The Clearwater Companion. Larkspur Mysteries, book four
Have you read ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ the Larkspur Mysteries book four? It actually doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t, as this unpublished excerpt gives nothing away.
Chester Cadman has been duped by unscrupulous men, ridiculed in the newspapers, and disowned by his family. Only twenty-two, he is on the verge of starvation when a Clearwater detective makes him an offer he can’t refuse: Join the Larkspur Academy and investigate a haunting that has plagued Lord Clearwater’s family for nearly four hundred years.
What I have here is the original opening for the book, a section I wrote before the Clearwater Mysteries came about. It was to be the opening of a sequel to my standalone, slightly paranormal romance, ‘Curious Moonlight,’ when I invented an abbey in Cornwall and an ancient scandal that occurred around the time of the Reformation. This section is a very early work for me (another way of saying it’s a bit rough around the edges, a first draft and unedited), but the idea behind it stayed, and eventually became the backstory for ‘Seeing Through Shadows.’
Which is why I never throw anything away. Even if the text didn’t appear in the book in this or edited form, the idea behind it did.
It’s a quick read, but before you set off into the past, make a note that next Saturday, I will be revealing the cover of the first in the new series, ‘Finding a Way.’ More about that on my blog posts next week. Meanwhile, step back in time to 1538 and a moonlit night in the grounds of Larkspur Abbey…
Larkspur Abbey, 27th March 1538
The Abbot stood, cloaked and shadowed by the yew tree, his lantern dark and unnecessary thanks to the full moon. It painted the scudding cloud with outlines of silver and caused the unsettled mist to shimmer as it undulated over the damp grass and wove among the ancient stones. The moor mist played silently at the Abbot’s feet, stroking leather shoes before swirling to investigate his companion. As it drew near the second man, it seemed to realise its error and held back, skirting him before pouring down the hill towards the graveyard. There it pooled in a natural bowl, lapping at the base of the knoll as if waiting for a door to open and admit it to the earth.
‘The time draws near,’ the Abbot whispered, his eyes fixed on the far side of the graves.
‘Shall I go down, Father?’
‘No, Jacob. Wait awhile until we see it.’ He flicked his eyes across the tombstones to the church wall in case the apparition had appeared during the blink of an eye, but the mist was undisturbed, and no figure walked. ‘The monk has not returned, I hope?’
‘No, Father,’ Jacob replied. ‘Nor will he. He rides to Plymouth tonight, and thence Exeter and north. He shan’t be seen again.’
The Abbot crossed himself. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘the King’s commissioners are at Dartmoor.’
‘Aye, Father. We all fear for the Abbey.’
‘They will find no corruption here, Jacob.’ The Abbot’s voice was as firm as his belief that he ran an order beyond reproach.
‘Not now the monk has been sent away.’
‘Exactly.’ The Abbot shuffled his feet. ‘And not after you have done your duty.’
Jacob gripped the wooden handle of a dagger, his fingers itchy for work, his muscles tensed and ready.
In the graveyard, the mist became agitated and gathered at a cut in the hillock. Drawn to one place, it swirled in delight when a patch of grassy hillside opened like a door, and swept inside to the dark, unexplored tunnel. It poured around the skirt of a young girl, cowled and wrapped in a cloak of rough wool. Her boots cut through the vapour which pawed and petted before rushing on, as she trod a slow, deliberate path towards the graves.
‘There!’ the Abbot hissed and pulled his man to the cover of the tree. ‘See how it walks? As if floating above the mist.’
The girl made slow, cautious progress towards the east window, pausing to listen, crouching behind headstones when a breeze played at her hood and a startled night creature darted nearby.
‘Shall I go now?’
The Abbot sighed and closed his eyes in a brief prayer of forgiveness. ‘Yes, Jacob,’ he said. ‘But remember how the monk walked and be sure to do the same. Slowly, carefully go, because you know you are doing wrong, because you know God is watching and yet you act against your vows.’
‘I took no vows, Father.’
‘Which is why you are the only one who can do this. But picture yourself as him, and she will not suspect until you are on her.’
‘Aye,’ was all Jacob said as he hid the dagger.
He set off towards the church keeping to the shadows, but when there were none and the moon caught him in his guilty act, he behaved as the monk had done, crouching and crabbing low to the ground. If the girl saw him coming, she would think it was her assignation and not, as the Abbot had planned, her assassination.
He should have seen this months ago. It had become common knowledge in the Abbey despite the vow of silence, a vow he knew his monks rarely kept. If the King’s Commissioner heard of that, there would be trouble enough, but if they learned of the monk, the abbey would be torn down for sure.
The sinner was on his way to Plymouth now, on a mission to take the word of God into the county of Devon, further if possible. The cause of the Abbot’s fear had left, but only half of it. The girl was now against the church wall and creeping around the east to the south side where the shadows deepened in the recesses of buttresses. This is where they met, he had learned. Nightly when there was no rain, the monk and the serving girl from the Hall. It had first been noticed by a novice and gone unreported for the lad feared he would be accused of betrayal. Later, he confessed to a second novice who had the courage to approach the Abbot.
The Abbot knew the monk in question was otherwise virtuous and he rather the man found his way to a woman, rather than any of the noviciates as many monks did. He also knew the lord of the manor. If he reported the matter to him, he would flog all servant girls and possibly throw them out, bringing poverty to their families. The Abbot held his tongue and let the matter proceed. Young love was a fickle thing, he believed, and the pair would soon tire of each other. There should have come an end to it the moment he confronted the monk and told him to stop, but, as the younger man pointed out, it was hypocrisy on the part of the Abbot to cast stones before removing the plank from his own eye, and the Abbot was shamed into silence.
The girl vanished into the darkness between buttresses as Jacob reached the west end wall. He appeared and disappeared as he made his way towards the girl, entering every recess to stay in darkness, just as the monk had done.
It was the news that the King’s Commissioners were coming to Larkspur that forced the Abbot to act. Within a week of the news, he had cleaned house, threatened every monk, and taken every step to ensure the King received a favourable report and thus, he kept his job, his income and peccadillos. The fly in the ointment had been the one monk, so in love with a serving girl that he defied not only his Father but God.
Left with no choice, the Abbot gave the monk an ultimatum. To leave that day on horseback, or in a coffin. The monk had ridden off within the hour, leaving the girl ignorant of his departure, but still living. A confession from her and the abbey was lost.
Jacob reached her recess and slipped into the void. The Abbot listened but heard nothing. Cloud darkened the moonlight, and the scene descended to monochrome gloom until the high breeze took away the cover. As it did, it revealed Jacob dragging the girl’s body into the moonlight and kneeling beside it. His instructions were to haul it to a prepared grave and there bury it, but the man looked up, towards the trees and then back to the body. In a second he was on his feet and running towards the Abbot.
‘The idiot,’ the Abbot hissed.
The hour was late, and no lights glowed in the arched windows of the dormitory or church, and no-one moved in the cloisters. Nocturns had been said and the monks returned to their beds, there to sleep until the bell for Lauds. The perfect time for illegal assignations, but since the Abbot’s dire warning, none had dared. None but the banished monk, now not only a fornicator but the cause of a young girl’s death.
Jacob puffed his way ungainly to the top of the rise and clambered to his master.
‘Father,’ he said, his face paler than the moonlight, his eyes wider than the night sky. ‘I can’t bury the body here.’
Furious, the Abbot gripped the man’s cloak, dragged him close and glared. ‘You fool,’ he spat. ‘Get about your task.’
‘Father, I can’t,’ Jacob protested. ‘Come and see, and you will understand.’
Escaping bad choices, Luke Grey arrives in the Cornish fishing village of Madenly determined never to fall in love with a straight man again. But then he meets Peran Box.
Peran’s passion for investigating historical mysteries is his only escape from a loveless relationship. But then he meets Luke.
Attracted to each other’s differences, the two embark on an intense friendship which sparks hope for Luke and ignites Peran’s gay-curious feelings.
But then they meet Billy, dead for three-hundred years and determined to keep them apart until the mystery of his murder is solved.