From the marshy Thames to the misty Yorkshire moors, murder stalks Welsh soldier-sleuth Owen Archer and one of his oldest friends.
On a snowy morning in 1367, Sir William of Wyndesore’s page is found in the icy moat of Windsor Castle, and some whisper that the murderer was Ned Townleya former comrade-in-arms of Owen Archer. Burdened with a reputation as a notoriously jealous lover, Ned cannot hope to clear his name; even Mary, his ladylove, is unsure of the truth. Hoping to put Ned out of harm’s way while solving the murder, Owen places his friend in charge of a mission to Rievaulx Abbey at the edge of the moors. But when the travelers receive news of Mary’s drowning, Ned vanishes into the wild.
Riding out in search of his old friend, Owen does not know whether he will be Ned’s savior or executioner. With his one good eye, Owen sees more than most, but now he must find a way to penetrate the curtains of power that surround the Church and England’s royal court and discover the truth of Ned’s innocence or guilt...
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About the Author
Candace M. Robb, author of The Apothecary Rose, The Lady Chapel, The Nun's Tale, The King's Bishop, and A Gift of Sanctuary, lives with her family in Seattle, Washington, and makes frequent trips to England to research her novels. She teaches a mystery writing class at the University of Washington.
Read an Excerpt
A Body in the Moat
Windsor Castle, March 1367
St George's Hall was aglow with torches and lamps, creating a firmament of stars in the glazed windows lining the far wall. The voices of the King's courtiers rang in counterpoint to the music, their silks rustled as their feet caught the rhythm. There was an exuberance of aromas — roasted boar, exotic spices, delicately scented hair and clothing, melting beeswax, smoke, sweat, and now and then icy air as revellers slipped out to relieve their wine-bloated bladders in the privies.
A latecomer impatiently pushed aside a stumbling lord, then paused as his senses, having adjusted to the dark silence of the snowfall outside in the upper ward, were now ambushed by the noise, the heat, and the smoky glare of the torches that made him cough and blink. As he shook the snow from his brown hair, Ned Townley searched the faces at the long tables near the door, where the pages and lesser officials huddled over their food. He was looking for a young face that had become all too familiar of late. A face seen too often bent towards Mary, Ned's betrothed.
He should not have left it so long. But the signs of Mary's turmoil had been subtle. Frowns shrugged off as nothing, a distracted air, unexplained tears. By the time Ned had suspected and had begun spying on Mary she had reached a level of comfortable intimacy with Daniel, a page in Sir William of Wyndesore's household, that Ned had taken months to achieve. Not that he had caught them embracing; Mary was too loyal to let it come to that without confessing all to Ned. He could see that Mary was aware of her shifting loyalties and tormented by guilt.
But he had no intention of losing Mary. His rival was a mere page, recently come to court from Dublin. What could the pup know of love? Ned had sampled women's charms in many lands and knew that Mary was the one God meant for him. How serious could the lad's affections be? Ned judged it would take little to frighten him off. Some sharp words, veiled threats, no more than that.
As he caught sight of Daniel, Ned felt a twinge of doubt about his suspicions. In contrast to the retainers surrounding him, the page looked a pale, delicate creature. What woman would lose her heart to such a lad? Was it possible Ned exaggerated the lad's threat to his happiness? But it was no time to weaken. Ned must do what he could to ensure his happy future with Mary.
He squared his shoulders, put on a threatening visage. Had his old comrades in arms been beside him tonight they would have laughed and slapped him on the back, calling him a fool for love. But behind the teasing façades, Owen and Lief would have understood; they were equally besotted with the women they had coaxed to the church door.
Ned had not reckoned with the solidarity of Wyndesore's men.
Daniel stared at his feet, his head and shoulders weighted down by remorse. He wished he were anywhere but here.
The page's grief centred on the tall, handsome man who had faced Sir William's retainers with disdain. "I am not such a fool as to attack a man in full view of his fellows! And a lad at that." But the retainers had been ordered to protect their lord's page and they meant to do so.
Glancing up, Daniel saw that the comely face of his accuser was red with indignation, his elegant clothes dishevelled by the men's rough handling. Daniel wished it were he being escorted from the hall, not Ned Townley. Daniel admired Townley. He was all the page might wish to be. He was a spy for the King's powerful third son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He was a proven warrior, renowned for his skill with daggers. Yet he was no oafish brute — not like Sir William's retainers; Townley was a courtier in dress, manner, speech. And with his gentle brown eyes and perfectly proportioned face and form, Daniel thought him the most handsome man he had ever seen. He would never have knowingly angered the man.
But moments ago Townley had informed Daniel of his inadvertent transgression. The warning had been delivered with an energy that had startled Daniel. Townley had grabbed him by the neck of his tunic, lifting him off his feet. "I will pin you to the tapestries if you persist in your attentions to my betrothed."
"Your betrothed?" Daniel had squeaked.
"Mary. Mistress Perrers's maid."
"No! I pray you!" Daniel had cried, hoping to be lowered to the floor so he might explain that his feelings for Mary were fraternal, nothing more. But his exclamation had drawn the attention of Sir William's bullies, who now led Townley from the hall.
"He'll bother you no more, Daniel. Rest easy," Scoggins said, filling the lad's tankard with ale.
Daniel lifted his tankard towards Scoggins and nodded, then both drank. It was the gesture Scoggins wanted, and so Daniel made it. But he was hardly grateful. If Scoggins had minded his own business, Townley would have pounded the table a few times while he threatened to tack Daniel to the rafters with his daggers, then he would have stomped off into the night, satisfied that he'd put the fear of the Lord in Daniel. And come morning, it would have been plain to Townley that Daniel had understood and meant to stay away from Mary, and all would have been forgiven and forgotten. But Scoggins obviously felt honour-bound to protect his lord's page.
In faith, Ned Townley had every right to be angry. Daniel had been foolish; he could see how his attentions to Mary had been misinterpreted. He had not known that Townley was the Ned Mary spoke of incessantly. Not once had she mentioned that her love was Lancaster's spy. Not once had she spoken of his remarkable skill with daggers. He had just been Ned, "beautiful Ned", "gentle Ned", "tender Ned", "tall, strong, dashing Ned". A mythical being. Not the Duke of Lancaster's spy.
Daniel drank down his ale, pushed his tankard aside, listened half-heartedly to the conversations round him, all about how his lord, Sir William of Wyndesore, had met with the King that day. It was said Sir William had boldly blamed the troubles in Ireland on the Duke of Clarence's poor judgement. Some said the King was angered; Sir William was to be banished to the Scottish border. Others said the King knew his son Lionel, Duke of Clarence could not be trusted; Sir William was to be promoted to a Marcher Lord and sent to protect the Scottish border.
Daniel pricked up his ears. Punishment or reward, what everyone agreed upon was the likelihood of marching north to the border country. His mood lifted. That meant they would soon be far away from Windsor Castle and his humiliation. He absentmindedly reached for his tankard, remembered he'd drained it, found it full again. Had he imagined he'd downed the contents? No matter, he took a long drink. His head was beginning to hurt, so he took another long drink. And another. Then someone filled it up, laughing at Daniel's slurred protests.
"Come on, lad, drink up. Scoggins saved your hide. Drink to him."
Daniel remembered the snow that had begun to fall before the evening meal. It was a long, treacherous walk from the hall to Sir William's quarters. Already he dreaded trying to stand. How would he navigate through the snow?
"Lift it, lad, drink it down!" A face floated in front of Daniel's eyes, but he was so far gone he could not tell who it was. He blinked to focus. How many times had they filled his cup? He shook his head to clear it, felt the bile rise in his stomach. Oh Lord, he was going to embarrass himself yet again this night. He was cursed, that was certain.
Though it was March, the harsh winter persisted. Brother Michaelo found last night's snowfall lovely to behold at this early hour, while the pristine white lay undisturbed on the mounds and ledges within the walls of Windsor Castle, but underfoot the snow made the rutted mud treacherous. He stepped cautiously, his entire body bent forward, focusing on his boots and the hem of his habit. He intended to reach Archbishop Thoresby's chambers dry and presentable.
Not that it mattered; Michaelo would not be mingling with courtiers today. He would be hunched over a writing desk preparing letters from the Archbishop to the abbots of Fountains and Rievaulx, letters recommending William of Wykeham to the see of Winchester. A depressing task, for if the King succeeded in having the appointment confirmed, Wykeham would be poised to replace Archbishop Thoresby as Lord Chancellor. A dreary thought. Not that it was not an honour to be secretary to the Archbishop of York; but an archbishop was not so London-bound as the chancellor. Michaelo sighed at the prospect of more time in York. He preferred Thoresby in his dual role. If winter seemed endless here, it was far worse up north. His only hope of salvation from such a bleak future was that despite letters enthusiastically recommending Wykeham for the bishopric the Pope would stand firm in his determination to make Wykeham the first casualty in his war against pluralism. Pope Urban believed that the practice of conferring on clergy multiple benefices resulted in neglected parishes and pampered clergy who paid more heed to their debts to their benefactors than to their responsibilities to their flocks. His Holiness referred to William of Wykeham as the richest pluralist in England. Which was apparently quite true.
A shout from below the Round Tower startled Michaelo from his thoughts; he straightened suddenly, tottered, regained his balance. Three men at arms ran towards the commotion. The man who had called the alarm stood over the ditch that bordered the motte on which the tower squatted. The snow that blanketed the steep slope was scarred as if something had slid from the top. Curiosity propelled Michaelo closer.
When he was but ten feet from what was now a small crowd, Michaelo saw three men lifting a body from the ditch. The lifeless form dripped ice, water and filth. The heavy rains had filled the ditch, making it a shallow moat, and the freeze had crusted it with ice. Poor soul must have slid into the freezing water and drowned in a cold stupor before he got his wits about him to crawl out. But how had he come to be on the slope?
One of the men lifted what looked like a cloak from the mud, sniffed it, handed it to his companion. "Smell this, would you."
His companion sniffed, recoiled. "Phew! Better in the tankard than soaked into the wool. What did the lad do, dive into the barrel?"
"Drank a bellyful and thought he'd try sledding, I'd wager."
Ah. Now Michaelo understood the scar in the snow. Sledding down the motte, unable to stop — a scenario many a mother had rehearsed with her wayward children in the past months, warning them of the danger. "Who is he?" Michaelo called out.
"Daniel. The page of Sir William of Wyndesore."
"Are you certain?" Michaelo knew Daniel. A sweet-faced, gentle lad.
"Looks like Daniel to me," the man said.
Michaelo pressed closer still, cutting across the mud without a thought now for his boots. The lad lay on the ground, eyes opened wide, his hair caked with mud, his arms outspread. As Michaelo squatted beside the body to lift the stiff hair from the face, he noticed something that did not belong on a drowned man: red welts on the wrists, just visible beneath the sleeves of the lad's tunic. Michaelo wanted to push up a sleeve for a better look, but he resisted. He brushed back the hair, gently closed the lad's eyelids.
"So? Is it Daniel?" The man held the cloak at arm's length.
Michaelo straightened up, made the sign of the cross over the body. "Yes. Yes, poor lad." He hurried away without a word about Daniel's wrists. Better mentioned to someone he could trust.
Sir William of Wyndesore instructed his servants to leave the lad's body covered and to keep away the curious. Then he went out to speak with his men. He cursed under his breath as pale winter sunlight burned his eyes and a chill wind wrapped icy fingers round his bones. Wyndesore was a tough, seasoned campaigner, powerfully built; but he was no longer young, he had awakened with a head that felt several times its normal size thanks to some fine brandywine last night, and that awakening had been sudden and unpleasant, his servants distraught at the news of Daniel's drowning. His men were assembled in the outer ward, some hopping from foot to foot trying to get warm, some dabbing their eyes, but many frowning fiercely and demanding Ned Townley.
"Who?" Wyndesore asked his squire.
Alan leaned close. "Ned Townley. He is Lancaster's spy, left here to be the Duke's ears while he's fighting in Castile, so they say."
"Do they now? So what's his sin, besides being Lancaster's spy?"
"I know not. But I saw Scoggins with him last night."
Wyndesore straightened up, squinted out at his men, picked out Scoggins scowling with the best of them. "Well, Scoggins, what has this Townley done?"
"He's murdered Daniel, that's what he's done, my lord." The men muttered their approval of Scoggins's explanation, their combined voices echoing against the stone walls surrounding them.
"You witnessed him doing this, did you?"
Scoggins spat in the mud, shook his head. "Nay, my lord. But I saw the two of 'em last night arguing over one of Mistress Perrers's maids, that little Mary. And Townley told Daniel he'd pin him to the wall with his daggers if he found him round Mary again. That's what he said, and that I can swear to, my lord. I called some men to escort him from the hall. He must've come back, waited for the lad without." Wyndesore closed his eyes. "And was Daniel stabbed?" Scoggins was a gossip and troublemaker, but a good fighter, and loyal. Fiercely loyal. "Eh, Scoggins?" The man shrugged. "I did not see the body, my lord."
Wyndesore looked round. "Who did? Who found him?"
"One of the King's guards," Alan whispered. "But Bardolph and Crofter helped drag him from the ditch."
A fair, square-jawed man stepped forward. "I saw no stab wounds, my lord. The lad drowned, no doubt of that."
Wyndesore nodded. "Then enough of this nonsense about Townley."
Crofter shook his head. "Who's to say Townley didn't change his mind and make it look like an accident, my lord? Who's to say?" His tone was matter-of-fact, not argumentative.
Wyndesore scowled. "Stick to the facts, Crofter."
Crofter bobbed his head in good-humoured deference. "He drowned, my lord."
But Crofter was not finished. "If it please you, my lord. His cloak reeked of ale. He must have spilled it all over himself. I suppose he might have been too drunk to judge what he was doing, my lord."
Wyndesore turned to Scoggins. "Was Daniel drunk when he left the hall?"
Scoggins shrugged, looked down at his boots. "A bit, my lord."
"He was not accustomed to much drink, Scoggins. Did you encourage this?"
Scoggins faced his lord. "I did, my lord, and for that I shall do much penance."
"So you were drinking, too?"
"Aye, my lord."
"Did someone offer to help young Daniel back to his bed?"
"I did not see him leave, my lord."
"Too drunk by then?"
"Aye, my lord."
Wyndesore shielded his eyes against the sunlight as he looked back out at his men. "Go about your morning duties. You will have a chance to pray for Daniel at mass tomorrow morning." He turned on his heels and marched back inside, shouting for Alan to go wake Mistress Alice Perrers.
"And Ned Townley, my lord?"
"First Mistress Alice, damn you!"
Alan hurried away.
John Thoresby paced in his chamber waiting for his secretary. Michaelo's tardiness was particularly irritating this morning. Thoresby had decided how to reconcile the King's request with his own interests and he wished to complete the task. Where was his secretary? Admiring himself in his mirror?
When at last Michaelo arrived he was breathless, his face was flushed, and much to Thoresby's surprise the hem of his habit was soggy.
"Where have you been?"
"Your Grace, there has been a terrible —" Michaelo shook his head, sat down at the writing desk, and dabbed his face with a cloth, closed his eyes, took a deep breath.
"A terrible what, Michaelo? You are all atremble."
His secretary nodded, blotted his upper lip.
"Forgive me, Your Grace. I wished to catch my breath." Michaelo shook his head. "It is the marks, Your Grace. And his cloak. He was floating in the moat, not an ale-cask. How does one spill so much ale as to soak an entire cloak? Even stranger, why wear a cloak while drinking?" Michaelo bowed his head, pressed the cloth to one temple, then the other.
The Archbishop studied his uncharacteristically dishevelled, babbling secretary. "Have you overindulged this morning? One of your headaches?"
Michaelo raised his head slowly, frowned up at Thoresby as if puzzled. "No, Your Grace. I was making my way here when they discovered him and pulled him from the ditch."
"Who was pulled from what ditch?"
"Did I not say? I pray you forgive me, Your Grace. It was Daniel. Sir William of Wyndesore's page. Down below the Round Tower. Drowned, Your Grace. Or worse."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The King's Bishop"
Copyright © 1996 Candace Robb.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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