Sir Josse d’Aquin is summoned to assist the beleaguered King John in the latest Hawkenlye mystery, THE DEVIL’S CUP by Alys Clare.
September 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself? Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy?
Here’s a sneak preview…
Then the wind changed.
The breeze, strengthening now, was coming from the sea. More quickly than Josse could have imagined possible, a sea fret came rolling in from the east, and where a moment ago they had been riding along in sunshine, with good visibility and no danger of allowing their horses to stray too close to the perilous marshes, suddenly everything was different.
They had come to a stream. It was quite wide, its banks dissipating into the surrounding marshy ground as its mouth opened out into the sea, although it didn’t appear to be deep; at least, it wasn’t when they first approached. But it had arrested their progress. Up at the head of the train, a few rows in front of where Josse, Yves and Geoffroi rode, the King and his senior attendants were talking to the local guides. Quite soon they were not so much talking as arguing. The King, as ever, wanted to hurry on across the stream and be on his way. The elder of the two guides – a weathered man of late middle age with a skin tanned by sun and sea and deep-set grey eyes – was advising caution.
‘Tide turned quite a while ago,’ he said calmly. ‘With this mist we can’t see out to sea, but what I can make out of conditions out there I don’t much like.’
‘Explain,’ said the King tersely.
The man paused, obviously thinking. ‘Water’s higher than it should be at this time,’ he said eventually. He fixed the King with his grey stare, apparently undaunted at being in conversation with his monarch. ‘I’m thinking perhaps something’s piling up the sea out there.’ He nodded towards the Wash.
The King tapped his crop against his boot, the gesture swift with irritated impatience. ‘What do you mean?’ he demanded.
The man paused once more, then said, ‘You get the onshore wind, see. Out of the east, like this here.’ He raised a hand in a cupping gesture, as if testing the air. ‘Now there’s strange currents swirling out there at the base of the Wash. They’re unpredictable.’ He paused, gazing out to where the sea could be heard but no longer seen. ‘Sometimes – and my bones tell me this is one such time – the wind and the current combine with the tide, and the water rushing in up these streams and little rivers comes with an unusual force.’
The King urged his horse forward so that he stood on the near bank of the stream. ‘The water does not look deep,’ he said. His tone, Josse thought, was carefully neutral.
‘Maybe not. But, like I said, the tide’s coming in.’
The guide gave the impression that he thought that was the end of the argument.
But the King said, ‘How long until it goes out again?’
The guide narrowed his eyes. ‘Won’t be before dusk. And, if I’m right and there’s a surge of water coming in, it’ll be later.’
The King sat silent for some time. Watching him closely, Josse sensed he was deeply uneasy. He is spooked by this place, he thought. He mistrusts the marshes, the rank smell, the silvery fog off the sea insinuating itself through the air. But just then, a ray of soft, golden sunshine speared down through the mist, diving down between the billows of cloud and piercing the ground almost at the feet of the King’s horse.
The King’s expression changed. His mouth stretched into a triumphant smile, he roared, ‘An omen! God is with us!’ Then, nudging his horse further into the water, he said with an air of utter finality, ‘We go on.’
There was a low murmur among the attendants. The younger guide, anguish on his face, spoke to the older man in a low voice, the words indistinguishable but urgency clear in his very tone. The older guide nodded.
‘My lord King,’ he called, ‘we do not advise this. There is a wide band of quicksand in mid-stream, slightly closer to the far bank, and, in this mist and with the water coming in so fast, it’s not going to be easy to spot it.’
Without turning round, the King called out coldly, ‘Then the pair of you should keep your eyes open and be particularly vigilant.’ Then, raising his right arm, he shouted, ‘On!’
THE DEVIL’S CUP by Alys Clare is published in the UK this month, and in the US in August 2017. For further information about Alys Clare, please visit our website here.