Coincidence, p.1C. J. Sansom
Praise for SOVEREIGN
‘Don’t open this book if you have anything urgent pending. Its grip is so compulsive that, until you reach its final page, you’ll have to be almost physically prised away from it. [Sovereign] pulls you, like its predecessors, into a tortuous world of Tudor terror . . . Exceptionally gifted at recreating the look, sound and smell of the period, Sansom also excels at capturing its moral and intellectual climate . . . his remarkable talents really blaze out’
‘Sansom is excellent on contemporary horrors. This is no herbs-and-frocks version of Tudor England, but a remorseless portrait of a violent, partly lawless country . . . You can lose yourself in this world’
‘I have enjoyed C.J. Sansom’s series of historical novels set in Tudor England progressively more and more . . . Sansom has the perfect mixture of novelistic passion and historical detail’
ANTONIA FRASER, Sunday Telegraph Books of the Year
‘A devilishly ingenious whodunnit . . . Sansom’s description of the brutality of Tudor life is strong stuff, but he is a master storyteller’
‘Sansom’s plot . . . build[s] up to a genuine horror and a devastating revelation based on impressive historical research . . . The series is becoming an annual treat . . . The vigorous, well-drawn characters and their flawed moral intelligence are especially enjoyable, and a reminder of much that is lacking in current literary fiction. As political greed continues to torment the innocent under the guise of religion, this gripping and engaging series seems ominously prescient about the present, as well as genuinely enlightening about the past’
Independent on Sunday
‘A sure-paced, compelling story, blending harsh truths about the Henrician regime with some tenderly imagined details about the world that it destroyed’
Times Literary Supplement
‘A compelling read, vividly capturing the atmosphere of constant fear, as religious fervour and political ambition are expressed in cruelty and corruption’
‘A brilliant evocation of tyranny in Tudor England’
‘Both marvellously exciting to read and a totally convincing evocation of England in the reign of Henry VIII’
PHILIP ZIEGLER, Spectator Books of the Year
C. J. SANSOM was educated at Birmingham University, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex, until becoming a full-time writer. Sovereign is the third novel in his acclaimed Shardlake series and his stand-alone thriller, Winter in Madrid, was a top 5 bestseller. He lives in Sussex.
Also by C.J. Sansom
WINTER IN MADRID
The Shardlake series
First published 2006 by Macmillan
This edition published 2007 by Pan Books
This electronic edition published 2008 by Pan Books
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Rd, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
Associated companies throughout the world
ISBN 978-0-330-48053-6 in Adobe Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-48051-2 in Adobe Digital Editions format
ISBN 978-0-330-48058-1 in Mobipocket format
Copyright © C. J. Sansom 2006
The right of C. J. Sansom to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
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To P. D. James
IT WAS DARK UNDER the trees, only a little moonlight penetrating the half-bare branches. The ground was thick with fallen leaves; the horses’ hooves made little sound and it was hard to tell whether we were still on the road. A wretched track, Barak had called it earlier, grumbling yet again about the wildness of this barbarian land I had brought him to. I had not replied for I was bone-tired, my poor back sore and my legs in their heavy riding boots as stiff as boards. I was worried, too, for the strange mission that now lay close ahead was weighing on my mind. I lifted a hand from the reins and felt in my coat pocket for the Archbishop’s seal, fingering it like a talisman and remembering Cranmer’s promise: ‘This will be safe enough, there will be no danger.’
I had left much care behind me as well, for six days before I had buried my father in Lichfield. Barak and I had had five days’ hard riding northwards since then, the roads in a bad state after that wet summer of 1541. We rode into wild country where many villages still consisted of the old longhouses, people and cattle crammed together in hovels of thatch and sod. We left the Great North Road that afternoon at Flaxby. Barak wanted to rest the night at an inn, but I insisted we ride on, even if it took all night. I reminded him we were late, tomorrow would be the twelfth of September and we must reach our destination well before the King arrived.
The road, though, had soon turned to mud, and as night fell we had left it for a drier track that veered to the northeast, through thick woodland and bare fields where pigs rooted among the patches of yellow stubble.
The woodland turned to forest and for hours now we had been picking our way through it. We lost the main track once and it was the Devil’s own job to find it again in the dark. All was silent save for the whisper of fallen leaves and an occasional clatter of brushwood as a boar or wildcat fled from us. The horses, laden with panniers containing our clothes and other necessities, were as exhausted as Barak and I. I could feel Genesis’ tiredness and Sukey, Barak’s normally energetic mare, was content to follow his slow pace.
‘They said at the inn to follow the main path south through the forest. Anyway, it must be daylight soon,’ I said. ‘Then we’ll see where we are.’
Barak grunted wearily. ‘Feels like we’ve ridden to Scotland. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get taken for ransom.’ I did not reply, tired at his complaining, and we plodded on silently.
My mind went back to my father’s funeral the week before. The little group of people round the grave, the coffin lowered into the earth. My cousin Bess, who had found him dead in his bed when she brought him a parcel of food.
‘I wish I had known how ill he was,’ I told her when we returned to the farm afterwards. ‘It should have been me that looked after him.’
She shook her head wearily. ‘You were far away in London and we’d not seen you for over a year.’ Her eyes had an accusing look.
‘I have had difficult times of my own, Bess. But I would have come.’
She sighed. ‘It was old William Poer dying last autumn undid him. They’d wrestled to get a profit from the farm these last few years and he seemed to give up.’ She paused. ‘I said he should contact you, but he wouldn’t. God sends us hard trials. The droughts last summer, now the floods this year. I think he was ashamed of the money troubles he’d got into. Then the fever took him.’
I nodded. It had been a shock to learn that the farm where I had grown up, and which now was mine, was deep in debt. My father had been near seventy, his steward William not much younger. Their care of the land had not been all it should and the last few harvests had been poor. To get by he had taken a mortgage on the farm with a rich landowner in Lichfield. The first I knew of it was when the mortgagee wrote to me, immediately after Father’s death, to say he doubted the value of the land would clear the debt. Like many gentry in those days he was seeking to increase his acreage for sheep, and granting mortgages to elderly farmers at exorbitant interest was one way of doing it.
‘That bloodsucker Sir Henry,’ I said bitterly to Bess.
‘What will you do? Let the estate go insolvent?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I won’t disgrace Father’s name. I’ll pay it.’ I thought, God knows I owe him that.
‘That is good.’
I came to with a start at the sound of a protesting whicker behind me. Barak had pulled on Sukey’s reins, bringing her to a stop. I halted too and turned uncomfortably in the saddle. His outline and that of the trees were sharper now, it was beginning to get light. He pointed in front of him. ‘Look there!’
Ahead the trees were thinning. In the distance I saw a red point of light, low in the sky.
‘There!’ I said triumphantly. ‘The lamp we were told to look out for, that’s set atop a church steeple to guide travellers. This is the Galtres Forest, like I said!’
We rode out of the trees. A cold wind blew up from the river as the sky lightened. We wrapped our coats tighter round us and rode down, towards York.
THE MAIN ROAD into the city was already filled with packhorses and carts loaded with food of every kind. There were enormous foresters’ carts too, whole tree-trunks dangling dangerously over their tails. Ahead the high city walls came into view, black with the smoke of hundreds of years, and beyond were the steeples of innumerable churches, all dominated by the soaring twin towers of York Minster. ‘It’s busy as Cheapside on a market-day,’ I observed.
‘All for the King’s great retinue.’
We rode slowly on, the throng so dense we scarce managed a walking pace. I cast sidelong glances at my companion. It was over a year now since I had taken Jack Barak on as assistant in my barrister’s practice after his old master’s execution. A former child of the London streets who had ended up working on dubious missions for Thomas Cromwell, he was an unlikely choice, even though he was clever and had the good fortune to be literate. Yet I had not regretted it. He had adjusted well to working for me, doggedly learning the law. No one was better at keeping witnesses to the point while preparing affidavits, or ferreting out obscure facts, and his cynical, slantwise view of the system was a useful corrective to my own enthusiasm.
These last few months, however, Barak had often seemed downcast, and sometimes would forget his place and become as oafish and mocking as when I had first met him. I feared he might be getting bored, and thought bringing him to York might rouse him out of himself. He was, though, full of a Londoner’s prejudices against the north and northerners, and had complained and griped almost the whole way. Now he was looking dubiously around him, suspicious of everything.
Houses appeared straggling along the road and then, to our right, a high old crenellated wall over which an enormous steeple was visible. Soldiers patrolled the top of the wall, wearing iron helmets and the white tunics with a red cross of royal longbowmen. Instead of bows and arrows, though, they carried swords and fearsome pikes, and some even bore long matchlock guns. A great sound of banging and hammering came from within.
‘That must be the old St Mary’s Abbey, where we’ll be staying,’ I said. ‘Sounds like there’s a lot of work going on to make it ready for the King.’
‘Shall we go there now, leave our bags?’
‘No, we should see Brother Wrenne first, then go to the castle.’
‘To see the prisoner?’ he asked quietly.
Barak looked up at the walls. ‘St Mary’s is guarded well.’
‘The King will be none too sure of his welcome, after all that’s happened up here.’
I had spoken softly, but the man in front of us, walking beside a packhorse laden with grain, turned and gave us a sharp look. Barak raised his eyebrows and he looked away. I wondered if he was one of the Council of the North’s informers; they would be working overtime in York now.
‘Perhaps you should put on your lawyer’s robe,’ Barak suggested, nodding ahead. The carts and packmen were turning into the abbey through a large gate in the wall. Just past the gate the abbey wall met the city wall at right angles, hard by a fortress-like gatehouse decorated with the York coat of arms, five white lions against a red background. More guards were posted there, holding pikes and wearing steel helmets and breastplates. Beyond the wall, the Minster towers were huge now against the grey sky.
‘I’m not fetching it out of my pack, I’m too tired.’ I patted my coat pocket. ‘I’ve got the Chamberlain’s authority here.’ Archbishop Cranmer’s seal was there too; but that was only to be shown to one person. I stared ahead, at something I had been told to expect yet which still made me shudder: four heads fixed to tall poles, boiled and black and half eaten by crows. I knew that twelve of the rebel conspirators arrested that spring had been executed in York, their heads and quarters set on all the city gates as a warning to others.
We halted at the end of a little queue, the horses’ heads drooping with tiredness. The guards had stopped a poorly dressed man and were questioning him roughly about his business in the city.
‘I wish he’d hurry up,’ Barak whispered. ‘I’m starving.’
‘I know. Come on, it’s us next.’
One of the guards grabbed Genesis’ reins while another asked my business. He had a southern accent and a hard, lined face. I showed him my letter of authority. ‘King’s lawyer?’ he asked.
‘Ay. And my assistant. Here to help with the pleas before His Majesty.’
‘It’s a firm hand they need up here,’ he said. He rolled the paper up and waved us on. As we rode under the barbican I recoiled from the sight of a great hank of flesh nailed to the gate, buzzing with flies.
‘Rebel’s meat,’ Barak said with a grimace.
‘Ay.’ I shook my head at the tangles of fate. But for the conspiracy that spring I should not be here, and nor would the King be making his Progress to the North, the largest and most splendid ever seen in England. We rode under the gate, the horses’ hooves making a sudden clatter inside the enclosed barbican, and through into the city.
BEYOND THE GATE was a narrow street of three-storey h
‘I’m hungry,’ Barak observed. ‘Let’s get some breakfast.’
Another high wall appeared ahead of us; York seemed a city of walls. Behind it the Minster loomed. Ahead was a large open space crowded with market stalls under brightly striped awnings that flapped in the cool damp breeze. Heavy-skirted goodwives argued with stallholders while artisans in the bright livery of their guilds looked down their noses at the stalls’ contents, and dogs and ragged children dived for scraps. I saw most of the people had patched clothes and worn-looking clogs. Watchmen in livery bearing the city arms stood about, observing the crowds.
A group of tall, yellow-haired men with dogs led a flock of odd-looking sheep with black faces round the edge of the market. I looked curiously at their weather-beaten faces and heavy woollen coats; these must be the legendary Dalesmen who had formed the backbone of the rebellion five years before. In contrast, black-robed clerics and chantry priests in their brown hoods were passing in and out of a gate in the wall that led into the Minster precinct.
Barak had ridden to a pie-stall a few paces off. He leaned from his horse and asked how much for two mutton pies. The stallholder stared at him, not understanding his London accent.
‘Southrons?’ he grunted.
‘Ay. We’re hungry. How much – for – two – mutton pies?’ Barak spoke loudly and slowly, as though to an idiot.
The stallholder glared at him. ‘Is’t my blame tha gabblest like a duck?’ he asked.
‘ ’Tis you that grates your words like a knife scrating a pan.’
Coincidence by C. J. Sansom / History & Fiction / Science Fiction / Mystery & Detective have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes