A murderous procession, p.1
A Murderous Procession, p.1Ariana Franklin
Table of Contents
A MURDEROUS PROCESSION
ARIANA FRANKLIN, a former journalist, is a biographer and author of the novels City of Shadows, Mistress of the Art of Death, and The Serpent’s Tale. She is married with two daughters and lives in England.
ALSO BY ARIANA FRANKLIN
City of shadows
Mistress of the Art of Death
The Serpent’s Tale
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LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
A murderous procession / Ariana Franklin.
(A Mistress of the art of death novel; 4)
eISBN : 978-1-101-18616-9
I. Title. II. Series: Franklin, Ariana. Mistress of the Art of Death novel; 4.
PR6056.R2785M872010 823’92 C2010-900292-X
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To my brother, Roger, and my sister-in-law, Ann
BETWEEN THE PARISHES OF Shepfold and Martlake in Somerset existed an area of no-man’s-land and a lot of ill feeling.
Just as the nearby towns of Glastonbury and Wells were constantly at odds, so did these two small villages dispute over whose pigs had a right to graze on the beech mast of the intervening forest, which stream was diverted to irrigate whose crops, whose goats trespassed over the boundary and ate whose laundry, etc., etc.
Today, Lammas Saturday, after a fine summer that had enabled the harvest to be brought in exceptionally early, the two sets of villagers, everybody who could walk and even some who couldn’t, faced each other across this strip of ground on which had been erected a dais to accommodate Lady Emma of Wolvercote (her manor was in Shepfold), her husband, and Sir Richard de Mayne (his manor was in Martlake), the two parish priests, an Arab doctor, his attendant, an elderly woman, and a ball the size of a good pumpkin consisting of tough leather stitched over a globe of withies stuffed with sawdust.
Father Ignatius (Shepfold) made the last of many appeals to prevent what was going to happen.
“My lady, Sir Richard, it is not too late to avert this evil and send all home ... the sheriff has specifically banned ...”
His protest fell on stony ground. Staring straight ahead, Sir Richard said: “If Shepfold is prepared to be humiliated yet again, who am I to disappoint it.”
Lady Emma, also refusing to turn her head, breathed heavily through her pretty nose. “This year it will be Martlake who is humiliated.” Master Roetger, the tall German leaning on a crutch beside her, gave her an approving and husbandly pat on the back.
Father Ignatius sighed. He was an educated and civilized man. Tomorrow, Sunday, he thought, these people will dress in their best to bring sheaves and fruit to church and give thanks to God for His infinite bounty as was right and proper. But always, by some hideous tradition peculiar only to them, on the day before Harvest Festival they revert to paganism and turn the eve of a Christian festival into something resembling the excesses of a Lupercalia. A madness.
Adelia Aguilar sighed with him and mentally ran through the medical equipment she’d brought with her—bandages, ointments, needles, sutures, splints.
It would be nice to think they weren’t going to be needed, but hope was outweighed by experience.
She looked up at the tall Arab eunuch standing beside her. He shrugged, helplessly. Sometimes England baffled them.
They’d traveled a long way together. Both of them born in Sicily, that melting pot of races; she, an abandoned baby, probably Greek, rescued and brought up by a Jewish doctor and his wife; he, later taken into the same, good household to be her attendant, once a lost boy with a beautiful voice whom the Latin Church had castrated so that he might retain it.
Circumstances—well, that damned King Henry II of England really—had plucked the two of them away from Sicily and dropped them down in his realm. And now, seven extraordinary years later, here they both were, on a bare piece of land in Somerset with two villages out to maim each other in what they called a game.
“I just don’t understand the English,” she said.
Gyltha, standing on the other side of her said, “Somerset folk ain’t proper English, bor.” Gyltha was a Cambridgeshire woman.
For God’s sake, she was a trained doctor, a specialist in autopsy, a medica of the Salerno School of Medicine in Sicily—probably the only foundation in Christendom to take women as students—and this is what I’ve come down to.
It wasn’t even that she could officially practice her craft. In England? Where the Church regarded a woman with medical knowledge as a witch?
Ostensibly Mansur had to be the one attending the wounded while she must seem to be carrying out his orders—a thin pretense but one that saved her from ecclesiastical punishment; also one to which, trusting t
The crowd was becoming restive. “For love of Mary, get on with it,” somebody called out, “afore us bloody melts.”
It was getting hot, early morning though it was. The sun that had ripened wheat and barley so beautifully was now slanting on yellow-white stubble in which rooks pecked up such corn as the gleaners had left them, brightening the forest beeches where some leaves were already showing autumn colors. On the balk strips, bees and butterflies were making free among trefoils and cornflowers.
Father Ignatius gave in and turned to his fellow priest, Father John. “To you the honor this year, sir, if honor it be.”
Father John, a Martlake man and therefore a lout, picked up the ball, raised it above his head, shouted: “God defend the right,” and threw it.
“That wasn’t straight,” Father Ignatius yelled. “You favored Martlake.”
“Bloody didn’t ”
Nobody paid attention to the scuffling priests. The game had begun. Like great opposing waves, and with much the same noise, the two sides crashed together, their women and offspring skittering around the edges, screaming them on.
A Martlake boy emerged from the scrum, the ball at his twinkling feet, and began running with it in the direction of the Shepfold parish boundary, a mob of howling Shepfoldians at his back. Lady Emma, Sir Richard, and Master Roetger followed more sedately, while Adelia, Gyltha, and Mansur, carrying their medicaments, accompanied by Adelia’s six-year-old daughter and Emma’s four-year-old son, Lord Wolvercote, brought up the rear.
They paused at a safe distance to watch the scrimmage as the Martlake lad was brought down.
“There goes his nose,” Mansur remarked. “Is it not against the rules to kick in the face?”
“Better get the swabs out,” Gyltha said.
Adelia delved into her doctor’s bag. “What rules?” There were supposed to be some; no swearing, no spitting, no picking the ball up and carrying it, no gouging, no biting, no fisticuffs, no women nor children nor dogs to partake, but Adelia hadn’t seen any of them observed yet.
Gyltha was lecturing Adelia’s daughter. “You listen to me, dumpling, you get into a fight this time, an’ I’ll tan your little backside.”
“That’s right, Allie,” Adelia said. “No brawling. You and Pippy are not to take part, do you understand me?”
“Yes, Mama. Yes, Gyltha.”
By the time she’d dealt with the Martlake broken nose, children, ball, and contestants had disappeared. Distant howls were suggesting that the match was now in the forest. On its edge, Adelia’s old friends, Will and Alf, were lounging against a tree, waiting for her to come up.
“Go home,” she told them—they were Glastonbury men. “Don’t get involved, I won’t have enough bandages.”
“Just come to watch, like,” Will told her.
“Observers, we are,” Alf said.
She looked at them with suspicion; they’d been hanging around her a lot lately. But there was no time to inquire; screams from amongst the trees suggested that there were wounded. They followed her in.
A broken leg, two twisted ankles, a dislocated shoulder, and five scalp wounds later, the supply of injuries temporarily dried up. Mansur hoisted the protesting broken leg over his shoulder and set off to take it home to its mother. Gyltha was mopping up Allie. The noise had dwindled to isolated shouts. People were beating the undergrowth.
“What are they doing now, in the name of God?” Adelia asked.
“Lost the ball,” Will said, laconically
But her eye fell on a Martlake woman with a bulging midriff under her smock who was wending her way smartly along a nearby badger track. “Where are you going, Mistress Tyler?”
“Back home, in’t I? ‘Tis too much for I what with the baby due and all.”
For one thing, Mistress Tyler had shown no sign of pregnancy while in church on the previous Sunday For another, the badger track led in the direction of Shepfold. For a third, Lady Emma was Adelia’s good friend—so that, despite her pretension to neutrality, Adelia really wanted Shepfold to win. “You put that ball down,” she shouted. “You’re cheating.”
Mistress Tyler, holding tight to her protuberant and wobbling waistline, began to run.
Adelia, chasing after her, failed to hear the whoomph of an arrow burying itself in the tree beside which, a second before, she’d been standing.
Will and Alf looked at it, looked at each other, and then hurled themselves in the direction from which the flight had come.
It was useless; the marksman, having chosen a clear shot, had made it his only one before melting into a forest in which a hundred assassins could be hiding.
Returning to the tree, Will pulled the arrow out with some effort. “Look at that, Alf.”
“We got to tell her, Will.”
“We got to tell somebody” They had a high regard for Adelia, who had twice saved them from a desperate situation, but, though agonized for her safety, they’d also wanted to preserve her peace of mind.
They advanced to where she was tussling with Mistress Tyler. At that moment, the ball fell to the ground from under the Martlake woman’s skirt—and was spotted.
Before the two Glastonbury men could reach their heroine, she and her opponent had been overwhelmed by a pile of players. In trying to get her out, Will and Alf lost their temper and put their fists and boots at the disposal of the Shepfold team.
So did Adelia ...
Some five minutes later, a familiar voice addressed her from its height on a magnificent horse: “Is that you?”
Muddy and panting, Adelia extricated herself to look up into the face of her lover and the father of her child. “I think so.”
“G’day, Bishop,” said Mistress Tyler, trying to restore order to her smock.
“And a good day to you, madam. Who’s winning?”
“Martlake,” Adelia told him, bitterly “They’re cheating.”
“Is that the ball?” Seated in his saddle, the Bishop of Saint Albans pointed to where a round object shedding pieces of bracken had flown up from a group of fighting players.
“Thank God, I thought it was somebody’s head. Hold my horse.” Dismounting, flinging off his cloak and hat, Rowley waded in ...
THAT NIGHT THERE was weeping and gnashing of teeth in the parish of Martlake while, three miles away in Shepfold, a limp piece of leather was carried high on a pole into the great barn of Wolvercote Manor with all the pomp of golden booty being brought back to Rome by a triumphant Caesar.
Outside, carcasses of pigs and sheep turned on spits and hogs-heads spouted the best ale to all who would partake of it. The lady of Wolvercote herself, limping slightly, deftly flipped pancake after pancake from the griddles into the hands of her villagers while her husband, who had used his oak crutch with effect during the match, poured cream onto them.
The bard, Rhys, another attachment to Lady Emma’s household, had abandoned his harp for a vielle and stood, sweating and bowing away, in the doorway so that parents and children danced to his tune in long lines around the victory fires. Beyond, in the shadow of trees, young bodies rolled in celebratory copulation.
Inside the barn, Adelia sternly regarded the Bishop of Saint Albans sitting beside her daughter—and his—on a hay bale, the resemblance between father and child enhanced by the black eye sported by each. “Look at you. I hope you’re both ashamed of yourselves.”
“We are,” Rowley said. “But at least we didn’t kick Mistress Tyler.”
“Did she?” Allie was charmed. “Did Mama kick Mistress Tyler?”
“I’ll fetch some pancakes,” Adelia said, and then, over her shoulder: “She kicked me first.”
While she was gone, Will, holding a mug of ale, came up to ruffle Allie’s hair and doff his cap to her father. “I was wondering if as I could have a word, Bishop. Outside,
Adelia took Allie back to bed through the weave of dancers, bidding good nights, throwing a kiss to Mansur who was executing his sword dance for Gyltha, the love of his life and Allie’s nurse.
For perhaps the first time in her life, she realized, she was content.
When, eight years ago, the King of England, who was troubled by a series of unexplained killings in his county of Cambridge, had sent to his friend, the King of Sicily, begging for a master in the art of death from the famed School of Medicine in Salerno, it was Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar who’d been chosen to go.
It had occurred neither to the Sicilian king nor to the school that they had made an odd choice; Adelia was the best they had.
However, her arrival in England, where women doctors were anathema, had caused consternation.
Only by the subterfuge of Mansur pretending to be the medical expert and she merely his assistant and translator had Adelia been able to do her job by solving the murders—and done it so well that King Henry II had refused to allow her to return to Sicily, keeping her as his own special investigator.
Damn the man. True, England had given her the happiness of friends, a lover, and a child, but Henry’s requirement of her had more than once put her in such danger that she’d been deprived of the tranquillity with which to enjoy them.
The Church had driven her and Allie, Mansur, and Gyltha from Cambridge, but Emma, out of gratitude for being allowed to marry as she pleased—a boon that Adelia had successfully begged the king to grant his rich young ward—had built her a house on the Wolvercote estate, thus giving her the first home of her own she’d ever had.
Gyltha and Mansur had settled down together—to everybody’s surprise but Adelia’s.
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