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. 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.”