The First in the "Joliffe" series of Medieval Mysteries
THE TAINTED RELIC
Jerusalem, July 1100; then England at various times
'It's not turned out so ill for you, though, has it?'
'It hasn't, true enough. But you?'
Penteney's doubt was plain but Basset's answer was unhesitant. 'As far as any man is likely to get what he wants in this world, I've the life I want, no fear. And even if I didn't,' he added jestingly, 'it's a better life than the one I might have had if we hadn't paid our price.'
'Longer, at any rate,' Penteney returned, matching the jest, but with something more than jest behind it.
Something less than jest was in Basset's voice, too, as he asked, 'And Roger? Do you ever hear aught of him? Or from him?'
There was silence then, making Joliffe wish for more than starlight by which to see Penteney's face before he answered, 'I've never seen him since, but I hear from him once a year. Sometimes twice. He's well. He's doing well.'
'And best not spoken of,' Basset said.
'Best not,' Penteney agreed. 'Basset, come inside. I've wine in my study. Let's risk the time to talk '
'It's not worth the risk, Hal. Even this is more than we should.'
'But you're well,' Penteney insisted. 'You can assure me of that?'
'As well in my way as you are in yours. I swear it.'
Not knowing how long they would talk and afraid it would not be much longer, given their unease at it, Joliffe slid silently away along the wall. Given one thing and another, he thought he would rather be in his bed and seemingly asleep when Basset next saw him than be caught here listening.
'Come away, lady. Come with me.' [...]
'I cannot leave him like this.'
Cursing hard necessity, Gawain took her hands in far too familiar a fashion so that she looked from the corpse to him. 'Lady, there is nothing more that can be done for him, and we do not know where your assailant has gone. He may be nearby and waiting.'
Euberacon, shrouded by night and magic, watched the rider hoist the weeping woman onto the horse and lead her away. The glittering light of moon and stars gave him a clear view of the device decorating the shield hanging from his horse's saddlebow.
Well, my Lord Gawain, what do you think of the prize that has fallen into your purse? Is it not lovely and rare? Does it not fill your heart with tender and possessive thoughts?
Under Euberacon's watchful eye, Arthur's captain turned down the forest road, leaving behind dark trails of prints. Euberacon smiled briefly, and then turned back to the dead man. There was profit yet to be taken from this night's work. The deep gouge in Euberacon's chest where the knight's spear had stabbed him was painful and the exposure of his ribs made him feel a little dizzy and weak, but it would close soon enough. The source of Euberacon's life was no longer in his heart, and those who sought it there were bound to be sore disappointed. There was no reason to hurry home. The heart and eyes, the tongue and left hand, these were things not to be wasted. Euberacon drew his second, sharper knife and bent to work.
England, 6th century AD
Peter kissed the bag with considerable reverence. 'In this pouch is a fragment of the True Cross. I rescued it from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before your comrades got to it.'
'You stole a relic from a church?' asked Geoffrey, horrified. 'But that is sacrilege! You should put it back before you are struck down.'
'It is too late for that,' said Peter matter-factly. 'Far too late.  This holy thing has been in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for centuries always under the care of an Arab keeper. But the events of the last two days have put an end to that.'
'Why an Arab?' asked Geoffrey, curious despite his better judgement, which warned him to have nothing more to do with the matter. 'If it really is a piece of the True Cross, then it will be one of the most sacred things in the Holy City, and should be guarded by Christians.'
'Most Christians are too frightened of its power to serve it properly,' said Peter impatiently, as though Geoffrey should have known this. 'And this Arab family has been looking after it devotedly for hundreds of years. The last member was called Barzak.'
'I suppose we killed him,' surmised Geoffrey, 'not knowing that he and his ancestors had served the Church faithfully for so long.'
'Worse,' said Peter. 'You murdered his family here, at Temple Mount. When Barzak heard what had happened, he snatched the relic from its shrine and put a curse on it: anyone who so much as lays a finger on it will die.'
'Even more reason to put it back ' Now Geoffrey felt perfectly justified in taking a step backward, and did not care that it made him a coward. At least he would be a live one.
Peter did not seem to notice his unease, and continued with his tale, a faraway look in his blue eyes. 'Moments after Barzak had screamed his oath, the Crusaders burst into the church, and killed him. I saw and heard everything, and only just managed to rescue the relic from Barzak's dead hand before it was trampled and destroyed for ever.'