A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #5

A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #5

It's September 1592, and Sergeant Dodd is still in London with dashing courtier Sir Robert Carey. Carey urgently needs to get back to Carlisle where he is the Deputy Warden; ...

About The Author

P F Chisholm

P.F. Chisholm is a pseudonym of a well-known writer of historical thrillers, childrens’ books, and nonfiction blogs and ebooks. Previous ...

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

A hunchback and a poet met in the glorious gardens belonging to the hunchback’s father. The poet was dusty and tired, having ridden up from London to report to his new employer on the sensational events in and around the Fleet Prison the previous Sunday.

The hunchback preferred to sit in the shade, dressed in his customary black damask and white falling band, his lean handsome face tilted slightly sideways to listen more carefully. Beside him, since he liked to make notes, was pen, ink and the very best, most expensive paper, smoothed with pumice so that his pen nib never caught nor spattered. The poet stared at the sheets hungrily, knowing they cost as much as tuppence each and wishing he could afford such a pile. The bench was carved to look as if it had grown from the ground and faced across a labyrinth made of low clipped box-trees, filled in with scented flowers, some of which were making a valiant last flowering in the autumn light. The Queen had often walked in these very gardens and still occasionally did. When the hunchback’s father chose to inspect his plantings, he would normally travel around the carefully raked and weeded paths on the back of a small donkey since he was now crippled by gout.

The hunchback generally walked the paths when he was thinking, at a fast pace and with hardly a limp despite the bandy legs of a childhood trampled by rickets.

The poet prided himself on his memory and never wasted precious paper on mere notes. He had been a player and hoped to be one again, used to being presented with a part the night before its first afternoon performance with only one rehearsal in the morning. He could read pages twice and know them by heart. His memory was just as good for what he heard: once he had written out in full a sermon that had lasted three hours for the benefit of his then employer who suspected the preacher of subversive puritanism.

Naturally the hunchback had chosen a bench where the trees behind it would give him shade but the sun would shine direct on the poet’s face. He was glad he had done that. The poet’s tale was very nearly incredible. Yet there had been reports from Carlisle which were almost as insane but which came from different and unimpeachible sources.

“Are you telling me that Mr. Vice Chamberlain Heneage organised a plot to implicate one of Lord Chamberlain Baron Hunsdon’s sons…”

“Edmund Carey,” put in the poet quietly.

“Yes, whichever one, in the forging of gold angels by alchemical means?” The poet nodded. “That when he saw the trap closing, Edmund Carey then took cover, as it were, under the nose of the cat and that his brother Sir Robert, whilst disguised as a north country man, later caused a riot there, and ended by breaking Mr. Heneage’s nose because Mr. Heneage had taken and beaten a man of his from Carlisle?”

“Yes, your honour,” said the poet promptly. “He also…”

The hunchback put up a long pale hand, leaning back as far as he could. “Mr. Heneage was trying to oust my lord Baron Hunsdon from his place as Lord Chamberlain?”

“Yes, your honour.”

The hunchback smiled, making his face immediately charming and attractive, never mind the weakness of his body. “Good Lord!” he said. “Who would have thought it?”

The poet considered answering this question, but decided it was rhetorical.

The hunchback sprang to his feet and began pacing. “Sir Robert’s antics are not so surprising,” he said, more to himself than to the poet, who stood patiently with his hands tucked behind his back. “God knows, he was dangerously bored the last time I saw him at Court and was as badly in debt as he was a couple of years ago when he walked to Newcastle in ten days.” The poet blinked a little at this. The hunchback smiled ruefully. “I lost several hundred pounds on that bet, blast him, and so did a lot of his friends. He made about £3000. It didn’t do him any good at all, of course. Once a spendthrift,  always a spendthrift.”

The poet looked down discreetly.

“That’s why I recommended to Her Majesty that she appoint him Deputy Warden of the West March instead of that corrupt fool, Lowther, and also for…good and sufficient reasons.”

The poet narrowed his eyes but was far too sensible to ask what they were.

“It’s Heneage’s behaviour that I find extraordinary,” said the hunchback, sitting restlessly back down on the bench and leaning forward now in a confiding way. “What do you think of his proceedings?”

“Ah…” The poet thought very carefully, since he had been working for Heneage at the time. “I felt…unhappy.” Unhappy didn’t really cover the poet’s incandescent rage when he understood just how dangerously he had been set up by the Vice Chamberlain, a man he had trusted. Having played the part of the alchemist, he realised he would have been perfect meat for the hangman if the scheme had worked the way it was supposed to. It still made his innards quake to think about it.

“How about that rival of yours, Marlowe?”

“I wouldn’t describe him as a rival,” murmured the poet. “I would describe him as a friend and…and teacher.”

“Really?”

“For all his faults, Kit Marlowe is a wonderful poet.”

The hunchback shrugged. “Nevertheless he’s still working for Heneage, as far as anyone can make out.”

The poet struggled with his conscience for a moment, and then lost. “I had heard…I believe that he may be trying to use Sir Robert as a means of entering the Earl of Essex’s service.”

There was a considering silence while the hunchback thought about this. The poet wondered if he had done right telling him. “Interesting,” was all the hunchback said. “So he’s unhappy with Heneage too?” “I imagine so.”

“As unhappy as you were when you realised that the delightful Mistress Emilia Bassano was not only Baron Hunsdon’s official mistress but was also having an affair with his son?” The hunchback was watching intently for the reaction to this prod.

The poet’s ears went pink which was unfortunate because he didn’t have much hair to hide it.

“I understand the lady is now in bed with the Earl of Southampton,” he said smoothly. “Clearly love blinded me to her unchastity.”

“Quite over it?”

The poet bowed. “Of course.”

“Good. And what’s your opinion of this Carlisle henchman of Carey’s?”

The poet paused. “Sergeant Dodd?”

“That’s his name. He seems to be…ah…the wild card in the game.”

“He appears to be no more than a typical Borderer, very proud of being headman of his little patch of country and holding a tower there…”

“Gilsland in fact controls one of the routes from Scotland into northern England,” said the hunchback, who had been reading ancient reports and squinting at maps prepared by his father’s agents in 1583.

The poet bowed a little. “…as well as serving in the Carlisle Castle guard under Carey. He looks and behaves like a mere stupid soldier, useful on horseback, and with any weapons but especially with a sword and his fists…”

“But?”

“I think there’s more to him than that,” said the poet. “Sir Robert certainly thinks so. And I like him.”

The hunchback’s smile was sunny. “Excellent,” he said. “His lawsuit against Mr. Heneage?”

The poet shrugged. “He wants compensation, of course.” “And if he doesn’t get it?”

“I think he’ll look for another kind of compensation.”

With one of his typically sudden movements, the hunchback threw a small full leather purse and the poet just caught it. The hunchback’s face was impossible to read for sure but it seemed that somewhere in what he had said, the poet had told him something of value. He bowed again.

The hunchback rose and held out his hand to shake friendliwise. The poet took it and found his fingers were gripped with surprising strength.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Shakespeare,” said the hunchback. “It seems we will do well together.”

“I hope so, sir,” said the poet.

“Keep me informed.” The hunchback stood. “I will be back in London by tomorrow.” He turned his bent shoulders and walked quickly towards the rows of hazel trees that shielded a raised lawn full of sculptures of minotaurs and fauns and mermaids and other fantastical creatures. The bees browsed on frantically in the late flowers and Shakespeare headed back to the stables and London town.

Monday 11th September 1592, morning

“Nothing like an execution, eh Sergeant?” Sir Robert Carey was lounging elegantly against the fence that kept the groundlings in their places, one kid-gloved hand tipped on the pommel of his sword, the other playing with the beginnings of a new Court goatee. Dodd looked at him gravely for a moment and then turned his attention back to the bloody mess on the Tyburn scaffold. On the other side of the scaffold he noticed a man with a badly pock- marked face who was staring transfixed at the priest. Suddenly, the man turned aside and vomited on the ground. The goings-on didn’t upset Dodd’s stomach as much—for all the smell of roast meat—since there had been no screaming. They had actually burnt the priest’s balls in front of him, a detail Dodd had not expected, though at least they’d done it after cutting them off and before they slit the priest’s belly to pull out his guts.

The priest hadn’t been screaming because the hangman had given him a good drop off the ladder and had let him hang until his face was purple, eyes set and popping and his tongue cramming his gag in the ludicrous mask of a judicial death. Evidently a kind or well-paid hangman. In fact, the man had been unconscious on the hurdle as he was dragged along the Oxford Road, grey-faced and hollow-eyed. He had seemed only half aware of what was happening when the hangman had put the noose over his neck, though there had been something like a smile around the corners of his exhausted eyes. Impossible  to tell with the gag forcing his lips into a grimace, but he had looked confidently up at the sky before stepping off the ladder. The hangman hadn’t needed to push him.

Now they were quartering him efficiently with cleavers, working like the butchers at the Shambles. Quartering a man was not so very different from butchering a pig and Dodd had killed and colloped his own pig every November since he’d been a married man and knew something about it.

No sausage-making here, though. Nobody had caught the blood in buckets to make black pudding nor pulled out and washed the bladder to be a bouncy toy for children.

That thought did make his stomach turn so he was glad that Carey was speaking again.

“Eh?” said Dodd.

“I said, he’d been one of Heneage’s guests at Chelsea,” Carey nodded at the man’s wrist which was flopping from the nearly severed arm not far from them. It had a thick swollen bracelet of flesh around it and the fingers were tight-skinned and swollen as well.

Dodd saw that Carey was rubbing his gloved left hand where two of his fingers were still slightly bent. The rings for those fingers were still at the jeweller’s to be resized since they no longer fit, and Carey was wearing kid gloves all the time not only because it was fashionable and they were extremely fine embroidered ones, but also to hide his very ugly bare nailbeds while he waited for the fingernails to regrow. All in all he had recovered well from the mysterious damage that had been done to him at the Scottish court. As to body, at least. As to mind and spirit…Only time would tell. He was being irritatingly breezy now.

“Priest was he not?” Dodd squinted slightly as one of the men working on the scaffold held up the peaceful head.

“So perish all traitors to Her Majesty!” shouted the hangman. “Allegedly,” murmured Carey. “Hoorah!” he added at a bellow, and clapped. The crowd cheered and clapped as well, with some wit about the priest’s equipment.

“Ay,” Dodd had tired of fencing games. “So why did ye bring me here, sir? Ah’ve seen men hang afore now. Hanged a couple mesen under Lowther’s orders while he was Deputy Warden…” Carey’s eyebrows went up and he made a little courtier-like shrug with his shoulders. “Thought you might be interested to see a real hanging, drawing, and quartering, they don’t happen so often.”

“Ay. Nae ither reason?”

Dodd knew his face was dark with suspicion and ill-humour and didn’t care. Why shouldn’t he be miserable? He was still stuck in this hellhole of London, still wearing uncomfortable hot tight clothes loaned him by Carey so he could look the part of his natural station in life. He knew what and who he was and he didn’t care whether the bloody southerners knew or not so long as they left him alone, so he didn’t see the point of the play. Today, for the first time in his life, he had been to a London barber and had had his hair trimmed, washed, oiled, combed, and his beard trimmed back to a neat pawky thing on the end of his chin. One of the things that was making him bad-tempered was the fact that he had caught himself enjoying it. If he wasn’t careful he’d go back to Janet and his tower in Gilsland as soft and wet as any southerner and Janet’s geese would eat him alive, never mind Janet herself.

Dodd glanced again at the scaffold where they were sweeping sawdust into clumps and bringing up mops and buckets. The bits of human meat were slung into a cart to be taken to the gates of London for display and the head to London Bridge to join the priest’s colleagues.

Carey was already heading off through the crowd and Dodd followed him until he found a little house with red lattices and reasonably clean tables on the Oxford Road near to Tyburn. By some magic known only to him, Carey immediately snared a potboy to take his order and quickly settled down to a quart  of double beer and a small cup of brandy. Dodd took mild ale, mindful of what the Portuguese physician had advised about his bruised kidneys.

“Obviously I want you to know what manner of man you’re dealing with,” Carey said in a random way, blinking into his cup of brandy before swallowing all of it.

“Thank ye, sir,” said Dodd in a careful tone of voice. “But Ah ken verra fine what manner o’man he is, seeing he laid about mah tripes wi’ a cosh and me wi’ ma hands chained and ye had at him yersen, sir, an hour later and he never drew blade nor struck ye back nor sent his man to arrange a time and a place.” Dodd would never forget what had happened on that Sunday, particularly Carey finding him still curled up and half-conscious on the floor of Heneage’s thrice-bedamned foreign coach after a thorough beating from Heneage and his henchmen. Those lumps had been intended only as a preliminary to further interrogation and one of the henchmen had just come back with thumbscrews to help. Dodd had not personally seen but had heard from several witnesses that Carey had then gone straight for Heneage with his bare fists, being without his sword at the time, until unfortunately restrained by his father. It hadn’t been very gentlemanly of Sir Robert, but it had given Dodd some pleasure to see Heneage with a swollen nose, two black eyes, and a doublet and gown ruined by blood a little later.

And Heneage hadn’t even called Carey out over it, which just showed what a strilpit wee nyaff he was. Well, lawsuits to be sure would be multiplying like rats, but that was a different matter. Dodd had never heard of a gentleman hitting another gentlemen right in the nose with his fist and not having to at least talk about a duel afterwards. For form’s sake. Dodd himself didn’t plan to take Heneage’s demeaning beating of him as if he was some poor peasant with no surname to back him. He planned revenge.

As well as lawsuits.

Carey coughed. “I want you to remember how powerful and ruthless he is. If you take him on, there’s no going back nor crying quarter.”

Dodd squinted in puzzlement at Carey. “Ah dinnae understand ye, sir,” he said. “Are ye suggesting Ah should beg his honour’s pardon for damaging his cosh wi’ ma kidneys?”

Carey grinned. “No, Sergeant, it’s just he’s not some Border reiver like Wee Colin Elliot or Richie Graham of Brackenhill. He’s the Queen’s Vice Chamberlain, he came this close…” Carey held up his gloved forefinger and thumb an inch apart, “…to outplotting and removing my father, he’s wealthy, he’s clever and he likes hurting people. He has many of Walsingham’s old pursuivants working for him, though none of them like him, and he has taken over Walsingham’s old network of spies and informers, although unfortunately not his shrewdness. He’s highly dangerous and…well…my father says he’ll back you but…”

Dodd breathed hard through his nose: a few months ago he might have been offended enough to call Carey out on it, but now he was prepared to give the Courtier benefit of doubt although it came hard to him. After all, Heneage’s nosebleed had been very messy.

“Ay sir,” he said. “Ay, Ah ken what he is.” For a moment, Dodd considered explaining to Carey some of the things he’d done in the course of his family’s bloodfeud with the Elliots, then thought better of it. Wouldn’t do to shock the Courtier, now would it? The corners of Dodd’s mouth twitched briefly at the thought.

“But?” asked Carey, waving for more beer. “Ah dinna think Heneage kens what I am.” There was a pause.

“You won’t take his offer?”

It had been paltry, offered the previous Wednesday by a defensively written letter carried by a servant. A mere apology and ten pounds. Where was the satisfaction in that? Dodd hadn’t bothered to answer it.

“Nay sir. I’ve talked tae yer dad about it and he says he’ll gie me whatever lawyers I want, all the paper in London for ma powder and shot…”

“Yes, father’s very irritated at what happened to Edmund,” said Carey with his usual breezy understatement.

“Ay sir,” said Dodd, “And I’m verra irritated at what happened tae me.” Dodd was trying to match Carey with understatement. “Irritated” didn’t really describe the dull thunderous rage settled permanently in Dodd’s bowels.

Carey nodded, looked away, opened his mouth, shut it, rubbed his fingers again, coughed, took a gulp of his new cup of brandy, coughed again.

“I feel I owe you an apology over that, Sergeant,” said the Courtier, finally getting to the point of what had been making him so annoying for the last couple of days. He wasn’t looking at Dodd now, he was staring at the sawdust scattered floorboards of the boozing ken.

“Ah dinna recall ye ever striking me,” Dodd said slowly. “You know what I mean. I used you as a decoy which is why you ended up in the Fleet instead of me and why Heneage got his paws on you in the first place.”

Dodd nodded. “Ay, Ah ken that. So?” “So it’s my fault you got involved…”

While a penitent Carey was both an amusing and a rare sight, Dodd thought he was talking nonsense. Besides which it was done now and Dodd had a feud with one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. It wasn’t a bloodfeud yet but it probably would be by the end. Which reminded him, he needed some information about the size of Heneage’s surname. But first he had to clear away Carey’s daft scruples.

“So it would ha’ bin better if thon teuchter had taken ye instead? Got what he wanted right off, eh?”

Carey frowned. “Well, no…”

“Listen, Sir Robert,” said Dodd, leaning forward and setting his tankard down very firmly, “I’ve done ma time as surety in Jedburgh jail for nae better reason than I wis Janet’s husband and the Armstrong headman could spare me for it.” And Janet had been very angry with him at the time, of course, a detail he left out. “It wisnae exactly fun but it was fair enough. Same here. Ye used what ye had and what ye had wis me—there’s nae offence in that, ye follow? Ah might take offence if ye go on greetin’ about what a fearful fellow Heneage is and all, but at the moment Ah’m lettin ye off since ye dinna really ken me either or ma kin.”

Carey frowned. “You’re not accepting my apology?”

Dodd reached for patience. “Nay sir, I’ll accept it. It’s just I dinna see a reason for it in the first place.”

Carey smiled sunnily at him and stripped off the glove on his right hand. Dodd had to squash his automatic wince at the thought of touching the nasty-looking nailbeds so he could shake hands with good grace.

“Now, sir,” he added, “since ye’ve not had the advantage of partakin’ in a feud before, will ye be guided by me?”

Dodd was trying hard to talk like a Courtier, his best ever impersonation of Carey’s drawl, and Carey sniggered at the mangled vowels.

“Good God, Ah niver sound like that, do I?” he asked in his Berwick voice, which almost had Dodd smiling back since it sounded so utterly out of place coming from the creature in the elaborately slashed cramoisie velvet doublet and black damask trunk hose.

“Ay, ye do, sir. But nae matter. It’s nae yer fault, is it?” Carey made the harumph noise he had got from his father, thumped his tankard down and stood up.

# # #

Lawyers being the scum they were, most of them tended to clog together in the shambolic clusters of houses and crumbling monastery buildings around the old Templar Church. Nearby were the Inns of Court, new a-building out of the ruins of the Whitefriars abbey. In the long time the Dominicans had been gone, bribed, evicted, or burned at the stake in the Forties, the reign of the much-married Henry VIII, something like what happens to a treetrunk had happened to the old abbey. Small creatures taking up residence, large ones raising broods there, huts and houses like fungus erupting in elaborate ramparts that ate the old walls to build themselves. There was a long area of weedy waste ground stretching down to the river and inevitably filling with the huts, vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs, goats and dirty children of the endless thousands of peasants flooding into London to make their fortune. They were not impressed by the lawyers’ writs of eviction. However the writing they didn’t know how to read was very clearly on the wall for them in the shape of scaffolding, sawdust, wagons full of blocks of stone, and builders finishing the two magnificent halls for the rich lawyers to take their Commons.

Dodd had almost enjoyed the short walk of a couple of miles along the Oxford Road from Tyburn to the Whitefriars liberties where Carey was more comfortable even though his father had (yet again) paid his creditors. Most of them. The ones he could remember or who had served him with writs at any rate.

He had to admit, it was interesting to see the different styles of working in London and the numberless throngs in the streets and the settled solidity of the overhanging houses. He also had to admit that despite the pathetic lack of decent walls or fortifications, London was impressive. Dodd was still tinkering with his plans for the greatest raid of all time, even though he knew it was hopeless. Where would you sell that much gold and insight? How would you even carry it all back to the Debateable Land? Very near the round Temple church with its wonderful coloured glass, Carey swung off down an alleyway and up some stairs into a luxurious set of chambers, lined with leatherbound books and with painted cloths of Nimrod the Hunter on the walls. Two haughty-looking clerks surrounded by piles of paper and books looked up briefly as they came in, announced by a spotty page boy with a headcold.

There was a pause. The clerks continued to write away. Carey looked mildly surprised and then leaned on the mantel over the luxury of a small fireplace and hummed a tune. Dodd put his hands behind his back and waited stolidly.

Nothing happened. Surprisingly, Carey cracked first. “Is Mr. Fleetwood available?” he asked coldly, and the haughtiest clerk ignored the magnificence of his embroidered trunk-hose and raised a withering eyebrow.

“Do you have an appointment, Mr…er…” intoned the clerk down his nose. The pageboy had announced them correctly and clearly.

Carey’s eyebrow headed for his hairline as well. Dodd leaned back slightly and prepared to watch the fun: would the two pairs of eyebrows fight a little duel, perhaps?

“Robert Carey,” he drawled, “Sir Robert Carey.”

The clerk held his ground. “Do you have an appointment, Sir Robert?”

“I believe my worshipful father, m’lord Baron Hunsdon, mentioned that we might be coming here this afternoon.” Carey paused. “To see Fleetwood. Your master.” He added as to a child, “About a legal matter.”

“Ah yes,” sneered the clerk, “The assault at Fleet Prison.”

The other clerk glanced up nervously from his copying, then down again. The page boy was hiding on the landing, listening busily.

“And unlawful imprisonment of my man, Sergeant Dodd,” said Carey, “and sundry other matters of a legal nature.”

The clerk sprang his trap. “Mr. Fleetwood is not available.” One Carey eyebrow climbed, the other dropped. Did he know he was doing it, wondered Dodd who was not in the slightest bit surprised at what was happening. It seemed from his face that Carey was surprised. Now the left eyebrow was mounting Carey’s forehead again to join his brother in chilly wonder. Did he practise? In front of a mirror?

“How unfortunate,” said Carey. “Perhaps tomorrow…” “Mr. Fleetwood is very busy,” said the clerk with magnificent contempt, “for the foreseeable future. A year at least.”

“My lord Hunsdon had assured me that Mr. Fleetwood could represent Sergeant Dodd in this matter.” Carey was losing ground here.

“My lord was mistaken. Mr. Fleetwood had not first consulted me,” sniffed the clerk. “His daybook is full.”

“Hm,” said Carey, eyebrows now down in a frown.

Dodd stepped forward and leaned his hands not too threateningly on the clerk’s desk. “Is Mr. Vice Chamberlain Heneage payin’ ye?”

The clerk quivered slightly and then answered with fake indignation, “Of course not, Sergeant, the very idea is outrageous.” Dodd looked around at the other clerk, industriously copying, and nodded. “Ay, so he’s threatened ye.”

It was satisfying to see the haughty clerk now reading very carefully in Mr. Fleetwood’s daybook which seemed to be empty as far as Dodd could see. Nobody said anything.

“Thank ye,” said Dodd, remembering a little late some of Carey’s lectures about London manners. “Nae doubt it’s just as well, Ah wouldna want a man wi’ nae blood tae his liver standing up for me in court.”

He clattered down the stairs followed by a Carey who was smiling now.

“Well, I never saw that before,” he mused. “A lawyer turning down a fat fee. Amazing.”

“I have,” said Dodd.

Carey wanted to try other lawyers he knew of, Dodd said it wasn’t worth the bother. They had an argument about it in the arched old cloister next to the round church.

“See ye,” Dodd said, “if it ha’ been nobbut a bribe, then maybe, but if Heneage is threatening ‘em, he’s threatened the lot of them. Threats are cheap.”

“I know that, Sergeant,” said Carey. “I just want to check.”

Sighing Dodd followed Carey on his route through the dens of lawyers and found he was right. No serjeant, utter barrister, attorney, nor even humble solicitor would touch Dodd’s case on the end of a polearm. Not that any one of them could have lifted such a weapon.

Frustrated, they sat on a bench facing a small duck pond next to the other shiny new hall, still having its windows installed. Carey had to lean awkwardly with his legs out because of the idiocy of his clothes and their tight fashionable fit.

He pulled out the long clay pipe and started filling it with the mixture of tobacco and expensive Moroccan resin that Dr. Nunez had prescribed for them the previous week. Carey liked it enough to have made enquiries about importing some to Carlisle but it was eyewateringly expensive.

Despite the fact that the practise of drinking herbal smoke was a highly fashionable London vice, Dodd rather liked it too. He took the pipe and drew some of the aromatic white smoke into his lungs and after a moment was blinking peacefully at the tumble of huts going down to the water.

Carey chuckled. “It’s a mess, isn’t it? Last time I saw him, Sir Robert Cecil was talking about planting gardens down to the river. Of course you’d have to get the riffraff thrown out first.” “What? The lawyers?” Dodd said deadpan, and Carey grinned.

“Good idea, as they won’t bloody work for us.”

“Ye canna blame them. Heneage will have said to a few of them, tsk tsk, d’ye think the Careys’ll take care of yer kine and yer tower while you’re lawyering for that Dodd, tsk tsk, and the word will have gone round,” Dodd said knowledgeably.

“Metaphorically speaking, but yes. Shortage of Readerships, strange famine of appointments to the serjeantcy, etcetera, etcetera. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“Ay. So. Will we do it ourselves?”

“What, go to court? Certainly not.”

“Why not? It canna be so hard if lawyers can do it.”

Carey snorted with giggles and Dodd almost giggled as well, feeling pleasantly drunk from the smoke.

“Sergeant, you’ve run wood. How long does it normally take you to draft one bill? An afternoon? And I’m certainly not studying the law at my age.”

“Other young gentlemen study at the Inns of Court,” Dodd pointed out. One of the young gentlemen happened to be standing nearby wrapped in his black cloth robe, very like a crow, blinking at the ducks on the pond. For a moment Dodd thought he was familiar, but couldn’t place him at all.

Carey took the pipe back from Dodd who had forgotten he was holding it. “Not me. I went to France and wapped a lot of French ladies,” said Carey coarsely. “We need a lawyer.”

“All Heneage has done is reive our horses,” Dodd said. “Metaphorically speaking,” Carey corrected, waggling the end of the pipe at him.

“So then we go after him on foot. We do it ourselves. Ay, so it’s slower but…”

Carey shook his head and passed the pipe back to Dodd. “I keep telling you, this is not a Border feud, we do things differently in London. Perhaps Father could twist some arms, raise the fees…Maybe one of the Bacon brothers would take it pro bono if I asked nicely.”

Dodd shook his head firmly and opened his mouth to argue but there was a soft cough which interrupted him.

“Excuse me, sirs, but I couldn’t help hearing your discourse.” It was the young man in the lawyer’s robe. As the man made his bow, Dodd stared at him suspiciously, assuming this must be one of Heneage’s spies you heard so much about. The young man was average height, narrow built, with sandy hair under one of the newly fashionable beaver hats. Sharp blue eyes peered out of a face ruined by smallpox, worse even than Barnabus. His attempt at a friendly smile was actually twisted by the scarring. There was a shocking pit right next to his mouth, the size of a farthing.

“Is it true that you are in need of a lawyer?” “Possibly,” said Carey, eyeing the man.

He bowed again to both of them, making Dodd feel uncomfortable. “I am James Enys, at your service, sirs, barrister-at-law.”

“And yer daybook is no’ full?” asked Dodd cynically. “Empty, sirs.” The man laughed without humour and spread his soft white hands. One of the fingers was dented by a ring newly taken off. “I have just hocked my last ring, sirs, and turned off my clerk.”

“Are ye no’ rich then?” Dodd asked curiously, “I thought all lawyers was rich.”

“Potentially, yes. But generally not when they start, and especially not if Mr. Vice Chancellor Heneage has taken a dislike to them.”

This was too pat for either Carey or Dodd’s liking. They exchanged glances.

Enys coughed and held up one hand.

“Gentlemen, I know you are trying to launch a civil suit for damages and a criminal charge of assault, battery, and false imprisonment against Mr. Vice, and that Mr. Vice has forestalled you by frightening off all the courageous men of law in this place.” “Ay,” said Dodd, putting his elbows on his knees and leaning forwards, despite the damage this made his chokingly high collar do to his adam’s apple. “But whit can ye dae to show us ye’re no’ one o’ his kinship come tae trap us in ambush?”

Carey coughed as Enys frowned in puzzlement. “My friend is from Cumberland,” he explained, and translated Dodd’s challenge.

Enys inclined his head slightly. “Quite right, Sergeant,” he said, “you have a point there. Yet the same could be said of any lawyer you hired—if not already a spy, turned into one the minute Heneage found out who he was.”

“So?”

Enys shrugged. “Make enquiries, sir. Ask about me. You will find I am a little notorious. I still have chambers in my lord of Essex’s  court. My…um…my sister keeps house for me there although she does not…um like to keep company. You may find me there any time from ten in the morning.”

“Not at Westminster Hall?” Carey asked.

Again the stiff smile. “Frequently, in hopes of a brief. However, Mr. Vice has made it clear that he prefers my room to my company there and the Court officials often oblige him. Please—at least consider my offer.”

“Do you know who I am?” Carey was crossing his legs at the ankle, leaning back and tapping his gloved fingers on his teeth. Dodd nipped the pipe from his other hand and smoked the last of the tobacco in the bowl, then tapped it out, his head spinning. Not only did the smoke ease his kidneys, it also seemed to do something to the dull ball of rage in his gut against Heneage.

“I believe you are the son of my lord Baron Hunsdon.” “How did you find out?”

“When I heard you enquiring of one of my brothers-at-law, I asked him and he told me. Also, sir, with respect, you and your family are not entirely unknown to the legal profession.” Carey ignored that. “Well, you’ll know then that I’m the youngest and utterly penniless at the moment, so it’s my worshipful Father you must convince, not me. He’ll be paying you.”

Enys bowed. “I should be delighted at the chance to try.” “Hm,” said Carey again, “Very well, come to Somerset House tomorrow afternoon.”

The young man bowed again and his robe swirled as he walked away, whistling softly to himself. Dodd watched him go. “I dinna trust him.”

“Quite right too,” said Carey, putting the pipe away again. “Even if he’s not Heneage’s spy, he’s still a bloody lawyer.”

# # #

When they got back to Somerset House they found that Hunsdon was not there. He had gone upriver to Whitehall Palace in a matter for the Queen and required his son and his son’s henchman to join him there immediately.

They got into one of the Hunsdon boats, still munching some hurried bread and cheese. Dodd leaned back and idly watched the flapping standard at the prow. Certainly there were aspects to being a gentleman he could well get used to—such as not being one of the men in blinding yellow and black livery sweating to propel them to Westminster against the tide. Carey sat opposite, upright, tapping his fingers on the gunwale and looking thoughtfully into the distance.

Dodd had nothing against boats and found himself quite enjoying the crowded river, full of vessels crossing in all directions; a red-sailed Thames lugger headed straight for them at one point causing the men on the larboard side to back water in order to avoid it. Derisive shouts echoed over the water from the larger boat. The water was brown but not too bad-smelling, all things considered. Somerset House had its own well and in any case Dodd was sticking firmly to mild ale because it was good for his kidneys. He saw no need to take the suicidal risk of drinking expensive Thames water which was so full of ill humours and mud, although he was quite happy to eat the salmon from it when he wanted  a cheap meal. The standard flapped in the breeze on the water.

“What are you smiling at, Sergeant?” asked Carey, who seemed to be worried about something. Dodd realised he had indeed been smiling; he must still be a little drunk from the tobacco.

“Nowt.” Dodd hastily averted his eyes from the thing. “Come on, it’s Father’s badge, isn’t it?”

It had been. Dodd had been wondering, why did the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain, one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom, choose as his badge the figure of what looked like a rabid duck?

Carey stuck his lower lip out. “It’s a Swan Rampant.” “Ay?”

“It’s in honour of my Lady Mother, if you’re interested.” “Ay?” Dodd was very interested, but tried hard not to let it show. “Is she still alive then, yer…ah…Lady Mother?”

“Oh yes,” said Carey, not explaining any more. Dodd wondered where Hunsdon kept her as there was no sign of a wife at Somerset House. Perhaps she was tired: Dodd would have thought she would be after birthing the full Carey brood of eight living children, and possibly more pregnancies depending how many babes she might have lost.

“So…ah…where is she?” asked Dodd in what he hoped was a tactful voice. After all, there was an official mistress at Hunsdon’s residence. “Prefers the countryside?”

“You could say that,” answered Carey. “She has no interest in the Court and would have to attend the Queen if she lived in London, so…er…she doesn’t. She was here in ’88 though.” “Wise lady,” said Dodd, feeling sorry for her. It could be no easy thing to be married to the likes of lord Baron Hunsdon nor mother to his reckless sons. He pictured the lady in a manor house somewhere, living a dull but respectable life, embroidering linen and doing whatever else ladies did, whilst her husband philandered through the fleshpots of London.

Carey nodded, still looking worried. Just once he cast a glance over his shoulder where the ship-forest of the Pool of London, on the other side of the Bridge, was disappearing round the bend.

“I thought I saw…No,” he said to himself, “can’t be.”

Dodd peered at the bridge himself but the crowded houses gave up no clue and nor did the carrion crows and buzzards squabbling over the new head there. He saw a flight of fourteen crows swoop up and attack the buzzards together, driving them away from the delicacy. He blinked for a moment. Did birds have surnames to back them? Crows all lived together in rookeries, of course, but did they foray out together against other birds like men? It was fascinating. He knew that the proper thing to call such an avian group was a “murder” of crows because of their liking for newborn lambs.

More of Hunsdon’s liverymen were waiting for them at the Westminster steps. Carey and Dodd were led briskly not into the palace but to a small stone chapel tucked into the side of Westminster Hall, then down into the cool crypt. From the stairs Dodd smelled death ,and so did Carey for his nostrils flared.

Reviews of

A Murder of Crows: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #5

“Sir Robert Carey is back…with the redoubtable Sergeant Henry Dodd matching wits with Sir Robert’s mother, the darling and deadly Lady Hunsdon. Well worth the wait.”

Dana Stabenow, New York Times best-selling author

“Carey and Dodd are back…the best detective pairing since Holmes and Watson.”

Sharon Kay Penman, New York Times best-selling author

FacebookTwitterEmail
Goodreads