Excerpt from Heretic by Bernard Cornwell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Bernard Cornwell

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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 368 pages
    Sep 2004, 432 pages

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"He has no soul, he's a soldier."

"A tournament soldier," the friar said scornfully.

The Count shrugged. "It is not enough to be wealthy, father. A man must also be strong and Joscelyn is my strong arm." The Count said it forcibly, though in truth he was not sure that his nephew was the best heir for Berat, but if the Count had no son then the fief must pass to one of his nephews and Joscelyn was probably the best of a bad brood. Which made it all the more important to have an heir. "I asked you here," he said, choosing to use the word "asked" rather than "ordered," "because you might have some insight into His Eminence's interest."

The friar looked at the Cardinal's letter again. "Muniments," he said.

"I noticed that word too," the Count said. He moved away from the open window. "You're causing a draught, father."

Father Roubert reluctantly replaced the horn screen. The Count, he knew, had deduced from his books that for a man to be fertile he must be warm and the friar wondered how folk in cold northern countries ever managed to breed. "So the Cardinal isn't interested in your books," the Dominican said, "but only in the county's records?"

"So it would seem. Two hundred years of tax rolls?" The Count chuckled. "Brother Jerome will enjoy deciphering those."

The friar said nothing for a while. The sound of clashing swords echoed from the castle's curtain wall as the Count's nephew and his cronies practiced their weapons in the yard. Let Lord Joscelyn inherit here, the friar thought, and these books and parchments would all be put to the flames. He moved closer to the hearth in which, though it was not cold outside, a great fire burned and he thought of the girl who must be burned to death next morning in Castillon d'Arbizon. She was a heretic, a foul creature, the devil's plaything, and he remembered her agony as he had tortured the confession from her. He wanted to see her burn and hear the screams that would announce her arrival at the gates of hell, and so the sooner he answered the Count the sooner he could leave.

"You're hiding something, Roubert," the Count prompted him before the friar could speak.

The friar hated being called by his simple Christian name, a reminder that the Count had known him as a child and had paid for his elevation. "I hide nothing," he protested.

"So tell me why a Cardinal Archbishop would send a monk to Berat?"

The friar turned from the fire. "Do I need to remind you," he said, "that the county of Astarac is now a part of your domain?"

The Count stared at Father Roubert, then realized what the friar was saying. "Oh, dear God, no," the Count said. He made the sign of the cross and returned to his chair. He peered at the chessboard, scratched an itch beneath his woolen cap and turned back to the Dominican. "Not that old story?"

"There have been rumors," Father Roubert said loftily. "There was a member of our order, a fine man, Bernard de Taillebourg, who died this year in Brittany. He was pursuing something, we were never told what, but the rumors say that he made common cause with a member of the Vexille family."

"Good Christ Almighty," the Count said. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"You wish me to bother you with every vaporous story that gets told in the taverns?" Father Roubert retorted.

From Heretic by Bernard Cornwell. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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