The Eighth Sir Geoffrey Mappestone Mystery
A journey into Wales becomes more dangerous the farther west Geoffrey, Roger, and their party proceed.
When the former Crusader knight Geoffrey Mappestone is ordered by King Henry to deliver a series of mysterious letters to the restless western reaches of Wales, he agrees only due to the possible repercussions against his family, should he refuse. Geoffrey’s conviction that the seemingly simple task hides something more sinister is strengthened when the scribe who wrote the letters is murdered before the journey begins.
Geoffrey and his friend Roger of Durham are forced to travel with an odd selection of companions, but when one of them is found dead soon after they set off, Geoffrey knows he must uncover the secret that lies behind the letters, and unmask the killer, before any more victims are claimed.
Geoffrey thought a floorboard creaked outside the bedroom door, but Hilde had hurled some garment to the floor at the same time, and he could not be sure. He sat up abruptly, straining to hear, then flopped back again when his head cracked against Hilde’s in the darkness.
‘What are you doing?’ she demanded angrily. ‘That really hurt.’
Geoffrey signalled for her to be quiet, but she did not see him and continued to berate him in a voice that made it difficult to hear anything else.
‘Hush!’ he snapped. ‘I thought I heard something.’
At that moment, there was a cheer from downstairs, followed by a lot of jeering. Roger had won something – no great surprise, given that he always cheated.
‘I really will be glad when he is no longer with us,’ Hilde muttered.
Geoffrey sat up a second time when the merest of draughts touched his cheek – the door was open. Reacting instinctively, he grabbed Hilde and hauled her off the bed, snatching the dagger from her belt as he did so. At the same time, he heard something thud into the mattress. Most other women would have screeched indignantly about being hurled around in the dark, but Hilde was blessedly silent. There was an advantage to marrying a woman who was a warrior.
Geoffrey was also silent. Then he heard the creak of a floorboard, this time to his left. He stabbed with the dagger, thinking that if someone was coming to rob them, then the thieves only had themselves to blame.
He heard a grunt as the blade connected, although he could not tell whether it had done any harm. He stepped forward, to place himself between the invader and Hilde. There was another creak, and he lunged again. This time, the dagger met thin air, but something crashed into his shoulder, making him stagger. He went on the offensive, suspecting he might not survive if he confined himself to defensive manoeuvres. He struck out wildly, moving towards the door as he did so, aiming to haul it open and yell for Roger.
Then something cracked into his head, and he saw stars. He lunged again, but he was disoriented, and the blow lacked the vigour of the previous ones. He had his attackers on the run, though, because he could hear footsteps moving away. He tried to estimate how many sets of feet, but it was difficult to be sure.
He sensed rather than saw someone flail at him, and fought by instinct, predicting which way the blows would come and parrying them with his forearm as he jabbed with the dagger. There was a howl and a curse, and then more footsteps. He became aware of Hilde next to him. She grabbed his arm, and he felt his sword shoved into his hand.
Howling his Saracen battle cry, he charged forward and saw at least three shadows in the hallway. How many were there, given that several had already fled? He swiped wildly, but he was dizzy and blood dripped into his eyes. He brushed it away impatiently, then whipped around when he heard someone behind him. A blow across the shoulders drove him to his knees.
He was not sure what happened next. He tried to tell Roger to give chase, but he could not make himself heard over the racket. He attempted to go himself, but his legs would not support him. He thought he heard Sear and Alberic coming to report that the culprits had disappeared, and was also aware of Pulchria regarding him in a distinctly unfriendly manner. Surely, she had not organized the attack, because she had objected to him depriving her of his squire’s company?
He rubbed his head, knowing his wits were not working clearly. However, he was not so muddled as to miss the fact that the attackers had ignored everyone else in the tavern and come after him. Perhaps Roger’s theory about the letters was not so wild after all, and what he had feared from the first was coming to pass: that there was more danger in the King’s errand than Henry had led him to believe.