House of the Red Slayer

House of the Red Slayer by Paul Doherty Read Free Book Online

Book: House of the Red Slayer by Paul Doherty Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Doherty
Tags: Fiction - Historical, Mystery, England/Great Britain, 14th Century
moved across, the people crouching on stools near the fire rose to greet them. Introductions were made, and inevitably Cranston immediately dominated the proceedings. As usual Athelstan hung back, studying the people he would soon interrogate. He would dig out their secrets, perhaps even reveal scandals best left hidden. First the chaplain, Master William Hammond, thin and sombre in his dark black robes. He moved with a birdlike stoop, his face sallow with an unhealthy colour, balding head covered with greasy grey wisps of hair. A bitter man, Athelstan concluded, with a nose as sharp as a dagger point, small black eyes and lips thin as a miser’s purse.
    On the chaplain’s right stood Sir Fulke Whitton, the dead man’s brother, sleek and fat, with a pleasant face and corn-coloured hair. His handshake was firm and he man curved his considerable girth with the grace and speed of an athlete.
    Beside him was the dead constable’s daughter, Philippa. No great beauty, she was broad-featured, with pleasant brown eyes and neat auburn hair. She was rather plump and reminded Athelstan of an over-fed capon. Next to her stood, or rather swayed, her betrothed, Geoffrey Parchmeiner, hair black as night though oiled and dressed like that of a woman. He seemed a pleasant enough fellow, strong-featured though his smooth-shaven face was slightly flushed with the blood-red claret he slopped around in a deep-bowled goblet A merry fellow, Athelstan thought, and gazed with amusement at Geoffrey’s tight hose and protuberant codpiece: the shin beneath the tawny cloak dripped with frills under the sarcenet doublet, and the toes of the shoes were so long and pointed they were tied up by a scarlet cord wound around the knees. God knows how he walks on ice, Athelstan thought. He recognized the type – a young man who aped the dandies of the court. A parchment seller with a shop in some London street, Geoffrey would have the money to act like a courtier.
    The two hospitaller knights whom Cranston had mentioned, Sir Gerard Mowbray and Sir Brian Fitzormonde, could have been brothers, each dressed in the grey garb of their Order, cloaks emblazoned with broad white pointed crosses. Athelstan knew the fearsome reputation of these knight monks and had on occasion even acted as confessor at their stronghold in Clerkenwell. Both Gerard and Brian were middle-aged, and every inch soldiers with their neat clipped beards, sharp eyes and close-cropped hair. They moved like cats, men conscious of their own prowess. Warriors, Athelstan mused, men who would kill if they thought the cause just.
    Between them stood a lithe-figured dark man, his hair and beard liberally oiled. He was dressed in blue loose-fitting trousers and a heavy military cloak over his doublet. His eyes moved constantly and he watched Cranston and Athelstan as if they were enemies. The coroner barked a question at him but the fellow just looked dumbly back, opened his mouth and pointed with his finger. Athelstan looked away in pity from the black space where the man’s tongue should have been.
    ‘Rastani is a mute.’ The girl, Philippa, spoke up, her voice surprisingly deep and husky. ‘He was a Muslim, though now converted to our faith. He is . . .’ She bit her lip. ‘He was my father’s servant.’ Her eyes filled with tears and she clutched the arm of her betrothed, though the young man was more unsteady on his feet than she.
    Once the introductions were made Colebrook shouted for more stools and, catching the greedy gaze of Sir John directed towards the young man’s wine cup, goblets of hot posset. Cranston and Athelstan sat in the middle of the group. Sir John had no inhibitions but threw back his cloak, stretched out his log-like legs and travelled in the warmth from the fire. The posset he drained in one gulp, held out his cup to be refilled and slurped noisily from it, smacking his lips and staring around as if all his companions were close bosom friends. Athelstan muttered a

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