Finding The Leaden Heart – Gods Of Gold

As I’ve mentioned before – and I’ll be saying again and again – the end of March sees the publication of my new book, The Leaden Heart. It’s the seventh in the Tom Harper series, set in 1899, on the cusp of a brand-new century that is set to bring more changes that anyone could imagine.

In the weeks leading up to it seeing the light of day, time to revisit some of the book in the series…

Hard to believe that it’s only five years since Tom made his first appearance, met as he sprints down Briggate in pursuit of a thief. That’s where it all started, with Gods of Gold, set during the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, which the union won in just three days, a rare example of the workers coming out on top.

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It was strange that the book even appeared. I’d written six Richard Nottingham novels, and my publisher asked for something different. I’d always sworn I’d never set anything in Victorian times. But after that I read about the gas strike and I knew it ought to be celebrated. I received help from a strange source, a woman I’d met before, as I’d written a short story about her (Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw). She sat down next to me and said, ‘I was there, luv. I was the landlady at the Victoria. Why don’t you let me tell you about it?’

And so Gods of Gold came about. The title is from a poem by Tom Maguire, one of Leeds’ great unsung political figures, a man who did so much for the working classes here, only to die in poverty far, far too young. He’s buried at Beckett Street Cemetery.

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Joanne Harris, the bestselling author (who has a new book coming called The Strawberry Thief) was generous enough to praise the novel: “A vibrant sense of living history, with strong, well-drawn characters…I loved it.”

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I made a trailer for the book, and here it is, all dusted off and YouTube shiny.

For the launch, I even had 10 tee shirts made, featuring the cover image. Remarkably, nine of them sold, and I still have the other in a drawer. And there were book marks.

Apart from Tom, the book also featured Detective Sergeant Billy Reed, who’s featured in every book so far, as well as Constable Ash, who’s grown since his introduction in uniform. But there was someone else, that woman who told me all about the strike. Annabelle Atkinson.

She’s Annabelle Harper now, of course, and has been for a long time. But they were still courting in those early days, and I had no idea how important a figure she’d become in the series, it’s emotional linchpin, in fact. As the series progresses, in many ways it’s become the story of the Harper family, how they change and age over the years, as much as they’re crime novels or historical fiction. Or why not all three? I ended up writing a play about Annabelle, called The Empress on the Corner, which was performed a few times. A couple of scenes were filmed, including this, which recounts how she and Tom first met. The Victorian pub is part of Abbey House Museum in Leeds – they were kind enough to let us film.

In those days I didn’t know the books would end up taking on such a life of their own. At the risk of sound pretentious, the series has taken on the feel of my magnum opus. Like any writer, I was fumbling in the dark, not sure where things were heading. I have a much clearer sense of things now. That doesn’t mean the people will do what I expect and hope. After all, they’ve gone their own way in the past six books.

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Thank You and A Sense of Place

I hope you won’t mind if I begin with a bit of self-congratulation: Publisher’s Weekly has given Free From All Danger a starred review. I’m immensely proud of that for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s impossible to know what any reader will make of what a writer does, so something that positive means a great deal. Secondly, it’s the seventh in the series, arriving four years after the last one. That’s quite a space of time. All the previous six achieved starred reviews, so there’s a giant sigh of relief that they like this one as much. Richard Nottingham is older this time around, a changed man in some ways. I’m just happy people still like him.

Anyway…Christmas and the end of 2017 are just a few days away. I wanted to wish you all a lovely time, and a happy, healthy 2018 – and to thank you for your support. I really do value it.

At this time of year I like looking around Leeds and thinking about my family connections to the place. They crop up quite a bit in my novels. References I know, that I enjoy putting in.

The biggest is probably the Victoria pub from the Tom Harper novels. Annabelle is the landlady, but from the 1920s to the 1940s, it was my great-grandfather who ran the place. My father lived in Cross Green, and as a boy he’d walk over in the summer so he could go upstairs and play the piano for hours on end. Impossible not to celebrate a connection like that.

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In fact, a little of the idea of including the place at all came from a book he wrote, that was never published. His main character was a female servant from Barnsley who came to a pub in Sheepscar as a servant. She ended up running the place and owning three bakeries. His maternal grandparents were from Barnsley, and originally ran a pub in Hunslet before taking over the Victoria. And, in the Harper series, Annabelle runs, then sells, three bakeries. So thank you, Dad. You have me a lot in that.

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Dan Markham’s flat in Chapel Allerton (Dark Briggate Blues) is in the building where my parents made their first home, and where I spent my first year. Curiously, a reader told me once that her daughter was living there now. His office on Albion Place is where my father had his office.

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Lottie Armstrong’s house in The Year of the Gun is the house where I grew up. The present owner graciously showed me around, and it’s very much the same as it was, I’m pleased to say.

It’s four years now since I moved back to Leeds, and honestly, I’ve never felt more connected to a place in my life.

Sanctuary

Plenty of you seemed to enjoy the Richard Nottingham story I posted last week. So I dug deep and discovered this…maybe you’ll like it as much.

Leeds, 1731

Outside, the wind was howling up a gale, bruising and battering. It whipped against the window, rattling it in the loose frame, and hammered sharply against the door. Night had fallen and any folk with sense were indoors, gathered close by their hearths. Winter was announcing its arrival.

Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds, stirred up the embers of the fire at the jail, watching the coals glow rich and red as the sparks leaped up the chimney. He rubbed his hands together, trying to pull some warmth into his flesh. He’d been out all day hunting a killer.

Ten people in the Packhorse had seen the murder happen the night before. Simon Walsh, deep in his cups, had started an argument. Those who knew him always kept their distance once he started drinking. He was a big man, violent when the mood and the ale took him. From all the Constable had learned, Walsh had begun shouting at a small man, a stranger, just words to begin, turning quickly to pushing and goading, until the man drew a knife to defend himself. Then Simon had pulled his own weapon, cutting and slashing, the rage gathering him up, until the stranger was dead.

Only then, as the blood lust faded from his mind, had he seen what he’d done. He’d run from the inn, no one brave enough to challenge him. And now it was the job of Nottingham and his men to find him.

The Constable had been called from his bed in the middle of the night and had worked ever since. He was chilled to his marrow, ready to go home to his wife and daughters and leave Simon to freeze to death out there. But he knew he couldn’t do that. They’d keep going until they found him and he was in a cell.

Nottingham poured some ale into a mug and drank it slowly while the warmth of the fire began to soak through him. Another ten minutes and he’d go back out.

He’d just started to pull the greatcoat around himself when the door opened and John Sedgwick, the deputy, appeared, breathless, his face flushed with running.

‘We’ve got him, boss. He’s down at the new church.’

‘Do you have someone guarding the place?’

‘Front and back.’ He hesitated, frowning.

‘What?’ Nottingham asked.

‘He’s taken a girl in with him. Pulled her off the street when we chased him there.’

‘Right,’ the Constable decided quickly. ‘You go and find Mr. Scott, the vicar. I’ll go and talk to Simon. He’ll be sober by now. He’s scared.’

‘Every right to be. He’s going to hang for this.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Better be armed, boss. You know what he can be like.’

Nottingham took a sword from the cupboard on the wall and strapped on the belt, then handed the other to the deputy. ‘You too, John. Just in case.’

 

The air had turned even colder, the wind brisker, more piercing than before. Their breath made small clouds as they walked down Briggate and along Boar Lane where Holy Trinity, the new church, had been built just two years earlier, its pale stone not yet blackened by all the soot, the strange wooden steeple rising up towards heaven.

The Constable pushed open the heavy wooden door and walked into the porch, then through to the nave. His boots clattered on the tile floor. Candles were lit by the altar and he could see Walsh sitting there, a young woman crumpled at his feet where she’d fainted. He was stroking her hair gently and looked up at the sound.

‘I’ve not hurt her,’ Simon said. He was close to fifty, a good ten years older than Nottingham, bigger and stronger, with thick arms that could effortlessly pick up and carry a bale of cloth. His coat was ragged, parting at some of the seams, his linen grimy. The ragged waistcoat had been sewn for a smaller man. It hung open, the tails flapping over his thighs. Walsh wore heavy boots and thick worsted hose, the breeches torn at the knee and covered in mud. ‘I wouldn’t, neither. I just wanted them to leave me be to come in here. That’s why I took hold of her. And then she went and did that.’ He seemed astonished by her behaviour.

The Constable strode forward until barely two yards separated the men. In the soft, flickering light he could see the girl’s chest rise and fall as she breathed, and her eyelids started to move. He crouched, reaching out to take her hand in his own.

‘You’re going to be fine, love.’ He kept his voice low and gentle, rubbing small circles on her skin and watching as she slowly came to, eyes blinking. Who could blame her for her fear? ‘I’m the Constable,’ he told her. ‘You don’t have to worry now. You’re safe now.’

Her eyes opened quickly, terrified, and she looked around in a panic. Seeing Walsh, she opened her mouth to scream and tried to push herself away.

‘He’s not going to do anything,’ Nottingham assured her. ‘I promise. I’m here.’ As she turned to stare at him, he smiled. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Martha,’ she answered, her voice just a croak. She swallowed hard. ‘Martha, sir.’

‘Try not to worry, Martha. Mr. Walsh won’t hurt you. Can you stand?’

‘I think so.’

He helped her to her feet. For a moment she was unsteady, holding hard on to his arm, then she breathed in and nodded.

‘My men are waiting outside,’ he said. ‘Just go out and they’ll look after you.’

She glanced back at Walsh.

‘You’re safe. He’s not going to hurt you. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything.’ He waited until she gave another small nod. He heard her footsteps as she scurried away, the sound of the door closing booming in echoes around the church.

‘Right, it’s just you and me, then, Simon,’ the Constable said. He leaned against one of the box pews, the carefully polished wood gleaning in the light.

‘Did I kill him?’ Walsh’s eyes were empty, his mouth little more than a pinched line. He was a man who’d always worked with his body, not his mind; he acted first and thought after. ‘Last night. The man.’

‘You know full well you did. You knew it back then after you’d attacked him. Why else would you run?’

‘Aye.’ Walsh agreed, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck.

‘Why? Why did you do it, Simon?’ He’d caused trouble often enough, but in the past it had always been fists and feet, bloody but never deadly.

He glanced up, a regretful look on his face.

‘I don’t know, Mr. Nottingham. I swear I don’t. It were the ale. It were in me.’

‘Do you know who he was?’

Walsh shook his head, grimacing as if he didn’t want to hear the answer.

‘His name was Tom Dunn,’ the Constable said. ‘He’d not even been here a month. Came down from Malton with his wife and baby girl hoping to make a little money and a decent life. I had to go and tell them last night.’ He saw Simon look at the floor. ‘The little one’s not even two and the wife is carrying again.’

The words filled the church, falling slowly away to silence.

‘You’re going to hang for this, Simon.’

‘Nay, Mr. Nottingham.’ He could hear the pleading in the man’s voice, the sorrow and remorse. ‘You can’t do that. I didn’t mean to hurt him. It weren’t me. You know what I’m like.’

‘You killed him. Ten people saw you do it.’

‘There’s none of them tried to stop me!’

‘Look at yourself,’ the Constable said angrily. ‘Who could stop you when you’ve a fury on you? You’d have murdered them, too.’

‘Will you tell his wife I’m sorry? Tell her I didn’t mean to do it.’

‘Words aren’t going to help her, Simon.’

Walsh moved his hand and Nottingham stiffened, ready to draw his sword. Instead the man reached into the pocket of his breeches, pulling out as few coins and tossing them on the floor. ‘Give her that. It’s all as I’ve got.’

The Constable sighed.

‘Come on, Simon, it’s time to go. You’ve led us a pretty dance all day but it’s enough now.’

Walsh didn’t stir.

‘You know that’s not right, Mr. Nottingham.’

‘What isn’t?’ He didn’t understand.

‘I’m in a church. I’m by the altar.’ He gave a smile.

‘What are you trying to say?’

‘It’s the law, I’ve got sanctuary here.’ He pronounced the word slowly, unfamiliar and awkward, something heard years before and faintly recalled. ‘Why do you think I came here? It’s the law. Me granddad told me where I were a little ‘un.’

Nottingham sighed. Now it made sense.

‘No, Simon, it’s not the law. I don’t know what he said to you, but it was wrong.’

Walsh looked up, pain and fear filling his eyes.

‘He’d not have lied to me,’ he said sharply. ‘He were a good man.’

‘Long ago churches used to offer sanctuary,’ the Constable explained, watching as the man cocked his head. ‘That part’s right. But it’s all in the past. They changed that law more than a century ago.’

The candles lit a tear falling down the man’s cheek.

‘You’d not lie to me, Mr. Nottingham?’

‘No, Simon,’ he answered softly. ‘You know I wouldn’t.’

Walsh rose slowly, pushing himself off the floor with strong arms until he was upright, his shoulders slumped.

‘You know it has to be this way, don’t you?’ the Constable asked and waited as the man nodded his acceptance. ‘You can walk out next to me. Mr. Sedgwick’s out there. We’ll take you to the jail.’

First Day – A Richard Nottingham Story

I’m not sure why, but Richard Nottingham’s been on my mind a little in recent days. So I dug back and discovered this story I wrote about him. The tale will be four years old next week. Maybe it’s time for the light of day…and if you’ve missed Richard, enjoy…

He woke well before the dawn, his body and his mind quickly alert. Quietly, he eased himself out of the bed, hearing the snores and breathing of the other men in the room. There were eight of them and more elsewhere in the lodging house, the smell of sweat, ale, and sour breath part of the fabric of the walls.

He dressed soundlessly, washed his face and hands and swilled cold water in his mouth before running damp fingers through his wild hair. Downstairs, the two servants were in the kitchen, starting the fire, grumbling and moaning their way into the day.

The air was cool against his face as he walked from Hunslet over Leeds Bridge and into the town. On Briggate a few weavers were already setting up their trestles for the Tuesday morning cloth market, and the taverns were open, doing a steady trade in ale and the Brigg End Shot beef breakfast. None of them paid him any attention.

He turned down Kirkgate and opened the door of a squat building. ‘Hello, sir,’ he said.

The man looked up slowly from the papers on the desk.

‘You’ll not get more money for coming early.’ He nodded at the empty chair. ‘Sit thisen down. I need to finish this.’

Richard Nottingham sat quiet, eyes moving around the room, imagining the cells beyond the thick oak door and the people who might be in them. He was ready for his first day as a Constable’s man.

He waited, watching Will Arkwright work, the Constable’s coat over the back of his chair, bright blue waistcoat snug against his chest, the sleeves of his shirt pushed up to show thick forearms covered in dark hair.  Finally the man put down his quill and sat back, staring at him.

‘You think I took you on because of you da, don’t you?’ he asked.

It was true; Nottingham believed that. His father had been a merchant, not good, not successful, but he’d married into money, and the dowry had kept a kind of prosperity. When he’d discovered his wife was having an affair he’d thrown her out, their son with her, keeping the money and the property for himself. As legal as the day was long, the woman and the child left to starve. She’d sold her body, the only thing she had left, to anyone with a few pennies. In four years she was dead and the lad was on his own. He’d slept where he could, in the woods outside the town, empty houses, in the silent, hidden places with the other outsiders. He learned to fend for himself, to live on the rotten food left at the market and what he could steal.

Now he was twenty, it was the year 1711 and the poacher had turned gamekeeper; he was going to catch the thieves.

‘I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘Did you, sir?’

‘Nay.’ Nottingham felt the man’s eyes on him. ‘Your name’s got nowt to do with it. I’ve been watching you for a while. You’re clever. Not as clever as you think you are, mind,’ he added with a sly grin, ‘but you’ll do. And you can learn.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Are you ready, lad?’ the Constable asked.

‘Yes, sir.’

Arkwright grinned.  ‘No need for that. Boss is fine. Come on, I’ll show you round the market.’

Nottingham felt proud as he walked next to the older man, listening carefully as Arkwright pointed out characters among the crowd and among the merchants. As the bell rang and the whispered trading began, the Constable led him all the way to the bridge and looked back up the street.

‘You know how much business is done there, Richard?’ he asked.

‘No, boss.’ He’d never given it much thought.

‘There’ll be thousands of pounds change hands,’ he said. ‘Imagine that.’

He tried, but he couldn’t. His life was measured out in farthings and pennies. A pound was a fortune to him, more money than he’d ever had in his hand.

‘You see him?’ Arkwright pointed out a tall, barrel-chested man who strode up Briggate, looking straight ahead, two younger men following close behind him. The man had his hair cropped close against his skull and walked bareheaded. His clothes might have been good once, but now they seemed old, shabby, worn for too many years.

‘Who is he, boss?’ He’d seen the man around in the inns and shops, but never learned his name.

‘That’s Amos Worthy,’ the Constable said slowly. ‘You stay in this job and you’ll come to know him. And hate it, too. He’s the biggest pimp in Leeds, has the corporation in his pocket.’ He sighed and shook his head. ‘Watch your step with him, he’s a brutal bugger.’

Nottingham thought he knew the town well, living so long among its shadows and secrets, but as Arkwright led him around he began to understand there was so much still to discover. Back at the jail Arkwright poured two mugs of ale and handed one across the desk. ‘There’s all you can drink on top of your wage. It’s good; they brew it at the White Swan next door.’

As they drank, the door opened. The man who entered was big, solid, his thick fists scarred, dark stubble heavy across his cheeks and chin. He nodded at the Constable and helped himself to a drink.

‘This the new one, boss?’

‘Aye, that’s him. I’ve taken him round, now you can teach him well. This is Tom Spencer,’ he told Nottingham. ‘My deputy. Pay attention to him; he’ll be giving you your orders.’

‘Call me Tom,’ he said, smiling and showing the lines around his eyes. He was perhaps thirty, with the weary look of a man who’d seen so much that the world couldn’t shock him.

‘I’m Richard.’

Spencer downed the rest of the ale in a single swallow. ‘Right, we’ve had a cutpurse plaguing people at the market for the last few weeks. Let’s see if we can find him.’

He led the way up Briggate, past the Moot Hall and through the market where women clustered around trestles selling old clothes, pans and wares. Up towards the market cross farmers had their chickens in willow cages and others offered butter or fresh milk.

‘You know about cutpurses?’ Spencer asked and Nottingham nodded but said nothing. No need to say that he’d stolen a few himself when he was desperate, his knife quickly cutting the strings then vanishing into the crowd before the owner could even notice. He knew what to look for, the sudden movement only glimpsed from the corner of the eyes, the gaze that shifted around quickly and awkwardly.

‘We’ll catch this one,’ Spencer said confidently. ‘Little bugger’s getting cocky. The boss almost had him last week but the lad was too fast.’

‘How old is he?’

The other man shrugged. ‘Ten or so, small, thin, pale hair. There’s plenty like him around.’

‘Over there,’ Nottingham said quietly.

‘Where?’

‘By the wall, behind the tinker.’ He’d spotted the boy so easily, seen his concentration and the way he stood, his body tense, on the edge of movement.

‘Could be,’ Spencer allowed warily.

‘It is.’

‘You go one side of him, I’ll take the other,’ the deputy ordered. ‘If he reaches a purse, grab him quick, before he can run.’

It didn’t take long. The boy slid away from the wall, his blade extended. A swift cut and the purse was in his hand as he began to merge into the throng. But Nottingham had was already there, his hand tight  around the lad’s wrist as he tried to squeeze past, lifting him off the ground.

Spencer shook the boy roughly by his collar, twisting his arm behind his back until he gave up the money.

‘You’ll not be doing that again, you little bastard,’ he said with relish. ‘You know where you’re going? Jail and the Indies.’ He paused deliberately, a smile on his face. ‘Unless the hangman wants you to dance for him. You saw who he robbed?’ the deputy asked.

‘No.’

‘Never mind, he’ll soon find he’s poorer.’ He tossed the bag of coins to Nottingham. ‘You take this, I’ll look after him.’ He dragged the boy along the street, pushing people out of the way as Nottingham followed behind, muttering apologies and excuses.

At the jail, Spencer threw the boy into a chair. The lad was petrified, curled in on himself, thin shoulders hunched, tears brimming in his eyes, hands shaking as he looked anxiously between the deputy and Nottingham.

‘What’s your name?’ Spencer asked. When the lad didn’t answer immediately he raised his hand, leering as the boy cowered.

‘Mark, sir,’ he answered finally, lowering his head. The deputy walked up to the boy, took a handful of hair and pulled his head back.

‘How many purses have you snatched?’ he shouted

‘Seven.’ The boy’s voice was little more than a frightened whisper. His whole body was trembling.

Spencer raised his eyebrows and laughed. ‘That’ll be the noose for you, then.’ He inclined his head. ‘In the cell.’ The boy moved away meekly and Nottingham heard the heavy clunk of the lock as the deputy turned the key in the door.

‘You didn’t ask why he did it?’

The deputy shrugged. ‘Doesn’t matter, does it? The little sod’s a thief. We caught him with the purse in his hand. We’ve done our job.’ He smiled once, showing a mouth missing half its teeth. ‘You saw him fast enough, anyway, though. How did you know?’

Nottingham didn’t answer immediately; he daren’t. Finally he simply said, ‘Something about him. It didn’t look right.’ He thought about the boy cowering behind the bars, terrified of what would happen to him but knowing it would be the worst thing he could imagine. ‘He’ll hang?’

‘Like as not.’ Spencer poured himself ale. ‘All we do is catch them. The rest is up to lawyers and judges.’ He scratched his armpit. ‘I don’t give a bugger what they do as long as they’re out of our way.’ He drained the cup and ran a hand across his mouth. ‘Come on, let’s get back out there. I’ll see what I can show you.’

 

By late afternoon Nottingham had been through parts of Leeds he’d never known, inside the undercroft of the Parish church, around St. John’s and beyond into Town End where a few merchants were building large new houses to flaunt the money they’d made in the wool trade.

‘Take a good look at these,’ Spencer advised. ‘You need to know who runs this city, and it’s not them without anything.’

Nottingham stared at him sharply. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Them with the money pay us,’ the deputy explained patiently, as if to a child. ‘That means we do what they want.’

‘What about the law?’

Spencer spat and gave him a pitying look. ‘One thing about this job, lad, you’ll grow up in a hurry. Who do you think makes the laws? Give it a while, you’ll see what I mean.’

He wasn’t sure what to think. Perhaps the deputy was right and all they did was keep the rich safe. He thought of the cutpurse, alone in the cell, his throat dry with fear. He thought of the bodies he’d seen floating in the River Aire over the years, every one of them poor folk. Nottingham thought of the merchants at the cloth market that morning with their fine clothes and their high manners. He glanced down at what he was wearing, a coat full of holes, hose worn from white to dull, dreary grey, shoes where the uppers were starting to split from the soles. What did he look like? A poor scare-the-crow, not someone with the authority to enforce anything.

They walked slowly down Briggate from the Head Row, all signs of the morning market gone. Businesses were open, their shutters wide, an iron tang of blood rose from the butchers’ shops on the Shambles, and the prostitutes smiled behind their fans at the entrances to the cramped yards that ran back from the street.

‘You wait here,’ Spencer told him, walking up to one of the women and disappearing into the yard with her. Three minutes later he returned, his face flushed, grinning. ‘One of the best things about this job,’ he said. ‘The lasses won’t refuse you. They know what’s good for them.’

Back at the jail the deputy poured more ale and checked on the boy in the cell. ‘Be back here at dawn tomorrow,’ he told Nottingham. ‘You’ve made a good start, you’ll do well here.’

 

He walked along, lost in thought. He’d been excited after the Constable had taken him on. Not only for the regular wage, but also because he believed he could do something in this place where he’d lived all his life. Maybe he’d even manage find a little justice. He’d explained it all for Mary, the girl he was courting, and revelled to see the joy in her face. What could he tell her now, he wondered? That he’d been wrong? He sighed.

There was still plenty of traffic on Leeds Bridge as he walked back to Hunslet. Carters were leaving the town, the rumble of wheels on cobblestones an undertone to the curses, shouts and laughter.

‘Penny for them, laddie.’

He glanced up at the voice. The man was a little taller than him, his nose broken several times, a sly smile playing across his mouth. But his eyes were hard and empty, telling nothing of his thoughts or his mood.

‘You’re Amos Worthy,’ he said.

‘Aye.’ He nodded lazily and chuckled. ‘Old Arkwright warned you about me, did he?’

‘He told me what you do,’ Nottingham replied coldly.

‘I daresay he did,’ the pimp agreed. ‘And did he point out that if I didn’t do it, someone else would?’ He laughed at the young man’s hesitation. ‘Of course he didn’t. One day as a Constable’s man doesn’t teach you everything about life. There’s still plenty for you to learn.’ He picked at a gap between his teeth with his thumbnail, found a piece of food and wiped it on his greasy, discoloured coat. ‘I knew your father,’ he said, then, as if it was nothing, ‘And your mam, too.’

Nottingham eyed him warily. How did the man know who he was? How had he been connected with his family? Worthy gave a predatory grin.

‘I thought that might make you listen. Happen I’ll tell you sometime. But it’s history, a long time ago.’ He looked the young man up and down. ‘You like working for Arkwright?’ He waited for the answer then laughed. ‘Aye, a day with Tom Spencer and I’d be silent, too.’ He turned away, resting his elbows on the thick parapet of the bridge, looking down at the river. ‘I’ll give you a job if you want it.’

‘Me?’ Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t this.

Worthy nodded. ‘I’ll pay you better than Arkwright does, too. You’ll not be a rich man but you’ll have some coins in your purse every week.’

‘What would you want me to do for them?’ Nottingham asked flatly. He was certain he knew, but he wanted to hear the man say it himself.

‘Anything I need.’ He looked at the younger man. ‘What did you think? There’s nothing free in this life. And when I give an order I expect it to be carried out.’ His gaze was firm. ‘Whatever it is.’

Nottingham stared back. He wondered about the man in front of him, how he knew about him, what power he had in Leeds.

‘I’ve known Will Arkwright for a long time. He won’t take anyone on just for the sake of it,’ Worthy continued. ‘Nor will I.’

‘So why would you want me?’

The pimp spat down into the river then grinned. ‘Taking his new man is one way to spite the bastard.’

Nottingham didn’t smile. Instead he shook his head slowly. ‘Six years ago you had a girl.’

‘I’ve had a lot of girls, laddie.’

‘She was called Molly. I saw what you did to her when you thought she was cheating you.’

The pimp gave a barking laugh. He seemed amused, not angry. ‘Rich enough to be a man of conscience, are you? But if you’re going to tell a tale, laddie, you ought to tell the whole of it.’

‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘I remember that lass, right enough. Swore to you she was honest, did she?

‘Yes. I believed her.’

‘Aye, well, you were young. Never believe everything you hear.’ He snorted. ‘She was taking a pretty penny from me every way she could. Told me she’d stop after I beat her but she didn’t.’ Worthy turned his eye sharply on Richard. ‘You ever wonder why she left suddenly?’ Nottingham shook his head. ‘She had ten pounds of my money in her purse. Ten pounds. Keep her for a year, that would. So think on that before you accuse me.’

‘Why should I believe you?’

Worthy shrugged. ‘You either will or you won’t. Doesn’t matter to me either way.’

‘I think you’re lying.’

‘Think what you want.  It’s all history now.’

‘I’m not going to work for you.’

‘Your choice, laddie. You’ll live to regret it, I’ll tell you that.’

Nottingham thought of Mary and how she’d be eager to hear how his first day as a Constable’s man had gone. If he worked for Worthy, all he’d want would be the shame of silence.

‘No,’ he answered firmly. ‘I don’t think I will.’ He crossed the bridge and walked back to the lodging house.

Richard Nottingham is Back

Well, sort of…this is the beginning of something, at least. What it will become remains to be seen. Maybe a book, maybe a story, maybe nothing. Still, it’s been a while since Richard had anything at all to say to me.

Perhaps you’ll like it, perhaps you’ll still care about him. Let me know, please.

Leeds, August 1736

Just two years. It always surprised him. It felt as if it should be longer, like a path that stretched out across the moor. Two years, eight months, and thirteen days. Time past, time passing. But not so quickly now, as if someone had slowed the hands of the clock.

And that suited him. More of a chance to keep memory close. To hold on to ghosts.

Richard Nottingham stirred. The dog days of summer, with brilliant light through the cracks in the shutters. He’d woken before first light, just lying in bed and letting his thoughts wander. He heard his daughter Emily leave to go and teach at her school. Then Rob Lister, her man, now the deputy constable in Leeds, had gone with his clank of keys and the firm tread of his boots across the boards. He could hear Lucy the servant moving around downstairs, opening the door to the garden and tossing the crumbs for the birds.

All around him life went on.

He poured water in the ewer and washed, then dressed in old breeches and thin woollen stockings.

The road was dusty and rutted, the hot air of the day tight in his lungs. The trees over Sheepscar Beck gave shade, the sun flickering through the leaves onto the water. He crossed Timble Bridge and walked to the Parish Church and along the path he knew so well.

Two years, eight months, and thirteen days since she’d been murdered.

Three days since someone had shattered the headstone on her grave.

He’d gone to visit his wife, to talk to her, the way he did every single day, thinking of nothing as he walked along the path he knew by heart. Just time for a few minutes of conversation, a chance to hear her voice in his head, to try and make amends again, although he knew she forgave him.

And then he saw it. The pieces smashes and scattered across the grass. For a moment he believed he was imagining it.

Why would anyone do that?

He looked around. It wasn’t only her stone. A few others, almost at random,in other parts of the churchyard. But he didn’t care about them. He knelt and gathered the fragments, piecing them together on the grave until she had her name once more Mary Nottingham. Beloved. Died 1733. Beside it, the memorial to their daughter Rose stood intact.

He’d risen and gone straight to the jail on Kirkgate, all the smells so familiar as he entered the building. But there was another man behind the desk where he once sat.

Someone prissy and exact. That was how Rob had described him. Fractious, a know-nothing who knew everything. Nottingham had listened and commiserated. But Nottingham retired. It wasn’t his problem. After so many years he’d chosen to walk away from the job and never regretted his decision. The corporation had given him the house and a small pension, enough for the little he desired.

‘Visiting old glories?’ The man had a politician’s face, smooth and shiny, the periwig clean and powdered, his long waistcoat colourful in reds and yellows.

‘I’m here to report a crime, Mr. Peters.’

The constable picked up a quill, dipped it in the ink and waited.

‘What’s happened?’

‘Someone’s been destroying gravestones at the church.’

Peters put the quill down again.

‘You’re the third one in here today to tell me. It happened last night.’

He knew that. He visited the place every morning.

‘My wife’s was one of them.’

The man chewed his lip.

‘I’m sorry to hear that. But…’ He gave a helpless shrug. ‘I have too few men and too much crime. A murder, robberies, a young man missing for a week. I’ll see they ask around and try to find something. For now I can’t promise more than that.’

Nottingham stood for a moment, staring at the man.

‘I see. I’ll bid you good day, then.’

He wandered. Down to the bridge, watching carts and carriages lumber along in the heat. He passed the tenting fields with all the cloth hung to dry and shrink, through the rubble of the old manor house and back to Lands Lane.

Sadness, anger, emptiness. Just the pointlessness of it all, the sense of loss falling on him once again.

Why? Just the question, why?

Up on the Headrow, as he walked by Garraway’s Coffee House, a sharp tap on the glass made him turn.

Tom Finer sat at the table, his hand resting against the window.

‘You look like a man with the world on his shoulders,’ he said as Nottingham settled on the bench across from him. ‘Would a dish of tea help? Coffee?’

‘No. Not today.’

Nor any other day; he’d never developed the taste for them. Ale was enough for him.

Finer was a criminal who’d vanished to London, back when Nottingham was still young, no more than a constable’s man. He’d returned eighteen months earlier, after almost twenty years away. Older and claiming to have left his past in the capital.

He seemed smaller than the last time they’d met, as if he was slowly withering away with age. In spite of the warmth Finer was well wrapped-up in a heavy coat, with thick breeches and socks.

‘You must have been to the churchyard.’

Nottingham looked up sharply.

‘What do you know about it?’

‘Nothing more than I’ve heard or seen with my own eyes. I was down there first thing. I’m sorry.’

‘Do you have any idea who…?

Finer shook his head.

‘If I did, I’d tell you.’ He paused. ‘But did you notice which ones they were?’

‘My wife’s.’

Finer was silent a few moments, chewing on his lower lip.

‘Go back there and look again,’ he suggested. ‘Look outside your own pain.’

‘Why?’ Nottingham asked urgently. ‘What is it?’

Finer stared at him.

‘You’ll see.’

He stood by Mary’s grave, his hand resting on the broken stone, and let his gaze move around. Another headstone demolished in the corner, a third by the wall. And he understood what Finer had been trying to tell him.

One was the memorial to Amos Worthy, the man who’d kept Leeds crime in his fist until the cancer rotted him and pulled him into the ground. A man he’d hated and liked in equal measure.

The other was the stone for John Sedgwick, Nottingham’s deputy, beaten and killed in his duties.

Messages for him. The past.

So Why Do I Write Historical Crime?

A number of times people have asked me why I choose to write historical crime novels. The crime part is easy to answer: it offers a good moral frame work on which to rest a novel. All fiction is about conflict in one form or another, and crime – good vs. evil – reduces it to the basics. But it also gives a chance to explore that nebulous grey area between the two, which can be the most interesting.
But historical…well, for me there are a number of reasons. I’m a history buff, most particularly a Leeds history buff. So it’s an excuse to delve into that world. But there’s far more.
I lived abroad for 30 years, and I’ve been back almost 10. That means I haven’t been there for the development of speech patterns in England. And to write convincing dialogue you need to be sure of that. I have no problem with American speech – I have novels set in the ‘80s and ‘90s there – but less in England. By going back in time, to an era that’s closed and over, it’s much easier to capture the speech of the period.
Many of my books are set in Leeds, and that gives me the chance to show how the city has changed over the years, from the 1730s to the 1950s. I try to make Leeds a character in the book, but the Leeds of 1890, industrialised and full of dark, Satanic mills, is a far cry from 1731, when the population was around 7,000 – hardly more than a village. And by 1954 and Dark Briggate Blues it’s changed completely again as we enter a post-industrial age.
And yet there’s continuity, is the layout and names of the streets in the city centre. Richard Nottingham could find his way around 160 years later, and Tom Harper from Gods of Gold would find Dan Markham Leeds relatively familiar. That sense of a thread running through it all is very attractive to a writer.
Going back in time offers the opportunity to view current events through the prism of history. The contracts handed to the gas workers that sparks the Gas Strike which is the backdrop of Gods of Gold has strong echoes in today zero-hours contracts. The anti-Semitism and xenophobia that lies at the heart of the upcoming Two Bronze Pennies can be seen in the rise of the right, Islamophobia and the very recent rise of a fresh wave of anti-Semitism.
Sometimes it’s none of that at all. Dark Briggate Blues was me asking ‘what would a 1950s English provincial noir be like?’ and offering one possible answer.
Technology and life moves so quickly that a contemporary novel can quickly seem dated. No mobile phones on computers in the ‘80s or ‘90s. We’ve only really relied on the Internet since the beginning of this century. Social media is just a few years old, and smartphones only became widespread after 2010. If you write today’s world, it’s changed by tomorrow. Setting a novel in the past, people know going in where they stand. It can’t seem dated because, in a way, it’s timeless, a scene set in amber.
And there’s one final reason. Today we rely on DNA, forensics, all manner of this and that to solve crimes. That’s fine – the tools are there, use them. But for a writer (and hopefully a reader), forcing the main character to use his wits and his brain is far more satisfying.

To 2015

Here were are, nestled at the end of a year and peeking over the parapets at what lies ahead. And, if you’re interested, I’ll tell you what’s coming up over the next few months.

Gods of Gold, the first in my new Victorian series, came out in the UK in August and in December in the US as well as in ebook form. It’s been attracting some lovely reviews, which is gratifying.

If you don’t already know, there’s a new Richard Nottingham story on this site. Click on novels, then Richard Nottingham and go to By The Law.

Next week (January 5), Dark Briggate Blues appears in the UK, and it’s a paperback (sorry, but it’ll be several months before the US version). Still in Leeds, it’s set in 1954 and features enquiry agent Dan Markham. It’s darker than many of my other books, a real noir (I think). The official launch is in early February at Waterstones Books in Leeds – if you look at my events page, you’ll see the details.

There’s one more thing to say about the book. A TV production company has asked to read it. Chances are that nothing will come of it, but the request was still very heartening.

April sees the UK publication of the second Tom Harper book, Two Bronze Pennies. At a guess, in the US it will be four months later. I think it builds on the first book and goes deeper into the characters, while exploring some of the anti-Jewish feeling that existed in the 1890s.

Then, finally, in July comes Leeds, The Biography. Regular readers of my blog will have already seen some of these stories. Essentially, it’s a history of Leeds in short stories, and the local Armley Press will be issuing it in paperback and ebook – my first non-crime book!

Of course, the serials on this site will continue, both Jimmy Morgan’s World War 1, and the tale of Annabelle Atkinson in Empress on the Corner.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, and even prosperous New Year, and thanks to you all.

An Author on Television

Last month the brand new Made in Leeds television decided to seek a cure for insomnia. They might possibly have discovered one, too, by airing a 10-minute interview with me as I talk about books and Leeds while balancing precariously on the railing of the balcony at the lovely Howard Assembly Rooms.

One Month to Markham

It’s four weeks until the publication of Dark Briggate Blues, set in Leeds in 1954 and featuring enquiry agent Dan Markham. It’s 50s English provincial noir, Northern noir if you like, and very full of Leeds at the time, including the jazz club Studio 20, which was downstairs at 20, New Briggate (where Sela Bar now stands).

It is, I hope, a very dark book. That was my intention. And to whet your appetite, here’s another little extract. You can pre-order it here. And it’s in paperback, people, paperback!

Although it’s not out until the New Year, I would like to point out that I have several other Leeds books out there – the Richard Nottingham series and the first in my new Tom Harper Victorian series, God of Gold. They (ahem) make wonderful Christmas presents, whether in hard copy or ebook. Thank you, and back to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

The ‘phone rang before he had a chance to sit down, the bell ringing loud and urgent.
He answered with the number and heard the clunk of coins dropping in a telephone box.
‘Mr Markham?’ a man’s voice said.
‘That’s right.’
‘I understand that you’re missing something.’ The hairs on the back of his neck prickled and he drew in a breath without thinking. The Webley stolen from his desk. ‘Well, Mr Markham? Do you know what I mean?’
‘I do,’ he answered quietly. ‘Who are you?’
‘Tell me,’ said the caller, ignoring the question, ‘would you like the return of the … item? Or perhaps I should see it ends up in official hands?’
He didn’t know the voice. Not local. From the South. Long vowels.
‘What do you want?’
‘Many things, Mr Markham.’ The man sounded amused, in control and taking his time. ‘But for the moment I’ll settle for your attention.’
‘You have it,’ he said.
‘Do you know the Adelphi?’
‘Yes.’ It was a grubby old Victorian pub at the top of Hunslet Lane, just over the river.
‘Be in there at, oh, let’s say one o’clock. I’ll tell you more then.’
‘How will I know you?’
The voice turned to a chuckle.
‘You won’t need to, Mr Markham. After all, I know you.’
The line went dead. Markham replaced the receiver and looked at the clock. A little after noon. Soon enough he’d know exactly who was so keen to set him up. Someone had known he was back in the office. Why, he wondered? What the hell was going on?
In the service, as part of his military intelligence training, they’d taught him how to shadow someone and how to throw off a tail. Everything hammered into him in drill after drill. He’d never been as good as some of the others. His friend, Ged Jones, seemed able to disappear in a crowd. But Markham could get by. He walked out purposefully, taking a quick note of the faces on the street as he crossed Briggate, slipped through County Arcade and Cross Arcade, then along Fish Street, ending up staring at the reflections in a window on Kirkgate to see who was behind him.
The man was an amateur. By the time he came out into Kirkgate he was almost running, staring around nervously until he spotted Markham. Older, NHS specs, his overcoat buttoned up and belted with a scarf at the neck and a hat was pulled down on a ruddy, jowly face. It was no one he recognised, no one he could remember ever seeing. But the face was imprinted on his memory now.
He set off again, ambling back to Briggate and stopping often, then down to the bridge over the river Aire. The buildings were old, decayed and black from a hundred or more years of dirt that had built up layer on layer.
The Adelphi probably hadn’t changed since the turn of the century. An old gas lamp still hung over the front door. Inside, the pub was dark wood, dull brass and bevelled etched glass, all neglected and in need of a thorough cleaning. At the bar he ordered an orange squash.
A table and two chairs sat in the middle of the snug. This room was different; freshly scrubbed, the hearth black-leaded, tiles gleaming and windows shining.
‘Have a seat, Mr Markham,’ the man by the window said. The voice on the telephone. He checked his wristwatch. ‘You’re right on time.’ He smiled. ‘Punctuality is a good sign.’
‘Of what?’
‘An organised man.’ He was probably in his late forties but well-kept, broadly built, neat dark hair shot through with grey. His nose had been broken in the past and there were small scars across his knuckles. But he didn’t have the look of a bruiser. His eyes shone with intelligence. The dark suit was costly, a subdued pinstripe, cut smartly enough to hide the start of a belly. The tie was real silk. He sat and gestured at the chair opposite. ‘We have things to talk about.’

By The Law – A New Richard Nottingham Story

It’s been a while since I sat down with Richard to hear about his life. It might have been longer if it hadn’t been for the Friends of Stank Hall Barn. They invited me out to take a look at the building they’re trying to renovated in Beeston. It’s a remarkable place, one of the oldest secular buildings in Leeds, dating from around 1450. While I was there, one of the members suggested it might be a good setting for a Richard Nottingham story. And it is, in part, at least.

Originally I’d planned to publish this as a standalone short story on Amazon. In the end, for many reasons, I decided against that. Instead, it’s here, for everyone, not just those with a Kindle or Kindle app. And it’s free. But I’d like to ask one thing. It’s your choice, but if you can, please donate a little money to the Friends of Stank Hall Barn. Your choice of how much, how little, or nothing. No names, no pack drill. You can read about the Bran, the work that’s going on, and give your money here. Whatever you do, here’s the story, and I hope you like Richard’s return…

And, of course, you can follow the links on the site here to buy the Richard Nottingham books (I’m told that Gods of Gold, the start of a series Victorian series, isn’t bad, either!).

One

Richard Nottingham stood close enough to the bonfire to feel its heat. It was comforting on bones that chilled too quickly these days. Something sparked, and a tangle of flares spiralled up into the darkness.
‘Did you see that?’ Mary asked, and he saw the wonder on her face, caught in the light. He squeezed his granddaughter’s hand lightly.
‘I did.’
Farther up Briggate, by the Headrow, there was another fire burning, one more on the far side of Leeds Bridge. Every year the same celebration of Gunpowder Treason Day. Remember, remember, the fifth of November…the rhyme caught in his mind.
The Town Waits had paraded up and down, playing their music with a raucous scrape of fiddle and bellow of horns. The members of the Corporation had followed, the mayor nodding grandly, the others looking embarrassed at being on display. He’d seen Tom Williamson, the merchant, marching among them and given a small wave. Then, close to the back, the Constable of Leeds, his son-in-law, Rob Lister, face grim as he took his place in the parade.
Men had been loud and full of ale, firing off their guns, the way they did at every holiday. But he could detect the fear behind it all, so strong he could almost smell it. Prince Charlie had gathered his army in Scotland and soon he’d be crossing the border to make his claim for the throne. When that happened, the gunfire would be in earnest.
Rob would have to fight. Everyone would. 1745 was a dangerous year to be alive.
‘Grandpapa?’ Mary asked, staring up at him. ‘What happens now?’
‘Now I take you both home,’ he said with a smile. ‘You should have been in your bed long ago. Where’s your brother?’
She pointed with a small, chubby fist at a boy running round the blaze with all the others.
‘Richard,’ he called. ‘Come on now.’
The lad stopped suddenly, a crestfallen expression on his face. He was eight, a wild mop of hair on his head that refused to be tamed by a comb, with his father’s rangy body and his mother’s soft features. His sister, three years younger, looked completely different. Every time Nottingham looked at her he saw Rose, the daughter who’d died so soon after she was married. She had the same gentle manner, but underneath it all the steel of her mother, Emily. A few more years, he felt sure, and the tussle of wills would begin.
Before they moved away down Kirkgate he glanced back towards the Moot Hall, only the white statue of Queen Anne visible in the firelight. Two horsemen were dismounting, people crowding around them, too far away to make out anything but heavily bundled shapes.
Richard kept running ahead then dashing back, making a game of it, the way he did with everything. But why not? He had all the joy in the world. Well-fed, a family to care for him. Let him enjoy it while he could.
Mary clung to his hand as he walked. He was leaning a little on the stick. Some days he needed it, others he felt as if it was more for show. But better to have it with him when his legs grew tired.
The Parish Church sounded the hour as they passed. Eight o’clock. As he breathed out he could see his breath bloom in the crisp air. He wished his own Mary could be with him, to walk at his side instead of lying in the graveyard, here to see her grandchildren grow and tumble and laugh and cry. The little girl named for her and the boy after him. At Timble Bridge he paused for a moment to stare down at the beck. The water seemed so loud in the silence all around.
‘What do you see, Grandpapa?’
‘Just memories,’ he told her softly and hoisted her in his arms so her face was next to his. ‘Do you see them?
He felt her nod, her hair tickling his face.
‘They makes me feel sleepy,’ she said, settling against him. ‘Can you carry me home?’

The door was open wide. The boy had run ahead, bursting into the house, full of words and excitement. By the time Nottingham arrived, still carrying Mary, he’d almost finished, taking a deep breath before the last sentence.
‘Then they lit the bonfires and everyone looked happy and we ran round and round. There were people firing guns and Papa looked very important when he went by.’
Emily smiled. The books for tomorrow’s lessons were open on the table. She still taught at the charity school she’d founded. Not as often these days; running it and raising money took time. Lucy, the girl who’d once been their servant, took most of the classes these days.
‘If you were just running, how did you get so dirty?’ she asked. ‘Go and wash before bed.’
Mary wriggled out of his arms and ran to her mother to be cuddled.
‘How was it?’ Emily asked him. She looked tired as she brushed a strand of hair off her face. But with all the work she did, the weariness seemed to have seeped into her skin.
‘The same as ever.’ He shrugged. ‘The children love it.’
‘Any news from the north?’
‘Not yet. But I saw two men riding in as we left. Maybe they know something.’
Rob and Emily had married shortly before Nottingham had retired as Constable of Leeds, eleven years before. The corporation demanded it, in order to give Lister the position; any other arrangement was sinful and abhorrent. Emily had never wanted marriage. To her, it seemed like putting chains on love. But in the end, practicality won over principle.
The house on Marsh Lane came with the job. Nottingham had been prepared to move out, to find lodgings somewhere and leave the place to them. But they’d insisted he stay, adding a room large enough for a bed, a chair and a cupboard. He needed no more than that.
He ate with them, then spent his evenings alone, thinking or walking. Sometimes he’d call at the White Swan for a mug or two of ale. But these days, when he strolled around Leeds, he saw too many ghosts. The people who should still be alive but weren’t. Mary for one, and John Sedgwick, his deputy, his shade still lanky and grinning as he loped around town.
‘You,’ Emily told her daughter as she tickled the girl under her arms, ‘I want you in bed.’
‘Yes, mama.’ She strode off into the kitchen. Charlotte, the servant who’d been with them since Lucy left to marry her young man, would look after her.
‘Do you think they’ll come, Papa?’ Emily asked. He didn’t need to ask who. It was all anyone had talked about since the summer. Unless General Wade and his troops managed to stop them, they’d come.
‘Let’s hope not,’ he said quietly, placed a hand on her shoulder, then went through to his room and settled in the chair.
He must have fallen into a doze. Someone was shaking him. He opened his eyes and saw Rob standing there, his face serious and grim.
‘They’ve crossed the border at Carlisle,’ he said.

Two

He was instantly awake and alert.
‘How long ago?’
‘Two days. Wesley rode in this evening with the word.’
‘The preacher?’ Nottingham asked. The last time he’d been here, two months before, a crowd had heckled and stoned him when he stood in front of them.
‘Yes. He’s staying in Leeds tonight then going south.’ Lister rubbed the back of his neck. ‘I’ve spent the last few hours with the magistrates, making plans. By the time I came out, town was deserted. Just a handful of children left by the fires.’
‘They’re scared.’
‘Can you blame them?’ Rob asked.
He’d grown into a lean man, but the ready smile he’d possessed when he was younger had never vanished. And he’d become a good constable, handling his men fairly, a just, responsible man, a fine husband and father. But this would test him. It would test them all.
‘What can I do to help?’
‘I do have something, boss.’ It was still the word he used, as if he took pleasure in saying it, although the days when Nottingham was constable were only wispy memories. ‘There’s someone I need to bring to the jail from Beeston tomorrow. I’m going to be busy until…’ He didn’t finish the sentence. No one knew yet how it might end.
‘You want me to collect him?’
‘I’d be grateful. I’ll make sure you’re paid.’
He didn’t need the money. There was a small pension from the job, enough for his wants.
‘Just tell me what you need.’
‘It’s a man called Ned Taylor. I had a murder three months ago, and two of the witnesses swear he did it. A farmer out there’s holding him. All you need to do is bring him back here. It’s nothing you didn’t do a hundred times when you were working. There’ll be a horse at the ostler for you.’ He unbuckled the sword from his belt and put it on the bed. ‘Take it. Better to be armed than not.’
‘Are you sure you want me for this?’
Lister grinned.
‘I think I can still trust you with the small jobs, boss.’ He gave a deep sigh. ‘I’m going to need all my men. God only knows what’s going to happen. Will you do it?’
‘Of course.’

Nottingham woke early, the way he’d done all his life. Still full night beyond the window, the first hushed songs from the birds outside in the trees. He’d dreamed he was young again, that there weren’t enough hours in the day for all he wanted to do, and that his love was new. Then he opened his eyes.
He dressed for the weather, the ancient greatcoat on top of everything else; these days it almost seemed too large for his body. In the kitchen Charlotte had the cooking fire lit and dough rising in the bowl. He took the heel of a loaf and a piece of cheese, winking at the girl, and stole out of the house before the children could come clattering downstairs with their endless questions.
He paused by the church, standing for a moment by the graves of his older daughter and his wife. They lay side by side, the grass long since grown over them. A few yards away, John Sedgwick. A small bunch of withered flowers was propped against the headstone; his widow, Elizabeth, must have visited a few weeks before.
At the top of Kirkgate he passed the jail. Lamps were burning inside, and he saw Rob’s silhouette as he bent over his desk.
Saturday morning, and down Briggate men were setting up the trestles for the cloth market. It was still two hours before the bell would ring, but they were already working steadily. The inns were open, the smells of roasting beef and ale floating out on the air.
Nottingham turned on to Swinegate, past the mill and into the ostler’s yard. A lad was shovelling dung, adding it to a pile against the wall. How many years since he’d been here, he wondered? Not since his retirement, that was certain.
But there was a gentle mare for him, and the stable boy adjusted the stirrups. He’d forgotten how strange it felt to be up so high, easing the animal into a walk along the road, through all the night soil tossed from the windows, then over Leeds Bridge, the river flowing dark and dangerous beneath.
He passed men on the road, on their way into Leeds, travelling in ones or twos and leading packhorses laden with cloth, the hope of a good price bright in their eyes.
There was no hurry, he decided as he turned and set out along the road to Dewsbury; he had all day. Dawn was just rising in the east, a band of blue glowing across the horizon. Clear skies and a chill in the air. But soon enough there’d been a pale November sun with its faint hint of warmth to last him through the day.
Out here, away from the town, it was all farms and fields. A few buildings and an inn at a crossroads. A man came out carrying a bucket and slopped the contents on the ground.
‘Stank Hall?’ Nottingham asked.
The man pointed along the road, eyes carefully assessing the stranger. There’d be much more of that soon, he thought. People would suspect anyone out on the road.
‘About two mile,’ he said after a few moments. ‘Off to your left, up a rise. You can’t miss it.’
‘Thank you.’ He smiled as he spoke. ‘How’s the ale?’
‘Good enough,’ the man conceded with a nod. ‘Brewed last Sunday.’
‘I’ll try a cup.’
He climbed down off the horse, tying the reins to a branch, then stretching. He’d covered little more than a mile, but his legs and back ached already. The only horse he’d known in the last few years was Shank’s pony. Nottingham smiled ruefully; after this, he’d be sore for days.
The landlord appeared with a mug and he took a drink. None too bad; there was some taste and bite to it.
‘Where are you from?’
‘Just Leeds.’
‘What are they saying there?’ the man asked, as if it was on the other side of the county.
‘The Scots have crossed at Carlisle.’
He saw the man’s eyes widen with fear.
‘Where are they now?’
‘They can’t have come too far. It only happened on Wednesday. And the Pennines should keep them away from us.’
‘Mebbe,’ the landlord answered warily. ‘And mebbe not. If they come we’re all dead.’
‘Then let’s hope they don’t,’ Nottingham said.
‘Where’s Wade and his army, anyway?’
‘I don’t know.’ He turned his head and gazed off to the northwest. Somewhere up there things were happening. People would be leaving, carrying what they could, making sure they were gone before the Young Pretender and his army arrived.
The man spat on the ground.
‘God help us all if he comes, friend.’
Nottingham drained the ale and wiped his mouth.
‘Indeed,’ he said as he remounted. ‘Look after yourself.’
He felt like the devil’s messenger, carrying bad tidings. Twice as he rode, men stopped him and asked for any news. He told them, seeing the way their faces darkened. No thanks, but that was no astonishment. Who could be grateful for words like those?
By the time he reached the small path up to Stank Hall, the sun was up, a fragile thing with no real heart. But better than a gale from the west. He reined in, stopping to gaze at the place. An old stone house built for the centuries, and next to it, in the low corner of a meadow, a barn of timber and limewash, slates missing from the roof.
Nottingham led the horse to a trough and let the animal drink as he gazed around. It was quiet out here. He’d become so used to the noise of Leeds, the voices, the carts and feet on the streets that the silence seemed as empty as the sky. Off in the distance a hawk circled, its wings spread wide, watching its prey before swooping down in a sudden dive to the ground. He followed it with his eyes, turning only as he heard a door open.
‘Who art thee?’ The woman stood with her arms folded and a knife in her fist.
‘Richard Nottingham.’ He took off his hat and gave a brief bow. ‘You have someone here to go back to Leeds.’
‘Tha’ll need to talk to mi husband first.’ She had a pinched face with hard, unforgiving eyes, half her teeth missing when she opened her mouth. Still, her clothes were clean, darned and mended often, and she wore heavy men’s boots over thick woollen hose.
‘Where is he?’
‘In t’fields.’ She put two fingers in her mouth and let out a piercing whistle. Two short blasts. ‘That’ll bring ‘im.’
‘Where’s the man I’ve come to collect?’
‘In t’barn.’ The woman gave a cruel smile. ‘Tha’s welcome to him, too. Let someone else feed him.’ She closed the door and he was alone again.
The doors to the barn were open wide, the ground outside heavy with mud and cow dung. Nottingham picked his way through the worst of it, trying to keep his balance, one foot sliding into a puddle.
Inside, it was dark. He stood, letting his gaze adjust to the gloom. An earth floor, scattered with straw. Plinths for the thick tree trunks that held up the roof. Paths of grey flagstones leading here and there. But he couldn’t see a man.
Finally he heard it. A small groan coming from the far corner. He strode across the room. There, hidden in the shadows behind a pale of hay, he saw him.
He was lying on the ground. The flesh all over his face was raw, his hair thick and matted. All he had was a shirt and a pair of filthy, torn breeches. No stockings or boots, no coat. His arms and calves covered with heavy bruises.
The man’s wrist were bound with rope that had cut through his flesh. A chain had been wound around his waist and fastened to one of the supports.
‘Are you Ned?’ The man stared fearfully, trying to push himself away. But there was nowhere to go once he backed up against the stones of the wall. ‘There’s no need to be scared,’ he continued softly. ‘I’m Richard Nottingham. I’ve come to take you away from here.’
He glanced around. Three yards away stood a jug. It was a taunt, just too far for Taylor to stretch. Nottingham knelt, feeling the ache in his legs, and picked it up. He sniffed the liquid. Brackish water. But it was all there was and better than nothing
‘Have a drink of this.’ He tipped a little into the man’s mouth. Only a few drops at first, barely enough to moisten his lips. Then a little more as Taylor gulped at the water gratefully. Somewhere beneath the grime he had a young face. Twenty or less at a guess. Not old enough to remember Nottingham as constable.
What in the name of God had happened here?
‘You’re Ned?’ he asked again. ‘Ned Taylor?’
The man gave a wary nod. Then his gaze moved to the side and Nottingham saw his fists clench.
He turned to see a man standing in the doorway. Slowly, he pushed himself up.
‘Thee from Leeds?’ the man asked.
‘That’s right. I’ve come to take him back.’
‘About time, an’ all.’ He took a ring of keys from the pocket of his coat.
‘What have you done to him?’
The man shrugged.
‘He tried to steal two of my chickens about a week back. Caught him and put him in here.’
Nottingham came closer. The farmer was a squat man, arms and chest heavily muscled from years of work.
‘How did you find out anyone was looking for him?’
The man gave a dark smile and shrugged
‘Nowt difficult about making a man talk if you do it right. I told them in Beeston he were here. I suppose they sent word to thee.’
‘I suppose they did.’ He glanced down at Taylor. The man was cowering, trying to make himself small. His bruises were fresh, the dark colours bright. ‘You caught him a week ago?’
‘Close enough. Don’t keep close track of the days out here.’
‘Someone’s beaten him more recently than that.’
‘My lads like a little sport when they finish work. Makes a change from taking the dogs out to course hares. Trying to thieve from us, he had it coming.’
‘Where are your sons now?’
‘Off hunting. Not much to do this time of year. They might as well find some meat for the table afore we have to kill the pigs.’
‘How was Taylor dressed when you found him?’ Nottingham asked.
‘Way thee sees him.’
‘Really? I don’t believe you.’ He put his hand on the hilt of the sword and stared at the farmer. ‘I’ll ask you again: how was he dressed?’
He saw the man’s gaze slide down to his boots for a moment. They weren’t new, but they were solid enough. The stockings were worn, but they were wool; they’d help a man on the road.
‘Tha can have him as tha finds him.’
‘No,’ Nottingham told him. ‘I’ll have him as he arrived.’
‘Tha reckon, dost tha?’ The farmer chuckled.
He didn’t bother to answer. He began to pull the sword from its scabbard, drawing it halfway out before the man held up his hands.
‘He’s the bloody thief, not me.’ But he bent and unlaced the boots, then removed the socks, standing barefoot on the dirt floor.
‘Unlock him,’ Nottingham ordered.
The key scraped as it turned, then the chains fell away from Taylor.
‘Thee can have ‘im, for all the good it’ll do you,’ the man said. ‘But I’ll give tha fair warning. Tha’d best be gone before my lads come back, and don’t show thisen around here again.’
He strode away.
‘Hold your hands out,’ Nottingham said, and sawed at the bonds around Taylor’s wrists with his knife. As the rope fell away he could see the wounds, already festering, scabbed flesh meeting blood and pus. Taylor flexed his fingers and winced. ‘Have another drink and put on your boots. Then we’ll get you back to Leeds.’
How, though? He watched Taylor struggling to stand, weak, bruised. He wouldn’t be able to walk all the way to town and the mare wasn’t strong enough to seat two. He sighed and shook his head.
It took ten full minutes before Taylor was ready and pushed up into the saddle. His fingers were so tight around the pommel that his knuckles were white. Nottingham looped the reins in his fist and began to walk back down the hill to the Dewsbury Road.

Three

He watched Taylor breathe deep, savouring the freshness of the air and looking around.
‘First time on horseback?’
‘Yes.’ His voice was still a croak, but at least the look of terror had vanished from his face. Going so slowly, the man was safe enough up there. And he wasn’t likely to escape; Nottingham doubted Taylor would be able to run twenty yards and he’d be too scared to try riding off. Safe enough.
‘When did they feed you last?’
‘Yesterday morning,’ he answered after some thought. ‘Stale bread and some meat that had turned.’
‘They’ll find you something to eat at the jail. An apothecary to look at those wounds, too.’ He glanced over his shoulder.
‘They won’t come after us,’ Taylor told him. ‘Too cowardly for that.’ He was quiet for a minute. ‘You don’t look like a constable’s man.’
Nottingham chuckled.
‘I’m not. You might say they’re all busy in Leeds. The Pretender crossed the border three days ago.’
‘Christ,’ Taylor said softly. ‘Where?’
‘Carlisle. If they come, it won’t be soon.’
‘They’ll want to butcher everyone.’
‘If they can. It won’t be that easy.’ Fifty yards passed before he spoke again. ‘The constable wants to talk to you about a murder.’
Taylor snorted.
‘I know that. Why do you think I ran?’
‘Did you do it?’
‘Kill him?’ He stared ahead. ‘Does it matter?’
‘It matters.’
Taylor pursed his lips and gave a hollow laugh.
‘All they want is someone to hang.’
‘Is that what you believe?’
‘It’s true enough.’ He gave a shrug. ‘Folk say I was there, so I must be guilty. The noose will fit me as well as anyone else.’
‘Did you do it?’
‘No,’ Taylor answered simply. ‘Do you know who died?’
Nottingham shook his head.
‘My brother,’ the man continued. ‘My own brother. Who’d kill his own kin?’
‘Plenty,’ he answered. He’d seen it often enough. Brother, sisters, parents, children. No one was safe in this world. ‘Don’t you know your Bible?’
‘Just words in church.’
‘The first murder’s in there. One brother killed another.’
He remembered learning it, word for word. The tutor had beaten it into him, wanting the words written deep in his soul. The creation, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Cain and Abel…back when he was a merchant’s son, before his father threw him out along with his mother and he became a whore’s brat.
‘I didn’t kill Paul. Why would I?’
‘I don’t know,’ Nottingham told him. ‘I don’t know anything about it.’
‘You want the tale?’ Ned asked. Why not, he thought, it was better than silence. ‘Pass me that jug of water.’ He drank, spitting it out at first, then swallowing. ‘You know the Talbot?’
‘I do.’ There’d been a time when he knew it all too well, back when Landlord Bell ran the place. Cock fighting, whores, and half the criminals in Leeds. He’d had to spend more time there than he’d ever wanted.
‘We were in there, drinking, playing dice with two men we’d met. I went off to the jakes. Came back and one of them was holding Paul. He moved back and Paul just reached out for me.’ He paused, remembering. ‘I’ve never seen a look like that on anyone’s face.’
‘He’d been stabbed,’ Nottingham guessed.
‘Aye, that’s right,’ Taylor said slowly. ‘It was Saturday night, the place was full. I pulled the knife out and started shouting for someone to help.’
‘The other two had vanished?’
‘Gone. But I only cared about Paul right then.’ He shifted his grip on the pommel and stared up at the sky. ‘By the time someone came, he was dead. Bloody deputy started asking questions and people told him I’d been holding Paul. They saw me pull the knife out of him.’ He shook his head. ‘What would you have done? I ran. Kept running until that fucking farmer and his lads caught me.’
‘No one mentioned those other men?’
‘I tried to tell him. He didn’t want to listen.’ He turned his head. ‘Has anyone ever killed anyone you loved? Someone close.’
‘Yes.’ He didn’t want to say more. All these years and it was still raw. The guilt still rubbed against his heart.
‘What did you do?’
‘Less than I should.’
‘No revenge?’
‘In a way,’ Nottingham said after a few moments.
But he hadn’t done it himself. He’d been too upright, he still believed in the power of the law then. It had fallen to Sedgwick and Rob to do what he didn’t have the guts to do himself. And that was the guilt that pressed down on him every night when he closed his eyes.
It had changed him. When the deputy was beaten to death, he’d gone after his killer, knowing he’d show no mercy. He let the anger boil and relished the shot that killed the man. It seemed like penance. But it wasn’t. When it was done all the old feelings still remained, roiling and painful.
‘You’re quiet, constable’s man.’
‘Just thinking. Remembering.’
‘Going to come and watch when they string me up? See me do Jack Ketch’s dance?’
‘No.’ He’d seen too many of them. He hadn’t attended a hanging since he retired. He didn’t need to see more death. But if the Pretender came, he’d have no choice. It was all in God’s hands.
‘What happened to that man?’ Taylor asked. ‘The killer.’
‘There were two of them. They disappeared.’
He’d never known the details; he’d never dared to ask, too afraid of a truthful answer.
‘Your friends take care of it?’
‘Yes.’
Taylor laughed.
‘I could use some friends like that.’
‘It was a long time ago,’ Nottingham said. But all too often it felt like it had happened yesterday. There were still nights when he turned and could swear she was beside him. He’d reach out and feel her skin under his fingertips. But it wasn’t real. When his eyes opened, it vanished like smoke.
He could see the inn in the distance, two carts outside, a horse standing, ears pricked. The sun had lifted enough to blunt the edge of the cold. Autumn falling gently into winter. If a man didn’t know what was happening out in the world it might almost be peaceful.
A stone had worked its way into his boot, digging against his sole as he walked. Time to stop. Something to eat and drink, be ready for the final part of the journey.
Nottingham tethered the horse, knotting the reins to the branch.
‘Don’t try to leave,’ he warned, hand resting on the sword hilt. ‘I’ll find you.’
Inside, he ordered bread, cheese and a jug of ale, glancing back to make sure Taylor hadn’t tried to escape. But he simply sat there, staring around. As if he’d given up on life already.
‘Here, this will help.’ The bread was fresh and soft, the cheese still white, no mould clinging to the edges. Taylor took a long drink of the ale, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘I think I needed that more than anything.’ He dipped his head for a moment in thanks, then took a bite of the bread, a satisfied smile crossing his face. ‘That tastes right.’
Nottingham chewed slowly, washing the food down with sips of the ale. Taylor wolfed down his meal, reaching for the jug to refill his cup. Finally they were done, and Nottingham eased off his boot, shaking it to remove the stone, keeping a close watch on the prisoner for any sudden movement.
‘I thought you might try to run,’ he said as they moved slowly down the road. His legs were stiff, even after the rest, and he wished he’d brought his stick. But Leeds wasn’t too far. He would see it in the distance, beyond Hunslet. The towers of the churches, St Peter’s, St John’s, Holy Trinity, the smoke from the chimneys. They’d be there soon enough, back among the crowds and the stink.
‘Why bother? You’d find me, or someone else, or I’d end up on a Scotsman’s knife.’ Taylor sounded weary. He sat in the saddle with his shoulders slumped, letting his body move with the horse’s rhythm.
‘When you were playing dice that night, whose dice did you use?’ Nottingham wondered.
‘My brother’s. Same as always.’
‘Clean dice?’
‘Yes. If you don’t believe me, try them yourself when we get to the jail. They’ll still have them.’
‘Did you play the others for money?’
‘What do you think?’ Taylor asked, as if it was a stupid question.
‘Who was winning?’
‘Paul. Five pennies up when I went to the jakes. When I came back, the money had gone.’
Five pennies. Hardly worth a life. But he’d seen blood shed for far less. Careless words when men were deep in their cups. A look. He’d come close enough to being killed himself before. His body was a map of scars. Wrinkled these days, growing flabby in some places, thin and weaker in others. Once he’d been so proud of his hair, wearing it long and tied back by a ribbon. Now what remained was straggly, coarse and grey. All that vanity worth nothing.
‘Did you see the other men leave? Could you describe them?’
‘They weren’t local,’ Taylor said. ‘Acted as if they’d been on the road a while. I was looking after Paul, trying to get him some help. He died right there with my hand under his head.’ He pointed to a dark patch on his shirt, lost among the dirt of the last weeks. ‘You see that? That’s his.’
‘What work did you do?’
‘This and that,’ Taylor said quietly. ‘Nothing steady. Nothing that pays on offer these days.’
He knew what that meant. Work for a little while, then let it go when he’d had enough. Drift. Thieve, gamble.
‘What was your last job?’
‘Setting up the trestles on market day. Cloth market in the morning, move them up Briggate for the ordinary market when it was over. Clear everything away when it was done.’ Honest work, hard work, but only two days a week. ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ Taylor told him. ‘I can see it on your face.’
‘And what’s that?’ Nottingham asked.
‘That you reckon you know me. My sort.’ He stared, eyes dark and angry.
‘You’ve stolen before.’
‘I have,’ Taylor admitted. ‘And what about you? Are you so bloody pure, constable’s man? You don’t look it.’
Of course he wasn’t. After his mother died and he was on his own, with no money, no one, he’d done whatever he needed to survive. He worked. He stole, and prayed he wouldn’t be caught.
‘No,’ he answered.
‘Then don’t judge me. Isn’t that what you Christians say? Judge not?’
‘Maybe they do. But it’s the law that judges.’
‘Aye, and the law’s fine if you have money. Show me a poor man who can find some justice.’
Nottingham stopped, tugging on the reins so the horse halted its pacing.
‘I’ll ask you once more: did you kill your brother?’
‘And I’ll tell you again. No, I didn’t. You can keep asking for the rest of the year and it’ll be the same answer.’
‘Right.’ He began to walk again. Each step brought a nag of pain moving down from his hip. Even limping, trying to ease the weight to his other leg, didn’t help.

Four

‘We’ll be there very soon.’
He could see people moving about on the streets. Light glinting off windows. He could smell the place, so familiar, so welcoming, so full of his past.
‘There’s no rush,’ Taylor said. ‘They’re only going to hang me.’
‘That’s for a jury to decide,’ Nottingham reminded him.
‘We might as well just carry on to Chapeltown Moor.’ He gave a weak laugh. ‘The jail’s just another bloody stop on the way.’
‘At least you’ll have a bed and food.’
‘For a while.’
‘Rob Lister’s a good man. He’s fair.’
‘He’s like everyone else. He only sees what’s in front of him.’
Had he done that, too? Seven years the Constable of Leeds. Had he hung innocent men? He’d never believed he had. When he’d been uncertain, he’d given the accused man the benefit of the doubt. It was too final, too brutal to risk being wrong. Was Rob that way, too? He’d taught the lad, but those lessons had ended eleven years before. Who was to say what he’d become since then? He’d watched when Lister came home with a wound or a beating from trying to capture someone. It could harden the heart; he knew that.
‘He’s fair,’ Nottingham repeated. It was the evidence of his own eyes, seeing Rob with Emily and his children.
A few folk stopped to stare as they crossed Leeds Bridge. Not so many around, too worried to be outside unless it was vital. What caught their curiosity, he wondered? A ragged man riding, or did they remember his face, surprised to see him working again?
He’d been happy to leave office. It was time. Time to let go of all that weight. It had simply grown too heavy for him. And since then he’d kept his distance. Rob asked his advice on this and that, and he gave it freely. But he never asked after the trials he read about in the Mercury. He’d bid all that farewell, gratefully. And now he was back. Once more. The final time, he hoped, although God alone knew they’d all be needed if the Scots came.
‘What are you thinking, old man?’ Taylor’s voice was almost a taunt.
‘About the past,’ Nottingham replied easily. ‘Like every other old man.’
‘But you still have a future,’ Taylor said. ‘I don’t.’

At the jail he waited as the man dismounted and led him inside. The building still smelled the same, feat, sweat, piss. Everything but hope. As if it was part of the stone and the wood. Hopkinson, the deputy, took Taylor through to a cell.
‘Simple enough?’ Rob asked. His face was drawn and his fingers were stained with ink from the quill pen.
‘The farmer who caught him mistreated him.’
‘Nothing I can do about that.’ He shrugged and stood. ‘Come on, let’s go next door. I’ll buy you a drink.’
At the White Swan they settled on the bench and Lister signalled for a jug of ale and two cups.
‘Thank you for doing that. I’ve been run off my feet all day. We’re looking at positions for defences.’ He ran a hand through his hair; there were already ample flecks of grey. ‘The problem is, we don’t know which way they’ll come.’
‘Or if they’ll come.’
‘They will,’ Rob said with certainty. ‘We just have to make sure we’re ready.’ He took a long drink and sat back. ‘Did Taylor give you any problems, boss?’
‘None.’ He smiled. ‘You should stop calling me that. You’re in charge now.’
‘Habit,’ Rob replied. ‘And you still deserve it. What did you make of Taylor?’
‘Honestly?’ Nottingham moved the mug in small circles on the table. ‘I’m not sure he’s guilty.’
‘He convinced you?’
‘No,’ he answered after a long pause. ‘But I’d want to ask some questions.’
‘What if I told you he was one of the best liars I’ve ever met and that I have two witnesses who saw him put the knife in his brother?’
‘The men they were playing dice with?’
Rob shook his head.
‘At the next table. I know one of them, he’s as honest as anyone who goes in the Talbot.’
‘That’s not saying a lot.’
Rob grinned.
‘I believe him, though. And as soon as Hopkinson arrived and began asking questions, Taylor ran. I was starting to think we’d never find him.’
‘So he’s guilty,’ Nottingham said bleakly.
‘He is, boss,’ Rob said quietly.
In one long swallow, Nottingham downed the rest of the ale.
‘Just as well I’m not in the job any longer.’ He stood. ‘I’m going home. It feels like it’s been a long day.’
‘I’ll still need you when the Scots come.’
‘There’s time enough for that.’
Slowly, painfully, he walked down Kirkgate and back towards Marsh Lane. To Emily and Richard and Mary. To the past, a sweeter country.