Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Liberties of London

Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers.  Firstly before we start this instalment of Red Ned, I would like you to take a moment to think of the survivors of the Japanese Tsunami and the on going Nuclear disaster.  If it is possible for you, please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice.  For those in the Antipodes, I suggest this site .

Now as promised in yesterday’s post, I will be putting up the prologue of the Red Ned adventure The Liberties of London.  As also previously stated, if all the editing and uploading goes smoothly, it with be available on both Amazon Kindle and Smashwords within the week.  As for hard copies, I’m currently negotiating with a printing service, so they should be available for posting and retail within four months. 

On to Red Ned, Apprentice Lawyer and Aspiring Rogue.  This set of stories follows the life and adventures of Edward (Red Ned) Bedwell, a young apprentice lawyer at Gray’s Inn as well as reluctant investigator who experiences first hand the tumult and intrigue during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I.  As a comparison, it is similar to the Lindsay Davis Falco novels set in ancient Rome and, like other historical mystery novels, examines the rivalries, ambitions and human foibles that frequently led to treachery and murder.

It is the year 1529, and the kingdom is embroiled in the factional politics of ‘The King’s Great Matter’, Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon.  This convoluted and dangerous affair has already brought down Cardinal Wolsey, the former Lord Chancellor, who has been stripped of his office.  During the festive season of Christmas until Twelfth Night, all rivalries are in abeyance amongst the round of services, festivities, feasts and revels.  It is the last that Ned is particularly interested in, since he’s organised his own and convinced some fifty fellow clerks and apprentice lawyers from the Inns of Court to shell out a golden angel each to be part of his Revels.  An excellent plan, and one that, with the assistance of his friend Rob Black, will no doubt prove to be very profitable. 

However he failed to account for the disapproval of Rob’s redoubtable sister Meg.  She has her own plans for ruining Ned’s version of ‘Christmas’ entertainment.  So to Ned’s dismay, an arrogant command delivered with insult by Meg’s surly retainer Gruesome Rodger arrives from his patron Privy Councillor Thomas Cromwell.  Rather than feast, carouse and gamble, Ned is to escort a young reformist lad, Walter Dellingham, around the best ‘reformist Christian’ sites of London.  This presents a bit of a problem since Ned hardly knows any, though Meg Black is more than keen to lead the way. When young Walter suddenly disappears after lodging at Ned’s Revels, Meg’s suspicions automatically gravitate toward, as she says a ‘fellow with too thorough a knowing of the lewd and sinful Liberties of London.  Thus to clear his name and find the missing ‘lost lamb’ Walter, Ned has to search through the sinkholes of vice and lewdness with Meg Black and the surly and secretive Gruesome Rodger, a man who’s past Ned suspects holds the key to finding Walter.

Prologue  A Perilous Position, Fleete Ditch Bridge

Ned closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the winter chilled stonework of the bridge.  No, he kept on telling himself, don’t look down.  That wasn’t a good idea.  It may look like any other patch of the murky, stygian gloom of mid winter, but searching for an unseen peril below didn’t help.  If he fell he knew what happened.  He’d seen it a minute or so ago when the bridge wall collapsed.  Earless Nick’s luckless minion tumbled over him and, screaming briefly, had plummeted onto the ice which had shattered with a loud crash, then finally a choking gurgle.   So no, he didn’t need to peer down there to see the effects.  His imagination was already doing a good enough job supplying him with the images he didn’t need.  He already knew the Fleete Ditch by reputation – all of London and the Liberties did.  In summer you could smell it for a mile.  So a closer inspection of the sluggish, turgid, stream, charged with turds and piss channel scourings was not required.  Instead he needed to do something constructive, like figure out how to climb up. 
As it was, his fingers were getting cramped, shoved as they were between the iron and the stone.  He’d tried to tighten his grip on the iron staple and who knows, without the gloves, it may have been easier.  However as slippery as they felt right now, they protected his flesh from the jagged edged iron.  Damn the Liberties work crews and damn Sir Thomas Bloody More!  That lofty royal official had been Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and this bridge was under his jurisdiction for repair.  Perhaps if the new Lord Chancellor of the Kingdom had spent less time a’ hunting heretics, he could have put that spare energy to better use.  Like repairing the bloody Fleete Ditch Bridge!
Ned attempted to distract himself from this situation.  An ancient philosopher had suggested that, when in peril, one should recall a happy or pleasurable occasion to regain a moment of joy.  Well he did that, and what readily sprang to mind was the Christmas Revels.  His Christmas Revels actually, that he’d organised, financed and in fact should have, at this very moment, been sitting down to.  Feasting on roast suckling pig with a tankard of the finest sack in his hand.  And just think, during these twelve nights of Christmas didn’t he have so much to be thankful for.  Now he was hanging off the Fleete Ditch Bridge.  Oh, how could it be better? 
Ned wedged his hand further into the unyielding stone and mortar.  Let him see.  Of course, Mistress damn her arrogance Black, she could be here instead or him.  Oh wait no, no.  What would be more fitting was that meepish little rat, the reformist lost lamb, Walter Dellingham!  But wait, his daemon supplied one name above all, one name that well and truly deserved to be here; Gruesome Rodger Hawkins.  It was the fault of that surly retainer of the Black’s that Ned was here swinging off a piece of iron, waiting to plunge to an ignominious end.  Oh Christ on the cross no, not drowned in turds!
As Ned made an effort to remember a prayer, any prayer, he heard the scraping of a boot on the cobbles of the bridge above him.  Slowly the scuffing came closer.  Damn – more of Earless Nick’s minions.  He’d already gone through three – wasn’t that enough?  Anyway that complaint was moot.  It was not as if he could get to his dagger or sword – they were up there on the bridge.  Possibly he could push himself hard against the stone wall.  It was damned dark down here and the bridge lanterns didn’t cast even a smidgen of light this way.  The boots hit his sword and the metal chimed on the cobbles.  The outline of a figure peered over the edge as if looking straight at him.  Ned wasn’t sure whether or not he should call out.
Then a low voice spoke above him.  “Well bless me, it really is Christmas.  Fancy finding y’ here Bedwell.  Wotcha doin’ down there?  Is Walter with y’?
Ned closed his eyes for a moment and, to keep his temper in check, slowly counted up to ten – in Latin.  “No!  You stupid puttock, I don’t have lost lamb Walter here!  Now for the love of all the saints, Rodger bloody Hawkins, get me up!”
“Tch tch.  That’s a fair nasty tongue on y’ this evening, Red Ned Bedwell.” 
At the wryly amused tone, Ned ground his teeth and sent up another prayer, this time calling on forbearance.  “Forgive me Master Hawkins.  I’m cold, my arms hurt and damn Walter’s slipped off again.” 
The shadow changed shape as Gruesome Rodger Hawkins squatted by the broken wall, no doubt to help him up.  “Yeah remember, Bedwell, the other day when you challenged me at the tavern?”
“Yes, yes I do.”  How could he forget it?  That instant in time, just a few days ago was the very harbinger of his hanging off a rusty iron staple on Fleete Street Bridge.
‘Yeah, well so do I Bedwell, and I’ll remind you of what my reply was.   By god’s blood, afore the weeks out y’ goin’ to rue those words, y’ll be wading through a river o’shit to beg my forgiveness.” 
Ned sighed.  Oh yes he remembered that part. 
“Well Bedwell here we are, an’ I’m waiting.” 
Ned blinked a few times in sheer surprise.  This damned retainer was expecting him to apologise?  What of his honour, his dignity, his natural superiority as an apprentice lawyer?  As an instance of poor timing, the iron staple which former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should have replaced along with repairing the broken wall, chose now to ease out from its mortared hole.  “Ahh Meg Black isn’t nearby by is she?” 
At this point even the shrewish comments of an ungrateful Mistress Black were preferable to what awaited below.  Even in the dull gloom of the lanterns Ned could see the glint of Gruesome Rodger’s smile and the shake of his head.  “No, she’s tending someone down the road.  I can go and get her if y’ want.”
The iron squealed and Ned’s heart thumped rapidly.  “No, ahh it's fine!”   
“I can come back later if’n y’ want Bedwell.”
If there was one aspect of his character, apart from his intelligence, that Ned was justifiably proud of, it was his practicality.  After all, when hanging twenty foot over a frozen river of ordure, practicality was practically a virtue. 
Chapter 1 will be posted by the end of the week, bye everyone keep well
Regards Greg

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