The Third in the "Joliffe" series of Medieval Mysteries
England, the spring of 1435
THE CHATTER OF THE MAIDENS
Kent and East Anglia, 1192
THE FLOWERING OF THE ROSE
Rosemary Hawley Jarman
"We Speak No Treason" Book 1
Slowly I looked at him, and, as I heard his breath quicken, knew that he would not dismiss me thus, without a kiss, and with only cool words of friendship. I shook my hair, so that it came free of my gown's collar and streamed about me, a gleaming fall, the colour of the fire.
'Call me by my name,' he whispered.
But I held it so dear my tongue could not shape the word, even to its owner.
And he reached for me with open arms, and we came together trembling, and I know not which of us shook the more, he or I, as if we lay in coldest snow, although we held each other standing in the hearth, and after a while I felt the flames warm upon the side of my gown.
'We shall be in the fire, my lord,' I said, trying to laugh, and the laugh got caught in my throat.
'We are in the fire already,' he muttered, his face in my hair. 'We are in the fire, and burning.'
'Lady, I have known no woman,' he murmured. I clasped my arms around his slender back.
'Then we are both 'prentices in love, my lord,' I said, softly smiling. 'For how can I teach you a craft of which I know nought?'
And we laughed together, all sorrow fled, and he lifted me in his arms, and I was as light as a twig. He took me to his bed and lay down with me, and we were very still for a long space, except for his hands stroking the hair which lay strewn across my cheek. He lifted his head and looked in my eyes.
'Call me by my name,' he whispered. 'Sweet heart, say it to me.'
'Richard,' I said, trembling. 'Richard, my dear love.'
By first light, there was little left to show of the fire's victim. Most of the bones of the skeleton had detached from each other; all that remained that was instantly recognisable as human was the arch formed by a part of the rib cage.
And the bare, smoke-darkened skull, its empty eye sockets black and staring.
Next to the ribs, something else stuck up out of the floor of the cottage. It was a spike, made of iron, and the end protruding out of the floor had been wrought into a hoop. It had once been hammered into a wall as a tethering ring for horses.
In the depths of the crevice where the end of the hoop joined the upright section, a fragment of material had escaped the flames. It was tiny, and looked at a glance like the frayed end of a piece of twine.
It was not material. Nor was it twine. It was all that was left of the rope that had bound the victim securely to the spot where he was to die and be cremated.
He stopped at a gate into a ploughed field softly green with young shoots of grain. A lapwing was crying pee-wit from somewhere, but that was the only sound, and he bent and picked a small daisy out of the grass and chewed on its stalk for its sharp taste, leaning on the gate and gazing up at the White Horse on its hillside. Yesterday at this hour Medcote had been alive and now he wasn't. That Medcote wasn't a man to be mourned was beside the matter. Living and dying were a mystery deeper than any one man's murder.
A man or woman lived and then they did not and mankind fumbled on its way and still there was the Horse, lifetimes old, in its flaring gallop across the hillside, its being a mystery among other mysteries.
Why had Medcote been such a curse toward everyone? [...] Had he thought the power to make folk miserable was a greater power than to play fair with them? That was a mistake common to small-witted people - to think good was a weaker thing than evil. From all that Joliffe had seen, evil - in both its greater ways and in such petty ones as bullying - was the weak man's way, taking a fool's pleasuer in his strength to destroy. To destroy was easy. To create was hard. And solid goodness to others was harder still, with maybe the hardest thing being to stand strong in the good against the anger and force of those who understood only ugliness and destruction. Against people like Medcote.
And like whoever had killed him.
Joliffe pushed back from the gate and went on toward the players' camp, hungry for whatever was for dinner and ready to be away from his thoughts for a while.