The Book of Fires

The Book of Fires by Paul Doherty

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Authors: Paul Doherty
messages. Sir Henry hurried off to his chancery chamber and brought back a clutch of parchments. They were dark and ragged, the ink rather faded but the letters were well formed. The message was the same time and again. The specific warning clear and stark: ‘As I and ours did burn, so shall ye and yours.’
    ‘Do you think that’s the Upright Men?’ Sir Henry asked plaintively.
    ‘I don’t know,’ Athelstan replied, handing them back. ‘They certainly have the ring of a proclamation about them. Of course, you supply Gaunt with powder for his culverins and cannon. The Upright Men would resent that.’
    ‘So when the great revolt comes,’ Sir Cranston asked, ‘have you, Sir Henry, like other merchants, contributed secretly to the coffers of the Upright Men, a sort of tribute so that when the Day of Slaughter dawns you and yours will be safe?’
    ‘Never!’ Sir Henry’s reply was almost a shout. ‘Oh, I know about the Great Community of the Realm, their leaders and their chants. God knows what my brother truly thought! He was, in all things, secretive, but you are correct – few mansions will be safe.’ Sir Henry rose and closed the buttery door. ‘Buckholt,’ he continued, returning to his seat, ‘is a most loyal steward – well, he was to Sir Walter. I am not sure whether I will retain him, and one of my reasons for that is Buckholt’s support for the Great Community of the Realm, his open admiration for the Upright Men. I know that from the chatter of the servants, who,’ he took a deep breath, ‘sing his doggerel chants. So, to answer your question, Sir John, when and if such a treasonous revolt occurs, I shall hire mercenaries – the very best – to defend Firecrest Manor.’
    ‘As shall I,’ Lady Anne declared sharply.
    ‘Nonsense!’ Sir Henry blustered. ‘My brother always maintained, and he had his informers, that you, Lady Anne, your house and your retainers would be regarded as sacrosanct by the rebel leaders, Jack Straw and Wat Tyler. You do such good work in the prisons. You have helped the families of those whom Gaunt has arrested and executed. Sir Walter believed that when the revolt breaks out your house will be safer than the Tower or Westminster Abbey.’
    Lady Anne blushed and lowered her head.
    ‘Our situation is different,’ Sir Henry continued. ‘I find it difficult to sift friend from foe. Last night,’ he glanced quickly at the closed door, ‘Edward Garman, prison chaplain at Newgate during Lady Isolda’s imprisonment there? We have heard rumours that Garman is very close to the Upright Men. Tongues wag and gossips chatter how Garman may have even been involved in the escape of rebels from Newgate.’
    ‘True.’ Sir John, who had been strangely quiet, broke from his own reverie. ‘Very true,’ he repeated. ‘I studied Garman last night – he certainly stirred memories. Garman has acquired a certain reputation delivering sermons and homilies very similar to those of the hedge priest John Ball. Garman talks of a Commonwealth, of a “
Bonum Commune
” – a “Common Good”. He has shown great partiality to any Upright Men seized and imprisoned by Gaunt’s agents.’ Cranston grinned at Athelstan. ‘But I’ve heard other priests preach the same and, in the end, is that so wrong? To want to live in peace and justice?’ Sir John blinked, staring down the table. ‘Remember that quotation from the Book of Micah, how does it go? “Three things I have asked of thee, says the Lord: to love tenderly, to act justly and to walk humbly with your God.”’ Cranston’s words created an uncomfortable silence.
    ‘It’s one thing to preach Christ,’ Lady Anne murmured, ‘but,’ she gestured at Turgot standing behind her, ‘when we visit Newgate we also hear rumours. Garman just doesn’t preach, he plots and, Sir John, the revolt is coming. Newgate will be stormed. I am sure the royal council realize that. The prison will be seized and all its malefactors allowed to

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