were eating.”

“Aunt,” Richard said, “what sort of a man was he? Beyond being aware that he was one of your attendants, I know little about him.”

“I am afraid I am unable to tell you much,” Petronille said, “for he has been in your uncle Dickon’s service only a short time. Our household steward is getting on in years and Tercel was being trained as his assistant. While Alinor and I were preparing for our journey here, Dickon suggested Aubrey come with me, and gave the monies we brought with us into his care so he could act as my cofferer. Tercel is, or was,” she corrected herself, “an illegitimate relative of one of Dickon’s acquaintances. He had been well educated and so was considered suitable for the post. I found him to be diligent and of a seemingly amiable nature. I cannot fathom why anyone would wish him dead.”

“During his time in your service, Aunt,” Richard asked, “can you recall any occasion when he gave offence to anyone, especially while you have been here in Lincoln?”

Petronille thought for a moment and then shook her head. “None that I recall,” she replied. “But you would do better to ask Alinor. She is far more conscious of the comportment of our servants than I.”

Richard exchanged a smile with Nicolaa. His cousin Alinor was more like the castellan than her mother. She had the same coppery red glints in her hair and was of an even more determined nature. At eighteen years of age she had not yet had time to learn the tact that was Nicolaa’s forte but, even so, it was readily apparent that Alinor was cast in the same mould as her aunt. They could be certain that she would have taken care to ensure that none of the servants took advantage of Petronille’s complaisant nature and it was possible that, while doing so, she may have observed if there was any person who harboured an animosity for the dead man.

“I will ask Alinor about the matter, Aunt, just as soon as she has risen,” Richard said and got up from his chair. “I had best go down into the hall and wait for Pinchbeck. Hopefully, he will not be too long.”

Nicolaa followed her son to the door. “I will join you shortly,” she said. “Since I am the one to whom the murder weapon belongs, I intend to be present at the inquest.”

Richard nodded. “As you wish, Mother, but you had best dress warmly,” he advised. “The wind up on the ramparts is bitterly cold.”


When Richard descended to the hall, last night’s guests were beginning to take seats at the tables to break their fast. The visitors were all leaders of various guilds in Lincoln town, and had come, accompanied by their wives, to the castle the previous evening so that they could proffer the donations they had collected for the upkeep of the foundling home Nicolaa had established at Riseholme, one of the properties included in the vast demesne she had inherited from her father. The castellan had decided to show her gratitude for their largesse by marking the occasion with a feast and had invited all of those who wished to do so to stay overnight in the castle rather than risk a mishap on the treacherous ice-covered cobbles of the streets as they returned to their homes in the darkness of a late winter evening. Only two of the guests had declined to take advantage of her offer, but the rest had accepted the invitation and had been accommodated in chambers either within the main keep or in the old tower.

Richard took a seat at the high table and a page came forward and asked if he wished to be served with food, but Richard shook his head and told the boy to bring him a cup of unwatered wine. Although it was not his habit to imbibe such a strong vintage this early in the morning, preferring instead only a small measure of ale, he hoped the potency of the drink would help bring his disordered thoughts into some semblance of clarity before the coroner arrived. As the page scampered away to fetch the wine, Richard saw his cousin, Alinor, coming across the hall. Her face wore a strained look and Richard thought she must already have been told of Tercel’s death, and the manner of it. This was confirmed when she came up the shallow steps to the dais and took a seat beside him.

“Mother has told me of Tercel’s murder, Richard, and how it was accomplished,” she said grimly. “What the devil was he doing up on the ramparts on such a cold night? And who had reason to kill him?”

“Those are questions to which I must try to find the answers, Cousin,” Richard said mildly. “And, to that end, perhaps you can help me. What did you know of your cofferer-was he one to make enemies?”

Alinor shrugged. She was a handsome girl, her features a little too sharp for beauty, but her eyes gleamed with intelligence. Even though his cousin was headstrong, Richard was very fond of her; he had a healthy respect for her cognitive powers and found her strong family loyalty commendable. “I know little about his background beyond what my mother has already told you,” she replied, “that he was baseborn and had been well schooled. He seemed to be competent enough in his duties but, on a personal level, I did not like him.”

Richard raised his eyebrows in query at the unexpected statement and Alinor answered him in her forthright fashion. “The expression in his eyes did not reflect the words that came out of his mouth,” she said bluntly. “There was a smugness about him that I found distasteful.”

“Perhaps his murderer felt the same,” Richard said thoughtfully. “Although I think it would take more than mere dislike to prompt a man to commit murder.”

“I understand that Aunt Nicolaa managed to pull the crossbow,” Alinor replied. “Perhaps the murderer was a woman.”

“It could be so, I suppose,” Richard replied thoughtfully. “A rejected lover or perhaps a jealous one? Was Tercel prone to dalliance?”

“Aren’t most men that way inclined?” Alinor responded sharply and then gave a slight shake of her head to take the barb out of her remark. “Yes, he was. I know of one occasion at least, at Stamford, when our steward berated him for spending too much time in conversation with one of the maidservants. But as to whether or not he had engaged the affections of a maid since we have been in Lincoln-I am reasonably certain there could not be one within the castle household, for he would have known that your mother would never permit such a liberty, but in the town-it could be so.”

At that moment, Nicolaa and her sister came through the door of the north tower into the hall and made their way to the high table. As they sat down, Richard saw Ernulf enter the room, thread his way through the servants laying platters of cold viands and small wicker baskets piled high with loaves of bread on the tables, and approach the dais. When he stood before them, he saluted Nicolaa and then said to Richard, “Coroner Pinchbeck will be here within the hour, lord. When I told him it was Lady Nicolaa’s weapon that was used in the killing, he was most obliging, and said that if there are enough witnesses present, he will hold an enquiry into the death today.”

Richard gave a wry grin. “As I expected, Mother, he is most anxious to collect the value of the deodand from your coffers.”

“I would wish that he were as eager to conduct investigations,” Nicolaa replied sourly. “But, as usual, he will most likely claim he is too busy. It is therefore possible, Richard, that you will have to look into the matter in your father’s stead.”

“I had already expected that would be required of me, Mother,” her son replied.

Pinchbeck decided that he would hold the inquest on the spot where the dead man had been found and asked that the men-at-arms who had been on duty during the time he was killed, along with those who were present when the body was discovered, be brought forward to give witness. Despite the weak rays of the late winter sun, the temperature up on the ramparts was still frigid as the coroner, a short stout individual with an officious manner, quickly examined the body and the bolt from the crossbow. He then questioned the men-at-arms as to the times all of them had been on the ramparts and asked whether any of them had seen and heard anything pertinent to the death, barely waiting for their responses in his desire to escape the bitter wind that was blowing from the east. Pinchbeck’s clerk, a reedy-faced individual with a dewdrop hanging from the end of his long pointed nose, recorded the answers on his wax tablet with fingers that were blue with cold.

“It is my judgement that this man was murdered by a person unknown, and that the instrument of death was a weapon belonging to Lady Nicolaa de la Haye, hereditary castellan of Lincoln castle and wife of Gerard Camville, sheriff of Lincoln,” Pinchbeck intoned with indecent haste, adding that he gave his permission for the body to be removed to a place where it could await burial. The formal statement pronounced, even though somewhat swiftly, the coroner turned to Nicolaa. “If I may now view the crossbow, lady, I shall set a value on the deodand.”

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