There were advantages to residing across from the churchyard. Being awakened before dawn by the Angelus bell was not one of them. I reasoned that I could learm nothing from the corpses until daylight, anyway, so kept to my bed for two more hours. Had I known who lingered at my door I would not have been so sluggardly.
I stumbled down the stairs and lit a cresset to improve the dim glow from my east window. Before I could slice a loaf of barley bread for my breakfast, I heard a soft knock at my door. I opened it and found Alice, bundled against the cold, shivering there. I bade her come in, and asked her how long she had waited there.
'Since the Angelus bell, sir,' she replied.
'Is your father taken worse?'
'Nay, not worse. But the draught you gave him last night no longer serves. He needs another. You told me to come.'
I set about preparing the crushed seeds and root of hemp, added some crushed lettuce for good measure, then mixed the stuff in a pint of ale.
The girl watched me work in silence for a time, then spoke: 'He'll not live, will he?' she said softly. It was more a statement than a question [...]
My hesitation was answer enough.
'I thought not,' she said quietly. I turned to her, the laced ale before me. The girl stood, trembling yet from the cold, with a tear reflecting the lamp as it coursed down her cheek. 'What will become of me?'
'You have family. Your brothers live at the Weald, do they not? Surely one will make a place for you?'
'No,' she whispered, 'they'll not want another mouth to feed. Not mine, 'specially.'
You get the idea. Just the kind of thing I love, and I'll definitely be reading more of this series.
In this first story, set in England in the 1360s, Hugh is confronted by, first, human bones found in the cesspit of Bampton Castle, and then, soon afterwards, the decomposing bodies of two noblemen, a knight and his squire, found buried hastily in shallow graves in the forest.
Hugh is Hugh de Singleton, the youngest son of a landed knight and a graduate of Oxford University and the Paris Medical Schools, and he has recently set up in Bampton as the town surgeon. Now it is to him that Lord Gilbert of Bampton turns in an attempt to identify the bones in the cesspit and establish if possible the cause of death and how they came to be there. All Hugh can do at first is to tell him that they are the bones of a teenage girl, and that she had at some point fracrtured her ankle.
The bodies in the forest, though, are known to Lord Gilbert. The knight had been staying at the castle as a suitor to Lord Gilbert's still unmarried sister, Joan. This seems to Hugh to be more a job for the sheriff than a surgeon, but Lord Gilbert insists, so Hugh sets about interviewing people – and eventually comes up with a theory and a culprit that has everyone convinced - except him! As the man is taken for trial, Hugh is still searching for evidence that will save him and convict another - and falling in love, himself, with the stunningly beautiful Lady Joan.