approaching middle age and had been a member of the Lincoln garrison since his youth. His seniority earned him the coveted duty in the gatehouse and he had no need to venture out into the cold, his watch involving only the overseeing of the closing of the gate at night and surveillance over the entrance until the morning when he was relieved by the man-at-arms who performed the same duty during the day. When Ernulf came in, the gateward offered him a mug of warmed ale and the serjeant downed it gratefully.

“The night passed peacefully, serjeant,” the gateward said, “but since it’s colder than a witch’s heart outside, I’m not surprised.”

Ernulf agreed and, as the men of the day shift came up to the tower and were handed mugs of warmed ale, he dismissed the men who had been on patrol during the night.

“Don’t take all mornin’ to drink that ale,” he warned the new arrivals. “ S taying in here won’t make the day any warmer. And Lady Nicolaa doesn’t pay you for standin’ around being idle.”

Most of the men-at-arms smiled behind their ale cups as they nodded their acceptance of his admonishment. Ernulf had been in service in the castle since Lady Nicolaa had been a young girl and he was devoted to her. Anyone found guilty of negligence in their duty to the hereditairy castellan of in. coln castle would, at the very least, receive a severe chastisement from the serjeant, if not instant dismissal, but they accepted this easily; along with Ernulf, all of them held Lady Nicolaa in high esteem.

After they went outside, Ernulf’s routine was to pace the perimeter of the castle wall, leaving one of the men-at-arms at the south-eastern corner and one at the south-western, before stopping at the gate that led out from the western side of the bail into open countryside and checking with the gateward there that all was in order. Once that task was completed, he would continue his perambulation of the ramparts, leaving another soldier at the north-western corner and the last man at the north-eastern before completing his circuit back at the gate that led out onto Ermine Street. Behind him the soldiers would commence their slow pacing back and forth, keeping vigilance over the section of wall they had been allotted. The serjeant would repeat this procedure at dusk, when the guard changed again.

This morning, however, the twice-daily ritual had hardly begun before it was halted. By the time Ernulf approached the narrow bridge that connected the ramparts to the old tower, the sun had risen and dispersed the shadows within its length, revealing the body that lay stretched upon the wooden boards. Beyond the corpse, the crossbow quarrel that had killed him was embedded in one of the posts that formed the frame of the archway. A layer of frost covered the bolt and its leather fletching and, as the rime slowly melted in the early morning rays of the sun, the flecks of gore along the shaft sparkled a deep pink. As Ernulf came into view of the gruesome spectacle, he stumbled to a startled halt and uttered an oath.

“So the night passed peacefully, did it?” he exploded. “I’ll have the flesh off the arses of those two who were guarding this stretch of the ramparts last night. This body’s already starting to stiffen, they must have passed it a dozen times, not to say never noticed somebody firin’ an arbalest right under their noses.”

The soldiers looked down at the body in horrified amazement. “But, Sarje,” one of them dared to protest, “they wouldn’t have been able to see anything. When it’s dark, it’s all in shadow along here, ’specially on the catwalk…”

“Do you think you’re just up here to keep watch over where any fool can see?” Ernulf shouted. “Useless cowsons-I’ve told you time and again to keep your eyes peeled and that means checking every corner.. ..”

Ernulf bit off his words. He knew his anger was not really directed at the soldiers who had been on night duty; as the man-at-arms had just said, the narrow bridge was perhaps twenty feet long with side walls five foot in height and, at nighttime, its length would have been shrouded in darkness. No, his fury was at the villain who had killed the man lying at his feet, for the death would cause distress to one close to Lady Nicolaa. The dead man was well-known to Ernulf. He was a member of the retinue that the castellan’s sister Petronille had brought with her to Lincoln. His name was Aubrey Tercel.

Less than an hour later Nicolaa’s son, Richard Camville, had been apprised of the situation and joined Ernulf up on the ramparts. Since Richard’s father, Gerard Camville, the sheriff of Lincoln, was at present away in London attending a convocation of the realm’s sheriffs ordered by the chief justiciar of England, the serjeant had reported the death to his son, who was deputising for his father in matters concerning the shrievality.

When Ernulf showed Richard the body and drew his attention to the bolt that was lodged in the frame of the archway, the young man’s face became grave. He was a handsome well-built knight in his middle twenties, with his mother’s flaming red hair and his father’s restless manner, but now, as he viewed the corpse, his figure went still with disquietude.

“A nasty death, but a quick one,” he said. “The bow must have been fired at close range to have penetrated the body so forcefully. It went straight through his heart and beyond; he would have died in an instant.”

“The guards swear they saw no one on their rounds,” Ernulf said, “so the killer must have hidden himself here, on the catwalk.”

“Yes, that makes sense,” Richard replied, crouching down and gauging the distance to the doorway. “It looks as though Tercel came through the archway and the murderer was waiting for him here in the shadows. Once the bow was fired, and Tercel dead, the killer then stepped over the body and returned to the bail by going down the staircase in the tower, never once having been in view of the guards.”

“Got Tercel up here on some ruse, I expect,” Ernulf opined. “Even if he knew he was meeting an enemy, he wouldn’t have thought he was in much danger with the guards so close by.”

Richard nodded absently and then, stepping carefully over the body, inspected the crossbow bolt embedded in the frame of the door.

“Have you looked closely at this?” he asked.

“No, lord,” Ernulf replied.

“Then do so now,” Richard commanded.

Moving carefully around the corpse, the serjeant hunkered down and then gave a gasp of disbelief. “That looks like a quarrel from that old crossbow your grandsire gave to your mother.”

“I would swear it is the very same,” Richard confirmed. The shaft’s metal tip had not wholly penetrated the door and there, at the base, a tiny inscription could be seen-RH to NH.

“But that crossbow was never meant to be used as a weapon,” Ernulf exclaimed. “It is only a small replica that your grandsire had made as a gift to commemorate your birth.”

“Even so, it is capable of being fired.” Richard thought for a moment. “My mother keeps the crossbow in the armoury, does she not?”

“Aye, in a wooden box, along with a few of the bolts that was made to go with it. The castle fletcher has the care of it and sees that the mechanism is kept free of rust and regularly oiled, but other than that, it’s never taken out of its case.”

“Well, it was taken out last night,” Richard said, “for that bolt is too shallow to have been fired from a regular-sized arbalest. Loath as I am to say it, it would appear that whoever murdered Tercel used my mother’s crossbow to carry out the deed.”


After directing one of the men-at-arms to find something to cover the body, Richard and Ernulf went down to the armoury and to the shelf where the box containing Lady Nicolaa’s small crossbow was kept. The wooden case shone with a coating of linseed oil and was fitted with two simple catches to keep it closed. When they opened it, the crossbow lay on a bed of much faded green velvet, nestling in a space indented to take its shape.

Richard lifted it out. “Well, if this is the bow that was used, it has been replaced from whence it came. After the murderer had accomplished his purpose, he must have returned here and put it back in the box.”

He lifted the arbalest up to the light coming through one of the narrow casements. It was well crafted, the stock made of yew that had been kept as polished as the box in which it rested, the winding mechanism, trigger and release nut all fashioned of steel, as was the curved portion of the bow. The bowstring of glue-soaked hemp looked fairly new, so it was apparent that the castle fletcher, during his maintenance of the implement, had changed it recently. It was small, with a span of no more than eighteen inches, far less than the two to three feet

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