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Authors: Kate Sedley

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[Roger the Chapman 02] - The Plymouth Cloak

BOOK: [Roger the Chapman 02] - The Plymouth Cloak
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The Plymouth
 

Cloak

Kate Sedley

Kate Sedley was born in Bristol and educated at The Red Maids' School, Westbury-on-Trym. She is married, has a son and daughter, and two grandchildren. DEATH AND THE CHAPMAN was her first detective novel: THE PLYMOUTH CLOAK ('compares well to ElIis Peters' Brother Cadfael tales' Publishers Weekly) and THE HANGED MAN continue the memoirs of Roger the Chapman.
 

Also by Kale Sedley
 

The Plymouth Cloak
 

Death and The Chapman
 

The Hanged Man
 

Kate Sedley
 

Copyright © 1992 Kate Sedley
 

- The right of Kate Sedley to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
 

First published in 1992
 

by The Crime Club, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
 

First published in paperback in 1994 by HEADLINE BOOK PUBLISHING
 

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which
 

it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
 

ISBN 0 7472 4486 3
 

Typeset by CBS, Felixstowe, Suffolk
 

Printed and Bound in Great Britain by HarperCollins Manufacturing, Glasgow
 

HEADLINE BOOK PUBLISHING A division of Hodder Headline PLC 338 Euston Road
 

London NWI 3BH
 

PROLOGUE
 

With some part of my mind, I knew that I was still asleep. I could feel the roughness of the hard stone floor on which I lay; the bundle of hay which served me as a pillow tickled my cheek; the coarse grey blanket, provided by the Hospitallers of St Cross rubbed against my cheek. At the same time, my dream was very real; so real that I could feel the wind in my face as it soughed through the branches of the trees which arched and interlaced above me; feel the unevenness of the path beneath my feet; hear the scuffiings of some small nocturnal animal as it hurried to safety among the tangle of briers and bushes which bordered the track.
 

I also knew that I was afraid, although of what I was as yet unsure. Apprehension was turning to fear as I padded slowly forward, my boots making no sound on the soft, damp earth, except for the occasional snapping of a twig. If I raised my eyes, I could now and then glimpse the crescent moon, riding cold and high between the clouds. Below me, every once in a while, where the bank dropped sheer and the bushes thinned, I could see the glint of water. Once or twice I hesitated, glancing back over my shoulder as though listening for something or someone, and at these moments I was divorced from my body, a watcher in the shelter of the trees. But almost immediately I was myself again, seeing with my own eyes, my ears straining after every sound, conscious of the prickle of sweat across my shoulder-blades.
 

I descended slowly, stopping at each twist and bend of the path, scanning the darkness ahead, looking anxiously for something, yet scared of finding it. An owl swooped low across my line of vision, gliding silently from one perch to another. The sudden movement startled me, and I stood stock-still, my breath coming short and fast, my heart pounding in my breast. Then, carefully, I resumed my walk, aware that I had nearly completed my descent and was standing on a level with the river. For as the path flattened out and the trees drew back, I was able to see the broad expanse of water stretching to the farther bank, silvered fleetingly with moonlight.
 

I prowled warily forward, the tall grasses which fringed my side of the river reaching half way up my legs. The owl hooted in the trees behind me. Suddenly, the toe of my left boot stubbed against something; some large object lying half hidden among the vegetation. The hairs on the nape of my neck rose, and I knew that I had stumbled on whatever it was I had been so fearful of discovering. I glanced down just as the moon appeared once more from behind the clouds, and I could make out the shape of a body. Whose body it was I had no idea, whether man or woman, young or old; although through the clinging mists of my dream, I somehow knew that I already had this knowledge. I stopped and, overcoming my reluctance, peered more closely.
 

The person was lying face down. I put out a hand to touch the back of the head, then withdrew it quickly. I felt the wet stickiness on my fingers which could only mean blood. The back of the skull had been beaten in, and whoever it was, was dead ...
 

The scene dissolved around me, and I was lying in a state of sweat and panic on the floor of the almshouse of the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester, where I had been given asylum for the night.
 

CHAPTER 1
 

It was a beautiful morning of warm autumnal sunshine, a crystal bowl overflowing at the brim; the Grail spilling its light and colour in a profusion of splendour. People were abroad early about their business, making the most of what might well be the last of the year's fine weather. For as I came within sight of the city of Exeter, it was already the last day of September in that year of Our Lord, 1473.
 

So far, it had been an uneasy year. As I humped my chapman's pack and plied my trade along the south coast of England, to London and back again, the towns and villages through which I passed had been rife with rumours of an impending invasion. It seemed that the exiled Lancastrians were stirring, beginning to take heart once more after their defeat at Tewkesbury two years previously. One might have thought, with King Henry and his son both dead, that the focus of their disaffection had vanished; but they had transferred their loyalty to young Henry Tudor, who was now living at the court of Brittany with his uncle Jasper, as a guest of Duke Francis. To most people, Henry was something of a joke, his claim to the English throne not to be taken seriously, descended as he was through the bastard line of John of Gaunt. It demonstrated more clearly than anything else could have done the desperation of the remaining adherents of the House of Lancaster to find a new leader.
 

Nevertheless, there were sufficient opponents of King Edward, old enemies and new ones, too, who had foregathered across the Channel bent on stirring up trouble.
 

Chief among these was John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a man wholly committed to the Lancastrian cause; a man who had resisted all the blandishments, persuasions and bribes of King Edward to turn his coat and embrace that of the House of York; a man who preferred exile and hardship to soft living and a place at court if it involved him in what he regarded as an act of betrayal. His loyalty to Lancaster had never wavered, and I could not but admire him for it. But there were others rumoured to be involved in the current unrest who owed much to King Edward and who were at present living on his bounty, high In his favour and esteem.
 

One of the two names whispered most often in the alehouses and taverns along the south coast in the late winter and early part of the spring was that of George Neville, Archbishop of York, whose elder brother, the mighty Earl of Warwick, had died fighting against King Edward two years previously at the battle of Barnet Field. His complicity in whatever plot was hatching seemed to have been proved to the King's satisfaction when, in April, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Fortress of Hammes, outside Calais. Two weeks later the Earl of Oxford had led an invasion of the Essex coast, only to be severely repulsed.
 

The other name frequently mentioned in the same breath as the words 'treason' and 'treachery' was that of the King's own brother, George, Duke of Clarence.
 

My approach to Exeter on that beautiful morning was through the West Gate, my travels having taken me across country from Honiton to Crediton before turning south-east to try my luck in the city. Takings had been poor the last few weeks,
 

people, particularly the women, being unsettled by all the talk of invasion. I have noticed many times in my life that when folk are uneasy or uncertain, they hoard money rather than spend it, as though the feel of the coins in their hands, or the thought of it stored away in jars or a hole in the ground, gives them comfort; a bulwark, a talisman against mischance. Certainly country-dwellers tend to be of that disposition, but people who live in cities are less cautious. So, as I crossed the River Exe, watching the sunlight sparkle on the water, I was hoping for an upturn in my fortunes.
 

My spirits insensibly rose at the sight of the bustling streets, of so many people going about their business as though there were no impending threat of invasion, as if the Earl of Oxford and his fleet were not even now patrolling the Channel. I had been in the city once before and knew its hub to be the Cathedral Church of St Peter. Consequently, I made my way along the old Roman road which was Exeter's main street and turned down an alley near St Martin's church, which stood in a corner of the Close. As I began looking for I place to set out my wares, I could hear the day's third office being chanted inside the Cathedral and was, as always, sharply reminded of the time when I, too, would have participated in the service. But I had chosen to return to the secular life before taking those final vows which would have made me a member of the Benedictine Order. Even now, After the passage of several years, I still felt a sense of guilt at having gone against my dead mother's wishes. I comforted myself with the thought that had I not done so, two coldblooded murderers might never have been exposed and brought to justice. I felt that by that action - undertaken at some grave risk to my personal safety - I had made my peace with God and paid the debt that I owed Him. But every now and then I had the uneasy feeling that maybe God had other ideas; that He had not yet finished with me.
 

That sense of foreboding was particularly strong this morning as I paused outside the Annivellars' House and took stock of my surroundings. As I did so, I became aware that there was more of a bustle, more of a thrusting sense of self-importance among some of the passers-by, than was warranted even by such a thriving and industrious town as Exeter. Then I noticed the presence of the blue-and-murrey livery worn by the retainers of both King Edward and his youngest brother, the Duke of Gloucester. As it was unlikely that the King could be in the city without a great deal more pomp and pageantry than was immediately apparent, I concluded that it must be my lord of Gloucester who, when last heard of, had been rumoured to be arraying his Yorkshire levies with a view to leading them south, presumably as an added bulwark against invasion. But what, I wondered, could possibly be the reason for his being in Exeter this bright September morning?
 

My curiosity was to be satisfied in a far more dramatic manner than I could have imagined. Coming to the conclusion that there was nowhere in the Close where I could comfortably display the contents of my pack, I reluctantly decided that I had no option but to start knocking on doors and speaking to the goodwife of each household. There was always the chance that, during my travels, I might have picked up some small luxuries not readily available even in the shops and market-stalls of Exeter. But first, a mazer of ale would not come amiss, and with it I might also hear some of the local gossip. Consequently, I made my way towards Bevys Tavern which stood cheek by jowl with the Annivellars' House opposite the Cathedral. I was within spitting distance of the open doorway when my left arm was clutched, none too gently, from behind and a voice spoke breathlessly in my ear.
 

BOOK: [Roger the Chapman 02] - The Plymouth Cloak
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