The House of Crows
Swan mean nothing to me.’
    ‘Did you know Sir Oliver or Sir Henry?’ Athelstan asked.
    ‘By name only. But, there again, I know the same could be true of knights from Norfolk or Suffolk.’ He held his gaze. ‘I am John of Gaunt’s man in peace and war. I wear his livery, I feed in his household.’
    ‘You had no liking for these knights?’ Cranston insisted.
    ‘I hear them like a gaggle of geese cackling in the chapter-house.’ Coverdale snapped. ‘They criticise the regent for the war against France and yet will not vote a penny to help him. They talk of bad harvests, poor crops and falling profits, but they keep their tenants tied to the land by force and the use of the courts. No, I do not like them, Sir John.’
    ‘And if you were the regent?’
    ‘I would levy the taxes not on the peasants but on the prosperous knights and fat merchants: those who refused to pay, I’d call traitors.’
    Athelstan looked at Father Benedict but the monk sat like a statue, though his eyes looked troubled, frightened by Sir Miles’s threats.
    ‘Are you there to guard the Commons?’ Cranston asked, now enjoying himself. ‘Or are you the regent’s spy?’
    Coverdale’s hand fell to the pommel of his sword. Cranston, despite his girth, suddenly lurched forward with a speed which belied his bulk.
    ‘Don’t be stupid,’ he murmured, standing over the young knight. ‘I didn’t mean to give offence but wanted merely to describe things as they are.’
    ‘And I have answered you truthfully, Sir John,’ Coverdale replied. ‘I am there with men-at-arms and archers to ensure the Commons can sit in peace and security. I do not have to like what I hear but I have no personal grudge against them.’
    ‘And you have been with the Commons from the start?’ Athelstan intervened quickly.
    ‘Yes. The chapter-house and its approaches have been sealed off. I and my men guard them. Before the session began I was also responsible for hiring barges to take the representatives upriver to see the king’s menageries in the Tower.’ Coverdale now relaxed. ‘They were like children,’ he added. ‘Many of them had never seen a lion or a panther or the great brown bear which the regent has brought there.’ He glanced at Cranston. ‘And, yes, Sir John, I guard their soft flesh and listen to their chatter. Some of them should be more careful with their mouths: what they say I report back to the regent. Just as you will, after this business is all finished.’
    ‘Did you have any conversation with Sir Oliver Bouchon or Sir Henry Swynford? Or any of their party?’ Athelstan asked.
    ‘None,’ Coverdale replied.
    ‘And is this the first time you have ever been to the Gargoyle tavern?’
    ‘Of course. My task is to keep the cloisters secure whilst the Commons are in session. I have as little to do with Sir Oliver and his ilk as possible.’
    ‘And you, Father Benedict?’ Cranston asked.
    The monk pulled a wry expression. ‘I offer Mass in the abbey at the beginning of each day. I am also available for those who wish to be shriven.’ He smiled sourly. ‘And, before you ask, Sir John, that is not taxing work. Many of the Commons have drunk deeply the night before, not to mention their other pleasures.’
    ‘I find it strange,’ Athelstan commented, ‘that whilst the Commons meeting is in full session in the chapter-house at Westminster, two knights from Shropshire are brutally murdered.’
    ‘What’s so strange?’ Coverdale interrupted harshly.
    ‘That the captain of the guard comes from Shropshire, whilst the chaplain had a close friend who also served in Lilleshall Abbey, not far from Shrewsbury and in the same county.’
    ‘There’s nothing strange in that,’ the Benedictine answered quickly. ‘When you go to the chapter-house, Brother, you’ll find it guarded by a company of Cheshire archers. Sir Miles was born in Shropshire, but so were many in my Lord of Gaunt’s retinue. As you know, the regent holds lands there

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