“If my men showed such devotion, I would think they were ailing with a sickness.”

The pair walked over to the barracks; neither of them had yet broken their fast and Ernulf would have some food to accompany Roget’s wine in his emergency rations.

They found the serjeant inside the long, low room that served as living quarters for the castle men-at-arms issuing orders to the soldiers that would be on guard duty on the castle walls that day. He welcomed Roget’s offer to share his wine and the three men went into the cubicle. Chunks of smoked bacon and slices of cheese from Ernulf’s store were laid out on a rough wooden trencher and Roget poured them all a cup of the wine he had brought. His boast of it being a good vintage had been a true one; it was full-bodied and smooth and, combined with the meat and cheese, made a good meal.

“That assayer’s in a sorry state,” Ernulf said to Bascot as Roget poured them each another cup of wine. “Hasn’t spoken a word since de Laxton brought him in, just lies curled up in a ball in the corner of his cell. Won’t even take any food or drink.” He gave Bascot a speculative look. “The men that went with you to Canwick last night told me all about the treasure he stole.” As Ernulf said this, Roget nodded his head. Apparently the story of Partager’s arrest had spread not only through the castle, but also reached as far as the town gaol. “You going to tell us what made him steal it, or do we have to wait until we hear it at his trial? It’ll be some time before the judges arrive, maybe not until after Eastertide. And the trial might not even be held in Lincoln; the king may decide to have the assayer sent to London.”

Even though Partager’s crime had not been one of murder, his offence of defrauding the crown was far too serious to be heard in the sheriff’s court. Gerard Camville would advise the Exchequer of the crime when he despatched the contents of the trove to London, and then wait to see if the case was to be tried in Lincoln by the royal judges of the itinerant court or if he was to send Partager to London to stand trial there. The Templar was well aware of Ernulf and Roget’s curiosity and felt he owed it to them both to satisfy it. In all the previous cases of murder the Templar had solved, both men had been involved in his investigations and had, in more than one instance, given their willing assistance to track down the culprits. Neither of them seemed to bear any resentment for being kept apart from the circumstances surrounding these latest murders, but the Templar felt that, because of their previous support, the request was a reasonable one.

As Bascot began to relate the tale of how he had come to discover the hiding place of the treasure and how it was that Cerlo, Fardein and Simon Partager were involved, both of his companions leaned forward and listened without interruption. The wine in Roget’s flask had been drunk and all the bacon and cheese consumed by the time the Templar finished.

At the end of the recounting, both men shook their heads in wonder. “So a murderer was secretly slain by another killer who then took his own life,” Ernulf said. “Saves the sheriff the expense of a hangman’s noose, but I reckon the assayer will wish he could meet such an easy end as Cerlo. King John is not known for his mercy. Partager will probably lose at least one of his hands and then be banished from the kingdom. I reckon he’ll wish he’d let you run him through with your sword by the end of it.”

“I agree, mon ami,” Roget concurred. “And the assayer will not even have the consolation of a faithful wife to sustain him. I am sure this Iseult, by the sound of her, will have another man in her bed before her husband even comes to trial. What folly Partager committed on the day he took such a jade for a wife.”

Later that day, after the evening meal had been served, Bascot watched from a place at the back of the hall as John Blund, with Lambert and Gianni, presented the abridged version of the book of gestures to Stephen of Turville. Bascot had moved away from his place at the table alongside the other household knights, fearful that his emotions would betray him. Gianni looked full of confidence as he walked up to the dais, both he and Lambert keeping pace a step behind the elderly secretary. It seemed to Bascot that on this day all the young boy’s dreams had been fulfilled. He was now accepted in the scriptorium as an assistant and had even been the inspiration, and co-compiler, of a book. Soon, if he kept to his studies-and Bascot had no doubt Gianni would do so-the waif the Templar had found starving on a wharf in Palermo would become a clerk and be awarded a place in the retinue of Nicolaa de la Haye, the hereditary castellan of Lincoln castle. Bascot felt as though his heart would burst with pride. Only the knowledge that he would soon be leaving Lincoln marred his pleasure in the boy’s achievements.

As Bascot watched Stephen of Turville receive the book from Blund’s hand and heard Lady Nicolaa’s voice ring out over the company as she explained its purpose, all of the company broke into a round of applause. On the dais, both of Stephen’s parents stood up beside their son and made the gesture that meant “thank you” to Gianni and Lambert. Beside them, young Stephen did the same, but added the movement of placing his hand over his heart, meaning his thanks were heartfelt.

Through the moisture that blurred the Templar’s eye, he saw Lady Nicolaa present Gianni and Lambert each with a silver gilt medallion on which was engraved the Haye emblem of a twelve-pointed star. It was given, she said, in appreciation of their services and would let all men know she held them in high favour. As applause rang out once more over the hall, Bascot turned away and went outside.

The bail was silent, except for the odd murmur of conversation floating down from the guards pacing along the walkway at the top of the parapet. The huge empty space of the ward was lit by flaring torches around the perimeter and alongside the steps on which Bascot was standing. How familiar these surroundings had become to him. When it came time to leave, he would sorely miss Lincoln and the people who lived here.

He thought back over the events of his life. So far, it seemed as though God’s decree was that he travel from place to place. Some of the destinations had been within the confines of his homeland and others in such far-distant places as Outremer and Cyprus. But despite his roving, it was Lincoln he had lately come to regard as home. He knew that wherever he went, he would always feel a longing to return to the castle high upon the hill.

Gazing up into the clear night sky, he sent up a prayer asking for God’s mercy and a plea to allow him to come back to Lincoln just one more time before his earthly life was finished. As he stood there, a stiff breeze swept across the bail and caused the flames of the torches on either side of him to flicker. For a moment, the brief darkness dimmed the sight in his eye and then, as the torches flared up again and his vision cleared, he heard a faint clatter near his feet. Looking down he saw it was a small piece of limestone that had become detached from the facade of the castle wall. He picked it up and ran his fingers over the surface of the shard. The fragment was not large, perhaps half the size of his palm. One side was jagged; the other had a rounded smoothness, as though it had been cut from a larger piece with a mason’s hammer and chisel.

He put it in his scrip. He would keep it; it would be a little piece of Lincoln to carry with him wherever he went. Turning, he went back into the hall. Only the passage of time would reveal if God looked favourably on his plea to return. With that he must be content.

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