Read The Killer of Pilgrims Online
Authors: Susanna Gregory
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
‘Will you get it for me? You are always clamouring to hack out Emma’s bad tooth, so I am sure you have a knife to hand. If
not, then borrow mine.’ Celia removed a slender blade from her belt. ‘But hurry, if you please. I do not like this church.
It is draughty and smells of dead birds.’
Bartholomew did as she asked, pointedly avoiding the
use of sharp implements. He blinked in disbelief when she immediately donned the retrieved ring, flexing her hand to admire
the effect. Odelina was also dismayed by the brazen materialism, and he supposed it did not square with her image of Celia
as the noble heroine.
‘What happened to John?’ Celia asked, turning abruptly to Michael. ‘You say he was found dead in your College, but I do not
understand why he should have been there in the first place.’
‘Neither do we,’ replied Michael, also struggling to mask his distaste. ‘He was stabbed, and his body hidden behind some tiles.
Unfortunately, a member of our College tugged on the sheet that covered them, causing a couple to topple—’
‘You mean he was
?’ demanded Celia. For the first time since entering the church, she seemed shocked. ‘You must be mistaken! No one would
‘Unfortunately, it would seem someone did,’ said Michael. ‘But I shall find out who.’
‘Lord!’ breathed Celia, gazing at him. ‘He always expected to die in bed at a ripe old age.’
‘You discussed death with him?’ asked Michael keenly.
Celia nodded. ‘Sometimes, when we were bored and had nothing else to do. These winter evenings are very long, and it is easy
to run out of nice things to talk about.’
‘I cannot say I have ever had that problem,’ said Michael. ‘What exactly did—’
‘I suppose I had better start making arrangements for his funeral,’ interrupted Celia. ‘But before I go, there are a couple
more things I want from his corpse: the medallion he wore around his neck and the pilgrim brooch pinned in his hat. However,
now I know he was murdered, I do not feel equal to rummaging for them myself. Would you mind obliging me, Doctor?’
‘Yes, I would, actually.’ Bartholomew felt as though he was being asked to rob a grave.
‘Odelina,’ said Celia, turning to her friend with a coaxing smile. ‘You love me, do you not? Slip your hand inside the box
and grab the trinkets.’
‘No!’ cried Odelina, appalled. ‘I cannot touch a murdered man in a church! It might bring me bad luck regarding getting a
‘Perhaps you should leave them where they are,’ suggested Michael coolly. ‘The dead are entitled to carry some personal effects
to the grave, and you already have his ring.’
‘I am not one for making sentimental gestures over corpses,’ retorted Celia. ‘Gold is gold, and it belongs with the living.
Or is there another reason why Michaelhouse is unwilling to help a grieving widow? Such as that they have already removed
these items for themselves?’
‘Matt will retrieve them for you,’ said Michael stiffly. Bartholomew started to object, but the monk overrode him. ‘I will
not have it said that our College steals from the dead – or from the living, for that matter. And while he is busy, you can
tell me about any spats or disagreements your husband might have had.’
Celia watched Bartholomew lift the lid and begin unravelling the chain from Drax’s neck. ‘Well, Principal Kendale objected
to the fact that John was going to raise the rent on Chestre Hostel – John hated Kendale, and hoped the increase would encourage
him to leave. Then several of our customers argued with him, because he refused to give them credit for ale.’
Bartholomew dropped the salvaged necklace into Celia’s eager hand. She wiped it on her sleeve then slipped it around her neck.
He regarded her in astonishment. She scowled at him, and indicated that he should stop staring, and retrieve the badge.
‘Why did he refuse?’ asked Michael, struggling to conceal his revulsion. ‘If they were regulars?’
‘Because it might be weeks before the weather breaks, and they earn enough to pay us back. Or they might die of starvation
in the interim. We are a business, not a charity.’
‘Your husband made donations to Michaelhouse,’ Bartholomew pointed out. ‘That is charity.’
‘Yes, but he got prayers in return. It was a commercial arrangement, although
shall not be buying anything from you.
do not deal with warlocks and fat monks who ask impudent questions.’
‘I am not fat,’ objected Michael. ‘I have big bones. And I am not impudent, either. I am merely trying to ascertain why your
husband died. But tell me about your life together. Was it happy?’
‘Do not answer,’ advised Odelina sharply. ‘He is trying to trap you, because he thinks
might have murdered John and toted his corpse to Michaelhouse.’
‘Do you?’ asked Celia, treating the monk to a forthright stare. ‘Why? John was not the most scintillating of men, but we liked
each other well enough. Now, give me the badge, Doctor.’
‘Here is the hat,’ said Bartholomew. ‘But I cannot see a pilgrim token.’
‘It is pinned on the
,’ explained Celia. ‘Because he wanted to keep it safe. It is from Walsingham, you see – the shrine where the Virgin appears
from time to time.’
‘Had he been on a pilgrimage, then?’ asked Bartholomew, surprised. Drax had not seemed like the kind of man to absent himself
from his taverns in order to undertake arduous journeys.
‘No,’ replied Celia. ‘He bought it from a pardoner, who told him that owning it was the next best thing to going
on one of these expeditions himself. It will earn him less time in Purgatory.’
‘If you believe that, then why do you want to take it from him?’ asked Bartholomew. Talking to Celia reminded him why he had
not minded when she had informed him that she was transferring her allegiance to another physician. He had always found it
difficult to like her.
want to spend less time in Purgatory, too,’ replied Celia shortly. ‘So look inside the coffin, if you please. It must have
‘Not necessarily,’ said Bartholomew, examining the hat. ‘There is a hole here, where something has been ripped away.’
‘What are you saying?’ asked Celia warily. ‘That John was murdered for his pilgrim badge?’
‘Was it valuable?’ asked Bartholomew, not bothering to reply. She knew as well as he did that the poor were struggling to
feed their families that winter. ‘Made of precious metal or jewels?’
‘Naturally,’ replied Celia. ‘We neither of us are interested in pewter. And I want it back, so when you find his killer, be
sure to prise it from his murderous grasp.’
She turned and flounced away, leaving Odelina to scurry after her. Michael watched with his eyebrows raised so high that they
disappeared under his thin brown fringe.
‘Well!’ he drawled. ‘So much for the grieving widow!’
The following day was dry, but bitterly cold, and Bartholomew shivered as he trudged from patient to patient. Few had fires
in their homes, and he was not surprised they were succumbing to chills and fevers. His last visit was to a cottage near the
Mill Pond, where a young fisherman was suffering from a badly sprained ankle.
Bartholomew bound it up with a poultice of pine resin and wax, and advised him not to stand on it for a few days.
‘Thank you,’ said the fisherman, leaning back in relief. ‘It really hurt. It was your Master’s doing – we are on the same
camp-ball team, and he is always so damned rough in practices. We ask him to save his violence for the opposing side, but
he forgets himself in the heat of the moment.’
Camp-ball was Langelee’s greatest passion. It was hardly a genteel pastime for the head of a Cambridge College, but it was
not one he could be persuaded to give up.
‘Would you have a word with him about needless fervour?’ the fisherman went on. ‘Of course it is too late for Friday. I shall
not be able to play, which is a wicked shame.’
‘Friday?’ asked Bartholomew. ‘Do you mean for the annual competition between the Gilbertines and the Carmelites?’
Each year, the two priories chose teams to represent them on the field – obviously, such dignified gentlemen were not going
to indulge in the rough and tumble themselves – and the occasion drew enormous crowds. It was an honour to be selected to
play, and Langelee had been beside himself with pride when he had been one of the lucky few.
The fisherman nodded bitterly. ‘And I will not be there, thanks to your Master.’
Bartholomew returned to Michaelhouse, and taught until it was time for his students to attend a mock disputation with Thelnetham,
thus leaving him free to see more patients. Before he left, he mentioned the fisherman’s complaint to Langelee, who dismissed
it with a careless flick of his hand, muttering something about weaklings not being welcome on
Bartholomew left the College, and tended two fevers and a case of cracked ribs. Then he went to visit Chancellor Tynkell,
who was suffering from one of his periodic stomach upsets, and was just leaving when he met Michael. The monk was tired and
‘Where have you been?’ he demanded irritably. ‘I needed your help with Drax’s murder today.’
‘What have you learned?’ asked Bartholomew, predicting from the monk’s sour mood that he would rather talk than listen to
excuses about teaching and patients.
‘Nothing!’ Michael spat. ‘He was unpopular among his customers because he refused them credit, but that is hardly a reason
to kill. And I have been told that he and Celia were not close, but we knew that already – the woman was hardly overwhelmed
with distress yesterday.’
‘No,’ agreed Bartholomew. He glanced at Michael, and was surprised to see that a haunted expression had taken the place of
his ire. ‘What is wrong?’
‘I have a very bad feeling about this case, and the more I think about it, the more worried I become. Drax’s body was deposited
in our College – our
. Clearly, it was a deliberate attempt to harm us, so we must unravel the mystery before the culprit does something worse.’
Bartholomew was thoughtful. ‘Drax’s death must be connected to the theft at the Carmelite Priory – the villain there went
straight for the gold badge on Poynton’s saddle, while Drax’s rings and necklaces were ignored but his badge – his
badge – was snatched off hard enough to tear his hat. The thief targeted only
in both cases.’
‘You may be right,’ acknowledged Michael. ‘But why pick on these particular two men?’
Bartholomew shrugged. ‘Perhaps because they owned valuable tokens. And they may
be the only two victims,
anyway – just the only two that you know about. Have you questioned Emma de Colvyll yet? The thief who took her box had yellow
the same man,’ snapped Michael. ‘As I told you yesterday, Emma’s assailant will be lying low, hoping Heslarton does not catch
him. He would not have returned to Cambridge and committed a very public theft and a murder.’
‘I disagree. Two yellow-haired villains in one day is a curious coincidence. Too curious.’
‘They are different,’ reiterated Michael testily. ‘And if you persist in seeing an association between two entirely separate
incidents, we shall lead ourselves astray.’
‘If you say so,’ said Bartholomew, sure that Michael was wrong.
The monk blew out his cheeks in a sigh, and some of the tetchiness went out of him. ‘It has been a wretchedly frustrating
morning. I wish you had been with me – you are good at reading people, and I need all the help I can get. Incidentally, did
you hear that Welfry has been appointed Seneschal? I like the man, but he is hardly a suitable candidate for a post of such
‘Give him a chance, Brother. I think he means to do his best.’
‘I do not doubt his good intentions, but he will quickly become bored with the rigours of the post, and then we shall be inundated
with silly jests. And the exchequer clerks are not noted for their sense of humour. I told the Dominican Prior-General that
Welfry was a poor choice, but he said it was either him or Prior Morden.’
‘Morden is a decent man.’
‘So you have always said, but he does not have the wits to deal with sly exchequer clerks, and they would cheat us of our
due. At least Welfry is intelligent. But I should not
be worrying about him yet – catching the killer-thief is much more urgent. Will you help me?’
‘Later today,’ promised Bartholomew. ‘If I am not needed by patients.’
‘Tomorrow,’ countered Michael. He smiled suddenly. ‘It is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary this afternoon,
one of my favourite festivals. And
because there will be food afterwards, before you think to cast aspersions on my piety. The truth is that I like the music.’
‘As long as your choir does not sing and spoil it,’ murmured Bartholomew, but not loud enough for the monk to hear. The College’s
singers comprised a large section of the town’s poor, and were famous for their lack of talent. Michael was their conductor.
‘Where are you going?’ the monk asked, when Bartholomew started to walk away from Michaelhouse. ‘It is almost time for the
‘To the Carmelite Friary. John Horneby has a sore throat.’
‘No!’ exclaimed Michael in horror. ‘Then you must cure him immediately! He is to give the Stock Extraordinary Lecture next
week, and it will be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered – one that will have theological ramifications that will
reverberate for decades.’
‘So I have heard,’ said Bartholomew flatly. Theologians were always delivering desperately important discourses, and he was
a little weary of them. ‘Will you be there?’
‘Of course. And scholars from all over the country are flocking to hear him, so nothing –
– must prevent him from speaking. I had better come with you, to ensure he has the best possible care. The honour of our
University is at stake here, Matt.’
The Carmelite Friary was busy that day. A contingent of White Friars had just arrived from London, the usual crowd
of penitents milled around the shrine, and a service for the Purification was under way in the chapel. Bartholomew and Michael
were just being conducted to the room where the sick theologian lay, when they were accosted by the four pilgrims.