a short story

by Paul Doherty

Anyone who has an interest in medieval historical mysteries should be familiar with the novels by Paul Doherty. In this stor, first published in SHOTS 5, he brings us fresh and intriguing characters against a backdrop of the City of London. As the magazine is out of print I thought I would treat you to this rarity. And watch out for Paul's latest novel coming out in April 2002 called DOMINA.


Ezine 12 Contents

Val McDermid Interview

Nevada Barr on writing HUNTING SEASON plus an excerpt

Stark Contrasts Michael Carlson examines the pulp fiction of Richard Stark

Have you got what it takes to be a Writer? by Fiona Shoop

It Could Only Happen in Hollywood

According to the Annalist of St. Paul, the tavern Twixt Heaven and Hell, with the garish sign above its narrow door, reeked of the devil and all his works. It stood at the corner of Stinking Alley, just off Ave Passage near St. Paul's whose looming spire cast a great shadow over the huddle of buildings around it. According to the chronicler there were two Londons: the city of craftsmen, merchants, guildsmen and good citizens, and the city of Hell, that sprawling grave-yard round St. Paul's where footpads, foists, outlaws, relic-sellers, and all the other refugees from the hangman's noose at Tyburn or Smithfield, could safely shelter. No sheriff's writ had power in that grave-yard: it was covered in tents, bothies and ramshackle shelters of the wolfs-heads who'd turned God's Acre into their own demonic underworld.

Every kingdom has its Prince and this City of Wolves was ruled by John Folvill, wanted for "Murder, larceny, rape, abduction, arson, blasphemy, sacrilege, buggery, desertion from the royal levies, burglary, upon the King's highway, etc." Folvill's list of crimes was longer than the Litany of the Saints. This King of Murder ruled with the dagger and the garotte. His gang took the most solemn oath whilst, an attack upon one of Folvill's gang, was an attack upon the rest and, like a pack of rats, they would close and hunt down any who raised a hand against them.

One of Folvill's principal lieutenants was a young assassin nicknamed the "Kyrie Man". No one knew his real name and no one bothered, or was brave enough, to ask. He had the soft pleasant features of a choirboy, his hair was always neatly coifed and trimmed, his face clean-shaven, he had eyes of cornflower-blue and full red lips any whore would envy. The Kyrie Man was soft spoken with a slight lisp: he was always dressed in black leather, a poignard hanging in the embroidered sheath on his war belt. He could have been taken for a pious cleric but he was one of London's great killers. The warrants for his arrest, dead or alive, listed at least thirty-two slayings but the Kyrie Man always evaded capture, hiding in the shadow of his own robber band. He got his name because, as he killed, he would always press hi slips to his victim's ear and whisper the words from the Mass: "Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy." A mice-eyed, swaggering boy, the Kyrie Man had the morals of the devil as well as his impudence.

No one ever left the precincts of St. Paul's during the daylight but, once darkness fell and the curfew lights blazed from the belfry of St. Mary-Le-Bow, the denizens of St. Paul's would stream like rats across the walls to the taverns and brothels around the great minster. The Kyrie Man's favourite haunt was the Twixt Heaven and Hell, with its large taproom, poor lighting and, above all, its many windows and doors through which any outlaw could scuttle if the 'Hue and Cry' were raised. The sheriff's men knew he went there but who was brave enough to arrest him? And, above all, provide the necessary information: on what night, at what hour would the Kyrie Man be in the tap room revelling in his favourite pursuits, besides killing, eating a dish of cheese, which he loved beyond all measure, and gambling with cup and dice?

The Kyrie Man, when he did arrive, was as faithful in his routine as a monk with Divine Office. He would take the services of a whore before returning to the taproom for his plate of cheese, jug of claret and, of course, the inevitable dice game. He was a heavy gambler, sometimes he lost, most times he won. A few suspected the dice were loaded but who would dare question the Kyrie Man? He could draw a dagger as swift as a bird leaving a bush and his faithful companion was always there, a thickset dwarf who rejoiced in the name of "Mouseman"? because of his furtive eyes and ever twitching nose.

On the eve of the feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, however, the Kyrie Man was fortunate, or thought he was. The curfew bell had long tolled and his stack of coins had grown. The tavern had begun to empty and the Kyrie Man sat, as he always did, in the far corner challenging all comers to a game of Hazard. A stranger, sitting in the ingle-nook, got up and swaggered across, rubbing his nose at the foul smell from the thick tallow candles, perched on hooks and tables, which filled the taproom with a black, acrid smoke. The other customers, eager for mischief, watched intently. The Relic Man who plied his trade in Cornhill selling what he claimed to be the fingers taken from the Thousand Virgins of Cologne: in actual fact, they were cut from corpses in the different charnel houses around the city. This trader in counterfeit holy items was sitting next to a man feeding morsels to a champion badger whose grizzled muzzle and scarred flanks bore eloquent witness to a number of successful combats against terriers. Others of their ilk caught the silence and followed their gaze: the beggar who constantly sat on the steps of St. Paul's displaying terrible wounds on his arms and legs. He claimed to be a soldier from the King's wars but, in truth, his limbs were white and soft as a child's. He was sprightly enough, or so the whores said, in the chambers above the tap-room. He, like the rest, wondered how much this stranger was prepared to lose.

The Kyrie Man looked up. The stranger had a youngish face, narrow, close-set eyes, hair cropped like that of a soldier, face freshly shaven by a barber. Despite the fug, the Kyrie Man caught the scent of leather, sweat and the sweet tang of some herbal soap. The stranger was dressed in a sleeveless, leather jerkin over a jacket of dark murrey. His leggings and boots were mud-stained but the war belt wrapped round his waist carried sword and dagger as well as a heavy purse. The stranger put his metal-studded gauntlets on the table. He undid his purse and took out three silver coins which winked in the candle-light provoking "oohs" and "aahs" from the other customers. The Kyrie Man went to pick one up but the stranger gently stopped him.

'They are freshly minted: straight from the King's coffers in the Tower.'

The Kyrie Man, eyebrows raised, withdrew his hand and shouted for a wine cup for himself and his "new friend", whom he waved to the stool opposite. The Kyrie Man picked up his dice and shook them.

'Two dice, highest throw?'

The stranger nodded.

'Do you have a tongue?'

The stranger opened his mouth.

The Kyrie Man smiled.

'And you can speak? You have a name? A profession?'

'My name's Monkshood. I'm to be the next Bishop of London.'

The Kyrie Man laughed, eyes wrinkling in amusement.

'Well, Monkshood, soon-to-be-Bishop of London, you have an accent?'

'I've served abroad.'

'And what are you doing in London?'

Monkshood pushed his gloves away, took off his war belt and placed it carefully on the ground beside him.

'At this moment in time,' he replied. 'The sheriffs of Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex, not to mention those in Gloucester and Cornwall, would like to have a chat with me.'

The Kyrie Man studied the lined, scarred face of the newcomer. He wasn't a sheriff's man: the Kyrie Man could smell one of those from across a crowded room. Nor was he an informant: they were too frightened to enter a place like this. The Kyrie Man chewed the corner of his lip. Monkshood was probably what he claimed to be, a former soldier, an outlaw. The wine was served, more cheese was cut. The Kyrie Man refreshed himself and, looking into the far corner where the Mouseman was sitting, slyly winked. He was safe enough. The game began. The stranger insisted on playing with his own dice. Of course, the Kyrie Man carefully scrutinised these but they seemed sound enough. The Kyrie Man's stack of coins began to dwindle. Monkshood played with a deadly intent, refusing to be distracted with scraps of conversation, more offers of wine or even a piece of the Kyrie Man's favourite cheese. The Kyrie Man felt a twinge of annoyance. He, too, refused more wine, ordered the table to be cleared of all food and concentrated more carefully.

A short while later, the door to the tavern was abruptly flung open and a thin-faced urchin came scampering into the room. He had run so fast he could barely speak but leaned, gasping, against one of the blackened pillars of the tavern. Mine Host, a former river pirate who had been pardoned more times than he cared to think, came hurrying out of the scullery. He crouched down by the boy, listened carefully to his chatter then turned, anxious-faced, to the Kyrie Man.

'It's the sheriff's men.'

The Kyrie Man clutched the hilt of his dagger. The Mouseman sprang to his feet and, going towards the door, brought the bar down.

'There's no need to panic,' the Kyrie Man whispered. He glanced at Monkshood. 'They have tried to take me before.'

Again the boy jabbered.

'No! No!' The taverner got to his feet. 'This time they are led by the sheriff himself. He's accompanied by Sir John Gisors, they have warrants for your arrest!'

The Kyrie Man pushed what silver he had left into his purse and got hurriedly to his feet. So did Monkshood, strapping on his war belt.

'Don't go back to St. Paul's.'

The Kyrie Man glanced, narrow-eyed.

'How do you know I come from there?'

'Oh, for the love of God!' Monkshood snarled. 'Use your wits. They know you are here so they'll guess where you'll run to. Every alley and runnel between here and the cathedral will be sealed.'

A fine sheen of sweat broke out on the Kyrie Man's forehead. Everyone knew the source of his fear. Wasn't it only last summer that the Kyrie Man had mortally wounded Gisors' younger son in Bucklersbury Row? The latter had been a member of the watch in that ward and attempted to arrest the Kyrie Man as he left a shop he'd been plundering. Gisors' son had died, his corpse now mouldering in it's sealed crypt in the church of the Friars Minor.

'Where to then?' the Kyrie Man snarled.

'Sanctuary in St. Mary's,' Monkshood replied.

'I've been there before.' The Wolfs-head's lips curled as if amused by the thought.

'It's true,' the Mouseman declared. 'They won't expect you to flee into the city but away from it.'

'You can't hide here,' the taverner added sharply.

'I know. I know.' The Kyrie Man scratched his cheek.

Monkshood picked up the felon's thick, heavy cloak and thrust it at him.

'It's best if you go,' he urged. 'I'll do my best, I promise, to hold them off.' He nodded at the Mouseman. 'He'll be my witness.'

The Kyrie Man needed no second urging: the shutters of the window were opened and out he jumped. Monkshood had just ordered another cup of wine when there was a thundering at the tavern door. Different customers scattered, some down the cellars, others up the stairs. From the noise in the alleyway beyond they could tell the tavern was being surrounded.

'Open up!' a voice thundered. 'Open up in the name of the King! We have warrants!'

The taverner had scuttled off to his kitchen, leaving his tap-boys, scullions and slatterns dancing anxiously from foot to foot. The Mouseman slunk into a darkened corner. Monkshood sighed, put his cup down and went across to the door.

'How do we know who you are?' he called.

'By God1s teeth!' a voice roared. 'I'll show you soon enough!

From the crashing on the door Monkshood realised they had emptied a rain butt and were using it as a battering ram.

'By all the saints!' Mine Host screeched from the kitchen.

Monkshood lifted the bar and stepped back. The door was flung open. Men carrying staves, drawn swords, flaring pitch torches, thronged into the taproom. Monkshood's arms were pinioned and he was pushed over against the wall. Men brushed by him going down to the cellar or up the stairs, thundering along the galleries. There were shrieks, exclamations and curses. A young whore, with a shift about her, came running down the stairs. To the sound of appreciative cat-calls, she fled out of the door and into the night. The searchers came down re-sheathing swords and daggers.

'He has gone,' one of the bailiffs muttered. 'The bastard's like a will-of-the-wisp.'

A thin, sandy-haired man dressed in half-armour, came over and pushed his narrow face so close to Monkshood, the man flinched at the smell of bitter onions and sour ale.

'Where's your warrant?' Monkshood murmured. 'I have done no wrong.'

'Helping a felon to escape is an offence,' the man muttered, his watery blue eyes scrutinising Monkshood's face.

'I don't know what you are talking about.'

'He does but he won't be of any help,' a voice called out from the doorway.

A tall, grey-haired man, swathed in a cloak lined with ermine fur, walked carefully across the taproom, wrinkling his face in disgust at the sights and smells. He let his hand slip and his cloak fell open to reveal the gold chain of office around his neck. He glanced sour-eyed at Monkshood.

'You are not going to be any help are you?' He put his hand on the sandy-haired man's shoulder. 'This is Matthew Bethune, Sheriff of the city. I am Sir John Gisors, alderman …'

'And I am the Archangel Gabriel!' Monkshood replied. 'I have done no wrong. Let me pass!'

Bethune shoved him up against the wall.

'Where is the Kyrie Man?'


Bethune punched him in the stomach. Monkshood gasped but his hand fell away from the hilt of his dagger. Bethune waggled a finger at him.

'The Kyrie Man?'

'I don't know what you are talking about. I was playing dice, we heard there was trouble, some people left.'

'He's taken sanctuary in St. Mary-Le-Bow! 'a sweaty-faced bailiff called from the door.

'Hell's teeth!' Gisors stamped his foot. 'He went the opposite way to what we thought.' He snapped his fingers. 'Bethune! Oh,' He pointed at Monkshood. 'You are to come with us. I have the right to form a posse and raise the Hue and Cry. You are now a member of it.'

Gisors stormed from the tavern. Monkshood and shrugged.

'Sorry about the blow. I could have made it harder; I had to impress Sir John. And so have you, otherwise he might start making enquiries. What's your name?'


Bethune grinned in a show of dirty teeth.

'Well, that makes two of us archangels, doesn't it?'

He took Monkshood's war belt and they left the tavern. Sir John Gisors was waiting: ringed by armed men carrying torches, they made their way along the narrow streets. Normally these would be thronged with beggars, night-walkers, whores and strumpets. Now, the presence of armed men, the clink of armour, the unexpected torch-light had sent the denizens of the alleyways scurrying for the shadows. They passed the occasional gong-cart; the dung-collectors, cowled and shrouded like monks, as they cleared the filthy sewers which ran down the centre of the streets. Rats, totally unafraid, scurried amongst the midden-heaps: on corners and walls cats kept a watchful eye and sang their own mournful vespers to the star-lit sky, barely glimpsed through the narrow, over-hanging houses. Shops and tavern signs creaked in the cold night breeze. Occasionally a shutter would open and a voice shout demanding silence, only to be greeted with cat-calls of abuse from Bethune's bailiffs.

They left Paternoster Row and went down Westchepe. The broad thoroughfare had been cleaned but the fetid smell from the butchers' stalls in the Shambles still soured the night air. A few men were already waiting on the steps of St. Mary-Le-Bow. The main door of the church was closed and locked but the small sanctuary door to its right, hung off its latch. A tousled-headed priest dressed in a black cloak, stood lantern horn in one hand, a crucifix in the other. Gisors pushed by the men and climbed the steps to confront him.

'You have an outlaw: a man calling himself the Kyrie Man?'

'Now, now, Sir John.' The priest nervously licked his lips. 'You know the law. Yes, a man has entered my church. He has grasped the corner of the altar and claimed sanctuary. If you take him by force, it's blasphemous sacrilege incurring immediate excommunication.'

'He's surrendered his arms?'

'Sir John, that's the law,' the priest gabbled.

Bethune grabbed the alderman by the arm.

'Sir John, you mustn't go in!'

'I can go in,' Gisors replied. 'Don't worry, Father. I'll respect Holy Mother Church, even though she hides murderers beneath her skirts.'

'No arms,' the priest insisted. 'Wait there!'

He came back carrying a small collection of wooden poles. Gisors sighed. He loosened his cloak, undid his war belt, as did Bethune, and threw these at the priest's feet. The priest nervously searched them, patting at their clothing. Gisors looked over his shoulder at Monkshood.

'You also come. You know the rules?'

Monkshood raised his eyebrows.

'No weapons,' the priest pleaded. 'You must carry no food or anything to give him sustenance. You must go no further than the rood screen. At all times you must grasp one of these poles in both your hands.'

They all agreed. The priest led them in and up the long nave. An occasional pitch torch made the shadows dance, making the gargoyles on top of the pillars even more grotesque. The air was tinged with the smell of incense, beeswax candles as well as the bitter-sweet odour of flowers, rotting in their baskets along the darkened transepts.

The great wooden rood screen, with nightlights on the steps before it, soared above them depicting a crucified Christ with Mary and John on either side. Once they stood beneath it, in the entrance to the sanctuary, the priest made them genuflect towards the silver pyx which hung from its filigreed chain above the high altar, red nightlights winking on either side. A great candle had also been lit and placed above the relic stone on the altar. A figure stepped out of the gloomy recess to the right side of the altar where the sanctuary seekers hid. The Kyrie Man was sweat-soaked, rather dishevelled, but he stood brazenly enough, legs apart, thumbs in his belt.

'Do you recognise this man?' Gisors snapped, one hand on Monkshood's shoulder.

'I've never seen him before. Who is he? One of your bum boys? Or just your surviving son?'

Gisors lurched forward but Bethune stepped in of him. The priest was watching, ensuring each of his visitors still grasped the sanctuary pole.

'You can stay here and rot!' Gisors spat out. He glared at the priest. 'You know the rules and so do I. He's allowed to stay forty days and must not leave the sanctuary. If he does, he can be killed on sight. After forty days he must either surrender himself to the sheriff's posse or take an oath to abjure the realm. You know what that means, Kyrie Man?'

'Of course, Sir John,' came the soft reply. 'I am to carry a cross before me and walk to the nearest port. But, don't you worry, Master Folvill will send his guardian angels to protect me.'

'We've seen enough.' Bethune murmured.

'No.' Gisors snapped. 'Make sure that he has no weapons on him.'

The priest hurriedly searched the Kyrie Man who didn't protest.

'Nothing,' the priest replied. 'I checked before, only the clothes he stands up in! Sir John, you must leave now.'

'He's allowed a meal,' Gisors declared. 'But simple fare.'

'My housekeeper's preparing it,' the priest replied. 'Bread, dried meat and a jug of wine.'

'I hope you choke on it!' Bethune snarled.

'Good night, sirs!' The Kyrie Man yawned. 'I'm hungry and really must take my rest.'

The priest ushered them out of the sanctuary back on to the church steps then, going back in, slammed the door behind him.

'Quick!' Gisors ordered Bethune. 'Go round, make sure there are no windows unshuttered. Place a guard beneath each, two at the back entrance leading from the sacristy to the priest's house.'

Bethune rapped out orders. Gisors stood staring up at the figure of Christ in Judgement above the main door. The tympanum depicted the Divine Judge in the centre, the saved to his right, the damned, herded by monkey-faced devils, on his left.

'There will be no justice here,' he murmured wearily as Bethune joined them. 'The Kyrie Man will stay forty days, if his friends don't get him out. When he leaves, he'll get as far as Aldersgate and they'll hurry him away. No one will dare raise a hand against him.' Gisors punched Monkshood viciously on the shoulder. 'You are still a member of this posse. He explained. 'You can sit with the rest of them and freeze your balls off!'

Bethune gave him his sword belt back and Monkshood had no choice but to obey. For the rest of that night he sat with the city watch which now ringed St. Mary-Le-Bow in a circle of steel. The bailiffs were kindly enough, sharing out the dried meat, bread and pannier of coarse wine Gisors had provided. The alderman returned just before dawn, anxiously enquiring of Bethune if all was well.

'Tight as an alderman's …' Bethune remembered himself. 'Not even a mouse could get in or out of that church, Sir John,' he declared.

Gisors nodded, walked over to the fire and, crouching down, warmed his hands. The city was beginning to stir, the first streaks of light in the sky. Sleepy-eyed apprentices brought down the shutters, carts heaped high with products trundled into the markets. A group of night-walkers, prostitutes and drunks, had been caught and, roped together, were being helped up Cheapside to stand in the great cage near the stocks. Monkshood was about to bite into the piece of coarse rye bread and greasy dry bacon a bailiff pushed into his hand, when the door to the church was flung open and the priest hurried out.

'He's dead!' he screamed. 'Oh, Lord save us! The Kyrie Man's dead!'

Gisors and Bethune, followed by the others, leapt up the steps pushing by the priest. They ran up the nave. The Kyrie Man lay sprawled before the high altar, body twisted in pain, head turned, eyes staring sightlessly up at the demon's face carved on the top of a pillar. His face had changed, pallid-white, with a blueish tinge high in his cheeks. His mouth gaped, a drool of saliva had dried on his chin: the tongue, slightly protuberant, was discoloured and enlarged.

'The falling sickness?' Bethune whispered.

Gisors seized the body and turned it over. The rictus of death in the Kyrie Man's face and the stiffening of his limbs showed he had been dead for some time.

'I don't think so,' the priest murmured. He pointed to the door leading to the sacristy. 'I came through there. Only I had keys for that and the far door. Ask your men on guard. He was just lying there,' he stammered. 'Sir John, heaven help us but I've seen enough cadavers. The Kyrie Man has been poisoned!'

'And?' Gisors glared up at him.

'I locked you out last night,' the priest replied. 'I came back to the sanctuary. I didn't talk to him and he didn't talk to me. I went through the sacristy door. I locked that and the one beyond.'

'That's true!' one of the bailiffs shouted: the fellow pushed himself forward, one hand on the shoulder of his scruffy-haired companion. 'Simon and I witnessed the priest lock the door. He went across to his house and returned a short while later carrying a trancher.' The bailiff licked his lips. 'It contained a small manchet loaf, a slab of mutton and a jug of wine.'

'That could have been poisoned.' Bethune looked accusingly at the priest.

'It wasn't!' he yelped. 'I got back to my house, the servant had left so I prepared the food.'

'Did you know the Kyrie Man?' Gisors asked.

'For God's sake, no!'

'There was nothing wrong with that food,' the bailiff replied shame-facedly. 'Simon and I stopped the priest to check it: we each took a finger-load of bread and meat then washed it down with a mouthful of wine.'

'Yes, yes.' The priest's sleep-filled eyes brightened. 'And tell Sir John the rest.'

'I accompanied him into the church,' the bailiff sniffed. 'The Kyrie Man was squatting on the floor. He broke the bread and meat with his fingers and told me and the priest to choose a piece. He also made us taste the wine. Said he didn't trust any of us bastards. We did, the Kyrie Man then told us to piss off. We left, locking the doors behind us. Nobody went back in, not till the priest did this morning.'

'Did you go in alone?' Bethune asked.

'No,' the priest pointed to the bailiff. 'He followed me.'

'We just saw him sprawled there,' the bailiff declared. 'The priest took one look and ran down the nave shouting for you.'

'So, how did he die?' Gisors demanded.

'Suicide?' Bethune wondered.

The priest shook his head. 'Men like the Kyrie Man don't commit suicide. When he first came here, he boasted he would only be staying a week.'

'And he had no further food?' Gisors asked.

'Sir John,' the priest wailed. 'I know the rules. Why should I give him any sustenance to a man like him? He had no food upon him. When he first arrived he tried to bribe me to let him keep his knife. I told him if I agreed he would forfeit sanctuary.'

Gisors sighed, got to his feet and dragged the corpse unceremoniously to one side. He told Monkshood to stand beyond the rood screen and ordered Bethune, the priest and the bailiffs to search the sanctuary whilst he despatched a messenger for a local physician. The search was completed. Nothing untoward was found. All the bread and meat had been eaten but a little of the wine remained. Bethune kept the platter and the jug firmly in view whilst he ordered a search of the rest of the church. All the windows were still shuttered and barred, Bethune ordered these to be opened. No trace of any other food was discovered even the holy water stoup at the back of the church was carefully examined. The guards were interrogated one by one especially those at the back of the church near the priest's house. They all told the same story. No one had approached the church; no one had tried to leave. The priest had taken in the food, accompanied by the bailiff. He'd never returned until just before dawn to prepare the sanctuary for Mass.

The physician arrived, pompous and furrow-browed. He examined the dead man's eyes and the mouth then stripped the top half of the corpse and pointed to the discolouration, red-purple blotches, on the chest and stomach.

'A powerful poison,' he announced, coming out of the sanctuary, mopping his brow.

'Such as?" Gisors demanded.

'Some distillation, arsenic, red or white. Or one of the plants, henbane or deadly nightshade. A few drops of that and your man in there would have …' The physician shrugged. 'Well, a few convulsions, choking.'

'How long would he take to die?' Bethune demanded.

'How long will it take you to run down the nave of this church!' the physician retorted.

Gisors snapped his fingers, ordering Bethune, the doctor and Monkshood to join him further down the nave. Once they were out of earshot, Gisors poked Monkshood on the shoulder.

'You were dicing with him in a tavern Twixt Heaven and Hell? Yes or no? The man's dead now.'

'I was dicing with him,' came the cool reply. 'But I didn't know who he was or what he had done.'

'No, no, I am sure you didn't.' Gisors beckoned the priest to join them. 'Is it possible?' the alderman asked, pointing back at the rood screen. 'That the Kyrie Man ate or drank something in the tavern?'

'No!' the physician retorted. 'Death would have occurred in a few heartbeats. He fled here, yes?'

Gisors agreed.

'Haste and panic,' the physician continued. 'Quicken the humours. The poison would have acted more swiftly.' The physician looked at the priest. 'He was well when he reached the church?'

'As hale and hearty as any sinner,' the priest declared. 'Out of breath, sweating but, as full of arrogance as he was of good health.'

'And he had no food on him?'

'None whatsoever, he surrendered his warbelt. If it could be proved that he had brought in any sustenance he'd forfeit his right to sanctuary. There only one place he could have drank from.'

The priest pointed to the holy water stoup near the carved baptismal font. 'That's been examined: there's nothing tainted.'

'And you provided no further food or wine?'

The priest just glared angrily. Gisors led them back to where the corpse lay sprawled just behind the rood screen. The bailiffs had gathered round, tapping a booted foot, showing as much respect as they would a dog crushed under a cart.

'Folvill will be angry,' one of them muttered.

'Folvill can go hang!' Gisors retorted. 'Let's examine everything.'

The corpse was stripped; Monkshood noticed now how Bethune distanced himself from the alderman, insisting that he not touch the corpse. They could find nothing amiss. The physician carefully scrutinised the contents of the Kyrie Man's wallet: some coins, a broken quill, a small scroll of greasy parchment, two dice, a throwing cup and a broken brooch. He sniffed at these and declared none of them were tainted as he did the wine jug, cup and platter. No trace of poison could be detected.

Once again the priest was examined and the church carefully scrutinised but the windows had been shuttered the guards outside had noticed nothing untoward and Bethune accepted the priest's story that he had left the sanctuary man to his own devices and not returned till the following morning.

Monkshood sat at the base of a pillar, head back against it, Gisors on a bench opposite, as Bethune continued his interrogation of the bailiffs but they resented his suspicions.

'None of my men entered this church,' the chief bailiff stridently protested. 'Why, what are you implying, Master Bethune, that one of them was bribed to kill the Kyrie Man? Everyone watched everyone else. No one left their post.'

'I agree,' the priest sighed. 'The Kyrie Man knew he was not amongst friends. If anyone had entered that church he would have shouted for help, protested. Sir John,' He looked at the alderman. 'You and I know that he would have eventually escaped, protected by his gang. As long as he remained here, and kept to the rules, he was safe.'

Bethune was now looking strangely at the alderman.

'I know what you are thinking.' Gisors said softly. 'The Kyrie Man killed my son but, you must remember, Master Sheriff, I never met him until I entered this church carrying a pole between my hands. The priest watched me whilst the Kyrie Man would have been deeply suspicious of anything I dropped or tried to leave.'

Bethune stepped closer. 'But you're glad he's dead?'

'I'm glad he's dead, Master Bethune. As far as I am concerned his soul can roast in hell. But who poisoned him and how?' He shrugged. 'You can't accuse me.'

'No, no, that's the beauty of it.' Bethune shook his head. 'When the coroner sits over the body, it will be judged that the Kyrie Man died, was murdered, by person or persons unknown. And when Master Folvill holds his own inquest in his kingdom of rats at St. Paul's, he'll be angry, spluttering with fury but he, too, can't lay the blame at anyone's door. Of course.' He crouched down, close to Monkshood and stared at him. 'Two people spoke to him, the priest here in church and you in the tavern.'

'What are you saying, Master Sheriff?' Monkshood jibed. 'I went there for a game of Hazard. When we first met, you almost accused me of helping him to escape. Now you are alleging I murdered him. You heard the physician. If he had been poisoned in the tavern he would never have reached the end of the alleyway. And how could I poison his wine or food? The Kyrie Man watched me like a hawk.' Monkshood got to his feet. 'For God's sake, Master Bethune, what are you complaining about?' He pointed to the sprawled corpse. 'He's a killer and gone to judgement. If he'd lived, within the week, his coven would have had him out. If they failed here, they would have taken him up outside the church and spirited him away.'

Bethune shook his head. 'I am the King's law officer,' he murmured. 'I don't like being tricked or deceived and, God knows, there's great trickery here.'

Once again Bethune insisted on patrolling the church both inside and out. Monkshood demanded that he now be released but Gisors insisted that he accompany them. In the end they gathered on the steps of the church. Bethune gave a great sigh and looked over at Cheapside where the stalls were now busy and the crowds thronged, colourful and noisy, moving like shoals of fish, from stall to stall.

'I don't understand it,' Bethune concluded. 'A man, hale and hearty goes into a church where he is locked and sealed in. He carried no food, I've sent a bailiff back to the tavern: Mine Host is certain of that. The priest took his war belt and said he brought nothing else except the contents of his wallet. The priest had no motive in killing him, he's probably as frightened of Folvill as anyone else. We three met him in the sanctuary: our hands were literally tied. The Kyrie Man was in the best of health and deeply suspicious of us. The priest served food but that was tasted by the guards, one of whom accompanied the priest into the church. The Kyrie Man also demanded it be tasted again. Yet, a few hours later, he's found poisoned.' Bethune stamped his foot. 'The Kyrie Man would have been very wary of anyone, he'd be careful as we were. No one could have entered that church during the night, whilst a guard was with the priest when he discovered the corpse. Finally, our physician, with no axe to grind, has examined everything: the platter, the wine, the contents of his wallet, even the holy water stoup. Nothing! ' He re-hitched his cloak. 'Ah well, so what should we do with the corpse?'

'Throw it over the walls of St. Paul's,' the alderman retorted. 'They can get rid of the stink!

Gisors gestured at Monkshood. 'Let him go! Pay the men, the matter's ended!

Gisors walked down the steps of the church. Monkshood strapped his war belt on, picked up his cloak and followed a short while later. He made his way carefully back up towards the Shambles. He was halfway along Catgut Alley, intent on visiting a cook-shop, when the Mouseman sidled like a ghost out of the crumbling doorway of a shabby tenement. He plucked Monkshood by the sleeve.

'He's dead? The Kyrie Man's dead?'

'As a landed fish.'

Monkshood's fingers tapped the hilt of his dagger. 'No, no, no.' The Mouseman shook his head and forced a smile. 'I saw what you did in the tavern and, as everyone says, he was mysteriously poisoned in that church. Who by? Gisors?'

Monkshood shook his head.

'Impossible! No one can be blamed.'

He quickly described what had happened. When he had finished, Mouseman grimaced.

'Ah well,' he sighed. 'Master Folvill will be intrigued.'

Monkshood watched him go, smiled to himself and continued up the alleyway.

* * * * * *

Two days later the bounty hunter known as Giles The Spaniard or, to the Mouseman and his ilk, as Monkshood, sat in his chamber at the Keep Sake tavern which stood on the corner of Grubb Street north of Aldgate. He was ready to leave, his saddlebags packed, his sword belt on the bed. He opened a window, listened to the sounds of the stable yard below then glanced at the hour candle fixed on its iron spigot just inside the doorway. He watched as the wax slowly fell until it reached the 12th red circle. Footsteps echoed in the gallery outside, Giles sat on his bed, hand near the dagger.

'Come in!' he shouted before his visitor could knock.

The door swung open and Sir John Gisors entered. The alderman half-smiled and sat on a stool.

'You have it?' the bounty hunter demanded.

'I have it. What are you today? Giles the Spaniard or Monkshood?'

'You know my name,' the bounty hunter replied. 'To you I am Giles. You hired me, I carried out task, now I want to be paid.'

Gisors threw across a heavy bag of clinking coins

'You have no scruples?'

'Do you?' Giles replied.

Gisors shook his head.

v'The Kyrie Man was a killer.' Giles declared getting up and closing the shutters. 'At least thirty murders, most of them innocent people, going about their business on the King's highway or in this city. He wouldn't have stayed in sanctuary long: within the week he would have been back to his villainy, more determined than ever.'

'How did you do it?' Gisors asked.

Giles sat back on the bed. He emptied the coins out onto the smelly horse blanket and counted them before putting them back in the bag.

'When you hunt, Sir John, you always study your quarry. Now the Kyrie Man had to be killed without provoking the suspicions of Folvill, who would declare a blood feud, or Master Bethune who'd regard it as a crime in itself.'


'The Kyrie Man was arrogant, like all his kind. He had weaknesses. A soft-skinned whore, gambling and cheese. He had all the impudence of an imp of Satan, often visiting the tavern Twixt Heaven and Hell. Even when you had special warrants sworn out against him, he could still get away, and would have done again if it hadn't been for me.'

'How did you do it?' Gisors insisted.

'As I said, the Kyrie Man was arrogant. He liked gambling. He saw my silver and wanted it so I played him at Hazard. You brought the bailiffs; the look-outs from the tavern noticed you, as they always would.'

'But this time it was different?'

'True. The Kyrie Man was a little annoyed, he knew he couldn't get back to St. Paul's, so, sanctuary was the safest choice.'


'When I handed him his cloak, I quickly placed in its pocket a piece of cheese, nice and firm, but drenched in poison. The Kyrie Man followed my advice. He fled away from you, into the city, to the nearest sanctuary church of St. Mary-Le-Bow. Now that priest could see he carried nothing with him. He satisfied himself with taking the wolfs-head's war belt. After all, if you were a priest in a darkened sanctuary, would you have the temerity to scrupulously search the Kyrie Man from head to toe? The important thing is the Kyrie Man had given up his arms and wasn't carrying any saddlebags, so the priest provided sanctuary. The rest you know. Now, when that church was locked, the Kyrie Man sealed in for the night, he would do what anyone would do in a similar situation, go through his pockets, his wallet.'

'And he found the cheese, wouldn't he think that was suspicious?'

'The Kyrie Man was alone in the dark, the light was poor, he'd think he'd put the cheese in his pocket some other time.'

Gisors narrowed his eyes in doubt.

'Come. Giles leaned forward. 'We all eat absentmindedly. You own a great mansion? Don't you wander into the scullery or buttery of your kitchen, pick up a piece of food, absentmindedly fill a cup of wine or take a sweetmeat from a plate? I eat in taverns and cookshops, the food is in my mouth before I even think. Why should the Kyrie Man be different? The only person who held his cloak for a few seconds was myself and he'd forget that. He had an inordinate love of cheese. True, he had eaten the scraps the priest brought but he'd welcome the solace and comfort it gave him in a cold, dark church where he wouldn't be eating for another twenty-four hours.'

'Agreed, but the poison?'

Giles laughed. 'A piece of ripe cheese, Sir John? There's no better cover will hide the tang until it is too late.'

'But there were no crumbs?'

'The Kyrie Man was like a greedy, crafty child. He knew how dangerous it would be if the city authorities thought he'd eaten something he'd brought into the church. He'd be most careful, only eating after he knew we had all gone. He'd chew it well, make sure there were no drops or morsels. He'd savour every particle of it. He'd clean up after himself and take a mouthful of wine.'

'And in doing so, remove all evidence?'

'Precisely,' Giles replied. 'He'd then prepare for sleep. A short while later the terrible pains began …'

'But how did you know he'd go to St. Mary Le Bow?'

'I didn't, nor did I care. Sooner or later the Kyrie Man would have found that cheese and eaten it, be it in sanctuary, Newgate prison or back in the graveyard of St. Paul's. Nor did I really care when he ate it, before or after his meal, immediately he reached sanctuary or hours later.' The bounty hunter shrugged. 'And if he was suspicious, if he had thrown it away, I'd have tried again. Sooner or later, like the rat he was, he would have been lured to the bait.'

'And no one can take the blame?'

Giles got to his feet and strapped on his war belt.

'Sir John Gisors cannot be blamed,' he replied. 'Why should Folvill open a blood feud when he hasn't got the evidence? The same goes for me. To all appearances, I was the Kyrie Man's good friend and ally.' The bounty hunter smiled. 'And you followed my instructions. The route to St. Mary-Le-Bow was deliberately left open whilst you treated me more as the Kyrie Man's accomplice than yours.' Giles picked up the bag of coins and slipped it into his wallet. 'We sealed a contract, Sir John, for the death of the Kyrie Man, without any consequences for ourselves, that's what I achieved. Now his corpse can rot in the lime pits of Charterhouse and his soul can dance with the Devil in Hell!'