The Fifth Sir Geoffrey Mappestone Mystery
Geoffrey’s fondness for his sister draws the Crusader knight and his friend Roger into an investigation based on King Henry’s love of his money and his hopes to preserve it.
Westminster, 1102. Once again about to depart for the Holy Land, Sir Geoffrey is furious to be summoned back by the King, trusting neither His Majesty’s methods of persuasion nor his motives.
When he arrives at Court, Geoffrey finds two argumentative groups of Saxon moneyers, one accusing the other of devaluing the King’s currency. There may be more to it than mere greed, however, and, unappealing though the prospect is, Geoffrey has no choice but to accept the King’s commission to investigate whether this is part of a treasonous plot – especially as it is his only hope of saving his sister from the consequences of her own involvement.
As Geoffrey and Sir Roger of Durham delve deeper, men like the powerful William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester and former Lord Chancellor of England, appear to be involved. Can the two carry out their investigation without someone trying to stop them – permanently?
Bath, November 1102
Geoffrey did not feel like returning to John’s house to be insulted – or worse – so set out in search of the hot springs for which the town was famous. The gate of the largest fountain was locked for the night, so he decided to look for some of the smaller ones, in the hope that they would still be open.
He discovered one in the southwest quarter of the town, housed in an unstable structure that was made of the same pale sandstone as the abbey. Its guardian had either forgotten to secure it, or it was not considered worth locking, because its door was ajar. He walked inside and waited for his eyes to become accustomed to the gloom. Finding a lamp near the door, he kindled it to discover walls that were thickly coated in slime, but saw faint splashes of colour underneath: once, when the town was more important, they had been decorated with bright and elaborate paintings.
In front of him was a cistern full of a sulphurous liquid. It was fed and drained by lead-lined conduits, so it would never overflow but always be full and, although the system was ancient – its stones were worn and its channels furred with salt deposits – it still worked. He knelt to dip a tentative hand in the water, and was pleasantly surprised as the warmth soaked through his chilled skin.
Geoffrey did not take baths – although he had once made an exception in the Holy Land – because only a fool divested himself of clothes and armour and sat in a vat of water. But there was something appealing about the green tank before him, perhaps because it was hot and not topped by a layer of scum from previous users. He thought about the number of people who had recently told him he was dirty, and made his decision.
He closed the door and placed a stave across it. It was not a particularly strong door, and the bar was soft and rotten, but it would serve to keep out casual visitors and afford him some privacy. Then, for the second time in as many days, he divested himself of his clothes. Clad in tunic and baggy braes, he walked across the floor to the bath and stared at the steaming water. The lamplight gave it an emerald sheen, and the spring that provided its fresh water rippled its surface. He could not see the bottom, and was inclined to abandon the whole foolish venture and join Roger in his game of dice. But it had taken him some time to clamber out of his armour, and it seemed a pity to give up now. Not liking the notion of a wet tunic when he dressed again, he shrugged it off and laid it on the floor, although the braes remained in place: only Greeks, heathens and the insane bathed naked, as far as he was aware.
He sat on the side of the bath and lowered one foot. The water was hot and tingling, so he dipped the other one in, too. He remained there for some time, enjoying the sensation of heat bubbling around his legs. Then he took a deep breath and launched himself forward, keeping one hand on the edge in case some hidden current caught him and tried to drag him away. But the water only reached his chest, and he discovered underwater benches that allowed bathers to sit. Reclining against the hot stones with the water flowing around his body, was one of the most pleasurable sensations he had ever experienced. He closed his eyes and relaxed properly for the first time in weeks. The sound of the wind outside made him feel warm and comfortable, and soon he did not even notice the rank smell of sulphur and mould.
He had no idea how long he had been asleep when he woke with a start. The lamp had burned out, and it was dark. He raised one hand, feeling fingers that were tender and wrinkled from being soaked too long. He was overly hot, too, and sweat trickled in his eyes. He listened hard, wondering what had woken him, and wished his dog were there, because it was an excellent warning for lurking menaces. Rain had started to patter on the roof, but the only other sound was the gurgle of water from the spring. He was about to climb out, assuming the heat had roused him from his doze, when he heard something else: the soft tap of a leather-soled shoe on a flagstone.
He tensed. His sword and knives were with his clothes on the opposite side of the chamber, and he cursed himself as a fool for wanting to take a bath when he should have known no good would come from it. He stood slowly, and glanced at the door. It was still closed. Then he scanned the room and saw a dark space where earlier there had been a wall. There was a second way in that he had not noticed, and he supposed the algae covering the walls had disguised it, along with the fact that he had not bothered to conduct a proper search.
He stayed stock still for a long time, feeling the water move around his body as he listened for any indication that someone else was there. There was nothing but silence. He took a step forward, towards the centre of the bath, and then he was underwater. Too late, he realized it was deeper in the middle than around the edges, designed to give bathers the choice of immersing themselves or sitting. He splashed to the surface and made his way to one side, eager to put solid ground under his feet.
Then the attack came. He saw a dark shadow looming over him, and knew from the elongated arm that it held a dagger. He jerked back in time to avoid the blow, but that put him in the path of a second assailant. Strong hands fastened around his throat, immediately tightening, so he could not breathe…