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Not that “need” had aught to do with it. She had told them far less than they wanted to know, and they would say much more when she was gone, greedily feeding on other people’s lives to put more feeling in their own. She had no help for that. She simply wanted to be away from them, and when she started forward, the woman moved hurriedly aside, leaving the way clear and asking no more questions of her as she crossed to the stairs and down the few steps to what had to be the muniment room.

A man undoubtedly Deryk stood purposefully in front of its closed, locked door. Broadly, solidly built, his arms folded across the breast of his thick-woven brown doublet, his face set into a heavy-browed frown, he made an apparently formidable barrier against anyone going through the doorway; but at Frevisse’s word that Master Holt had given leave for her to see the prisoner, his face unfurrowed into a mild grin. Without any question, he stepped aside to turn the key already set into the lock but, “Mind the bitch,” he warned, the words rumbling good-naturedly in his chest. “She growls if I try to move her, but likely you can step over her and she’ll pay you no never mind.”

Frevisse glanced down in surprise to find Fidelitas at her feel, her nose pressed to the crack below the door.

“Fidelitas,” Frevisse said and when there was no response bent down to stroke her head. She had forgotten all about her after Edeyn had set her down in the parlor. She must have slipped out to come here. “Fidelitas, what is it, girl?”

The dog twitched a little under her hand but did not shift her concentration. What she wanted was on the other side of the door. Frevisse straightened and stepped back, still watching her, but Fidelitas gave her no notice, not even the flick of an ear. But when Deryk started to open the door, she came to her feet in a single leap, her tail and hindquarters frantic with approval, her nose now to the door’s opening side.

“Here now,” Deryk said and would have reached for her, but Frevisse put out a staying hand.

“Let her go if it matters that much to her.”

Deryk hesitated, then shrugged and let Fidelitas push on in. But before he opened the door farther, he dropped his voice to say, “He’s been quiet, but I’ll leave the door wide while you’re in so I can see and come put him down if he tries aught. You’ll be safe enough, don’t fear.”

It had not occurred to Frevisse to be afraid of Lionel, not with the fit over and surely no weapon left to hand, but she appreciated the thought and nodded her thanks as Deryk stepped out of her way and she went into the small, shadowed room.

This was where Lord Lovell kept much of his wealth and such record rolls as were most vital to him. It was built for security before all else, so the only window was a short, narrow slit in an outer wall. That and the open doorway behind her gave the only light to show the iron-bound chests ranged around the walls, their lids heavily padlocked and the chests themselves chained to iron rings bolted into the walls. The room held nothing else except, now, Lionel, shackled at wrists and ankles and by a short run of chain to one of the iron rings in the wall.

He sat on one of the chests, bowed forward on himself as far as his hands would let him go, his head pressed between his hands. Neither the key nor the opening door had roused him, nor Frevisse’s entrance, nor Fidelitas standing on her hind feet beside him, her forepaws on his leg, pawing at his knee to make him notice her.

Frevisse stopped where she was, not sure how near he would want her to come, not sure, now she came to think on it and saw how little he cared even that Fidelitas was there, that he would want her or anyone at all to see him.

But his want was not what had brought her here and her hesitation was barely momentary before she said, “Master Knyvet.”

Lionel’s head swung a little, side to side, showing he had heard her but refusing her more.

Refusing his refusal, she said, “I’ve come to see how it is with you and to tell you what’s been done with Martyn.”

The movement stopped. He waited and so did she until finally he straightened his body a little and raised his head toward her. No one had done anything to help him clean himself. His doublet all across one side was blackened and stiff with Martyn’s dried blood, and the twist of his mouth showed that grief and horror were still fresh-gashed wounds in him. His unshaven face was sunken flesh over heavy bones as if grief had already eaten much of him away, and his voice was cracked with pleading as he said, “Unless you’ve come to tell us that he isn’t dead, that it’s a mistake, that he’s alive, only hurt, or that this is a nightmare that I’m in and you’ve come to wake me, there’s no use in your being here.”

Frevisse had no good answer to that. The only ease for Lionel lay in lies she would not give him. He threw back his head, groaning with pain so inward it could have been his own death he felt, rather than Martyn’s. Fidelitias pawed at him more desperately and tried to lick his face. Lionel wrenched his head sideways away from her and shoved her off him. “No. I’m not worth anyone’s care. Go away.” He struck, his hand a fist, at his bloodied clothing and cried at Frevisse, “Look at me! It’s true. Everything. All of it. Look! Oh, God.” He doubled over again, grasped his head between his hands, and began to rock forward and backward.

Frevisse went to him, took hold of his hands, forced him still, and said, “Better you pray than this. Pray for him. Pray for you.” Because prayer would give him somewhere to go outside of his mind-wrenching grief, somewhere away from naked despair to a sort of hope, no matter how thin and useless hope must seem to him just now.

“Prayer,” Lionel groaned, denying it, not raising his head.

“Yes. Prayer.”

Lionel wrenched his head up and away from her. “Prayer! Half my life I’ve prayed with everything that’s in me and what’s the answer I’ve been given? Death. Not even my own that I could be glad of! Not even that but Martyn’s.” He groaned and curled more tightly in on himself. “Martyn’s death, not mine,” The pain burned from fire back to gray, aching despair again. In a bitter whisper he said, “There’s nothing in prayer.”

“There’s your soul’s salvation.
And Martyn’s.”
She lashed the words at him, not for cruelty but because despair— wanhope—was among the great sins, and the last thing Lionel needed now was greater sin. Despair too long indulged in would become a form of madness more enduring than the one that had come on him last night. It would destroy him as utterly as Martyn had been destroyed, but in soul instead of body. If that happened, Martyn’s death would have been merciful by comparison.

She hid her relief as Lionel flinched from what she said and then was still between her hands. She waited and in a while he said with something besides the blind pain that had driven him before, “Martyn’s soul?”

“He died in sin and suddenly,” Frevisse said hardly less harshly than before, not letting her compassion show. “His soul is surely in need of prayers.”

The horror he had awakened to this morning had wrenched Lionel out of a lifetime’s belief. Now she was trying to wrench him back, and said a silent prayer of her own as a dull beginning of comprehension roused in his eyes. Slowly, he rubbed a hand across his face as if it ached; he probably did ache, in mind if not in flesh. Fidelitas was against his leg again, asking to be noticed, and his hand slid down to rest on the curve of her head. He drew a shallow, unsteady breath and asked, “Where have they taken him?”

“To St. Kenelm’s, where you were yesterday.”

She said it gently. He had turned back at least a little from the blackness he had been going into, but it would take care to bring him the rest of the way. Why had Father Henry left him like this, alone to his despair? Sire Benedict had to come to him as soon as might be. All she could do was presently be glad that Lionel was nodding, accepting what she said, saying, “Prayers. I can do that much. That least. I can pray for him.”

“And you’ll be prayed for, too,” Frevisse said.

He shook his head, she did not know whether in refusal, or in dismissal of the idea as irrelevant to him now, or in disbelief that anyone would care. But he would pray and that would be well for his soul as well as Martyn’s. That left his body still to be seen to.

“Have you been fed?”

Lionel shook his head, not caring.

Food then, and water for washing, and clean clothing. Each would be a step taking him farther from last night. A step and then another step. A day and then another day.

Frevisse had lived through regrets and griefs enough to know the healing help of time. Never a full cure, not for something that cut through to the soul like this, but healing enough that the hurt self could go on. Though what Lionel had to look forward to was maybe better not looked at too closely yet. Maybe for now it was enough that Fidelitas was leaned against his knee and his hand had begun, as if he were only distantly aware of it, to stroke her head. At least he had come that much back from the darkness. It was a small mercy, but just now any mercy was a welcome one.

Chapter 14

Leaving Deryk with assurance that it was well for Fidelitas to stay with Lionel, Frevisse went on down the stairs to the great hall. The press of people was hardly less, but the talk had marginally diminished because someone had seen to having a table set up and breakfast finally laid out. Eating had perforce diminished talking.

From the advantage of the dais, Frevisse saw Dame Claire and Father Henry standing near the opposite door with bread and mugs of ale. Dame Claire was looking about her. Frevisse, when she saw she had been seen, raised a hand to her, both in greeting and in asking her to wait there. Dame Claire nodded agreement, and Frevisse went down among the folk around the table to find a share of food for herself. Way was made for her with respectful bobbing of the nearest heads, but she caught enough of the talk as she passed to tell it was still about Martyn’s death and Lionel.

“It could have been anyone he killed,” a woman was declaring. “The fit could have come on him anytime, anywhere, and he’d have been killing us with no warning at all. Why he’s been left loose this long is what I’m wondering.”

“He’ll be left loose no more, that’s for sure,” a man answered her.

“A little late for that man of his,” someone returned.

“But not so late as it might be,” another woman declared. “Now they’ll lock him up and forget the key afterward sure.”

There was scant sympathy in anyone’s tone, horror and indignation and gory-minded curiosity were all being indulged.

But Lionel and Martyn were
both
victims, Frevisse thought. Martyn was dead but Lionel had been used for his friend’s death and then left to suffer for it.

Breakfast was ale and thick slices of bread with some of last night’s beef on it. It was rich eating compared to nunnery fare, but Frevisse found that she was hungry enough not to care. A woman handed her a mug of ale as she reached for the bread and meat. Frevisse thanked her as she took it but found the kindness was not disinterested.

“You were there, weren’t you?” the woman asked. She was wimpled and aproned in plain linen, one of the servants, but too eager for talk to remember her place. “In the chapel,” she urged, not relinquishing hold on the mug quite so‘ quickly as she might have, to keep Frevisse’s attention. “You saw the body and all, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Frevisse answered with quelling lack of anything remotely like enthusiasm, but heads were turning, hoping for more from her, and she realized she might as well tell them. Lack of information would not stop their talk, and what they were not told, they would make up for themselves. Tersely she said, “When I went in, they were lying on the floor, Master Knyvet unconscious, the way his demon always leaves him, Gravesend dead beside him. There was much blood—” They would want to hear that and it was the simple truth, but as she said it, she saw it again: the soaked darkness on and beyond Lionel’s far side, the much lesser darkness spread down Martyn’s throat and on the floor next to him. His bleeding must have been nearly done by the time he was thrown aside. And that lesser smear between them.

“Great gashing wounds they say they were,” one of the men put in, “like he’d been slashed and slashed and slashed again.”

Frevisse shook her head, backing out from among them now with her bread and ale, forgoing the cold meat. “One wound. Just one.”

“I told you that,” said the woman who had handed her the ale, prodding the man in the ribs. “His throat was slit, that was all. One stroke, neat as you’d please.”

Frevisse stopped her careful withdrawal from among them. Bread in one hand, ale in the other, she thought about what was wrong with what the woman had said.

No, not with what she had said. That had been right enough. But the wound…

More questions were being pressed at her. She shook her head at them and said, “That’s all there was. Nothing more. Just that,” and completed her escape, finally clear enough to circle around to Dame Claire and Father Henry.

They greeted her quietly, Dame Claire with, “I would have warned you not to go among them. They’re eager for anything anyone will say.”

“It was well enough. They want to know, that’s all,” Frevisse said with somewhat less acidity than she would have a few moments ago. A single clean blow across the throat. She mentally shook herself—there were other things more immediately to hand—and said to Father Henry, “Master Knyvet is in a bad way, in need of food and God’s comfort. Is there aught else you should be doing or can you go to him now?”

The priest looked guiltily from his ale mug in one hand to the bread and meat in the other as if sorry to be caught with them. “I can go now,” he said. “I should have gone before. I’m sorry. There’s been so much.”

He was shifting away from them even while he talked. Father Henry inspired her to annoyance more frequently than kindness, but his desire to do what ought to be done, if only he could think of it in time, was so complete, his earnestness so utterly unfeigned that sometimes, momentarily, like now, Frevisse regretted her impatience at him and suspected there might be more virtue in his simplicity than she was capable of understanding. “There’s no need for over-haste, Father,” she said, moderating her tone to reassure him. “Finish your own breakfast before you go.”

BOOK: The Murderer's Tale
13.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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