The Sixth Sir Geoffrey Mappestone Mystery
Geoffrey’s new inheritance brings with it not only challenges from those who hope to grab his estate, but, even more troubling to him, the prospect of having to marry.
When the highly unpopular Henry Mappestone is found killed in the stables at Goodrich Castle, his last surviving brother, the former Crusader knight Sir Geoffrey, unwillingly inherits the castle and the rest of the family’s estates in the Welsh Marches. Immediately, his sister attempts to push him into a marriage that will ultimately provide an heir and, therefore, long-term stability for their family in a tense and troubled region.
But while visiting his friend Bishop Giffard at a nearby manor, attempts are made on Geoffrey’s life, and several other guests are killed. Are these deaths related to Henry’s murder, to his potential brides, or to the death of the Duchess of Normandy, which Geoffrey has been asked to investigate? As Geoffrey tries to make sense of a maze of intrigue, further killings begin to destabilize the area and threaten to lead to a Welsh revolt.
Goodrich, September 1102
Henry Mappestone was drunk. He had finished off two jugs of wine, reaching the point where he no longer bothered with a goblet. It was easier to upend the jug, and if some spilled, so be it: his sister Joan had made astute investments in Bristol, so he had plenty of money to spend.
When Henry thought about his sister and her husband, his flushed face broke into a sneer. He hated them both. Goodrich Castle and its lands were his – he had inherited them when his older brothers had died. But it was Joan and Olivier who had made them profitable. It was good to be wealthy after many lean years, but Henry resented the way Joan pursed her lips when he – the lord of the manor – enjoyed his wine, or hit a labourer for not working hard enough. In fact, he was of a mind to throw her and Olivier out altogether.
But then he would be obliged to run the estate himself, and, unlike Olivier, Henry could not read – he would have to hire a clerk to keep the accounts and the man would surely cheat him. Henry scowled. No, Joan and Olivier would have to stay, much as it infuriated him.
It was late, and most people were abed. It was harvest, so servants and masters alike were exhausted from gathering crops. Everyone was forced to lend a hand, even Henry. He was tired, too, but did not feel like sleeping. He seldom did, which Joan said was because his innards were pickled. But there were times when he thought the only way to survive until dawn was to drink.
He climbed unsteadily to his feet and lurched across the hall, treading on fingers and feet as he waded through weary bodies on straw pallets. But no one dared complain. It was only an hour or so since Henry had punched Torva – Goodrich’s steward – and no one else wanted to attract his attention. Henry wished he had not hit Torva so hard, because he was sure he had broken his hand.
He reached the door, and staggered across the bailey towards the stables. Animals would be better company than peasants with their resentful, fear-filled glances and, like most Normans, Henry liked horses. He especially liked the spirited palfrey called Dun. He reeled inside the stable, trying to see in the moonlight. He slapped Dun on the rump, then cursed when there was a searing pain in his knuckles. He leaned against the wall, cradling his hand to his chest.
He shouted for Jervil the groom, who slept in the loft. When he appeared, Henry tried to kick him, but Jervil melted into the darkness. Henry was incensed. How dare he dare slink away when he had been summoned by his master! But then there was a shadow beside him. Jervil knew his place.
‘Get me some wine,’ Henry snapped, easing into Dun’s stall. The horse had seemed lame earlier, and he wanted to check it.
But the shadow did not reply, and Henry suddenly felt something hot near his liver. Then he was gripped by a deep, searing ache, and he slid down the wall into the straw. When he reached for his stomach, his hand met a dagger protruding from it. He raised his hand to where silver moonlight slanted in through the door; it dripped black with blood. He felt light-headed, and then people he knew started to walk in front of him in a silent procession.
His wife, who had died the previous year, went first, her face no more than a blur; she carried their two little sons, who had died of fever that spring. His brothers were there, too – the two older ones and Geoffrey behind them. He did not remember being told Geoffrey was dead, but perhaps he had died on Crusade. Joan followed Geoffrey, and Henry saw she was laughing at him, mocking him. Had she thrust the weapon into him, or was it someone else? Henry did not know, but the knowledge that he was dying enraged him. He screamed at the ghosts and shadows, cursing them until his last breath.