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Authors: Pat McIntosh

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The King's Corrodian

BOOK: The King's Corrodian
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The King’s Corrodian

Also by Pat McIntosh

The Harper’s Quine
The Nicholas Feast
The Merchant’s Mark
St Mungo’s Robin
The Rough Collier
The Stolen Voice
A Pig of Cold Poison
The Counterfeit Madam
The Fourth Crow

The King’s Corrodian

Pat McIntosh

 

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd
55-56 Russell Square
WC1B 4HP
www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the UK by C&R Crime,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2013

Copyright © Pat McIntosh 2013

The right of Pat McIntosh to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-4721-0105-1 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-4721-0107-5 (ebook)

Printed and bound in the UK

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Jacket design by
joeroberts.co.uk

For Helen

Author’s Note

Ever since it became a kingdom, Scotland has had two native languages, Gaelic (which in the fifteenth century was called Ersche) and Scots, both of which you will find used in the Gil Cunningham books. I have translated the Gaelic where needful, and those who have trouble with the Scots could consult the online
Dictionary of the Scots Language
, to be found at
http://www.dsl.ac.uk/dsl/

I would like to thank the Nagging Crew (you know who you are) without whom this book might never have seen the light of day.

Chapter One

‘The tale seems very improbable,’ said Gil Cunningham cautiously. ‘How should the Devil enter a house of Religious, and carry off one of its members?’

‘Precisely my point!’ said Archbishop Blacader in sour Latin. He gestured irritably at the nearest stool, and Gil rose obediently from his knees and seated himself. ‘But it is not one of the Dominicans who has vanished.’ He paused as if setting his thoughts in order, lifted a pewter goblet from the table at his elbow and gulped the red wine it held. In the shadows, Blacader’s secretary, the rat-faced William Dunbar, drew his plaid closer about his shoulders. Gil maintained a pose of attention, wondering what the wine was; its scent was heavy and rich, cutting through the smells of wet wool and boiling kale.

They were in the Archbishop’s own lodging in his castle in Glasgow, where Gil had been summoned almost as soon as the prelate’s retinue had dismounted in the courtyard and shaken the icy January rain off their oiled-wool cloaks and leather hoods. A branch of candles and a glowing brazier made the chamber less dark and chill than it was outside, but that was all one could say. Blacader, plump and blue-jowled, garbed for riding in expensive, mud-splashed velvet and high leather boots, finished the wine and set the goblet down. Dunbar lifted the jug and refilled it.

‘The man who has … vanished,’ pronounced the Archbishop at length, ‘is named Leonard Pollock, and is a corrodian at the convent.’

‘A corrodian?’ Gil repeated, startled. ‘With the Blackfriars?’

‘The Perth house,’ said Blacader reprovingly, ‘has a very extensive provision for guests, given that it was once the preferred royal lodging in those parts.’

‘Quite so,’ said Gil. ‘I hope they’ve mended the locks.’

The Archbishop ignored this reference to the unfortunate end met by James Stewart, first king of that name, taken unarmed while hiding below the privy in the royal lodgings of the Dominican priory at Perth, but his tone grew cooler as he continued, ‘The Perth house is well able to maintain several permanent residents. Pollock, having been a member of the late King’s household, was,’ he paused again, apparently suppressing the first word which came to his lips, ‘was lodged there some twelve or thirteen years ago, I am told, and a substantial endowment made from the Treasury for his keep.’

‘His corrody,’ agreed Gil. Blacader threw him a glance and took another gulp of his wine. Not claret, Gil thought, it seems heavier than that. Wine of Burgundy? Behind the Archbishop, Dunbar drew closer to the source of heat.

‘By means of this corrody,’ Blacader continued, ‘Pollock has been supported since ‘82 in a private lodging next to the main guest hall, a commodious stone house of two chambers with a fine chimney and its own small garden.’ Gil nodded, thinking of the guest hall of the Perth house as he had last seen it, smiling in the sunshine. A far cry from today’s weather, he reflected, as the rain rattled on the window-shutters. Blacader glanced at the gloomy skies beyond the glass above and stretched his booted feet nearer to the brazier. He seemed to be having difficulty framing his next sentence.

‘And this is the man who has vanished, my lord?’ Gil prompted. ‘What happened, then? What were the circumstances?’

‘Ach, there’s no reason to it!’ exclaimed Blacader. He looked over his shoulder directly at Dunbar. ‘William, have you Bishop Brown’s letter there? Let Gilbert have a sight of it. I took George Brown for a man of sense, Gilbert, but you may see for yourself what foolishness he writes.’

‘Bishop
Brown
?’ Gil, who had also taken the Bishop of Dunkeld for a man of sense, accepted the document which Dunbar produced from his scrip, and tilted it towards the candles. ‘It tells us little,’ he said after a moment. ‘He writes of fire and black smoke, but says only that these rumours of the Devil are strong in Perth and the countryside, and damaging to Holy Church as well as to the Dominicans. You can tell he is agitated,’ he added, ‘his Latin is deserting him. There are no other facts.’

‘And he asks for the loan of my quaestor.’

‘That’s what puzzles me, my lord.’ Gil folded the paper carefully. ‘What has the Bishop to say in the matter? Perth and the Perth Blackfriars are not in his diocese; they look to St Andrews, not to Dunkeld. How will Archbishop Scheves take it if I start sniffing round his archdiocese uninvited?’

‘Hardly uninvited,’ said Blacader. ‘George Brown was at school with George Hepburn.’

‘The Provincial Prior?’ Gil raised his eyebrows. ‘I mind him when I was first at the College here, when he was lecturing to the Theology students. A fine intellect.’

‘Indeed.’ The Archbishop drained his wine. Gil contemplated the situation. Presumably Hepburn, whom he remembered as a much-respected teacher, had asked his old friend to call in a favour, rather than making a formal request through the convent’s own archdiocese, a request which was unlikely to be granted however it was couched, given the opposing politics both church and civil of the two prelates concerned. It was flattering that the Provincial Prior, elected master of the Dominicans in Scotland, should have called for him, rather than for someone within the archdiocese, but his position would clearly be precarious. And yet one did not offend the mendicant orders, he thought ruefully. He would have to go.

‘It will need a man with a clear and open mind to make sense of it,’ continued Blacader. ‘The corrodian carried off by the Devil, indeed! I hope you can assist, Gilbert. Are you able to travel the now?’

‘I am.’ Gil was reckoning in his head. ‘I can set out tomorrow, my lord, and be in Perth in three days, I suppose, or four, assuming the weather gets no worse.’

‘Aye.’ Blacader switched to Scots, a sign that the formal part of the interview was over. ‘You’d need more time than that to prepare for sic a journey. I’d suggest you call it a pilgrimage, maybe take madam your wife wi you if she’s in good health.’ Gil looked up sharply, to encounter a significant glance from his master. ‘These matters oft go smoother when there’s a bonnie young woman involved, I’m told, even in Holy Kirk.’

‘What has the Provost told him?’ said Alys in some dismay, her colour rising.

Gil had found her in the little solar at the back of the house, the chamber made comfortable with two foot-warmers full of hot stones, her needlework on her lap. She was alone; her elderly companion Catherine, who was growing frail, had been persuaded to keep her bed in this weather, wrapped in blankets and surrounded by more hot stones, and Gil knew his assistant Lowrie Livingstone was dealing with a sasine exchange out towards Partick. In the hall their small ward John McIan was rampaging about with a wooden horse while Alys’s tirewoman Jennet gossiped with his nurse; the other servants were probably in the kitchen where it was warm.

‘My thoughts too,’ Gil admitted. ‘He’s perfectly right, I’d never have reached some of the conclusions I’ve found without your help, but I thought we’d kept it hidden from him. The Provost must have let something slip. Can you be ready to leave tomorrow?’

‘Of course,’ she said simply, though her quick smile came and went in gratification at his comment. ‘How far is Perth? No knowing how long we must stay, I suppose.’ She delved under the wide skirt of her woollen gown for the purse which hung between it and her kirtle, and drew out her tablets. ‘Will you see to hiring the horses? We should have one sumpter beast at least, for six of us.’

‘Five. I’ll leave Lowrie here in charge of the house.’

‘A good thought. Someone must have a care to Catherine and John and the maidservants.’ She was already noting items on her list. ‘You, Nory and Euan, Jennet and me. A donation of meal, and we should take that barrel of figs since none of us like them. Bedding. I suppose we’ll be lodged separately? The women’s hall is set apart?’

‘I don’t recall,’ he confessed. ‘I know they have one.’ He lifted the smaller footwarmer by its ring, using the corner of his gown to protect his hand, and moved to the door of the little solar. Socrates the wolfhound, curled round the larger footwarmer, raised his head to watch him. ‘I must clear up some of the papers on my desk before we leave.’

‘Confession. We must all be confessed if we are to ride so far.’ Alys made another note. ‘If Father Francis will come to the house, will you make do with that, or should I send to the Blackfriars as well? And Euan may call at my father’s house and let him know while he is down the High Street.’

Gil nodded, reflecting that his father-in-law might come up to bid them farewell and safe journey. No point in wondering whether Alys would go down the High Street herself; she and her new stepmother existed on terms of the barest courtesy, the situation made worse by Mistress Ealasaidh’s advanced pregnancy.

‘But Gil,’ Alys looked up from her list, the high bridge of her nose outlined against the grey light at the window, ‘why are you sent for? If someone thinks they have seen the Devil himself, is it not rather a matter for Holy Church?’

‘I don’t know.’ He closed the door and set the little box of hot stones down again, blowing on his fingers. ‘The Bishop’s letter was clear only on that point, that he wants me. The rest of the tale—’ He pulled a face. ‘Something about smoke and fire and a lost key, and how it’s disturbed the peace of Perth and all the country round.’

‘I can well imagine it has,’ she said. ‘I see why the Devil has been mentioned, but is it not simply a house fire? You said that Pollock had his own little house, like the old men at St Serf’s here.’

‘The Bishop said no more.
Vanished away in fire and smoke
, were his words,’ Gil said, quoting the Latin. She nodded. ‘No mention of the presence or absence of witnesses, nor of what the lost key should lock or unlock. And then the request for the loan of Blacader’s quaestor.’

BOOK: The King's Corrodian
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