The Eighth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Cambridgeshire, August 1354 – and the Bishop of Ely is accused of murder.
Tom Glovere was steward to Lady Blanche de Wake, a close relative of the King. A nasty, malicious gossip, his body is discovered by the banks of the River Ouse in Ely, just days after the Bishop had publicly threatened him with such an eventuality. The Bishop, though, protests his innocence and summons Cambridge University Proctor Brother Michael to help him clear his name. After all, Glovere was a man who liked his wine, and it would not be the first time he had collapsed in a drunken stupor after a heavy night in a tavern.
When Michael and physician Matthew Bartholomew inspect Glovere’s body, they realise that the steward did not drown through his own drunkenness: someone had stabbed him carefully and precisely in the back of the neck. And Glovere was not the only person to have died in this way: two locals, both thought to have committed suicide, have also been killed in this manner. While Bartholomew and Michael struggle for solutions, the murderer claims more and more victims, and there is a race to stop him before he causes rifts between two powerful factions that will never be healed.
The Isle of Ely, early August 1354
Tom Glovere finished his ale and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He was aware that the atmosphere in the Lamb Inn was icy, despite the warmth of the summer evening, but he did not care. The inhabitants of Ely were too complacent and willing to believe the good in people. Glovere intended to cure them of such foolery.
‘So,’ said the landlord, turning away from Glovere to address another of his patrons. ‘It is a good summer we are having, Master Leycestre. Long, hot days are excellent for gathering the harvest.’
‘Do not try to change the subject, Barbour,’ snapped Glovere, as he set his cup on the table to be refilled. ‘We were discussing the spate of burglaries that have plagued our city for the last few days: the locksmith was relieved of six groats last night, while the Cordwainers Guild had three silver pieces stolen the day before.’
‘We know all this,’ said Barbour wearily. ‘My customers and I do not need you to tell us the story a second time. And we do not need you to make nasty accusations about our fellow citizens, either.’
Glovere smiled. It was not a pleasant expression. ‘Then you should expect these thefts to continue. Whoever is breaking into our homes and making off with our gold is a local man. He knows which houses are likely to contain the most money, the best way to enter them, and even how to pacify the dogs. The locksmith’s hound is a mean-spirited brute, and yet it did not so much as growl when its home was entered in the depths of the night. That, my friends, is because the dog knew the burglar.’ He sat back, confident that he had made his point.
The landlord regarded Glovere with dislike. It was growing late, so most of his patrons had already gone home, but a dozen or so remained, enjoying the cool, sweet ale that made the Lamb a popular place to be on a sultry summer night. Outside, the sun had set in a blaze of orange and gold, and the shadows of dusk were gathering, dark and velvety. The air smelled of mown hay, and of the ripe crops that waited in the fields to be harvested. It was a beautiful evening, and Barbour thought Glovere was wrong to pollute it by creating an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. He turned to Leycestre again, and enquired politely after the health of his nephews in the hope that Glovere would grow bored and leave.
‘Why would an Ely citizen suddenly resort to burgling the houses in his own town?’ asked Leycestre, ignoring the landlord’s attempt to change the subject and addressing the gleefully malicious Glovere instead. ‘Your accusations make no sense. I keep telling you that it is gypsies who are responsible for these thefts. The burglaries started the day after they arrived, and that speaks for itself.’
Barbour sighed, wishing that Leycestre would keep his unfounded opinions to himself, too. The gypsies liked their ale just as much as the next man, and he did not want to lose valuable customers just because Leycestre had taken against them.
Glovere sneered. ‘The gypsies would not burgle us. They come here every year to help with the harvest, and they have never stolen anything before. You just do not want to face up to the truth: the culprit is a townsman who will be known to us all. You mark my words.’ He tapped his goblet on the table. ‘Another ale, Barbour.’
‘No,’ said Barbour, angry with both his customers. ‘You have had enough.’
Glovere gazed at him, the scornful expression fading from his face. He was not an attractive man – his complexion was florid and flaky, and the uneven whiskers that sprouted from his cheeks and chin made him appear unwashed and unsavoury, despite his neat and expensive clothes. ‘I am not drunk. Give me another ale.’
‘I did not say you were drunk,’ said Barbour coolly. ‘I said you have had enough. You have a vicious tongue and I do not want you wagging it any longer in my tavern.’
Glovere glowered at the Lamb’s other patrons, his eyes bright with malice. He held the lofty position of steward, after all, while they were mere labourers, and it galled him to think that they should be served while he was refused. ‘I am not the only one who tells what he knows. Leycestre revealed that it was Agnes Fitzpayne who raided the prior’s peach tree last year, while Adam Clymme told us that Will Mackerell ate his neighbour’s cat.’
‘That is not the same,’ said Barbour firmly. ‘Your gossip is dangerous. You have already caused one young woman to drown herself because her life was blighted by your lies.’
There was a growl of agreement from other drinkers, and Glovere at least had the grace to appear sheepish. ‘It was not my fault that she killed herself before it could be proven that she was not with child,’ he objected sullenly. ‘I only told people what I thought. And it was not my fault that her betrothed went off and married someone else, either. Was it Chaloner?’
He stared archly at a burly man who sat alone in one corner of the inn. Others looked at Chaloner, too, and none of the expressions were friendly. Chaloner was a rough, belligerent fellow who cared little for what people thought. But he knew the good citizens of Ely had neither forgotten nor forgiven the fact that he had abandoned poor Alice to marry another woman when Glovere made his accusations – accusations that had transpired to be false. He drained his cup, slammed it on the table and slouched from the tavern without a word.
‘Why Alice killed herself over him is beyond me,’ said Glovere, after Chaloner had gone, knowing that people were invariably willing to engage in chatter that further sullied that man’s already unsavoury reputation. Perhaps a conversation about the detested Chaloner would induce Barbour to forget his irritation with Glovere himself. ‘I did her a favour by saving her from marriage with him.’
‘A favour that killed the poor lass,’ muttered Leycestre under his breath.
‘It would not surprise me to learn that Chaloner is the thief,’ Glovere went on. ‘We all know he has a penchant for the property of others. Perhaps he has become greedy.’
‘And the reason we all know about his weakness for other people’s goods is because he keeps getting caught,’ Barbour pointed out. ‘But Chaloner does not have the skill or the daring to burgle the homes of the wealthiest men in Ely.’
‘The gypsies do, though,’ said Leycestre immediately.
‘I do not know why we tolerate men like Chaloner in our town,’ said Glovere, cutting across what would have been a tart reprimand from Barbour. ‘None of us like him, and Alice is better dead than wed to him. More ale, landlord!’
Barbour’s expression was unfriendly. ‘You can have more when you can keep a decent tongue in your head. And it is late anyway.’ He glanced around at his other patrons. ‘You all need to be up early tomorrow to gather the harvest, and so should be heading off to your own homes now.’ He began to collect empty jugs and to blow out the candles that cast an amber light on the whitewashed walls.
Glovere glared at him, then stood reluctantly and made his way outside. There was a sigh of relief from several customers when the door closed behind him.
Once outside, Glovere slouched towards the river. Unlike the others, he was not obliged to rise before the sun was up to spend the day labouring in the fields. He was steward to Lady Blanche de Wake, and his only task was to watch over her manor while she was away. It was scarcely onerous, and he often found himself with time on his hands. He reached the river and began to stroll upstream, breathing deeply of the rich, fertile scent of ripe crops and the underlying gassy stench of the marshes that surrounded the City in the Fens.
A rustle in the reeds caught his attention and he glanced around. Someone was walking towards him. He stopped and waited, wondering whether he had gone too far in the tavern, and that one of the patrons had come to remonstrate with him. He waited for the person to catch up, ready to dispense a few home truths if the villain intended to tell him how to behave. A slight noise from behind made him spin around the other way. Was someone else there, or was it just the breeze playing among the waving reeds? Glovere suddenly had the feeling that it was not such a fine evening for a stroll after all.