some chance, the husband had come to see if his wife was recovering from her supposed illness and found her missing from the chamber where she should have been resting, it was unlikely he would have crept stealthily up two flights of stairs in an effort to locate her. He would surmise that she had returned to the hall and their paths had crossed unnoticed in the darkness of the ward. It was in the main keep that the husband would search for her, not within the top stories of the old tower.

Again the voice came, urging him to come through the arch and out onto the catwalk. The man’s hand dropped to his belt and the small eating knife strapped to his side. He had no other weapon on his person, but the little blade was sharp and, if necessary, would provide a modicum of defence. He hesitated and the person spoke again, more commandingly this time.

Still, he vacillated, reluctant to step away from the security of the tower walls. Should he obey the summons or not? His heart leapt with hope as he wondered if the command came from the person he had recently been pressing for information. Was he finally about to receive an answer to the question that had all but taken over his life? The thought of such a lure was almost impossible to resist but, nonetheless, he took a deep breath and cautioned himself to be circumspect. He stood for a moment, indecisive, and then straightened his shoulders and laid a hand on the hilt of his small knife. If he fled, he would never find out.

Stepping through the arch, the frigid air struck his face like a blow. The sky above was a canopy of stars, pinpricks of hard brightness in the blackness of the cold night sky, but except for the distant figures of the guards pacing the crenellated ramparts surrounding the castle bail, there was no sense of any other human presence. Neither of the guards was near; in the dim light of torches placed at intervals along the perimeter of the walls, the outline of one man-at-arms could just be seen some hundred yards to the west and another soldier a similar distance to the east. Behind him the solid bulk of the old tower loomed, throwing the length of the narrow wooden bridge into deep shadow. Whoever had called must be hidden within that tunnel of blackness.

He took a step and halted at the edge of the wooden planking. “Who calls?” he said softly into the darkness. “Show yourself if you wish to speak to me.”

There was no answer, only a small click and the soft whirr of a crossbow bolt taking flight. The missile ran true to its aim and took the man in the chest. So forceful was its thrust that it penetrated through his rib cage and beyond, severing his spine before exiting through his back. He fell without a sound.

In the guest chamber on the bottom floor of the tower, the woman disrobed and climbed into bed. The room was moderately warm, heated by the coals of a brazier that a castle servant had lit earlier in the day. She lay in silence for a few moments, listening for her lover’s step on the staircase beyond the closed door of the chamber to indicate that he, too, had left the building. After a few moments, she heard what she thought was the sound of his passage, the small noise of footsteps scurrying past the door and fading as they exited the tower.

Sighing, she lay back and snuggled into the warmth of the thick woollen blankets that covered her. Her lover was far too cautious, she thought. Her husband was not a man prone to suspicion; he had been solicitous when she had told him of her aching head and had even offered to keep her company while she rested. It had been easy to persuade him to stay within the hall and enjoy the company of the other guests gathered there. She felt a little sorry for deceiving him, but not much. He was a good husband, but elderly, and his lust had faded with the passage of years. Her involvement with her young lover provided an excitement she had never before experienced. The element of danger was so exhilarating that it overcame thoughts of the repercussions she would suffer if her adultery was discovered.

She closed her eyes and relived the stolen moments she and her paramour had shared in the chamber above. Her lover was a vigorous man and his embraces were all that a woman could ask for. She recalled how tenderly he had caressed her and the words of endearment he had murmured in her ear. As she drifted into slumber, her dreams were full of remembered passion, and she was completely unaware that, from that night on, memories would be all that were left to her.


The body was not discovered until dawn the next morning. Just before first light, Ernulf, the serjeant of the castle garrison, went up onto the ramparts, as was his habit, to oversee the changing of the guards from night patrol to the shift that manned the walls during the daylight hours. As he crossed the bail, all was silent. The previous evening Nicolaa de la Haye had invited a large company of guests to a feast in celebration of the opening of a new foundling home that she had spent many months in establishing. Also present had been Nicolaa’s sister, Petronille, who had been on a visit to Lincoln since the season of Christ’s Mass and had brought her daughter, Alinor, with her, along with a small retinue of servants. The festivities had gone on until late and not only the guests but most of the servants were still abed.

Ernulf went up to the ramparts by means of one of the half-dozen ladders that gave access to the walkway that lined the inner circumference of the palisade. The ladder Ernulf was accustomed to use was near the old tower, and set a little way from the gatehouse that guarded the eastern entrance into the castle ward. Behind him, the four men-at-arms of the day shift were assembling for duty and Ernulf gave them a backward glance as he reached the top of the ladder to ensure all were present. The serjeant was a grizzled old campaigner who treated his men with a gruff fairness but could, nonetheless, mete out a harsh punishment to any who took advantage of his equable temperament. All of the men-at-arms under his command appreciated this and, for the most part, obeyed his orders promptly and without resentment.

The sky was almost fully lightened as he strode along the walkway to the gatehouse, where the men of the night shift would have gathered as the time approached for them to come off duty, his breath rising in steamy puffs on the cold air as he glanced southwards through the crenellations. From his high vantage point, the town spilling down the hillside formed a giant tableau, bisected by the great thoroughfare of Ermine Street, the high road that started in London and travelled up the length of England to York. At the lower perimeter of the town, the Witham River traversed the plain. To the east, and sharing the height with the environs of the castle, was the Minster, where Lincoln cathedral was located, its spire sparkling brightly in the frosty air. Ernulf pulled his cloak close around him as he scanned the panorama below him; the weather was bitterly cold, with a stiff breeze that brought tears to the eyes, and he was grateful for the fur-lined cap he wore. In the gloom of approaching dawn, the serjeant could see the gleam of frost on the slated rooftops of the houses. There were no coverings of thatch; a town ordinance had been instituted some years before forbidding the use of this combustible material in an effort to prevent the spreading of fire in the event of an accidental conflagration. Most of the houses were built of timber infilled with wattle and daub-only the more affluent of Lincoln’s citizens could afford an edifice built completely of stone-and the chequered squares of the walls, usually white, were grimy and showed a sore need of their annual spring coating of lime.

Ermine Street had been renamed Mikelgate within the confines of Lincoln’s town walls, and lesser byways branched from the thoroughfare in a haphazard manner, some running parallel to it, others winding around in a crescent, many of them little more than narrow alleys, but most debouching into a street that led to one of the two main entrances into Lincoln; Bailgate in the north, just below the castle precincts at the top of Steep Hill, and Stonebow at the southern end. Suburbs had sprung up in the lee of the walls, giving rise to an impoverished collection of hovels in Butwerk and a straggle of more affluent residences alongside Ermine Street below the river. Lincoln had prospered in the centuries since the Romans had built the first stronghold on the ground where the castle now stood and its good fortune gave no indication of diminishing.

Now, as Ernulf walked along the ramparts, he could see little sign of activity among the populace except for a few wisps of smoke from the ovens of the town bakers. Not only was it very early in the morning, but the cold weather was keeping everyone inside and, with the exception of a couple of stray dogs searching hopefully for scraps in the refuse channel that ran down the middle of Mikelgate, the streets were empty. The serjeant nodded with satisfaction at the tranquility. He was proud of the town in which he lived, and even prouder of the mistress he served. He guarded both of them with the determination of a man of simple character and bluff honesty.

He entered the guard room at the top of the gatehouse and found the men of the night shift sharing cups of mulled ale that had been warmed over a fire burning in the middle of the low-roofed stone chamber, a brief respite they were allowed at the changing of the guard. With them was the gateward, a man-at-arms who was

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