of a full-sized crossbow. On one side of the stock was a small silver plate inscribed with the words-“To Nicolaa from her loving father, Richard de la Haye.” In essence, it was a toy but, for all that, a dangerous one.

“I remember the day Sir Richard gave that to your mother,” Ernulf said. “It was his gift to her in celebration of your christening and, after they returned from the service at the cathedral, your grandsire presented it to her and ordered a butt set up in the bail so she could test it. Although’tis difficult for a woman to wind a regular bow, that one was small enough for her to manage, and she did it well. Took aim and hit the center of the target with her first shot.” There was pride in Ernulf’s voice as he spoke of the incident.

“I recall my father telling me of that day,” Richard said. “He said that my grandsire had never been sorry that he had sired only daughters, for my mother, his eldest and principal heir, had the heart and stomach of a man.” Richard did not have any certain memories of the man after whom he had been named, for his grandfather had died when he was just a toddler, but he recalled an occasion when a tall man with a thatch of flaming red hair had tossed him high in the air and then, with a booming laugh, caught him to his chest. He had often been told by those old enough to remember that he resembled Richard de la Haye and he supposed that it was true, for he was much taller than his father and had his mother’s bright colouring.

Ernulf counted the bolts laid in the box alongside the crossbow. “There are only seven quarrels here,” he said. “I remember clearly that your grandfather had eight made, each engraved with his and your mother’s initials.”

Richard rubbed his hand along the groove in the stock and nodded in confirmation. “The layer of oil has been disturbed, as though it had been recently fired. I think, Ernulf, there can be no doubt that this is the weapon that was used.”

He replaced the crossbow and closed the box, and then gave the serjeant an order. “Send a message to Coroner Pinchbeck. Tell him there has been a suspicious death and he needs to come and make an inspection of the body. I don’t suppose the lazy bastard will want to come out in this cold weather, but tell him my father is away and cannot, as he usually does, carry out a duty that is rightfully the coroner’s. An inquest must be held and, since this death has been inflicted on the servant of a member of our family, I want all the niceties observed. We will leave the corpse in situ until Pinchbeck has been to view it. Tell him there will possibly be a deodand to collect and he will be more likely to get here quickly. If Pinchbeck runs true to his previous behaviour, once he has collected the monies, he will lose all interest in catching the murderer, but that is of no consequence. I am ready to act on my father’s behalf in the matter.”

Ernulf nodded. A deodand was the name given to any instrument that had caused a person’s death, and it was within the province of the coroner to put a valuation on the object and take it, or its value, into custody until a law court decided if it was to be awarded to the family of the victim as a compensation for their loss, or kept for the monarch’s purse. Any item could be declared such-an animal that had caused a person’s death by a bite or a kick, a cart that had run over some unfortunate in the street and caused a fatality, or simply a weapon, such as a knife or, in this case, Lady Nicolaa’s crossbow. While Coroner Pinchbeck was usually averse to expending his energies in any direction that involved actual effort on his part, he did relish collecting fees for the royal coffers, for he felt that by doing so he enhanced his prestige in the eyes of the king.

As Ernulf hurried away to Pinchbeck’s fine stone house in Lincoln town, Richard left the armoury and strode across the bail in the direction of the keep. Even though it was still early, he would have to rouse his mother and aunt from their bed and tell them what had happened.

In the huge chamber that functioned as the hall of the keep, servants were clearing up the remnants of last night’s feast and placing scraps into baskets to be given as alms for the poor. The fire in the capacious hearth had been replenished with fresh logs and steaming jugs of mulled wine were being brought from the kitchen and placed on the trestle tables, ready to serve with the morning meal. Richard called to one of the maidservants and told her to go up to his mother’s bedchamber and tell her he wished to speak to her.

The young woman returned a few minutes later, informing Richard that his mother was ready to receive him. Since Petronille was sharing Nicolaa’s bedchamber during her visit, the castellan’s son knew he would be able to speak to both women at the same time.

Nicolaa’s bedchamber was a large one, fitted with a good-sized bed and a few comfortable chairs and stools. After knocking at the door and bidden to enter, Richard went in to find his mother and aunt seated at a table awaiting him; both wore bed robes of soft velvet and close-fitting linen bed-caps over their loosely braided hair. The resemblance between the two sisters was slight. Nicolaa had the bright red hair that Richard had inherited, but now, with the approach of her fiftieth year, was sprinkled with a few threads of grey. She was a small woman, a little plump, with slightly protuberant blue eyes that held a discerning look. Petronille, on the other hand, was dark haired and had an olive complexion, traits inherited from their mother. She was a little taller than her older sister, and had a softness about her that was not evident in Nicolaa. Consistently kind and caring, she regarded Richard with a slightly anxious look in her dark brown eyes, concerned at the reason for such an early arousal.

Richard studied his aunt for a moment before he spoke. Petronille was still in a fragile state from the death of her young son, Baldwin, a few months before. Although of tender years, Baldwin had been of a very pious nature and his father, Richard de Humez, had sent Petronille and their daughter, Alinor, to Lincoln in the hope that both would recover a little more easily from their grief if they were away from the familiar surroundings of their Stamford manor house. They had come to stay just before the season of Christ’s Mass, for the holy season was a time when the absence from home of the son, and brother, they had loved so well would be particularly hard to bear. Richard hoped this latest tragedy would not be too distressing for his aunt.

The maidservant he had directed to bring up a flagon of watered wine had come up the stairs behind him and Richard bid her fill three cups before straddling his long legs over one of the stools by the table at which the two women were sitting.

Nicolaa and her sister listened with grave attention as he told them of how Ernulf had found Tercel’s body, and where, that morning. “He was shot with a quarrel from a crossbow,” he added and saw the eyebrows of both women rise.

Petronille had drawn her breath in sharply when told of the death of her servant, but she kept her composure and asked, “Surely that is a strange weapon to use in such a confined space? I have not been up onto the walkway of the old tower since the days of my youth, but if it has not been altered in the intervening years, I remember it as a closely walled area, and not at all suitable for firing a bow.”

“You are correct, Aunt,” Richard said, “but this arbalest is not one that would normally be employed during battle. It is a much smaller weapon and not intended for such a deadly purpose.”

Realisation dawned on Nicolaa as her son was speaking. “Are you saying that the crossbow your grandfather gave me is the one that was used?”

When Richard nodded, his mother rose from her chair and paced a few slow steps, thinking as she did so. “I haven’t handled it for more years than I care to remember and neither has anyone else, except for the castle bowyer. I would not have thought there were many people even aware of its existence. How, then, did the murderer come to know it was there?”

“You are mistaken, Mother, in thinking it has been forgotten,” Richard said. “The tale of how you fired it when Grandfather presented it to you is the sort of story that makes good recounting, especially to newcomers to the bail. I am certain that not only our household, but most of the townsfolk of Lincoln are familiar with the weapon’s rather colourful history.”

Nicolaa nodded. “So you think the murderer asked Tercel to meet him up on the ramparts, and then lay in wait with the arbalest, shot him and afterwards replaced the bow in its box?”

“It would appear so,” Richard replied.

“A strange place to choose for an assignation,” Nicolaa mused. “Was Tercel armed?”

“There was no weapon on him. But it could have been removed by the murderer.”

“If it wasn’t, then that means Tercel thought he had nothing to fear. So the person who killed him must have been someone he knew, and trusted,” his mother opined. “Do you have any idea of about what time this took place?”

“Sometime early last evening I would judge,” Richard replied. “The death rictus has just begun and, with the coldness of the night, would have been delayed for an hour or two. He must have been killed about three or four hours before midnight, or mayhap even a little earlier.”

Petronille nodded. “I do not recall seeing Tercel at all last evening. It is likely he was murdered whilst we

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