the watchful eye of Hamo, a brown-robed serjeant, a dozen brothers picked up blunted swords and returned to practise in the centre of the compound. The serjeant was a rangy monk with a craggy face and taciturn demeanour. He had been with d’Arderon for many years in the Holy Land, serving the knight as squire. When d’Arderon had been sent back to England in a weakened state from recurring bouts of tertian fever, the serjeant had accompanied him. Hamo’s devotion to the Templar Order was absolute, but his allegiance to d’Arderon ran a close second.

As the three knights walked around the edge of the exercise area towards the refectory, the air was filled with the clash of steel and the grunts of the men as they strove to overcome their opponents. Dust swirled, the clang of the blackmith’s hammer rang out from the forge and horses whickered in excited anticipation as grooms led them out for exercise on the hillside below the enclave.

Suddenly Hamo yelled at one of the men-at-arms on the practise ground. The soldier was young, a recent initiate into the Order, and although he had proved to have remarkable archery skills, he was having difficulty in gaining proficiency with the short sword he was now attempting to wield.

“Keep your arm up!” Hamo shouted and strode over to the lad. Pulling his own weapon from his belt, the serjeant took the youngster’s position opposite his opponent, a seasoned man-at-arms of mature years. With two sharp lunges and a vicious slash, Hamo disarmed the veteran. “That’s how it’s done,” he said to the new recruit. “You won’t get a second chance if you’re facing a Saracen, for you’ll be dead. Make sure your first attack is the enemy’s last.”

Shamefaced, the young man-at-arms nodded and, with renewed vigour, recommenced his struggle. This time he was more aggressive and Hamo nodded in satisfaction. “Keep at it, lad. By the time you leave, we’ll have you more than ready to confront those heathen bastards.”

As d’Arderon, Emilius and Bascot approached the dining hall, the preceptor mentioned that more recruits from one of the northern preceptories were expected to arrive within the next two weeks. There had been many men through the commandery since Eastertide. Pope Innocent III had sent out a call for a new Crusade, and it was planned to begin later in the year. The response to the pope’s summons had been enthusiastic and, because of it, an influx of supplicants had requested admission into the Order, preferring to take up arms in the ranks of the Templars rather than in a secular capacity. A few were men who had given their pledge of poverty, chastity and obedience for a defined number of years-two, five or sometimes ten-and had made a donation of land or money as proof of their sincerity. Of these, a small number were married and had obtained their wives’ consent to join the Order for a limited period. Many of the supplicants were men of knight’s rank, but there were also a substantial number of freeborn villeins, often younger sons of a family overburdened with children, but nonetheless genuine in their devotion for all that. The latter would serve as men-at-arms.

The town of Lincoln was centred around Ermine Street and was the main route to the south of England and ports along the coast. Nearly all of the recent arrivals came from northern preceptories, gathering at the Lincoln enclave before setting out on the last leg of their journey to travel to Templar strongholds in various parts of the world. For most of them, their destination would be the Holy Land, but some-like the recently departed contingent-would go to Portugal, others to Spain or Cyprus.

“If more men are expected, I’d better take inventory of our stock of small clothes,” Emilius said in response to d’Arderon’s pronouncement, referring to his duty to ensure that all Templar brothers were, as the Rule demanded, correctly attired. “We are running low, and I may need to send to London for more.”

D’Arderon nodded and Bascot offered to assist the draper in his chore. Emilius’s disabled arm made certain tasks difficult, even though his sound arm was heavily muscled and he was surprisingly agile in using it. But the tedious chore of taking the clothing out, counting the number of garments and replacing them, was more easily done with the use of two arms than one.

At the preceptor’s dismissal, the two knights walked towards the chapel. The Order’s raiment was stored in coffers in the vestry, along with a small aumbry containing the altar vessels.

As they entered the church, the pleasant aroma of incense met them and they genuflected in front of the altar before going into the vestry, a chamber situated behind a statue of the Virgin Mary. When Emilius opened the door of the room, a faint, and unwholesome, odour overlaid the pervasive smell of incense. Bascot remarked on it to the draper.

“Yes, Brother John mentioned it after he conducted the dawn service this morning. He noticed it when he came in here to fetch the chalice and paten,” the draper replied. “It is probably a rat that has worked its way into the rubble infill between the stones of the wall and died. If it doesn’t dissipate soon, I will send into town for a rat- catcher and see if his dogs can locate the source.”

Three large wooden chests were ranged against one wall of the chamber and a few black flies hovered over one of them, others were crawling on the lid.

Bascot motioned towards the coffer. “I do not think you will need a rat-catcher, Draper. The dead rat must be in, or behind, that chest. The weather has been unseasonably warm of late. Its carcass would begin to smell very quickly.”

Emilius had a disciplined nature, a love of order which made him well suited for command and the post of draper. With meticulous care, he checked every article of apparel and equipment on a regular basis to determine if repairs or replacements were required. Leather gambesons, boots, sword belts and wrist guards were also subjected to scrutiny, but these items were kept in the armoury. Another of the draper’s duties was the responsibility of ensuring that the hair and beard of each brother was clipped short and neatly trimmed, and tonsures not overgrown. It was important that brothers of all ranks paid obedience to conformity in appearance and dress, for allowing personal taste to take preference increased the danger of being tempted into the sin of pride.

One of the coffers held the white surcoats worn by knights. Next to it was one packed with the brown and black robes of serjeants and men-at-arms-all emblazoned with the blood-red cross pattee of the Order. The third was filled with the lambskin girdles that all Templars wore under their outer clothing as a reminder of their vow of chastity. This chest also contained a selection of hose and undershirts. It was to this last coffer that the flies seemed attracted.

“Shall I pull the chest away from the wall?” Bascot asked.

“Let me check the contents first,” Emilius said. “I do not believe the smell can be coming from inside; the covers are made to fit tightly to prevent the invasion of insects or rodents. But, even so, it might be that one got in while I left the lid open for a short time.”

The draper lifted the lid and let it fall back against the wall. As he did so, a nauseating odour arose and both men fell back, placing their hands across their noses. The flies began to swirl in a sudden buzzing frenzy.

“Sweet Jesu, all the raiment will be tainted,” Emilius exclaimed.

“The carcass must be underneath the clothing,” Bascot replied and, brushing at the flies with one hand, he reached inside the chest with the other, grasping the girdles lying in an untidy bundle on the top.

“I did not leave the garments like that,” Emilius exclaimed. “They were all neatly folded the last time I…”

His words trailed off as Bascot pulled the heap of woolly circlets clear of the coffer. As he did so, a dead body was revealed, but it was not that of a rat. It was human. Crammed tightly into the chest, the corpse lay in a foetal position on its side, legs folded up tight against the stomach and the arms pushed down into the folds of a pale blue skirt. Bright blond hair spilled over the shoulders and, around the neck was an indentation that cut deeply into the flesh. It was the type of mark left by a strangling cord.

“God have mercy,” Emilius breathed. “It is a woman. And she has been murdered.”


Just over an hour later, Gerard Camville, sheriff of Lincoln, rode into the preceptory. With him was Roget, the former mercenary who was captain of Camville’s town guard. The two men dismounted and walked towards Bascot, who was waiting for them at the entrance to the chapel.

Camville was a man of bull-like proportions and irascible temperament. Now his broad features, usually fixed into a scowl, were solemn with disquietude. Beside him, Roget, a fearsome looking man with the scar of an old sword slash bisecting the flesh on one side of his face, had a similar expression. As they paced across the enclave,

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