The Butchers Funeral: A Medieval Murder

The Butcher’s Funeral

(Whole Season)

By C. M. Harald

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 C. M. Harald

All Rights Reserved.

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

The author has asserted the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

Chapter 1 The Butcher’s Funeral

 

"You know she's been at it with Herry?"

"What, those two?"

Law indicated the young, shapely, very recently widowed woman following the procession.  His friend Judd nodded acknowledgement.  Law had not realised just how attractive she was.  He did not know her very well having not been in town for very long himself.

Dionisia Butcher was the same age as him, but had been married for three years now.  At seventeen years old Dye was in her prime but had not had children, which while a little unusual, was not unheard of.  Many of her peers had already gone through childbirth a couple of times. 

Her work had made her strong and at the same time kept her well fed and slightly plump.  Her long-sleeved tunic and side-less gown concealed this to a degree, but the furs round her cuffs and hood signalled her success as much as the slight plumpness.  Of course as a married, now widowed woman, she wore a wimple.  No point taking that off to reveal her long dark hair, at least not before her husband was in the ground.

Law thought back, He remembered hearing about the marriage.  He had been twelve at the time, and like most things in the town, the gossip had made it as far as his village.  Like Dye, he had been betrothed as an infant, but was not yet married.  Dye was the same age as him yet she had moved straight in with her older husband, Col the Butcher, rather than wait until she was fourteen.

Law had been brought up in the small village of Rattleby a few miles outside of the town.  It was no place of great merit, a stream, some woods and some reasonable fields.  His father had always gone on about how fortunate they were that the Lord of the Manor had stopped treating them all like peasants, no longer expecting them to do the tithe work.  His father explained that it was due to the Plague, that is was Law's grandfather who had been set free from serfdom.  Father had explained that so many peasants had died, that those who were left had made it clear that they would no longer work for free, rather they would work for land and money.  Law did not really understand how that changed things, but he had heard his father complain enough times about how the family had once been tied to the Lord's mill for making flour at whatever price the Lord had decreed, and likewise the infamous working for free on the Lord's land.  He knew about peasants and he knew that his family owned some land rather than being granted it by a Lord, perhaps his grandfather had taken advantage of the shortage of peasants. 

This was the reason he was in town, as the fourth son of a farm labourer, at the death of his father, the meagre family land would be subdivided as an inheritance.  Split out among four brothers, there would not be enough for each to survive on.  So he had left to find work elsewhere.  Work was plentiful, never enough people to fill all the jobs.  He did not really understand why there was so much work, but like everyone, he knew what the Plague was and feared that God would judge him and others as well.

"At it like rabbits I heard", Judd had a great big grin on his face, "and with a younger man, least ways a lot younger than her husband."

"I bet the gossips are loving it."

"Well you know me, I don't like to gossip." Judd winked at Law as they walked, "It's something of a scandal.  Some people say that Col was past it, so she went off elsewhere.  It's no great shock.  Col was well beyond forty. Ancient."

Law chuckled.  He hoped that Dye's behaviour would not provoke the divine judgement of Plague, but was not surprised at the rumours.  There were few greater dramas than a young wife going off with a young lover, younger than her husband, but this was something people always looked out for.  People would be quite amused by a man, of such standing, being cheated on by his younger wife. Such tales were often told by the storytellers.  Law was amused and hopeful at the realisation that these thing happened in real life.  There were a few girls he liked who were stuck with older husbands, "I heard it was Albin, you know, the pale little thing that they had as an apprentice."

"Not what I heard.  I was talking to a bloke the other week who described Herry just right.  He said he was sneaking out of the back of the shop when Col weren't around."

"So not Albin then?"

"Some people are saying she's had a whole string of lovers.  So who knows, the more the merrier, perhaps Herry wasn't enough.  Hah!  It's not like she was never alone with Albin.  He had the chance, but look at him," Judd indicated the scrawny, dark haired youth in the procession, "he's not exactly a catch.  Pale bag of bones and probably a personality to match."

Law, who only just knew Albin by sight, nearly guffawed at the thought.  As the sound started to form he remembered that he was part of a funeral procession and he quickly composed himself.  A paid part, playing a part, he didn't want to go unpaid.

"Of course, guilt.  That's probably why she's spending so much on this funeral.  Show what a devoted little wife she is, and what a popular guy Col was."

"And she's paying us well to be here."

"And lots of us.  The more of us here, the more important Col seems."

"How many people to do you think she's paid?" Law asked.

"At least half of them.”  Judd looked around, trying to look a little more thoughtful than he felt, “I never could stand the guy, and his reputation wasn't the best."

"We always heard his meat was fine.  Paid reasonable price to people from our village."

"Col should have been pilloried." Judd snorted, "Some of his meat was half rotten.  There was this time, I saw him sell something that even the pie-lady wouldn't take."

"Wasn't the carniter trying to catch him for the Justice?  I'm sure I've seen him hanging around."

"That may be the case,” Judd paused to think about it, “but really all that would have happened would have been a bit of pillorying.  That's hardly going to hurt him.  Having to stand with his nose above the rank meat for a few days.  Mind you, that would have scared off some of his customers and they would have gone to the butcher on the other side of town.  Might have cost him a bit of money."

 

The procession moved along the narrow street, heading for the East gate.  The street was narrow and the uneven mud was baked dry by the hot weather.  The crowd was large, having met outside the butcher's shop.

 

The small parish church of Holy Trinity was just outside the walls.  These had been built long before the church, no-one really knew when, but there were stories of giants.  The church had been constructed as the town started to overflow its old walls.  Even after the Plague, the town had continued to grow.  The churchyard had also filled far too quickly, before the plague pits were built further outside the town.  People avoided the plague pits, but not the plague graves in the churchyard. They feared that they would be struck down with the Plague, a horrible illness of swellings, temperatures and sudden painful death.  Still, the people were not so scared of the cemetery, feeling that it was holy ground.

The priest led the procession into the churchyard. Dressed in his long robes, he was followed by the plain wooden coffin, carried by six members of the town burial guild.  Each well dressed in their matching green liveried tunics.  Behind came Dionesia, her face puffy from the tears she had shed along the route out of the town.  Following her were an assortment of wider family, traders and other townsfolk, more than a hundred. 

Law wondered how many were being paid to be there.  He himself was being paid sixteen shillings.  A good amount that would go a long way towards the ever mounting costs of lodging and food while he searched for stable work in the town.  Of course, he would much rather spend the money on clothes, such as the fashionable long shoes he had recently seen in the market.  Looking good felt a lot more important than mundane concerns about food and board.

From the back of the crowd he was able to see the coffin being placed on two trestles outside the main door to the church while one of the burial guild placed a bright red mortcloth over the coffin.  The colour went well with the coffin bearer’s green tunics.  The presence of the funeral guild in their best uniforms reinforced the impression of the wealth of the deceased.  Again the coffin was lifted, carried into the church. 

 

It was tight squeeze inside the church.  Other than the new Cathedral being built in the centre of the city, it was the largest enclosed space he had ever been in.  Although most people were standing, there were a few seats along the walls of the nave for those who needed them.  A few of the elder, and less healthy, individuals made use of these.  For the majority, they stood in the nave, facing the mortcloth covered coffin, placed on trestles before the rood screen.  The screen partitioned the church, obstructing the view of the choir, clergy and altar from the mass, maintaining the mystery of the many rituals performed there. 

The light coming through the large stained glass windows was a lot brighter than he was used to inside.  His own room at the lodging house had a tiny glass-less window, covered with a shutter he rarely opened.  Still, candles were everywhere and he noted that they were not the cheap mutton tallow candles his family used at home. 

The brightly decorated walls and windows depicted stories from the Bible and the lives of saints.  One caught his attention, a figure of Judas wearing a bright red robe, a bag of money in one hand, hanging from a tree.  A nearby image of a demon seemed to be stalking Judas, suggesting that suicide was not a particularly good idea for your eternal soul. 

Law often spent his time in church looking at the murals on the walls and ceiling.  They were beautifully made and he could use them to reconstruct the stories and the messages of his belief.  After all, you had to have something to do during a Mass, especially if you had no Latin.  His own rudimentary understanding of Christianity had come from a friar who used to stop off in his village when travelling to and from the monastery in the town.

Judd, who was equally dumbstruck by the clear display of wealth and power, moved closer so that his quiet voice would not be heard by any of the other quietly chatting people.

"What do you think?  They're making quite a bit of an effort."

"How much do you think this is all costing?  Look, they've even got the choir out."

"That’s not the half of it.  I've heard that they've been paid to say prayers for the Butcher for the next two months.  She's probably even bought an indulgence for his selling rotten meat.  Now that would have cost a fortune."

Law snickered at the idea, but asked, "Why is she going to all this expense?  If it's true she was having an affair, shouldn't she just be getting on with life?"

"If it's true?  Of course it's true.  Probably only you and me that she's not been with.  Anyhow, didn't they teach you anything in that village you're from?  She needs to seem all respectable so that she can carry on the butcher shop.  Yes, on her own." He stopped Law from interrupting, "The more respectable she seems, the better a marriage prospect she'll be and she'll land someone with a bit of money.  Who'd not want a wife with a nice bit of wealth?  Now with the indulgences and prayers, she will be called a good Christian by the Church, and that might go some way towards repairing her, and his, sins with God.  Well, at least the Church will turn a blind eye to whatever she carries on doing, and no one would openly challenge her behaviour as such an upstanding citizen."

Most of this made sense to Law and he did not want to reveal his lack of understanding by asking any questions.  He did not really understand why the Church would look the other way if Dionesia carried on with her lover.  As far as he was concerned, she could do what she wanted and it really had nothing to do with the Church.

 

The conversation was halted by the start of the service, which included a Mass that had probably been paid for as well.  The familiarity of the service allowed him to relax.  At least as far as you could relax while standing in the nave. 

Towards the end of the service, the priest made his remarks about Col Butcher.  Apparently Col was a pious, God-fearing man who was an example to all.  A few members of the congregation coughed in disbelief when the butcher was held up as an example of honest trading, but no one outright objected.  Law did not think that it was a case of the priest not knowing the butcher, the parish priest knew most of the residents.  The number of prayers and Masses the church had been commissioned to say over the next few months was probably the main reason.  Law hoped they would be helpful to the butcher in the afterlife.

"You know it was Perry who did it."

"What?" Law whispered back to his friend below the priests' glowing terms blessing the deceased butcher.

"John Perry did it." Judd indicated the carniter, who was showing slightly more disagreement with the priest’s words than rest of the congregation.

"Did what?"

"Killed him."

"Killed who?"

"Do you really have dung for brains you peasant?  He killed the butcher."

"I'm no peasant. What do you mean? I thought you said Perry was trying to catch him selling duff meat?"

"Well, no matter how hard he tried to catch Col, he never caught him selling anything too rotten, so he well, had to do something else."

"What?"

"Kill him.  Stop him selling dodgy meat that way."

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