Authors: Susanna Gregory
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Life is unsettled in Cambridge in the autumn of 1357, and both Michaelhouse and its physician, Matthew Bartholomew, seem to
have more than their fair share of misfortune. The College is unexpectedly short of funds, its Master is attacked, its prized
possession, a pair of beautiful silver chalices known as the Stanton Cups, have been stolen, and after a woman dies in premature
labour Bartholomew discovers that some medicinal potions have disappeared from his store, including pennyroyal, a drug known
for inducing miscarriage.
It is to the College finances that Bartholomew first turns his attention, and he discovers that the treasurer, Wynewyk, has
been fiddling the books, particularly in regard to goods purchased from some tradesmen in Suffolk. Bartholomew, who looks
upon Wynewyk as an honourable friend, is appalled, but before he can confront him with the evidence of fraud, Wynewyk dies
in bizarre and unexplained circumstances.
Brother Michael and Bartholomew, instructed to reclaim the missing funds, discover that the money has become entangled in
a legal wrangle over property rights, and that one of the merchants is the husband of the woman who died in labour, along
with her unborn child whose birth would have substantially altered the outcome of the dispute. In horror, Bartholomew recognises
her death was most likely murder and that his missing preparation of pennyroyal was to blame.
Who stole it? Who in the college has connections to the disputed land in Suffolk? And if Wynewyk proves to be a rogue, who
can Bartholomew trust within what he had assumed was the security of Michaelhouse?
The Matthew Bartholomew Series
A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE
A BONE OF CONTENTION
A DEADLY BREW
A WICKED DEED
A MASTERLY MURDER
AN ORDER FOR DEATH
A SUMMER OF DISCONTENT
A KILLER IN WINTER
THE HAND OF JUSTICE
THE MARK OF A MURDERER
THE TARNISHED CHALICE
TO KILL OR CURE
THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLES
The Thomas Chaloner Series
A CONSPIRACY OF VIOLENCE
BLOOD ON THE STRAND
THE BUTCHER OF SMITHFIELD
THE WESTMINSTER POISONER
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 Susanna Gregory
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For Liz and Edmund Betts
August 1357, Haverhill, Suffolk
It was a glorious summer afternoon, with fluffy white clouds flecking an impossibly blue sky, trees whispering softly in a
gentle breeze, and the lazy sound of bees humming among the hedgerows. Cows lowed contentedly in the distance, and the air
was rich with the scent of ripe corn and scythed grass.
There had been a fierce heatwave earlier in the year, followed by torrential rains that had devastated farmland all over the
country. Fortune had smiled on the parish of Haverhill, though: its crops had survived the treacherous weather, and the harvest
was expected to be excellent – its villagers would not go short of bread that winter, and the fat sheep dotting the surrounding
hills indicated they would not be short of meat, either.
But the three men who stood around the little tongue of exposed rock in the middle of the wood saw none of this plenty: their
minds were on another matter entirely.
In the centre of the trio was Henry Elyan, lord of the larger of Haverhill’s two manors. He was a slim, elegant man who took
considerable pride in his appearance – he loved clothes, and spent a lot of money ensuring he was never anything less than
perfectly attired, from his fashionable hat to his stylishly pointed shoes. His weakness for finery exasperated his wife,
who was always reminding him that while Elyan Manor was not poor, it was not exactly
wealthy, either, and they had a duty to their tenants to use their profits more wisely than frittering them away on extravagancies.
‘Are you sure, Carbo?’ he asked of the man on his left. ‘You cannot be mistaken?’
Carbo gave one of his peculiar smiles, the kind that made Elyan wonder whether it was wise to place so much trust in the man
– it was common knowledge that he was insane. Of course, Carbo had not always been out of his wits. He had been a highly respected
steward for many years, and his descent into madness had been fairly recent. No one knew why he had so suddenly lost his mind,
although Elyan did not accept the widely held belief that grief for a dead mother had tipped him over the edge. He was sure
there was another explanation, although he could not imagine what it might be.
‘I am not mistaken,’ Carbo said in an oddly singsong voice. ‘It was God who brought me to this place and told me what lies
beneath. And God is never wrong.’
The last of the three men was Elyan’s neighbour, who owned Haverhill’s second, smaller manor. Hugh d’Audley was thin, dark
and pinched, and everything about him suggested meanness and spite. Elyan had never liked him, but money would be needed to
exploit Carbo’s astonishing find, and d’Audley was the only man in the area who might be in a position to lend some. So Elyan
had set aside his natural antipathy towards the fellow and was trying his damnedest to be pleasant.
D’Audley, however, was sighing impatiently, making no attempt to hide the fact that he thought his time was being wasted.
‘Of course Carbo is mistaken! He is deranged, and you are a fool to set stock by anything he says.’
‘Coal is God’s most special gift to the world,’ chanted Carbo, kneeling to rest a reverent hand on the narrow
thread of dark rock he had found on his seemingly aimless wanderings. If he was offended by d’Audley’s curt words, he gave
no sign. ‘He calls it black gold. Black gold.’
D’Audley rolled his eyes, and Elyan despised him for his stubborn inability to look past Carbo’s lunacy and see what might
lie beyond. He felt like grabbing the man and shaking some sense into him. Did he not know that coal seams were unheard of
in Suffolk, so finding one in Haverhill was a fabulous piece of luck? And Elyan knew, with every fibre of his being, that
it was going to make him rich – that he would never again have to listen to his wife carping on about the price of fine linen,
or begrudging him the cost of his soft calfskin shoes. The prospect of such unbridled luxury made him giddy, and it was only
with difficulty that he brought his attention back to the present.
know about coal and mining so suddenly?’ d’Audley was demanding of Carbo. ‘You have lived in Haverhill all your life, so
how can you possibly claim expertise about minerals?’
‘God told me,’ replied Carbo distantly. ‘He explained about the black gold.’
‘You see?’ said d’Audley, turning rather triumphantly to Elyan. ‘The man is addled!’
Elyan did not reply. The copse in which Carbo had found the lode was dense with brambles and alder, and no one had bothered
to forge a path through the prickly tangle before. There had to be some reason why Carbo had done it, so perhaps God
guided him there. Or was d’Audley right, and grubbing around in the undergrowth was just something madmen did?
‘It is very fine,’ crooned Carbo, ignoring d’Audley as he stroked the rock. ‘The best black gold.’
‘Actually, it is not,’ countered d’Audley. ‘I used the bucketful you gave me last night, and it smoked and spat
like an old kettle. Good coal burns quietly and cleanly, but this stuff is rubbish.’
‘Perhaps it was just wet,’ suggested Elyan, refusing to let d’Audley’s sour humour spoil his burgeoning hopes. ‘But regardless,
it will make us wealthy – assuming you want to be part of it, of course? I shall need money to excavate, and if you invest,
you will share the profits.’
‘But I am not convinced there
be profits,’ said d’Audley, looking disparagingly at the thin line of crumbling black rock.
Elyan shrugged, feigning indifference to his neighbour’s scepticism. Unfortunately though, mining was expensive, and he could
not finance such a venture alone; he needed d’Audley’s help.
‘It is your decision,’ he said with studied carelessness. ‘I asked you first because you are my friend, and I wanted you to
share my good fortune. But if you are not interested, I shall approach Luneday instead – he knows a good opportunity when
he sees one.’
He would do nothing of the kind, of course – the lord of neighbouring Withersfield Manor was only interested in pigs, and
was unlikely to spend money on anything else. But d’Audley hated Luneday with a cold, deadly passion, and was blind to reason
where he was concerned.
‘Wait,’ snapped d’Audley, as Elyan started to walk away.
Elyan smothered a smirk before he turned; just as he had predicted, d’Audley was appalled by the notion that Luneday might
benefit from a venture he himself had rejected. ‘Wait for what?’
‘Wait for me to mull it over,’ replied d’Audley sullenly. ‘I cannot make such a decision on the spur of the moment. I need
time to think about it.’
‘Then do not take too long,’ warned Elyan. ‘I want to begin operations as soon as possible.’
They both turned when Carbo started to sing. The ex-steward was lying on top of the seam, treating it to a popular ballad
about love and devotion. D’Audley’s eyebrows shot up, and Elyan took his arm and pulled him away before Carbo’s antics lost
him an investor.
‘My wife is well,’ he said pleasantly, flailing around for a subject with which to distract d’Audley. ‘After twenty years
of marriage, Joan and I had all but given up hope of an heir, yet our baby will be born in December.’
‘Congratulations,’ said d’Audley flatly, and Elyan realised, too late, that this was not the subject to win d’Audley’s good
graces. If he, Elyan, were to die childless, then d’Audley was one of three parties who stood to inherit his estates. A child
would change all that and, unsurprisingly, d’Audley had not greeted the news of Joan’s pregnancy with any great delight.
‘Yet who knows what the future might bring,’ Elyan gabbled on, cursing himself for his thoughtless tongue as he struggled
to make amends. ‘Joan is old to be having a first child, and the midwife says it will be a miracle if she delivers a healthy
But d’Audley was not listening. He was staring at a nearby holly bush, eyes narrowed. ‘Is that a foot I see poking out from
under those leaves?’
Elyan looked to where he pointed, then strode forward for a better view. Carbo began muttering to himself, rocking back and
forth on his heels as he watched the two Suffolk lordlings with eyes that were too big in his pale, thin face. Elyan reached
the bush and gingerly pulled back the branches, careful not to snag his beautiful russet-coloured tunic. A body lay beneath,
half buried in leaf litter. It was that of a young man, who wore a black tabard over his shirt and hose. A reddish-brown stain
on his chest indicated he had been stabbed or shot with an arrow.
‘That is academic garb,’ said d’Audley, stepping back smartly, and covering his mouth and nose with his sleeve. The weather
was hot, and the corpse was far from fresh. ‘He must belong to one of the Cambridge Colleges – a student, perhaps. What is
he doing here?’
‘I have no idea.’ Elyan was horrified. ‘He cannot have come to spy on my coal, because the only people I have told about it
are my wife, my clerk, my grandmother, Gatekeeper Folyat …’
He trailed off, uncomfortably aware that this was a considerable list – and Folyat was a notorious gossip. Unfortunately,
the gatekeeper had caught him crawling about in Haverhill’s bramble-infested woods and Elyan had felt compelled to offer him
some explanation; he did not want his villagers thinking he was as mad as Carbo.
‘Have you told any scholars about the seam?’ asked d’Audley.
‘No.’ Elyan hesitated. ‘However, my clerk went to Cambridge last week. Perhaps he—’
But d’Audley was not interested in what Elyan’s clerk might have done. ‘This lad has been murdered,’ he declared, glancing
around him uneasily. ‘Stabbed or shot. We had better hide the body before anyone sees it.’
Elyan gaped at him. ‘What? But surely, we should contact the Sheriff, and—’
‘No!’ D’Audley’s voice was loud and harsh. ‘The last time a Sheriff visited Haverhill, he liked it so much that he declined
to leave, and we were obliged to feed him and his retinue for nigh on a month. I am not squandering money like that again,
so we shall shove this boy in the ground and forget we ever set eyes on him.’
‘I will fetch a spade,’ said Elyan, after a moment of silent deliberation. His inclination had been to argue – to do what
the law expected of him – but d’Audley had a point:
entertaining Suffolk’s greedy Sheriff
been expensive, and he would rather they spent their resources on excavating what the mine had to offer.
‘And then we had better deal with Carbo,’ said d’Audley, gesturing to where the madman was humming to himself, eyes closed.
‘It is obvious that he is the killer, and he should be locked away before he turns on one of us. We should summon his brother,
‘It is not obvious at all,’ interrupted Elyan, startled. ‘He may be a lunatic, but there is no harm in him. However, that
sinister Osa Gosse has taken to haunting our parish of late, and he will commit any crime for the right price. It is far more
killed this young man.’
D’Audley regarded him with an unreadable expression. ‘Perhaps this corpse is a sign – a warning that I should be wary of joining
your venture. So
can bury it: this is your land, so it is your problem, not mine. Watch the mud on your fine clothes, though. It stains.’
And with that, he turned on his heel and stalked away. Elyan watched him go with an expression that verged on the murderous.