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Authors: Michael Jecks

30 - King's Gold (6 page)

BOOK: 30 - King's Gold
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His answer was laughter as men kicked and punched him, and then he was gone. Dolwyn heard his pleas fading into the distance along the passageway and up the stairs. The others in the cell needed no encouragement, and raced out after them. In moments he was alone.

Dolwyn stayed, listening intently, until he was certain they had all gone. Only then did he peer around the open doorway, trembling with excitement. There was nobody in the darkened hallway. Only a pale light at the far end of the corridor, where the door remained open. With his legs stiff and hunger gnawing his belly, he would find it difficult to escape if the gaoler appeared. Grabbing his victim had exhausted him. But up there, perhaps he could find some bread, a lump of cheese or something – and a gulp of clean water or ale. From the sight of the mob, he guessed it was unlikely that the gaoler was still in the prison. He had taken flight – or had been killed.

‘Take me with you!’

At the third door along the corridor, a pale face was staring through the grille at him. Two small fists gripped the bars. It was the boy who had cried so piteously for the last few nights. Dolwyn stood for a long moment, contemplating the lad. Then he went back to his cell and felt around the door. He was sure that the keys must still be here. A great steel ring hung from the lock, with keys strung along it, and he picked it up. The fourth key fitted the boy’s lock, and he turned it, pulling back the two bolts to open the door.

‘Thank you!’ the boy wept, falling through the door as soon as it was opened wide.

Dolwyn pushed the child before him, along the passage and out up the stairs, keeping him in front of all the way.

He had no other defence. If there was danger, this boy would be his shield.


House of Bardi, London

Alured had returned here two days ago to see how bad the damage was, and the sight was chilling.

The door had been broken in, and hung from the lower hinge only. Shards of pottery and splinters of wood lay underfoot. Some were from goblets and mazers, and when he sifted a handful, he saw the gleam of gold. The wood about it was marked with a knife’s blade, and he assumed that here a decorative band of gold had been hacked from a mazer.

It was enough to make a man weep, he thought. This had been a great house, filled with glorious items of beauty, and now the rifflers had been through it like rats through a larder, destroying all they couldn’t eat or carry away.

He entered, carefully stepping over the leaning door. In the passageway was a mess of broken barrels and pottery. Staves poked up like the breastbones of some strange beast, and there was a thick blanket of tapestry that had been dropped in a foul heap. He would have opened it out to view the pictures, but a warning odour of faeces deterred him. Instead he walked into the hall itself. It was a scene of destruction. The rifflers had not known the value of the items they carelessly tossed aside to smash on the ground. Glass crunched beneath his boots as he made his way to the middle of the room and stared about him.

A huge table had been overturned, and one leg wrenched from it, probably to build a fire to destroy the building, but for some reason the rest of the table was intact. Alured assumed that the strength of the timbers had deterred the rifflers. They had gone in search of easier fuel. Chairs had been thrown over, their legs snapped away. Cushions had been disembowelled, while men had pissed and vomited everywhere as a sign of their contempt for those who lived here.

All the doors had been tested, and those that were locked, broken open. If there had been money or gold here, it was gone, he saw as he investigated further into the house. They had enjoyed their time here, obviously, from the smell of sour ale and wine about the place. It was a relief that there were no bodies. By now, they would have grown smelly, he reckoned.

Alured walked from the house and stared at the door. He would have liked to shut up the house before leaving. He tried to lift it, but it was heavy oak and would not budge. He was standing, scratching at his head, his hat in his hand, when he heard steps.

‘What has happened here?’ Dolwyn asked, staring about him with horror in his eyes.

‘The rifflers came to visit,’ Alured said shortly. This fellow had the look of a felon himself, from his filthy clothes and lack of a weapon. He could well be another draw latch come here to try his fortune at a despoiled house. ‘Do you know who used to live here?’

‘I worked for them – the Bardi. My master was the youngest brother, a man called Matteo. But I left him here some days ago . . . Were they all killed?’

‘No, not all.’ Alured eyed Dolwyn with a speculative eye. ‘Where were you?’

‘I was sent away with a message.’

‘Where? In London?’

‘Yes, over towards the River,’ Dolwyn lied. ‘Why?’

Alured looked away. ‘Nothing. There were so many murders that day, and afterwards.’

‘I wasn’t here,’ Dolwyn said firmly. He glanced about the ravaged hall. ‘They did this place well, didn’t they?’

‘This man you worked for,’ Alured said. ‘What did he look like?’

‘A thin man, pale,’ Dolwyn said, and went on to describe his master, including the clothes he had been wearing on the last day Dolwyn saw him.

‘I think you may be in luck,’ Alured said. He had tested the man, and it seemed that he was genuine. ‘Here, help me with this door and we can stop any more pillagers.’

With Dolwyn’s help, they managed to lift the door, the remaining hinge protesting loudly, and lean it against the frame.

‘It will take a good blacksmith to mend those hinges,’ Alured panted. ‘I know a man not far from here can do it.’

‘You said I may be in luck?’ Dolwyn asked cautiously. He had no liking for bailiffs and constables, and feared recapture.

Alured looked him up and down, then nodded to himself. ‘Come with me, friend,’ he said.

Dolwyn did as he was bid, trailing after Alured as the man led him along narrow alleyways and streets until they came to a small house near St Stephen, almost beside the River Walbrook. Here Alured glanced at him again. ‘Seemed safer to bring your master here to my own home than leave him behind,’ he said, half-apologetically, and threw the door wide.

On a low palliasse on the floor near a hearth in the middle of the room lay a pallid, unhealthful figure.

‘Master Matteo!’ Dolwyn exclaimed.

Monday after the Feast of St Martin

Woods near Caerphilly Castle

He had run as soon as it happened, and by a miracle none had seen him.

Thomas Dunheved panted wildly, his eyes staring back the way he had come. There were still occasional screams, the rattle of weapons beating on shields or armour, panicked neighing and whinnying from injured horses as the battle continued elsewhere.

He fell to his knees, a black-clad figure clutching his hands together, and bowed his tonsured head, his words tumbling out like water thundering over rocks, the tears falling and tracking through the grime on his cheeks, until he could speak no more, and instead his throat was clogged with sobs.

Frere Thomas Dunheved, Dominican Friar and Confessor to the King, could not beg for help from God. God Himself had betrayed King Edward. He had allowed His anointed King to be captured by his enemies – how could He have permitted that to happen?

The blackfriar rose to his feet, still weeping. After so many years working to protect and serve his King, reconciling him with the Pope, doing all he might to aid the King’s projects in the hope that by so doing His purpose would be supported, now all was in vain. The King was captured by his enemies.

There was nothing more for him here. If he was found, he could be slain out of hand by those who despised him. No, rather than wait and be caught, he would make his way home. Perhaps there he could find some peace.

For others there would be little enough of that, now that the King was taken.

Second Tuesday after the Feast of St Martin

Approaching Worcester

The prisoner rode like a man who had drunk mandrake, almost in a stupor.

Sergeant Gilbert le Sadler, a cheerful, large–bellied man with the red face of a committed ale-drinker, was worried about him. On this journey, while his lord the Earl of Lancaster saw to business of his own, it fell to Gilbert to take charge of his valuable captive. The sergeant had never been given such an awesome task before. To be responsible for King Edward II of England!

They had many more miles to ride, but from the appearance of the King, he would not manage half the distance. He lolled, swaying with every lurch of the beast beneath him, and several times Gilbert had been convinced that the King would topple from his horse.

‘My lord,’ he said again, ‘would you like to stop and rest a little? I have wine, food . . . Come now, wouldn’t a break do you good?’

The King made no sign that he had heard him. He was still handsome, a tall, strongly-built man with long fair hair that framed his face perfectly. With his prowess in the lists and with his sword, it was easy to see how so many had fallen under his spell.

‘My lord?’ Gilbert tried again.

There was no response. The King was prisoner in his own country, and his manner was pitiable. After the shocks and disasters of the last year it was no surprise he had lost his mind. He had lost everything else.

Gilbert shook his head. He was only a sergeant, when all was said and done. This was the sort of job that should have been given to a lord, not to him. He had his own score of men, but today he was in command of a further hundred, just to guard this King.

‘My lord, soon we shall rest – at the next village where there is an inn suitable for a man of your status,’ he promised.

There was no flicker of emotion on the King’s face. His hollow–eyed stare continued to study something far distant that obviously filled him with horror. Gilbert wondered: did he see his wife in the arms of her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer; or Sir Hugh Le Despenser, his closest companion, writhing and choking as he was hanged, then disembowelled . . . Or did he see his son, the figurehead of those who had come to humiliate him? Gilbert could not tell, but the expression on King Edward’s face was enough to tell him that the man was all too aware of his precarious position.

No matter. Gilbert would safely convey this noble prisoner, to whom he still felt enormous loyalty, to Kenilworth, the Earl of Lancaster’s great stronghold. Once there, King Edward would be passed on to another from the Earl’s entourage, and Gilbert could relax.

He looked at the King again, and his heart was clutched with pity. Gilbert remembered a man who had lost his wife and children in the floods eleven years ago. He had worn the same air of confused distress as this King.

Gilbert had done all he could. Perhaps the kindest thing to do was to get the King to Kenilworth as quickly as possible.

He would be glad for this task to come to an end.

St Benet Fink

The old church was quiet as Alured approached it from the little alley. He came along here often now, as though hoping that something might leap into his imagination as he walked; perhaps some little detail of the alley that might help him discover who had killed the young couple.

It had been a simple task to learn who they were. The dead youth was apprentice to a leatherworker, while his girl was the daughter of a groom. Both families were happy for the two, and hoped that they would marry when they had a little money saved. The groom in particular was devastated to see his daughter killed. He had no other family, since the girl’s mother had died giving birth to her. When Alured saw him at the inquest, the man had fallen in a dead swoon, and it took three men to carry his body to a tavern to recover.

The young couple were only two out of the many who had been killed that day, but there was something about their bodies that had wrenched at Alured’s heart. Others had been attacked by the mob, and their bodies slashed and hacked with abandon as though killed by raving demons; this couple was different, though. They had been slain with precision. One slash to the girl beheaded her, while the boy had two thrusts to his breast. It was as clean as an execution.

The drunk had consumed too much to be able to recall anything in detail, but he was convinced that the murderer was a knight. A middling-years man, with dark hair and a white tunic. He had good Cordova boots, he remembered. From his angle, lying on the ground, that was the most definite thing he could see under the long tunic. Good Cordova leather boots with a red tassel at the top.

That description would match half of the King’s two thousand knights. As for the boots, any man’s tunic would conceal them. Alured had little or no chance of finding the killer among the teaming thousands of London.

He would have to forget the two dead lovers. There were other, more important matters to occupy him.

Reluctantly he turned his steps homeward.

Alured’s house, London

Matteo Bardi woke when Alured returned.

He was still as weak as a puppy. He had recovered from the terrible fever that had nearly killed him – a result of the stab wound in his back – and thanks to the constant care of Alured and his wife, he was feeling much improved. In recent days he had even begun to read one or two messages from other merchants and bankers.

Matteo had become petrified of strangers. It was natural after being attacked by the mob, who hated those of his profession, and it made him want to return home to Florence by the swiftest means. He hated this cold, wet, miserable, uncouth land.

Only one man could he entirely trust. ‘I am glad of your help,’ he said to Alured.

‘It was nothing. I hope someone would do the same for me,’ Alured said gruffly. ‘You were lucky I was near to hand.’

‘Very lucky,’ Dolwyn agreed. He brought a cup of watered wine to his master and passed it to him.

‘I just wish I’d been there earlier,’ Alured added. He told the banker and his henchman about the two youngsters murdered in the nearby alley. ‘Perhaps the same man stabbed you as killed them,’ he wondered, but it didn’t seem likely. They had been so efficiently slain, while Matteo was still alive.

BOOK: 30 - King's Gold
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