Paul Doherty: Satan in St Mary

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Paul Doherty Satan in St Mary
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    Satan in St Mary
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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
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"Treason!", his guards burst in and cut the man down but the dagger and its poison were lodged in his arm. If it had not been for Eleanor the poison would have raced for his heart but she had immediately cut the wound and sucked out the poison herself.

Edward rose and poured a cup of wine. Eleanor! He should be with her now, enjoying her silken, warm brown body, not sitting in this deserted chamber brooding over the past. He sipped the wine. If only the past would die, leave him alone. He had so much to do but de Montfort and his secret societies persistently hounded him. "Go back to your grave, Simon!, " he whispered fiercely but the only answer was the darkness and the insistent whine of the wind. Edward rose and peered through the shutters. Beneath the swirling river mist, his capital lay quiet, though Edward knew different. Simon's followers, the covens with their constant plots and secret plans were gathering there scheming murder, treason and rebellion. Rats scampering about in their holes and runnels of the city Edward thought and, whatever they were plotting, was coming to a head like a boil full with yellow pus. His spies had told him this. Everything pointed to an unavoidable crisis. They had already begun to act; the suicide in St. Mary Le Bow was, the King reasoned, somehow linked to these rebels, and it was time that Burnell, his wily old Chancellor, flushed these traitors out into the light of day and destroyed them.

There was a knock at the door, it opened and the man Edward had been thinking about waddled into the room. Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Chancellor of England, sketched the briefest of bows to his monarch and heaved himself into the room's one and only chair, dabbing his fat, florid face with the voluminous sleeve of his fur-trimmed gown. "God save your Grace, " he almost wheezed,

"I cannot understand why you always insist on taking the highest chamber in whatever palace, castle or manor you stay. " Edward smiled affectionately. There was little pomp or courtly graces between himself and his Chancellor. They were old friends united against old enemies. He trusted Burnell as he did his own right arm. The Chancellor, despite his fat pompous appearance, had a brilliantly sharp and cunning brain, whether it be drafting a legal document or searching out the King's enemies, both at home and abroad.

"You know, my Lord Burnell, " the King jibed, "why I always stay in the highest chamber. It would be a clever assassin who could scale these walls or bypass the guards on the narrow staircases outside. You have heard from your spy?"

Burnell shook his head. "No, " he replied slowly. "I don't think I ever will. His body was taken from the Thames this morning. His throat was cut from ear to ear!"

Edward snorted in annoyance. "So, the conspiracies continue!"

"Yes, " Burnell replied. "However, we do know that there are covens here in the city plotting treason and rebellion. "

"And the incident at the church of Saint Mary Le Bow could be part of it?" the King asked.

"Yes, " his Chancellor murmured.

"How was your spy discovered?" enquired Edward.

Burnell shrugged. "It is only supposition on my part, " he answered slowly. "But I suspect that there is a spy at the heart of the very chancery!"

"You mean here?" Edward exclaimed. "A royal clerk involved with the followers of de Montfort, plotting treason against his king?"

Burnell nodded. "That is the only way, " he replied firmly, "my spy could have been discovered. Somebody, one of a few clerks, passed on confidential information he should not have. It may not be that he is a conspirator but simply did it for greed, for a purse of gold. If he is caught, " Burnell concluded bitterly, "then rest assured he will hang just as high as the rest. "

"Then what now?" said the King. "What shall we do now?" He walked over to his Chancellor and patted him on the shoulder.

"Earlier, " Edward said softly, "I compared these conspirators, these rebels, the scum of this city to rats, I see you, my Lord Bishop, as my rat-catcher. You must run these vermin out into the open. "

The Chancellor coughed and cleared his throat. "I have chosen a man, " he replied, "another clerk who now serves in the Courts of King's Bench. " Burnell stopped speaking and looked fearfully up at the King. "He is, my Lord, probably our last and only hope!''

"Good, " the King murmured. "But do not inform him of your suspicions that there could be a spy here in the very Palace of Westminster. After all, " he concluded meaningfully, "it could be one of his friends!"

They always met here, the charnel house of a deserted London church, a rotten mildewed crypt, secretive, closed, hidden from spies and the eyes of the curious. They had intoned their prayer to Lucifer, the Fallen Morning Star, their hands outstretched above a crude stone altar bearing mystical symbols round an inverted cross. Only one torch spluttered and flared against the cold darkness but this revealed nothing of the thirteen hooded figures, the cowls of their cloaks covering their heads, their faces concealed behind crude leather masks. They did not even know each other, only their leader, the Hooded One, silent as ever, was aware of their identities. They were bound by macabre pacts and bloody oaths to destroy the King and create revolt. This was the essence of their being, the link between each of them and they were here to learn how it was to be achieved.

The figure to the right of the Leader's chair began to talk raspingly, his voice muffled by the mask, his words, no more than whispers, echoed round the cold, sinister chamber. "So, it is done, " he murmured. "Those who threatened the Grand Design, both the spy and the murderer, are removed, gone to their appointed place. "

"No other threat exists?" asked another member of the group.

"Yes and no, " the first speaker replied, turning to survey his colleagues one by one. "Our Master, " and he turned to bow to the figure in the chair. "Our Master says that the King and his minions have appointed a clerk to investigate the matter. Our spy in the chancery has warned us to be wary of him. "

"Why?" one of the group interjected. "What danger does this one man pose?"

The Hooded One held up one hand for silence and beckoned into the shadows. An old woman crinkled and bent with age shuffled forward, looking nervously from side to side as she moved to crouch in the centre of the group. She pushed straggly hair from her skull-like face, plunged her hand into a dirty leather bag she carried with her, and drew out a black, silk-plumed cock, who stirred restlessly in her hand but was unable to protest because of the drugged corn it had been fed. The old woman held the bird up in her hands, bowed first toward the Hooded One and then towards the altar, she mumbled a prayer and bit deeply into the fat plump neck of the cock. Its body jerked furiously and lay limp as the old woman, her mouth smeared with blood, raw flesh and feathers, looked up and stared triumphantly around the group, who had watched the scene so impassively. She sprinkled the blood on the dirty floor, in blasphemous parody of a priest who cleanses his congregation with a rod of hyssop before Mass began. The old hag then knelt and carefully studied the pool of blood which had formed, groaning and muttering to herself. She turned towards the Hooded One. "The man the King has chosen, " she croaked, "is indeed dangerous. If he is not stopped, you will not take vengeance on the House of Plantagenet. The day of deliverance so carefully planned, will never occur. This clerk must be killed!"

The hooded leader listened as if concentrating on something else and bent to whisper to the masked speaker on the right, who turned to address the group. "Let the clerk, whoever he is, " he replied, "flounder about. He is just one man. There are many traps. Rest content. He will be stopped. " His voice rose arrogantly. "The day of deliverance will come. We will cleanse the country of all kings, bishops, priests and others who lord it over us. Rest content with that!"

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