A Spear Through the Heart
by Cherith Baldry
Crispin shifted the ladder to one side, and repositioned the lamps. At the top of the
wooden panel, surrounded by the extravagant wings of the heavenly host, the
painted Christ returned in majesty. Crispin examined His face, framed in thick
black curls, the broad scholar's brow, the eyes where he had tried to render
kindness, the firm mouth with understanding and even a touch of humour. A shiver
ran through him. Would he be accused of blasphemy, to paint a Christ whose
features all too clearly echoed those of Dr. Stanford? A man who even now stood
trial for his life, and who would surely burn in the fires of the Inquisition?
Less than a month ago, Crispin Peveril had been struggling through the crowds in
St. Giles, caught up helplessly as they pressed forward to witness the latest
execution. Two scholars of the University, so gossip said, sent to the fire for
attempting to conjure a demon. Crispin could see nothing but black smoke
billowing upwards, and the avid faces of the men who jostled him. But he could
smell the stench of burning beneath the stink of sweaty bodies, and beyond the
baying of the crowd he could hear a raw screaming.
Crispin retched; a glittering darkness surged around him. Stumbling, he almost
went down under the trampling feet of the mob. Then he felt a hand grip him
beneath the elbow and steer him out into the open. Someone sat him down and
thrust his head between his knees.
After a few moments the darkness cleared away. His body was bathed in a cold
sweat. Blinking, he looked up to find himself sitting on a mounting block outside
the Eagle and Child. A man was looking down at him, blocking out his view of the
crowd and the burning. "Are you better now?" he asked.
Crispin thrust his hands through damp hair. "Yes, I thank you, sir."
He studied his rescuer: a neat, compact man, dressed in a scholar's dark coat with
white bands at his throat. He was gazing down at Crispin with interest and
sympathy with lively dark eyes.
"I think not," he murmured. He placed a hand on Crispin's forehead, tilting his
head back. "Young man, when did you last eat?"
Embarrassment flooded over Crispin. "This morning," he lied.
"Nonsense. Come with me."