Friday, October 17, 2014

Another snippet from my upcoming historical mystery

To be titled The Templar's Cross this is at an assize the day after the discovery of two dead bodies and Law Cullen, my main character, has been called to testify. Please keep in mind, it is unedited and a first draft:

Sir William’s scowl deepened. “Those clothes would have been worth coin and in the dark at least his cloak would have been easily taken.” He looked at the serjeant. “There is surely no possibility he would have been killed before nightfall.”

The serjeant, who Law was beginning to think might have at least a few more brains than he looked like, shook his head. “Someone would have seen him. It’s likely the stiffness would have started to pass had he been dead sae long.”

The assizer at the front of the group demanded, looking at Law, “You dinnae ken this one? You’re sure of it?”

“I’m sure of it. He does not look like a Scot to me. I never saw a Scot with that color hair.” He chewed his lower lip as he decided how much he should tell as Sir William grunted in agreement. “Mayhap it would be worth asking at the inns and monastery guest houses if they’ve had a guest by his description. There cannae be very many such hereabout.”

 “Yet you have been out of Scotland so you could have met such.”

“He could be English,” one of the assizers with the heavy shoulders of a master of the smith’s guild said.

Law made his face blank with boredom. “No. I never saw this one there, and I’d never take him for a knight or soldier, not even a cleric in those clothes.” Law thrust his chin at the stack of velvet at the foot of the table. “It seems to me the first thing is to find out if anyone has seen him about Perth. Someone must have.”

“Guesses achieve nothing,” Sir William said. “Does anyone have any knowledge to put forward?” When there was a nervous silence to his question, he turned his head to the assize. “Do any of you have any questions to put?”

“When did you agree to tryst for a drink with that one?” The hammersmith pointed toward Duncan. “Did anyone see the two of you to say you were not quarreling?”

“He came up to my room above Cullen’s inn before the none bell. I suppose Wulle Cullen might be able to tell you…?”

The innkeeper crossed his arms and nodded thoughtfully. “Aye, the man had been in my inn a handful of times. I cannae say I kent his name. I recall that he went up to yon Sir Law’s room yesterday and it might have been aboot the time he said. When the man came down he had a bowl of my goodwoman’s broth and left. If anything, he seemed more cheerful than before.”

“There is still fighting in France. Would it not have been easier to find a new lord there?” the same man asked.

Law examined the man’s face and wondered what answer would satisfy him. After a moment, he settled on the truth. “I followed my lord there. After he was killed, I had no desire to follow a Frenchman. And...it was time to come home.”

The man nodded, and when Sir William asked there were no more questions. Sir William took a seat in the large chair on the dais that could serve as a throne if the king were in attendance. The serjeant along with one of his men escorted the assizers out of their encloser through a rear door to a jury chamber.

Wulle Cullen wove his way through the crowd to Law. Shrugging, Cormac sauntered in the innkeeper’s wake. He shook his head. “Not oft we see two murders in one day.”

Law grunted. “I suppose not.”

Cormac muttered, “Even less often the murderer doesn’t dump the body in the Tay.”

“Wheest, Cormac, mind your place” Wulle scolded and got a glare for his trouble. “I wonder if they will take long. You’d think they wouldn’t have much to consider.”

“I suppose they must consider if it was I who did the deed.” He breathed a soft laugh through his nose. “I’ve killed more than a few in battles, but I’m no murderer.”

“Och, with so many of our men the fighting with the English in France, more than a few have done that.” The innkeeper slapped Law’s shoulder. “This testifying is thirsty work. I’ll draw you a mug of ale when we bide at home and no charge to you.”

“That’s kind of you,” Law said.

A thin, undersized man, his dark, stringy hair hanging over his small eyes in greasy locks, sidled close.

“Get away,” Wulle barked.

As Law stared after him, the man darted back into the onlookers.  “Who was that?” he asked the other two men.

Cormac shrugged. “What? No ale for me? You’re a tight-fisted bugger, Wulle.”

Ignoring the minstrel, Wulle said, “Dave Tailor, he’s called. Mayhap he tailors his clothes from the rats he catches.” Wulle snickered but his face straightened as he pointed at a door that a guard had pulled open. “Here comes the assize. I thought t’would not take them long.”

The fifteen men of the assize filed through the door held open by the serjeant and proceeded solemnly to the enclosure. A buzz of speculation went through the chamber. Sir William roused himself from dozing and stood. Once the serjeant climbed the steps to the dias and shouted for silence. Sir William briefly reminded the assize of the verdicts they were expected to bring and asked who would speak for them.

The burly hammersmith who had questions Law took a step forward. “I shall, my lord. Androu Gray, master smith.”

“And what has the assize found on the first death, Androu?”

 “We’re agreed that it is Duncan Kintour, and the death was foul murder by stabbing.”

“Very good. And do you agree to who saw to the death?”

“No, on that we could not. Two thought that it was yon Sir Law but the rest of us held that there was no way to ken who had done the deed.”

A hubbub started up and everyone in the room seemed to turn to mutter about the verdict. Law dropped a hand onto his hilt but most of the crowd seemed to agree.

The serjeant shouted for order. It took several shouts but after a few minutes the din quieted. 

“Keep silent or I’ll clear the room except for the assize,” Sir William said. “Now, Androu, what is the verdict on the second death?”

“We do not ken who is he, but most of us think he is an Englishman. Some have whitish hair like thon. It is obvious how he died, by murder from having his throat slit.” The smith frowned toward the draped corpse. “But it is a different kind of stroke. We thought it was most likely not the same hand that struck the blow.”


Friday, September 19, 2014

Snippet of my work in progress: a historical mystery!

Sadly it doesn't yet have a title. It is my first historical mystery, and here are the first few pages (unedited). Hope you find it at least somewhat interesting

Here goes:

Through a gray curtain of drizzle, Law looked down from his window at the muck of the High Street. Narrow shops where the shutters were closed against the damp chill, under the shadow of out-thrusting overhangs, moldering plaster walls interspersed with graying timber uprights. All of the outlying suburbs of Perth were like this; narrow vendels that lead to a street of drear houses crammed with the leavings of their betters. After spreading his gaze across the rooftops of Perth to the murky ghost-spire of Kirk of St. John the Baptist and the River Tay, he snapped the shutters closed.


A tiny peat fire in a brazier threw fingers of red across Law Kintour’s wobbly table. The room was small, smaller even than his tent in the days when he’d followed the Douglas to war. His narrow pallet bed was against the opposite wall to that he shared with his landlord Wulle Cullen and his wife. The meager bits of furniture were rented with the room. A wooden kist near the door held the few belongings he had salvaged from disaster in France.


Loud voices that nearly drowned out the sound of a minstrel playing a vielle filtered up to Law through the cracks in the wooden floor above Cullen’s tavern. The tavern was jammed between a brewster and a bakster, the daub thin and flaking. The ground floor boasted a barrel of ale on a trestle, stools, a couple of benches and a long trestle table for eating. Bette Cullen could usually be found stirring a pot of broth that hung from a crane over a peat fire on the hearth whilst gray-haired Wulle bustled about tending to the customers.


Law sat and hunched over the mutton broth he’d ordered from downstairs, though it had more of barley, onions and kale with only a hint of meat to it. He quickly ate it since he’d let it get cold, but he sopped the bowl clean with a hunk of oat bannock. When there was a tap on the door, he looked up with a belch.


Frowning, he called out, “Aye?”


Cormac MacEda opened the door. He was a lanky young man whose striped red and cream doublet with crumpled red ribbons at the seams Law always thought regrettable even for a minstrel. But his eyes were blue and playful in a boyish face. He closed the door behind him, lounged against it, and said, “There is a man in the tavern looking for you. Says his name is Erskyn.”


“Looking to hire a man-at-arms?”


“Mayhap. You’ll want to talk to him. He has siller enow to judge by his dress.”


“Send him up, lad,” Law said. “Send him up.”


Cormac opened the door again and took the rickety stairs down to the the inn. Law stood, smoothed his shabby doublet and tugged it down to try to hide the small hole mid-thigh in his hose. He’d dumped out the night-soil bucket this morning. After years in military camps, he didn’t leave his belongings flung about, not that he had many. Poor though he was, he kept his meager room as neat as he could. Hopefully, someone desiring to add a lordless knight to his tail would look for no more.


A harsh, rasping voice on the stairway said, “Aye, I see the way. Leave us the now.”


The door was flung open and a man strode in. He half-turned, scowling down the stairs until Cormac was out of sight. He was a tanned, erect man in his mid-thirties, wiry and medium height, fine looking in spite of the deep lines that scored from his nostrils past his thin mouth. Dark hair curled around his forehead and over the back of his neck. His nose was high-bridged and his eyes oddly bright.


Law had no doubt that the man was accustomed to barking commands and having them obeyed. He looked the man over, trying to assess what lay beneath the confident gaze. His black velvet houppenlande trimmed with marten hung in organ pleats to his knees. It would have been fashionable even in the court of France. A sword with a gem-encrusted hilt and engraved scabbard hung at this belt.


He swept his gaze warily around the room before he locked his eyes upon Law. “Sir Law Cullen?”


“At your service...” Law raised his eyebrows.


“I am Lord Erskyn.”


Law bowed and with a sword-calloused hand indicated the stool he had vacated, the only seating in the room other than his pallet.


The man nodded briskly before scanning the stairway once more and pulling the door firmly shut. He ignored the stool to take a slow turn around the room. The plaintive notes of Cormac’s vielle came through the floor and the sound of a strident, drunken laugh. A ragged spatter of rain clattered against the shutters. The ashes of the dying peat fire in the brazier twitched and flickered. The caller watched them with uneasy eyes.


“What might I do for you, my lord?”


“I have heard you served the Earl of Douglas in France,” the man said at last. “And were in his confidence.”


James swallowed a protest that his master had been Duke of Touraine when Law followed him into that final battle. “Aye, that is true at least in some degree.”


“Good.” The man nodded sharply, his thin mouth in a tight line. He frowned at the closed door.


Law nodded again. Erskyn was not a lord’s name he had heard before, but he had been away from Scotland more than in it until his lord’s death. Yet he was certain he would have heard if the man was from Perth even in the two months since his return. The thought of his lord’s death and his own reception at the hands of the new earl on his return curdled his belly so he pushed the thought away. For now, he needed a new patron and from the look of it, this man had the siller to afford knights to follow him. “And you heard I was seeking a new patron,” Law prodded.


“Tell me about yourself, Sir Law. If I am to employ you, I believe I have the right to ask.”


“There is little to tell, my lord. I am thirty years old. I was a squire in the Earl Archibald’s household and knighted by his hand. Was with in him France when he was made a Duke.” Law crossed to the window and opened a shutter to peer through the murk. “I was at his side when he fell in battle.”


“Yet lived yourself to tell the tale,” Erskyn said in an acid tone.


“Aye. Some might call it luck that I took a blow to the head. A...fellow knight pulled me out of a pile of bodies, or I might have died there after all.” The new earl had demanded why he hadn’t died defending his lord before he tossed Law a purse with a few gold for the news of his father’s death before he informed Law that he had no use for him in his own tail. Law strode from castle rather than be expelled out by the glaring men-at-arms. “The two of us managed to make our way back home, but…” He shrugged and turned back to find the man studying him with narrowed eyes..


“I am concerned with a secret matter.”


“You have no one in your service, no servant, you would trust?” This seemed odd.


“It would be a tempting piece of tittle-tattle. But you are not kent in Edinburgh to spread it about.”


Law stiffened. “If I give my word to keep silent, that is what I do, my lord.”


“My lady wife has disappeared--” He threw himself down on the stool and leaned his arms on his legs, hands dangling between his knees. “If it were kent, I would be a laughingstock. In the court. Even in the servant’s quarters. They’d snicker behind my back and sneer to my face. Call me a cuckold. She must be found before this scandal is noised about.”