Read 30 - King's Gold Online

Authors: Michael Jecks

30 - King's Gold (5 page)

BOOK: 30 - King's Gold
10.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

There was another shout from up at Cornhulle, and then screams and cries for help. Gripping his horn in one hand, his staff in the other, Alured pelted up the road towards the noise.

This was no gang of drunken youths. As he reached Cornhulle, Alured saw a large group over near a big fire outside St Mary Woolchurch, and in the opposite direction there were a few men gathered together too. He recognised two of the men in that smaller band. They weren’t rioters and felons, he knew, and he bent his steps to join them.

‘Hello, Bill,’ he said to a short man with a thick, grizzled beard and bright brown eyes. ‘What’s all this?’

‘Those arses,’ Bill responded, pointing with his chin at the group near the fire.

Alured nodded, but his attention was already on the body lying on the ground behind Bill and the others. ‘Who was he?’

‘Don’t know. The poor follow was already dead when we got here.’

‘You saw him die?’

‘No. I was watching that lot and tripped over his body. See them?’ Bill was a sturdy fellow, Alured knew, but even he was visibly shocked by the violence he had witnessed. ‘I saw them kill three men a while ago – one man on a good horse with a couple of guards riding at his side. No reason: all three dragged from their horses and then beaten on the ground. Kicking and battering at them . . . I saw that and ran back up here, before they had a chance to start on me. I’d guess this poor soul was felled here just before that. They killed him, then went back to their bonfire and attacked the other three.’ He lifted a shaking hand to his eyes.

‘Calm yourself!’ Alured said sharply. ‘Keep your wits about you, Bill.’

He looked back towards the main group of rioters – but it was a mob of drunken men, women and even children – who already had their eye on him, Bill and the others.

Before they came running up the road, Alured went to the body and rolled it over. The clothing was expensive, he saw from the fine wool tunic and linen chemise under the warm, felted cloak. Pulling the hood to one side, he saw a young, somewhat pale–faced man. His eyes were closed, and when Alured prised one open, he saw that they were green. There was blood on his chin and about his mouth, and some trickled from a deep gouge over his right ear. Alured studied the body for other wounds.

‘Stabbed in the back,’ he stated.

‘Yes – and clubbed about the head. Poor devil wouldn’t have stood a chance.’ There was a short cry, and Bill narrowed his eyes. ‘Look!’

Alured went to his side and stared. He could make out a fellow being taunted by the rest of the crowd. Luckily, this fresh target appeared to have distracted them from attacking Alured and Bill.

Hitching up his belt, Alured grunted, ‘Let’s hope there’s someone in among them who’s got a swyving brain,’ and drawing a deep breath, he began to stride towards the mob – but even as he set off, it was too late. The crush of people had begun to cheer as they poured up the road, and then into the back of the Bardi house.

There was no point trying to prevent the mob’s entry. There were too many.

‘Come on, Bill,’ Alured sighed. ‘Let’s get the coroner.’

Just then, there was a noise from up an alleyway – footsteps running – and Alured glanced along it. The alley led to St Benet Fink, he knew, and he threw a quick look over his shoulder at the fire again, before telling Bill, ‘Wait here a moment.’

He darted up the alleyway, his staff in his fist, ready to slam the iron tip into the head of any man who dared obstruct or challenge him, but he reached the first dogleg corner without trouble. And then he saw the two bodies.

The head of the girl was on the ground a matter of feet away, but the lad was still alive, just. Alured touched him, and rolled him over, and the lad’s mouth moved, but he could not speak. Only blood came from his mouth, making his face a ghastly mask.

‘Hold on, boy,’ Alured murmured, but even as he spoke, the dying lad gave a sigh and was still. There came a rattle farther up the alley.

He took his staff and slipped quietly along, his back close to the wall, staff outstretched.

‘You won’t kill me, will you?’

The cackling voice made him jump, and he almost brained the fool. ‘What are you doing there?’


It was a little, wizened old fellow who had the better part of a gallon of ale in him, from the way he belched and grinned, sprawled on the ground at the foot of the wall.

‘How long have you been here?’

Bleary eyes peered up at him. ‘Me? Since I left the Boar’s Head.’

‘Did you see a man come this way a little while ago?’

‘Someone. Yes. A knight, I think. I din’t interrupt him. He was in a hurry.’

‘What did he look like?’

‘Oh, tall. Big.’ His companion smiled. ‘And he had a long tunic. I remember that.’

‘What colour?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Come with me.’ Alured grabbed the old man’s arm and pulled him up. He hauled the fellow along until they came to the two youngsters’ bodies.

‘Oh, God’s cods!’ the man bleated.

‘That’s why you’d best come with me,’ Alured said. He pulled him along the alley until they were back with Bill again.

‘Thanks be to God you’re back. I thought you’d been killed too,’ Bill said nervously, eyeing the drunk without pleasure.

‘There are two more up there,’ Alured said. ‘This man saw their killer. Come on, have you sent for the coroner?’

‘No,’ Bill said.

But the drunk had dropped to his rump by the body. He stared at the man lying there with an expression of curiosity on his old, wrinkled face. ‘Why’s

‘Someone killed him,’ Bill said shortly.

‘But he’s not dead.’

And Matteo Bardi coughed weakly, retched, and closed his eyes from the pain, as he muttered in his native tongue:
‘The King’s Gold . . . He’ll take the King’s Gold . . .’

Christ’s ballocks!’
Bill sprang away as though the man was a ghost.

‘What did he say?’ Alured asked.

‘He’s raving,’ Bill said. ‘He needs a physician.’


Fourth Friday after the Feast of St Michael

Newgate Prison

The mob had taken over the prison. All those accused of supporting the King or his friends were thrown in here, and as Dolwyn was servant to a banker, he too was incarcerated.

Another man had died in the night, Dolwyn saw, glancing at the men huddled in the filth below the long shaft of light. There was a window twenty, thirty feet above them, and the prisoners clung to each other beneath it as though it offered escape. It didn’t.

They had thrown the body to lie in the shadow towards the middle of the room, only a scrap of linen about his groin. All his other clothes were gone. Not that he had been dressed for a night here when he came. Dolwyn remembered thinking that his thin clothing would be no protection against the chill and the foul miasma that pervaded this place. Even those who squeezed together for warmth against the cold and damp suffered. That man wouldn’t be the last to die here.

They would all die soon enough.

The dank cell was fifteen feet square, with curved ceilings like an abbey’s undercroft. Blackened stone glistened in the darkness, running with moisture, and in the gloom the only sound was a constant, maddening dripping. It went on at the same slow rate all through the day and night. If water could tear at a man’s soul, this did.

There were plenty of other noises vying to drown it out, but without success: screams from those demented enough to think their voices could interest the gaoler; the low mumble of the utterly lunatic; the sudden shrieks of a man being beaten by his cell-mate; the sobbing; the pathetic wailing of the boy in a chamber farther along the passageway; the scurrying of rats’ paws . . .

Dolwyn had been in gaol before and the thought of death did not frighten him: rather, it was the manner of death that concerned him.

Hunger and thirst were the two constants of his exixtence here in Newgate Prison, but at least he could slake his thirst with a sip at the brackish, water-soaked walls. It tasted foul from the urine of the men in the chamber above them – but he didn’t care; not now. The hunger was much worse.

Newgate Prison. It was hard to believe that he was in the foulest gaol in London because of a misunderstanding. He had escaped the rope before, only to come to London and be caught in the same predicament!

Only a few feet or yards up there was the sunlight. Out in the world, men lived, laughed, rutted on their women, ate, walked in the open air, free. How many would even give a thought to the poor devils incarcerated, justifiably or not, down here in the cells? All too few.

He could see the gate in his mind’s eye. The great age-blackened timbers, the square stone towers rising up on either side. And beyond the gate:
A short roadway that gave out to the shacks and rough buildings thrown up towards Holeburnstrete
, where those who worked in the city but couldn’t afford a room congregated. These were no great mansions like the houses on the road to Westminster where he’d been caught: these were shabby hovels for workers and beggars, sprawling out on either side of the street all higgledy-piggledy, to the Fleet River and beyond.

And beyond were trees, he remembered. For a while he could almost taste the clean air, and his lungs seemed cleansed of the filth that encompassed this city of fools and fiends.

It was on La Straunde
that he’d been taken, hard by St Clement Danes. The mob was sacking a rich man’s house – someone said it was the Bishop of Exeter’s, but Dolwyn couldn’t give a clipped farthing for that. All he knew was that there were bodies in the street, and behind them, men savaging the building. There were flames in the window, and three men came from the house’s main entrance dragging a huge tapestry. Behind them was a churl with a leather jug, from which he refreshed himself regularly. Catching sight of Dolwyn, he started to point and shout.

In a moment Dolwyn was surrounded by scruffy youths, the raggle-taggle of London’s streets, all of them armed with knives, cleavers and hatchets.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Dolwyn of Guildford.’

‘Well, “Dolwyn”, only spies and traitors come past here.’

‘I am travelling home to Guildford – nothing more.’

‘I think you’re a spy.’

‘No. I’ve nothing to do with this.’

‘You’re spying on us!’

Dolwyn looked at the place. ‘My master is richer than this. You’re welcome to it. I am with the Bardi . . .’ And then he could have cursed his stupidity.

‘You are a Bardi man!’
one of them snarled. ‘A pox on you and your money–lenders!’

The crowd gave an approving growl and edged nearer.

He said, ‘I’m only a servant.’

‘Just a servant, eh? God’s faith! Those usurers helped the old King ’aginst our city,’ the leader said, and spat into the street. ‘King’s gone now, though, and the Bardi won’t be coming back. The city’s ours!’

‘You treat your property with care,’ Dolwyn said, gazing at pillars of smoke rising into the sky.

‘The King’s running like a hare before the dogs. Him and Despenser.’

‘He can rot in hell,’ a voice muttered.

‘I have no business with you, or the King,’ Dolwyn said. ‘I’m just a traveller.’

‘I don’t believe you!’

‘I piss on you,’ he snapped. ‘I tell the truth!’

His words enraged someone, because in a moment he was on his knees, being struck repeatedly over the back with a stick. He endured it for a while, but then seized the stick and thrashed his assailant twice, but before he could climb to his feet, he felt a boot slam into his chin, and then fists and feet kept him down.

And he woke up here in the gaol, along with others the mob disliked.

There was a new noise. He could just hear it over the sobbing of the boy up the way and the constant drip-drip of water: a rumbling and thundering from overhead. There was a shout, and the sound of a door slamming. Rattles of iron, a quick scream, and then a crashing roar, as of the sea breaking on the shore. But he recognised it. It was the steady pounding of many booted feet.

Dolwyn moved away from the door warily, like the deer he had once pursued, until he was concealed inside a hollow in the wall. The group about the shaft stayed still, faces tight with renewed fear.

A party of guards might mean they were to be taken on the short march to Tyburn to dance their last, or perhaps London was on the rampage again. It was common enough in this changing world: there might be a new King, new advisers, a new council - but the mob was the mob.

There was a short cry, then cheering. Suddenly the noise was all around, as men poured into the passage between the cells. Faces appeared at the grille, lit by the fitful orange glare of torches, eyes flashing with disgust and horror as they stared into the cell, some dulled with ale, and all the while there was a cry of some sort, demanding to know where a man was held.

It was ‘Bardi’, he realised. It was plain enough why. No one liked Italian bankers, and now the mob had power in London, they were seeking those whom they most detested. And then he realised: to them,
was the Bardi man! Someone must have told of his capture, and the mob was here to kill him.

In the shaft’s dusty sunlight one prisoner gibbered and drooled, begging piteously as each new face appeared. Another was portly, rich-looking. He stared back at the faces with contempt, sitting uncomfortably like one unused to a stone floor under his buttocks.

Dolwyn pressed himself against the wall, his mind working furiously. The Bardi were the richest bankers in London. And these fellows were after a Bardi. They would expect a wealthy merchant, not him . . . and in an instant he saw a way to save himself. He pointed at the fat man staring resentfully at the door and yelled, ‘Here’s the bastard! He’s in here!’

As a torch was held to the grille, Dolwyn saw the poor soul start. His clothes held something of their past magnificence: rich scarlet woollens and emeralds showed beneath layers of muck. The fellow blenched and made the sign of the cross as keys rattled and bolts shot back, and then the door burst wide, slamming into the wall, and a ragged group rushed inside. Dolwyn had already hauled his cellmate to his feet. The fellow was shivering, but not from cold. He gazed into Dolwyn’s eyes, hoping for pity, his mouth mumbling, but then he was grabbed by a dozen hands and pulled out, appealing for mercy, for compassion.

BOOK: 30 - King's Gold
10.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Sweet Abduction by Sasha Gold
My One And Only by MacKenzie Taylor
The Judas Strain by James Rollins
Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human
Forecast by Keith, Chris
Hero Duty by Jenny Schwartz
Unleashed by Nancy Holder
Lorraine Heath by Texas Splendor