Camville nodded and got up from his seat. He was a man of large proportions, with thick muscles swelling at neck and thighs, and black hair cut high on the nape of his neck in the old Norman fashion. When he rose, he emanated an aura of physical power so strong it made the chamber seem too small to contain his presence. Usually belligerent by nature, Camville had been in a mellower mood since the arrival of his old friend Gilbert Bassett. But even the congenial company of a fellow baron did not stop the sheriff from indulging in his habit of pacing, and that was what he did now, striding up and down the room with a catlike tread as he mused on what he had been told.

“The quarry is a strange place for a clerk to have been in such weather,” he said reflectively. “Did you find any hint as to why he was there?”

“No, lord, I did not,” Bascot replied. “The men who found the body told me the quarry was shut down for two days before the storm began, and so the pit was deserted, most of the men having gone into Lincoln, and the two who remained stayed inside their lodgings. Whatever his purpose, there was nothing on the clerk’s person to give any indication of what it might have been. His purse was missing, and the only evidence I could find that he had been wearing one was this, which was caught in the folds of his cloak.” Bascot laid the piece of leather thong on the table.

Camville picked it up. “Looks as though it might be part of a fastener for a scrip,” he said. “Robbery must have been the reason for his death. Someone lured him there and murdered him for whatever his purse contained. A common enough crime.”

“There was also this coin, lord, at the top of the cliff face, but it may not have been part of whatever money Brand had on him. It looks to be from a very old minting.” Bascot placed the coin on the table beside the piece of leather thong Camville had inspected.

The sheriff’s interest, which had been dismissive at first, now became more alert. He picked up the coin and examined it. “Have you cleaned this, de Marins?”

Bascot shook his head. “I rubbed off some of the surface dirt, that is all.”

Bassett rose from his seat and came to where Camville stood, approaching the sheriff with an easy familiarity that spoke of the close nature of their mutual regard. He was a smaller man than the sheriff, but his compact body was solid with muscle and his face, with its prominent nose and hazel eyes, had a hawkish look. Camville handed the coin to his friend and the baron examined it carefully.

“This is from Stephen’s time on the throne,” Bassett remarked, “and must have been kept securely stored since it was made. It is so pristine it could have been struck from a die only yesterday.”

“Did you say this coin was found near the spot where you believe the clerk to have been killed?” Camville asked Bascot.

When the Templar nodded, the sheriff glanced at Bassett with a look that held some significance.

“What is it, Father?” Richard asked. “Why is the coin of so much interest to both of you?”

“It is the state of its preservation,” Camville said slowly. “Random coins of this age do turn up from time to time, but they are usually in halves or quarters or else very worn, with clipped edges.” He held the coin up to the light of the candle on the table. “But this one is in excellent condition. I am wondering if it could have been part of a trove. There were many people in Lincoln town who felt it prudent during Stephen’s reign to secrete any valuables they possessed.”

All of them were aware that in 1141, during the years when King Stephen had a less than tenacious hold on the throne, he engaged in a significant battle at Lincoln with the supporters of his rival, Matilda, daughter of the recently deceased King Henry I. Quite a few of the more affluent townspeople, fearing for the security of their wealth, hid their money to keep it safe until the danger was past.

“But that was over sixty years ago, Father,” Richard protested. “Surely any troves from that time would have been discovered by now.”

Bassett was quick to refute Richard’s supposition. “That may not be so, Richard. During my father’s lifetime, and while he was sheriff of Oxford, there were perhaps a half dozen caches unearthed in the district. Two of them contained coins of Saxon minting and dated from before King William’s conquest of England in 1066. They had lain undiscovered for more than a hundred years.”

Camville carefully laid the coin back on the table. “I do not like the appearance of this coin near the place where the clerk was murdered. If we assume it was on his person, then why was he carrying it about with him? Brand worked in the mint, which is adjacent to the office of the exchanger. It would have been a simple task for him to turn it in.”

The office of exchanger was a relatively new institution, formed by order of the late King Henry II in 1180. The effect of the new office had been to separate the minting of coins from their distribution and so lessen the opportunities for corruption. The exchanger’s office was also the place where old or foreign coins could be exchanged for new. If a treasure trove had been found, or even a single coin from one, it should have been taken to the exchanger with an explanation of how it had come into the possession of the person who surrendered it. Not to follow this directive was an offence against the crown, for if the heirs of the original owner of the coins could not be found, or there were none living, the proceeds of such a find became the property of the king. Concealment was considered treasonable and the penalties were dire.

“It could be that the provenance of the coin is genuine, lord,” Bascot said. “If someone found it recently-in a crack between the stones of a wall or in the bottom of an old chest, for instance-and gave it to Brand with a request he exchange it for one of current issue, the clerk may not have had time to carry out the transaction before he was killed.”

Camville considered the Templar’s suggestion. “Yes, you could be right,” he admitted. “But still, I would like to be sure. Brand was murdered and, considering the place he worked, this coin may be connected to his death. If this penny was part of an unreported trove and Brand was privy to its discovery, the safekeeping of such a secret could have been the motive for his killing.”

“You will need to be very careful, Father, in how you handle any questions you pose about the coin. The exchanger, Walter Legerton, is not a man to be trifled with. If he realises you suspect the existence of a trove, he will surely report the matter to the Exchequer in London. And if the king hears of it…”

“I know what you are warning me of, Richard,” Camville growled. “I am well aware that King John holds me in scant regard-as I do him-and, whether there is a trove or not, he will be quick to accuse me of conspiring to keep its contents from his grasping fingers.”

He spoke to Bascot. “Are any others beside yourself and your servant aware you found this coin?”

“No, lord,” the Templar replied. “The mason and quarryman were not with us when we searched the top of the cliff.”

“Good,” Camville exclaimed. “Then, for now, we will keep it between ourselves.”

The sheriff resumed his pacing for a few moments before he spoke again. “De Marins, as a Templar, your probity is beyond question. If you are my representative in this matter, it will allay any suspicions about the intent of the investigation. Now that you know what is involved, are you willing to make an enquiry into the clerk’s murder on my behalf?”

Although Gerard Camville was nominal lord over the estates Nicolaa de la Haye held through her inheritance from her father, including the castellanship of the castle, it suited the sheriff’s indolent nature to leave the management of the vast demesne in his wife’s hands. Camville’s attitude to the responsibilities of the shrievality, however, was completely different. The office of sheriff was a lucrative one and Gerard guarded his rights jealously; an accusation of wrongdoing, even if not proved, might indeed bring reprisals from the king and could result in Camville’s removal from office. The sheriff and the king had no liking for each other, although they had once joined forces in rebellion against King Richard during a time when John, then a prince, had attempted to wrest the throne of England from his elder brother’s grasp. Now that John was king, he was suspicious of the nobles who had supported him, fearing they would once again show a willingness to change their allegiance and conspire against him. He was therefore wary of Camville, deeming him factious. Only the king’s longstanding friendship with Nicolaa de la Haye and his confidence in her loyalty kept John from depriving her husband of the sheriff’s post, but Camville was well aware that John would not hesitate to do so if he felt he had just cause.

When Bascot and Gianni had first arrived in Lincoln, Gerard Camville and his wife had willingly given the weary pair shelter and treated them with courtesy. For that kindness alone, the Templar owed them both a debt of gratitude. But he also had a genuine liking for Lady Nicolaa and a great deal of respect for her husband. He was more than willing to make every effort he could to keep the sheriff’s reputation free of odium.

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