Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Comfit of Rogues Released on Amazon

 New Red Ned Novel out
Greetings my well regarded readers, I hope that all is well with you and yours this All Souls Eve, or All Hallows Eve for those in the north and Beltain for us in the southerly climes.  Today I have a few announcements before we move on to the body of the blog.  First I would to extend my heartfelt sympathies to those lost and injured during Hurricane Sandy and highly commend all the rescue workers and ordinary people who are doing such splendid work helping their neighbours and their communities.  If possible I’d like to encourage everyone to give aid to the Red Cross for what I fear is the start of a very long recovery. 
As well I would also like to announce that as of today a new Red Ned story has been 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.

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 this meddlesome apprentice lawyer and aspiring rogue.  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? 
Plots, plunder and the occasional hobby horse abound, in Tudor London this Misrule.
The next tale of Ned’s Yuletide and Misrule adventures after The Liberties of London and The Fetter Lane Fleece.  including a cast of rogues, beggars and lowly Londoners.

For your delight and amusement I’m putting up chapter 1 on this blog, please feel free to pass this around.  Also as an All Hallows treat the previous Red Ned novel A Fetter Lane Fleece will be available as a free download from Amazon for two days from 1st Nov (12am Pacific Standard Time ie Seattle) .  So put your feet up have a chortle over poor Ned and stay safe this week.

Regards Gregory House

A Comfit of Rogues Book links


The Fetter Lane Fleece

Chapter One A Christmas Calling

The chill breath of winter blew down the lanes of New Rents Southwark, a setting the window shutters rattling and the painted signs above swaying to and fro. It also forced the small band trudging through the flurries of wind–driven snow to huddle deeper into their collection of ragged cloaks and worn gowns as they muttering and cursing at the weather. At the front their leader didn’t give the complaints any mind, though his bulbous nose glowed red with the cold and the straggly brown locks escaping from under his tattered cap were caked in icy sleet. No matter the weather, even if it were Satan’s own fearsome flaming farts you faced, only a lack brained fool keen for a bruising or worse would have dared to voice a challenge to an order from Canting Michael. And Gulping Jemmy wasn’t near that foolish, so he turned a deaf ear to the mutinous mutters and grumbled curses behind him and forged ahead deeper into the chancy lanes of New Rents. So they were nervous and afraid. Phew, what a pack of trembling pizzle pullers! Weren’t they the fearsome lads of Canting Michael, gang lord of Southwark and the baiting pits?
Gulping grinned as he ‘overheard’ one of the lads whispering to poor Will the tales about Gryne’s Men and how they hacked apart those who crossed them in bloody retribution. As tales went it had it all, packed full of gruesome detail along with the useful caveat that in essence it was true. Most of Southwark had seen the parade of the lopped trunk and several assorted parts impaled on an array of pikes escorted by Gryne’s Men last summer. Even Justice Overton, their blinkered magistrate, who reputedly only noticed a gold angel thrust in front of his nose, had witnessed the precession to the pillory at High Street. Canting himself had watched nodding with grim approval, then as an aside curiously wondering how their goodly, honest and worthy Justice would ascribe this death on the mortuary bill, severe ague perhaps or possibly accidental drowning.
It had been neither and Gulping Jemmy should know. He’d seen the listing for the day. It’d cost him a groat to the clerk but the expense had been worth it. The proof had won him a shilling and a slightly worn cambric shirt from Reaching Richard the hookman. So for him the journey to the Gryne Dragone, lair of Gryne’s Men, was naught to be concerned over. If his escort shivered and shook with more dread than cold at the squeal of the chains holding the carved and painted dragone, that was all to the good.
A greater fright awaited as they approached the door. Suddenly a six foot tall door warden, a great butcher’s blade in hand, lurched out of a covered shelter. From the abruptly muffled squeal Jemmy could swear young Will, their most recently recruited roister had dampened his codpiece. The door warden snarled and Jemmy’s retinue flinched. Their leader though returned his own cheery grin and brushed the snow off the collar of his worn heavy scarlet gown. “Good day Wat. Is the Captaine in?”
His question was answered with a short grunt and a tilt of the cleaver sized implement indicated that Jemmy was allowed entrance. With a friendly nod and the toss of a small coin he pushed the door open and whistling he stepped out of the cold. As he should have expected the gasp and whimper of incipient terror once more came from young Will. Jemmy shook his head in mock regret over the sad quality of Canting’s latest retainer. If the lad hadn’t been the favoured son of the gang lord’s sister he’d still be a carpenter’s arse, and a poor one at that.
In Southwark the choice of boozing kens was many and varied. A fellow, if he chose could toss down sour ale by the firkin in a tumbled down hovel of an ale house. By law and statute such places had to be identified by a green bush out front, though it was commonly a few withered leaves on a broken branch. There he may get rolled by thieves and cutpurses or purge his guts from sour maggoty ale, but life was full of diverse pleasures and risks. Alternately if flushed with silver the Tabard Inn on High Street was the perfect place—fresh rushes on the floor, a decent brew with possibly better company and or at least less chance of puking his pint. Even so the punks were of a better sort. Jemmy should know. He ‘personally’ collected the rents. In between these extremes stood a tavern such as the Gryne Dragone. It possessed a good sized common room, a blazing fire, fine ale and the reputation for serving a tasty pottage and usually a roasted ordinary dripping in savoury juices, all of which would normally draw in a sizable clientele from Southwark’s finest. Except for one slight difference.
Most taverns made an effort to decorate with whitewashed walls and timber wainscoting. The wealthier few even pushed extravagance to a mock canvas tapestry or painted plaster. Here they’d gone a step further or maybe depending on your taste a whole mile. The walls were fitted out like the racks of the Ward muster armoury. Pole arms, spears, bills, axes and spiked maces jostled for room with stands of half armour and great swords. Now unlike some lord’s hall where this was a statement of past glories and ancient martial deeds, Jemmy, like the rest of his band could see by the gleam of oiled and polished ironware that this array was sharp and ready for instant and bloody use. For Captaine Gryne this served as the well–arranged display of any quality craftsmen, though unlike the shops in the street of the goldsmiths it wasn’t fancy gilt and silver ewers he had on show. And this wasn’t all. The Captaine didn’t just offer the wares of war but also the skilled muscle to wield them, for a price. And this was why Will had wilted so completely. At any time the tavern held a dozen odd veterans of the battles in France, Italy or further afield. During the festivities of Christmas that number tripled and then some. Even the boldest rogue would have faltered at the way the assembly swivelled as one to view their ‘guests’. So many fearsome battle scarred faces lacking eyes, teeth and noses could unbalance the humours of even the most stout—hearted roister. As for poor Will, the lad possessed the stomach and fortitude of a mouse.
Jemmy was by now immune to the subdued menace. He waved the company a cheerful greeting, and ignoring the keen eyed calculations of worth and mayhem, took an empty seat at a table by the fire. His company clustered at his back as if trying on a display of swagger. He let them stew in their own sweaty fear for a long minute then sent them off to hide in relative safety at a bench by the door. Anyway Will’s cod piece reeked like a tanner’s yard and by the fire it steamed noxiously.
Keeping up his friendly smile Jemmy lent back against the wall pulling out a small bone comb and quickly flicked it through his greasy brown locks, then with a heavy thumb nail cracked the captured lice. With Captaine Gryne one waited patiently and smiled…always.
By the distinctive peel of the church bells of St Mary Overie by the river he’d been waiting about an hour when the tavern door swung open and in stomped a troop of heavily cloaked men. Most peeled off to various tables but two continued their passage to Jemmy’s table. The first was a tall, lean and swarthy fellow with coal black hair and a mouth set in a permanent sneer from a sword cut. Hand on dagger he gave Jemmy a close and long inspection. As with the rest of the company in the tavern Jemmy continued to display a cheery smile. Master Swarthy Sneer gave a last slit eyed glare and stepped back.
An even larger figure moved into the vacant spot and after unfurling yards of heavy cloak from around his shoulders, revealed a broad strong face and a long red beard split German fashion into two forks over a satin black leather doublet. The new arrival sat down on the opposite bench, hands powerful enough to snap the necks of mastiffs at rest on the oaken boards of the table. A large pottery jug of freshly warmed wine and two silver cups were placed between them. Master Swarthy Sneer performed the duties of a livery servant and filled both cups to the brim. A delicate waft of rich vapour spiralled up. The Master of the Gryne Dragone and Captaine of Gryne’s Men picked up one of the cups, and holding it under his nose drew in the trail of steaming wine then downed it in a single swallow and nodded with approval. “So Gulping Jemmy, how stands ta Misrule festivities o’ Canting Michael?”
Given his pledge of safety Jemmy took his own leisure sip. Hmm, good Gascon. Captaine Gryne was never one to stint on quality. He slowly put his hand into his doublet and pulled out a heavy clinking pouch and slid it across to Captaine Gryne. “Canting gives ‘is respects Captaine.”
Gryne nodded and pushed the purse to his left. As if summoned a young man with all the mannerisms of a clerk scurried out from a curtained alcove. Without any command he immediately emptied the purse, and tally book open, began to count out Canting Michael’s black rent. The scribbler paid close attention and noted down every coin even to a clipped groat. It was said you could cheat Captaine Gryne but once. A few years ago one clerk had tried to pull some coining cozenage on the Captaine’s rents. Gryne apparently had listened to the gabbled excuses and decided the snivelling penner wasn’t wholly to blame and thus only broke the fingers of both hands. Some may scoff and shake their heads but the play of cozenage did require a certain level of honesty, if only to those above.
As the counting continued the Captaine called for a serving of ale, and still playing servant Master Swarthy poured a full measured firkin. Jemmy pulled the timber staved tankard towards him and smacked his lips in appreciation. “Care fo’ a wager Captaine, mayhap on who’s the quickest, fo’ say a firkin?”
Jemmy grinned hopefully. The large man opposite remained silent for a brief second then barked out a short laugh and slapped his palm down on the scrubbed boards of the table. The snap echoed like the sudden belch of a great Gonne. “Jemmy, Jemmy ‘at’s a forlorn hope. I’s seen ya’ guzzle a good couple o’ gallons an’ still stand. I’ll nay take yr’ cozeners ploy.”
Jemmy gave shrug as if the Captaine was losing out on the most certain of opportunities and taking the refusal as yet another round in the monthly game o’ sport they played at the Gryne Dragone, moved onto a more fruitful piece of business. “So Captaine, ‘ave yea ‘eard o’ ta latest ploy o’ ta Bedwell lad?”
Gryne’s heavy red beard moved up and down in a slow nod. “Oh aye, some wild rumour reached me o’ strange doings ov’r on the Fleete a night or so past.”
Jemmy gave his usual half grin. Common gentlemen looked at Gryne and saw only a hired sword, or in this case a great sword for cleaving men in twain. If that were so Canting wouldn’t be the one handing over black rent every month for the ‘safety’ of his Baiting pits. Gryne skimmed a shilling from the pile of coins towards Jemmy. In a practiced flash it disappeared with nary the twitch of a hand. “Tsk, tsk. Flaunty Phil over at ta Fleece tis in a right state. ‘is nose were flattened by a bucket tis said.”
Gryne’s beard split for a moment to reveal a brief broken toothed smile. “Aye an’ the lad fair singed Delphina’s golden crown. Both o’ em are spittin’ fury an revenge all over ta Liberties.” The fierce smile grew wider and the Irish accented tones of Gryne rumbled. “I’s heard young Bedwell won ta Fleete Street race, a’ bare arsed as bishop’s altar boy.”
Now it was Jemmy’s turn to nod. Only a fool would assume Captaine Gryne hadn’t heard about the misfortunes of Red Ned Bedwell. As he knew the shilling was an inducement for depth and breadth to the rumour. “That’s so, in a storm o’ ice an’ snow fram what I’s ’eard. Ned’s a lucky lad. If Lord Frast’s breath were any chillier ’is precious stones woulda froze more than the Thames. A wee tap would hae them shatter like glass baubles!”
Gryne gave an amused chuckle at the image then teased out a little more of his knowledge. “Aye tis said it came close but the apothecary lass he’s a sweet on pulled his chestnuts ut o’ the fire.”
Now it was Jemmy’s turn to grin. He’d met the ‘apothecary lass’ during Ned’s last scheme at cony catching over Bermondsey way. It didn’t take much to remember that very attractive line of neck and shoulder leading to a well packed bodice. Oh yes and sparkling eyes. It mattered naught that she’d played him as a cony with a drugged posset. He was fairly caught and gave due credit to a worthy mistress of cosenage. Jemmy lent forward over the table keen for the meat of the tale for his own curiosity even if Canting wasn’t going to grill him when he returned. “Oh aye?”
“Yea. His codpiece parts were soaked in fresh piss every hour, just like those coneys a’ the Biddle! An he ‘ad no lack o’ friends ta supply t’ steamin’ liquor!”
Gryne’s laugh boomed off the wall and Jemmy readily joined in. Ahh, young Red Ned did get himself into some fine scraps. He’d have paid silver to see Ned’s grimace as his mates unlaced their codpieces and hoes then let forth the stream. Though as strange as the remedy seemed he’s wasn’t moon–calfed enough to scoff at Mistress Black’s regimen of physick, but by Satan’s own blackened bollocks, her cures always had a bitter bite, or so he’d heard.
Having given the reputation of Red Ned Bedwell, young rogue of note, a good pasting for his Fleece folly, Jemmy appeared to relax then took a slurp of the Gryne Dragone ale. As he’d come to know it was a fine drop. Captaine Gryne always had the best double strength ale, aged a year in the barrel by some accounts, only served to those he considered his ‘especial’ friends and since Jemmy felt himself a very useful especial friend indeed, he casually eased out his most valuable morsel of news. “By ta by Captaine have yea ’eard o’ ta meeting Earless Nick wants at ta Bear’s Inn on the morrow?”
The raising of a shaggy eyebrow was his answer.
“He’s called in all ta gang lord’s o’ London, Cantin’ Michael, Flaunty Phil an Ol’Bent Bart ta name a few. I’d a thought yea would ’ave received a letter o’ invitation.”
Captaine Gryne’s eyes didn’t flicker or twitch. Instead his hand moved towards the pile of coins laid out for the tally and skimmed a golden angel towards his visitor. Instantly it vanished into Jemmy’s doublet as he drained the tankard in one long steady swallow after which the tankard smacked down on the table and Jemmy rose up giving his host a respectful tilt of his cap as thanks for the hospitality. “I’ll bid yea a good feastin’ this Misrule and Christmastide Captaine.”
The master of Gryne’s Men gave a slow nod in reply but other than that made no further comment. Acquiring his retinue including the reeking Will on the way out Jemmy strode happily into the grey light of Christmas whistling a jaunty tune. Tomorrow was promising to be very entertaining and fair bulging with golden promise as well.

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