An important discovery puts Roger the Chapman’s life in danger . . . - In the autumn of 1483, Roger goes on an errand of mercy to Hereford, where he is caught up in the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion against the new king, Richard III. Roger takes refuge in Tintern Abbey, but on his return to Bristol, a murder and a series of house robberies lead him to the eventual discovery of the treasure stolen from the abbey on the night he was there. It also means great danger, not only for himself, but a member of his family . . .
About the Author
Kate Sedley, a student of Anglo-Saxon and medieval history, lives in England. She is married and has a son, a daughter, and three grandchildren. "The Saint John's Fern" is the ninth novel in her critically acclaimed series featuring Roger the Chapman.
Read an Excerpt
The Tintern Treasure
By Kate Sedley
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2012 Kate Sedley
All rights reserved.
I would never have been involved in the affair if the handle of Adela's best iron cooking pot hadn't come loose. Or if the travelling tinker hadn't knocked so opportunely at our door the following morning. Or if the said tinker hadn't passed through Hereford some months earlier and performed a similar repair for a certain Goody Harker. On such trivial chances does the course of my life depend. As I frequently observe to myself, it may not be other people's fault, but it's all too often my misfortune.
To begin with, the conversation was all between the tinker and myself. As he settled at our kitchen table to begin mending the damaged pot, he enquired what we both thought of the summer's dramatic events. There was, of course, no need to ask what he was referring to: the bastardizing of the late King Edward IV's children and Parliament's subsequent offer of the crown to his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, thus deposing the boy king, Edward V, had been the talk of every ale-house, of every home, in the country and beyond.
'Folk don't care for it, you know,' the man said as he opened his satchel and took out the tools of his trade, laying them in a neat row in front of him. 'They don't like seeing a child done out of his rights.'
'He hasn't been done out of his rights,' I retorted irritably. 'The late King Edward was already betrothed to Lady Eleanor Butler when he married Elizabeth Woodville. The Bishop of Bath and Wells has testified to the fact and he should know. He officiated at the handfasting. And in the eyes of the Church, a promise to wed is the same as a marriage, so the children are illegitimate.'
'All right! All right!' the tinker said with a grin. 'No offence, I'm sure. Our new king seems to have found a partisan in you, at any rate. And I must admit I liked the look of him, myself.'
'You've seen King Richard?' Adela asked eagerly. Anything to do with royalty always commanded her attention.
'Saw him at Oxford back in July, when he started on his progress up north. Outside Magdalen College, it were. He was being given a right enthusiastic welcome by an old fellow someone told me was the college chancellor, whatever that is. Said he'd founded the place and all. I was close enough to overhear what they were saying.'
'And what were they saying?'
'Dunno. They were talking in Latin. It was all Greek to me.' The tinker guffawed loudly. (I hate people who laugh at their own jokes.) When he found we weren't inclined to share his mirth, he continued hastily, 'Saw him again a few days later, at Gloucester. The king, that is. There was no getting near him that time, though. That other one was there.'
'What other one?' I asked, although I had a good idea.
The tinker raised his head from his task and thought for a moment. 'Some duke or other. They say he was the one what helped King Richard to his throne. But if you'd seen him and the way he was carrying on, the airs and graces he was giving himself, you could've been forgiven for thinking he was the one what was wearing the crown. Such importance! You've never seen the like!'
'The Duke of Buckingham,' I said, recalling uneasily my sight of the duke in King Richard's coronation procession and the same impression I had received of a man growing rapidly too big for his breeches; a man who was perhaps wondering why, as another Plantagenet prince, he hadn't seized power for himself. If I read the situation right, it had been no part of Buckingham's plan to put his cousin on the throne, merely to bolster the duke's position as lord protector and thwart his own wife's family, the Woodvilles, from wielding too much influence. 'Has he accompanied the king on progress?'
The tinker cursed as he dropped a rivet, then shook his head. 'Don't think so. Talk was that His High and Mightiness was going home to his estates in Wales. Brecon way. Taking some prelate who'd been plotting against the king with him, under house arrest. Anyway, that were the story I heard.'
'The Bishop of Ely. The prelate who'd been plotting against King Richard,' I elucidated. 'He was a party to Lord Hastings' plot.'
The tinker eyed me curiously. 'You seem to know a lot about it.'
'Like yourself, only what I hear as I go about my business.' I excused myself hurriedly, and made the mistake of adding, 'I'm a chapman by trade.'
Our guest paused yet again, this time glancing significantly around him. 'Big house for a pedlar and his wife.'
I didn't enlighten him as to how we came by it. It was none of his business. Besides, he'd only have to ask his next customer about us and he would learn more of our affairs than we knew ourselves. Bristol was a hotbed of gossip.
'We have three children,' Adela told him cheerfully, as if this explained everything. My wife then proceeded to add some totally unnecessary detail (if only she hadn't!). 'My son, Nicholas, from my first marriage, when I lived in Hereford, Roger's daughter from his first marriage and our son, Adam.'
'You say you lived in Hereford?' The tinker looked up from boring a fresh hole in the pot to take the new rivet for the handle. 'I was there back in the spring. Or early summer. It's not important. I did a similar job to this for a Goody Harker. Did it for nothing, too,' he added virtuously. 'Poor old soul, she's fallen on hard times.'
'Whereabouts did she live in Hereford?' my wife asked sharply. 'Was it in the Butchery, towards the market end?'
The tinker chewed a thumbnail.
'I rather think it was.' He nodded. 'Yes, now you mention it, I'm certain of it. D'you know her?'
'She and Goodman Harker were very kind to me after Owen, my first husband, died. I lived next to them.'
'Well, if it's the same goody, she's a widow woman now. Husband died a good few years back, she told me, and she's not found things easy since then, I reckon. Fair poverty-stricken, she is – which is why I wouldn't take no payment for mending her pot. There! That's done.' He straightened his back and regarded the mazer of ale I was offering him with a glistening eye.
Adela had her purse at the ready. 'And you must let me pay you for Goody Harker's pot, as well,' she offered before I could stop her. 'You mustn't be out of pocket for an act of kindness. No, no! I insist!' This after the tinker had made a half-hearted – very half-hearted – attempt at refusal.
'You're a fool,' I told her roundly when he had finally departed with two lots of money in his pouch. 'Who is this woman, anyway?'
'I've told you! Well, I told the tinker and I'm sure you were listening. Anne and Goodman Harker were our neighbours in the Butchery. Gerald was indeed a butcher and owned the cottage that Owen and I rented. Things must have gone terribly wrong since he died for Anne to be in such poverty now.'
Adela said no more at the time, but she was very quiet for the rest of the day – when I was at home, that is – and throughout the evening. She was also short-tempered with the children, which was unlike her, but even so, idiot that I was, I failed to see the request coming, and was completely taken aback when it did.
We had finished making love – something Adela had permitted rather than actively encouraged – and I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling and feeling, as always, quite unjustifiably pleased with myself, when a quiet voice beside me asked, 'Would you do something for me, Roger?'
I turned my head on the pillow to smile at her. 'Of course, sweetheart. Anything.'
Rash fool that I was!
Adela snuggled closer and wound me in her embrace. (The serpent in Eden must have been a female.) 'Would you go to Hereford and visit Goody Harker for me? If she's in desperate want, give her some money. We can afford it just at present and I owe her such a lot. You could make it a working trip.'
I was staggered and far from pleased at the suggestion. I had been away in London for most of the summer and had only finally returned home in the early weeks of July. A few days' time would see the end of September, which meant that after a mere two and a half months and with the worst of the year's weather ahead of me, I should be on my travels again.
'You could be home easily before October's out,' Adela wheedled, cuddling even closer. Then, when I remained silent, she withdrew a little and said in a sharper tone, 'You'd do it fast enough if the duke asked it of you.'
'The king,' I corrected her. 'And that's unfair. You can't refuse royalty; at least, not without making things very uncomfortable for yourself.'
'Well ...' Her sense of justice came into play. 'I suppose that's true. All the same' – a shapely leg slid sinuously across one of mine and she nibbled my left earlobe suggestively – 'I don't often ask you for a favour.'
She might, with perfect truth, have said that she had never asked me for a favour in all the six years of our marriage and that I was an ungrateful oaf even to think of refusing her now. But after my near death by drowning and subsequent debilitating illness of the summer, I had been looking forward to a long autumn and winter of comfort and coddling in the bosom of my loved ones.
I was just plucking up my courage to say flatly that I couldn't – and wouldn't – go, when Adela heaved a forlorn sigh and said no, she supposed it was too much to demand of me in the circumstances and that she was deeply ashamed of herself for having even suggested it. It was just that Goody Harker and her husband had been so very kind to her and Nicholas after Owen died that ... And there she let the sentence hang on the breath of another sigh.
Women! They have more tricks up their sleeves than a conjuror! They are the wiliest creatures on God's earth. (But if I'm honest, I suppose I must admit that they have to be. It's their only armour in a world ordered always to the advantage of men.)
Of course, the moment I was offered a way out, a refusal with honour, I was unable to take it. The old, familiar urge for freedom stirred my blood. It was true that I should have to spend the second of October, my thirty-first birthday – a date and age I shared with our new king – away from my family, but other congenial company was certain to be found on the road; plenty of wayfarers like myself who would be more than willing to drink my health in the convivial atmosphere of tavern or ale-house. It might not be what I had planned, and it might be that I was reaching an age when independence was not quite as important as it had once been, but the thought of the open road and being my own man still held its attractions.
'I'll do it,' I said, adding nobly, 'for your sake, sweetheart.'
I had my reward, and this time it was Adela who was the more enthusiastic of the two of us. If the truth be told, I found it a bit of an effort, a fact which worried me considerably and led to something of a sleepless night. Thirty-one might be creeping on towards middle age but it wasn't that old, surely?
In the morning, we decided that I should set out as soon as possible in order to avoid the worst of the autumnal storms, so I fixed my departure for the following day, the last but one day of September. The children were as indifferent as always to my going. Or were they? In recent months they had all three demonstrated resentment and, in one instance, downright hostility, to my absences from home. On this occasion, however, realizing that their mother was actively encouraging my journey and that it was a favour to her, they only repeated their usual demand that I bring them something back.
'Promise!' my daughter Elizabeth demanded.
'Promise!' echoed her half-brother, five-year-old Adam.
My stepson, Nicholas, contented himself with giving me a steely look, but one, nevertheless, that spoke of serious consequences should I forget.
I gave my solemn promise.
It was little more than a fortnight later that I reached Hereford, on Monday, October the thirteenth. I might have covered the distance in less time had I not taken Adela's advice and stopped to sell my wares along the way. For the first week I had done good business and my pack was considerably lighter than when I started. But for the past seven days, the weather had deteriorated with frightening speed, bringing lashing rain and high winds to flood the countryside and uproot trees. By the time my destination came in view late on the Monday morning, I was, in spite of my good weatherproof cloak and hat, soaked to the skin, in a foul temper and cursing myself roundly for being such a fool as to set out on such a lengthy journey at that time of year. Discomfort might not have worried me once, but my recent illness and advancing age made me less and less inclined to endure adverse conditions with any sort of stoicism. As for actively enjoying pitting my strength against the elements, that kind of nonsense had vanished long ago.
Nor was my state of mind in any way improved by the discovery that the object of my journey was in no sort of distress. Goody Harker was living comfortably in her old home, well looked after by kindly neighbours and, far from having been unable to pay the tinker for his services, she had given him more money than he demanded, having been pleased by the speed and dexterity with which he had mended her broken pot.
'He was having you and Adela on, the rogue,' she chortled, after inviting me in to partake of a bowl of her winter pottage and a mug of her home-brewed ale. 'He saw a way of getting double the money out of you,' she added, setting my cloak and hat to dry before the fire burning merrily on the hearth. 'Now, tell me, how is Adela and that dear little son of hers?'
I'm afraid she found me a poor conversationalist, my mind being preoccupied with devising all the worst forms of torture I could think of to inflict upon the tinker should he ever be unfortunate enough to cross my path again. I was furious with the conniving little toad's duplicity, with my own and Adela's gullibility and most of all with having allowed my wife to persuade me into undertaking this journey against my better judgement. But in time, my sense of well-being slowly began to return. The warmth of the little parlour and a bellyful of excellent food gradually did their work and I was able to answer Goody Harker's enquiries with tolerable politeness. However, the arrival, just as I was finishing my meal, of an elderly woman who, it soon became clear to me, was the goody's lodger, made it plain that I should be unable to beg a bed for the night before setting out on my homeward voyage, it having been obvious from the exterior that the cottage boasted no more than two bedchambers. Instead, I asked for the name of a decent inn where I might rest my weary bones.
Both dames having heartily recommended one in Behindthewall Lane, I thanked Goody Harker for her hospitality, donned my still-not-dry hat and cloak and emerged once more to brave the elements. The rain had eased a little, but the clouds piling up in the western sky suggested that there was more to come, so I wasted no time in making my way to the inn – whose name, after all these years, escapes me – and paying for a bed for the night.
The landlord at first eyed my pedlar's pack askance, but the colour of my money put paid to any qualms he might have had about offering me a room. I suspected, too, that the sudden burst of bad weather was making him short of customers because, just before suppertime, another pedlar with his pack, urgently seeking shelter from a further violent storm, was ushered into the room next to mine. I had been standing on the covered courtyard gallery as he arrived and we gave one another a nod of mutual understanding. Then a sudden flurry of hailstones made me descend to the ale-room and the comfort of a sizzling bacon collop served with pease pudding and a mazer of rough red wine.
'That was good.'
The stranger pushed his stool away from the table and rubbed his belly in satisfaction.
It was dark by now and candles had been lit in the ale-room. By the sound of things, the weather had worsened yet again. No locals had ventured out of doors and no other traveller had arrived to disturb the peace of my fellow pedlar and myself.
'You were hungry.' I nodded at the empty plate.
He nodded. 'Aye, I was that.'
'You're from up north,' I said. 'I recognize the accent.'
He grinned assent. 'God's own country. You know those parts?'
'I passed through York on my way up to Scotland with the army last year.' I naturally didn't enlarge upon the circumstances of my journey. 'Your speech is not so thick as some of your countrymen. I couldn't understand a lot of 'em.'
My companion laughed as we drew our stools closer to the old-fashioned central hearth and settled down to a steady drinking session, the considerate landlord having left a full jug of ale on the table behind us.
'Your own accent is none so easy to follow,' he complained, then held out his free hand. 'Name of Oliver Tockney,' he said. 'What's yours?'
I returned his clasp warmly. 'As a child I was known as Roger Stonecarver or Carverson. It was my father's trade. But nowadays everyone calls me Roger Chapman and it's the name I answer to in general.'
Excerpted from The Tintern Treasure by Kate Sedley. Copyright © 2012 Kate Sedley. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
English history with a mystery twist at it's best! As always Roger Chapman and Richard now newly crowned king of England entwine their fate. Kate Sedley surprises with every outing just when I think the series cannot be surpassed.