Read The Christmas Wassail Online

Authors: Kate Sedley

The Christmas Wassail

BOOK: The Christmas Wassail
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Table of Contents

A Selection of Recent Titles by Kate Sedley

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

A Selection of Recent Titles by Kate Sedley in the Roger the Chapman Mysteries series

THE BROTHERS OF GLASTONBURY

ST JOHN'S FERN

THE WEAVER'S INHERITANCE

THE WICKED WINTER

THE GOLDSMITH'S DAUGHTER *

THE LAMMAS FEAST *

NINE MEN DANCING *

THE MIDSUMMER ROSE *

THE BURGUNDIAN'S TALE *

THE PRODIGAL SON *

THE THREE KINGS OF COLOGNE *

THE GREEN MAN *

THE DANCE OF DEATH *

WHEEL OF FATE *

THE MIDSUMMER CROWN *

THE TINTERN TREASURE *

THE CHRISTMAS WASSAIL *

 

* available from Severn House

THE CHRISTMAS WASSAIL
Kate Sedley

 

 

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 
 

First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited.

Copyright © 2013 by Kate Sedley.

The right of Kate Sedley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Sedley, Kate.

The Christmas wassail. – (Roger the Chapman mysteries; 22)

1. Roger the Chapman (Fictitious character)–Fiction.

2. Murder–Investigation–England–Bristol–Fiction.

3. Great Britain–History–Edward IV, 1461-1483–

Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title II. Series

823.9'14-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8275-2 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-420-1 (epub)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-479-0 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

ONE

‘I
t's all very well him being called Marvell,' Burl Hodge grumbled, ‘so long as the silly old sod doesn't think he is one.'

We were sitting in a favourite corner of our favourite ale-house – the Green Lattis close by All Saints' Church – about to start on a second beaker apiece of our favourite ale. These tasted all the sweeter because both our wives had strictly forbidden us to stay for more than one. Christmas was nearly upon us and our services were required at home.

The Feast of St Nicholas had already come and gone. All over the country the boy bishops had been chosen from among the youths of the choir and were now installed for the next week or two in Episcopal state, making up for all the cuffs, scoldings and general abuse they had suffered throughout the past year. In our household, it had, as usual, fallen to my lot to tell the saint's stories to our children.

Needless to say, Adam and Nicholas, my son and stepson, clamoured for the tale of the two young boys on their way to Athens who stopped in Myra for the night and were murdered by the wicked innkeeper. They particularly relished the part where this evil man chopped the two bodies into bits and pickled them in a barrel of brine, intending to sell them as salted pork and so gain even further from his crime. But, the next day – much, I believe to Adam's and his half-brother's disappointment – Bishop Nicholas arrived at the inn, having had a vision of the two boys during the night, and restored them to life. The murderer then fell on his knees in floods of tears, confessed his sin and expressed his repentance, promising to lead an unblemished life in future. The saint immediately forgave him.

‘Pooh,' had said Adam, my five-year-old cynic, ‘I don't suppose the innkeeper meant it.' And he had pulled his little knife from his belt, making slashing movements in the air. I didn't feel that he had quite grasped the moral of the story.

My daughter, Elizabeth, naturally preferred the tale of the three young girls whose father had fallen on hard times and who was unable to provide the necessary dowries for them when they wished to be married. St Nicholas, learning of their plight, had tossed three solid gold balls – or three purses full of gold, whichever you preferred – through their bedchamber windows, thus enabling them to wed the men of their choice.

‘Do you think Saint Nicholas might do that for me?' Bess had asked wistfully.

‘I hardly think so, sweetheart,' was my reply. ‘He's been dead for centuries.'

‘I'll have to depend on you, then,' she had sighed, grimacing as though her expectations were not very high.

She was probably quite right to be pessimistic, but as she was only just nine, I was none too worried as yet.

Within the city itself, the mayor and aldermen had already carried out their inspection of the wharves and warehouses to ensure that sufficient stocks of wood had been imported to keep both rich and poor, young and old warm for the Christmas season; also that extra supplies of food had been laid in so that not only the citizens could be certain of enough to eat, but any strangers who happened to be visiting Bristol as well. The city fathers had received their annual allowance of furs and wine and fine red local cloth, while the rest of us had worked ourselves up to such a pitch of goodwill that we no longer resented these self-awarded gifts.

Well, most of us didn't. Burl Hodge, an inveterate grumbler, had already had his say on the subject. Now he had found another source of grievance.

I took a deep, satisfying mouthful of ale and swirled it around my tongue before swallowing. Blissful! I smiled at him. ‘Our newest citizen been annoying you, Burl?'

The snort he gave would have done credit to pigs at a trough.

‘If you call it an annoyance for the stupid old fart to nearly ride over me on that showy bay mare of his and force me into the central drain in Redcliffe Street, then yes! He has annoyed me, as you put it. Who does he think he is? That's what I'd like to know!'

I took another swig of ale and replied peaceably, ‘He's Sir George Marvell, knighted for his bravery on some French battlefield long years ago. He's also extremely wealthy. Inherited wealth from his father, or so I've been told.'

My companion gave another snort and swallowed half his beaker of ale, without pausing to savour it, in a way that made me wince.

‘You've been told bloody right,' he snarled. ‘And what was his father? A damn brewer who made his fortune by watering his ale.'

‘Do you know that for a fact?'

‘Well … no, not for certain. But I'll wager any money he did.'

‘You'd best lower your voice, then. Or, better still, don't repeat it. You never know who might overhear you in a place like this.'

‘Even if someone did, he wouldn't tell on me. In here, we're amongst friends. Besides, nobody likes the man. Sir George Marvell' – he uttered the name as though it were an imprecation – ‘has made himself more enemies in the ten or so weeks he's been in the city than anyone else I know.'

I had to admit that this was true. The knight was rude, truculent, set up in his own conceit, disliked even by his own family. The list of his failings was endless. At the same time he was a person of some importance whose company, while not exactly courted, was certainly not repulsed by the great and the good of Bristol, and whose father, the brewer, was remembered as a man who had spent his money doing many charitable works in the town.

All this had happened long before I married my first wife, Lillis Walker, and settled in the city, but I knew that the only surviving son of Brewer Marvell had been sent to London back in the late twenties under the patronage of some high-ranking official at the court of King Henry VI, fought in France with the renowned Talbot of Shrewsbury, and eventually been knighted after an act of bravery in one of the many engagements which marked the long, and eventually unsuccessful, campaign to retain our French territories. So much was common gossip. And if you had Margaret Walker as your former mother-in-law, as I did, then you knew every scrap of Bristol history from the Creation to the present day, in this year of Our Lord, 1483 …

Burl was still talking, thumping the table with his by now empty beaker. ‘What I want to know is why did the old bastard have to move down into the town, eh? Tell me that! He's been quite happy – not that he'd be happy anywhere, the miserable sod, but you know what I mean – up in Clifton Manor in that great house of his, with all his family under the same roof, making their bloody lives a misery, just as he does ours now. So why move down here, acting unpleasant and annoying – your word, not mine – the rest of us? What does Mistress Walker and her two cronies reckon to that? Those three usually have an answer to everything. Especially that toothless old crone, Maria Watkins.'

I couldn't help laughing, but begged him to moderate his language. ‘Oh, her theory,' I said, ‘and I think it's probably the correct one, is that Sir George has grown worried about his sister, old Drusilla Marvell.'

‘Why?' Burl demanded aggressively, as though it were somehow my fault. ‘She's lived by herself in that house in Redcliffe Back for as long as anyone can remember. He's never worried about her before.'

I finished my ale and peered sadly into the depths of the beaker, hoping to find a few dregs that I had missed. Discovering none, I wondered if I might order myself a third pot, and if I could persuade Burl to join me. Reluctantly, I decided against the notion, but I wasn't ready to move just yet. Outside, the short December day was drawing towards dusk and it was cold. Earlier, I thought there had been a hint of snow in the air. Inside the Green Lattis all was warm and snug with the warmth of bodies pressed close to one another, a log fire burning on the hearth and a general atmosphere of goodwill in anticipation of the coming season and holiday. The twelve days of Christmas stretched before us like a golden path of peace and plenty and I, for one, was looking forward to it with the greatest of pleasure.

The last two years had been busy ones for me. ‘Busy' was not perhaps the right word to describe twenty-four months of action and almost constant danger. If you, whoever you are – and God bless you for it – have read these chronicles of mine this far, you will know that the previous year I had travelled with the army to Scotland, when the Duke of Gloucester, as he then was, had won back Berwick for the English. I had barely returned to London and was looking forward to going home to my wife and children when the duke despatched me on a secret mission to France and another life-threatening situation.

This year had been just as bad, if not worse. In April, King Edward had died suddenly, leaving his twelve-year-old son to inherit the throne. The sudden and unexpected – although not altogether by me – claim of Richard of Gloucester to the crown, on account of the illegitimacy of the late king's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had, yet again, and through no fault of my own, embroiled me in the duke's affairs. Once more, I had found myself in danger. And as recently as the past month, Fate had shown her contempt for me by jeopardizing not just my life but also that of a member of my family.

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