The House of Crows
and highly favours men from those parts. As for myself, if you ask Father Abbot, he will tell you that I am not the only monk who has connections with our community at Lilleshall. I am a trained librarian and archivist; I have similar ties with our houses in Norfolk, Yorkshire and Somerset. More importantly, when Father Abbot asked for a volunteer to serve as chaplain to the Commons, I was the only one: I offered my services because the chapter-house is near the library and under my jurisdiction.’
    Athelstan stared at him coolly. ‘Did you speak to either of the dead men?’
    ‘No.’ The monk’s eyes shifted too quickly. He licked his lips and swallowed hard.
    You are lying, Athelstan thought: you have got something to hide. Why should an old monk, ill with rheumatism and arthritis, come to a tavern to say prayers over corpses of two men he hardly knew? Such prayers would be equally effective in some oratory or chantry chapel in the abbey.
    Father Benedict glanced at Sir Miles. ‘Time is passing,’ he murmured. ‘I still have my duties here.’
    Cranston got to his feet and slurped noisily from his wineskin then beamed around. ‘Ah, that’s better. Father Benedict, it was a pleasure meeting you, though I regret the circumstances.’ The coroner would’ve liked to add that never had he heard of two murder victims receiving the attention of so many priests but, like Athelstan, he realised lies had been told. There would be other opportunities to probe further.
    Sir Miles also rose, swinging his great military cloak round his shoulders.
    ‘We’d best hurry,’ Cranston muttered. ‘Come, Brother.’
    And, making their farewells, they and the captain left the monk and went downstairs to the taproom.
    ‘Give our thanks to Master Banyard,’ Athelstan whispered to Christina as Cranston and Coverdale swept out of the door before him.
    The young girl smiled but Athelstan glimpsed the fear in her eyes. He grasped her hand. ‘What’s the matter, child?’
    ‘Nothing, Father. It’s just that terrible voice. Will he come back?’
    Athelstan shook his head. ‘I doubt it. But, if you remember anything else, send a message to Sir John at the Guildhall.’
    The girl promised she would, and Athelstan hurried off after his companions. They walked down the narrow alleyways and into the grounds of Westminster Abbey. As they did so, the man waiting just inside the gate, under the shadow of a great oak tree, watched them go: the friar, the soldier and the ponderously girthed coroner.
    ‘O Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning,’ the watcher whispered. ‘See Fulfilled the Prophet’s Warning!’

CHAPTER 4
    As Athelstan and Cranston left the Gargoyle tavern, Ranulf the rat-catcher made his way to a large, deserted house which stood on the corner of Reeking Alley in Southwark. The rat-catcher closed the door, locking it carefully with the key the merchant had given him. He placed his two cages on the floor and sat down with his back to the door. He mopped his face with a rag tied to the broad leather belt from which hung all the implements of his trade: small cages, chisels, hammers and a large leather bag for the rodents he caught and killed.
    ‘Ah, that’s better!’ Ranulf murmured. He pulled back the black-tarred hood from his pale pink features. ‘I am happy,’ he declared, his voice echoing eerily through the empty house. Ranulf stared up the long dusty staircase and, half closing his eyes, listened with pleasure to the scrabbling and the squeaking from behind the wainscoting and under the floorboards. Such sounds were always music to Ranulf s ears.
    ‘Rats!’ The merchant who had recently bought the house had roared, ‘The whole place is infested with them: black, brown and varieties I have never heard or seen before!’ The merchant had poked Ranulf s tarry jacket. ‘Ten pounds sterling! I’ll pay you ten pounds sterling to clear the place of rats. Three now, three when you have done it, and the balance after my

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