Paul Doherty: Bloodstone

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Paul Doherty Bloodstone
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Bloodstone: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Paul Doherty



‘Murdrum: Murder.’

Sir Robert Kilverby was about to be murdered. Of course he did not know that, ensconced so comfortably in his warm, snug chancery chamber, its costly linen panelling gleaming in the dancing light of the candle spigots. True, the fiery glow of the pine logs crackling in the mantled hearth sent the shadows swiftly fluttering. The gargoyle faces carved on either side of the hearth assumed a more sinister look whilst the grisly scenes of Archbishop Alphege’s martyrdom on the painted cloths above the panelling took on an eerie life of their own. Nevertheless, Kilverby felt safe and secure in this fortified chamber, its heavy oaken door bolted and locked. The oriel windows high in the pink plaster walls glowed with the dying light of the December day though they were too small for any footpad to break through. Kilverby hitched his fur-lined cloak closer about his bony shoulders. He stopped gnawing on the plume of the elegant quill pen and placed it down on the pewter writing palette. Distracted, he gazed around at the sprigs of evergreen pinned to some of the gaily coloured cloths by his beloved daughter Alesia. She had gone out into the frosted garden and plucked holly, ivy and mistletoe, reminders of the evergreen Christ and the imminent arrival of Christmas. Soon Advent would be over. The fasting and the chanting of the Dirige psalms finished. The great ‘O Antiphons’ would be sung to the ‘Key of David’, ‘Lion of Judah’ and ‘Ever Mighty Counsellor’. Christmas would soon be celebrated but not as it had been before — that’s what Alesia was quietly hinting at — in those glorious days when Kilverby’s first wife, Alesia’s mother Margaret, was alive.

Kilverby ignored his growling stomach. The rich Cheapside merchant picked up his rosewood Ave beads and threaded them through his bony fingers. He quickly recited a Pater and placed the beads back down. He had truly made a mistake when he’d married Helen Rauliffe. ‘Helen of hell’ as Alesia now called her stepmother; his daughter was right and he was wrong. He had been seduced by Helen’s fine figure and beautiful, hard face. So eager to recapture former joys both at bed and board, he had, like the old fool he was, rushed to exchange vows in the porch of St Mary Le Bow, only to find the trap had been sprung. The fowler had cast his net and he was caught. Hard of heart and bitter of tongue was the fair Helen. She carried her head like a priest would the monstrance. In fact, she’d turned his life into a living hell. Kilverby stirred in his great chancery chair and took a deep sip of the dark red claret. He stared sadly at the loving cup, a gift from Alesia, and breathed in deeply. How could he escape judgement? Kilverby grasped his Ave beads again. He had gone to St Fulcher’s. He had listened to the warnings from Sub-Prior Richer who had heard the confession of that old reprobate, William Chalk. Kilverby beat his breast. He had done wrong. He had financed those depredations in France. He was partly to blame for the theft of that sacred bloodstone, the Passio Christi. Kilverby wanted absolution. He had cut himself off from the Wyverns, who’d been responsible for the theft. He had bribed Abbot Walter with good gold and silver to ensure further reparation was made. Above all, Kilverby had read that book! He had reflected on the curses and wondered if the death of Margaret and his second marriage were all part of God’s judgement against him. What if the curse spread to include his beloved daughter Alesia? Kilverby swiftly crossed himself. He would continue to make reparation. He would, eventually, take the Passio Christi to St Fulcher’s and then continue his pilgrimage of reparation to Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem. Kilverby paused in his thoughts at a knock on the door.

‘Who is it?’ he called.

‘Father,’ Alesia replied, ‘I’m here with Crispin.’

‘Go to bed,’ Kilverby retorted. ‘God be with you. I shall speak to you in the morning.’

Kilverby heard the footsteps fade and returned to his reflections. He was certain of what he had to do. In the meantime he would ask for God’s help as he always did every Friday. When the Angelus bell tolled, he’d leave his counting house near the Standard in Cheapside and crawl on hands and knees to prostrate himself before the great rood screen in St Mary’s. He had done the same at St Fulcher’s, aware of the curse pressing close. He had much to say about ‘Helen of hell’, much to judge and much to condemn but what was the use? Kilverby picked up the quill pen, nibbling at its end again, as he always did. Helen would brook no opposition. She wanted this and she wanted that and, if he refused, she’d glare at him and turn for comfort and counsel to her so-called kinsman Adam Lestral. Kinsman! Were they really lovers? Was Alesia correct in her suspicions? Kilverby stopped nibbling at the rich plumage on the quill pen and put it down for the second time. He truly must leave here! His merchant days were over, his gold and silver salted away with goldsmiths in Cheapside and Poultry. Everything was ready. His will was drawn up, witnessed by no less a person than Sir John Cranston, Coroner of London — that portly, red-faced, gloriously bewhiskered old soldier would keep an eye on Alesia and her beloved husband Edmund. A good man, Kilverby mused about his son-in-law, as long as Edmund stayed away from the hawk lords at Westminster. Kilverby sipped at his claret. Times were certainly changing. Old King Edward had died in his dotage, alone, except for his mistress, Alice Perrers, who’d stayed long enough to strip the old King’s corpse of anything which glittered. The King’s son, the illustrious Black Prince, had already died of some loathsome, lingering pestilence contracted in Spain. Now a child ruled the kingdom.

Vae Regno cujus Rex est Puer,’ Kilverby whispered. ‘Woe to the kingdom where the ruler is a child.’

Richard was a boy king; real power lay with his cunning uncle, the Regent, John of Gaunt. Nevertheless, even Gaunt, chief amongst men, was beset daily by the Commons, whilst behind them in the shadows clustered the hawk lords, greedy for any rich pickings.

Kilverby groaned and rose to ease the pain in his belly. He stamped his feet against the onset of a sudden coldness. He must leave all this! He stood listening to the sounds of his great mansion settling for the night. Crispin, his faithful steward and secretarius, would still be busy. Kilverby sighed. He truly wished Crispin could come with him on pilgrimage to Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem but that was not possible. Nevertheless, Crispin would be well looked after. Kilverby, on his clerk’s behalf, had negotiated with Abbot Walter at St Fulcher-on-Thames. In the end Crispin would take care of everything, even tomorrow’s journey to St Fulcher with that precious bloodstone, large as a duck’s egg, the Passio Christi. Kilverby glanced at the small coffer where, for most of the time, he kept the bloodstone secure. He recalled the relic’s remarkable history and singular powers; he absent-mindedly fingered the silver chain around his neck carrying the keys to the coffer. The Passio Christi had been with him for years. Kilverby wondered guiltily about its former owner, the Abbey of St Calliste outside Poitiers in France. Sub-Prior Richer had constantly reminded him about all that; even today the Frenchman had asked to see the bloodstone when he visited with Prior Alexander. Kilverby really needed no such reminder. He had done wrong. He fully understood the curses which the bloodstone could bring down on those who abused it. He had distanced himself from the Wyvern Company: Wenlock, Mahant and the rest. One of them, William Chalk, had confessed during his final illness to be living proof of the warnings contained in the ‘Liber Passionis Christi — The Book of the Passion of Christ’. He was so glad not to be taking the bloodstone to St Fulcher’s on the morrow. Crispin, faithful as ever, had promised to do that. And why not? Crispin himself hoped to benefit from the curative properties of the sacred bloodstone, especially during this holy season. True, he would not go tomorrow, but once he began his pilgrimage Kilverby intended to leave the precious relic with the Benedictines. That would satisfy his conscience.

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