Authors: Alys Clare
Table of Contents
FORTUNE LIKE THE MOON
ASHES OF THE ELEMENTS
THE TAVERN IN THE MORNING
THE ENCHANTER'S FOREST
THE PATHS OF THE AIR *
THE JOYS OF MY LIFE *
THE ROSE OF THE WORLD *
THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE *
OUT OF THE DAWN LIGHT *
MIST OVER THE WATER *
MUSIC OF THE DISTANT STARS *
THE WAY BETWEEN THE WORLDS *
LAND OF THE SILVER DRAGON *
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
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eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2013 by Alys Clare.
“The right of Alys Clare to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.”
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Land of the silver dragon. â (An Aelf Fen mystery ; 5) 1. Lassair (Fictitious character)âFiction. 2. Fens, The (England)âFiction. 3. Great BritainâHistoryâNorman period, 1066-1154âFiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8276-9 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-422-5 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-482-0 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Mr and Mrs David Skinner,
my lovely son and daughter-in-law,
with very much love
murder seems a hundred times more shocking when you know the victim. It seems to make the danger personal.
It is an exaggeration to say I
Utta of Icklingham: more accurately, I knew who she was. She was my sister Goda's mother-in-law, and, although one should not speak ill of the dead, by common consent she was a shrew of a woman and no great loss.
Word of the drama first reached us in Aelf Fen via the peddler who regularly wheels his barrow from village to village. Icklingham is about six miles away, and by the time he reached us, the peddler had already told his tale to several groups of wide-eyed people in the hamlets and settlements dotted along his route.
âThey say a great, fair, red-bearded giant of a feller burst into the house,' the peddler announced, gazing round at his audience with a face twisted into a rictus of horror. âAnd, lacking a single drop of Christian charity in his stone of a heart, he set about breaking every pot and every stool, chair, bed and board in the place!' Peddlers, I have observed, tend towards the dramatic when they tell a tale. âNot that they had much,' this particular peddler added prosaically. âIt was a poor sort of a household.'
âWhat about the murder?' a voice yelled from the back of the crowd, which had grown sizeable by now. I wasn't the only one to spin round and glare at the speaker â it was the old washerwoman, Berta â since her remark had been singularly heartless and spoken with detectable relish.
âI'm coming to that!' the peddler yelled back. âSeems like the poor, pitiful victim came home unexpected-like and surprised him, and he hit her on the head with whatever he had in his hand. Must have been something big, hard and heavy,' he added thoughtfully, âgiven the mess it made of the poor old girl. Skull driven in like an eggshell, blood and brains all over the place, andâ'
âEnough,' came a quiet, firm and very authoritative voice. It was my aunt Edild's, and she, as a very fine healer, is held in respect by almost all in the village.
The peddler subsided, although not entirely. He went on muttering to those crowding most closely around him, and suddenly we heard the name of the victim, hissed and whispered from person to person like the wind in the rushes:
Utta, Utta of Icklingham, it's old Utta who's been killed!
My mother, who had quietly come to stand beside me, paled visibly. What on earth was wrong? I put out my hands to her, for I thought she might be about to faint, but she threw me off. Shouldering her way into the knot of people (my mother is a big woman, and there were several muttered curses and cries of
as she trod on toes and dug her elbows into tender ribs) she thrust a path through to the peddler.
âIs anyone else hurt?' she demanded. She gave him a shake â he's a runt of a fellow, certainly no match for my mother â and even from where I stood I heard his teeth rattle. â
' my mother yelled.
It was then that I remembered who Utta of Icklingham was. With the horrible feeling that someone had put ice down my back, I understood why my mother was so distressed.
another person hurt, yes,' the peddler said, trying to wrestle himself out of my mother's grip and regain some semblance of virility in the face of this fury of a woman towering over him. âBig, fat, bad-tempered lass as is married to Utta's lad Cerdic. Sheâ'
My mother did not wait to hear the details. She didn't even pause to reprimand the peddler for his description of Goda (which I reckoned was in fact pretty accurate). She spun round, strode back through the crowd and grabbed me.
âWhere's Edild?' she demanded, looking round wildly. âShe must go, straight away, and she's got toâ'
âI'm here, Essa,' my aunt said calmly. She took my mother's hand, gently stroking it. Edild is very fond of her sister-in-law.
âEdild, Goda's hurt, she's been attacked, and you must go to her straight away. Youâ'
âLassair will go,' my aunt announced. âI am in the middle of a very busy day attending to our own sick and wounded, and I cannot leave them. Lassair is fully competent,' she added. Turning to me, she said, âYou have your satchel with you, I see.' Indeed I did; when the peddler arrived, I'd been about to set out to visit an outlying dwelling where I was to dress the infected toenail of an elderly man. âHave you everything you might need?'
I ran through a mental list. Bandages, ointments to stop blood flow and to knit bones, lavender wash to remove dirt; gut and fine needles for stitching large wounds.
Oh, but this was my sister I was preparing to treat! The realization brought me up short. I was not, admittedly, very fond of Goda, and it had been an enormous relief when she'd left home to wed Cerdic, but nevertheless she was my own flesh and blood. I might not like her, but I recognized that I loved her.
I would not, however, be the efficient healer that she needed just then if I allowed my emotions to undermine me. I straightened my back, raised my head and, fixing my aunt with a firm stare, said, âYes, I have. I will leave immediately.'
I made the best speed I could to Icklingham. The weather was fine â we were all hoping we had seen the last of winter â and the tracks were dry, and, with the fen waters low, I was able to leap over the few meandering streams and ditches I encountered without having to hang around waiting for someone to ferry me across.
I did not allow myself to speculate on my sister's possible injuries. I knew I must stay calm, so that I would arrive in the best frame of mind to treat her. When I walked into her village, I had almost persuaded myself that this was just another patient.
There was a large gaggle of interested onlookers milling around outside the little house that Cerdic built for his wife, all craning their necks and trying to see round one another. I heard snatches of fascinated, avid gossip.
They say there's blood all over the floor! Smashed her head, he did, and her brains flew everywhere! Huge, he was, like some giant out of the old legends!
I did not yet know who was within: my sister, presumably, but what of her husband â the dead woman's son, after all â and the couple's two little children? This lurid talk of blood, brains and a giant of supernatural size was hardly going to calm them and help them cope with sudden, violent death. My instinct was to wade in and give the thoughtless gossips a good ticking-off, but my years of study with my aunt Edild â the epitome of calm in a crisis â had taught me that there was another, better way.
Approaching the stocky, tough-looking man at the back of the crowd who had just made the remark about spattered brains, I touched him on the arm and said quietly, âI wonder if you might let me through, please? I'm a healer and I've come to see what I can do to help the injured woman.'