Chapter Eight

Tetbald the Steward was thorough. He organised a complete search of the house itself and sent men out in all directions to make a wide sweep of the property. When the lady Catherine joined him, she had recovered her composure but had an air of resignation about her.

‘Has the box been found?’ she asked.

‘No, my lady.’

‘Where have you searched?’

‘Everywhere.’

‘Including the undercroft?’

‘The undercroft, the outbuildings, even the stables. There is no sign of the box, my lady.’ He gave a reassuring smile. ‘But nothing else seems to have been taken. That is some consolation.’

‘Is it?’

‘The thief might have stolen your jewellery, my lady.’

‘He might also have murdered me in my own bed,’ she said with a quiet shudder. ‘That is what frightens me. A man was able to get into my house and enter the bedchamber next to mine in order to take that box. What if I had awakened while he was there? What if I had gone into my husband’s chamber to investigate?’

‘It is as well that you did not.’

‘I will never feel safe in that bed again.’

‘You will, my lady,’ he said firmly. ‘I give you my word on that.’

Catherine nodded and touched his arm in a gesture of affection.

They were in the parlour and the shutters were wide open. Dogs could be heard barking excitedly some distance away. Tetbald looked in the direction from which the sound came.

‘Why could they not bark like that during the night?’ he said.

‘Perhaps they did and nobody heard them.’

‘They are schooled to attack any intruders, my lady. No man could hold off four of them. The last time someone wandered on to the property at night, he was all but eaten alive.’

‘How, then, did the thief elude them?’

‘I do not know, my lady,’ he admitted. ‘Unless he fed the dogs some meat that was seasoned with a potion to make them drowsy.

Yet the animals seem alert and healthy this morning. We found nothing wrong with them. It is all very puzzling.’

‘Puzzling and disturbing.’

‘I will get to the bottom of it somehow,’ he promised.

‘I hope so, Tetbald. This has shaken me.’

‘What was in the box that would make it such a target?’

‘I do not know. My husband kept it locked.’

‘And you have no key?’

‘I have been searching for it ever since …’ Her voice faded away.

‘Ever since his death.’

‘Yes, Tetbald,’ she murmured. ‘Ever since then.’

‘It was not in his bedchamber,’ he said. ‘I looked there myself.

The lord Nicholas must have hidden it well. And that means the box must have contained items that he wanted nobody else to see.’

‘Not even his wife,’ she said dully.

‘Especially not you, my lady.’

He was about to reach out to her when the barking of the dogs grew louder. Looking through the window, he saw two men walking towards the house and carrying a wooden box between them.

The dogs were scampering at their heels.

‘They have found it!’ he said.

Saewin the Reeve made sure that Asa left the shire hall before Loretta was summoned. He was anxious to avoid a confrontation between the two women and did not relish the idea of being caught in the middle of it. The delay gave the commissioners time to take refreshment and to reflect on the evidence they had so far taken that morning, and to compare it with the deposition from the abbot of Tavistock. Of the three witnesses, Canon Hubert leaned in favour of the prelate, airily dismissing the claims by the two Saxons as annoying irrelevancies. Hervey de Marigny was more impressed by Engelric than his colleague had been, suspecting that the old man might well have borne arms during the siege of Exeter and that he deserved the respect due to a worthy enemy. Ralph Delchard was at once amused and interested by Asa’s contribution to the debate and it was she who occupied Gervase Bret’s mind as well.

While the others were nibbling their food, he took Ralph aside.

‘Were you speaking in jest?’ he asked.

‘About whom?’

‘Asa. Is she really … what you said she was?’

‘Yes, Gervase,’ he said with a grin, ‘but she is not a prostitute of the common sort. My guess is that she has very few clients and selects them with great care. Nicholas Picard was one of them.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because of the terms in which his letter was couched. Some men pay her in money, some in other ways. The lord Nicholas chose to reward her with the gift of some land.’

‘But she only stood to get that in the event of his death.’

Ralph grew serious. ‘That point was not lost on me, Gervase.

She is a charming creature, but I think it would benefit us to take a closer look at Asa. It would be intriguing to learn who else enjoys her favours — and at what cost. Asa was a delight,’ he said, recalling her performance before them. ‘The lord Nicholas was fortunate in his choice. Asa knows how to pleasure a man.’

‘How can you tell?’

‘I only have to look at her.’

‘Why did I not see what you saw?’

Ralph chuckled. ‘Wait until you have been married to Alys for a month,’ he said, digging an elbow into his ribs. ‘Your eyes will be opened to the wonders of the world, Gervase. You will be able to appraise a woman properly.’

Saewin entered to tell them that the next claimant had arrived.

Resuming their seats, they signalled to the reeve and Loretta was soon brought in. The contrast with Asa could not have been more striking. As she sailed towards them, Loretta bore herself with great dignity and settled herself down on the bench before the commissioners with an almost regal air. Eldred followed her in, bearing a leather satchel. Though he sat beside her, he somehow seemed invisible. All attention was concentrated on Loretta.

When the preliminaries were dealt with, Ralph began his examination. ‘Why have you come before us, my lady?’

‘To attest my right to certain holdings in Upton Pyne.’

‘You could have done that when our predecessors visited Exeter,’ he reminded her. ‘Yet no claim was lodged on your behalf.

Why did you not seek redress from the first commissioners?’

‘I was absent from the city during their visit.’

‘Were you not given notice of their arrival?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ she said, ‘but I was already in Normandy when it was sent. By the time I returned, your predecessors had completed their business here and moved on. I was too late.’

‘Could nobody have spoken up on your behalf?’

‘No one was authorised to do so,’ she said with a hint of arrogance. ‘I have learned to manage my own affairs.’

‘That does you credit,’ he said with a smile of admiration.

Loretta ignored it. ‘May I proceed with my claim?’

‘Of course.’

Taking his cue, Eldred extracted some documents from his satchel and handed them over to Ralph before taking his seat once more. Loretta delivered her speech as if it had been carefully rehearsed.

‘When you have had time to peruse the documents,’ she said levelly, ‘you will appreciate the strength of my claim. My husband was Roger de Marmoutier, a name that will not be unknown to you, my lord. He fought at Hastings, as you did yourself, and was rewarded with holdings in three counties, the bulk of his property being here in Devon, held under the honour of Bramford. He retained his estates in Normandy where he used his wealth to build two churches and to endow the abbey at Bec, where,’ she said, turning to Hubert, ‘I believe you were once sub-prior. My husband held the abbey in the highest esteem. But that is not germane to this discussion,’ she continued. ‘AH that I am concerned to establish are the credentials of my late husband who was granted the holdings in Upton Pyne for services rendered to the King. His writ lies before you and you will observe that one of the signatories is Bishop Osbern.’

Ralph glanced at the document before passing it to Gervase.

‘Nobody doubts the legitimacy of this grant,’ he said, ‘apart from the abbot of Tavistock, that is. What concerns us is not how your husband came to acquire that land but how your son came to lose it.’

‘By an act of treachery, my lord.’

‘Treachery?’

‘There is no other word for it,’ she said. ‘William, my late son, was tricked out of that part of his inheritance.’

‘By whom?’

‘Nicholas Picard.’

‘That is a serious allegation,’ warned Hubert.

‘It can be substantiated.’

‘Take care, my lady. It is easy to slander the dead. The lord Nicholas is not here to defend himself.’

‘Nor is my son,’ Loretta said bitterly. She paused briefly to gather her thoughts. ‘Forgive me,’ she continued. ‘The events which I must describe are still vivid in my mind and cause me much distress. It is difficult for me to speak of them before strangers.’

‘We understand, my lady,’ said de Marigny with sympathy. ‘Take your time. There is no hurry.’

‘Thank you, my lord.’

‘We are sorry that you have to dwell on such sad events. The loss of a husband and a son in such a short time must have been a shattering blow to you. But the facts must be heard.’

‘They will be,’ she said, bracing herself. ‘Thus it stands. When my husband died of a fever, he bequeathed the holdings in question, along with other property, to our son, William. The land at Upton Pyne was very dear to my husband, but it had always been coveted by the lord Nicholas.’

‘Why, my lady?’ said Gervase.

‘Because it has rich soil and good grazing. It is also adjacent to the estates held by lord Nicholas. That proximity, alas, was fatal.’

‘In what way?’

Loretta gave a little sigh. ‘I loved my son,’ she said, ‘but I will not hide his defects from you. Where his father was conscientious, William was lazy. He was also impetuous at times, given to drink and to gambling. We tried to correct his faults but he was too wilful to be schooled. Do not get the impression that he was a complete wastrel,’ she added swiftly. ‘My son was kind and considerate at heart. He adored his parents and was always stricken with guilt when he upset us, but he was too easily led astray. The lord Nicholas was quick to see that.’

‘What did he do?’

‘Befriended my son and made much of him. Took him hunting, showed him favour, bestowed gifts upon him. You must remember that William was young and impressionable. He looked up to the lord Nicholas. When the wager was suggested, he took it without a second thought.’

‘Wager?’ said Ralph.

‘That is how the land was forfeited.’

‘What were the terms of the wager?’

‘They were to have a passage of arms. Sword and lance in single combat. When one was forced to submit, the other took the prize.’

‘And what was at stake?’

‘The holdings in Upton Pyne.’

Hubert was shocked. ‘William de Marmoutier risked all that land on a single engagement?’ he said.

‘Earl Harold did the same at Hastings,’ noted de Marigny wryly.

‘I told you that my son could be headstrong,’ said Loretta. ‘And he stood to gain an equivalent number of acres from the lord Nicholas if he vanquished him, as he fully expected to do. But he reckoned without his opponent’s greater experience and guile.

Wine was served before the contest. I am told that William drank too much too fast. It was not a fair fight in any way. My son was duped.’

‘So the holdings were won by Nicholas Picard?’ said Ralph.

‘That is what he alleged, my lord, though no formal transfer took place. A couple of days after the contest, my son was out hunting when he was gored by a stag. He bled to death before they found him.’ She hunched her shoulders. ‘You can imagine my grief. While I was in mourning, the lord Nicholas took possession of the land at Upton Pyne. There was nothing that I could do until now.’

‘You could have appealed to the sheriff.’

‘He upheld the lord Nicholas’s right to the property.’

‘Could you not have pleaded with the lord Nicholas himself?’

Loretta lifted her chin. ‘That would have been demeaning, my lord. I will beg from no man. I wanted to secure those holdings by legal means and not by grovelling. William was cheated out of that land. I have come here to demand its return.’

‘We do not respond to demands,’ said Hubert fussily. ‘Our task is to consider the worth of each claim before arriving at a judgement. Besides, there are certain things I would like to know about this alleged act of treachery. Can independent witnesses be called who will support your version of events? Do you have any written proof of this wager? Why did the sheriff ratify the lord Nicholas’s possession of those holdings?’

Loretta’s replies were short and direct. When other questions were directed at her by each of the commissioners, she answered them with ringing confidence. She withstood their interrogation for over two hours without showing any sign of strain or discomfort.

They were impressed but they were also slightly disconcerted.

Loretta seemed to know a great deal about each one of them and slipped in remarks which sometimes brought them to a halt. It was almost as if she was examining them.

When her documents had been inspected, they were returned to Eldred who led the way out of the hall. As Loretta disappeared, Ralph sat back in his chair with a sigh of approval. ‘The most convincing claimant so far,’ he decided.

‘Too convincing in some ways,’ said Hubert. ‘She seemed to know exactly what we would ask her.’

‘She was a highly intelligent woman,’ said Gervase admiringly.

‘And a very beautiful one. It was difficult to believe that she could have a son of that age. She must have been very young when she married.’

‘Like you,’ said Ralph. ‘Young and innocent. Now, Gervase, which way do you incline? Do you still favour Asa’s claim or has she been displaced in your affections by the lady Loretta?’

‘Affection does not come into it, Ralph.’

‘Which one of them would you choose?’

‘Neither,’ said Gervase. ‘I favour Engelric.’

Golde had been in Exeter for some days without ever leaving the confines of the castle. When she was invited by the lady Albreda to explore the city beyond its walls, she accepted the offer at once. Horses were ready for them at the stables and so was their guide. Golde was surprised to see that it was Berold the Jester.

He wore loose-fitting Saxon apparel with cross-gartered trousers and a floppy cap.

‘Good day, ladies!’ he said, doffing the cap to bow low. ‘Let us mount up and dazzle the city with our beauty.’

‘Where will you take us?’ asked Golde.

‘There and back.’

‘Where and back?’

‘Hither and thither, my lady.’

‘You talk in riddles.’

‘Yes,’ he said cheerily. ‘We will go there as well.’

‘Where?’

‘From the end to the beginning.’

‘Lead on, Berold,’ said Albreda. ‘We will follow.’

When they were perched on their saddles, the jester mounted his own horse and turned it towards the main gate. Four armed soldiers acted as an escort to the ladies. The seven of them came out of the castle and headed first for the cathedral precincts.

People quickly made way for them in the crowded streets. Berold acknowledged passers-by with an imperious wave of the hand, pulling faces at children to make them laugh and beating mischievously on any shutters that came within reach. He was a voluble guide, at once distracting and delighting them with his nonsensical comments. The four soldiers were soon chuckling aloud.

‘Take no notice of the names,’ advised Berold. ‘They are put there to deceive you. South Street runs north, Broad Street is narrow, Fore Street lies aft, Friernhay Street contains neither friars nor hay and High Street is the lowliest place in Christendom.’

‘What of Bartholomew Street?’ asked Albreda.

‘He fled from the city years ago.’

When they turned into the precinct, Berold made jesting reference to the two churches on their left and St Petroc’s on their right, but Golde did not hear him. Her gaze had settled on the minster church itself, climbing into the sky on its way to heaven. Glimpsed from her apartment at the castle it was striking enough, but she now felt the full impact of its size and ambition.

When she lived close to Hereford Cathedral, she had taken its magnificence for granted and rarely tossed it more than a glance.

The novelty of Exeter made her stare and wonder. It was only when she had carried out a detailed inventory that she looked away from the edifice to find that Albreda and Berold were no longer with her.

They had ridden across to the cemetery. Berold was surveying the gravestones as if they were soldiers on parade but Albreda was staring sadly at one particular spot. Ravens were pecking at the mound of earth which marked the last resting place of Nicholas Picard. She tore herself away to rejoin Golde and offer an apology.

Berold trotted up behind her.

‘What would you like to see now, my lady?’ he asked Golde.

‘Waterbeer Street,’ she said without hesitation.

‘A foul-smelling lane.’

‘Not to me, Berold.’

‘I would like to see it as well,’ said Albreda. ‘I scorned your interest in brewing because I knew nothing about it. You can educate me, Golde.’

‘With pleasure, my lady.’

‘What is the difference between ale and beer?’

Berold cackled. ‘The difference between poison and piss.’

‘Hold your foul tongue, Berold,’ scolded Albreda playfully. ‘I want Golde to answer. Well, is there a difference?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Golde. ‘All the difference in the world.’

It was a pleasant afternoon. They wandered in and out of the streets until they had seen almost the whole city. Golde’s curiosity was unlimited and Berold’s jests were ceaseless. Hours slipped happily by. When the party was ready to return to the castle, Golde remembered something.

‘There is one last place I wish to visit.’

Berold pretended to lift a skirt and the men sniggered at him.

‘Where is that?’ asked Albreda.

‘I would like to take a closer look at the tunnel that was built under the wall,’ said Golde. ‘The lord Hervey told us about it and we saw it on our approach. It was built during the siege but abandoned when the city finally surrendered. Could we go there, please?’

‘I would rather adjourn to the castle,’ said Albreda, ‘but there is nothing to stop you from finding this tunnel. Berold will escort you.’

‘Thank you, my lady.’

While the others trotted off towards the castle, Golde followed the jester on a twisting route. He did not seem happy with the assignment to act as her guide and fell unusually silent. When they left the city, he wheeled his horse to the right until they reached a cavernous opening in the earth. Berold stopped well short of it and pointed a finger.

‘There it lies, my lady. The entrance to Hell.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Men belong above ground, not tunnelling away like moles.’

‘How deep is it?’ she wondered.

‘I do not know, my lady. I think it has been filled up.’

‘Let us see,’ she said, nudging her horse forward to the very edge of the tunnel. ‘It looks like a cave. Does it go all the way under the wall?’

Before she could get a reply, her horse suddenly shied with fright, rearing up on its hind legs and dislodging her from the saddle. Golde hit the ground with a thud and rolled over. Berold was beside her in a flash.

‘Are you hurt, my lady?’ he said with concern.

It had been a long but productive day in the shire hall. Three witnesses were examined and the evidence of a fourth, the abbot of Tavistock, was set against their claims. Only one more person remained to be seen and they decided to postpone his appearance until the morrow. Word was sent to Tetbald the Steward, informing him that he must be at the shire hall before the Tierce bell sounded to represent the widow of Nicholas Picard. Relevant documents would be required. Canon Hubert excused himself and took Brother Simon off to the more curative ambience of the cathedral. Exposure to two potent women, Asa and Loretta, had taken its toll of the scribe. He needed solitude.

Ralph and his companions gathered up their satchels. ‘We have learned a lot today,’ he said with satisfaction.

‘But not the most important thing,’ remarked Gervase.

‘What is that?’

‘Whether or not the murder is directly connected to this dispute.’

‘It must be, Gervase.’

‘We have not established a clear link.’

‘Do not forget Walter Baderon,’ said de Marigny. ‘There is something odd about that fellow. He was on duty at the North Gate when the lord Nicholas left that night. Baderon could easily have pursued him.’

‘At whose behest?’ asked Gervase. ‘The abbot’s?’

‘He might have had his own reasons for killing the lord Nicholas.’

‘They all have their own reasons,’ complained Ralph. ‘The abbot, that old Saxon, Engelric, the lovely Asa, the haughty Loretta and even the widow. Yes,’ he added with a smile, ‘the lady Catherine might have the best reason of all to kill her husband. She had to endure one betrayal after another. Five names to go on our list and there will be other suspects before we are done.’

‘This case must not be allowed to drag on,’ said Gervase.

‘Have no fears. We will get you to the altar in time.’

‘Not if we proceed at this pace with every dispute.’

‘Justice cannot be rushed, Gervase. A lawyer should know that.’

‘I do know it.’

‘Then stop hurrying us.’ He ran a finger across his chin. ‘Hubert was right about the lady Loretta. She was too well informed about us and our methods of questioning. I will have a word with Saewin about her. I feel there is still much to discover about the lady Loretta.’

‘And about Asa,’ said Gervase.

‘She will be your quarry.’

‘Wait! I am not the right person to chase her.’

‘You are exactly the right person, Gervase, because you are young enough to attract her but innocent enough to be immune from her charms. Hervey and I have neither of those virtues.’

Gervase was alarmed. ‘What must I do?’

‘Pry and probe. Find out all you can about Asa.’

‘How?’

‘I leave that to you, Gervase. We have every faith in you.’

‘We do,’ said de Marigny jocularly. ‘And while you pursue the ladies, I will address myself to the men. I will learn more about this Engelric and take a second look at Walter Baderon. I still think that he is holding something back about the abbot of Tavistock.’

‘That only leaves the grieving widow,’ said Ralph. ‘And her steward, of course. Tetbald. I will be interested to see what sort of figure he cuts before us. And I will be fascinated to see the last will and testament of Nicholas Picard.’ He lifted an eyebrow.

‘If such a thing exists.’

Catherine used a palm to smooth out the parchment before reading through the document again. She knew it almost by heart now, but she still enjoyed the thrill and reassurance it imparted. She did not hear Tetbald come into the parlour behind her.

‘I will need to take that with me, my lady,’ he said.

‘When?’

‘Tomorrow. Word has just come from the commissioners. I am to present myself at the shire hall before Tierce. They will want to see all the appropriate documents.’

‘Including the will?’

‘Especially that, my lady.’

She let her gaze fall on the document again then she picked it up.

‘This is what he was after, Tetbald,’ she said.

‘Who?’

‘The thief. If the will were destroyed, my claim would be more difficult to substantiate. That was why he came in search of it.’

‘I am not so sure, my lady.’

‘Why not?’

‘You are the widow of the deceased. If he dies intestate, then the laws of inheritance still favour you. Even without that will, your position would be far too strong to be challenged. No, my lady, I believe that the intruder came only for the box which he took away.’

‘He must have been a powerful man. That box was heavy.’

‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘And it was found some distance from the house. If he carried it all that way, he was a brawny fellow.’

Catherine trembled slightly. ‘Thank heaven I did not wake!’

‘You might have frightened him away.’

‘If he was bold enough to break into my house, he would be willing enough to silence me. I had a fortunate escape, Tetbald.

Has the crime been reported to the sheriff?’

‘I sent a messenger to him this morning, my lady.’

‘Good. He may have an idea of the likely identity of the thief.’

‘We know some things about him ourselves.’

‘Do we?’

‘Yes, my lady,’ he said, checking off the points on his fingers.

‘We know that he is a strong man. Wily enough to evade our dogs. Familiar with the interior of the house. Practised at his craft. Aware of what was inside that box. One more thing. He had a key to the box.’

‘How on earth did he get that?’

‘I can only guess. When they found the box, it was open and empty. The lock had not been forced. It must have been opened with a key.’

‘No wonder we could not find it in the house.’

‘Your husband must have kept it on him, my lady.’

As a thought seized her, Catherine rose angrily to her feet.

‘Yes, Tetbald,’ she hissed. ‘And who would have known that?’

Ralph Delchard shifted at random between anxiety and reproach.

‘Why did you not send for me, Golde?’

‘You were busy at the shire hall.’

‘An injury to my wife takes precedence over that.’

‘It is not a serious injury, Ralph.’

‘It might have been,’ he argued. ‘You were thrown from your horse and stunned in the fall. You might have broken an arm or a leg.’

‘My ankle has been badly sprained, that is all.’

‘You poor darling,’ he said, kissing her cheek. ‘Does it hurt?’

‘Not really. There is a dull ache.’

‘I will leave more than a dull ache when I find the ostler who gave you that mettlesome horse. I’ll beat the villain black and blue!’

‘It was not his fault, Ralph.’

‘The animal unsaddled you.’

‘Only because it was frightened.’

‘By what?’

‘I have no idea,’ said Golde. ‘To be honest, I am trying to forget the whole incident. I felt so silly when I found myself lying on the ground like that. It was humiliating.’

Ralph stood up. ‘Berold was to blame,’ he decided. ‘It was his fooling which made your horse rear up like that. Wait until I see him. I’ll play a jest or two on him for a change.’

‘This was nothing to do with Berold,’ she insisted. ‘He was nowhere near me. And when I fell, he came to my aid at once.

Berold was kindness itself. You should be thanking him for taking such good care of me.’

‘I will take care of you now, my love.’

‘Then do so more calmly, Ralph.’

He gave an apologetic smile and knelt down beside her again.

They were in their apartment and Golde was lying on the bed, her shoes removed and one ankle swathed in bandaging. Her sleeve was torn and muddied by its sudden contact with the ground and her apparel bore other signs of the accident, but she was in good spirits.

‘They have looked after me very well, Ralph.’

‘That is my office.’

‘Berold raised the alarm,’ she recalled, ‘and they carried me back to the castle. Joscelin the Steward took charge. He sent for the doctor and had me brought up here. His wife sat with me until you got back. And look,’ she said, indicating the tray of food. ‘Joscelin had this prepared in the kitchen and sent up to me. I am treated like a queen.’

‘You are a queen.’

‘All that I need is a few days of rest.’

‘Then you will have it, my love.’

‘Not if you are so tense and anxious,’ she said. ‘It is all over, Ralph. I am not badly hurt. Try to relax. How can I rest when my husband is in such a restless state?’

‘I feel guilty that I was not there to save you.’

‘That is what the lady Albreda said, but what could either of you have done? When a horse rears up like that, it does not give you forewarning.’ She reached out to take his hand. ‘Forget about me. I am fine now. Tell me about your day. Has it been as boring as you feared?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘It was quite intriguing in its own way. We started with a wizened old Saxon and ended with a dignified Norman widow. In between them came a young woman who threw Gervase into complete disarray.’

‘Why?’

‘You will have to ask him.’

‘Who was this woman?’

‘Asa. Unusually beautiful for a Saxon woman.’ He dodged the punch which she aimed at him. ‘I said that to test you, Golde. If you can still strike out at me, then you are not as bad as I thought.’

He slipped an arm round her. ‘I hate to see you like this. I’ll be an attentive nurse.’

‘I would prefer a husband who settles down.’

He beamed at her. ‘Then you have one.’

‘Tell me more about your session at the shire hall,’ she urged.

‘How is the lord Hervey settling in? You, Gervase and Canon Hubert are veterans but he has never sat in judgement before.

Is he enjoying it?’

‘Very much, Golde.’

‘He is shrewd and sensible.’

‘And as tenacious as any of us,’ said Ralph. ‘When Hervey starts to question a witness, he does not let them off the hook for a second. Yes, we are blessed in our new commissioner. Hervey de Marigny is a great asset to us.’

‘How much longer must you do this disagreeable chore, my friend?’

‘A few weeks more.’

‘You will be glad to shake the dust of Exeter from your feet.’

‘Yes.’

‘And then what? Back to your manor?’

‘Yes, my lord.’

‘Have you seen much of the abbot while you have been here?’

‘No.’

‘He is staying as a guest of Bishop Osbern, I hear.’

‘That is so.’

‘What brought him here in the first place?’

A studied pause. ‘You know that better than I, my lord.’

Walter Baderon was far less forthcoming this time. Hervey de Marigny tried to strike up a conversation with him at the North Gate but to no avail. Baderon was suspicious and reserved. He had clearly found out who the other man was. The commissoner gave up. Since there was little to be gained from further questioning, de Marigny elected to take a walk in the evening air.

After a valedictory exchange with the captain of the guard, he sauntered out through the North Gate then turned east in the shadow of the wall. The very fact that he had met with such resistance from the knight gave him food for thought. He was certain that his earlier conversation must have been reported to the abbot of Tavistock. There would no doubt be repercussions from the volatile prelate.

Hervey de Marigny paused to look up at a wall which had once kept him and a large Norman army at bay for so long. Memories flooded back. He recalled the sight of the audacious Saxon who stood on the ramparts and bared himself to break wind at them as an act of defiance. It brought a ripe chuckle out of him. Lost in his reminiscences, he strolled slowly on towards the East Gate.

He was relaxed and off guard. It never occurred to him that he was being watched.

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