House of the Red Slayer

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

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
either side. The lieutenant cursed and turned away.
    ‘Welcome to the Tower!’ the creature shrieked. ‘Welcome to my kingdom! Welcome to the Valley of the Shadow of Death!’
    Athelstan looked down at the twisted white face and milky eyes of the albino crouching before him.
    ‘Good morrow, sir,’ he replied. ‘And you are?’
    ‘Red Hand. Red Hand,’ the fellow muttered. He parted his blue-tinged lips, dirty yellow teeth chattering with the cold. ‘My name is Red Hand.’
    ‘Well, you’re a funny bugger, Red Hand!’ Cranston barked.
    The mad eyes slyly studied the coroner.
    ‘Madness is as madness does!’ Red Hand muttered. ‘Twice as mad as some and half as mad as others.’ He brought his hand from behind his back and shook a stick with a dirty, inflated pig’s bladder tied on the end. ‘So, my darlings, you want to play with Red Hand?’
    ‘Piss off, Red Hand!’ the lieutenant growled, taking a threatening step towards him.
    The albino just glared at Colebrooke.
    ‘Old Red Hand knows things,’ he said. ‘Old Red Hand is not as stupid as he appears.’ Grimy, claw like fingers stretched out towards Athelstan. ‘Red Hand can be your friend, for a price.’
    Athelstan unloosed his purse and put two coins in the madman’s hands. ‘There,’ he said softly. ‘Now you can be both Sir John’s friend and mine.’
    ‘What do you know?’ Cranston asked.
    The albino jumped up and down. ‘Sir Ralph is dead. Executed by God’s finger. The Dark Shadows are here. A man’s past is always with him. Sir Ralph should have heeded that.’ The madman glared at the lieutenant. ‘So should others! So should others!’ he exclaimed. ‘But Red Hand is busy, Red Hand must go.’
    ‘My Lord Coroner, Brother Athelstan,’ the lieutenant interrupted, ‘Sir Ralph’s corpse awaits us.’
    ‘Off to see the gore and blood, are we?’ Red Hand cried, jumping up and down. ‘An evil man, Sir Ralph. He deserved what he got!’
    The lieutenant lashed out with his boot but Red Hand scampered away, shrieking with laughter.
    ‘Who is he?’ Athelstan whispered.
    ‘A former mason here. His wife and child were killed in an accident many years ago.’
    ‘And Sir Ralph let him stay here?’
    ‘Sir Ralph hated the sight of him but could do very little about it. Red Hand is a royal beneficiary. He was a master mason to the old king and has a pension and the right to live here in the Tower.’
    ‘Why Red Hand?’ Athelstan asked.
    ‘He lives in the dungeons, and scrubs the torture instruments and the killing block after executions.’
    Athelstan shivered and wrapped his cloak more firmly about him. Truly, he thought, this was the Valley of Shadows, a place of violence and sudden death. The lieutenant was about to walk on but Cranston caught him by the arm.
    ‘What did Red Hand mean about Sir Ralph being an evil man who got his just deserts?’
    Colebrooke’s bleary eyes looked away. ‘Sir Ralph was a strange man,’ he muttered. ‘Sometimes I think he had demons lurking in his soul.’

    Athelstan and Cranston followed Colebrooke around the half-timbered sheds and outbuildings, under the archway of the inner curtain wall and across the frozen yard to a huge tower which bulged out over the moat. He stopped and pointed.
    ‘There are dungeons beneath ground level, and above them steps leading to the upper tier which has one chamber.’ He shrugged. ‘That’s where Sir Ralph died.’
    ‘Was murdered!’ Cranston interrupted.
    ‘Are there other chambers?’ Athelstan asked.
    ‘There used to be a second tier but the doorway was sealed off.’
    Athelstan looked up at the snow-capped crenellations and drew in his breath quickly.
    ‘A tower of silence,’ he murmured. ‘A bleak place to die.’
    They walked up the steps. Inside two guards squatted on stools round a brazier. Colebrooke nodded at them. They climbed another steep staircase, pulled back the half-open door, and a dark, musty passageway stretched

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