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Authors: Susanna Gregory

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‘Master Poynton is a merchant,’ he said. ‘Hugh Fen is a pardoner, while Agnes and Margaret Neel are nuns of my own Order.
They were both married to the same man.’

‘But not at the same time,’ added one of the nuns hastily. They were both short, middle-aged and plump, and in their identical
habits, were difficult to tell apart.

‘A pardoner,’ said Michael, regarding Fen with distaste. He detested pardoners – men who peddled indulgences and relics to
the desperate. Fen, however, looked a cut above his fellows. He was a tall, handsome man with a neat
black beard, and if
he
had undertaken lots of pilgrimages, he did not advertise the fact by covering himself with tokens. He bowed politely to Michael,
revealing fine white teeth in a smile, although he must have detected the disapproval in the monk’s voice.

‘He makes a fine living from it,’ said Poynton. ‘There is much money to be made from pilgrims.’

‘I hope so,’ muttered Etone. He smiled ingratiatingly at the merchant. ‘Brother Michael will retrieve your cross, Master Poynton,
never fear. He is our Senior Proctor, and very good at investigating crimes that occur on University property.’

‘I am good,’ agreed Michael immodestly. ‘But I do not see how I shall solve this one. All you can tell me is that the thief
wore a green tunic, but I shall need more than that if I am to succeed.’

‘He dashed in from the street,’ said Poynton, bristling with anger at the memory. ‘It happened so fast that I only had a glimpse
of him. Damned villain!’

‘He had bright yellow hair,’ said Fen helpfully. ‘Lots of it.’

‘Yellow hair?’ asked Bartholomew, looking sharply at him. ‘Are you sure?’

‘It cannot be the same man you chased, Matt,’ said Michael in a low voice. ‘
He
fled the town, and Heslarton is now hot on his heels. He is unlikely to have returned within a couple of hours and committed
a second offence.’

‘Why not?’ Bartholomew whispered back. ‘If Heslarton is scouring the Chesterton road, then Cambridge is as safe a place as
any to hide. Here, there are crowds to disappear into.’

‘I accept that,’ said Michael. ‘But the operative word here is
hide
. If he did return, he will be lying low, not drawing attention to himself by stealing from pilgrims.’

Bartholomew shrugged. ‘If you say so. But it is an odd coincidence.’

When Prior Etone changed the subject from theft to shrines, Bartholomew took his leave, unwilling to be asked in front of
quite so many devout penitents whether he had been struck by the sanctity of Simon Stock’s scapular. He muttered something
about patients, and continued with his rounds. He visited a student with stomach pains, then aimed for Michaelhouse, eager
to spend at least some time teaching before the day ended – it was already mid-afternoon.

He was walking down St Michael’s Lane, pondering a lecture he was to give on the theories of Maimonides the following day,
when he became aware that his path was blocked by a wall of men. Academic thoughts flew from his mind when he recognised Principal
Kendale and the scholars of Chestre Hostel.

Chestre was located not far from Michaelhouse, so the two foundations’ paths often crossed. Michaelhouse’s Fellows were mostly
sensible, sober men, who took care to ensure the encounters were amiable, but the same could not be said for their students.
Ever since Kendale’s trick had seen a College man gored by a bull, they had taken to bawling insults at Chestre. There had
been no physical fighting so far, but Bartholomew sensed it would not be long in coming.

That day, Chestre’s scholars had ranged themselves across the alley in such a way that no one could pass. Kendale was in the
middle, distinctive with his braided hair and sturdy bulk. He was a philosopher, with exciting ideas about mathematics and
natural philosophy, and Bartholomew had been impressed when he had heard him in the debating chamber.

‘You are in our way, Michaelhouse,’ Kendale said coldly. ‘You had better retrace your steps.’

Bartholomew was half tempted to do as he suggested, just to avoid a confrontation, but was aware that if the same tactic was
then tried on Michaelhouse’s students, there would be a fight for certain. With a stifled sigh of resignation – he did not
want to bandy words with Chestre when he could be teaching – he adopted his most reasonable tone of voice.

‘This is no way to behave,’ he said quietly. ‘Why not live peacefully, and take advantage of—’

‘Peacefully?’ sneered Chestre’s Bible Scholar, a man named Neyll. He was a bulky, pugilistic Scot in his early twenties, with
dark hair and curious black eyebrows that formed a thick, unbroken line across his forehead. There was something about him
that reminded Bartholomew of an ape, and he could not imagine a fellow less suited to the task of daily scripture reading.
‘You mean to lull us into a false sense of safety, so the Colleges can slit our throats while we sleep!’

‘No one means you harm,’ said Bartholomew, although he suspected that the bull incident might well have changed that. ‘And
it is—’


All
College scum mean us harm,’ Neyll flashed back. ‘But they will never best us.’

Bartholomew declined to be drawn. He smiled at Kendale and tried a different tack. ‘I enjoyed your lecture the other day.
Your contention that non-uniformly accelerated motion is—’

‘I was wasting my breath,’ said Kendale disdainfully. ‘No one at the Colleges has the wits to understand my analyses. I might
just have well have been speaking Greek.’

‘You could have done,’ retorted Bartholomew coolly. There was only so far he would allow himself to be insulted. ‘Many of
us would still have followed your reasoning.’

‘Liar!’ snarled Neyll, raising his fists as he stalked forward. ‘I am going to give you a—’

‘Hold, Chestre!’ came a loud, belligerent yell.

Bartholomew glanced around and saw a group of Michaelhouse students returning
from a sermon in St Bene’t’s Church. They outnumbered Kendale’s lads by at least two to one, and Neyll’s aggressive advance
immediately faltered. At their head was John Valence, Bartholomew’s best pupil, a freckle-faced lad with floppy fair hair.

‘We were just discussing Kendale’s lecture on the mean speed theorem,’ said Bartholomew quickly, before there was trouble.
‘But we have finished now, and it is time to go home.’

Valence did not look convinced, but began to walk towards Michaelhouse anyway, beckoning his cronies to follow. Neyll was
‘accidentally’ jostled as they passed, and his dark eyebrows drew down in a savage V, but he was not so reckless as to voice
an objection.

‘You are a warlock, Bartholomew,’ hissed Kendale, as the physician turned to leave, too. ‘And a heretic – not the sort of
man who should be teaching in any university. I will see you ousted.’

Bartholomew ignored him, but was relieved when he reached the sanctuary afforded by Michaelhouse’s sturdy gates.

‘At least we know where we are again now,’ said Walter, the College’s surly porter, after he had opened the gate and Bartholomew
had remarked sadly that the recent peace seemed to be crumbling. ‘I did not like everyone being nice to each other. It did
not feel right.’

‘You mean you prefer to be constantly on the brink of a riot?’ asked Bartholomew archly.

Walter nodded, unabashed. ‘Of course I do. It means I can suspect everyone of evil intent, which is much more satisfying than
sickly cordiality. And the trouble is only within the University anyway – the town is quite happy to sit back and watch us
squabble among ourselves this time.’

He picked up his pet peacock and hugged it. It crooned and nestled against him. Bartholomew had always been surprised by the
relationship between porter and bird, because both were sour tempered and inclined to be solitary.

‘Incidentally, the uncanny calm in the town is Emma de Colvyll’s doing,’ Walter went on when Bartholomew made no reply. ‘She
has driven the other criminals out of business, see.’

‘She is not a criminal,’ said Bartholomew. ‘She is a businesswoman.’

‘She
is
a criminal,’ asserted Walter firmly. ‘She may not go around burgling and robbing, but there are other ways to deprive a man
of his wealth. She is deeply wicked, and I dislike the fact that my College accepted her charity.’

He scowled into the yard. Scaffolding swathed the building where Bartholomew lived, and he was alarmed when he saw most of
the roof tiles had been removed since he had gone out. If it rained – and the sky was ominously dark – the rooms beneath would
be drenched. He hoped the workmen knew what they were doing.

‘It will not be for long,’ he said, wincing when a carelessly placed strut slithered off the roof to land with an almighty
crash that reverberated around the whole College. The peacock issued one of its piercing shrieks in reply. The mason imitated
it, and his workmates guffawed uproariously. None of them could be seen, because they were all on the far side of the roof
– the section that overlooked the gardens at the back. ‘The repairs will soon be finished.’

‘The repairs
will
soon be finished,’ agreed Walter, hugging his bird more tightly. ‘But the debt will last for ever, and it will not be long
before Emma starts demanding payment. And I do not refer to money. She will want other things.’ His voice dropped meaningfully.
‘Like services.’

Bartholomew frowned, puzzled. ‘Yes, she has asked for services. The priests among us have agreed to say masses for her husband’s
soul, while Master Langelee ordered me to tend her—’

‘I do not mean prayers and medicine,’ interrupted Walter impatiently. ‘I mean other things. She will be asking for dubious
favours soon. I tell you, it is not a good idea to do business with her, even if she is making us watertight. Which I seriously
doubt.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Bartholomew. ‘The workmen seem to be doing well enough.’

‘The mason – Yffi – is careless and shoddy. Take this morning, for example. He arrived at dawn, and has been labouring ever
since. Look at how much he has done.’

Bartholomew looked at the roof, trying to understand Walter’s point. ‘His apprentices have removed all the old tiles, and
he has laid two rows of new ones. He has achieved a lot.’

‘Exactly!’ pounced Walter. ‘A good mason would have taken twice as long. The roof will leak again as soon as he leaves, and
all this chaos and upheaval will have been for nothing.
And
we shall have Emma de Colvyll after us for dark favours.’

Bartholomew left, hoping Walter was wrong, then stood for a moment, looking around him. His College comprised a handsome stone-built
hall, with two accommodation wings set at right angles to it. He lived in the northern wing, the older and shabbier of the
pair, where he occupied two chambers – a large one he shared with his students,
and a cupboard-like space that was used for storing the accoutrements necessary for his work as a physician.

There was just enough space in the little room for a mattress, and he had taken to sleeping there following an incident involving
missing potions the previous term: he felt people were less likely to help themselves to what were some very dangerous substances
if he was present. The smell had been uncomfortable to begin with, but he had quickly grown used to it, and his students were
pleased to have the additional space in the main chamber.

He started to walk again, but had not gone far before he was intercepted by Robert de Blaston, the carpenter. Blaston, his
wife Yolande and their fourteen children were Bartholomew’s patients, and he had known them for years. Blaston was a conscientious,
talented craftsman, who would never be rich because he was too honest. Bartholomew was fond of him, and considered him a rare
ray of integrity in a town that was mostly out for its own ends.

‘I do not know about that roof,’ Blaston said, shaking his head in disapproval. ‘Yffi has not used enough battens, and I doubt
the ones he
has
put up are thick enough to support a structure of that weight – tiles are heavy.’

Bartholomew was no builder, but could see that Blaston had a point – the wooden frame Yffi had constructed
did
appear too flimsy. ‘I will speak to the Master about it.’

He aimed for the hall straight away. Blaston’s concerns had made him uneasy: Emma’s thriftiness, combined with the natural
skimming that went along with any building project, meant corners were going to be cut. And that might prove dangerous to
Michaelhouse’s residents.

He passed through the door bearing the founder’s coat of arms, now woefully caked in dust from the renovations, then trotted
up the spiral staircase to the hall, where the day’s teaching was under way. As usual, benches had been
placed to face individual masters, who then held forth to classes that ranged in size from two students to ten, depending
on the subject.

Normally, there was no problem with everyone being in the same room – the Fellows were used to lecturing at the same time
as their colleagues, and the students were used to tuning out other lessons to attend to their own – but that day they were
obliged to contend with the workmen, too. This included not only rattling pulleys, assorted crashes and hammering, but the
manly banter that went along with them. Closing the window shutters would have eliminated some of the racket, but then lamps
would have been needed, and fuel was far too costly to squander in such a way.

‘Blaston and Walter are worried about the quality of Yffi’s work,’ Bartholomew murmured in Langelee’s ear as he passed,
en route
to his own class. ‘And so am I.’

The Master of Michaelhouse was a burly man with a barrel chest. He looked more like a wrestler than a philosopher, and was
not a talented academic. He had been the Archbishop of York’s henchman before deciding on an academic career, and remarks
he had let slip about his duties indicated he had not been employed in any capacity the prelate would care to have made public.

‘Me, too,’ said Langelee worriedly. ‘There do not seem to be enough battens, although Yffi told me I did not know what I was
talking about when I said so. Damned impertinence! But I will tackle him again when teaching is finished.’

BOOK: The Killer of Pilgrims
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