Chapter Eight.

“What will you call it?” asked Simon as they entered the house, the slim figure of the dog walking ahead of them as if it had been born at Furnshill.

Throwing a quick glance at him, Baldwin said, “I’m not so sure I’ll keep it. After all…”

“I think you’d better tell the dog that!” said Simon, “It’s already decided to stay, from the look of it, whatever you think. It’s not what I say that matters. I was thinking of Lionors.”

“Ah! Yes, I forgot. Your wife!”

Baldwin shot him a glare of irritation, but it slowly left his features, to be replaced with a self-deprecating grin.

Lionors was apparently no difficulty. As they walked through the screens, they saw that Lionors and their companion had already met, and the two were standing and cautiously sniffing at each other in front of the fire. As they watched, the mastiff obviously decided that the newcomer was no threat, and walked away to lie before the flames, and soon the black and brown dog joined her, snuggling up against her large frame like a puppy. The mastiff lifted her head once, grumbled twice, but then flopped back down again and ignored the stranger. “I’ll think of a name,” said Baldwin with resignation.

Later, when he walked into his hall, Baldwin was amused to see Simon still standing and defensively warming his back before the fire, Hugh beside him and tossing more wood on, while Margaret stood by, an expression of tight-lipped exasperation straining her features. From her face, and from the look of embarrassed self-justification on Simon’s, the knight knew his friend had been given sensible advice about not staying out too late in the dark when it snowed. In any case, Baldwin had heard the hissed fury in her voice – and the deference in her husband’s – through the wall.

When he saw the quick toss of Margaret’s head in his direction, the pained glance from Simon, and the straight back of the servant that seemed to imply that as far as he was concerned he would prefer to be anywhere other than with his master at the present, Baldwin smiled broadly.

“I suppose I could deny having heard your… Er, talk?” he said, looking from Simon to Margaret, catching sight of a fleeting wince on the bailiffs face.

She raised a cynical eyebrow as she turned to face him with her hands on her hips. “Are you going to tell me you didn’t know how dangerous it can be? How bad it is to try to travel at night? You know what the lanes can be like when the snow is heavy: are you both mad?”

“I am sorry, my lady,” he said, walking to his chair in front of the fireplace. Before sitting he poured a tankard of warm wine from the jug on the hearth, then sat comfortably and sipped, his eyes fixed on her.

He looked like a bishop, sitting in his small chair as if it was a throne, she thought. Although he was not mocking her, she felt sure she could sense derision in his attitude, and drew in her breath to berate him in his turn, but before she could, he began speaking softly.

“Margaret, I’m sorry you were worried, but you must understand: there’s been a murder. We could not just stop and come home as soon as it became dark. We had to see if we could discover any more.”

“Of course I know that,” she said sharply. “But how would it profit your investigation for you both to die on a journey home?”

“Not at all, of course, but…”

“Exactly!” she said, cutting him off. “Not at all! Two merchants and a monk have already died this year on the way from Tavistock. All because they carried on with their journey after dark. I will not have you two doing the same.”

“But Margaret,” Simon began, but she whirled, glaring, and he subsided.

“No more: I will hear no more!”

Baldwin grinned and inclined his head. “Very well, lady. I will ensure that we are back in time in future.”

“Do so.” She walked to a bench and sat, arms crossed. “And now, tell me about this woman who has died.”

The knight and Simon exchanged a glance, then, at a brief shrug from his friend, the bailiff quickly told her of their day and what they had found about the dead woman. Tentatively sitting beside her, he told of their discovery of the body, their talk with the Oatways and their visit to the empty cottage. As he spoke, the mastiff rose and walked to Baldwin, closely followed by her black and brown shadow.

“Poor woman,” Margaret mused when he finished, and Simon nodded. “And these Oatways think she was a witch?”

“Yes,” said Baldwin. “They seem to believe she could make her dog do as she wished. As if a dog needed any prompting to do mischief! Anyway,” he took Kyteler’s dog by the head, holding it in both hands and peering into its eyes, “how could they think this one was evil?”

“That’s what they do, though,” said Hugh, and at his sudden interruption, they all glanced at him. Under their gaze he hunched his shoulders as if he wished he had not spoken, but then continued sulkily, “Well, it is. They get animals and make them do what they want. They can call on wild animals if they want.”

Baldwin grunted, “Nonsense!”

“It’s true! And if they want, some of them can change into animals, too! There’ve been witches all over here since men first got here,“ said Hugh, hotly defensive. ”Ever since men came here and fought the giants away there’s been witches.”

“No, Hugh. There’s no such thing as witches,” said the knight. “There’s only superstition and fear – sometimes jealousy. Never witchcraft.”

“Then how did this old woman get her dog to go and eat these chickens, then?” asked the servant triumphantly.

Looking up, Baldwin smiled at him, but then his face grew sombre. “Just because some old woman has a dog, and her neighbour thinks it was that dog that attacked her chickens, does not mean it really was. I think the dog deserves the chance to defend itself. Likewise, just because somebody thinks a woman is a witch does not necessarily mean she is, and she deserves the chance to defend herself.”

“How can she? She’s dead!”

“Yes. She is.” The words came quietly.

Margaret stirred. “But, Baldwin, what if she was a witch?”

“Kyteler a witch? No, I don’t think so.” His face was as gentle as his voice as he looked over at her.

“Why not?”

“Because I do not believe such people exist. I cannot.”

Simon leaned forward and peered at him. “But surely on your travels you must have…”

“No. I never found any proof of a woman having been a witch. Oh, I found plenty of examples of old women accused of being evil, of being involved in magic. I have seen many of them being killed. But there was always another reason why they were accused, it was never because anyone really believed they were guilty.”

“What do you mean, ”another reason“?”

“I mean, whenever there was someone accused of being a witch, it was because the accuser wanted their money, their cattle, their house – something! Always there was something that would benefit the accuser. And, often, it would only turn up later, after the poor wretch had already died in the flames. Even the priests don’t usually believe they’re evil, which is why they rarely get to see the Inquisition even when they have been accused. They’re usually killed by the mob. No, I do not believe in witches.”

“But this old woman had all those herbs and roots,” said Simon doubtfully.

The knight shot him a quick look. “Don’t tell me you believe in witches?”

“Well,” the bailiff explained apologetically, “it’s not that I believe in them necessarily, or that I think Kyteler was one, it’s just that there are so many stories, and…”

“Oh, really!” The knight suddenly stood and strode to the fire, standing by the great lintel of the chimney, and when he spoke again his face was all in shadow, his body framed by the flames behind. “What is a witch?”

It was Margaret who answered. “Someone who uses magic to do what she wants.”

“And what does she want?”

“Wealth. Love. Power. Sometimes to stay young. There are many things a witch can desire.”

“Kyteler had none of these. What did she achieve?”

Simon stirred. “You say that, but surely witches use magic just to do evil? They don’t need any benefit, they do it to please their master?”

“Their master? Who do you mean? The Devil?”

The bailiff was suddenly aware of the darkness, of the isolation of the manor as he answered, “Yes.”

Filling his mug, Baldwin strolled back to his chair slowly. “Possibly. I would be happier to believe in a witch who was wealthy, though, than one who was trying to please her dark master!”

“All those herbs, though…” Simon began hesitantly.

“Simon, really! Do you accuse all leeches of being witches? She was probably good with them and used her skills to help others. There may come a time when even you are glad for the help of a wise woman who can stop the pain from a broken limb… Or piles!”

“What do you know of her death, anyway?” asked Margaret diplomatically after a moment.

Baldwin looked up. “Not much,” he admitted. “She was seen in the afternoon by Mrs. Oatway, but from then on we have little information.”

“No,” mused Simon. “That’s where we ought to start. We need to find out what Oatway and Greenfield were doing in the afternoon. They’re the two we know who were supposed to hate her.”

“Yes,” said Baldwin, and stared at the fire. “There is another suspect, though, Simon. I told you of my friend’s son.” Glaring into the flames, he explained about the Bourc’s visit to England to see the dead woman, and his ruby ring.

“Do you think he could have killed her?” Margaret asked.

Baldwin shook his head. “He was here out of gratitude. To thank her.”

“If his story was true,” she said quietly.

The knight did not respond, but later, when he left them to go to his room, his face still wore a troubled scowl.

When Simon at last drifted off into sleep, he had the same nightmare as before, but this time the figure in the flames was not the abbot. As it turned, to his horror he recognised the face of Agatha Kyteler, her eyes sad and accusing as they held his.

The constable arrived before nine o’clock the next morning with his companion. It had not taken them long to make the journey, though the snow had slowed them.

“Sir Baldwin, I thought you should hear this man: what he can tell about Greencliff.”

The knight looked up, his jaw moving as he chewed on a crust of bread. The youth with Tanner was in his early twenties, tall, at least three inches over the constable, and with softly pale flesh. He looked fat, though his skin hung flaccid round his jowls and the hands gripping the cap were chubby. His mousy hair was cut well, and from his clothes he appeared well-to-do, with a blue tunic of wool, and woollen hose of grey. On his heavy belt he wore a small dagger.

“Who are you?”

The eyes rose and met his gaze unflinchingly. “Stephen de la Forte.”

To Simon he appeared to be a naturally haughty man who was holding himself in with difficulty. His eyes were a surprisingly light grey colour, with glints of amber, which made them look oddly translucent, and they sat in a round face, where the definition of youthful exercise was already fading into the rounded obesity of premature middle-age. The bailiff instinctively disliked him, and rested his elbows on the table to study him the better.

“So, Stephen de la Forte, what can you tell us?”

The youth glanced quickly at the constable, a fleeting look, but Simon felt sure he could see a glimmering of devious intelligence there.

“I… I’m a friend of Harold Greencliff’s – I’ve known him for years. I went to his house last night to see him, and the constable was there.”

“I went there about an hour after leaving you, sir,” interjected Tanner. “He arrived when I’d just settled down.”

“I see. Well, then. Why were you going to see him?“ asked Baldwin easily, leaning back in his chair.

“I…” he shot a glance over to Tanner again, suddenly nervous. “As I said, he’s a friend. I saw him on Tuesday, at the inn, and he seemed unhappy then – troubled – so I wanted to see him again and make sure he was all right.”

“How do you mean ”troubled“?” said Simon frowning. The youth glanced at him with surprise and a certain distaste, as if he had thought the bailiff was a mere servant and should not try to become involved in the conversation of his betters. “Well?”

“I don’t know. He was upset by something. I took him out to the inn and stayed with him, but he didn’t tell me anything about what was worrying him.”

He looked shifty, and Simon thought to himself that he appeared to be lying. Watching the boy’s eyes flit away, he noted the fact for discussion with Baldwin later.

The knight was toying with a knife. Spearing a slab of meat, he studied it thoughtfully, and said, “You were so worried after Tuesday that you want back to see him late yesterday? Why not earlier?”

“I did go earlier!”

“And?”

His eyes dropped. “He wasn’t there.”

“When was that?” Simon said, leaning forward.

“I don’t know. Early, not long before noon.”

“I see. Tanner?”

“Yes?” The constable stepped forward.

“I assume Greencliff didn’t turn up?”

“No, sir. We stayed there all night, but there was no sign of him.”

“Stephen de la Forte, can you think of any reason why your friend should have run away?”

The eyes that gazed back at him were troubled, and the youth slowly shook his head, but Simon was sure that he saw certainty there. This boy obviously thought his friend was guilty.

Baldwin took a deep breath, “In that case, I think we’d better organise a search. It may have nothing to do with the death of Kyteler, but it certainly seems suspicious that on the day her body is found – especially so close to his house – he disappears. Very well.” He glanced at Tanner, who nodded, and then, at the knight’s dismissive wave, took the youth by the arm and led him out. It was only when they were gone and the door shut behind them that Baldwin turned back to Simon and sighed in relief.

“Let’s just hope they find him, eh? I think he could help us with some points about this death, especially now he’s decided to run away – that looks suspicious, doesn’t it. It seems like a clear sign of guilt, thank God! It wasn’t the Captal’s son.”

They spent the morning riding up over to the north on the road towards Bickleigh, the peregrine on Baldwin’s arm in the hope of finding a suitable prey for their meal later, but saw nothing worth hunting. At last, when the sun had risen to its zenith, Baldwin snorted and gave a long grumbling sigh.

“This is ridiculous. I can’t concentrate. Simon, Margaret, would you mind if we turned back home now?”

They exchanged a glance, then both nodded. Motioning to Edgar, Baldwin handed over the falcon, then turned his horse back home.

Up and down hills, the whole shire was smothered by the freezing blanket of white. In the distance Margaret could occasionally see the distant, grim greyness of the moors above the Dart, seeming different somehow from the rest of the countryside, gloomier and more menacing, proudly crouching on the edge of the horizon like a great cat waiting to pounce.

As they rode to the long track that wound through the ravine before the manor, Simon pointed excitedly at the path before them.

“Look at the prints! The search party must be back.”

Rounding the last bend in the trail before beginning the half-mile long straight section that pointed straight as a lance to the building itself, they could see the horses tied to the rail by the door, nuzzling at the ground or pawing the snow, trying to get to the grass that lay beneath.

“Edgar, see to the horses,” Baldwin called, throwing the reins to his servant before running indoors. Pausing only to help his wife down, Simon hurried after him.

The search party was waiting in the hall, sitting at Baldwin’s tables and putting the knight’s men to good service fetching wine and bread. Before them sat the figure they had seen the previous morning.

Simon studied him with interest. The day before he had looked nervous and scared of the bailiff and knight, but now he seemed dulled. He could have put it down to exhaustion, but Simon was sure he could see a glitter of defiance in the blue of the youth’s eyes.

“Tanner?” the knight called, and the constable walked up from the bottom of the table.

“Hello, sir.”

Motioning towards the farmer on the floor, Baldwin asked, “Where did you find him?”

Giving the boy a look of contempt, as if at his stupidity in being so predictable, the constable said, “Down south on the way to Exeter. He walked there overnight, apparently. He says he decided to leave. He wants to go to seek his fortune in Gascony.” Shaking his head, Tanner glanced down at the boy.

Baldwin nodded. “Greencliff?” he said. “You know how this must make you appear to us. You’re not stupid. Tell us about the day that the woman Kyteler died. What were you doing? Where did you go?”

But the youth merely stared back at him with eyes that suddenly filled with tears, and refused to answer.

After the search party had left, the constable cursing as he tried to form the ragged group of men into an escort for their prisoner, Simon stood for some minutes, gazing after them with a puzzled frown. When he turned, he saw Baldwin close by, glowering at the ground.

“I am surprised,” said the knight slowly. “I find it difficult to believe that Greencliff is a murderer, and yet…”

“It’s hard to see why he would keep silent if he was innocent. Especially when he must know he’s the obvious man to suspect. And the body was right by his house.”

“Yes, it was. But that’s what worries me. I would have expected him to leave the body in the house or dump it somewhere else. Not there, right by his own place – it’s almost as if he was trying to get us to suspect him!”

“How do you mean?”

“Come on, Simon. If you were to kill someone and wanted to avoid being found out, surely you would hide the body somewhere more imaginative, somewhere away from yourself, somewhere – even if the body was seen – it would not be connected to you, wouldn’t you?”

Simon nodded slowly, but doubtfully. “Perhaps, Baldwin, perhaps. But equally, what if he had put Kyteler there hoping to hide her better later? He might not have expected anyone to see her there. After all, he might have thought he could get to her before anyone rose, to hide her in the trees where nobody could find her.”

Scratching at his beard, his mouth drawn up into a cynical grin, the knight nodded. “I suppose so. But surely, if that was his plan, he would have been about his business early, before old Samuel Cottey would be up?”

“Don’t forget the body was away from the road, hidden in the hedge. Maybe he thought he was going to be up before anyone else. In any case, why would anyone else have put the body there?”

“To implicate Greencliff, of course.”

“But wasn’t it too well hidden for that?” Simon frowned. “Away from the road, and under the hedge like that. If someone wanted to make sure that Greencliff was blamed, surely they would have made the body easier to find?”

“It was well away from the road,” Baldwin admitted.

“Yes. And yet Cottey found it… I wonder how…”

“What?”

“How did he find the body over there? He would not have been able to see it from the road. I think maybe we should go and talk to old Sam and find out exactly how he did find Kyteler.”

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