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The Liberties of London

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The Liberties of London

A Red Ned Mystery


By Gregory House

Published by Gregory House at Amazon

Copyright 2011 Gregory House

Discover other titles by Gregory House at

his Amazon Author page

All artwork copyright Alexander House 2011

Archaeology, Peter Wilkes and other diverse matters blogged at

Red Ned, the Reluctant Tudor Detective blog at

Stories in the Red Ned Tudor Mysteries Series

Amazon UK

The Liberties of London

The Queen’s Oranges

The Cardinal’s Angels


Amazon US/Australia

The Liberties of London

The Queen’s Oranges

The Cardinal’s Angels


Soon to be release in the Red Ned Series on Amazon

The Smithfield Shambles

The Trade of the Thames

The King’s Counsel

Soon to be released, the first book in the Darkness Series a Tudor Historical Fantasy on Amazon

Darkness Divined

Peter Wilks Archaeological Mysteries Series on Amazon

Terra Australis Templar

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The Liberties of London


Map of Tudor London 1529

Dramatis Personae

The Royal Court

Historical Note

Tudor Coinage and values

Update December 2011

Tudor Terms

Prologue A Perilous Position

Chapter One: A Christmas Revel Christmas Eve London 1529

Chapter Two: An Unwanted Task

Chapter Three: The Relics of London

Chapter Four: A Doubtful Decision

Chapter Five: A Sudden Summons

Chapter Six: Where’s Walter?

Chapter Seven: A Lost Lamb or Loose in the Liberties

Chapter Eight: The Devil’s Delights

Chapter Nine: A Christmas Carolling

Chapter Ten: A Knave

Chapter Eleven: The Nick

Chapter Twelve: Fleete of Foote

Chapter Thirteen: A Lamb Gathered In

Chapter Fourteen: Compter Caught

Chapter Fifteen: A Beneficial Visit

Chapter Sixteen: A Proper Repentance

Tudor Pastimes

Rules for Hazard (Dicing)

‘Honours’ or Ruff and Honours





Map of Tudor London 1529
Dramatis Personae

Edward Bedwell
or as he prefers Red Ned – an apprentice lawyer at Greys Inn and organiser of the Christmas Revels

Margaret or Meg Black
– apprentice apothecary and amateur surgeon and sometime smuggler of illicit literature, suspected subverter of the Christmas Revels

Robert Black
– older brother of Meg, apprentice artificer and Ned’s partner in the Revels scheme

Gruesome Roger –
retainer to the Black family, a fellow with secrets who likes to loom menacingly over Ned ruining his Christmas

Richard Rich
– commissioner of Sewers London and uncle of Red Ned, a lawyer climbing the ladder of patronage, a good friend of Thomas Cromwell

Canting Michael –
a gang lord of Southwark who would like Red Ned’s company for an hour or two

Earless Nick (Throckmore)
– self proclaimed Master of Masterless men and Lord of the Liberties, always ready for good company and a game.

Lady Dellingham
– an ardent church reformer and ally of Cromwell, she has firm
on the good works in the sinkholes of London

Walter Dellingham
– a young innocent reformist lad of interesting dispositions and talents

– a blonde punk of St Paul’s, consort of Earless Nick

a host of revelling clerks, apprentice lawyers and assorted punks, minions and rogues

Royal Court

King Henry VIII
– a sovereign in desperate need of a male heir

Katherine of Aragon –
Queen of England, for now

Lady Anne Boleyn
– a Howard niece and supporter of Lutherans who the King wants to marry

Thomas Cromwell
– former secretary to Cardinal Wolsey now serving the King on the Privy Council

Sir Thomas More
– Lord Chancellor of England and pursuer of heretics

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
– disgraced former Lord Chancellor now living in exile from the Royal Court

Historical Note

The Liberties of London
is a work of fiction. However most of the main points of the story are based around historical Tudor London of 1529 and the setting is derived from period documents and accounts. I have endeavoured to give contemporary readers a window into the daily thoughts, and attitudes of the people in their positions in the Tudor hierarchy. All the main characters of this work are fictional, though, as much as research allows, they do express the mood, passions and concerns of the time. These views do not necessarily represent those of the author.

Tudor Coinage and values

During the reign of Henry VIII, the value of coins varied wildly since coins were frequently recalled and re issued with a lower precious metal content, to aid the financing of Henry’s expenditure on war and domestic building programs. It got to such a state that the gold sovereign coins stamped with the portrait of the King were nicknamed old copper noses since frequent handling gave them a red gold colour. Rhenish florins, Thalers and Venetian florins were the period’s equivalent of US dollars and accepted all over Europe. All other coins were evaluated to their standard.

farthing = quarter of a penny (0.25d)

halfpenny (0.5d)

1 penny silver coin

Half groat silver coin worth 2 pence

Groat silver coin worth 4 pence

1 shilling silver coin worth 12d

1 noble a gold coin worth 6s 8d. (80p, or 1/3 of a pound)

1 Angel a gold coin worth 7 shillings and 6 pence

1 pound or a sovereign gold coin worth 20 shillings,
240 pence

1 mark was the value of 8 ounces of gold or silver; 123 4d


For more Tudor information I suggest you have a look at the following books;

Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England Eur
ope by Alison Sim

Walking Shakespeare’s London
by Nicholas Robins

Elizabeth’s London
by Liza Picard

Food and Feast in Tudor England
by Alison Sim

Tudor Blogging at

Blogging at

Look out for the rest of the series of the Red Ned ‘adventures’ at Amazon


Gregory House-Terra Australis

Update December 2011

To all my readers at the start of this yuletide season, I wish you all a safe and happy time during the festivities rich in fellowship, regard and family wherever you may be. Secondly, an apology for the numerous errors, that kindly readers have pointed out, hopefully in this revision they’ve been routed out like damnable heretics and summarily dealt with. Thirdly as a writer of historical fiction, I strive to bring forth a contemporary understandable view of the Tudor Age, during the reign of Henry VIII
. For instance, the English of the Tudor period is both maddeningly close and frustratingly different to our modern usages. To aid the story flow and provide a period flavour I’ve made some efforts to render dialects and phrasing into more modern standards, hopefully without sounding like a player at a Ren Fair. For any one who would like to look a little deeper into where our language came from I can highly recommend Bill Bryson’s
The Mother Tongue
, an extremely amusing account of accent, eccentricity and English. Finally apart from a good tale of adventure, rogues and cosenage as a historian and researcher I’m trying to give the reader as accurate portrayal of Tudor life and culture as possible based on the surviving records and accounts. That being so some errors are bound to creep in, the main one is the Wood Street Compter or Gaol, this it appears was built in 1553, thus too late for Ned’s period. So in this revision that has been changed to the older and nearby Bread Street Compter by St Mildred’s, which the Wood Street Compter later replaced.

Regards Gregory House

Tudor Terms

Ale house:
Lower in social scale and quality than a tavern. Usually a room with a few benches and a brew house out the back. In theory, they had to be licensed. These were considered by the city officials as the breeding ground of mischief and crime.

Equivalent to a modern British Pub or American Bar usually serving reasonable quality food and ale.

These establishments were the Sheratons or Hiltons of their age, large buildings with a courtyard and stables used to catering to gentry and nobility.

A brothel or a region of disreputable activities.

A sweet fortified wine similar to sherry drunk at any occasion sometimes further sweetened with sugar.

The religious festival of the Catholic faith held on the 2
February about forty days after Christmas and at the mid point between the Winter solstice and the Spring Equinox. Also Groundhog Day in the Eastern USA.

The religious festival of All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween 1

Cony catching
: A common derisive term for any manner of con trick or swindle played on the gullible victim or ‘coney’.

Cozener or cross biter:
Swindlers, fraudsters tricksters

the play, art or skill of fraud, deception or scam.

A young pickpocket.

One of the nicknames of a fraudster or pickpocket, commonly a cozener’s offsider.

A common name for a part time prostitute.

The local judge or Royal official charged with keeping the peace.

The Common Watch:
this stout band of law officers acted as the Tudor version of the police force and occasional fire brigade. Usually regarded by the citizens as next to useless, venial and dumber than a bag of hammers.

These are the usual law enforcement officers for the city of London and its wards and parishes. While in some places they were competent, most of them were considered worse than the Common Watch.

Ward Muster Companies:
Citizen militia of reasonable quality and equipment, usually recruited from the better classes of Londoners.

The Liberties:
Areas of the city of London and Southwark under the jurisdiction of the Church and exempt from interference by city or county officials. Usually swarming with punks, cony catchers, thieves, murderers and forgers.

Lollard Towers:
Church prisons for heretics so named for Wycliffe’s 14
century English sect who wanted the Bible translated into English and reform of the church.

Manchet loaf:
Best quality white bread usually for the well off.

Ravel loaf:
Coarser quality bread usually eaten by tradesmen and others.

A small boat with one to four rowers, used for transport on the Thames, the taxi of its day.

Prologue A Perilous Position

Ned closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the winter chilled stonework of the bridge. No, he kept on telling himself, don’t look down. That wasn’t a good idea. It may look like any other patch of the murky, stygian gloom of mid winter, but searching for an unseen peril below didn’t help. If he fell he knew what happened. He’d seen it a minute or so ago when the bridge wall collapsed. Earless Nick’s luckless minion tumbled over him and, screaming briefly, had plummeted onto the ice which had shattered with a loud crash, then finally a choking gurgle. So no, he didn’t need to peer down there to see the effects. His imagination was already doing a good enough job supplying him with the images he didn’t need. He already knew the Fleete Ditch by reputation – all of London and the Liberties did. In summer you could smell it for a mile. So a closer inspection of the sluggish, turgid, stream, charged with turds and piss channel scourings was not required. Instead he needed to do something constructive, like figure out how to climb up.

As it was, his fingers were getting cramped, shoved as they were between the iron and the stone. He’d tried to tighten his grip on the iron staple and who knows, without the gloves, it may have been easier. However as slippery as they felt right now, they protected his flesh from the jagged edged iron. Damn the Liberties work crews and damn Sir Thomas
More! That lofty royal official had been Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and this bridge was under his jurisdiction for repair. Perhaps if the new Lord Chancellor of the Kingdom had spent less time a’ hunting heretics, he could have put that spare energy to better use. Like repairing the
Fleete Ditch Bridge!

Ned attempted to distract himself from this situation. An ancient philosopher had suggested that, when in peril, one should recall a happy or pleasurable occasion to regain a moment of joy. Well he did that, and what readily sprang to mind was the Christmas Revels. His Christmas Revels actually, that he’d organised, financed and in fact should have, at this very moment, been sitting down to, feasting on roast suckling pig with a tankard of the finest sack in his hand. And just think, during these twelve nights of Christmas, didn’t he have so much to be thankful for. Now he was hanging off the Fleete Ditch Bridge. Oh, how could it be better?

Ned wedged his hand further into the unyielding stone and mortar. Let him see. Of course, Mistress
damn her arrogance
Black, she could be here instead of him. Oh wait no, no. What would be more fitting was that meepish little rat, the reformist lost lamb, Walter Dellingham! But wait, his daemon supplied one name above all, one name that well and truly deserved to be here; Gruesome Roger Hawkins. It was the fault of that surly retainer of the Black’s that Ned was here swinging off a piece of iron, waiting to plunge to an ignominious end. Oh Christ on the Cross no, not drowned in turds!

As Ned made an effort to remember a prayer, any prayer, he heard the scraping of a boot on the cobbles of the bridge above him. Slowly the scuffing came closer. Damn – more of Earless Nick’s minions. He’d already gone through three – wasn’t that enough? Anyway that complaint was moot. It was not as if he could get to his dagger or sword – they were up there on the bridge. Possibly he could push himself hard against the stone wall. It was damned dark down here and the bridge lanterns didn’t cast even a smidgen of light this way. The boots hit his sword and the metal chimed on the cobbles. The outline of a figure peered over the edge as if looking straight at him. Ned wasn’t sure whether or not he should call out.

Then a low voice spoke above him. “Well bless me, it really is Christmas. Fancy finding y’ here Bedwell. Wotcha doin’ down there? Is Walter with y’?”

Ned closed his eyes for a moment and, to keep his temper in check, slowly counted up to ten – in Latin. “No. No, I don’t have lost lamb Walter here! Now for the love of all the saints, Roger
Hawkins, get me up!”

“Tch tch. That’s a fair nasty tongue on y’ this evening, Red Ned Bedwell.”

At the wryly amused tone, Ned ground his teeth and sent up another prayer, this time calling on forbearance. “Forgive me Master Hawkins. I’m cold, my arms hurt and damn Walter’s slipped off again.”

The shadow changed shape as Gruesome Roger Hawkins squatted by the broken wall, no doubt to help him up. “Yeah remember, Bedwell, the day when y’ challenged me at the tavern?”

“Yes, yes I do.” How could he forget it? That instant in time, just a few days ago was the very harbinger of his hanging off a rusty iron staple on Fleete Street Bridge.

Yeah, well so do I Bedwell, an’ I’ll remind y’ of what my reply was. By God’s Blood, afore the week’s out y’ goin’ to rue those words, y’ll be wadin’ through a river o’ shit to beg my forgiveness.”

Ned sighed. Oh yes he remembered that part.

“Well Bedwell, here we are, an’ I’m waiting.”

Ned blinked a few times in sheer surprise. This damned retainer was expecting him to apologise? What of his honour, his dignity, his natural superiority as an apprentice lawyer? As an instance of poor timing, the iron staple, which former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should have replaced along with repairing the broken wall, chose now to ease out from its mortared hole. “Ahh Meg Black isn’t nearby by, is she?”

At this point even the shrewish comments of an ungrateful Mistress Black were preferable to what awaited below. Even in the dull gloom of the lanterns Ned could see the glint of Gruesome Roger’s smile and the shake of his head. “No, she’s tending someone down the road. I’s can go an’ get her if y’ want.”

The iron squealed and Ned’s heart thumped rapidly. “No, ahh it’s fine!”

“I can come back later if’n y’ want Bedwell.”

If there was one aspect of his character, apart from his intelligence, that Ned was justifiably proud of, it was his practicality. After all, when hanging twenty foot over a frozen river of ordure, practicality was practically a virtue.


Chapter One: A Christmas Revel Christmas Eve
London 1529

The trilling notes of a harp chimed gently behind him as Ned rubbed his hands in front of the blazing fire. The sounds were echoed a moment later by the throaty laugh of a girl and the soft clink of a cup of sweet sack wine bumping the table. A glance out the diamond paned window told him that they’d made it here in good time. The usual mounds of street refuse were now being steadily covered in a hefty layer of white snow. No doubt even the water tubs that stood under the building’s eaves now had a surface of ice an inch thick. Despite the chill he found the scene alluring. London looked so much different in the white velvet blanket, almost as if it was donning its Twelfth Night mask apparel. Thus in one day she transformed into a pale fair mistress, rather than as some court wit had it, a pock marked crone with the fetid stench of the Fleete Ditch. The improved aspect and the subduing of the foul city airs were to Ned only the first of the benefits the winter snow had bestowed on him.

The second had been the growling dismissal by his master, Richard Rich, that year’s esteemed Autumn reader at Lincoln Inn. Most prentice lawyers were worked hard by their masters, eager to screw the last ounce of worth from the winter’s light, before having to resort to rush lights or expensive candles. So Ned shouldn’t complain too much because his fingers were cramped from his laboured task of writing up pleas for the upcoming law term. Or that the room’s meagre fire put out so little warmth that the ink in its brass pot frequently froze over and he had to chaff it warm to write. However in his case it was worse, since his master was also inconveniently his uncle. In this season it was a common joke around the Inns that Master Rich’s filial regard for his ‘worthless’ nephew bordered on that of His Sovereign Majesty’s for his recently dismissed former chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey. Thus, despite the difficulties, Ned’s better angel kept reminding him it could be worse. He could be serving his patron, Councillor Cromwell, out in the biting cold on some thankless task. However speculation didn’t aid his plans as his frustrated daemon whispered.

As it transpired, he needn’t have fretted. Lady Fortuna in the guise of his Aunt Elizabeth swept in to remind his ‘honoured’ guardian that he’d promised to take her and the children to the first of the Christmas celebrations at the Mercers Hall. That was just as well. Three hours of enduring Uncle Richard’s disapproving snorts at his efforts had strained the bonds of service. If the old fool had sneered at his transcribing one more time Ned would thrown the pile of papers and the frozen ink pot at him and be damned. However a miracle had happened and the Christmas piety had penetrated his uncle’s hard and flinty heart. Thus he was released. At the news Ned’s oldest cousin, little Henry, some seven years old, had capered, jumped and squealed in excitement. Young Hugh though just chuckled and gurgled at the performance. At barely a year he wriggled and kicked bundled in a warm blanket. Luckily Ned had remembered to plead a prior rendezvous with his friend of last year, Rob Black, over at Williams the Apothecary. So apart from a suspicious glare from Uncle Richard, he was exempted from the chaos of the family jaunt. While Ned still chortled at the mummers’ plays, his more mature seventeen years gave him the desire to seek out the more refined pleasures London had to offer.

Just as well. He had plans for this afternoon to increase his share of festive cheer. And they didn’t involve the Rich clan. Since the conclusion of the
Cardinal’s Angels
affair two months ago, Ned had done some serious thinking regarding his prospects for the winter. That significant success had improved the weight of his formerly lean and starved purse. If he wanted to be regarded as a gentleman, it behoved him to look the part. Witness the heavy green woollen mantle with fur edging, new black hose and a velvet–edged and lined doublet of the best scarlet cloth. This sartorial splendour, apart from keeping him a great deal warmer, had raised his status amongst the other apprentice lawyers, as did the rumours of his part in Cardinal Wolsey’s fall. The result was the enacting of his Christmas plan. Of long standing custom, come the twelve days of celebration, the apprentice lawyers tended to scatter to their homes, though a few gained lodgings in the city with the relatives and patrons family in the city. This usually left fifty or so lads at a loose end. While it was true that the various Masters of the Inns had made provision for their comfort, it tended to be under a watchful eye, so the festival cheer was usually rather muted.

Ned, being a kind and generous fellow, had commiserated with his companions in misery and suggested a possible solution to their woes. If perhaps several of them pooled their resources, a ‘friend’ with connections might arrange a set of private rooms above a reputable tavern. Then that ‘friend’ could also supply the party with all the necessities of cheer, roasted capons, venison pies, sweet berry subtleties, and of course a goodly quantity of the finest sack. Also to complete the scene of Roman Idylls, a bevy of well disposed maidens skilled in harp and song would be at hand. Also for those wishing to compete in a gentlemanly fashion, there was bowls, or chancing the
at dice or even the friendly card game of
Ruff and Honour
. In fact for accommodation, diversions, drink or provender, Ned reckoned he had it all covered, unless one of the more bucolic of the students began to pine for the dubious woolly pleasures of the country.

After all that pitch, Ned had laid out the final incentive – a spot at this magnificent repast could be had for the modest price of only one angel. The response had been astounding. Some thirty had handed over the required sum, while he’d accepted four shillings and a pledge from three more keen to join. That alone gave him a clear profit of ten angels after the expenses of room, company and provender, though the retention of one of Captaine Gryne’s more presentable retainers had been a little pricy. Despite the fact that his ‘friends’ were gentleman of a sort, the towering presence of Tam Bourke should provide sufficient incentive for a peaceable companionship, no matter how much sack was downed.

“Hey Ned, the first course is here, come on over!”

A flourish of harp strings and a drum roll on the tambour announced their arrival along with a resounding chorus of cheers. Ned turned with a ready smile and breathed deep the rich aroma, as his Christmas company left off their diversions and clustered round the table. The first of several trays appeared, borne by the tavern’s servitors. Ned walked over towards the repast and on the way accepted congratulations from several of his guests. It was only an hour or so in and already the good cheer was spread liberally around.

A pewter cup of sack was thrust into his hand by a large lad with brown tousled hair and blue eyes. The cup bearer towered over most of the gathering and unlike them was dressed in plainer clothes of a dark blue hue, though it wasn’t just his lack of lawyer’s garb that set Rob Black apart. For one thing, his appearance was extremely unlawyerly – at over six foot in height and with broad shoulders that looked strong enough to lift an ox. While Ned had a similar height, his hands only had the calluses’ and ink stains of a clerk. Though he was justifiably proud of his physical skill in a brawl, it couldn’t compete with the heavy craftsman’s trained muscles of his friend. Work with iron and foundry had fleshed out Rob’s build to that of a young Hercules. What’s more he also had a clear honest face, untrammelled by the daily deceits of the courts, as well as a pleasant disposition that had the girls sighing in raptures over his welcoming smile. Ned had found that aspect mildly frustrating when they’d gone drinking in the city taverns. All the girls and punks instantly fell for Rob with his cornflower blue eyes, while Ned Bedwell, handsome, well dressed apprentice lawyer, as his daemon sourly affirmed, was an after thought – though Rob was too good a company so he ignored his daemon’s whining.

A now freed heavy hand thumped him companionably on the shoulder. “Ned, this private Christmas feast is excellent, thanks for inviting me!”

Ned returned the smile. Asking Rob Black to be his business partner in this venture didn’t need any consideration. Lady Fortuna had blessed him last year when he’d been at his most desperate with barely two groats to rub together. Rob had been rescuing a poor abused country goodwife from the rough frolics of some city apprentices, as Ned had been passing by. In that glorious moment Ned had seen the golden gift of opportunity. He’d put across a credible story and immediately enrolled Rob in a cony catching play, all to recoup a hundred angels from the notorious Paris Bear Gardens owner and Southwark gang lord, Canting Michael.

It had worked brilliantly and despite what Rob’s sister, Meg Black, continually claimed, Ned couldn’t be held to blame if the immediate aftermath had involved a number of unforeseen complications. After all, how was he to know they’d be accused of the murder of a Royal official? Or have an urgent need to clear their names of treason by consorting with a supposedly deceased doctor who was a practitioner of the dark arts of divination? It was said that the politics of the Royal Court under their beloved sovereign, King Henry VIII, could be dangerous. That had proved to be an understatement. It was mercilessly vicious with friendship and loyalty only smile deep.

Though that peril was now consigned to the past, here and now was a time of celebration. Ned raised his cup. “My good friends and companions, I give you a toast, on this, the eve of Our Saviour’s birth. Good health, good cheer, good company and may we all be as drunk as bishops by Twelfth Night!”

A rousing cheer rang through the feasting room and the assorted apprentice lawyers and clerks hammered the table in a drum roll as the rest of the trays were laid out. The loudest cry came as the roasted pig made its way through the door. Ned had planned the revels to begin with a well laid feast of some fifteen courses, including poached salmon, venison pies and a march pane, almond sugar centre piece in the manner of the gate house of Gray’s Inn. That had been particularly difficult to organise. However Meg Black surprisingly offered to solve the problem. No doubt in her position as an apprentice apothecary she’d have sugar and spices by the pound, as well as access to more extensive kitchens. As the three foot tall subtlety was carefully displayed on the two tier buffet table Ned consoled himself that Rob’s annoying sister had come through and without levering an invitation. That was convenient. He didn’t know how he would have explained the diaphanously clad maidens playing the harp, shawm and tambour in the corner. She wasn’t the kind of lass who’d accepted the excuse of a Christmas tableaux in the manner of Ancient Romans.

Since he was host, Ned had taken a seat at the head of the table and after one of their number intoned an appropriate pray for the day, began to tuck into the first course, the venison pies. It was one of the specialties of the Spread Eagle Tavern. Henry Simkins, the taverner, was known to supply the Barber Surgeon’s Hall at Muggle Street. As all the lads at the Chancery knew the provender at their celebrations was almost as fine as the Mercers Guild, the wealthiest of the London guilds.

Ned was happily swapping the latest tale of Cardinal Wolsey’s woes with John Reedman, one the Chancery clerks, when Tam Bourke, their intimidating door warden, lumbered over to him and bending down, whispering loudly in his ear. “Ned there’s a’ messenger fo’ yea at the stairs.”

“Do you know him? Who’s he from?”

“Oh aye. He’s that grim faced livery man o’ the apothecary lass yea sweet on.”

Ned stifled an immediate retort denying the fact. Any rumours of his affairs of the heart or otherwise were not something he wanted bandied about amongst the gossips of the Inns. By the description, that could only be one person, Meg Black’s looming henchman, Roger Hawkins or as Ned preferred to think of him, Gruesome Roger.

“Tam, is it a tall, scar faced fellow with an iron shod cudgel hanging from his belt?”

“Aye that be him.”

Ned pursed his lips in thought. When he’d called around earlier, Meg Black had been busy with her common apothecary duties mixing herbs and the like. She hadn’t expressed any need for his company and apart from a brief snippy jibe at his propensity for including her brother in dubious enterprises, she’d been passably friendly for a change.

Ned leant across the table and asked Reedman to play the host while he dealt with his caller. His fellow clerk from Gray’s was reasonably dependable and had a good reputation at the Inns for solving arguments of precedence.

He’d left Tam on the landing as he made his way down to the bottom of the stairs. The Blacks’ retainer was standing on his own by the fire, giving the tavern’s customers a quizzical scowl. The recent snow melted and steamed off his cloak giving him the appearance of a visitor from the nether regions, an image not improved by the scar that ran across his face half closing his right eye. That was Hawkins all right. No one else in London could match that cynical visage, not even the leering grotesque carvings in the parish churches.

The retainer’s roving eye quickly caught sight of Ned and he strode over to the foot of the stairs and growled out his message. “Hey Bedwell. Y’re wanted at the apothecaries immediately, so stop guzzling wine and stuffing your face.”

Ned stepped off the last tread and consciously straightened up. They were of similar height, though Gruesome Roger had the lean and rangy appearance of wolf. In Ned’s opinions the lupine cousin had more manners. “I do not come or go at the beckoning of Mistress Black! I have business here this evening. Kindly give her my regrets.” Ned made an effort to put all the disdain he felt into that rebuff, though the answer didn’t appear to sit well with Meg her retainer.

Gruesome Roger frowned and shook his head. “Y’ right, of course Bedwell. What am I saying? Y’r y’r own master o’course. By the way y’r cods are unlaced.”

Instinctively Ned glanced down to check. The evil cackle of Gruesome Roger told him he’d been cony catched.

“So yea haven’t started with the bevy o’ punks y’ got up there? Just as well Mistress Margaret told me to fetch y’. Whether you got your hose on or around your ankles makes no difference ta me.”

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