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the DEMONS PARCHMENT

The Crispin Guest Novels by Jeri Westerson

Veil of Lies

Serpent in the Thorns

the DEMONS PARCHMENT

A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir

Jeri Westerson

To my personal knight,

Craig, who slays all my demons

Acknowledgments

There are always a great many people to thank, particularly when research is involved. It’s not something you can accomplish alone. Thanks go out to Gillian Pollack and the late Reva Brown for helping me with post- expulsion Jewery; to Henk T’Jong for the French translations; to my Vicious Circle of Ana Brazil, Bobbie Gosnell, and Laura James for helping me whip the plot into shape; to my ever patient husband, Craig; to my agent, Joshua Bilmes; and my editor, Keith Kahla. Thank you all.

the DEMONS PARCHMENT

1

London, 1384

“He’s still out there.” Jack Tucker leaned his head and shoulders out the window.

“Close the damn shutters,” growled Crispin. “It’s too cold in here as it is.”

“Sorry, Master,” said the boy, doing as bid. His ginger hair was dusted with snow. “It’s just that that man is still out there, looking up at us. Makes me a bit shivery.”

“The cold will do that.” Hunkered by their meager fire, Crispin held one hand toward the flames. The other was curled around a bowl of tart wine.

“He might be a client, sir.”

“He might be.”

“Why don’t you go look?”

Crispin drank the bitter liquid. Winter did not seem to bring him as many clients as the warmer months. Perhaps fewer crimes were committed in the winter and a “private sheriff” was not in the family finances when it came down to it.

The small room offered little comfort. Its few bits of rented furniture—a chair, a stool, a rickety table—stood in the center of unadorned walls. Crispin’s pallet bed was shoved against the wall near the hearth, and on the opposite side of the small fire lay a pile of straw, the place Jack tucked in at night. Four strides would take him to a chest by the door, which held Crispin’s change of stockings and braies and his few writing implements. He was lucky to have two windows, one facing the back garden and the one Jack had been leaning out of facing the Shambles. But “luck” was a relative term. Today, with London chilled like a frozen lake, two windows only offered more opportunities for an icy draft.

“Let me see, then.” Crispin rose with a bone-weary sigh and set the empty bowl aside. He joined Jack by the window, but instead of throwing open the shutter, he peered down through a crack in the wood that he usually kept stuffed with a rag.

Below, in the snow-painted street, stood a man in a long black gown. His dark beard was salted by time as were his bushy brows. His head was covered by a tight-fitting felt cap with flaps that covered his ears. And he was looking up at Crispin’s window expectantly, ignoring the occasional passerby in the street.

“He certainly seems determined about something,” said Crispin.

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