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Authors: Margaret Frazer

A Play of Isaac

BOOK: A Play of Isaac
Table of Contents
The Middle Ages Come to Life . . . To Bring Us Murder. Praise for The Dame Frevisse Medieval Mystery Series By Two-Time Edgar Award Nominee Margaret Frazer
“An exceptionally strong series . . . full of the richness of the fifteenth century, handled with the care it deserves.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
The Bastard’s Tale
Dame Frevisse is drawn into the world of political intrigue . . .
“Anyone who values high historical drama will feel amply rewarded by Edgar-nominee Frazer’s latest Dame Frevisse mystery . . . Of note is the poignant and amusing relationship between Joliffe and Dame Frevisse. History fans will relish every minute they spend with the characters in this powerfully created medieval world. Prose that at times verges on the poetic.”—
Publishers Weekly
“Frazer executes her exercise—inserting Frevisse into a dramatic episode in 15th-century history—with audacity and ingenuity.”—
Kirkus Reviews
The Clerk’s Tale
Dame Frevisse must find justice for the murder of an unjust man . . .
“As usual, Frazer vividly recreates the medieval world through meticulous historical detail [and] remarkable scholarship. . . .History aficionados will delight and fans will rejoice that the devout yet human Dame Frevisse is back . . . a dramatic and surprising conclusion.”—
Publishers Weekly
The Novice’s Tale
Among the nuns at St. Frideswides’s were piety, peace, and a little vial of poison . . .
“Frazer uses her extensive knowledge of the period to create an unusual plot . . . appealing characters and crisp writing.”

Los Angeles Times
The Servant’s Tale
A troupe of actors at a nunnery is a harbinger of merriment—or murder . . .
“A good mystery . . . excellently drawn . . . very authentic . . . the essence of a truly historical story is that the people should feel and believe according to their times. Margaret Frazer has accomplished this extraordinarily well.”—Anne Perry
The Outlaw’s Tale
Dame Frevisse meets a long-lost blood relative —but the blood may be on his hands . . .
“A tale well told, filled with intrigue and spiced with romance and rogues.”—
School Library Journal
The Bishop’s Tale
The murder of a mourner means another funeral, and possibly more . . .
“Some truly shocking scenes and psychological twists.”

Mystery Loves Company
The Boy’s Tale
Two young boys seek refuge at St. Frideswide’s —but there is no sanctuary from murder . . .
“This fast-paced historical mystery comes complete with a surprise ending—one that will hopefully lead to another ‘Tale’ of mystery and intrigue.”—
Affaire de Coeur
The Murderer’s Tale
Dame Frevisse’s respite at Minster Lovell turns deadly when murder drops in . . .
“The period detail is lavish, and the characters are full-blooded.” —
Minneapolis Star Tribune
The Prioress’ Tale
When the prioress lets her family stay at St. Frideswide’s, the consequences are deadly . . .
“Will delight history buffs and mystery fans alike.”
—Murder Ink
The Maiden’s Tale
In London for a visit, Frevisse finds that her wealthy cousin may have a deadly secret . . .
“Great fun for all lovers of history with their mystery.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
The Reeve’s Tale
Acting as village steward, Frevisse must tend to the sick —and track down a killer . . .
“A brilliantly realized vision of a typical medieval English village . . . Suspenseful from start to surprising conclusion . . . another gem.”
—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
The Squire’s Tale
Dame Frevisse learns that even love can spawn anger, greed, and murder . . .
“Written with the graceful rhythms that have garnered her two Edgar nominations . . . [Frazer] transports the reader to a medieval England made vivid and a world of emotions as familiar then as now.”
—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
“Meticulous detail that speaks of trustworthy scholarship and a sympathetic imagination.”
—The New York Times
“As exquisitely woven as a medieval tapestry . . . dazzling.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Berkley Prime Crime Books by Margaret Frazer
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / August 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Gail Frazer.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet
or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal
and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic
editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of
copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
Visit our website at
eISBN: 9781101378618
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published
by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For Don Wooten and the Genesius Guild, without whom, none.
Chapter 1
The summer day that had promised so fair at its beginning with a primrose sky banded by cream-colored clouds above the sunrise had kept its promise through to a warm, clear afternoon this June day in the year of Our Lord’s grace 1434. The good citizens—and others—of Oxford had come out from their dinners after Trinity Sunday Mass ready for sport of some kind, and for those who wanted something less bloody than the bear-baiting on Gloucester Green or less brutal than the half-barrel-boating fight on the Isis beyond Greyfriars, the company of players had been more than ready to oblige them with
The Steward and the Devil
in the innyard of the Arrow and Hind.
All in all, the play had gone out of the ordinary well, the innyard both crowded full of folk and full of laughter at it, and at its end Master Norton—the innkeeper and sharp as his kind proverbially were—had had his imposing bulk and two of his servants waiting at both the yard’s gateway and the tavern door with baskets out-held to collect the audience’s gratitude in coin on their way out.
Thomas Basset, playmaster and equally sharp, as
kind had to be, had thrown his Old Woman’s wimple, veil, and gown into a heap on the nearest basket in the changing room and been at the gateway on the last of the audience’s heels, to help Master Norton with the counting out of what they’d taken in, lest temptation and sticking fingers make problems where there need not be. Left behind, the rest of the players—all three of them—were undressing more slowly, seen to by Rose who had no part in their acting but tended to nearly everything else that needed doing to keep their company together. Just now she was sighing at Piers—her son and the small demon who had come leaping and chortling onto the stage at the play’s end to join the Devil in harrowing the Steward’s soul off to Hell—as she helped him off with his tail and horns, telling him, “You’ve ripped your tunic out under both arms again and I don’t see how I’m going to mend it this time.”
Joliffe, unbuttoning his doublet with care to lose none of the buttons, said, “I told you we should stop feeding him. If he isn’t fed, he won’t grow, and we’d save not only the cost of the food but the cost of having to re-clothe him all the time.”
“It’s you we shouldn’t bother feeding,” Ellis said from the depths of the fine linen shirt he was pulling off over his head. As the Steward, he had been garbed in their best-seeming shirt (at least the parts that showed were holeless) and doublet (the mended rend that had brought its first owner to sell it cheap did not much show so long as its wearer never fully turned his back to the lookers-on) and gaudy-dyed long-pointed leather shoes (never worn an instant longer than necessary once off stage, to keep them unworn out). Emerging from the shirt, bare to his waist and hosen, his dark hair as near to on end as its curls would allow, Ellis grinned at Joliffe and added, “Think of how little we’d have to listen to you if you didn’t have the strength to talk.”
“Just feed me a crust before we have to perform, to see me through, and leave me to starve the rest of the time?” Joliffe suggested.
“The thought has possibilities.”
Joliffe laughed. Given the chance, he and Ellis could jibe at each other by the hour, but they had all had a hard push to reach Oxford by last night after the cart decided to crack a wheel outside of Witney. Then they had spent the morning putting up the scaffold and stagecloth in the innyard and crying their performance through Oxford before doing the play itself so for just now jibing at Ellis was too much effort and Joliffe let it go, laying his folded doublet aside for Rose to put away, because she’d snap at him if he tried to do it himself. As the Devil, he’d worn the company’s high-necked, hip-short scarlet doublet, hardly long enough to keep the coiled tail hidden until the play’s end, and a high black hat that concealed his devil’s horns wire-held to his head and unseen until he whipped off the hat when he claimed the Steward’s soul for his own at the play’s end. The shirt worn under it all was his own, and stripped down to that and his own hosen and shoes, he was done undressing and sat down on the closed lid of one of the sturdy-woven wicker baskets while he coiled the devil’s tail back into its bag.
He was tying the bag closed and yawning, wondering what his chance of a nap was—there was still the scaffold and stagecloth to take down—when someone shadowed the doorway to the innyard. He and Ellis, Rose and Piers stopped what they were doing and looked toward it on the instant, ready to be alarmed, because if Basset were back this soon it meant the day’s take had been too small to need much counting and that would be very much to the bad—they hoped for today’s coins to see them through to Thursday’s Corpus Christi play so they could save up whatever they made between now and then to see them out of Oxford and on their way to wherever next they played. That would let them keep their Corpus Christi payment from St. Michael’s church as cushion against whatever ill-paid stretches were sure to come later. Since last winter’s stretch of bad luck that had stranded them for a time in remote St. Frideswide’s nunnery where only a nun’s help—Dame Frevisse still figured in Rose’s prayers—had saved them from worse trouble, they had been living on a thinner edge of flat-out poverty than usual. A good take today would make the coming months more sure than the past half-year had been.
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