River of Sins (Bradecote and Catchpoll Book 7)
Published by Allison & Busby
Available in ebook & paperback (19 November 2020)
My thanks to Lesley of Allison & Busby for the invitation to take part in the tour and congratulations to Sarah Hawkswood on publication day 📚🍾
I’m delighted to be starting off the tour with an extract of Chapter 1 – and the opening of River of Sins. I wish there had been time to fit in a review of this. Happy reading!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ricolde, ‘the finest whore in Worcester’, is found butchered on an island a few miles up the River Severn. How did she get there, who killed her, and why?
Uncovering details of her life and her past reveal a woman with hidden depths and hidden miseries which are fundamental to the answers, but time has cast a thick veil over the killer’s identity.
The lord Sheriff’s men have a trail that went cold over two decades ago, and evidence that contradicts itself.
In a place Catchpoll knows inside out, he finds things new even to him, and then the case becomes personal.
The Feast of St Mary Magdalene, July 1144
The woman moaned, very softly, as consciousness returned. Her head ached. She was moving, and in a boat, for she could hear the soft sound of water parting and closing as the paddles dipped. She was gagged and bound, and wrapped in some cloth which she felt she knew. Yes, it was the feel of the coverlet of her bed. She did not struggle, and part of her wondered why. For a moment she questioned whether this had been some form of kidnapping, to sell her to a foreign trader. It made no sense, but then none of it did. The boat seemed to glide through the water as though the world had no cares in it and was at peace. Her captor spoke not a word, beyond the occasional grunting breath as he rowed.
They did not go very far, she thought. She wished they had, for then she would have had more precious time. There was a scraping of wood, a splash and a muttered oath as a line failed to catch at the first attempt, then the rope tightened, and the boat juddered and stilled. She was more dragged than lifted onto dry land, and her aching head was bumped again. She was rolled out of the cloth onto dewy grass and found herself gazing up into a softly lit sky, just past the sun’s full rise over the horizon. A skylark was singing.
The gag was removed from her mouth, and she was pulled into a sitting position, but her hands were kept bound behind her. She looked at him, and at the axe in his hand. She ought to be afraid. She was not, and she thought that unsettled him. He wanted her to plead? Well, she would not, because she had seen men look like that before. They wanted to hear the pleading, and then do what they wanted anyway. Even at the last she would not give a man that satisfaction, whatever other satisfaction she had given men over the years.
‘Why? And why here? Where is here?’ she mumbled, her mouth still dry, and looked about her. They were on some small islet in the river, and it was familiar, but from long ago. She frowned as she dragged the memory from the depths.
‘Do you not recognise it?’ The voice was hard. ‘No, perhaps you were too young. You do not know why either, but I will tell you that. Your mother was found floating down the Severn, but that was just the end of it. This is where it happened, where he discovered her whoring. The other man escaped by diving into the water, but she did not. He had the right to punish her for her faithlessness, and you are as bad. It must be in the blood from her. He dragged her to the water, down one of the slopes, and held her under till she stopped struggling. Then he let her float away. Why do you think we left? Grief?’ The headache was replaced by spinning – but spinning of thoughts. It was impossible, surely it was impossible? And if it was not . . . She felt sick then. There were some deeds too repellent.
‘No.’ She refuted the thought with the word.
‘Yes. I did not recognise you either, otherwise I would not . . .’ His face contorted.
‘But you have lived in Worcester all these past years and . . .’ She shook her head. Her memories were hazy, of a boy teetering upon the edge of manhood, about to change but still gangly of limb and indeterminate of voice.
‘Why should I link The Whore of Worcester with a little girl I last saw when she was a snivelling brat of five summers.’
She ignored the question. ‘When did he die?’ She wanted to know that at least, how many years the man she recalled as big and brutish, and always angry, had lived with a taken life upon his soul.
‘A year after we left. Some inflammation of the lungs took him. He had me apprenticed in a good craft, so I was secure. I worked hard, hard enough to earn the hand of my master’s daughter, and when he died, well, I had my own business.’
‘So he sort of drowned too.’ She was glad. ‘Fitting, I would say.’
He struck her across the face. It hurt, but what did it matter. Soon there would be no more hurt.
‘If I am like my mother, then you are like him, a bully who blames others for his own failings. You will kill me to take the “taint” of our sinning together from you, blame me, but it was you who came to my door, you who paid the coin.’
Yes, as always, the man blamed the woman. It was the woman’s fault for tempting, the wife’s fault for not tempting enough. They thought themselves better, but they were simply bigger and more powerful. He was a nithing, a bully’s whelp, for all he held the axe.
She did the last thing she could do to show he did not have command of her; she laughed. Her laughter was a little ragged, and in her head were a jumble of urgent thoughts: she would be alone, without comfort, but she had always been alone all her life; better this sudden end beneath the blue heavens and with a skylark’s song in her ears than old and raddled and cold in the dark. Then there was the desperate rush of thought. She did not want to die, not yet. She prayed silently as he grabbed her by her dark chestnut hair, and the laugh grew shrill. Holy Mary, pray for us sinners . . . She was still laughing as the axe struck home.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Hawkswood read Modern History at Oxford University and specialised in Military History and Theory of War. She turned from writing military history to mediaeval murder mysteries set in the turmoil of The Anarchy in the mid 12thC, all set in Worcestershire, where she now lives. The Bradecote & Catchpoll series began with Servant of Death (previously published as The Lord Bishop’s Clerk) set in Pershore Abbey. The second, Ordeal by Fire, is set in Worcester itself, and there are already another five written.
Writing is intrinsic to who she is, and she claims she gets ‘grumpy’ when there is not another manuscript on the go. Her aim is to create a ‘world’, one in which the reader can become immersed, and with an accurate historical context, not ‘dressing up’.
Sarah Hawkswood is a pen name.