he Grantham brewery was a very modest affair. Besides the master brewer, Ethelbert, there were only three men working on the various elements of brewing. One was stirring a huge metal pot on a fire with a long wooden pole, and the air was heady with the sweet smell of barley sugar and the sharp smell of the hops that had just been put in. Another man was checking something by dipping out some of the fermenting ale from a valved cask and measuring a small amount of it. The third Artur did not see at first, as he was in another building checking on the drying hops and shoveling barley into a large vessel to be prepared for malting.
“Hugh?!” The master brewer spat on the floor. “Why I let the healer Aelflynn talk me into taking him on I shall ne’er understand.” He was watching the man who was stirring the huge pot. “Not too much hops now, fool! Do not over-flavor the brew!”
Sir Artur waited for the man to go on. “He was the laziest, most indolent, most useless man I ever employed. So you say he has a brewery now in Lawrencium?! God’s whiskers, I hope ‘tis not the only one.” He chuckled to himself, shaking his head.
“Shall we say his brewery is not doing well, bonhomme?” Sir Artur reassured with one eyebrow elevated. “Lazy, you say. No worse than that?”
“Well, aye, I suspected him of taking some things.. and, well, I would rather not say this, but if you will vouchsafe not to let it get around here… “ he led the knight to a small walled off area and whispered to him. “One batch of ale was poisoned, methinks. It did not taste any different, but one of our buyers said that people who drank from a newly opened cask all became ill. With the flux. I suspected Hugh, since he had worked in the malting for that batch.. and his sister after all had all kinds of elixirs, including ones that make you sick if you take too much… That is when I sent him packing.”
Artur was surprised. “But you did not have him arrested? Why not?”
The brewer fidgeted. “Sir, you must understand my position. I was able to get back all those barrels. So there was never any real scandal. It would have ruined me for sure. I kept the whole thing quiet. In fact, I had to pay off another scoundrel, a friend of Hugh’s, who threatened to expose the whole thing. God forgive me, but I must say I was relieved when that man, Jack, was found drowned in the river.”
Sir Artur took the man by the shoulder. “Drowned? An accident?”
The brewer shrugged. “Who knows?”
The brewer went back in to shout at the man adding water to the pot of simmering barley sugar and hops. Sir Artur stood thinking. “This man may have killed his friend to cover his deeds. Why would not such a man kill his sister to cover other deeds? Or if he could grow so angry as to dump poison in the ale, why would he not grow angry enough to kill her?”
As he left the brewery the man who had been looking to the barley and hops that were drying in the shed came after him. “My lord, my lord,” he called.
Sir Artur did not correct him. “Aye, my good man?”
“You are asking about that lout Hugh, are you not?” the man said, quietly and looking around.
“I am,” Artur replied.
“He said something to me when the Master threw him out. He said to me, ‘Just you wait, you’ll see. I will have a brewery of my own. My sister will see to it.”
Artur brought out a coin and placed it in the man’s hand. “Do you know what he was talking about?”
The man grinned and nodded at the coin. “My thanks, my lord. No, I am not certain, but ‘twas when the King was here with his grave wound. And Hugh’s sister was attending to him. I thought perhaps Hugh had had Aelflynn ask a boon of the King. But then she was murdered. And Hugh took off.”
Artur patted the man on the shoulder and thanked him.
The French knight mounted his horse and turned its head towards the road through to the northeast. If the man would kill his sister, his friend, and who knows whom else, what would he do to anyone who exposed him in Lawrencium? What had he taken from his sister’s apothecary, and what did he plan to use it for?
Artur spurred his horse to a faster pace.
Next: The King's Justice
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com