Murder for Christ's Mass - By Maureen Ash
Lincoln December 21, 1201
THE STONE QUARRY LAY STILL AND SILENT UNDER THE maelstrom of wind and raging clouds scudding in the skies above. The early darkness of a winter evening had already fallen and the deep pit was shrouded in gloom. At intermittent moments, the racing clouds parted for an instant and allowed the beams of a full moon to dance a chiaroscuro of flickering shadows across the steep walls of stone. The night air was cold, its intensity heightened by a bitter wind blowing from the northeast. To the man who stood at the top of the cliff face overlooking the quarry, it was an eerie scene and made him apprehensive. In the daytime, when quarrymen were at work cutting and hauling blocks of stone, the huge pit would be full of activity, but now, in the darkness, it was a lonely place. Although he was only a few hundred yards from the walls of Lincoln town, it seemed as though he were stranded in a desolate spot far from the comforting presence of civilization. He started suddenly as the distant cry of a wolf was borne to him on the gusting wind. Wrapping his cloak closer about him, he damned the person he expected to meet for being late. It must be nearly an hour past the time agreed for their appointment.
A short distance from where he stood was a small shack. It was only large enough to contain a few small tools and some coils of rope but, nonetheless, the door was fastened with a stout lock. A few flakes of wind-driven snow blew onto the man’s cheeks, stinging his exposed flesh like needles. If he was going to wait any longer, he needed to find shelter, and the shack was the only place available. Even if he could not break the lock to gain entry, there might be some relief from the wind on the leeward side of the walls.
Deciding he would wait just a few more minutes, he turned to make his way towards the shed when he thought he saw a movement on the narrow track leading from the main road to the cliff top. The shifting shadows caused by the passage of the clouds made it difficult to be sure, and he stopped and stared in that direction, shielding his eyes from the wind by cupping his hands on either side of his face. After a few moments, he decided he was mistaken. Patting the leather sack tied to his belt to make sure it was still securely in place, he resumed his steps towards the shed.
He had almost reached the small building when he was hit from behind, a heavy clout that took his breath away and brought him to his knees. Instinctively he tried to roll away but was too slow, and again a crushing blow descended on his skull, this time on the side of his head. As he struggled to regain his reeling senses, a booted foot pushed him onto his back and there was the brief glimmer of a knife arcing towards his chest. The blade took him directly in the heart. He was dead within seconds.
The attacker knelt beside his victim, feeling within the folds of the dead man’s clothing for the pouch he carried. The murderer had difficulty removing it and used his knife to cut it free, not noticing that his efforts had loosened the neck of the sack slightly, and one of the coins it contained spilled out onto the ground. Once the pouch was safely stowed inside his tunic, he dragged the corpse to the edge of the cliff and shoved it over. The body fell with silent quickness and landed with a barely perceptible thud beside an enormous limestone block. As the killer crept back behind the shack, the wind increased in strength. Soon it would bring more snow, the flakes driving almost sideways in the vanguard of the incoming storm. By the time the midnight hour arrived, a mantle of white would cover the floor of the quarry and render the body of the dead man indistinguishable from the other snow-covered mounds of stone.
Lincoln December 25, 1201
THE SNOWSTORM LASTED ONE NIGHT AND A DAY. WHEN the last errant flake fluttered down from a leaden-coloured sky, it left the high knoll on which the castle and cathedral stood and the streets of the town on the hillside below covered in a deep blanket of snow. On the heels of the storm the temperature