Cover image for The demon archer : a Medieval mystery featuring Hugh Corbett
Title:
The demon archer : a Medieval mystery featuring Hugh Corbett
Author:
Doherty, P. C.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 2001.

©1999
Physical Description:
250 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
Hugh Corbett is asked to solve the murder of Lord Henry Fitzalan, who was not very well liked and which makes the suspects aplenty.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780312272876
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

The death of Lord Henry Fitzalan on the feast of St. Matthew 1303 is a matter widely reported but little mourned. Infamous for his lecherous tendencies, his midnight trysts with a coven of witches and his boundless self-interest, he was a man of few friends. So when Hugh Corbett is asked to bring his murderer to justice it is not a matter of finding a suspect but of choosing between them.

Immediate suspicion falls on Lord Henry's chief verderer, Robert Verlian. His daughter had been the focus of Lord Henry's roving eye in the weeks before his death and he was not a man to take no for an answer. But the culprit could just as easily be Sir William, the dead man's younger brother. It is no secret that Sir William covets the Fitzalan estate - but would he kill to inherit it? The possibilities are endless, but the truth is more terrible than anyone could have imagined.


Author Notes

Mystery writer P. C. Doherty was born in Middlesborough, England. He is probably best known for the series which includes Ghostly Murders, A Tournament of Murders, A Tapestry of Murders, and An Ancient Evil. Other works include The Rose Demon, Satan's Fire, and The Devil's Hunt.

Doherty also has published under the pen names of Paul Harding (The Nightingale Gallery) and Michael Clynes (The White Rose Murders).

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Doherty's Hugh Corbett returns to the intrigue of Edward I's fourteenth-century English court to investigate the murder of Lord Henry Fitzlan. Fitzlan was selfish, mean, and lecherous, so there is no shortage of suspects. He was killed while hunting with guests from the French court of King Philip, who may be conspiring against King Edward. Hugh knows that no one involved in the case can be believed or trusted, and he also knows that he must be vigilant lest he, too, become a victim of the assassin. Doherty's story is based on historical events, including the traffic in counterfeit relics and the plan of King Philip to arrange a marriage between his daughter and the Prince of Wales so that his grandson could claim the French crown. Doherty has used these materials skillfully, devising an intricate plot with a genuinely surprising solution and creating a cast of full-bodied yet historically sound characters. A good choice for historical mystery readers. --Barbara Bibel


Publisher's Weekly Review

The prolific Doherty brings us another masterful English medieval tale featuring Sir Hugh Corbett, who's still recovering from a bad wound received in his last outing, The Devil's Hunt (1998). It's 1303 and Edward I sends Corbett, Clerk of the Secret Seal, to Ashdown to investigate the death of Lord Henry Fitzalan, shot through the heart by an arrow. Lord Henry was Edward's proposed emissary to Phillip, the king of France, regarding the marriage of Edward's son, Prince William, to Phillip's daughter, Isabella. It was rumored that Lord Henry knew dark secrets about the French king. Shortly after Corbett and faithful manservant Ranulf arrive in Ashdown, they amass a list of possible suspects, since the lecherous, selfish Lord Henry gave many people motive for murder. As they proceed with their inquiries, the arrows continue to fly and the body count mounts. Fearing he'll be the next victim, Corbett coolly uses deductive reasoning to uncover the truth and wind things up in a cleverly wrought conclusion. Authentic historical details enhance a well-told story filled with political intrigues, corruption in the church and personal vendettas. Of particular note are the inquiries conducted by Corbett that not only reveal the souls of the characters but create a vivid portrait of the evil Lord Henry. Though some readers will be put off by the "scholarly" period vocabulary, most fans will gratefully enter, and regretfully leave, Doherty's beautifully realized medieval world. (Apr. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

The latest Hugh Corbett series title places the clerk/spy for Edward I in a quandary. He must find the murderer of a selfish, lecherous, and much-hated lord and has many suspects from which to choose. Another fine historical from a master hand. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One A few hours later, just before noon, Lord Henry Fitzalan and his hunting party gathered behind the palisade built around Savernake Dell, a natural clearing in the great forest, the most suitable location for the slaughter to take place. In the distance they could hear the braying horn of a huntsman, the shouts and halloos of the beaters and the deep bell-like baying of the dogs. Lord Henry stretched, cracking his muscles, and surveyed the dell. Everything was ready; the makeshift palisade stretched like a horseshoe screening off the trees. If the huntsmen did their job, particularly that varlet Robert Verlian the chief verderer, the deer would stream into here and his hunting party would have good sport. He snapped his fingers and a young squire hurried up with a gold-chased goblet, which Lord Henry snatched from his hand and sipped. The claret was strong, the best of Bordeaux. The great manor lord handed it back and gripped his stomach; the pains he'd suffered the night before had disappeared. They would spend the afternoon hunting and, this evening, feast on the most succulent venison in his great hall at Ashdown Manor. He looked over his shoulder to where his brother William stood glowering at him, his face full of grievance.     `Come, come, brother!' Lord Henry felt a spurt of good humour.     His brother walked across, his high-heeled riding boots squelching on the soft earth. He threw his cloak back over his shoulder and Henry studied him quickly from head to toe. The tunic was wine-stained, the leggings already covered in mud. His brother was a good soldier but a poor courtier and, above all, a bad loser. Henry's smile widened as he grasped William by the shoulder and pulled him closer.     `Today, sweet brother,' he hissed, smile fixed, `I enjoy a day's hunting. I entertain the King's guests.' He gestured with his head to where Seigneur Amaury de Craon, the pale, red-haired, foxy-faced envoy from the French court stood quietly gossiping with his own entourage.     `I don't give a fig for the French, brother!' William snapped. `You gave me your promise that the manor of Manningtree would be mine when I passed my thirtieth birthday.'     `I've changed my mind,' Lord Henry replied. `Manningtree will stay with me.'     `And me?' William accused. `Am I to stay with you, brother? Become a hanger-on at your court? Feeding on scraps from your table?'     `You are my dearest brother. You are my heir.' Lord Henry pulled a face. `Well, until I marry and beget a thousand and one sons.'     `Why can't I have Manningtree?'     `First, because I have said so. Secondly, I need it. And thirdly, brother, I want to keep you close. I don't want you skulking off and plotting with some of my, let us say, disaffected knights. I've given you a choice. You can stay here and, in all things, be my brother. Or I can give you a hundred pounds, two good horses and a suit of armour and you can go and seek your fortune elsewhere. Until then,' his grip tightened, `you will smile when I tell you to! You will do what I tell you to do!'     His brother broke free and stood back, his hand going to the dagger in the belt around his waist.     `What are you going to do, brother?' Henry taunted. `Settle matters here?' He stepped closer, his face now drained of any good humour. `Go on, sweet brother, draw your dagger, let's have it out now. But, I tell you this.' He grasped the hilt of his sword. `Your head will leave your shoulders before that dagger leaves its sheath. Now, play the man.'     William's hand fell away.     `That's a good boy.' He was about to turn away.     `Who's the Owlman?' William whispered.     `Why, brother, he's an outlaw, a wolfs-head, an irritant.'     `But why does he threaten you? Those messages left pinned to the manor gate or shot into doors and shutters? A good archer, brother, why should he taunt you?'     `Brother, I am a great lord,' Lord Henry explained. `I come of ancient family as you do. I make enemies, not only among my own kith and kin, but further afield! One day I'll go hunting, not the fallow or roe deer but the Owlman. When I catch him, I'll hang him from my manor gate and that will be the end of the matter.'     `He must hate you deeply?'     `Brother, better to be hated than despised.'     `And the French?' William asked. `Why have they asked the King ...?'     `Why have they asked the King?' Lord Henry interrupted, drawing so close William could smell his wine-drenched breath. `Why has the King asked me to lead an embassy to Paris to represent the Crown at the betrothal of the Lord Edward to the Princess Isabella? Yes.' His eyes rounded in mock surprise. `Yes, that's what I'm doing, William! Because I am what you are not! I am a great lord, a friend and confidant of the King. I am feared not only here but in places you've never even visited.'     `Aye, feared and hated!' William spat back. `You threaten me, like last night ...'     ` Mes excuses , brother.' Henry drew closer. `I have only hinted at what I know, so now I will tell you! I know about the catamite Gaveston!'     And, spinning on his heel, Lord Henry walked back to his squires.     `Soon our quarry will be here,' he reminded them. `Shall we agree a wager, gentlemen? That my arrow will bring the first deer down? That my arrow will go deep into the heart?'     The murmur of conversation stilled. Lord Henry drained his cup and tossed it away.     `Come, come, gentlemen, aren't there any takers?'     'I accept.' Amaury de Craon raised a hand. `Ten pounds in gold, my lord.'     The French envoy came forward, hand outstretched. Lord Henry clasped it, his eyes narrowing as de Craon held it fast, pulling him a little closer. The Frenchman's dark eyes never wavered.     `And when you come to Fontainebleau, Lord Henry, I can take you hunting in our forests.'     `Seigneur Amaury, your wager is accepted. I will take your gold and my hand back.'     The French envoy laughed and let go.     `In France,' Lord Henry felt the anger boiling within him at this French envoy's impudence, `I intend to go hunting for more than a deer.'     His enigmatic remark had its effect. De Craon nervously licked his lips and his eyes shifted.     `Oh, don't worry,' Lord Henry reassured him, slipping his arm through that of the Frenchman and drawing away from the rest. `They know nothing of what I say.'     `You'll come to France, Lord Henry?'     `I will journey back with you.'     `And Signor Pancius Cantrone?'     `My physician doesn't know it, but he will join us.'     `And my master,' Amaury de Craon continued in a whisper, `will be pleased to see Signor Cantrone and silence his lying mouth. But, how will it be done?'     `We'll journey down to Rye. My household will go with me, including my brother William whom I like to keep an eye on. What has to be done will be done then.'     Amaury de Craon withdrew his arm.     `And isn't the King suspicious that we asked you to lead the English envoys?'     `My dear Amaury, I have led similar embassies before. I own land in Gascony. I am the King's most trusted councillor. Why shouldn't I go to Paris? The marriage negotiations between the Prince of Wales and the Lady Isabella have been ordained by his Holiness the Pope and, in time, will lead to peace between our two kingdoms.'     Amaury de Craon studied this sly, secretive English lord, who was tall and thickset, his black hair swept back. In the florid face, those cunning light blue eyes reminded Amaury of his master Philip IV of France: ice cold, soulless, constantly plotting. Amaury knew why Philip wanted this nobleman in Paris and, above all, why that traitor Cantrone, who had fled the French court, should be brought back.     `Won't the English court object over Cantrone?'     Amaury forced a smile, fearful lest others become suspicious of this hushed conversation.     `Amaury, Amaury.' Lord Henry mimicked the Frenchman's accent. `You worry about so many things. It won't be the first time, and it certainly won't be the last, that someone dies or disappears in Paris. And why should the English court object? Cantrone is not a citizen of this kingdom. He is an Italian who wanders the face of the earth. It will all be forgotten in the betrothal celebrations.'     Amaury stared up at the overhanging oak tree. He watched a squirrel skip across the branch. He became aware of the liquid song of some bird high in the trees, singing its own sweet carol, oblivious to the treachery plotted below and to the bloody carnage which would break out when the distant hunters panicked their quarry into the killing pen.     `My Lord Henry.' De Craon wiped some crumbs from his red woollen tunic, slipping a thumb into his belt. `I am not fearful of you, or of your king, or of what might happen.'     `Corbett!' Lord Henry taunted. `You are fearful of Sir Hugh Corbett. I have heard of the rivalry between you.'     Lord Henry recalled the close, secretive face, framed by raven-black hair, of the Keeper of the King's Secret Seal, Edward's most trusted confidant. Sir Hugh Corbett who, time and again, had crossed swords with his French adversary.     `We heard he was dead,' de Craon declared testily.     `I wager you did.' Lord Henry laughed. `And the bells of Paris must have pealed to the heavens.'     `We heard he had been killed in Oxford, an arrow to the heart.'     `He was wounded. He was attacked by an assassin whom his manservant Ranulf-atte-Newgate killed. The crossbow bolt was a hunting one, not an arbalest. It cracked bone but, I hear, Corbett now thanks God for the thick leather jerkin he wore as well as for the royal doctors and physicians. He has recovered.' Lord Henry's grin widened. `Indeed, he may well come to pay his compliments.'     Dr Craon hawked and spat.     `Is it true?' Lord Henry continued his taunting. He plucked at de Craon's sleeve. `Is it true that your master has put up a reward on Corbett's head?'     `That's ridiculous!' de Craon snapped. `If Philip of France did that, Edward of England would retaliate.'     `Yes, yes, he would.'     Lord Henry turned away; the rest of the hunting party were becoming excited. The horns now sounded closer and the bellowing of the dogs filled the dell.     `We should take up our positions, my lord.'     Lord Henry walked across to the palisade, where a squire came running up and thrust a long yew bow in his hand. Next he chose a grey-goose-quilled arrow. A man who lived for each moment, he had now forgotten de Craon, Corbett, his sulky brother and the vexatious messages of the Owlman. He recalled the lovely, olive-skinned face of Alicia, his chief verderer's daughter, and looked around.     `Where is Verlian? Where's my chief verderer?'     `He has not yet returned, sir,' one of his squires shouted, pointing across to the glade. `He's probably over there ensuring all is well.'     `The fool! He'll be in the line of fire. He won't be the first to be killed while hunting.' Lord Henry shrugged. `But he knows the hunt is close, this will be upon his head.'     All around him his companions were preparing their bows, heads craned back towards the forest, waiting for the deer to appear. Lord Henry, however, was still distracted. If only Alicia would give way to him. Was that why her father was so sullen and withdrawn? Lord Henry notched the arrow and waited. In time he brought everything down and in his heart he couldn't care what damage he caused. Glancing quickly around, he noticed William was gone. Where, sulking in the trees? Again came the braying of horns. A crashing in the undergrowth could be heard and a roe deer appeared head up, moving so fast its hooves hardly seemed to touch the ground. The speed of the animal caught the hunters unawares. Bows were strung and brought up, arrows loosed but the deer seemed to have a charmed life. It swept across the glade, glimpsed the palisade and, in one curving jump, cleared it.     The deer's disappearance was greeted with cries of derision. Lord Henry flushed with anger. His arrow, like that of his companions, had missed its mark and he heard de Craon's whinnying laugh. Again the hunting horn sounded, loud and clear. Another deer sped through the trees. Lord Henry raised his bow; he loosed but the deer slipped and this action saved its life as all the hunters' arrows either whistled over or smacked into the ground around it. Lord Henry, beside himself with rage, grabbed another arrow, lifting up the bow. This time he would be ready. He glimpsed a blur just before an arrow took him deep in the chest. Lord Henry staggered back, dropping his bow. He stared in shocked horror, almost oblivious to the pain, then turned, glimpsing his squire's look of fear. Finally he slumped to his knees and fell quietly on his side, eyes fluttering, the blood already spurting out of his mouth. * * * `Hugh! They thought you were dead!'     Edward of England sat in the great hall of Eltham Palace on the south side of the Thames. Above the hall door hung a great pair of antlers, and on the walls the shields showing the principal knights of his kingdom. In the far corner one of his chaplains had lit a rose-tinted candle and placed it in front of the statue of the Madonna and Child. Edward clawed at his iron-grey hair which fell down on either side of his harsh, seamed face. He refilled his goblet and that of his companion, John de Warrenne, Earl of Surrey. He then sighed and smiled at his Keeper of the Secret Seal who sat at the far end of the table, slouched in a high-backed chair.     `Did you hear me, Hugh? They thought you were dead!' The King grinned.     Corbett's black hair, dusted with a dash of grey, framed a clean-shaven, olive-skinned face. His unwavering dark eyes gave little away: a gentle but secretive face. You are a closed book, Corbett, Edward thought. The clerk had thrown his cloak on the back of his chair against which his manservant Ranulf-atte-Newgate now leaned. Edward's gaze moved to him. Ranulf looked the picture of health with his white, lean face, his red hair, cleaned and oiled, gathered in a queue behind him. Like his master he was dressed in a dark tunic over a white shirt.     `Are you deaf?' De Warrenne took a quaff from his wine cup and glared down the table, his popping, blue eyes even more protuberant than normal. He could never understand Edward's tolerance of this secretive clerk. `Or,' de Warrenne jibed, `perhaps you are dead?'     Corbett stretched out a hand. Ranulf sighed, opened his wallet and shook two silver pieces into his master's palm.     `Sire, my apologies.' Corbett smiled. `But I had a wager with Ranulf that I'd be asked that question ten times before I knew the reason for my summons here.' He bowed towards de Warrenne. `Apologies, my lord, but you were the tenth.'     Edward drummed his fists on the table and bellowed with laughter. He nudged de Warrenne, who glowered back.     `It's good to see you, Hugh.' The King smiled. His right eye, which drooped constantly, remained almost closed. He chewed on his lip and removed morsels of food from the hunting tunic he had hastily thrown on after Mass. `Do you know something?' he remarked. `When I go to Mass and pray to le bon Seigneur why don't the priests get on with it? This morning my good Bishop of Winchester wanted to deliver a sermon! I told de Warrenne to start coughing, he soon got the message!' Edward leaned back in the chair and gazed heavy-lidded at his Clerk of the Secret Seal. `We thought you were for the charnel house, Hugh! A crossbow bolt high in the chest?'     `I was fortunate, sire. The bolt was small and not fired at full force because the assassin was running. It is wonderful what protection a thick calfskin jacket can afford.'     `But you were ill?'     Corbett tapped his chest. `The bone shattered and healed but the flesh turned putrid.'     `I sent you medicines.'     `And my wife, the Lady Maeve, thanks you, sire.'     `I was going to come and see you.' The King became shamefaced. `But I couldn't bear to see you die, Hugh. Not lose another loved one. They are all leaving me.'     Don't start, Corbett thought. Don't start weeping and becoming maudlin about the past. He respected his King, with his lean, warrior face, that fertile brain which teemed like a box of worms with subtle plans and strategies. But, if he wasn't a prince, Corbett reflected, Edward should have been a chanteur, a storyteller. He could move, in the twinkling of an eye, from the grieving old king to the energetic bustling warlord, intent on smashing his enemies or sitting in his chancery weaving webs to trap his adversaries abroad. He could be mean-spirited, vicious and spiteful and, at other times, magnanimous, open-handed, forgiving an injury, forgetting an insult. He could sit with the children of his household retainers and roar with laughter at some mummers' play then stride out into the exercise yard, seize a sword and show the young ones how to fight.     Corbett wondered what mood the King was in this morning. Edward, he realised, had a fear Of sickness and death. His old friends were dying and Corbett quietly thanked God that the King had not come down to Leighton Manor. The Lady Maeve would have been driven to distraction. Ranulf alone had almost sent him mad, asking him, on the hour, how he felt, how was the wound? Corbett's gaze shifted to de Warrenne, who was used to these long silences with the King, but the Earl of Surrey always wore his heart on his sleeve. Despite his boisterous, florid looks, the good earl looked anxious, staring distractedly into the wine cup.     `I was at Westminster when I received your summons.' He spoke up.     Edward examined his fingers.     `The assassin?' the King demanded, glancing up. `I understand your manservant killed him?'     `I must thank you, sire,' Corbett deftly replied, `for promoting Ranulf to being a senior clerk in the Chancery of the Green Wax.'     `Yes, yes, yes,' Edward replied testily. `We all know Ranulf's a clerk but he's still your manservant.'     Edward became lost in one of his reveries. He'd often wondered whether he could divide Ranulf from Corbett, play them off against each other. Corbett, with his love of the law, his insistence that the courts be all-important. Ranulf by contrast believed in swift and summary execution for traitors, which was the way Edward liked it.     `I killed the assassin, Your Majesty,' Ranulf confirmed. He moved in a creak of leather, fingers going down to the sword he was now allowed to carry into the royal presence.     `Two good blows, I understand,' Edward replied. `To the belly and to the back. Then you cut his head off, set it on a pole and placed it near the main gate in Oxford? The sheriff and the good burgesses were all alarmed?'     `The sheriff and the burgesses were reminded of the power of the King,' Ranulf said. `I did what I had to do for the good of the kingdom.' He emphasised the last phrase, the all-powerful permission given to any royal clerk to excuse what he did.     `What do you think of that, Hugh?' Edward asked softly.     `The Church teaches self-defence. And an attack on a royal clerk is an attack upon the King.'     `Yes, yes, so it is.' Edward drummed his hands on his stomach. `And you are now fit for your duties?'     `As ever.'     `You did, once, hand in the Seals,' Surrey taunted. `What did you intend to do, Corbett, become a peasant farmer?'     `Your Majesty, if I did, I'd come and ask you for all the advice I would need.'     Edward guffawed with laughter. `You are bored, aren't you, Hugh? Lady Maeve, she is well?'     `As ever, sire. My daughter Eleanor thanks you for the presents your messenger brought from Windsor.'     Corbett shuffled his feet; he was becoming impatient.     `De Craon's back in England,' Edward announced.     `I heard.' Corbett smiled. `My spies along the south coast keep me closely informed of his journey into Sussex, to Lord Henry Fitzalan's manor at Ashdown. I understand Lord Henry has been chosen to lead the English envoys to France.'     `He won't be going. Surrey here will have to shift his arse and, for once in his life, do something useful.'     De Warrenne belched and smiled to himself.     `Lord Henry Fitzalan,' the King explained, `took de Craon and his entourage, his brother and members of his household to Savernake Dell. I've been there, it's a clearing in the forest, a good place to drive the deer in so they can be shot at leisure.' He waved his hand. `You know how these things are organised. The hunters stand at one side of the clearing behind a palisade and the deer are driven in. Apparently two were but they escaped. Lord Henry was furious. He was about to loose again when an arrow came out of the trees on the far side of the dell, some fifteen to twenty yards away, and took him clean in the heart.'     `A hunting accident?' Corbett queried, ignoring de Warrenne's short of ridicule.     `Hunting accidents do occur,' the King explained smoothly. `But not this time. The arrow was not one used in hunting. It came from a longbow, sharp and pointed, fit for war and the killing it did.'     `A good archer,' Corbett agreed. `An arrow to the heart, that would be difficult to dismiss as an accident.'     The King wondered how much he should tell Corbett; he was pleased to see the clerk was now sitting up straight, eyes watchful. You are a good hunting dog, Edward thought. I'll let you loose in Ashdown Forest and we'll see what you and your red-haired cur can dig up.     `Lord Henry was a strange man,' the King continued. `He owned vast estates in Sussex and elsewhere. A soldier, a diplomat and a courtier. I sent him on missions to Avignon, Rome and Paris.' The King paused.     'Why strange, sire? De Warrenne's done the same.' Corbett kept his face straight. `And the Earl of Surrey is not a strange man.'     `Watch your tongue, Corbett!' the Earl warned.     `Lord Henry was always a rebel,' the King said. `His father fought with the rebels led by de Montfort but then changed sides, just in time. Lord Henry, well, I trusted him. He was fluent in at least three languages. He could read and write as well as a scholar. He'd even been to the Hails of Cambridge.'     `You did say strange?' Corbett persisted.     `Lord Henry's views on religion ...' the King paused, `were, how can I put it er, quite original. He journeyed to Palestine. He'd stayed with the Templars. Let me just say he found it difficult to accept some of the Church's teaching.' `He dabbled in the black arts?' Corbett asked. `There are reports from the Justices, rumours, whispers, gossip.'     `He sometimes travelled into Ashdown,' Edward agreed. `And consorted with a witch, or a woman suspected of being one: Jocasta, half-Spanish, the relict of some sailor who settled down outside Rye and was driven out of there. She has a daughter, and Fitzalan gave them a cottage in the forest, a plot of land near a well.'     `But that's not all?' Corbett asked.     `No, it certainly isn't. Lord Henry was a lecher. No woman in Sussex was safe from him. He never married and often boasted that he had no need to sip from one cup when he could pick from so many. Now, according to what we have learned, his chief verderer Verlian had a rather comely daughter, Alicia. Lord Henry entered the lists to win her heart and take her body.'     `And Verlian objected?'     The King shrugged. `He didn't really have to. Alicia did it for him. I met them both once when I was visiting Lord Henry's manor. Alicia's small, dark-haired, with a face like an angel and a body which would set our preachers about their ears. Now Verlian was in charge of the hunt yesterday morning at Savernake Dell but he never appeared. Indeed, he seems to have fled and the finger of accusation has been pointed at him.'     `That would be the logical conclusion,' Corbett mused. `This would not be the first time an irate husband or father had slain a notorious philanderer.'     `Do you know what that means?' the King teased de Warrenne.     The Earl picked up his wine cup and sipped from it. The King was on dangerous ground. De Warrenne's marriage was the gossip of the court. Edward realised he had gone too far and gently squeezed his companion's hand.     `If you don't,' he urged, `ask Ranulf there.'     The newly appointed senior clerk in the Chancery of the Green Wax just glanced away, studying the shields along the wall. One day, he thought, I'll have my shield there. Sir Ranulf or even Bishop Ranulf! He was learning his lessons fast from Master `Long Face' seated beside him: keep your mouth shut, don't respond to insults and, if in doubt, just smile, bow and wait for another day.     `But you don't believe it's Verlian, do you?' Corbett demanded.     `No, no, I don't.' Edward sucked on his lips. `Fitzalan was a man I closely watched. Too many fingers in too many plots. Too much money. A man ruled by his cock. He should have married, settled down! Become as miserable as all of us, eh, de Warrenne?'     `Marriage can be happy, sire!' the Earl protested. `As long as you don't share the same bed and house!'     Edward laughed softly.     `I was going to let Fitzalan go to France,' he continued. `I always wondered why he wanted to go and why my dearest brother in Christ, Philip the King, specifically asked for him.'     `Was he a traitor?'     `He had lands in Gascony, and I believe his mother was French, but I don't think so. Traitors are passionate men, Corbett, passionate for an idea or desperate for gold. Fitzalan had no time for the former and too much of the latter. I think he knew something about the French court. He was going back to trade on this.'     Corbett curbed his excitement.     `So, the French might have resorted to murder? De Craon always has assassins in his train.'     `Not this time,' Edward replied. `Apparently Fitzalan fell to the ground, and died immediately. Chaos broke out. Sir William immediately rode back to the manor to ensure there was no looting and the treasury was safe. De Craon followed shortly afterwards. From the little I know, none of de Craon's retinue were unaccounted for.'     `So, sire, who?'     Edward raised his eyes heavenwards.     `Sir William stood to gain. He inherits the lot and there was bad blood between the `two brothers. And, of course, there's our dear sister in Christ, Lady Madeleine Fitzalan, prioress of St Hawisia's, a well-endowed house in Ashdown Forest. Lady Madeleine was highly critical of her half-brother, particularly his views on religion.'     He paused.     `Anyone else?'     `Ashdown, like all our forests, has its fair share of outlaws. One in particular, calling himself the Owlman, sent warnings and threatening letters to Lord Henry in the months before he died. Brother Cosmas, a Franciscan parish priest of the local church St Oswald's-in-the-Trees, also clashed with our good manor lord.' Edward sighed. `The list is endless. And there's more.'     The King got up and went to kick the door shut, turning the key in the lock.     `I am sending you down there, Hugh, but you have to be careful. This may be a trap. De Craon might have wanted Fitzalan dead but he may also have come to complete the work of that mad assassin in Oxford!'

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