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Rated: E · Sample · Thriller/Suspense · #1850820
In the eve of Stephen coming to the throne, someone is raping and killing young girls.
Chapter One

Saturday 21st December 1135

Shrewsbury

9:05PM



Sheriff Ivo Bradshawe of Shropshire stared out of the small window in the outer wall of the castle down towards the village of Shrewsbury, where the contented townsfolk mingled about as they went about their daily business in the bitter winter snow. His attention settled mostly on the small trail of children, not any older than ten years of age, running through the rough streets, chasing each other round the old folk of the town as they carried their daily bread over their shoulders.

  He watched their gaiety with an expression of drawn tiredness. It seemed a lifetime ago since King Henry had died, and turmoil had already grasped the country. Since the King had made all the barons in the country swear allegiance to his daughter Empress Maud fifteen years before, things between the barons and the King had been a little rocky. Bradshawe, himself, was not too keen on having the Empress, a strong-minded woman formerly married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, now married to a younger man from Anjou, as Queen after her father had passed away. But he had reluctantly sworn allegiance, although he would gladly swing the other way at the slightest opportunity.

  There was a knock on the large wooden door to his room, and Bradshawe turned to see two men enter. One man, a giant over six feet with raven-black hair and a flat, round face but with a lot of heavy build to his frame, was the captain of his guard, Luke Makepiece. The other, shorter but also with a strong build and a two-year-old scar breaking his hairline, disappearing into his mop of dark hair, was his under-sheriff and second-in-command, Will Godfrey. Both men stood to attention in front of him, and bowed.

  Bradshawe turned away from the window and bowed back.

  “I appreciate you coming to see me at this short notice.”

  “It is understandable, sir.” Godfrey answered. He was not any older than thirty-five, but already the signs of the horrors he had seen were starting to show on his face. He watched the older man in front of him solemnly. “It has been a shock for everyone. No one expected it.”

  “I know.” Bradshawe bit his lip. Losing a member of his army was hard. Losing a close friend was harder. “Ralf was a good man. He was in good health.”

  “And he was the cautious type.” Makepiece added. “He would never walk in front of someone using a bow.”

  “He must’ve let his guard down.” Godfrey concluded. But Bradshawe shook his head firmly.

  “In the twenty years he’s been with me, Ralf never dropped his guard.”

  “You think it wasn’t an accident?” Makepiece queried.

  “Of course it was. No one had anything against him. It was just a freak accident.”

  Godfrey sighed sadly.

  “I feel sorry for his daughter. To lose her father in this way is bad enough, but to find the body…” His voice trailed off.

  Makepiece glanced from Bradshawe to Godfrey and back again.

  “What will become of the armoury?” He ventured cautiously.

  “We’ll get a new armourer from London.” Bradshawe walked over to the large oak table in the middle of the room and sat at the head of it. “There’s one man I know of in London who’s very good. I’ll send for him in the morning.”

  Godfrey’s head jerked up at this.

  “But what about Catin, sir?”

  Bradshawe’s forehead creased in a frown.

  “Catin?”

  “Ralf’s daughter. Where will she go? She’s lived in that armoury since she came into this world.”

  Bradshawe shrugged. He vaguely remembered a child with mousy hair who hid behind her father. He wasn’t too interested in the girl; she wasn’t part of any plans he had.

  “The monks can put her in their guest quarters.”

  Godfrey shook his head firmly. He knew that Catin would not go for that.

  “She won’t leave her home, sir. I know she won’t.”

  Bradshawe met his gaze squarely.

  “Well, you’re going to have to tell her she has to go, aren’t you, Will?” He said smoothly.

  Godfrey’s eyes widened. Then he was indignant.

  “I’m not turfing her out into the cold. She can stay in the armoury. Brother Nico works in the herb garden next door; he can keep an eye on her.”

  This seemed to be a decent argument in Godfrey’s opinion. But the look on Bradshawe’s face showed that he didn’t buy it.

  “Sorry, Will, she has to be out of there by the time the new armourer arrives.”

  Godfrey stared at his leader incredulously.

  “You would do that to a child?”

  “Stop trying to make me the bad man here, Godfrey. The child cannot stay there.”

  “She’ll not like it, sir.” Makepiece warned. He knew, and liked, their deceased armourer’s daughter, and knew that she was a headstrong young woman who wasn’t good with making significant changes, and getting her out of her house would be one of them.

  “She’ll have to.” Bradshawe growled, obviously not liking this stand. He addressed Godfrey. “Tell her she must be out of there by New Year. Talk to the monks and see if they’ll take her. That is an order.”

  Godfrey knew when he was beaten. He nodded sadly.

  “Yes, sir.”

  Bradshawe nodded towards the door.

  “Go and do that now, Will. I’m not having the girl overstay her welcome.”





Chapter Two

Sunday 22nd December 1135

9:21AM



Brother Nicolas wiped away the snow with his fingers, ignoring the sharp snap on his skin, to reveal the small snowdrops beneath, standing to attention now they were not weighed down by frozen water. Despite the biting wind, his forehead was covered in sweat, and his thinning pale blond hair glistening with liquid from exertion and from the snow that had fallen onto his head off a branch earlier.

  He straightened up, brushing down his cassock, and looked around him at the damp ground. Not seeing what he wanted, Nico looked over to the young girl sitting on the bench outside the herbal workshop, a knife held in a bronzed hand as it cut away at a chunk of wood.

  “Catin, where’s the hoe?”

  The girl, not any older than sixteen, looked up with an incredulous look at the middle-aged monk.

  “I beg your pardon?”

  “None of that. You know what I’m talking about.” Nico walked around the garden, picking up snow-covered gardening tools to find the hoe. “Is it in the workshop?”

  “Yours or mine?”

  “Check both. I think your father said he was going to mend it.”

  “I finished it last week and you’ve used it since.” Catin Busquent brushed away a long strand of dark hair away from her eyes, her dark eyes glaring at Nico. “And what did your last slave die of?”

  “Frostbite if you don’t get a move on.” Nico said calmly. He was used to Catin’s sharp remarks. They had been worse for the last few days but Nico tactfully didn’t tell her off for being rude to a man of God. He brushed the snow off his hands. “I want to get the garden sorted before I tend to the medicines.”

  Catin lowered the wood she had been carving, brushing wood shavings off her skirt. The dress, ruby red cloth with green embroidery, clung to her figure under the thick woollen brown shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

  “I could do the medicines.” She offered. Nico gave her a gentle smile and patted her shoulder as he went past.

  “You’ve got things to do yourself.” He said kindly. “I don’t want to give you too much right now.”

  Catin opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again when her eyes caught sight of something they had been searching for.

  “Err, Nico?”

  “What?”

  Nico turned to face her. Catin pointed over his shoulder with an expression that you said ‘you idiot’ written across it. Nico turned, and saw the hoe propped up against the makeshift fence lining the territory of the herb garden.

  Nico shook his head at himself.

  “Stupid place to put it.”

  “Old age, brother.” Catin scolded harshly. “Old age.”

  Nico frowned at the young girl sitting before him as he adjusted his snow-sodden robes.

  “Any more of your lip and you’ll be getting old.” He scolded back.

  Catin shrugged. The fire in her eyes suddenly dimmed and she took on a sorrowful look. She bit her lip and huddled deeper inside her shawl. She went from a beautiful young woman to a frightened young girl in just a few seconds.

  “Father said you’re as old as you feel.”

  Nico surveyed the girl as he remembered what this girl had been through the past few days. Brushing snow off the bench, he settled himself beside Catin, dipping is arms deep into his sleeves. His voice was gentle when he next spoke.

  “How are you holding up?”

  “I’m trying not to think about it.” Catin shuddered. “It’s been hard sleeping at nights, seeing him like that.”

  “I know; I was there.” Nico thought back to the night before when he had stayed at the armoury to watch over Catin and had had a nasty experience. He rubbed at his jaw, which sported a brilliant-coloured bruise.

  Catin gave him a sheepish smile.

  “I’m so sorry about that. I don’t know my own strength.”

  Nico laughed and put an arm round the girl’s shoulders, giving them a gentle squeeze.

  “Just like your father, in that aspect.”

  Catin smiled and leant into the comfort of the monk’s cassocked shoulder. Despite her childish attitude towards her seniors, she was extremely fond of Brother Nico, who put up with her tantrums and was there for her when she needed support. Nico often looked after her whenever her father was away, and now that her father was never coming back he would be looking after her for much longer than he realized.

  “Thank you for staying with me last night. I feel guilty for keeping you from God’s work.”

  “Anything for you, child.” Nico smiled down at her. “And you have kept me from that particular God’s work, but both God and Father Abbot wished me to stay with you and look after you.” He squeezed her shoulders again patted her hands. “Now go inside and warm yourself. Your hands are like ice.”

  “I need to cut wood later.” Catin stopped up, managing to sheath her dagger into his sheath at her waist. She pulled the shawl tightly around her. “Could you remind me before sunset, please?”

  “Of course.”

  Catin shuffled her way inside, leaving the door a few inches, allowing a blast of warmth to venture outside. As she disappeared, Nico stood up and made his way over to the hoe. He had picked it up and was preparing to use it when a short man dressed entirely to dark brown appeared through the trees, dodging the falling snow on the lowly hung branches, his dark head lowered against the biting wind.

  Recognizing the short gait of the Prior’s assistant, Nico leant against the hoe and waited for him to reach him. The dark-haired monk slipped and half-stumbled across the snow until he reached the herb garden. He stood on the other side of fence as if too tentative to enter an area where even the holiest of people were not permitted to go. He nodded curtly at the older man.

  “Brother Nicolas.”

  “Brother Gerard.” Nico leant casually against the hoe. “To what do I owe this visit?”

  “Brother Prior and I were concerned when you did not turn up for God’s work all night.”

  Here it comes. The Prior and Brother Gerard were a stickler for the monastery rules and the Prior liked to use his authority to cast terror into the novices and some of the senior monks. Nico guessed that because of the freezing weather the Prior had sent Gerard out to do the dirty work of reprimanding Nico for not turning up for prayers. The Prior didn’t like Nico because the Abbot trusted him with certain tasks, whereas the pious Prior wished Nico would leave the monastery after overstepping the mark several times but forgiven every time.

  “Father Abbot gave me permission to take care of Mistress Busquent.” He pointed out. Anything from the Abbot was gospel. “She’s just lost her father. She’s still very distressed.”

  “That does not mean you disappear all night, even if Father Abbot allowed it.” Gerard said curtly.

  “Mistress Busquent is now on her own. She needed company.”

  “I’m sure she could look after herself if you have more important duties to do.” Gerard pointed out.

  Nico straightened himself up, stretching up his back. He was getting too old for this.

  “My duty last night was to tend to an orphaned girl.”

  Gerard pointed his chin at Nico, his nose in the air.

  “I think God’s work is a higher priority than tending to a…young lady.”

  Nico noticed that he was choosing his words carefully. Gerard blatantly didn’t like Catin, who was too headstrong for his liking. Gerard’s idea of a woman was to be submissive to men and obey them at every cost. Catin obeyed who she chose to obey, and the Prior and Brother Gerard weren’t in that category.

  “Father Abbot didn’t think so.” Nico pointed out.

  “And if you’re going to call me a harlot, just come out and say it.”

  Catin had joined them in the garden again. She was devoid of the shawl, revealing the dress that covered her from the neck to the wrists down to her ankles. It cut in nicely at the waist, a simple cloth but the colour making her dark hair and eyes look stunning. These eyes were now glowing angrily as the young thirty-something monk.

  “I don’t have a habit of attacking people, Brother, but I can report you to Father Abbot for being rude to a ‘young lady’.”

  She emphasised on the ‘young lady’. Gerard frowned in disapproval at the girl.

  “I don’t like being threatened, Mistress Busquent.”

  “And I don’t like being insulted, Brother Gerard.” Catin shot back. She was really on fire now. She couldn’t feel the cold anymore. “You should learn to be a bit more courteous, although that might be above you to be polite to everybody and not when you’re just kissing the feet of rich bastards, the category of which I do not fall under.”

  “Catin…” Nico tried to make her notice that she was slowly getting close to overstepping the mark, but Catin raised a hand to him. She suddenly looked like she had gained her father’s courage to talk back to Brother Gerard.

  “Brother Nico, stay out of this. I can take care of myself.”

  Gerard’s expression was starting to whiten. Nico could see that he was getting angry but he knew better than to step in when Catin had specified him not to so he kept his mouth shut.

  “You should be punished for speaking like that to a monk.” Gerard scolded fiercely.

  “And you should be punished for insulting a woman.” Catin replied just as fiercely. “I hate the way you look down your nose at me because I’m different.” She set her hands on her hips, heat radiating off her now. “I may do things differently to other girls my age but that doesn’t mean I have to be treated like shit.”

  Nico winced at the last word. So did Gerard, despite his growing anger.

  “You should adhere your language to your elders, Mistress Busquent.”

  “I will adhere to it with people who deserve it.” Catin looked from one amused monk to one furious monk. “Now, is that all? Or do you have anything else to moan about?”

  Gerard’s nostrils flared.

  “I will report you to the Abbot.” He hissed. Catin shrugged.

  “Go ahead. I’m not a monk and he can’t kick me out. Tell him and I’ll have something to say about you.”

  Gerard looked like he was about to explode. But he kept himself contained. With a tip-lipped face, he turned on his heel, almost slipping over in the snow, and stalked off through the trees. They heard him scream angrily as snow slipped off a low branch and went down him back.

  Catin sniggered as the monk tried to walk back to the abbey whilst trying to dislodge the snow from his cowl. Nico frowned at her.

  “You really shouldn’t be rude to Brother Gerard, Catin.”

  “Why not? I’ve never done it before.” Catin took a deep breath and let it out. “And it felt good! I should’ve done it years ago.”

  Nico shook his head. Catin’s behaviour was going up and up recently, and this was the most surprising part of it. He wasn’t sure whether to like it or not.

  “I may feel like thumping Brother Gerard but going down to his level is not a good idea.”

  “He’s a pious bastard.” Catin growled. “He doesn’t deserve to be a monk if he doesn’t like simple rules of helping people in need. And I’m a person in need.” She retrieved her dagger and made a stabbing motion at the monk’s back, which was now a small dot disappearing through the abbey wall. “I’d like to do something to him, just to make me feel good.”

  Nico stared in astonishment at what Catin was suggesting.

  “That is an ill thought, Catin.” He said furiously. “You know better than to speak of murder in my presence. And about a fellow monk!”

  Catin turned her almost innocent eyes round to the angry monk near her. The dagger was gripped tightly in her hand but she had seemed to forget that it was there.

  “I wasn’t saying I was going to kill him.” She said calmly. “But thank you for giving me the idea.”

  Then she turned on her heel and left the herb garden. She stalked round the edge of the fence and through a gate into the garden of another little cottage that was Catin’s home and workshop. Nico called after her, trying to get the child’s attention.

  “Catin! Catarina!”

  But Catin pointedly ignored him, slamming the front door hard as she entered the cottage. Nico shook his head as he surveyed the other cottage. He was fond of the girl, but she was temperamental. He did get fed up of her mood swings, although sometimes her headstrong ways reminded him of her father.

  As the thought of Ralf Busquent, Nico fell into a melancholy silence. Ralf had been a good man, and had doted on his only daughter. This death was sudden and nobody had seen it coming. To happen on a hunting trip seemed like a normal thing, but Ralf would not have been the one who had got shot. And to have Catin find the body…well, that must have gone right through her.

  A patter of footsteps brought him back to the present and Nico turned to see the short dark-haired stature of Will Godfrey coming through the trees. The younger man nodded a greeting at the monk.

  “Brother Nico.”

  “Will.” Nico met him at the gate, a smile on his face for the under-sheriff. “Good day to you.”

  Godfrey made a face.

  “I don’t think it is.” He rubbed his hands against his tunic, trying to get them warm. “Where’s Catin? I need to talk to her.”

  “She’s just gone into her workshop. Don’t go in there, though.” Nico warned. “She’s angry.”

  Godfrey frowned.

  “Angry? That’s a new one. It’s been tears and depression. What brought that on?”

  “Brother Gerard.”

  Godfrey shook his head. Ask a stupid question.

  “She won’t hurt me.” He said confidently. And with that, he walked to the other garden. Nico watched him go.

  “Do you want to find that out?”





Chapter Three

Sunday 22nd December 1135

9:28AM



Godfrey walked up the path, stepping over a fallen rake, and rapped on the door. Without waiting for an answer, he opened the door and entered the sweltering interior.

  He hardly had time to think before a flash of silver could be seen before his eyes. He ducked and the silver flash went over his head and buried itself in the woodwork of the doorframe. He straightened up and saw the knife, stuck almost up to the hilt in the soft wood. The bronze hilt glittered at him.

  Godfrey turned and found Catin at the other side of the room, her arm up from having thrown the knife. He sighed and shook his head at her.

  “Catarina, you can’t keep throwing tantrums just because you got talked down to.”

  Catin realized who it was who had entered the room and lowered her arm. Her eyes widened in surprise. Then worry.

  “Uncle Will. I’m sorry.” She tried to cover up her mistake with an apology. “If I’d known…”

  “You’d still throw things at me.” Her mother’s brother reached behind him and grasped the hilt of her knife, using his strength to pull it out the woodwork. “Just be thankful I know you.”

  He walked across the workshop, a large space with a simmering kiln in one corner and a huge table in the centre of the room with various weapons in different stages of completion. He handed the dagger over to Catin, who took it and slotted it back into her sheath. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked up at her uncle with the eyes that always unnerved him; they reminded him so much of her mother’s. She was growing up to become a beautiful woman, just like the woman who brought her into the world before she left it.

  “What do you want? Father had work to complete; I need to finish them for him by tomorrow.”

  Godfrey bit his lip before he spoke. He knew Catin wasn’t going to like this.

  “Sheriff Bradshawe sent for me last night.”

  Catin grunted. She didn’t care much for the old sheriff.

  “What did the old man want?”

  Here it comes. Godfrey braced himself for the onslaught.

  “He…he wants you to move out.”

  The reaction was almost expected…almost. Catin’s flushed face paled considerably, her eyes widened, and her body was suddenly very still.

  “He wants what?” She finally managed.

  “We need a new armourer. He’s sent for one in London and wants you to be gone by the time he arrives.”

  He watched Catin closely, and noticed that her clenched fists were near a two-handed broadsword. He stepped back towards the table slowly. He had seen Catin wield one of those before and he didn’t want to be near her when she did again.

  Catin was shaking. She couldn’t believe that she had just heard this. She had lost her father and in the same week she was being told to vacate the only place she knew as home.

  “He can’t do that!” She protested, but Godfrey shook his had.

  “Unfortunately, he can. You can come and stay with me, if you wish.” He offered. “Gresilda would love to have a companion. Or I can have a word with the Abbot for you to live in the abbey.”

  But Catin shook her head firmly.

  “I appreciate the offer, Uncle Will, but it’s pointless. I’m staying here. And I’ll tell him so.”

  She went over to one corner, where a long brown cape was laid on a wooden counter beside a hob. She picked it up and flung it round her, tying it at her neck. Godfrey knew what she was going to do and was amazed at what she was going to do.

  “You’re going to Bradshawe?” He said in disbelief. Do you think he’ll see you?”

  “He will.” Catin finished tying the knot at her neck. She raised hooded eyes to her uncle. “I’ll make sure he will.”
© Copyright 2012 Kate Stofer (buddiator at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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