Nightshade by P. C. Doherty

Book: Nightshade by P. C. Doherty Read Free Book Online
Authors: P. C. Doherty
He heard the twang like the strings of a harp being plucked, followed by the whistle of the darting shaft. A scream startled his horse. Claypole stared in horror at Jackanapes, who was now staggering back, an arrow shaft embedded deep in his chest. The madman tried to keep his balance, hands flapping, face jittering, mouth opening and shutting even as the blood spurted out. Another arrow sliced the air, followed by the gargle of a man choking on his own blood. The mayor moved his horse. Jackanapes had been the sole target. The poor fool had slumped to his knees, a shaft
through the side of his throat completing the work of the other deep in his chest. Jackanapes stared dully at Claypole, lips parted, mouth dribbling blood, then he pitched forward on his face, twisting in his death throes on to his back.

    They stayed there two nights … before advancing with arms towards Westminster.
    Palgrave, Kalendars of the Exchequer
    Claypole gave vent to his fury and fear, yelling at his men to scatter and search even as Corbett, Ranulf and others from the manor galloped into the square. Claypole stared at the leading riders. It was like a dream. For a moment, just a brief while, those two royal clerks on their great destriers, cloaks fluttering about them, cowls up, their horses moving slightly sideways in an aura of misty sweat and hot breath, seemed like the Angels of Death entering Mistleham. Claypole shook himself from such a doom-laden dream and gazed around. Already, despite the early hour, the commotion had aroused the many households in the warren of chambers, rooms, garrets and attics fronting the square. Shutters were flung back, candles and lanterns glowed at windows, doors creaked open, dogs were barking. Father Thomas, a stole about his neck, hastened out of the Galilee porch of his church and, slipping and slithering, hurried across. He stared piteously at Claypole and Corbett’s retinue before crouching beside the fallen man. Jackanapes was not yet dead; his legs trembled, his feet in the pathetic old boots still shifted on the cobbles.

    â€˜ Jesu miserere ,’ Father Thomas whispered. He stretched himself out on the slush and whispered the Absolvo Te, the final absolution, into the dying man’s ear, then opened the small pyx and forced the host between Jackanapes’ lips before swiftly anointing the dying man’s brow, eyes, lips, hands and feet.
    Corbett, astride his horse, cloak gathered about, crossed himself and whispered the Requiem. Ranulf followed suit even as he turned in the saddle to gaze swiftly around the square. Claypole’s men were now returning. A search was futile, Ranulf realised that. Slayings like these were not new to the sons of Cain. In London the same happened every so often. A killer on the loose, some skilled archer, a veteran, his soul rotten with old grievances and ageing grudges, hating life and eager for death, would deal out summary judgement. Sometimes from a church tower or steeple, the dark mouth of a stinking alleyway or the window of a deserted tavern. Corbett caught Ranulf’s attention and raised a hand as a sign that he should stay.
    â€˜He is gone.’ Father Thomas clambered to his feet, eyes brimming with tears. ‘Why should anyone kill poor Jackanapes?’
    â€˜Two shafts.’ Corbett leaned over the corpse. ‘That’s not happened before, has it?’ He gazed around. No one answered. ‘One to the chest and one to the throat. The killer wanted to make sure Jackanapes was killed.’
    â€˜So swift.’ Master Benedict forced himself through the throng. ‘Master Claypole,’ the chaplain turned to the mayor, ‘I was waiting for you here. I swear the marketplace was deserted. I saw no one. You came down, you rode towards Jackanapes, then that horn.’ He paused, gave the reins of his palfrey to a bystander and walked over to grasp the bridle of Corbett’s mount. ‘That’s how it was,

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