Dark Entry

Dark Entry

by M. J. Trow

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Overview

First in the thrilling new Kit Marlowe historical mystery series - Cambridge, 1583. About to graduate from Corpus Christi, the young Christopher Marlowe spends his days studying and his nights carousing with old friends. But when one of them is discovered lying dead in his King’s College room, mouth open in a silent scream, Marlowe refuses to accept the official verdict of suicide. Calling on the help of his mentor, Sir Roger Manwood, Justice of the Peace, and the queen’s magus, Dr John Dee, a poison expert, Marlowe sets out to prove that his friend was murdered.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781780295060
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 04/01/2012
Series: Kit Marlowe Series , #1
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 315,895
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dark Entry


By M. J. Trow

Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2011 M. J. Trow and Maryanne Coleman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78029-506-0


CHAPTER 1

It was pitch black in that alleyway. What moon there was blinked between the clouds of that summer, leaving its ghost behind with a slight stain of silver on the sky. And all cats were equally grey.

He checked the street one last time. He heard their feet clattering on the cobbles of Bene't Street behind him; one set of footsteps slithering and sliding, the hobnails on the soles scoring the stones, the other set firm, even and determined, eating up the yards until they reached the wall. He heard the stifled laughter of old, that stupid bray that Henry had when he was in his cups. He didn't have to see them to know what was going on. Henry would have to be quiet and that was Tom's job; dear old, dependable Tom. Matt? Well, Matt would probably be balancing on the college wall by now, tiptoeing through the daisies. And why not? It isn't everyday a man becomes a Bachelor of Arts in the greatest university in the world.

'Kit!'

Shit! Tom hadn't been quick enough. That was Henry's voice, booming and giggling at the same time, bouncing off the walls of The Court, echoing in the traceries of King's and Catherine's across the road. No time to lose now. The Proctors had ears like bats. He felt rather than saw the gnarled old branch, worn smooth by the scrabbling hands of generations of roisterers. He hauled himself up, feeling his hair tangle in the twigs and he'd just hooked one booted leg over the parapet when he saw them. He tucked the trailing foot beneath him and immediately regretted it, as he felt the blood-flow slow and cease. Within minutes he would be in the grip of pins and needles. One minute more and his leg would be in that strange limbo of complete anaesthesia and pain.

Beams of light danced from their lanterns, flashing on the thick window panes of The Court. He froze, willing the leaves to stop moving. In his three years at this place, out on the town at the Eagle, the Boar, the Cap, he'd never been caught. And now, on the eve of his greatness, was not the time to try his luck.

He recognized their footfalls – Lomas of the heavy tread; Darryl, the scamperer. And he knew their voices too.

'Where are they?' he heard Darryl hiss in the darkness near the Master's Lodge.

The footsteps stopped. 'They'll be cutting across the churchyard.' This was Lomas, crafty, everywhere, never wrong.

He knew the Proctor had got it right again. Tom would have realized they were making too much noise, rolling home under the fleeting moon and he would have pushed Matt and Henry through the gateway and across the graves of St Bene't's churchyard, so that their drunken feet padded on grass and saved them all from a beating.

The lantern beams switched direction, away from his corner, moving eerily north as the Proctors laid their ambush. He couldn't move, couldn't change position despite the sudden agony of cramp in his calf. His teeth flashed gritted in a single sweep of the moon over the faintly gleaming grey stone of The Court. Looking up through the tangle of branches, he saw the clouds had gone.

'Shhh!'

That was Henry again, the only man in Cambridge whose sibilance was louder than thunder. He'd have no chance to save them now. And if he wanted to save himself, he'd have to shift fast. He knew what they'd do, the Proctors. Darryl would nip behind a buttress, crouch there like the malevolent toad he was. Lomas would be inside, waiting on the stairs like the mouth of Hell itself, ready to swallow scholars whole.

That ploy gave him a minute, perhaps two, to get across the lawn and on to the staircase. And that lawn was suddenly bright under the moon, all cover blown, all hope extinguished. In a desperate moment, he snatched the dagger from the sheath at his back and threw it at the far wall. It clattered on the stonework and landed on the flagstones below.

The lantern beams merged, having crossed and crossed again and he saw the black shapes converge. Their robed shadows danced, huge and macabre, over the lawn. He hauled himself free of the clawing branches, willing his sleeping leg to work, and he ran.

Behind him, even as he hit the ground, he heard the ruckus. Running feet that were not his own scraped and thumped among the shouts and curses. He was under the archway and bounding up the twisted stairs three at a time, wincing at each thud when his numb foot came down. He crashed in through the door, hauling off the flash doublet as he went, tearing at the laces that fastened his shirt. He floundered in the cluttered darkness of the room, looking in vain for his nightshirt, finding only Matt's. He dragged it over his head, scattering leaves and twigs and he pulled on his nightcap. Now ... the performance.

'Lomas? Darryl?' an enraged but still sleepy head poked out from an upstairs casement. 'What's going on?'

The scuffling stopped and five faces looked up at him, eerily lit by the still dancing lantern beams.

'You tell us, Master Marlowe,' Lomas sneered. Henry Bromerick had just kicked him in the shins and anyway, the Proctor was never at his best in the early hours.

'Have you no idea of the time, man?' Marlowe said with an outrage in his voice born of long years of playing the innocent whilst being thoroughly guilty. 'I have lectures with Professor Johns after breakfast. He won't take kindly to me yawning all through the morning; he's a sensitive soul.' Marlowe leaned further over the sill, shielding his eyes in the lantern-light. 'Matthew Parker, is that you?'

'Yes, Kit,' Parker replied obediently, still struggling half-heartedly in the grip of Proctor Darryl and staring a bleak future in the face.

'Tut tut.' Marlowe shook his head and withdrew a little into the shadow of his dark room, to hide his smile. 'Roistering again, eh? And your grandfather Archbishop of Canterbury! Whatever next? Please go about your business more quietly, gentlemen. This is Corpus Christi, don't forget. We have a reputation to uphold.' And he leaned forward again, to pull the window closed.

'Master Marlowe.' Lomas stopped him. 'Is this yours?' He was holding something up in the half-moonlight.

'What is it?' Marlowe peered down, squinting his eyes so as to see whatever it was more clearly.

'It's a dagger, Master Marlowe.' Lomas was patience itself.

'A dagger?' Marlowe frowned and shook his head, causing a small twig to dislodge and skitter off the sill towards the upturned faces below. 'Now, what would I want with a dagger?'


They stood in a sheepish line in the Master's Lodge, caught out, embarrassed, humiliated, expecting the worst. A lazy golden dawn had crept over Corpus Christi College an hour earlier as the Constable of the Watch had called it a night and gone home. And here they were, the three who were to have graduated today, standing silent and motionless in their grey fustian college robes, with the badge of the pelican and lilies.

Dr Norgate might have been a hundred as far as these three were concerned. They were eighteen; he was ... a hundred. He peered at them over the rim of his spectacles and leaned back in his chair, looking for all the world as if he'd been frozen in time and festooned with cobwebs. Behind him on oak shelves stood the serried ranks of the works of the scholars of antiquity – Herodotus, Aristotle, Euclid, Plinys elder and younger, Plato and a hundred others. There were no cobwebs on those volumes, no dust on the leather. Rumour had it that Dr Norgate read them all every day, could recite them for hours – and knew where the printers' errors were.

The great man cleared his throat. 'Henry Bromerick,' he said softly.

'Sir.'

Bromerick was having difficulty focusing. How many had he sunk at the George? How many more at the Eagle? It was a great night ... probably. He couldn't quite remember. There'd been a party at the Blue Boar, of that he was certain. Quite certain. He mentally shook himself and tried to concentrate on the Master, tried to make the two dim images of the man merge into one and stay there.

Norgate looked him up and down. The boy was very large, like his appetites, his brown hair cropped under his scholar's cap, his eyes tinged red.

'A scholar of King's School, Canterbury.' Norgate was reading from the parchment on the table in front of him. 'Secundus Convictus, pensioner ... nay, Matthew Parker scholar, no less.'

'Sir.' Bromerick was happier with just monosyllables this morning. To have your curriculum vitae read to you was akin to a death sentence. Would the Master of Corpus be showing him the instruments of torture next?

'Dr Lyler speaks highly of your Hebrew.'

Bromerick blinked. 'Does he, sir?' This came as a surprise to Bromerick. Had the great man got him mixed up with somebody else?

Norgate waved him back into line. 'Thomas Colwell,' he said.

Tom Colwell was smaller than Bromerick, blond and wiry. His grey eyes were clear when he was sober and his mind was like a razor. But today was not a good day. He'd just thrown up spectacularly in the shrubbery outside the door and for all it was June, he shivered.

'The King's School, Canterbury,' Norgate said with a certain sense of having been here before. 'Matthew Parker scholar. Professor Johns is impressed by your rhetoric in the Discourses.'

'That's very kind of him, sir,' Colwell managed through his chattering teeth.

'Isn't it?' a voice rasped from the corner of the room. All eyes, even Norgate's, swivelled to Dr Gabriel Harvey, sprawled in his academic finery. He stared back, defiant, his eyes cold and his mouth hard. Harvey had been waiting for this moment for three years. Three years to bring these rule -breakers, these delinquents, to book. Somehow, they'd got away with it before, creeping out on the tiles of Cambridge when the sheer exhaustion of academic rigour should have had them stretched out, dead to the world, in their truckle beds. And he was far from happy that there was one name missing from the roster of roisterers on the Master's desk. That prize still waited to be claimed.

'Matthew Parker,' Norgate said.

The scholar stood forward. He wore the permanently pained expression of all the male members of his family under his curling hair, as though he was about to meet his maker and regretted all the sins he'd committed in his young life. And now, he was.

'Pensioner,' Norgate said, shifting the parchment in front of him. 'Scholar of the King's School, Canterbury. Recipient of the Matthew Parker scholarship ...'

'Jobs for the boys,' Harvey almost spat. He had come up the hard way, with no scholarship to pave his way, no silver christening spoon clamped between his teeth. He despised the gilded youths standing before him and didn't care who knew it.

Norgate was nodding his old, grey head. 'Your grandfather,' he told the boy, 'once sat where I am today before God and Her Majesty called him to higher office. What would he have said of his grandson's profligacy?'

Parker cleared his throat. 'He would have been appalled, sir,' he said. Matt Parker remembered his grandfather well. He was a sweet old boy who gave him toys and smelt of incense and old leather. He was too nice to be an Archbishop and certainly too nice to be Master of Corpus Christi. Parker remembered the old man's funeral when he'd stood in that huge cold vault of the cathedral and saw the tears on everyone's cheeks. He'd let the old boy down, that much was certain.

'And yet,' the Master sighed, 'Professor Johns and Dr Lyler tell me that your Dialectics are to die for.'

Harvey snorted. Parker was average at best; how could his colleagues be so easily taken in?

'What a waste.' Norgate stood up. 'Gentlemen.' The guilty three stood to attention once more, gazing steadfastly into the middle distance. 'You were found climbing over The Court wall at two of the clock this morning, worse for drink. Proctor Lomas reports that you, Bromerick, struck him on the head with your fist.'

'Flat of the hand, sir,' Bromerick blurted out, instantly regretting it. 'Flat of the ...' and he stopped short, tucking the offending appendage into the front of his gown, as though to hide the evidence. Shut up, Henry, he heard the little voice inside his head saying. They cut off people's hands in this great country of ours.

'You are all good scholars,' Norgate went on, 'and today you were to have been invested by our college with the degree of Bachelor of Arts.'

Gabriel Harvey smiled. He had not missed Norgate's use of the past tense and fully approved of it. There was, as he'd known all along, a God.

'You know that I could withhold your degrees?' the Master said.

There were assorted mutterings of assent from the three. They were all students of the Dialectic, well versed in the Discourses; the Master's use of the conditional gave them hope. Harvey's lopsided grin was already appearing. Perhaps he'd missed the nuance.

'I shall consider,' Norgate said and the grin vanished. There was a dull metallic clanking from across the quadrangle, from the tower of St Bene't's. 'There's the Chapel bell. Get along with you, now. You will have my decision by twelve of the clock.'

'Sir,' the scholars chorused and made for the door, doffing their caps as they went. Parker stopped at the studded woodwork. 'Sir,' he said, 'I hope it goes without saying that we're very ...'

'Get out!' Harvey roared. And, with a hop and skip to catch up with the others, he did.

The Chapel bell clanged on in the golden morning and scholars crept out from the staircases, fumbling with caps and gowns, colliding with the Fellows whose rooms they shared. In some ways, Corpus Christi was a victim of its own success. The college had never been fuller, but that meant that space was at a premium. Sizars, always cold, hungry and broke, shared lodgings with the Fellows for whom they skivvied and scraped. Only Gabriel Harvey lodged alone, complaining of the smell of the hoi polloi, whose academic potential diminished year by year.

The Master looked down from his eyrie as he had now for more years than he cared to remember. Then he turned back to his second in command. 'Well, Gabriel?'

Harvey got to his feet too. 'Withhold their degrees, Master. Throw the book at them. Damn it, throw every book you've got. Damaging the reputation of the college like that. We'll never live it down.' Norgate was old school. Mentioning the reputation of Corpus was bound to work and Harvey knew it.

But if Harvey was the Devil's advocate, then Norgate was equally good at playing God's. 'A few lads had too much ale,' he said quietly. 'Not a great sin in the scheme of things, Gabriel. You and I have seen far worse things, even here in this university. True, it would have been better if they'd waited until tonight to celebrate. We don't, after all, flog our graduates ...'

'... yet.' Harvey finished the sentence for him. He looked out over The Court as the stragglers disappeared into the Chapel doors, still just in shadow as the morning sun crept over the grass towards the dark interior. His eyes moved upwards and he saw a face in a far window – the liquid eye, the sardonic, unreadable mouth, a look that would outstare the Devil. 'Of course,' he said, not turning away. 'I'd swap all those idiots for the one who's behind it all.'

Norgate followed his gaze. The scholar in the far window bowed and doffed his cap. 'Ah, Christopher Morley.' The old man could never get his name right. 'You've never liked him, have you, Gabriel?'

'No more than I like the pestilence,' Harvey growled. He snatched up his satchel. 'It is, of course, your choice, Master,' he said, with all the cold contempt at his command. 'I must to morning service.'


'Not going to morning service today, Kit?' Professor Johns wanted to know. He wasn't all that much older than Marlowe but he had the grey skin that goes with the intellectual, a man who had long ago decided that his would be a world of books and scholarship and the scratching of quill on calfskin.

'Not today,' Marlowe said. The flash doublet had gone and he wore the grey fustian of a scholar. Across the quad, he saw that bastard Gabriel Harvey scurrying to the Chapel, hatred seeping from every pore. Every time he saw the man, he wondered what he'd done to upset him. What it was in the three years they'd known each other, teacher and pupil, that had made Harvey so detest him.

'One of these days,' Johns said, 'I shall ask you why. Why you go to Chapel so rarely.'

Marlowe turned, smiling. 'One of these days, Professor, I might tell you.'

'Professor?' Johns laughed, his blue eyes twinkling. 'We're very formal today, Dominus Marlowe.'

'Ah.' The scholar held up his hand. 'Not Dominus yet, I fear.'

'This afternoon, though,' Johns said. 'I can be forgiven a little prematurity.'

'Perhaps,' Marlowe said. 'But I shan't take my degree until the lads get theirs.' He looked at the man before him, and decided to speak what was on his mind. 'Tell me, Michael, can you step in with the Master? On behalf of the lads, I mean?'

'The Parker scholars?' Johns resumed his seat by the window. 'You've always been a father figure to them, haven't you?'

'I'm older,' Marlowe said with a shrug. 'It's only natural.'

'No, there's more to it than that. They look up to you. Most of the student body does. What Marlowe does, they do.' He paused, knowing that what Marlowe did was not always a good thing. 'Were you with them last night?' he asked.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Dark Entry by M. J. Trow. Copyright © 2011 M. J. Trow and Maryanne Coleman. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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