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Authors: Pip Vaughan-Hughes

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The Vault of Bones

BOOK: The Vault of Bones
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The Vault of Bones
Petroc [2]
Pip Vaughan-Hughes
Orion (2008)
Historical Novel
Historical Novelttt

In the darkness of 13th Century Europe, the most precious treasures of the Christian world lie in a small church in the great ruined city of Constantinople: the crown of thorns, the spear that pierced Jesus' side, the shroud bearing the imprint of Christ.On the other side of the globe, Petroc of Auneford sails into the sprawling Pool of London for the first time. He has left his old monastic world behind for that of the enigmatic Captain de Montalhac - purveyor of fine relics and other exotic trinkets to anyone with sufficient money and desire.For Petroc, the trip is soon blighted by tragedy, but grief is no guard against greed or rumour. The great powers of Christendom are gathering - all covet the power of the most precious relics - and Petroc finds himself right in the eye of the storm.

Praise for Pip Vaughan-Hughes

An impressive debut, with vivid period atmosphere, colourful personalities and stirring action
Sunday Telegraph

Tip Vaughan-Hughes has given us a monk, a corpse, a sinister Templar and a terrific adventure that romps across medieval Christendom. A great read!' Bernard Cornwell

An audacious plot... suffused with intelligent writing ... a satisfying read'
Book & Magazine Collector

A debut that will hopefully spawn many sequels ... a rattling yarn from an author who knows his history,
is high entertainment readers will relish'

Waterstones Books Quarterly

is a great fix ... it packs power, fear, rage and revenge into a fine 13th-century thriller ... its the answer to your prayers’

An absorbing, exciting tale'
Good Book Guide

'Gripping narrative and so steeped in atmosphere you can almost smell what they're up to. Pip's pulled out another corker in what will surely be a long line of epic books'

Sunday Sport

A complex and geographically wide ranging novel that sweeps through early mediaeval Europe ... the finely woven plot, although complex, never confuses the reader'

Grime Squad

'Vaughan-Hughes portrays Petroc's adventures with lip-smacking relish, conjuring up a colourful cast of pirates, cut-throats, scoundrels ... all things considered he has a whale of a time. And by and large, so do we'

Yorkshire Evening Post

Pip Vaughan-Hughes grew up in South Devon. He studied medieval history at London University and later worked as a reader for a literary agency when he wasn't dabbling as a bike messenger, food critic, gardener and restaurant owner. He now lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. Pip's first novel,
is also available in Orion paperback.


An Orion paperback

First published in Great Britain in 2007 by Orion
This paperback edition published in 2008 by Orion Books Ltd, Orion House, 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, London,

An Hachette Livre UK Company

3579 10 8642

Copyright © Pip Vaughan-Hughes 2007

The right of Pip Vaughan-Hughes to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

978-0- 7528-9314-3

Typeset by Deltatype Ltd, Birkenhead, Merseyside

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

The Orion Publishing Group's policy is to use papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

To my parents


My thanks go to: Tara, Jon Wood, Christopher Little, Emma Schlesinger, Genevieve Pegg, Angela McMahon, Tabby Bourdier and Paul Wyncoop.



he moon was very bright, so bright that the feathery leaves and umbels of the water dropwort under which I lay painted my body with crisp, trembling shadows. Spiders were busy looping their silk between blades of iris, and each new strand blazed like the trail of a falling star. I raised my head and breathed in the clean, sweet scent of the plants. Something flopped wetly in the shallows of the river, and my head cleared. The river. It stretched away from me, straight as a blade of damasked steel, towards the dark hump of the city that squatted away to the north. I stood up lazily, only to be startled by a mighty confusion of noise: I had roused a heron, and, screeching, he blundered into the air, clapping his wings hollowly. The river broke into a ferment of colliding ripples.

I had fallen asleep, that was obvious. Had I been fishing? I could not recall, although I must have had something more than water to drink for my thoughts to be so muddled. I would have to dodge the Watch to get back into Balecester, and I had to be back before dawn: Magister Jens began his class promptly after Vespers, and to be late meant a tongue-lashing in his excruciating Swabian-tinged Latin. I looked around for a bag or a fishing-pole, but could see nothing in the flattened greenery. I had left a man-shaped dent in the tall grass. The dew was already settling, and I found I was soaking wet. My head was cold, and I was brushing the dewdrops from my tonsured pate when an awful peal of thunder shook the ground beneath me and the distant, shadowed city burst into a great roil of fire. A fountain of destruction it was, too bright to look at, brighter than burning pitch or the fire of the Greeks, that burns even on water. For a moment the buildings stood out in the heart of the pyre like children's toys: the cathedral, the castle, the bishop's palace, until the flames poured over them like a tide and they were consumed. Scorching air billowed around me, and my clothes, damp and clinging an instant ago, stuck to my flesh like molten lead. The water dropwort was burning and the fronds and flowers turned to white ash before my eyes. I opened my mouth and fiery air rushed in. Flames blossomed in my throat, my chest, my belly. My teeth turned to glowing coals. With my last strength I threw up my arms and screamed forth a gout of fire.

I was choking, and as I had that thought a voice above me said, ‘You are choking him.' I opened my seared eyes and saw a man's face looking down at me. His forearm was across my neck and he was pinning me down to the burned earth, but as I twisted and turned to see what I thought would surround me, I saw not the ashes of the water meadows of Balecester but rumpled bed linen and, further away, the walls of a chamber, lit by rush lights and by the glow of a dying fire. The man was watching me intently. His face was familiar: black arched brows, brown almond-shaped eyes. I could not place him, though, and let my head sink back into what I found was a sweat-soaked bolster. I let my eyelids fall, and for just a few more seconds the river was running once more, and everything was green and still. Sweet fronds of water dropwort bowed and danced.

'Patch. Patch! Do you hear me?'
The green fronds became fingers waving inches from my

nose. I opened my mouth to protest, but only a strangled

croak came forth.

'He wakes. Piero? Please fetch the Captain’
It was not an English voice, nor an English face. I blinked, and it came into focus again. The mouth was smiling.. ‘Patch, can you speak?'

I shook my head. At once, a strong hand was lifting my head, and a cup touched my lips. I let icy water slip across the charred leather of my tongue and down my throat, then gulped until I gagged and spluttered.

"Who am I?' I gasped.



Chapter One

Late December 1236


e came to London on Childermass Day, blown up the Thames by a snow-filled squall out of the Low Countries. It was an ill-omened day, to be sure: Herod massacring the innocents, best forgotten; or perhaps worth remembering after the heedless roistering of Christmas. But despite the nasty weather I was all aquiver with the excitement of seeing London for the first time. It is the heart of England, and every Englishman feels its pull, even the meanest villain who has never ventured further than the edge of his masters land. So to finally behold the great city ... I admit that, like a child, I ran about the ship, getting in everyone's way, and at last volunteered to climb the mast and keep look-out. I had not seen England since that day, two years and more ago, when I had been taken aboard the
a wretched, wounded fugitive. And so now, when the wet snowflakes stung me I did not care, and when the first houses came in sight around the great bend of Stepney Marsh, although they were but mean eel-fishers' hovels, I thrilled at the sight. And when the dark, spiked bulk of the Tower resolved itself out of the grey distance I all but fell off my perch to the deck below.

Anna, meanwhile, was snug in the cabin, wrapped in furs, reading. She cared not one whit about London, so she said, and she had been teasing me gently about my boyish anticipation since we had set sail from Bruges. She did not come on deck at my cry, although many of the crew rushed to the prow, as London was reckoned a good landfall by all sailing men, and these ones had been promised a long shore-leave. And she did not emerge as we slipped through the open gates of London Bridge. Only when we were safely tied up at Queenhithe Wharf did she deign to step forth, sniff the air and wrinkle her nose, and give me her hand.

'Oh dear’ was all she said, as she looked up at the sooty buildings that rose around the basin of the wharf, itself fairly muddy and stinking, for it was here that all the fish sold in the city came ashore; and as I later discovered, it served as a public privy, a great jakes for any Londoner to use. So Anna's royal nose had reason to object, but despite the stink and the snow I was all afire and bustled her up the water-steps. It was a half-mile to our lodgings at the Blue Falcon in Cheapside so a litter was found, and as the two footmen - under the cold eye of Pavlos the Greek, once a bodyguard of Roman despots, now devoted heart, soul and sinew to his
his princess - jolted Anna through the teeming streets I jogged alongside, chattering, while she swatted flakes of wet snow from her face. I was an outlaw in this country, but I gave it little thought, for my face had come into the lines of manhood and my skin was burned dark from the sun, and indeed I was as like the terrified, lost little monk who had fled these shores as the butterfly is to the crawling worm.

That first day was a flurry of organising, greeting, paying calls, and it was not until the next morning that we could take our ease, if only for a short hour, in the big, faded private chambers that we were to share with Captain de Montalhac, his lieutenant, Gilles de Peyrolles and Pavlos, who, as well as her bodyguard, was also Anna's devoted, self-appointed manservant.

The others having left to call on some important merchant or other, Anna and I sat in the Blue Falcon's not-quite-comfortable chairs and broke our fast on fresh bread, smoked fish, gulls' eggs, sweet butter, warm goats' milk and cold, bitter ale. Being still full of a good night's sleep and so somewhat heavy and contented, I watched as my love ate and drank. Her night-black hair was loose and hung about her shoulders and back. Her face was brown, with a constellation of darker freckles scattered across her cheeks. When I had first laid eyes on her, high on a lonely island hilltop, she had been pallid from years in the ghastly climate of Greenland and several weeks in the pitch-black hold of the
on to which she had been smuggled in a load of whalebone. But the sunlight had quickly given her back the complexion of her people, and the only reminder of those grim days was the space in her mouth where the scorbutus, the sickness which had blighted us all as we crossed the endless Sea of Darkness, had stolen one of her teeth. Her front teeth had a little gap between them as well, in which she liked to work the tip of her tongue when she was thinking hard about something. Her eyebrows were black ink-strokes above her brown, almond-shaped eyes, in which the mercurial tumult of her humours played like the reflection of the sky in still water.

I loved her for all this: for all that lay on the outside, the flesh that clothed her, the scent that was hers alone, the way her hair shimmered like the nape of a jackdaw's neck. But most of all I loved her for what lay within, for like a great city Anna held within her a powerful complexity - a tumult, as I said - that had its cause, in part, in the way her life story had skipped like a stone just above the dark waters of disaster.

But the other part was Anna’s own self, for - to me, at least - she was a creation without peer. The blood of emperors, of old Romans, flowed hot and furious in her veins, and I believe she felt her ancestors' presence very keenly. Certainly they would appear to me in flashes of anger or joy, the face of some long-dead queen or warrior usurping her own features to glare out at a strange world before vanishing back into the past.

The days passed pleasantly enough. The weather improved, indeed it became quite warm, and the stench from the filthy kennels that ran down the middle of every street made itself known to us. What time I had that was not spent in affairs of business I spent with Anna, and we explored high and low, from the vast, ugly hulk of Saint Paul's Cathedral to the Tower perched upon its mound. We squinted at the heads displayed on London Bridge, marvelled at the goods on display at the markets, and lost ourselves in the roistering crowds at Smithfield. Anna grudgingly admitted that London was worthy of at least a little admiration. She was always grudging with praise for anything Frankish, as she called everything outside her homeland of Greece. Franks were barbarians, boors, bloody-handed primitives. She made an exception for me, thank God, and for most of the
crew, but on the whole she resented the fate that had decreed she must pass her time in Frankish lands, and dreamed - every night, so she said - of the day that she would return to her home in Nicea and even, perhaps, see the greatest city of them all, lodestone of her heart: Constantine's city, Byzantium.

BOOK: The Vault of Bones
6.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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