vow of chastity, mayhap with this particular harlot.”


“ Is this villain’s allegation a true one, Everard?” Camville demanded of the preceptor. “Have any of the men under your command been consorting with prostitutes?”

D’Arderon’s heavy jaw tightened. “If any had, you are well aware that I could not disclose it to you, Gerard,” he answered stiffly. “All that passes within our brotherhood is private and not to be revealed to those outside the Order.”

If discovered, punishment for any Templar found to have had congress with a harlot was severe. At the very least, he would be whipped, but the chastisement was more likely to be confinement in manacles for a specified period. But any disciplinary measures that were meted out, as with all other affairs concerning the brotherhood, were kept strictly to the knowledge of those within the Order. To reveal these matters to an outsider was considered a grave infraction of the Templar Rule and could result in expulsion.

Camville’s eyes narrowed in suppressed anger at d’Arderon’s refusal to answer. The two men had a great deal of respect for each other and the confrontation between them was not an easy one. “Damn it, man,” Camville spat out, struggling to keep his choleric temper under control. “A harlot has been murdered in your church. If I am to discover the identity of the miscreant who is responsible, I must have your cooperation. At least tell me if the accusation is warranted.”

D’Arderon relented a little, although his reply was constrained. “That much I can divulge. I have no reason to believe that the behaviour of any of the men who regularly serve in the Lincoln enclave, including the lay brothers, is the cause of such enmity.”

Camville nodded brusquely. “What about the Templars who are just come to Lincoln? Can you give me your assurance about them as well?”

The preceptor shook his head. “No, I cannot. Do not go too far, Gerard,” he warned. “I have told you all I can.”

Despite d’Arderon’s warning, the sheriff pressed for more information. “Your lay servants are not included in your dictate, since they are not members of the Order. Have any of the men who are employed here, in the preceptory, or on properties held by the Order, been lately dismissed for lascivious behaviour?”

“Only one,” the preceptor replied, “but that was almost a year ago. And you already know of the incident, Gerard. The man was Ivor Sievertsson, the one who was hated by the poisoner that killed so many people in the town. But, after I dismissed him from his post, I believe Sievertsson returned to his family home in Norway.”

“He did,” Camville replied, “and has not returned.”

“There have been no others,” d’Arderon assured him.

“Then we must assume that either one of your brethren is keeping his sin well hidden or that the maggot eating into this murderer’s brain has been falsely spawned,” the sheriff said resignedly. “I shall send Roget to the stewe where the harlot worked and see if he can discover any information that may help. Apart from that, there is not much else that can be done.”

As Camville turned to leave, the preceptor called him back and asked him to wait for a moment. As the sheriff and Roget paused in the doorway, d’Arderon turned to Bascot.

“The person who murdered this poor girl is attempting to destroy the honour of our Order, de Marins. Since you have some experience in tracking down murderers it might be helpful if, with the sheriff’s consent, you assisted him in his investigation. It is not a duty that a member of our Order would normally perform, so I will not command you, but instead would ask if you are willing to do so.”

Bascot did not hesitate in giving his assent. He knew that his experience with previous investigations into secret murder was not the only reason d’Arderon was asking for his help. It was in the preceptor’s mind, as it was in all of those standing there, that Camville’s hands were tied in his enquiry by the fact that the Templar Order stood outside his jurisdiction. The brothers were answerable only to the pope in Rome for their actions; not even a king could command the Order’s compliance in any matter. If the implied sin proved true and one of the men in the enclave had visited a prostitute, only his Templar brothers could be made privy to his transgression. As a member of the Order, Bascot might therefore learn some detail that would reveal the identity of the murderer. Although the Rule forbade him to disclose the name of the offending brother to anyone not in the Templar ranks, in the few days that were left before he was due to leave for Portugal, such knowledge, if carefully given, might guide the sheriff in the direction his investigation should take. It could prove to be a delicate task and Bascot appreciated d’Arderon’s tact in asking, instead of commanding, that he undertake it.

Camville readily agreed to d’Arderon’s suggestion. The tension was eased between the two men as the sheriff recognised the preceptor’s willingness, within the confines of the Templar Rule, to collaborate in the enquiry. He was also aware, more than most, of Bascot’s ability to seek out men with evil lurking in their hearts, for it had been on Camville or his wife’s behalf that the Templar had carried out his previous enquiries. The sheriff would have welcomed Bascot’s assistance for that proficiency alone.

Bascotand Roget accompanied the sheriff back through the preceptory gate and left him as he rode off back in the direction of the castle. Most of Lincoln’s brothels were situated in Butwerk and, as they guided their horses down the track along the outside of the city wall that led to the suburb, Roget told the Templar that the stewe to which they were going was run by a man named Verlain.

“I have been in that brothel before,” Bascot said. “Ernulf took me there when we were looking for the person responsible for the murder of four people found dead in an alehouse. I do not remember seeing the dead girl amongst the harlots we spoke to, but I remember the stewe-keeper. An unsavoury individual, with a face closely resembling a ferret’s. Ernulf did not seem to have a high opinion of him.”

Roget laughed. Ernulf was the serjeant in command of the castle garrison, a grizzled old veteran that was a friend of them both. “He is right. Verlain is a parsimonious bastard, and keeps his girls on short money if he can,” Roget replied. “But he is no worse than most and probably better than some. At least he does not physically abuse his bawds; not that I have heard, anyway.”

Entering Butwerk through Claxledgate, they rode past the evil-smelling ditch called Werkdyke and into a street named Whore’s Alley. The buildings here were dilapidated and of cheap construction, leaning towards each other as though in danger of imminent collapse. The shutters of every one were closed; it was too early yet for the bawds to be at work. A couple of mangy dogs scoured for scraps and a few crows were pecking at remnants of garbage in the refuse channel that ran down the middle of the street. The birds watched the two men with inquisitive black eyes.

Pulling their horses to a halt outside the first of the houses on the lane, they dismounted and Roget banged on the door of the stewe. It was some moments before the door was finally pulled ajar and the close-set eyes of the brothel keeper peeped through. Alarm spread over his face when he saw Roget and, when he noticed Bascot beside him, his features fell even further.

“Open up, Verlain,” Roget commanded. “I have some questions to ask you.”

Reluctantly the door was pulled open to its full extent and the visitors allowed entry. With an unctuous smile that revealed teeth black with rot, the stewe-keeper showed the two men across a shallow entryway and into a room where the harlots were paraded for inspection by prospective customers. A number of stools stood along the perimeter of the chamber and in one corner a table was laid with a flagon and wooden cups.

“Can I offer you both a cup of ale?” Verlain asked obsequiously. “It is not of the best brew, but palatable…”

Again Roget cut him short. “You have a girl who works here, hair as blond as a Saxon. What is her name?”

The question took the stewe-keeper by surprise. “I have two or three who are fair, Captain. There is Rosinda and Jolette…”

“Not fair, Verlain,” Roget said brusquely, “I said blond, the colour of a wheat sheaf.”

The stewe-keeper nodded. “You mean Elfreda, Elfie we call her.” He shook his head, running his hands nervously up and down the front of the greasy jerkin he wore. “She is not here at present, Captain, but perhaps one

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