leading to the quarry, as Cerlo had claimed, was badly mired from the recent rain.

The mason was waiting for them a little distance from the gate, along a footpath leading off the main road to the top of the cliff face. Despite the mud, he had made good speed on foot. There was a shed near the spot where Cerlo was standing, and Bascot guided his mount towards it and, after he and Gianni had dismounted, tethered the horse to an iron ring in the door, and walked up to the mason.

“That’s where he is, lord,” the mason said as they approached, pointing down over the lip of the precipice. “Down there. I told the quarryman to wait with him ’til I come back.”

Bascot looked in the direction Cerlo was pointing. The floor of the quarry was perhaps fifty or sixty feet beneath the top of the rock face and littered with stone blocks of varying sizes. There were still a few small clumps of snow on the ground and atop the pieces of stone. In the middle of the pit was a huge sledge that had been partially loaded with cut blocks, and a giant winch, its arm extending skywards. Large covers of cowhides sewn together were draped over the sledge and the mechanism of the winch, but the edges did not quite reach to the ground and rivulets of water streamed alongside the metal-rimmed wood on the bases of both pieces of equipment. Almost at the foot of the cliff, and perhaps a space of about four feet from it, was a large stone block. Beside it stood the quarryman, the hood of his cloak drawn up over his head. At his feet lay the body of Peter Brand, partially shielded from view by an old piece of sacking.

“I don’t know how long he’s been lying there, lord,” the mason said with some agitation. “That there block beside him has been waiting to be cut into smaller pieces for some time, but we haven’t been able to work ’cause of the bad weather, so none of us have been down in the pit since before the snowstorm started. I covered him up as best I could for decency’s sake,” Cerlo added. “We’d just come to have a look at the sledge when we saw his feet sticking out.” The mason shook his head. “’Twasn’t a sight to cheer a man on such a holy day.”

“I’ll need to go down and examine him,” Bascot said and pointed to a broad opening on the far side of the quarry where the walls of the pit were much lower. “Is that the quickest way to go?”

“’Tis the only way, lord,” Cerlo replied. “You’ll have to go down Masons Row to the far end and along by the stables where we keeps the mules to reach it.”

Bascot nodded and he and Gianni remounted the grey gelding and followed Cerlo as he trudged back towards the gate and then turned down onto the main track he called Masons Row. It was a long thruway, about a mile in length, with a number of buildings at the far end, just before it turned back on itself and descended onto lower ground and led to the opening Bascot had seen.

“There’s drainage holes bored alongside of this track,” Cerlo said as they went down the stone flags of the pathway, “and sometimes they get blocked with stone dust. That’s what I come to check this morning, but it seems they’ve stayed clear.”

After traversing the breadth of the quarry, Bascot and Gianni once again dismounted and walked up to where the body lay. The quarryman gave the Templar a respectful nod and removed the sacking laid over the corpse.

The dead man was lying almost flat on his back, his left shoulder resting against the stone block. His head was tilted at an awkward angle and one leg folded beneath the other. Kneeling beside him, Bascot could see the right side of his head was crushed, but not so badly that it distorted his features. Peter Brand looked to be a young man of about twenty-five years of age, with soft contours to his cheek and brow that were almost feminine in their delicacy. A sparse beard covered his narrow chin and both it and his hair were a pale blond colour. His tunic and hose were of serviceable wool, as was his cloak, and the fabric was sodden with moisture. Tiny remnants of slush trapped in the folds of his clothing fell out and started to melt as Bascot pushed the material aside to examine the body. On the clerk’s chest, the remains of a bloodstain could be seen around a jagged slash in his tunic. Probing with his fingers, Bascot found that the wound, narrow and very deep, had been a forceful one. It angled straight into the heart, the blade slightly nicking a rib before entering the vital organ, and was most likely administered by a long, thin dagger. The man had indeed, as the mason said, been murdered.

The Templar felt a surge of outrage rise in his throat. Murder was surely the most evil of all the sins committed by mankind. It mocked the justice of God. As he thought of the terror that must have gripped Brand in the moments before the murderer struck, he could almost hear the devil laughing. It was with great difficulty that he swallowed his anger and forced himself to instruct Gianni, who was standing beside him, to write down the conclusion he had reached about the type of weapon used in the killing.

The boy complied quickly, perching himself on a nearby lump of stone before removing the wax tablet and stylus from the pouch on his belt and carefully lifting the wooden cover of the tablet to expose the surface of the wax. He then began to write his master’s description of the deathblow with a sure and steady hand. His notes would be transcribed onto parchment and the surface of the wax smoothed clean for reuse. Watching the boy’s competent movements, the Templar felt his anger slowly abate and pride in Gianni’s proficiency burgeon in its place.

It had been a little more than two years since Bascot, on his way home to England after escaping from the Saracens, had found the boy on a wharf in Palermo on the island of Sicily. Gianni had been feebly struggling with a couple of mangy dogs for possession of a dead pigeon that was no more than a mangled lump of blood and feathers. The boy had been in the last stages of starvation, his slender frame stick thin and his liquid brown eyes two dark pools of despair. It had taken all of Bascot’s patience to win the boy’s trust and persuade him to become his servant. Now Gianni was not only healthy, but had before him a promising future as a clerk.

Confident the details of the body’s condition would be recorded efficiently, Bascot returned his attention to the corpse. A cursory examination of the clerk’s head on the side that had not been crushed revealed another, slighter depression. It could have been caused by the fall, but it was also feasible the victim had been dealt a blow to his head that had rendered him unconscious before he was stabbed. Running his fingers over the dead man’s limbs, the Templar found the bones on the left side were sound, but those on the right were broken in several places and the shoulder dislocated. He looked closely at the skin of Brand’s face. It was a mottled white in colour, as were the backs of his hands and fingers, and the nails had a bluish tinge. From this and the fact that the death rigor had already come and gone, it would appear that Brand had been dead for at least two days and, as there were no traces of snow underneath the corpse, probably since before the snowstorm began four days earlier.

As Gianni noted these facts, the Templar asked Cerlo how he had been able to identify the dead man. “Was he known to you? Has he ever had occasion to visit the quarry?”

The mason shook his head. “’Tis only because Master de Stow is the moneyer, lord, and well-known about the town, as are those who work for him. As far as I know, his clerk has never been to the quarry at all.” Cerlo cocked his head in the peculiar manner Bascot had noted before and looked toward the quarryman for confirmation.

“Aye, lord, that’s so,” the quarryman agreed. “Every one of us is interested in the men who makes the coins we’re paid with. Must be a little like working in heaven to be surrounded by so much richness every day.” He looked around him at the stones littering the quarry floor, and added, “On days when ’tis high summer, workin’ down here can seem just the opposite, like slaving in the pit of hell.”

“And you are certain neither of you saw him in the quarry in the days before the snow fell?”

When both men shook their heads, Bascot said he would need to question the other men who worked in the pit to find out if any of them had noted the clerk’s presence on the work site, but Cerlo forestalled him.

“If Brand was killed during the two days before the storm began,” he told Bascot, “there were none of the other men here. The pit was shut down because the winch broke and we had to stop work while new parts was made for it. Then the storm came before the parts was ready, so the quarry’s been closed for all that time. ’Twas only us two stayed here.” Cerlo nodded to the quarryman. “He looks after the mules, so he sleeps in the stables. And I lives in one of the houses on Masons Row.”

“And neither of you came down into the quarry while the winch was inoperative?” Bascot asked.

The quarryman shook his head. “I stayed in the warm with the mules. Wasn’t no need to go down t’pit.”

“And you, Cerlo?”

“I kept indoors to do a few little jobs around the house, sharpening my tools and the like.”

“It must have been while the quarry was idle that he was killed, lord,” the quarryman observed. “He would have been seen for certain whiles any of us was workin’ here, ’cause he’s layin’ right out in plain sight.”

Bascot concurred and again examined the injuries on Brand’s body. After a few moments, he motioned to the top of the cliff and said, “It seems probable that this man was first stabbed, and then fell-or was pushed-from up there after the knife wound was inflicted. If he had fallen first, there would have been no need to stab him; he would have already been dead.”

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