Cover image for Royal whodunnits
Title:
Royal whodunnits
Author:
Ashley, Michael.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 429 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
"Tales of right royal murder and mystery"--Cover.
Language:
English
Contents:
The snows of Saint Stephen / M.G. Owen -- Night's black agents / Peter Tremayne -- Even kings die / Mary Reed & Eric Mayer -- Accidental death / Tom Holt -- The White Ship murders / Susanna Gregory -- Who killed fair Rosamund? / Tina & Tony Rath -- Provenance / Liz Holliday -- To whom the victory? / Mary Monica Pulver -- A frail young life / Renee Vink -- A stone of destiny / Jean Davidson -- Perfect shadows / Edward Marston -- The friar's tale / Cherith Baldry -- Neither pity, love nor fear / Margaret Frazer -- Happy the man... / Amy Myers -- Borgia by blood / Claire Griffen -- The curse of the unborn dead / Derek Wilson -- Two dead men / Paul Barnett -- A secret murder / Robert Franks -- The gaze of the falcon / Andrew Lane -- The mysterious death of the shadow man / John T. Aquino -- The day the dogs died / Edward D. Hoch -- Natural causes / Martin Edwards -- The modern Cyrano / Stephen Baxter -- News from New Providence / Richard A. Lupoff -- Woman in a wheelchair / Morgan Llwelyn.
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780786706341
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library PR1309.D4 R69 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

To follow the successes of Classical Whodunnits and Shakespearean Whodunnits, popular anthologist Mike Ashley has specially commissioned more than a score of new stories from top drawer writers, lead by Stephen Baxter, Peter Tremayne, Margaret Frazer, Richard Lupoff, Susanna Gregory, and Tom Holt, for his latest page-turning anthology. Regal detectives (and victims) in these tales include Mary Queen of Scots, George IV, Edward Duke of Windsor, King John, Robert the Bruce, Princess Anastasia of Russia, Victoria's beloved consort Prince Albert.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Royal blood runs very red, as witnessed by this solid collection of 25 original short stories concerning royal beheadings, disappearances and murders. While most of the selections are fully fanciful, a few deal with historical conundrums. Amy Myers's "The Happy Man," for example, offers an alternative vision of the fate of the two young sons of Edward IV, whom Shakespeare imagined were killed on the orders of Richard III. Among the more clever tales is Susanna Gregory's "The White Ship Murders," in which the Earl of Gloucester unearths the true character of Henry I's only legitimate son while investigating his death in a suspicious shipwreck. The prolific Edward Marston contributes "Perfect Shadows," a superb story about the possible end of deposed 14th-century King Edward II. "Neither Pity, Love nor Fear" by Margaret Frazer presents a twist on the death of King Henry VI in the Tower of London. And, in a rare departure from British royalty, Morgan Llywelyn gives the famous case of Russian Princess Anastasia a new solution in her "Woman in a Wheelchair." Several tales feature the wily monarchs themselves as detectives: Elizabeth I sleuths along with Walter Raleigh in Robert Franks's "A Secret Murder," as does a youthful Queen Victoria in Stephen Baxter's "The Modern Cyrano." Other engaging stories feature detecting by Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. While not quite royal fareÄa few tales are thin or poorly constructedÄthis book should satisfy most mystery fans' palates. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Good King Wenceslas THE SNOWS OF SAINT STEPHEN * * * M. G. Owen We begin our tour through the chronicles of royal mysteries not with the English or Scottish thrones but with the Bohemian. It's too easy to forget that Wenceslas, whom we know through the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas by the Victorian John Mason Neale, was a real king or, to be more precise, duke. His name was originally Waclaw, and he became Duke of Bohemia in 922 when he was only fifteen years old. He worked hard with the Church to improve the education of his people and to convert the land to Christianity. It was through his religious reforms that Wenceslas created enemies and which led to his death in 929. In the following story Mike Owen has recreated an authentic Bohemian world, which with its schisms and superstitions doesn't seem that far removed from today . Prague, 929 Only the crunch of frozen snow under the monks' feet broke the dawn silence as they shuffled towards the cathedral. Cold, as much as the Rule, kept their hands folded inside their sleeves and they did not let freezing air into their mouths by speaking. Two tiny clouds of frost-breath hovered before their bent black cowls, four eyes anxiously searching for ice underfoot.     As they turned the corner of the chapterhouse into the cathedral square, Brother Pavel looked east to take in the sight of the new Cathedral of St Vitus, built on the ruins (and ashes) of the old Temple of Radagast and now the first stone building in all Prague. Only the morning star remained above its stub square tower, fire-bright in the eastern sky, a glistening pinpoint sun and a herald of the true Sun that would rise within the half-hour. Nine hundred years ago, at that first Christmas, there had been such a star. The snow on the roofs of the merchants' houses around the square made a dog-tooth white line above the brown timber, rising and falling with the gables, then leaping over the grey stone of the cathedral. Brother Pavel could even forgive the pagan dragons carved at the houses' eaves and over their doorways. He and his companion, Brother Stanislaus, were almost the first ones awake this St Stephen's morning, for the snow lay unbroken but for a single trail towards the shrine of St Agnes in the centre of the cathedral square, where a fur-muffled figure kept vigil, prostrate on the steps. Brother Pavel brought his hands out into the cold in a gesture of prayer and smiled thinly. Prague's Christians were fortunate indeed to have such a king, who could endure the cold so patiently, who would be about his devotions on this frozen St Stephen's morn, when most of the court, Pagan, Christian and Priest, had not yet awoken to their Christmas hangovers.     As soon as Brother Stanislaus had closed the great door of the cathedral behind them, its grey stone pillars and lime-washed walls seemed warm as a wooden hall. The new frescoes broke up its austerity. On the north side of the nave a procession of naked sinners marched over the tops of the round window arches. The fire-red demons with heads of goats, wolves and cats (signifying lust, greed and vanity) pitchforked them westward, away from the altar, to a corner where Hell's gate, in the form of a blood-red dragon's mouth, gaped wide to devour the unrepentant. On the south wall, the Righteous broke out of their coffins on the Day of Judgement, ready to climb the ladder to Paradise. The great blue sky of Heaven, ladder, angels, stars and all, would have to wait until Bishop Anton could find the money for the lapis lazuli pigment. It would not be wise to ask King Wenceslas for money, not yet, he had already paid for the minimum for the red parts on the north wall. First things first -- paint in Hell's fire; Heaven can wait.     Brother Pavel let his hands linger in the warmth of the Presence lamp as he trimmed it, while Brother Stanislaus gathered up the spent wax under the votive candles, for re-use.     When they returned across the square, young King Wenceslas had not moved. Brother Pavel called out "Christus Natus Est". The king did not respond. Pavel called again. Wenceslas lay in a strange, unprayerful, position. The monks stumbled into a run, snow-clouds flying above their ankles.     The knife in the king's back bore a two-tailed lion engraved on the silver pommel. Only the king and his brother had the right to wear the royal lion of Bohemia, and now the king lay dead at the monks' feet. As Stanislaus drew breath to shout the alarm, Pavel's hand slammed over his mouth.     "Think, lad! This is Prince Boleslav's knife and Boleslav's work -- King Boleslav, now. Even as we speak, his heathen dogs may be cutting every Christian throat in Prague!"     Stanislaus quietly calculated the speed of a fast horse, the distance to the nearest city gate and how much cathedral silver would fit into his saddlebags. Pavel tugged at his sleeve.     "We must warn My Lord Bishop. There may still be time."     Stanislaus shuffled after Pavel, cursing the other's bravery, all the way to Bishop Anton's palace, all the time it took them to persuade a half-sober deacon to admit them to the Bishop's chamber. My Lord Bishop's vow of poverty had brought him a well-carved, well-locked (and well-filled) elm chest, a silver wine-flagon and beakers to put on it, and even the luxury of a special linen shirt, just for sleeping in. A great mace, a mail-and-scale shirt and a helmet crowned with a mitre hung on a post in a corner -- his vow of humility did not prevent him commanding a small but adequate private army. As for his vow of chastity, the brothers tried to ignore the suspicious double dent in Bishop Anton's pillow as he shook the sleep and wine from his head.     "Stanislaus -- wake up my guards. I don't care how you do it, but get them armed and sober and close off the cathedral square. Above all, don't touch the body. Pavel -- tell every priest, canon and Christian lord you can find to meet me in front of the chapterhouse -- now!" Fast though Bishop Anton moved, scarcely a dozen of his followers had gathered before the chapterhouse when he heard the muffled stamp of armed guards in the snow, marching down the lane from the royal palace. A lone figure in a grey wolfskin robe, its hood trimmed with miniver, trod silently at the head of the double file. Anton saw a headband of tiny gold owls under the white miniver and, below them, pale green eyes, unblinking, unweeping. When she spoke her voice was level.     "My son the king is dead."     Bishop Anton made himself look directly into Queen Dragomira's eyes. Somehow it seemed to him that they picked up a tint of the yellow of the headband. He made the sign of the cross, partly in benediction, partly for his own comfort.     "God rest his soul."     "And God save King Boleslav. Say you Amen?"     Bishop Anton counted Queen Dragomira's guards. All had their spears, some had even found time to pull on their mail shirts.     "Amen."     "Then you will crown my son Boleslav king on Twelfth Night."     "A pagan king crowned in the House of God!"     "The king enters any house he pleases. Whether you give the crown or he takes it for himself is your choice. And think on -- Pope and Emperor are beginning to speak out against holy concubines. Wenceslas listens -- listened. Boleslav may be more tolerant. Now, this snow fell yesterday afternoon and evening and froze overnight. Your priests saw my son's body at dawn, with no footprints in the snow but his ..."     "Only the Devil's servants leave no footprints. There are Vlachs camped out on the downwind side of the city," Bishop Anton spat out the tribe's name.     Queen Dragomira considered this option. Vlachs came, more or less, from Transylvania. But there had been no reports of a vampire attack, this far west, for seven years, though it was not strange that Bishop Anton should suspect the Vlachs of reverting to their old customs. Vlachs were Eastern Christians, and the Church of Rome hated them for heretics and barbarians. It was fortunate that Bohemia lay astride the line between Eastern and Western Christendom -- into that crack a skilful servant of the Old Gods could insert her wedge. She considered the intricate political tapestry of Bohemia, and mentally compiled a list of suspects, as she walked up to her son's body ...     There was very little blood on the ground, only a small stain on her son's cloak. She unlaced his collar, looking for bites. Nothing, only six garnets she had given him at his coronation, now set in a cross. Wenceslas had always liked pretty things, bright colours. Only last week he had asked her to lend him the money for the powdered lapis lazuli to paint the church wall. Too late, now.     There was something odd about the footprints. They weren't sharp, they were too big and too deep. Then she saw several with a double print, the pointed mark of a sole on top of another. Dead bodies don't bleed. Someone had killed her son somewhere else, carried the body to the shrine and walked back in his own tracks. Now who was clever enough, and sober enough, to do all that on Christmas night? Not young Boleslav, apparently. She found him in the palace, stretched out on a pile of skins near what remained of the Christmas fire, and he was still too drunk to curse her when she poured a bucket of cold water over his head and greeted him with "Hail, King Boleslav!"    "What -- King who? What's happened to Wenceslas?"    "Ask your silver-handled knife! Why did you do it?"    "Big brother Wenceslas was a pious, girlish idiot!"    "Radagast knows that's true. But he would have done the praying and let us -- you -- do the ruling. He would never have got sons. You were his heir."     "Anything to avoid a fight, that's Wenceslas. He was ready to hand Bohemia over to Germany. Their harbingers would have been in Prague as soon as the snow melted."     "A dozen German princes under our roof all at once. Think, little Boleslav! I could have done the cooking ..."     "It's a bit suspicious if they all have your mushroom soup for supper and none live to eat breakfast. You were lucky to get away with killing Grandmother Ludmilla."     Dragomira didn't bother to explain about her subtler delicacies -- wild boar, smoked over yew chippings, that keeps for weeks, and when the victim chooses to eat your present, gives him a copious, dire and fatal flux, just like accidentally tainted meat. Ergot of rye, that clouds the reason and leaves the body unharmed, if the dose is nicely judged. The less young Boleslav knew about his mother's kitchen cupboard, the better.     Boleslav belched deeply, his hands pressed to the sides of his head.     "Wait -- did you say he was stabbed with my knife? My silver dagger? I missed that knife some days ago. Find the thief, he's the killer."     "You are talking sense, for once. When did you last have the knife?"     "You know Raika? The little blonde piece? Well, whenever her man is on guard duty, I go to her. Last time, when I got dressed, the knife was missing. I thought she'd just taken it for a souvenir -- she's well worth it, so I didn't say anything."     "Does her man know about your night-games?"     "Igor? I hope not. Have you seen the size of him?"     "Who else knew of this?"     "Only Vassilli, my page. Each night the guards draw lots, so they never know, until the last moment, who will be guarding which door."     "Why do you let that sneaky little Christian, Vassilli, follow you around?"     "He plays the lute well. Also, like most musicians, he has good hearing, and he speaks four languages. That makes him a very useful listener at doors."     "My son, you are not as stupid as you look. Now get cleaned up, look regal, look sorrowful. Wear your black wolfskin, no jewellery -- second thoughts, wear that black agate I gave you. You have a coronation eleven days from now."     When Dragomira returned to her chamber a large black hairy shape rose up out of the rushes and growled at her.     "Down, Rofi!"     He sniffed and whined from his sheepskin. Strange, she thought -- until she remembered the smell of blood and death on her gown. She threw some birch sticks into the brazier's embers and, while the flames curled around them, took four candles, a knife and some cord from the elm chest against the wall.     Let the small candle be Vassilli. Take a hot needle, and draw a boy's face on it, and two arms holding a lute. Now tie a cord around it.     Her sons were big lads. Vassilli was far too small to carry the body through the snow. Tie a backward knot in the cord . He had no reason to kill Wenceslas, tie another backward knot . But he was a sneaky little thing, he could have stolen the knife for someone else -- tie a forward knot .     Take a big candle for Boleslav, crown it with a golden ring . He had the best of reasons; the brothers had always quarrelled -- a younger son's natural ambition for the crown, and another kind of jealousy -- maybe she had shown too much favour to her quiet, biddable elder son. There was respect between her and Boleslav, but mother and son were too alike, too hard, to show much affection even when they felt it. Tie a forward knot for a younger brother's jealousy . Boleslav was certainly strong enough for the business, and possibly sober enough, in the early part of the evening. That's two more forward knots . But he was too drunk to have disposed of the body so cleverly. Also, he was a vicious killer (where do the children learn such habits?) but he was not a coward, to stab in the back and then hide his guilt. A quarrel is face to face. No, he would have stabbed from the front, then proudly acknowledged his work and claimed the crown by right of strength. That's two backward knots .     How could her one belly have bred two boys of such different natures? They had had the same father, so far as she remembered.     Give Igor the biggest candle . He could have forsaken his guard post, stolen the knife and returned unnoticed ( tie a forward knot ). Did he know how his woman consoled herself on lonely nights? Probably. Doors opened in Dragomira's mind, spreading like Radagast's great wings, and she saw the ikon revealed -- two brothers so different in natures but alike in build and hair. Igor could have confused them from the back, allowing for drink and darkness. Tie a second forward knot . Igor's blunder had been fortunate for Bohemia, caught as it was between Germans to the west and Magyars to the east. As a king, Wenceslas would have made a good monk. Igor could easily carry a body ( that's three forward knots ) but could he carry his drink? She must find out how sober he had been last night.     Shape the last little candle into a woman. Give it breasts and yellow silk for blonde hair . Raika could have stolen the knife and given it to anyone. Where there is a murderer and an accomplice there is a traitor and a betrayer. It is only a matter of chance as to who talks first.     Dragomira sent Axel, her guard, to bring Raika in. While she waited, she threw some charcoal on the fire and left the poker in it.     Raika was a slim little thing of about sixteen summers, baby-pink skin, big blue eyes, long blonde hair tied in purple ribbons, a scarlet woollen dress and a necklace of amber and silver. Amber and scarlet together! the girl had no sense of colour. But then again, scarlet wouldn't show the blood.     "Where were you, all yesterday, and where was Igor?"     "We were at the Christmas feast. Everybody saw us."     "All day?"     "Igor and I came together, in the hut, just after sunset. Then we went back to the hall for the drinking. I left and went back to bed, after a couple of hours."     "So there you were, a little girl alone in your bed, on Christmas night. Who came to you? Boleslav?"     "He could hardly stand when I left."     "Then who?"     "No one, My Lady. All the men were drunk."     "Igor just let you leave him on his own?"     "He was well drunk by then. He didn't come home."     "Standing drunk, falling down drunk or fighting drunk?"     "Standing -- but swaying a bit. Not fighting drunk -- nobody crosses Igor when he's drunk."     "Nobody crosses Igor when he's sober, if they've got any sense." Dragomira towered over Raika. "You've been a very silly girl. Is it sweet to bed a prince? Would you rather bed a king? Would you like to be a queen?"     With each question Raika backed away and cringed lower, until the elm chest against the wall caught her behind the knees and she slumped down, her hands over her face. Dragomira stirred the fire, moving the poker to the hottest part.     "My girl, you haven't got a prayer -- not to any god you can find. Were you wearing that scarlet dress yesterday?"     "Yes, My Lady. It's my best."     "Your only decent one. Take it off."     While Raika shivered in her shift, Dragomira waved the dress over Rofi's muzzle. He whined softly, like a dog that hasn't the energy to snarl and wants to go back to sleep. So there was no smell of blood or death on the dress. Dragomira threw it into a corner, then snatched the necklace from the girl's throat and held it up to the firelight, watching the brown amber turn to a clear orange glow.     "Pretty, pretty. Who gave it you?"     "I got it from that Polish trader who came south in the rutting season."     "I know he sold it, but who bought it? It cost money."     "Boleslav," she whispered.     "And you wore it all through leaf-fall and pig-killing time. How do you think Igor felt? You didn't think."     "When my grandmother died I said it was hers."     "And you were so stupid you thought Igor would believe the story. He knew. He took Boleslav's own knife to kill him. It was exciting, wasn't it, to have a man who would kill for you. But it went wrong and he killed the wrong brother. Now the two strong men in your bed are both alive. Which will be first, do you think, to break your scheming little neck?"     Dragomira pulled out the poker and spat on it. The spittle hissed and danced, a hot pearl on the redness.     "What really happened? You want to tell me, you know you'll tell me sooner or later."     "I don't know, My Lady, I swear it!"     "Try to remember something in the next couple of days. Axel!"     The door opened, after a sufficient pause. Either Axel had not been listening to her interrogation, which meant that he was obedient, or that he had been listening, but had also been clever enough to wait a second before he opened the door. But which?     "My lady?"     The look on his face suggested that he was not surprised to see Raika half-stripped. So he was a clever listener. Well, that was useful to know.     "Take this girl away and lock her up, nobody feeds her but me. Tell everyone that she has a fever, called Queen's Madness, and that it may be catching."     Alone now, but for the dog, Dragomira studied the wax dolls. Raika wasn't clever enough to think of a convincing lie, or brave enough for a conspiracy. Tie a backward knot in Raika's cord . But apparently Igor had been had been half-sober last night, and he knew all about Boleslav tupping the little blonde hoggit. Tie two forward knots for Igor .     There was one other possibility. She took a fifth candle and, with the hot needle, gave it wings and two sharp teeth. A vampire was unlikely, this far west, but she had to make certain. It was time to pay a call on the Vlachs. The sun was at its noon-peak by now, so she put on her furs.     At the northern city gate a guard courteously moved a rowan wood cross aside, to let her pass. The cross, and the seven crossed nails and bunch of garlic at its centre, had not been there yesterday. Bishop Anton could move fast, when it was a matter of keeping out the Devil's servants. In truth rowan wood had never bothered her, but she was careful to give as wide a berth as possible, for the looks of things. She walked on out of the city, down the river towards Hunter Island, where the Vlachs were camped. A crust of snow merged with the river's grey ice, almost reaching across to hide the swift black channel in the middle. Vampires could cross a bridge over a running stream, but could they walk over ice? She wasn't sure.     Rofi bounded on ahead, then started at something in a ditch. She ran after him. The sheep's guts lay in red coils and loops, just beginning to freeze, not even a branch to cover them. Messy people, the Vlachs. Wenceslas, like many Catholics, would not eat mutton, the Lamb of God, but the Greek Christians ritually killed and ate a lamb, every Easter. Boleslav would eat anything, at any time. She called Rofi back from his find and continued her journey into the Vlach camp. A woman was scraping a sheepskin clean of flesh and fat. A grizzle-bearded Vlach greeted her from the door of the largest tent. The brown and white patches of his goatskin clothes were artistically matched, which among the Vlachs marked him out as a person of quality. He beckoned her inside the tent. When the flap closed behind her, it also trapped the foul air -- sheep grease, human grease and imperfectly dried firewood. One of the chief's women brought her a bowl of chopped sheep's liver and kidneys, fried in kidney fat. From her pouch Dragomira took her own spoon -- silvered bronze, its tail in the form of a serpent with tiny garnet eyes.     "My son, the king, is dead."     "May his spirit sleep easy, until the Last Day," the chief replied. He crossed himself, but to Dragomira there was something odd, something sinister about the gesture. "I did not need a black mirror to see that you would come. The killer who left no footprints was, the Roman priests say, a vampire. Vampires come from the East, and so do we."     He told his story too quickly, too easily, like a man who had rehearsed it. Dragomira chewed on a piece of meat that was too tough for kidney but too tender to be heart, and so was probably udder.     "Are there vampires in your tribe?"     "Maybe -- why should a vampire need to strike with a knife, like a Christian mortal? And a silver knife, at that?"     "My son wore a garnet cross at his throat. He was protected from vampire bites."     "How could a vampire strike near a Christian cross?"     "They hunt among graveyard crosses. Saint Agnes's bones lie under her cross, which makes it a graveyard."     "The moon is but three days old, yet vampires hunt only on the dark side of the moon."     Dragomira acknowledged the truth of that. As she left the camp she noticed that over every tent flap there hung a blue clay eye -- to outstare the devil. Everybody trusted Raika, with her baby blue eyes. Dragomira's green eyes had always attracted suspicion. Well, it is better to be feared than loved.     As she walked westward back to the city she saw a speck fly southwards out of the sun, then circle round, left to right. A hawk? no, too big, a kite or an eagle. Either Radagast himself, come to claim the late King's royal spirit, or a common eagle, famished by the snow and attracted by the gralloch of the sheep that the Vlachs had left in the ditch. Now it drew closer, Dragomira saw that it was nothing more than a red kite. Nevertheless, Dragomira took no chances, but put her hand to her brow and made the Sign.     It was unlikely that a vampire could strike at this time of the moon. Neither Raika nor Vassili could have carried the body. The killer had to be Boleslav, in drunken anger, or Igor when his simple revenge plot had gone wrong. Maybe a complex plot had gone right? Wenceslas's bargain with the Germans had made him a raft of enemies. Perhaps someone had hired Igor as assassin, to remove Wenceslas, disgrace Boleslav as a fratricide and stir up a rebellion?     The red kite circled lower, making half a dozen crows break from their feeding and leave the great red bird to scavenge on the gralloch of the sheep. The crow's protests seemed to come from far away. A kite does not fly silently, like an owl, the beat of its wings scares off lesser scavengers, yet to Dragomira this bird sounded strangely quiet. Of course, the snow sucked up all sounds.     Frozen snow cracked under her feet. Rofi walked behind her, out of sight, knowing when he wasn't wanted, or glad of the easier walking made by her footprints. Dragomira could feel the cold, seeping up to her knees. Her hands were white, skin pulled back, their tendons showing high -- the cold had driven out the blood.     There had been no blood on the snow; a dead body doesn't bleed -- but neither does a frozen, living one. A second time the doors of the ikon opened and she saw a picture -- she saw her son's murder happening, but this time she saw the truth. She knew why the footprints were double. She pulled her robe clear of the snow and carefully stepped back in her own footprints, on her own trodden snow. Silence. Then she stepped out across fresh, frozen snow, breaking the crust. Crunch, crunch, crunch.     The guilty fear to make a sound, especially if they themselves have very clear hearing. Now she knew the "how" of her son's murder, and she knew the "who", but she needed to know the "why". She trudged home, towards the sunset over Prague's stockade. While Rofi snored on the floor of her chamber she took a doll from the chest, studied it, and tied an extra "yes" knot in its cord. Then from the chest she took a stone jar of ale, a silver jug, two silver beakers set with moss agate and some spiced biscuits. She half filled one beaker with water, then ordered Axel to bring Vassili to her.     When they came, she sent Axel away, to go and feed Raika. Rofi could guard the door, she wanted privacy for this interview. Just Vassilli and her.     "How does my son, your master?"     Vassilli smiled nervously.     "He has no wish for music at this moment. Maybe he won't want my simple melodies, now that he's king"     "He isn't king yet. The Christian bishops might try to prove fratricide."     Vassilli did not blink at the Latin word. Boleslav had said that the boy was educated. She poured ale into both beakers, taking the watered ale for herself.     "God rest King Wenceslas's soul"     "Amen!" the boy replied.     There was something odd about the way the boy crossed himself before drinking, something strange but familiar.     "Tell me everything that happened last night," she asked.     "Prince Boleslav -- King Boleslav now, forgive me, gave me leave to go to Christmas vespers. Then I went back to the Great Hall, to attend him."     "Did he want your music?"     "A song or two. He himself sung a bit."     "How drunk was he?"     "He remembered all the words."     "When did you leave the parry?"     "About midnight -- but I think I dozed on a bench."     "When did you last see King Wenceslas alive?"     "He was at Vespers, of course. I didn't see him after that -- Yes I did, he was in the Hall for the wassail, at least at the start."     "Was Boleslav on his feet when you left?"     "Swaying a bit and shouting a lot, but walking straight."     "Shouting about what? Act the part, be Boleslav. Here, let me fill your cup."     The boy took a big gulp and dropped his voice to Boleslav's baritone.     "A king should be king! A king should defend his people!"     Light-headed from the ale, living his part, the boy drained his cup. Dragomira only half filled it, there was more in her ale than he knew, and she wanted to aid his tongue without marring his memory. He seemed vague about Wenceslas's movements, yet certain that Boleslav had been only half-drunk at the end of the evening. She put her Fingers into the ale.     "My Christian son was a good friend to the Roman church. What now? Is Boleslav able to step into his ..." she paused, and walked her fingers across the table, leaving a trail of ale-droplets "... his footprints?" The boy looked away and giggled.     "You are a Christian. Will you pray for Wenceslas's soul?"     "I have done so already."     "I wish I knew how. Kneel down and show me."     The boy obeyed and started an Ave Maria , while Dragomira stood over him.     "Tell me, who needs Christian prayers more -- a virgin saint, murdered at his prayers, or he who stabbed him in the back? Pray for his soul."     The boy crossed himself, the same strange way, and the third time the doors of the ikon opened for Dragomira. She saw the roads to her son's Calvary, and on every road a Judas. Vassilli had a Greek name. He had crossed himself right to left, Greek style.     Wenceslas was a true friend of Rome, and of peace at any price. He would have let in the Germans, Pope's men every one. Yet Boleslav kept to the old ways, Eastern ways. "The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend". She handed a spiced Christmas biscuit to Vassilli and took one herself, but dropped it in her lap, where Rofi would not find it.     "Tell me -- why do you suppose my son's killer left no footprints?"     "Maybe he was a vampire. Vlachs are vampires. Vampires can fly."     Vassilli giggled again and flapped his arms. The ale, and the far stronger biscuits, were doing their work.     "So a vampire came behind him. Why didn't he hear its wings?"     "The snow swallowed up the sound."     "Are there many vampires, east of the Iron Gates?"     "My grandfather told me about them. They've got big white teeth, like rats, and big red eyes, as big as bowls, they swing towards you like cartwheels."     Vassilli flapped his shirt in and out, like one who was too hot -- he was sweating, not just from fear.     "Look, there's one on the doorstep, it's shiny blue, it's got scales!" His eyes were fixed on Rofi. "It's your dragon, you're a witch, your dragon is burning me, my skin's on fire!"     He ran from the room, out into the snow, tearing off his clothes, rubbing snow over his burning bare skin. His shouting drew a crowd who saw a naked page, crying out that there was a great white bat on the Cathedral tower, and dancing in the snow.     Dragomira looked up to the tower and saw an eagle owl, its plumage turned silver by the moonlight reflected off the snow. Vassilli fell over, and none dared approach a bewitched man.     Dragomira left him in the snow and went back to her chamber, her work was done. Whether her son's killer died from frostbite, or the ergot of rye in the ale and the biscuits, was of no concern.     She threw the waxen image of Vassilli into the fire. Copyright © 1999 Mike Ashley. All rights reserved.

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