“He was. William says he did not pay the boy’s claims much heed when a member of his household staff mentioned it to him. He thought it likely to be more of the lad’s vain boasting. But it may not have been. It is true there are many in Normandy and Brittany who favour young Arthur as king-and they have supporters here in England-but John has been crowned. He is our monarch and only war can come of gainsaying him.” She paused a moment, then said, “There is an old legend, de Marins, telling of a curse that will befall any king who enters Lincoln. I do not wish that myth to become reality. If Hubert’s words had any truth in them, it could be that he was killed to stop up his prattle and perhaps warn others to keep their lips sealed tight. If that is so, I must know of it. It is my duty, not only to John, but to the safety of my lands.”

The Hayes had been hereditary castellans of Lincoln castle for the past eighty-five years when an ancestor, Robert de la Haye, had married a daughter of the Saxon family that had held the post since the days of the Conquest. Nicolaa’s father had died without male issue, either legitimate or bastard, and she, as the eldest daughter, had inherited the office as well as much of the Haye demesne. Although Gerard Camville, as Nicolaa’s husband, was nominally lord over her estates and governorship of the castle, the sheriff was a lazy and discontented man, more suited to the battlefield or the excitement of the hunt than to managing the various mundane details of running the large fief. Nicolaa undertook these tasks herself and carried them out efficiently and well.

“What is it you require of me, lady?” Bascot asked.

Nicolaa leaned forward, her hands clasped together as they rested on the table in front of her. “If it is at all possible, it is imperative that the truth be found out. To do that, the matter must be delved into. I am asking you to undertake that task, de Marins.”

Bascot gazed at her, his one sighted eye locked into the two of hers. They had played this game before when there had been murder done in an alehouse in Lincoln town during the summer. She had asked him for assistance then and, since both he and Gianni were accepting the shelter of Lincoln castle and the largesse of its mistress at the time, he had complied. More through good fortune than his suitability for the venture, the murderer had been caught. And Bascot, to his surprise, had felt a great satisfaction for the part he had played in the apprehension of the culprit-and she knew it.

With a wry smile, he nodded his acceptance. Nicolaa, in turn, quietly thanked him.

“Is it known why the boy was out in the forest?” Bascot asked.

“No, not yet. That is my concern. Why was he there? Did he go willingly or not? The track nearby where he was found is one frequently used by those who have reason to travel in the chase-villagers, my husband’s forester, our bailiff and the like. If he was not killed by the brigands that poached the deer, it may be that he was abducted and taken there to be killed, or perhaps lured there for a false appointment with the murderer. It may even be simply that he was followed as he went about some purpose of his own. These are the questions for which answers need to be found, de Marins.”

Bascot nodded as she went on. “My husband’s forester is in the hall below. I asked him to wait there so that you can speak to him. There is probably little he can tell you, but it is a place to start.”

She stood up and so did Bascot. “The other pages and squires in William Camville’s retinue-how many are there?” he asked.

Nicolaa frowned in thought. “Seven altogether, I believe. Three pages and four squires. Two of the older boys are almost at the end of their training and hopeful of soon attaining the rank of knight. William tells me that all of them deny any knowledge of the reason for Hubert’s absence from the castle last night.”

“Still, it might be worthwhile for me to speak to them. They may know some fact that is pertinent and not realise its import.”

Nicolaa nodded. “I will have my steward summon them to one of the chambers below. And also instruct the forester to wait upon your pleasure.” With a decisive movement, she picked up the papers that lay on her desk and began to walk towards the door. “If there is nothing else, de Marins, I shall await your report after the evening meal.”

Dismissed, Bascot left the chamber. Once again he was embroiled in secret murder and he sent up a silent prayer that the outcome of this investigation would be as successful as the last one.


“Hubert was worse than a pain in the gut! I’m not sorry he’s dead. And I’m not afraid to say so.”

The pages and squires of William Camville’s retinue had, on instructions conveyed by the Haye steward, gathered in a small chamber to await the arrival of Bascot. The room was small and dusty, used as a repository for records of the revenues of Haye tenants, and was piled high with rolls of parchment and tally sticks. There was barely enough room for all to sit or stand in comfort.

The boy who had spoken was one of the younger ones, Osbert, who sat cross-legged on the floor and stared defiantly up at the two eldest, Alain and Renault, who were standing and leaning against the embrasure of the one small window in the room.

“Your honesty does you credit, Osbert,” Alain said to him with a small smile, “but I do not think it would be wise to be quite so forthright with Sir Bascot.”

“Perhaps not, but it is the truth,” Osbert maintained. He was nine years old, with hair the colour and shape of a wheat sheaf, and his green eyes glowed with outrage as he continued, “He was always sneering at us younger ones, saying we didn’t know one end of a lance from the other and that no amount of training would ever make us into knights. He was a bully and a braggart and you know it well, Alain, for you yourself changed angry words with him more than once.”

Alain, tall and slim at eighteen years old, with a sober face and rigidly erect posture, flushed slightly at the youngster’s words. “It was my duty to correct him. I was his senior in age and rank,” he said quietly.

“You weren’t correcting him when you told him you’d break his head if he dared approach your sister again,” Osbert retorted angrily. “And I’d have done the same if I had been you. He deserved what he got and I give praise to his murderer, whoever he may be.” His voice dropped a little lower, but was still defiant, as he added, “Even if that murderer was someone from our own household.”

Renault, a few months younger than Alain, straightened up from his relaxed position. He was a Poitevin, the only one of the group whose family did not possess a fief in England. He was wirily built, with black hair, sallow skin and dark eyes. Always moving with a slow unhurried grace, he had nevertheless proved his skill at the quintain and on the practice field, and gave promise of one day being a redoubtable knight. He now looked down at the feisty little Osbert, smiled and said languidly, “You have an impertinent tongue, little one. Be careful it doesn’t get you into trouble.”

The words, spoken so carelessly, nevertheless held a hint of warning and Osbert reluctantly clamped his mouth shut, contenting himself with clenching his small fists and bunching them on his knees.

One of the other boys spoke up, a lad whose name was Harold but who was always called Rufus for the redness of his complexion. At fourteen, and having just obtained the rank of squire, he was not quite as fearful of Renault as the younger Osbert. “You hated Hubert as much as any of us, Renault. I remember when you found out that he had taken your new belt and worn it. You were very angry.”

Renault turned his gaze on Rufus. “No angrier than you when he dropped one of his boots in the midden and made you clean it.”

Rufus lowered his head and made no reply. Pushing himself upright, Renault heaved a sigh. “But you are right, Rufus, and so is Osbert. All of us have reason to rejoice that pig’s turd is dead.” He glanced around at them all and, with a lazy grin, added, “My only regret is that I promised Hubert a good thrashing if he continued with his pilfering ways. I should have given it to him then. Now he is dead, I will not get the chance.”

This remark brought titters from all the rest of the boys except one, a lad about Rufus’s age named Hugo. He was sitting on the floor, fiddling with a piece of straw, and had not raised his head once since they had all gathered in the room.

“What ails you, Hugo?” Alain asked. “Are you ill?”

Hugo finally looked up. Alain was his cousin and it was no secret that the youngster had a great admiration for his elder kinsman. “No, Alain, I am not ill,” he replied with a tremble in his voice. “I just wish that Hubert was

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