The Medievalist

The Medievalist

by Anne-Marie Lacy

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781944728434
Publisher: City Owl Press
Publication date: 10/31/2017
Pages: 298
Sales rank: 1,141,133
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

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CHAPTER 1

JAYNE: AUGUST 24, 2012

I'd been at the dig site since dawn, heart pounding as I watched a big yellow backhoe roar into life and begin eating away layers of modern concrete until it exposed the makeshift grave. By noon, the August heat beating down on the hot asphalt of the Leicester City Council car park had rivers of sweat trickling down my back and armpits. My face must have been crimson, because one of the archeology students I met in the pub last night had mercy on me and handed me an old hat and a damp rag to tie around my neck. I helped bring in some sandwiches for the crew, and when we returned to the grave, two of the older archeologists from the University of Leicester climbed down into the trench and began brushing away the medieval dirt by hand, moving with glacial caution. As the volunteer water girl, I was supposed to hand out Gatorade, and snacks, but most of the time I stood transfixed, as close to the narrow pit as the crowd of scientists and students would allow me. My hands were clasped behind my back so no one would see them shaking. Finally, to the morbid delight of the crowd, the corner of his left hip and a length of thigh were revealed, but darkness started to fall, so one of the crew covered him with a plastic tarp and they stopped the excavation for the night.

I wanted to beg them to bring in some lights and get on with it, for God's sake, but they hurried over to the waiting reporters, leaving me alone beside the trench. The likely discovery of Richard III's lost grave was international news, but they phrased their claims judiciously, since it would take DNA testing to prove for certain that the bones belonged to Richard. But I already knew. Maybe I should have told them that Richard was my ancestor, and I sensed his presence beneath the concrete as soon as I set foot in the car park. But if his bones revealed that he was a hunchback, he'd be labeled ruthless and deadly as well, and capable of the murder of those two innocent boys. If I couldn't be proud of his blood in my veins, at least I would finally know the truth, and maybe the nightmares that had wrecked my sleep since I read Shakespeare's play would finally cease.

I inched closer to Richard's bones. The air from the trench carried a graveyard chill up into the warm August evening, taking my elation at their discovery with it into the twilight. The scientists and the clamoring press had moved away towards the front of the council building, but I could still hear them congratulating themselves, calling him a "find" and a "discovery." Did no one but me see him as a man?

When the soft breeze blew a corner of the tarp loose from its fastening, and left his slender white bones exposed, their nakedness brought tears of shame to my eyes. Tomorrow's headlines would probably be vile: "The King in the Car Park," or whatever tacky phrase the British press concocted, and a warrior, struck down in battle, and thrown in an unmarked grave by his enemies, would be humiliated anew, and there was nothing I could do about it.

So far I'd done a rotten job of proving Richard's innocence, but maybe I could offer him one small service. If I reattached the tarp, at least I could protect him from prying eyes of strangers for one more night.

I glanced again at the crowd of archeologists and my fellow volunteers, all hoping for their fifteen minutes of fame. No one was looking my way. I put my hand on the edge of the narrow chasm, and the smell of dank earth, last disturbed over five hundred years ago, filled my nostrils. I aimed for a safe landing spot before I braved the five-foot drop, but when my feet hit the rocky floor they slipped out from under me, and I landed with my back against the side of the trench, my Nikes only inches from his fragile hip bone. I jerked them back; maybe this hadn't been the best idea after all. I could easily cause more harm than good, and the sides of the pit were pretty steep. How the hell would I get out of here? But first, I had to do what I set out to do. I reached for the plastic edge of the tarp, just as the last ray of sunset revealed the seductive white glint of silver in the sandy rubble that my feet had scraped away. The archeologists hadn't mentioned finding anything beside his bones. A discovery of my own? Whatever it was, it must have belonged to Richard.

I closed my fingers around a hard, thin object, and before I could get a good look at it I felt a dizzying sensation that went straight to my gut. The bile rose in my throat, so I shut my eyes. When I opened them, the grey and brown sides of the trench, along with the fading light of the summer evening, had disappeared.

In their place was the crisp radiance of an early morning sun, shining on a village of canvas tents topped with bright heraldic pennants that snapped in a brisk wind.

Did I hit my head on the way down? I put a hand to my hot forehead, and took a deep breath, but instead of the graveyard scent of the trench, I inhaled the aromas of dew-soaked meadow grass and the dying embers of cook fires.

Men in polished armor, astride massive, caparisoned horses, gathered in a green field just below where I sat. I squeezed my eyes shut again, but when I opened them the knights were still there! One of them stroked the glossy neck of his restless mount before putting his metal-clad foot into the stirrup and swinging into the saddle to join the others as they formed into battle ranks. Another of them carried a banner in his shining mailed fist, and when the wind unfurled it, a white boar gleamed against a field of red and blue: the battle standard of King Richard III. It was as familiar to me as my own name.

I heard the rallying sounds of drums and trumpets, then the spectacle was gone, and I saw only the rocky floor of the trench, and the white gleam of Richard's bones. Panting, I slipped the metal object into the pocket of my jacket.

"Jayne! What are you doing down there? Are you hurt?"

Duncan, the archeology student I met last night at The Green Lion, peered over the edge of the trench.

"I'm fine. I just wanted to get a look at him, but my foot slipped."

"Here, let me help you out of there before one of my professors sees you."

He grinned and held out his hands. He didn't look angry, just drunk with triumph at being part of the greatest find of the decade.

"Want to go grab a pint with us?" he asked, after he assisted my scramble out of the trench and reattached the wayward tarp.

"No thanks, I think I'll head back to my room."

He raised his eyebrows. "You sure you didn't hit your head down there?"

"No, I'm fine. I'm just tired. Not used to getting up before dawn."

I wanted to run away from the dig site, clutching my treasure, but thieves shouldn't call attention to themselves, so I said my goodbyes and forced my pace down to a brisk walk, my sneakers silent on the pavement of the dark Leicester street. I checked my pocket, and through my thin nylon jacket I could feel the hard metal shape of Richard's white boar.

I passed a couple holding hands, headed in the other direction. It was Saturday night, and the pubs were just cranking up in the old part of the city, but tonight I didn't feel the familiar pang of loneliness. I headed straight for the door of my rented room, but my hands trembled so that it took several attempts before I could work the simple lock.

I put the object on the table, next to the chair, which along with the single bed comprised the full inventory of my furniture. I wasn't sure what caused my hallucination in the trench, but my body still trembled at the memory, so I kept the fabric of my jacket between the silver and my flesh. I needed a drink.

I opened a bottle of wine and jumped into the shower to rinse off the sandy grime that permeated the air around the dig. Should I call my mother? No, it was two a.m. in the States, and besides, what would I tell her? That I'd stolen a valuable relic that was technically the property of the British government, and that the dreams of Richard that had plagued me for years were now invading my days as well?

No way. She was worried enough about me already.

The Brits didn't believe in A/C, so my room was like an oven. I threw on a thin cotton nightgown and sat down with my wine to contemplate my prize. While paging through Yale's vast collection of musty history books as I researched the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses for my dissertation, I'd seen dozens of drawings of the white boar Richard adopted as his emblem when he was in his teens, but they didn't prepare me for the beauty of this grotesquely exquisite item. Some long-dead artisan had lovingly rendered every monstrous detail: its coarse hairy hackles were raised and bristling, and its vicious tusks, long and sharp, were curiously untarnished, considering it had lain in the ground for half a millennium. Richard's motto, "Loyalty Binds Me," was inscribed at its feet. The motto his detractors said he repudiated when he killed his nephews and made himself king in their place.

I sipped my wine and looked back down at it, shining preternaturally white in the dim glow of my table lamp. A small ring at the base of its neck must have once held a strap of fabric or leather. I guessed it had long ago succumbed back to dust, like the flesh it had adorned.

Richard's flesh. I shivered in spite of the heat.

I thought of the striking, dark-haired man in the royal portraits, and imagined the boar against the skin of his battle-hardened young body. I put my hand out to touch the metal, but I stopped myself. Tomorrow was August 25th, the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field, and if what I had glimpsed in the trench was the morning of the conflict, that inspiring scene of martial pageantry would quickly transform into a living hell of desperate sweat and bloody leather.

Not a week went by that I didn't dream of his last moments, in tear-stained nightmares filled with the dying screams of the men and the animals, the clank of steel on steel, the thud of steel on bone. Is that what I would see if I touched the boar again with my bare hand?

I'd spent hours with my head down over my laptop, searching for some tidbit that every other historian had missed, some clue that would prove Richard innocent of murder. I'd maxed out my credit cards and put my teaching fellowship at Yale on hold just to be at the dig in case they found his bones, and I couldn't afford the luxury of flying in a day early so that I could adjust to the time change. Jet lag and anticipation must have me half-crazy. But after all my fruitless research, what if I'd accidentally found a way to confront Richard face to face? What if the boar had some magic that would allow me to see him in the flesh? I had to find out.

You can do this, Jayne! I pushed the back of my chair against the wall and planted my feet squarely on the floor before I snatched the silver boar off the table. A jolt traveled up through arm to my stomach, and my head snapped back, and then forward, and for a dizzy moment, it was all I could do not to vomit. I swallowed a mouthful of sour bile and put my hands out beside me. My eyes flew open, but all I saw was darkness. What on Earth had I done?

*
I put my hands out beside me. Damp grass felt cool and slick under my fingers, and the air was a heady brew of sweat and dung, both animal and human, along with a liberal dose of stale wine and greasy wood smoke. Pale smudges dotted the darkness in front of me, and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized I was looking at a cluster of canvas tents, some with torches flickering beside them. I looked up into the night sky, and the constellations were as clear as if I were in a planetarium. The torches burning bravely in their holders were not merely for effect; their light alone kept total blackness at bay.

I heard low, brief exchanges, as if men spoke to each other in passing, along with the soft whinnies and restless stomping of horses somewhere in the darkness. A dog snarled, and let out a bark before a stern male voice silenced it.

One of the tents stood right behind me, so close my ass almost bumped the canvas. The back of my night gown was getting soaked from sitting in the wet grass, so, barely breathing, I eased up into a low crouch. I glanced down, and to my horror, saw the outline of my cold nipples through the thin white cotton. What the hell was I doing out here dressed like this? And where the hell was "here" anyway?

I heard voices coming from the other side of the canvas.

"Mayhap there will be an honorable reason why Stanley failed to heed the summons. And all this bother will be for naught."

"Only if you call greed and self-interest honorable reasons," said another man. He sounded older, and more confident than the first.

There were dry chuckles of laughter, and more voices joined in.

"Shouldn't one of us stay here with you tonight, Your Grace?" said one of them.

"He's right, Your Grace," said another. "I would be glad to stay. I know you've had trouble sleeping of late, after all that's happened these last few weeks." The voice trailed off.

"I know you mean well, and I thank you for it," another man said, his voice a deep baritone, with a rich, musical timber that could have narrated documentaries, or commanded armies. "But if I don't sleep, I can't afford to keep my two best men awake as well. Go on to your beds. If I need you, I'll send for you. I promise."

I sat back down in the cold damp grass, my chest heaving. I heard someone murmuring "my God, my God," realized it was me, and forced myself to shut up. Now I remembered it all: finding the boar in the trench, and the "vision" of an army that I saw when I picked it up. And now I was sure I had at last heard the voice of my ancestor, Richard III.

I tried to will my heartbeat back to its normal pace. The search for Richard's lost grave had been widely publicized, especially around Leicester and the University. Could a group of medieval cosplayers be staging a reenactment of his last battle? That made perfect sense. I took another deep breath. No. I hadn't stumbled on some harmless gathering where the greatest danger lay in drinking too much homemade mead. Even the most intrepid 21st century reenactor would never have tolerated the stench, and besides, I didn't hear music, or laughter, or any other sound of people enjoying themselves. A thrill of fear and excitement ran through my body. Hadn't I secretly wished for this?

I rubbed my hands on my freezing arms and decided to risk standing up. Conversation had resumed inside the tent, and this time I heard a new voice, a precise, clipped tenor. It sounded as if two men spoke at the same time. Were they arguing? No. They were praying.

My heart ached from the eerie beauty of the two dissimilar voices chanting in such perfect unison. Could I be listening to Richard III praying for victory the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field? When the chanting ceased, and the voices in the tent resumed normal patterns of conversation, I closed my eyes and listened for the one that I was convinced belonged to the last English king to die in battle.

I had to find some way to get a glimpse of him. "Deformed and rudely stamp'd" was how Shakespeare described him, and Professor Strickland, my thesis adviser at Yale, insisted he was correct. He was none too happy that I chose to use my dissertation to go against popular opinion and defend Richard from Shakespeare's unjust portrayal.

"You're wasting your time and mine, Jayne," he said. "Richard was the main benefactor of his nephews' death, and the boys went missing while they were in his care. If there was evidence to the contrary, a more experienced historian would have already discovered it."

I should have just told him that it was part of our family lore, that we were descended from the last Plantagenet king. My grandmother, Mimi, told me about it when I was still young enough to revel in the fantastic images the idea spawned in my mind, and it seemed to me that our tiny, struggling family was suddenly increased by a bevy of glittering kings and queens. The other kids in Greenville had brothers and sisters, and fathers, of course. So what if I didn't? I was a descendant of the House of York.

Then I read Shakespeare's wretched play. I wanted to believe the Bard deliberately made a fierce young warrior into a ruthless, hunchbacked monster as a dishonest tactic to sell theater tickets and curry political favor. When Richard's side lost the Battle of Bosworth Field, the Tudor victors rewrote history, and I'd been betting his bones would prove at least part of the accepted account was false. Once the seeds of doubt about Shakespeare's version had been planted, I could tackle the rest of the slander. And just maybe, the nightmares that had disturbed my sleep for years would finally stop.

(Continues…)



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Copyright © 2017 Anne-Marie Lacy.
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The Medievalist 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I found this book to be very entertaining and enjoyable to read. Although its fiction it has historical facts peppered throughout the book. Fiction and non fiction flow together to make it an interesting and fun book
lotus7 More than 1 year ago