The Thirteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
It is the year 1357, and the University at Cambridge is in a sorry state.
Careful examination of the University’s finances reveals serious shortfalls. Meanwhile, the town’s landlords are demanding huge rent increases for the rooms they lease to students, and the plague has left the Colleges with scant money to pay for vital repairs to their walls and roofs. But for Matthew Bartholomew, Fellow of Michaelhouse, there is another problem nearer much closer to his heart: the arrival of a certain Richard Arderne, a healer with ‘magical’ powers, who claims to be able to awaken the dead.
But Arderne cannot banish death entirely. Not when it arrives in the form of murder. Is the killer a rapacious landlord? Or the healer himself, with his spells and incantations?
Against a backdrop of rivalry between town and gown, of gambling dens and missing persons, and of dissent between the Franciscans and Dominicans, Bartholomew and his colleague Brother Michael must find the viper in the University’s midst before the entire town descends into anarchy. And before Bartholomew and Michael themselves are killed …
When Magister Richard Arderne first arrived in Cambridge, he thought it an unprepossessing place, and almost kept on driving. It was pretty enough from a distance, with a dozen church towers standing like jagged teeth on the skyline, and clusters of red-tiled and gold-thatched roofs huddled around each one. There were other fine buildings, too, ones that boasted ornate spires, sturdy gatehouses and forests of chimneys. Arderne supposed they belonged to the University, which had been established at the beginning of the previous century. From the Trumpington road, in the yellow blaze of an afternoon sun, with the hedgerows flecked white with blossom and the scent of spring in the air, the little Fen-edge settlement was picturesque.
However, when he drove through the town gate, he saw it was not beautiful at all. It was a dirty, crowded place, full of bad smells, potholed lanes and dilapidated houses. The reek of the river and ditches, which provided residents with convenient sewers as well as drinking water, was overpowering, and he did not like to imagine what it would be like during the heat of summer. The churches he had admired from afar were crumbling and unkempt, and he suspected there was not a structure in the entire town that was not in need of some kind of maintenance or repair. The so-called High Street comprised a ribbon of manure and filth, trodden into a thick, soft carpet by the many hoofs, wheels and feet that passed along it, and recent rains had produced puddles that were deep and wide enough to have attracted ducks.
Arderne surveyed the scene thoughtfully as he directed his cart along the main road. The servants who sat behind him were asking whether they should start looking for a suitable inn. Arderne did not reply. Was Cambridge a place where he could settle? He was weary of travelling, of feeling the jolt of wheels beneath him. He longed to sleep in a bed, not under a hedge, and he yearned for the comforts of a proper home. And he wanted patients, too, because Arderne was a healer, as anyone glancing at the astrological configurations and medicinal herbs painted on the sides of his wagon would know.
Like any medicus, the prerequisite for his success was a population that was either ailing or willing to pay for preventative cures. Arderne glanced at the people who walked past him, assessing them for limps, spots, coughs and rashes. There were scholars wearing the uniforms of their Colleges and hostels, with scrolls tucked under their arms and ink on their fingers. There were friars and monks from different Orders; some habits were threadbare, but more were made of good quality cloth. And there were finely clad merchants and foreign traders, smug, sleek and fat.
Arderne smiled to himself. Not only were Cambridge folk afflicted with the usual gamut of ailments that would provide his daily bread, but there was money in the town, despite its shabby appearance. Now all he had to do was rid himself of the competition. No magician–healer wanted to work in a place where established physicians or surgeons were waiting to contradict everything he said.
He reined in, and flashed one of his best smiles at a pleasant-faced woman who happened to be passing, knowing instinctively that she would be willing to talk to him. Ever since he was a child, Arderne had been able to make people do what he wanted. Some said he was possessed by demons, and that his ability to impose his will on others was the Devil at work; others said he was an angel. Arderne knew neither was true; he was just a man who knew how to use his good looks and unusually arresting blue eyes as a means of getting his own way.
He beckoned the woman towards him. As expected, she approached without demur. He asked directions to the town’s most comfortable inn, and was aware of her appreciative gaze following him as he drove away. Most women found him attractive, and he was used to adoring stares. Indeed, he expected them, and would have been disconcerted if Cambridge’s females had been different from those in the many other towns he had graced with his presence.
The landlord of the Angel tavern on Bene’t Street was named Hugh Candelby. He was not particularly amenable company, but Arderne soon won him round, and it was not long before they were enjoying a comradely jug of ale. Arderne’s pale eyes gleamed when Candelby described how the plague had taken most of the town’s medical practitioners, leaving just four physicians and one surgeon. The physicians were all University men, and were saddled with heavy teaching loads as well as tending their patients. Arderne almost laughed aloud. It was perfect! Now all he needed was a house where he could set up his practice, preferably one that reflected his status as a man who had tended monarchs and high-ranking nobles, and a week or two to reconnoitre and rest his travel-weary bones.
And then, he determined, Cambridge would never be the same again.