BARAK LED ME at a brisk pace to the courthouse stables. My heart still banged against my ribs and the skin on my face had a tight, drawn feeling. I knew Lord Cromwell was not above bullying judges, but he always liked to observe the legal niceties and would not have done this lightly. And Barak was a strange person to use to confront a judge. But though he had risen to be chief minister, Cromwell was the son of a Putney alehouse keeper and was happy to work with men of low birth so long as they were intelligent and ruthless enough. But what in Christ's name did Cromwell want from me? His last mission had plunged me into a hell of murder and violence I still shuddered to recall.
Barak's horse was a beautiful black mare, its coat shining with health. He cantered out while I was still saddling Chancery, pausing in the stable doorway to look back impatiently. 'Ready?' he asked. 'His lordship wants to see you this morning, you know.'
I studied him again as I climbed on the vaulting block and eased myself onto Chancery's back. A hard eye and a fighter's build, as I had observed before. A heavy sword at his hip and a dagger too at his belt. But there was intelligence in his eyes and in the wide, sensual mouth, whose upturned corners seemed made for mockery.
'Wait a moment,' I said, seeing Joseph running across the yard to us, his plump face bright, clutching his cap in his hand. When he had returned from the jakes I told him Forbizer had changed his mind: I said I did not know why. 'Your advocacy, sir,' he had said. 'Your words moved his conscience.' Joseph was ever a naive man.
Now he laid a hand on Chancery's side, beaming up at me. 'I have to go with this gentleman, Joseph,' I said. 'There is another urgent case I must attend to.'
'Some other poor wretch to save from injustice, eh? But you will be back soon?'
I glanced at Barak; he gave a brief nod.
'Soon, Joseph. I will contact you. Listen, now we have some time to investigate Ralph's murder there is something I would have you do for me, if you can. It will be difficult-'
'Anything, sir, anything.'
'I want you to go to your brother Edwin and ask if he will see me at his house. Say I am unsure of Elizabeth's guilt and wish to hear his side of things.'
A shadow came over his face. 'I need to meet the family, Joseph,' I told him gently. 'And see the house and garden. It is important.'
He bit his lip, then nodded slowly. 'I will do what I can.'
I patted his arm. 'Good man. And now I must go.'
'I shall tell Elizabeth!' he called after me as we rode out into the road. 'I shall tell her, thanks to you, she is spared the press!' Barak looked at me, raising an eyebrow cynically.