Read an Exerpt of The Black Rose

They were waiting for him.

A score of armed men -- not knights these but skilled men-at-arms of the palace guard – had fanned out in a semicircle and now watched him with coolly appraising eyes almost challenging him to make a false move. Had this then all been some trick, some elaborate trap to lure him to this end? He thought of the murdered turnkey and immediately cast the notion aside. Surely even a Church Elder would not condone the killing of a man -- even such a man as the turnkey – in order to effect such a plan. As one, the men-at-arms levelled their pole-arms and, in response, Ezra raised his hands in surrender, allowing the insubstantial blade to fall to the ground.

“Well, gentlemen,” he uttered finally, affecting a great deal more poise than he truly felt, “it would seem I have made a grave error in judgement.”

“On the contrary, my dear boy, I would have been sorely disappointed if you had not made at least a token attempt to escape confinement.”

Standish’s attempt to maintain his equanimity failed as he turned to face the owner of the all-too familiar voice who had, all along, been standing off to his right in the shadows.

“My Lord.” He bowed his head.

Van Buren flicked his cloak over his shoulder and took several steps forward signalling to the pikemen to be at ease but, Ezra noted, his escort, the Provost Marshal, continued to maintain an easy grip on the crossbow in his hand. “Might I ask, what of the turnkey?”

The knight raised his head and looked squarely at the Elder, a hint of defiance in the emerald green eyes. “Dead, my Lord.”

Van Buren nodded slowly, digesting the news, his forefinger raised thoughtfully to his lips. After a moment of contemplation he sighed. “Was it necessary?”

A slight frown crossed Standish’s handsome countenance. He had just confessed to killing one of the King’s jailers and the Head of the Order, a Church Elder no less, was asking him if it was necessary.

“Yes, my Lord, else I would not have done it,” he replied smoothly, not sure of the game that was being played out but suspecting, with a sense of foreboding, that the stakes were his continued existence.

“Indeed,” murmured Van Buren, moving to within an arm’s length of the fugitive and turning the knight’s face with his gloved hand to inspect the cut to his eyelid,

“Tell me, Ezra, how do you justify murder?”

Standish angrily jerked his chin free of the Elder’s grip. “I need no justification, Sire, to slay a debased pederast who would take advantage of captives in his charge. Is not the practice of sodomy against the laws of the Church, my Lord?”

Van Buren smiled and rested a hand on the knight’s shoulder. “That it is, my son,” he sighed, “and you have no cause for concern that you dealt the fatal blow to this man.”

No cause for concern. Ezra raised a hand to his brow, swaying as he tried to decipher the hidden meaning behind the Elder’s seemingly compassionate tone, finally succumbing to the light-headedness that was the end result of the drug still in his blood, coupled with his hunger and the sudden anticlimax of his bid for freedom. Van Buren quickly moved to support him and, marking with alarm the blood seeping through the back of Ezra’s doublet, looked in sudden consternation at the young man. “My son, you are hurt.”

A game. Yes, a game politic. He was to be scourged on the morrow and Van Buren was mewling about a scratch from the turnkey’s knife? The Elder was surely toying with him. An elaborate trap, but designed for what purpose? As his eyes rolled up into his head and his knees buckled, he heard from far away the commanding voice of Van Buren demanding that he be lifted up and taken immediately to the Elder in Chief’s own apartments. As darkness descended he wondered what fate now awaited him.