not dead. I did not like him any more than the rest of you, but still I wish that he was not dead.”

The two youngest of the group, seven-year-old pages sent by their families, like the rest, to William Camville to spend the long years of training for knighthood, looked fearful at the anguish in Hugo’s voice. One of them rubbed at his eye with a knuckle, trying to stem the tears that were threatening to trickle down his cheeks.

Osbert, who was sitting near the lad, gave him a sidelong glance and then a push on the shoulder along with a command to stop snivelling. The boy smothered his sobs with an effort and wiped his running nose on his sleeve.

Alain moved forward into the midst of the group. “These speculations are not profitable, nor are they just. It is clear that none of us had any love for Hubert or are sorry he is dead. And if we feel this way, there must be many others not of our household who feel the same. But we must be wary of what we tell the Templar. Suspicion is easily cast on an innocent person. To be circumspect is the only honourable course.”

“And the most advisable,” Renault commented wryly. “The less that is made of this matter, the better for all of us. Even the little ones know that it would hardly help the reputation of any of us here, or that of our families, to be suspected of secret murder. I do not intend to risk losing the chance of winning my spurs for such a one as Hubert, whether he be alive or dead.”

Although Alain gave his friend an angry glance for the baldness of his words, the rest of the boys nodded to each other in agreement; Osbert and Rufus enthusiastically. All, that is, except Hugo. He only gave his cousin Alain a surreptitious glance filled with fear, then bowed his head before it should be noticed, and resumed his mournful contemplation of the musty trampled rushes beneath his feet.


Bascot’s talk with William Camville’s pages and squires left him feeling both amused and confused.

All of the young men and boys had denied any knowledge of the reason Hubert had been out in the forest on the night he had been murdered. When Bascot had suggested that the person or persons who had killed the squire might not have been outlaws, but someone known to the dead boy, they had all easily accepted that as a possibility.

Their general dislike of the dead squire had been evident in the way they had spoken of him, but none had admitted to having a particular grudge against him, nor of knowing anyone who had. This seemed an unlikely proposition in view of how disagreeable they had made Hubert sound. Only Osbert had offered any information that might be of interest. Hubert had, the page proclaimed, often boasted of his prowess with women, bragging that once he had bedded a wench she could not wait for more of the same.

“I don’t know if what he said was true, Sir Bascot,” Osbert had added, his small face quite serious. “Especially since his bollocks and shaft weren’t much bigger than mine. But it could be that he was meeting a lover in the woods, and was perhaps discovered by an outraged husband who took his revenge.” Osbert had glanced, almost defiantly, at the two eldest squires, Alain and Renault, as he said this, but their faces had remained impassive.

Bascot had been hard put to hide a smile at the boy’s words, but they had made him pause for thought. It was possible that Hubert had strayed into a relationship that had led to his death, but it was hard to believe that it would have been with anyone he had met in the few days he had been in Lincoln. Did he know someone from previous visits? Perhaps Hubert had already been acquainted with a woman from the town or in the retinues of nobles come to attend the king’s visit. It was a suggestion worth pursuing.

Making his way down to the hall to talk to the forester who had found the squire’s body, Bascot cast his mind back to the days when he had been the same age as Hubert. He had been spared the necessity of going to the household of one of his father’s peers to train for knighthood since he had spent much of his younger days within the walls of a monastery, having been placed there as an oblate-an offering for Christ-to prepare for the day when he would take his vows as a monk. It had not been until he was well past Osbert’s age that his father had removed him, one of Bascot’s older brothers having died, leaving a gap, which his sire had been anxious to fill. But still Bascot could remember how he had felt when he had returned home and begun to practice with sword and lance. Despite his reluctance to leave the monks, he had been excited, full of the joy of young manhood and anxious to indulge in all the pleasures he had so far been denied in his life behind the monastery walls. Wine had tasted sweet, as had platters full of roasted venison and boar, and the most delicious of all had been sampling the charms of the many willing women servants on his father’s demesne. There had not been many ready to deny a son of their lord his pleasure, or their own. It was not until he had taken his vow of chastity as a Templar that he had eschewed the charms of women and, although he had never broken his pledge, the temptation at times had been hard to resist. But as a young man he had not viewed it as a transgression, and had indulged the hot blood that rose at the sight of a softly curved breast or a slim ankle as readily as Hubert had apparently done. None had been wife to another man, however, but still, Osbert’s opinion might bear merit.

In the hall he found the forester, Tostig, in the company of Ernulf, drinking ale. When Bascot approached, the serjeant introduced them. The forester was a tall man, clad in a leather jerkin over a green tunic and hose, with stout boots on his feet and a handsome strongly boned face that had been weathered by the elements. His hands, although calloused, were large and well shaped. On his left forearm he wore a leather bracer, used by archers to strengthen the aim of an arrow shot. At his feet lay a dog, a lymer hound, its keen eyes surveying Bascot dolefully as he approached. Ernulf told Bascot that Tostig had been employed as a mounted forester by Gerard Camville for the last fifteen years and that his bailiwick-the area in which he carried out his duties-was the chase granted by the king to the sheriff for his own use.

“It was the birds that told me something was amiss,” Tostig said in answer to Bascot’s question as to how he had come to discover the body. “Gathered and circling like the carrion eaters they are. I thought it could be a dead animal and went to investigate. I found the deer first, the carcass half-buried under leaves. But then I noticed that the birds hadn’t disturbed it much and looked around, thinking there might be another one slaughtered nearby.”

He took a swig from the ale in his mug, swallowed, then spat among the rushes on the floor. “Made my gorge rise when I looked up and saw what those damned crows had been feasting on,” he told Bascot. “The lad’s face was almost gone, and they’d been at his body, too, pecking through his clothes.”

He shook his head sadly and crossed himself before continuing. “They still kept watch even after I cut him down, landing near me and croaking like imps from hell, though my dog was doing his best to forestall them. So I wrapped the boy in his cloak, which was still pinned to his shoulders, slung him over my horse and carried him out of the woods. If I had left him there to get help, they would have been at him again.”

“What about the boy’s own mount?” Bascot asked. “Surely he wouldn’t have gone into the forest on foot.”

“Found it not too far from where the lad was strung up,” Tostig replied. “It was loose and came to follow me on my way back to the castle. The reins were knotted at the end, and trailing, as though the lad had left the horse loosely tethered somewhere.”

Ernulf reached over and filled the man’s flagon again. Bascot waited until he had taken a deep drink, then asked, “Did you notice if there were any other marks on the boy’s body besides that made by the rope and the birds?”

“You mean, had he been killed first, and then strung up?” Tostig asked. When Bascot nodded, the forester shook his head. “Apart from the damage done by the crows there was nothing else. Sir William and Sir Gerard stripped him themselves when I brought him in, looking for an answer to the same question, but there was no wound from a blade or arrow on his person or any mark on what was left of his head. Even allowing for the bird’s feasting, there would have been trace of damage if his skull had been caved in.”

“Nothing at all?” Bascot persisted.

The forester shook his head again. “As far as could be told it looks as though the boy just stood peaceful-like and let that noose be dropped over his head.”

“Or else he didn’t struggle because he was faced with a greater threat,” Bascot said.

The forester looked straight at him, “Like a sword or a bow, you mean?”

Bascot nodded. “Either that or else he was taken by surprise before he had the opportunity to defend

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