The Fourteenth Thomas Chaloner Adventure
Chaloner finds the murder of a powerful courtier to be just the beginning of a series of events that threaten to lead to widespread death and destruction as the people of London look forward to celebrating Easter.
In the spring of 1666, everyone’s first reaction to a sudden death at the palace of White Hall is that the plague has struck, but the killing of Thomas Chiffinch was by design, not disease.
Chiffinch was holder of two influential posts – Keeper of the Closet and Keeper of the Jewels – and rival courtiers have made no secret of their wish to succeed to those offices. To Thomas Chaloner, ordered to undertake the investigation, such avarice gives a whole host of suspects an ample motive for murder.
The same courtiers are at the heart of the royal entourage endorsing the King’s licentious and ribald way of life, and Chaloner has some sympathy with the atmosphere of outrage and disgust at such behavior. London’s citizens, already irked by the wealthy fleeing to the country at the outbreak of the plague, have scant patience with the Court on its return. The city is abuzz with rumours of dissent and rebellion, fuelled by predictions from a soothsayer in Clerkenwell of a rain of fire destroying the capital on Good Friday.
Chaloner initially dismisses such talk as nonsense, but as he uncovers ever more connections to Clerkenwell among his suspects, he begins to fear that there is also design behind the rumours – and that, come Easter Day, the King and his Court might find themselves the focus of yet another rebellion.Amazon.co.uk Hardcover Kindle Edition Waterstones Amazon.com US Kindle Edition
‘I have had another vision,’ a loud voice that was perfectly audible from inside the coffee house declared. A crowd formed around the open door to listen to her.
‘Mother Broughton, I presume,’ murmured Chaloner from his seat outside.
‘It must be,’ Swaddell whispered back, ‘and we should take heed of what she is about to announce, because some seers are not above making sure their predictions come true – and I do not like the sound of the wailing, gnashing of teeth and darkness that she has claimed will afflict London on Good Friday.’
‘The dead will walk again on Tuesday,’ declared Mother Broughton in sepulchral tones, which caused a frisson of fear to ripple through her listeners, the ranks of which were rapidly swelling with folk who lived around the green.
‘What dead?’ called someone uneasily. ‘Not plague victims?’
‘If they lived godly lives, they will rest in peace,’ replied Mother Broughton grandly. ‘But if they were evil, they will rise to move amongst us, clad in long black cloaks to hide their mouldering bones. In their hands, they will hold red lights – not lamps to illuminate their way, but the vessels that contain their tainted souls.’
‘Crikey!’ breathed landlord Myddleton, turning to regard his customers with frightened eyes. ‘I do not like the sound of that.’
‘The first sighting will be in Bunhill,’ Mother Broughton boomed on, ‘where too many Quakers and Baptists are being buried. The second will be in Westminster Abbey.’
‘I have an uncle interred in Westminster Abbey,’ Swaddell told Chaloner conversationally. ‘It will be interesting to meet him again.’
Chaloner regarded him askance, but then his attention was caught by a remark from Eliza Topp, who was speaking anxiously from the back of the crowd.
‘But if only the wicked will have their eternal rest disturbed, we shall we inundated with nasty people: wife-beaters, religious fanatics, bullies, thieves, killers, courtiers—’
‘Courtiers!’ spat Sarah. ‘Scoundrels to a man! God forbid that they should make an honest living. Or engage in something that might tax their intellect, like devising ways to end this stupid Dutch war or to help the downtrodden poor.’
‘You cannot tax something you do not have,’ put in Eliza, an assessment that drew a rumble of appreciation from the crowd.
‘The government taxes uson what we do not have all the time,’ countered Sarah. ‘They take our hard-earned wages to support a palace that is full of expensive, worthless toadies.’
‘Goodness!’ muttered Chaloner, wondering if she would be so frank if she knew the Spymaster’s favourite assassin was listening. ‘She is bold.’
‘She is,’ agreed Swaddell worriedly. ‘Our informants are right to say that something dark is bubbling in Clerkenwell. The whole area is ripe for insurrection, and Sarah Shawe will be at the heart of it.’
‘But the dead will not stay among us,’ Mother Broughton went on, eager to reclaim the attention. ‘They will return to the soil. Then I predict that three things will come to pass.’
‘Why are there always threethings with seers?’ muttered Swaddell. ‘Never two or four?’
‘Just be thankful she did not choose thirteen,’ quipped Chaloner, ‘or we would be here all day.’
‘The first will be on Maundy Thursday,’ she announced. ‘Five days hence. There will be a death, which will cause much sorrow.’
‘Of course there will,’ spat Swaddell. ‘We live in the biggest city in the world. Someone will also die today, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.’
‘Who?’ called Eliza, alarmed. ‘Did you see that in your vision?’
‘The second will be on Good Friday,’ Mother Broughton went on, ignoring her and dropping her voice to make her next words full of dark foreboding, ‘which falls on the thirteenth day of the month in the year sixteen sixty-six.’
‘She is a charlatan,’ scoffed Chaloner, as the crowd exchanged fearful glances. ‘How can people not see through these clumsy theatrics?’
‘There will be a rain of fire, which will destroy the wicked,’ Mother Broughton informed everyone confidently. ‘It will be followed by a darkness that will cover the entire city. I have already told you that there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth on Good Friday. This is why.’
‘Her predictions are vague enough to mean anything, yet contain enough detail to make them seem convincing,’ mused Chaloner. ‘She is crafty.’
‘Yes, damn her,’ muttered Swaddell. ‘Which means my colleagues must squander precious time keeping an eye on her. What is wrong with the woman? Can she not see that we should be concentrating on the Dutch, not wasting our time on the likes of her?’
‘The third thing I foresaw will happen on Easter Sunday,’ Mother Broughton finished. ‘And it is this: the wicked will be gone and the righteous will take their places. There will be such happiness that even the Sun will dance for joy.’
‘That will be a sight, Tom,’ said Swaddell, as the seer was helped off her box to tumultuous applause. ‘Let us hope you and I will be in a position to appreciate it.’