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Authors: Susanna Gregory

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‘I will tell Michael,’ said Bartholomew. It was not often the choir earned compliments.

‘Thomas has been hunting the yellow-headed thief again,’ said Emma. Her unfriendly expression told Bartholomew that this would
not have been necessary had he done his duty the previous day.

‘But I did not catch him,’ said Heslarton. ‘Yesterday, we tracked him to Chesterton before he slid into the Fens. However,
it seems he immediately slunk back and committed a second crime.’

‘You mean the theft from the Carmelite Priory?’ asked Bartholomew. ‘The pilgrims said they were victims of a man with golden
hair, but Brother Michael thinks it is a different culprit.’

‘Then Brother Michael is wrong,’ said Heslarton. ‘I spoke to the pilgrims, too: their villain wore a green tunic with gold
embroidery, which matched the one ours sported. So it
the same fellow. He was bold, coming back when he knew a hue and cry had been raised for him.’

Emma’s expression hardened into something dark and
unpleasant, revealing the ruthlessness that had allowed her to grow rich by capitalising on the misfortunes of others. ‘We
will have him,’ was all she said, but the remark made Bartholomew’s blood run cold, and again he pitied the thief.

‘We will,’ agreed Heslarton. ‘I shall retrieve your box, Mother, never fear.’

She inclined her head, and her expression softened. ‘Thank you, Thomas. But do not forget that I want
, too. No one steals from me and lives to tell the tale. Metaphorically speaking, of course.’

Heslarton laughed. ‘I will continue to scour the marshes. Of course, we all know how easy it is for folk to disappear in them.’

They exchanged a look that gave Bartholomew the distinct impression that more was meant than folk lying low. Or perhaps it
was his imagination – the room was poorly lit, and he was cold and tired. Fortunately, there was a knock on the door at that
point, and he was saved from further fevered imaginings by the arrival of his fellow physicians.

When the plague had arrived in Cambridge, almost a decade before, it had left the town bereft of trained healers. In the years
that followed, the survivors had died, retired or moved away, until only Bartholomew and Rougham remained to serve the entire
town. Alarmed that his Fellow was beginning to spend more time on medicine than on teaching, Langelee had written to his former
employer, asking whether he had any spare
. Obligingly, the Archbishop had supplied Gyseburne and Meryfeld, both of whom had set up shop in their new home within a

Their arrival was a mixed blessing. On the one hand,
they shouldered some of the burden, but on the other, they preferred patients who could pay, so that while they relieved
Bartholomew of his wealthy clients, they had left him the bulk of the poor. The outcome was a shorter list of customers, but
a radically reduced income. Bartholomew did not care about the money for himself, but there was no point practising medicine
if his patients did not receive the potions required to make them better, and he found he could no longer afford to buy all
that was needed.

He watched his colleagues being shown into Emma’s solar. Meryfeld was short, plump and energetic, and was always rubbing his
hands together, like a fly that had landed on meat. He smiled a lot, and his amiable charm meant he was already popular. By
contrast, Gyseburne never smiled at all. He had long, grey hair, a narrow face, and Bartholomew had never seen him without
a urine flask – Gyseburne was of the opinion that much could be learned from urine, and tended to demand samples regardless
of the ailment he was treating.

‘Where is Rougham?’ demanded Emma, as the door closed behind them. ‘Is he not coming?’

‘He is at the Carmelite Friary,’ explained Meryfeld. ‘Two pilgrim nuns are tipsy, and Rougham anticipates that it will take
several hours to make them sober again. He begs to be excused.’

Bartholomew strongly suspected that the nuns were an excuse, and that Rougham just had more sense than to become embroiled
with Emma de Colvyll.

‘We can manage without him,’ said Heslarton. ‘Besides, I am uncomfortable with too many men of learning about. Your Latin
is a foreign language to me.’

Gyseburne raised his eyebrows. ‘It is a foreign language to most people,’ he drawled laconically. ‘Literally. But we shall
use the vernacular, if you prefer.’

‘English would be better,’ said Heslarton. ‘But enough chatter. My mother needs your services.’

‘What seems to be the trouble?’ asked Meryfeld. He rubbed his hands together and beamed.

‘I have toothache,’ declared Emma. ‘And I want a cure. You can examine me first.’

Meryfeld stepped forward obligingly. Gyseburne seemed to be waiting for Bartholomew to start a conversation in the interim,
so the physician said what was on his mind.

‘Did you hear about the prank where St Mary the Great was illuminated like a great candle? Well, it occurred to me that the
substance used might be adapted to produce a bright and steady lamp – which would be hugely helpful for night consultations.’

Gyseburne’s expression was unreadable. ‘Well, yes, it would, although I imagine
were thinking it would aid nocturnal
Such activities are demeaning for physicians, and you should not debase yourself, or our profession, by employing them.’

Bartholomew supposed he should not have expected anything else from a traditional man like Gyseburne. ‘Actually, it was the
difficulty of seeing inside mouths that prompted the idea.’

‘Is that so?’ said Gyseburne flatly, fixing Bartholomew with a hard, searching look. ‘When a real surgeon arrives – and the
Archbishop of York is trying to recruit one as I speak – will you give up these undignified activities and let him deal with
the gore?’

Bartholomew glanced at Gyseburne’s urine flask and wondered why one bodily fluid should be considered distasteful, while another
was seen as holding all the answers. It defied all logic. Fortunately, he was spared from having to answer, because Meryfeld
had finished, and it was Gyseburne’s turn to examine Emma.

Predictably, Gyseburne requested a sample, and then stood for a long time, swirling it about in a flask, his grim face more
sombre than ever. Bartholomew was not sure whether he was stumped for answers, or whether he really was able to interpret
the stuff better than anyone else. Eventually, he turned and regarded Bartholomew with his dark, unfathomable eyes.

‘On reflection, a bright, unwavering lamp
be useful, so perhaps we should conduct a few experiments. I can provide some brimstone – one of my patients is a dyer, so
has plenty of it.’

Meryfeld beamed at them. ‘You intend to invent a decent lamp? Splendid! May I join you?’

‘You promised to speak English,’ objected Heslarton, looking irritably from one to the other. ‘But you are gabbling away in

‘Actually, that was French,’ countered Gyseburne haughtily. ‘The language of choice for those of us who have anything worth

‘I do not care,’ declared Emma irritably, while Heslarton frowned, trying to work out whether he had been insulted. ‘Tell
me your verdicts. In plain speech. You first, Meryfeld.’

‘You have an excess of choler,’ replied Meryfeld without hesitation. ‘Which is hot and dry. To remedy this, I recommend we
increase your phlegm, which is cold and wet. We shall achieve this by using herbs of Mars, such as mint and pears, which are
cold in the fourth degree.’

Bartholomew regarded him uncertainly. Mint and pears were governed by Venus, and were not cold at all. Moreover, they were
unlikely to have any impact on a toothache.

‘Gyseburne?’ asked Emma. ‘What is your opinion?’

‘You have a rotten tooth, madam,’ replied Gyseburne. ‘And the pus in your
urine means poison is already seeping into your body. I recommend you have the fang removed
immediately, before you fall into a deadly fever from which you will not recover.’

‘I like his diagnosis best,’ said Emma, pointing at Meryfeld. ‘So he is hired. Bartholomew and Gyseburne are dismissed. He
will make me this potion tonight, and thus begin my treatment. I shall expect to be cured by morning.’

Meryfeld blanched as it occurred to him that winning Emma as a client was not necessarily a good thing, while Bartholomew
was not sure whether to be relieved that the burden of dealing with her was no longer his, or worried that she was embarking
on a course of treatment that would fail.

‘My medicine will not work that quickly,’ gulped Meryfeld, alarmed. ‘You must be patient, because it might be weeks before
you notice a difference.’

‘But by then you might be dead,’ said Gyseburne, emptying his flask on the fire and heading for the door. ‘Remove the offending
tooth, madam. It is the only thing that will save your life.’

‘Nonsense,’ objected Meryfeld, stung. ‘Hot, dry pains in the head mean that—’

He was interrupted by a howl from upstairs. It was immediately followed by thundering footsteps and a lot of shouting. Words
were muffled by the thick walls, but Bartholomew understood it was something to do with Emma’s portly, sharp-tongued daughter.
Then the chubby-faced maid burst in.

‘Alice has been murdered!’ she cried. ‘She is dying as I speak!’

Emma betrayed no emotion at the announcement, although the blood drained from Heslarton’s face. Meryfeld, as newly appointed
Household Physician, darted towards the stairs to do his duty, Heslarton hot on his heels.
Before she followed, Emma indicated that Bartholomew and Gyseburne were to go, too. Gyseburne nodded acquiescence, clearly
pleased to have the chance to salve his curiosity. Bartholomew went only when Emma shot him the kind of glance that said there
would be trouble if he did not.

There were several chambers on the uppermost floor, and Alice occupied the largest. She was lying on the floor, a ring of
servants standing mute and shocked around her. Heslarton released a strangled cry, and rushed to her side. When Meryfeld began
to ask about her birth and stars, apparently intending to deliver a diagnosis based on a horoscope, Bartholomew stepped forward
and rested his hand on the pulse in her neck. It was weak and slow, and when he prised open her eyes, her pupils were unnaturally
large. She was shuddering violently.

‘Poison,’ whispered Gyseburne in his ear, crouching next to him. ‘I have seen this before.’

‘In Cambridge?’ asked Bartholomew uneasily.

Gyseburne shook his head. ‘York. In Master Langelee’s house, when he worked for the Archbishop. It was a curious case, and
I never could decide whether he had fed his guests something toxic, or whether the potion was intended for him, and he had
had a narrow escape.’

Bartholomew regarded him in horror. ‘What are you—’

‘Not now,’ interrupted Gyseburne. ‘Should we make Alice vomit, do you think? Or walk with her, to dissolve it in her blood?
Or shall we cover her with blankets, and sweat it from her body?’

‘It is too late,’ said Bartholomew, feeling the pulse flutter into nothing. ‘She is gone.’

‘No!’ declared Emma, more angry than distressed when she heard his words. ‘She cannot be dead! I will not allow it!’

Meryfeld helped her to sit on the bed, and gestured for the chubby maid to bring her wine.

‘What happened?’ asked Heslarton in a taut, strained voice.

‘Alice was sitting in here with Odelina,’ replied the maid. ‘She was trying to sew, but the light was poor, and she kept complaining
that she could not see. I was stoking up the fire.’

‘Was she eating or drinking anything?’ asked Bartholomew urgently, putting out his hand to prevent Emma from sipping the brew
Meryfeld had just poured her.

‘Wine,’ replied the maid. She pointed to the goblet Emma held. ‘That wine.’

Gyseburne took it and poured it into his urine flask. ‘It is as I thought,’ he said, holding it up to the light, then sniffing
it carefully. ‘It stinks of wolfsbane – a very deadly poison.’

‘Where is Odelina?’ asked Bartholomew. ‘Was she drinking this wine, too?’

‘Odelina!’ cried Heslarton, looking around in concern. ‘My poor child! Where is she? Find her! Search the house!’

The servants raced to do his bidding, while Heslarton paced in tiny circles, as if he did not know what else to do. Emma stretched
a hand towards him, for comfort, but he ignored it. Gyseburne leaned closer to Bartholomew.

‘Perhaps Odelina fed the wolfsbane to her dam,’ he suggested. ‘And then fled. I have heard they were not good friends – not
like she is with her father.’

There were two half-full goblets on the table, along with a jug of milk. Bartholomew could not detect the odour of wolfsbane
in any of them, but Gyseburne said it was in the wine, and there was no reason to disbelieve him. Clearly, Odelina had imbibed
the poison, too.

‘I did not see her leave the room,’ said the maid, frightened. ‘She was here when her mother …’

There was only one place the missing woman could be. Bartholomew dropped to his hands and knees, and looked under the bed.
Odelina was curled into a ball, beginning the strange shuddering movements that had killed her mother. He grabbed her arm
and dragged her out. She was still conscious, although terrified and unable to speak. Distraught, Heslarton flung himself
on her, and it took both Bartholomew and Gyseburne working together to prise him off.

Meryfeld stepped forward to hold him while they tended the stricken woman, and Bartholomew thought he would be unequal to
the task, but the little physician deftly secured him in the kind of headlock employed by wrestlers. Heslarton wept and howled
until his energy was spent, then dissolved into quiet sobs. Emma, meanwhile, regarded her stricken granddaughter with horror.

Hoping Gyseburne’s identification of the poison was correct, Bartholomew grabbed a cup and a bowl of water, and forced Odelina
to drink. She groaned and tried to push him away, but he persisted until it was all gone. Then he put his fingers in her mouth
until she retched. When she was done, he repeated the process, ignoring Emma’s clamouring objections at his roughness.

BOOK: The Killer of Pilgrims
7.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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