his beloved wife Keterlyn was of the same lineage, descended from the tribes that had lived here since ancient times, and, no matter that they did not bake bread or brew beer as it was done in Thuringia or Westphalia, these people now went to church every Sunday, as did all proper Christians.

Melchior Wakenstede considered Tallinn to be his home, as he could barely remember Lübeck. He was the town's sole apothecary, just as his father had been. Melchior loved Tallinn. He had grown up here and vowed to treat the populace with his medications, to help those who suffered and to ease their afflictions. People referred to his profession as being simply that of a doctor's cook, but it was actually much more than that. Melchior was equal to merchants in status, on a par with clergy or city officials in education, was a respected man in the town and was regarded highly by town councilmen, nobles and knights alike.

Now, on this fine spring morning, he passed from the kitchen into the pharmacy, thrust the front door open wide and let in the fresh sea air. His house was small, but it was the only one his father had had the means to purchase. In the entryway on the ground floor in the entry hall of the building was the pharmacy, comparable to a merchant's shop, and to the rear of this were his living quarters. A small passageway led from there to the kitchen, which his father had rebuilt into a pharmacist's 'witch's kitchen', as people called it. Around the fireplace stood levered presses and burners: this was where Melchior boiled and brewed his potions. On the upper floor were storage rooms filled with wooden crates in which he stored dried medicinal herbs. In the pharmacy were a large table and shelves along the walls bearing extracts, oils and mixtures in glass vessels as well as mortars and pestles. Since every apothecary needed to appear slightly mysterious and display his countenance to the townspeople, Melchior had hung a small stuffed crocodile from the ceiling above his table. It had cost ten marks and, as the sly merchant assured him, was supposed to be a genuine Egyptian crocodile. Whether true or not the townspeople seemed to believe it was.

Melchior was a fair-skinned man of shorter stature, was rather thin and had an angular build and a slight stagger to his step. His sparse, pale hair held close to his head, even when he grew his locks out below his ears. His grey eyes always had a twinkle and appeared full of mirth. Melchior loved to laugh loudly at others' jokes, and his laugh was childlike and trusting. To many it seemed that he was always cheerful and in good spirits – an apothecary cannot be dour and off-hand – yet some had also caught those moments when it seemed that a grim shadow flashed across his shy face. Those were the moments when Melchior believed that no one was watching him, and a profound agony could then show in his eyes, an almost insane depth, a difficult and painful terror. Nevertheless, Melchior would then drive these feelings away and once again be the cheery Tallinn apothecary, a friend to all and a trustworthy aide.

It was still early, and the town was just beginning to stir. Melchior sat down and reviewed the notes of those who were due to come for their medications that day. Here were his bottles and mortars, his mixtures and dried remedies; here was his world from which he could never escape – should he ever have wanted to. Melchior opened a small pouch of dried-garlic chips and took down a vessel of hard spirits from a shelf, setting both before him. Today this would become throat medicine for the baker's wife, although he could make a much greater profit from other remedies, one example being charred wheat mixed with herbs and poured into a flagon to counter a stomach ache suffered by his good friend the Magistrate, Court Vogt Wentzel Dorn.

Yet, just as Melchior sprinkled the garlic chips into the mortar, the sound of bright music reached his ears. He peered out from the open door on to the street and saw that Kilian Rechpergerin – a boarder at the house across the road owned by Mertin Tweffell – was outside, sitting on the edge of the well and playing his lute.

The young man was barely seventeen, but Melchior understood that he had studied the choral arts in several foreign cities and arrived in Tallinn at the behest of his father, since the old merchant Tweffell happened to be a relative of the Nuremberg Rechpergerin family. Kilian had been boarding in the Great Guild Alderman's house since the previous summer. He would sing at various festivities in the town and could often be seen near the Guild of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, where of late not a single meal went by without Kilian being present to sing his playful verses. He tended to introduce himself as a Schulfreund, as this was how journeyman musicians who roamed to far-off lands to study the art of music were titled at the Nuremburg Guild of Meistersingers. Melchior had to admit he did indeed enjoy Kilian's music – it carried a sense of the spirit of warm southern lands, a melodic lilt and techniques unfamiliar to Tallinn musicians. The young man's voice was clear and pure, warm and resounding. Which, of course, has not gone unnoticed by many a young Tallinn damsel, Melchior mused.

While continuing to concoct the cough remedy Melchior saw the door of the house opposite open and Gerdrud, the young wife of the Master Merchant Tweffell, step out into the street. It appeared to the Apothecary that the young singer had been waiting for this very moment. Melchior grasped his mortar and positioned himself slightly closer to the open door. Curiosity is the vice of all apothecaries.

The young Mistress Gerdrud – who may well have been only a year or two older than Kilian yet was younger than her husband by forty years or more – carried a basket under her arm and nodded pleasantly in greeting to the musician. The young man, in response, jumped from the rim of the well and bowed to her.

'Good morning, Mistress Merchant,' he exclaimed cheerfully. 'A fine spring morning to you. Can you see what a beautiful, blessed day has been given to us? It would be nothing short of a sin if it were not greeted with a splendid melody.'

Gerdrud stopped and replied brusquely, 'Good morning, Kilian Rechpergerin. Alas, this day is beautiful only to those who are able to pass it by with song and music. It is exactly the same as all other days for honest townsfolk, full of work and many chores to do.'


Excerpted from Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf's Church by Indrek Hargla. Copyright © 2010 Indrek Hargla. Excerpted by permission of Peter Owen Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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