Friday, October 26, 2012
A Comfit of Rogues
New Red Ned Novel out soon!
Greetings my well regarded readers, I hope that all is well with you and yours this northern Fall or southern Spring. Today I have a few announcements before we move on to the body of the blog. First I would like to congratulate Hilary Mantel at winning the Booker prize for the second time for her continuation of the Thomas Cromwell story in Bringing up the Bodies. It is a splendid endorsement for all historical fiction across the genre and shows that our common past is a fertile ground for writers and readers. So three cheers for Hilary!
I would also like to announce that this week a new Red Ned story will be released on Amazon- A Comfit of Rogues. This tale, also set in novella form carries on from Ned’s near disastrous venture in The Fetter Lane Fleece. It would appear that Ned has tweaked the noses of the Masters of Mischief and Roguery in the City and Liberties of London once too often. Putting aside their rivalry they’ve signed a compact to ensure the removal of the meddlesome apprentice lawyer Ned Bedwell. So can Ned count on anyone in the London Underworld for support, or is the reward of five gold angels in coin too much temptation for treachery?
Throughout the Christian realm of His Sovereign Majesty King Henry VIII the twelve days of Christmas was a time of celebration. Doors and lynch gates were framed with holly and ivy and the last fasting ended on Christmas Eve with a joyous feast of the Saviour’s birth in every lord’s hall, yeoman’s house and beggar’s hovel. The Black Goat on Bride Lane in the Liberties of the Ward of Farrington Without was no exception, though here they also maintained the old tradition of a Lord of Misrule. For the season some wards and parishes proclaimed a boy bishop or elevated a humble servant with complimentary ragged rogues serving as the officers of Butler and Chancellor. Here only one man held that title and the bestowal of traditional gifts and favours, Earless Nick, the Lord of the Liberties from London Wall to Temple Bar.
This wasn’t any titled demesne such as that of the Duke of Norfolk with a carefully scripted parchment heavy with gilt and seals, though like a distant Howard ancestor it was a rank gained by the practice of murder and the ready effusion of blood. Not that this distinction mattered to those in the long procession snaking out of the tavern door. Earless Nick’s whims or pleasures held them enthralled in tighter bonds than even the slaves of the Sultan of the Moors, and considering the recent debacle here at the Black Goat, Nick’s moods had tended towards the darker shades of choler. There was also another factor that held them. Past Earless Nick’s silk draped chair of state was a feast of such sumptuousness that few had beheld outside of the Cardinal’s palace of Whitehall at York Place; capons in almond douce sauce, smothered rabbits and onions, a white pudding of hog’s liver, jelly hippocras and a roasted pheasant complete with feathers. As for the sweets and subtleties, one clever cross biter whispered to his drooling friends that three pounds of blanched almond sugar went into the modelled replica of Newgate Tower alone. For fellows and punks who scrounged, begged and thieved for a bowl of warm pease and bacon potage this was a spread of foods beyond compare. A veritable paradise of pleasure…though for some surveying their skimpy gleanings, gaining a seat at the feast wasn’t their only concern.
One by one the line shuffled towards the finely dressed figure taking his ease on lordly seat, each member of the fraternity dropping to their knees and presenting their prizes for judgement. To complete the feudal scene a clerk stood beside Earless scribbling notations in an iron clasped, leather bound book as the offerings were displayed. Then if acceptable, Wall-eyed Willis, Nick’s master of rogues and veteran of fifty fights in the brawling pits, would wave one of his lumbering lads forward to take the prizes and convey them to the heavy iron strapped chest set against the wall. After this Earless Nick would stare at his grovelling petitioner for a few seconds in deep deliberation before waving them off to join the company at the back of the commons who’d partake of the feast.
However in the regard of Earless Nick not all gifts were so easily accepted. One lanky longbearded fellow in a ragged cloak stepped forward and presented a bundle of clothes. Earless Nick frowned at the offering and signalled for it to be shaken out by a waiting minion and sat there tapping his lip with a ring covered finger. “Tis a poor week for a hookman tis it, Dickon?”
The hookman cringed at the question, his beard almost brushing the floor. “Aye Master Nick. Tis the snow an’ cold. They’s keeps their shutters sealed up tighter than a bishops cellar!”
Earless Nick gave a wintery smile and nodded. “So Dickon, its latched and shuttered windows that is the cause of your miserable pickings. Hmm, two old cambric shirts and a worn patched set of hoses.”
Dickon the hook man quickly nodded and spluttered out agreement through quivering lips. “Aye Master Nick. Tis ta cold fo’ them ta hang ou’ their clothes an sa’ I can’t gets em.”
Earless Nick continued to smile as he buffed his silvered rings on a piece of damask cloth. “So it wasn’t you seen passing four fine shirts to Ol’ Simkins in Little Drury?”
Dickon the hookman gulped nervously as his eyes darted around the common room seeking out the informant. “Na’ it weren’t I Master Nick. Sum cuffin’s a lying rogue ta yea.”
Earless Nick’s smile broadened as he picked up a horn cup and dropped a pair of dice into it. “Well Dickon, it may be so. Indeed it may and I’s a fair master so according to custom yea can throw an let the good Lord decide your fate.”
The hookman’s hand shook as he took the proffered cup and the dice rattled like a gallows drummer. Covering the open mouth of the cup with a grimy hand Dickon gave a wheezing prayer then spilled the dice on the floor with an abrupt fling
“Hmm, that’s a poor cast Dickon, a two.” Earless fastidiously rubbed his fingers with the velvet damask and scooped up the dice, a quick swirl around the cup and they leapt out then rolled to a stop displaying a ‘nick’. Earless leant back in his chair and shook his head in mock sadness. “The Lord God has judged against yea Dickon.”
The defeated hookman grovelled at his master’s feet whimpering and pleading as two of Wall-eye’s scowling lads dragged him over to a close set pair of posts to which they tied his arms. Nick gave another brief wave and one of Dickon’s escorts began lashing his back with a length of knotted rope. In between the howls of pain Earless Nick cast a long slow look at the gathered members of his company. Then into the sobbing silence he spoke in a voice low and menacing. “No man cheats the Lord of the Liberties. Remember it.”
The assembly cheered with eager gusto flavoured by the fact that it wasn’t them getting the beating. Given the last reception to the head of the queue there was no complaint as a pair of figures pushed their way to the front, though they did garner a fair amount of whispered speculation. The woman from her worn scarlet kirtle and pulled down chemise had to be a punk. Only a lass interested in gathering ‘trade’ would expose that much pale breast on a chilly winter’s day. To the rest of the crowd it wasn’t just the recent flogging that had them pull back. With her long blonde hair and vivid green cap only the most blind of beggars wouldn’t recognise Earless Nick’s favoured girl, Anthea, leader of the St Paul’s punks. But favour was a tricky thing. It ebbed and flowed like the Thames and according to many a sage whisper, due to the recent disturbance, Anthea was dry beached on the shores of Nick’s ill content.
The Lord of the Liberties spent some time watching the play of candlelight on a recent present, a gold ring inset with a sapphire, before acknowledging her presence with a twitched finger. As for her guest, the cloaked and hooded figure, it was as if it were as insubstantial as a spirit for all the regard Nick gave it. “Anthea my poppet, I’ve missed yea these last days. I hopes yea have recompense for your previous failings…?”
The question hung in the air with a dreadful menace and the audience of the Tavern swung their fascinated gaze towards the advancing punk. All were keen that someone other than them should suffer the further ill–humoured wrath of the Lord of Misrule. Anthea visibly swallowed then locked her arm around that of a hooded stranger before stepping forward into the empty space between the retreating petitioners and the Master of the Liberties. The punk captaine shook her long hair out of her eyes that glinted evilly in the reflected orange glow from the yuletide log. Several nips and foisters crossed themselves flinching as she passed, some making furtive gestures to avert ill fortune. Then at a pace’s distance with much bowing and grovelling Anthea threw herself down on her knees beside the chair of state and clutched at the hand of Earless Nick, rubbing her face on it like a fawning hound. “Nick my luv, I’s have a gift fo’ thee, a wonderful gift, the likes yea have not seen afo’. A sweet gift fo’ my sweet Lord o’ the Liberties.”
Nick turned his coldly impassive face toward his formerly favoured punk. The chilling interest reflected in his eyes would have set even the meanest wild rogue a trembling with fear. His lips stretched to the barest flicker of a smile. “And what of my gift…my sweetling?”
Anthea drew the hooded stranger forward. The visitor didn’t bow or kneel instead inclining a shrouded face towards Earless Nick and with a shielding hand began to whisper. The Lord of Misrule’s face remained blandly still though to those close enough to see, his eyes did appear to glitter from time to time with a malevolent spirit. Finally the hooded figure drew back and Earless Nick clapped his hands together like the snap of an harquebus and grinned with savage delight. “Oh Anthea you are my best lass, a true pearl beyond compare and this is a wonderful Yuletide gift payment and revenge all wrapped in one. Hah! No man cheats the Lord o’ the Liberties of his winnings and certainly not that lawyerly whelp!”
Earless Nick slammed his fist onto the table and grabbing his silver gilt cup thrust it in the air. “A toast! A toast! Raise high yer cups, cos a sennight hence Red Ned Bedwell will be swinging at Tyburn, or food for worms!”
The sack fuelled cheer echoed out the doorway into the winter snow and whispered in rumour through the Liberties. The Lord of Misrule was out for revenge.