The Avalon ChanterThe Avalon ChanterThe Avalon Chanter

The Avalon Chanter

The Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron Series, Book Seven

Five Star Publishing, January 2014
ISBN (Hardcover): 978-1-4328-2804-2
Worldwide Mystery Book Club
ISBN (Paperback): 978-0-373-26968-6

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The Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron series, a cross-genre (mystery, romance, paranormal) series featuring Michael and Rebecca Campbell-Reid from Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust in cameo roles.

A grave mistake . . .

Small Farnaby Island lies just beyond the holy isle of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. Farnaby-born archaeologist Maggie Lauder has personal reasons for trying to prove the island is the Avalon of Arthurian legend. When she opens a tomb in a medieval chantry chapel, she plans to cause headlines. And cause headlines she does, for all the wrong reasons.

The story that Jean Fairbairn planned to write about Maggie’s historic discovery is shadowed by a contemporary investigation. Her husband, Scottish ex-cop Alasdair Cameron, discovers he has a history with the investigating detective—if not as long a history as Maggie does.

But does history trace a direct line from past to present? Or is it interlaced like the patterns decorating the Lindisfarne Gospels, generations of men and women weaving destiny with desire?

Jean and Alasdair are stranded on Farnaby, caught in the conflicting loyalties of its inhabitants, in memories lost and secrets laid bare. They can trust only each other—or so they think, until they find themselves on opposite sides of a cold case turned scorching hot.

And yet there is more to mystery than murder.

Northumbria, caught between England and Scotland. Battlefield of Celts, of Angles and Saxons, of Vikings, of pagans and Christians. The uncertain sea-strand where past meets present, where history becomes legend, where this world fades into the next. Corpse-candles illuminate an ancient priory. Bagpipers play laments on their chanters. Ghostly plainchant echoes in the dense sea fog.

It’s April in Avalon.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

“Could Farnaby Island be the Avalon of Arthurian legend? Farnaby lies off the coast of Northumberland, near the better-known holy isle of Lindisfarne. First Elaine Lauder and now her daughter Maggie, inhabitants of Farnaby, have tried to prove that it is Avalon. Maggie has announced the opening of a tomb she’s convinced will cause a sensation. It does but not the one she had imagined . . . full of enjoyable twists.”
--Kirkus Reviews

“…full of fascinating Arthurian connections . . . Carl's fondness for the mythology of the British Isles, a dash of ghost sighting, and the region will work for armchair travel enthusiasts.”
--Library Journal

“…Carl’s suspenseful, atmospheric sixth* mystery featuring historian and journalist Jean Fairbairn and her husband, retired police detective Alasdair Cameron. Cozy fans with an interest in British history will be satisfied.”
--Publishers Weekly

“The novel is beautifully written and whether you believe the ethereal singing of ancient Priory nuns is real or mere wisps from the fog-shrouded sea only enhances the brooding atmosphere of danger that pervades the pages of this novel. The family complications and old passions are complicated and carefully worked out to logical conclusions so that in the end, the resolution to mystery and murder is solidly satisfying. An excellent novel that comes strongly recommended.”
--Carl Brookins, Buried Under Books.

*The Avalon Chanter is actually the seventh book in the series, but since I published Mortsafe myself (it’s too short for Five Star) PW thinks it’s number six. LSC

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“Do you play with a band?”
“I play with Gallowglass from time to time.”
“They’re good,” Jean temporized . . .
The Secret Portrait, book one of the Fairbairn/Cameron series
Chapter One

Jean Fairbairn gazed past the edge of the map, at the gray-green hills gliding anonymously outside the car window. “Dang! I wanted to get there by the time she opens the grave!”

Her husband favored her with a glance from his keen blue eyes. “Professor Lauder and her chantry chapel, eh? What’s she on about this time?”

“She hasn’t said. I mean, the purpose of a press release is to tease and promote, not answer ques— What do you mean, this time? Are you thinking of that old court case?”

“The woman was on trial for murder.”

“Well, yeah. Big scandal and all that, but she was acquitted. Even an old cop like you—former cop, not old, I mean—even a meticulous guardian of truth, justice, and the British way like you has to cut her some slack. It happened twenty years ago and she’s been a model citizen ever since.”

Alasdair slowed the car. His hint of a frown, Jean estimated, commented on their location, not their conversation.

“As for the chantry chapel and the mysterious tomb,” she went on, “I think I know where Lauder’s going, considering her earlier work and who her mother is. Or was, poor thing. You know how much I love a reality–mythology smackdown.”

“That I do,” he said with a sigh. “I’m wishing we knew where we were going just now.” He peered over the weathered stone wall hemming in the strip of blacktop that passed for a road. The hills weren’t so much rolling as twitching, with sudden screes and narrow gullies sprouting bristly shrubs, lumpy grass, and the occasional sheep. And the ruins of farms long gone.

Britain was one of the most thickly populated countries in the world, and yet there were areas you’d swear hadn’t seen a human being since Eric Bloodaxe was a pup. “When I called Miranda I told her we were taking the scenic route,” Jean rationalized. “Country roads, Roman and Dark Age sites, Flodden Field and the flower of Scotland a’ wede awa’—I’ll do some sort of ‘Legends of the Scottish Borders’ article for Great Scot if the chapel, grave, thing, turns out to be a bust.”

If it’s a no-go? Not when it’s a no-go?” He sped up again.

“Oh ye of little faith in the follies of an archaeologist on the trail of the next big discovery. You don’t get funding opening the grave of some nameless peasant.”

All he replied was, “Next time we’re hiring a car with GPS. Or bringing along a guide.”

“I could try again with the GPS on one of our phones, but . . .” Pulling out her handheld supplemental brain, Jean switched it on, saw that it was still registering a lack of contact with its own kind, and switched it off again. “Well, we can actually see the sun today, and since it’s going down behind us, we’re heading east. If we keep going, we’ll either meet the main highway or tip over into the North Sea. Then we’ll know where we are.”

Alasdair muttered something about English roads—or perhaps about England, period.

“We’re only a few miles into Northumbria, a long way north of Hadrian’s Wall. It’s barely England. You can stow the rampant lion of Scotland in the trunk of the car. The boot of the car.”

Stopping at a crossroad, Alasdair considered both directions, said “Right!”, and turned left.

Jean folded the map—no, not that way. She tried again. Not that way either. “GPS,” she said, half to herself. “Global Positioning System. How about Green Pastures Strange? That has a Biblical sound to it.”

“Gratuitous Passenger Speech,” stated Alasdair.

“Yes, dear,” she replied. Funny how his remark provoked an indulgent smile, not resentment. They were settling into married bliss, a little give, a little take, a trim of the sails here, a solid push-back there. They’d learned from their first marriages. They were determined to have learned from them.

Jean forced the map into a bulging rectangle, tossed it into the back seat, and once again inspected the hills outside the window. They were smoothing out, calming down. There lay an inhabited farm, and beyond it, rising from the horizon, the massive rotating blades of several wind turbines. In the tender light of the April afternoon they looked like alien spaceships.

“Well then. Ancroft. Civilization of a sort.” Alasdair slowed to a decorous crawl through the photogenic village, but not slow enough for Jean to fully appreciate the church, part house of worship, part fortress.

“Historical physics,” she wrote aloud. “Two independent entities can’t occupy the same territory at the same time. Roman, Celt, Briton, and Pict, Angle, Saxon, and Dane, Scotsman and Englishman, sometimes fighting with, sometimes against each other. Dark and bloody ground, the Borders, like all borders, physical or metaphorical. Like the borderlands of perception where ghosts walk.”

“Yes, dear,” Alasdair said with an indulgent smile of his own.

Between a break in the hills glinted the sea. The road traced a tight curve, like a thread of interlace design on the Lindisfarne Gospels, and came to a stop at the wide tarmac of the A1. Traffic sped by, seeming almost as alien as the wind farm.

Jean winced as Alasdair swung into a right turn, across traffic—over a year in the UK and her instincts still defaulted to the American side of the road. Then she widened her eyes to watch for signs. Within moments she spotted one indicating the village of Beal and the causeway crossing to Lindisfarne, the Holy Island itself. Waiting cars were backed up almost to the highway.

“Here’s me,” said Alasdair as they drove on by, “worried about catching the tide. If it’s low enough for driving the causeway to Lindisfarne, it’s too low for the ferry crossing to Farnaby Island.”

“Oh. You can tell I was born and raised a long way away from anything having tides. That never occurred to me.”

“I’m hoping a Plan B’s occurred to you. If the ferry’s not this side of the crossing, there’s no point our calling for it. We’ll be sleeping the night on the mainland, and going across with Michael and Rebecca tomorrow.”

“Dang,” Jean said again. “First we miss the grand opening—not that your average dig is run with military precision—and now we might miss Hugh playing tonight.”

“We’re always hearing Hugh playing. The walls between our flat and his aren’t so thick as all that.”

“You know what I mean. Hugh in session with the students at the Gallowglass School, since he’s this week’s artist-in-residence. A shame Gallowglass the group never could get going again after the accident. You remember Hugh talking about that, how their van slid off the road in a snowstorm, crashed into a gully, and injured them all. Wat Lauder never really recovered, and their comeback was a bust.”

“Losing him’s what drove the last nail into their coffin. Intending no pun.”

“Poor Maggie Lauder, losing her father, and her mother so ill. I hope she’s found what she thinks she’s found at the chapel, although I doubt if it’s actually there to be found . . . Oh! There’s the sign. Farnaby Island. Ferry.”

Alasdair guided the car onto a strip of part blacktop, part gravel. It jounced over a railroad crossing and between several high shrubs to emerge in a parking area pitted with mud puddles. Six or eight vehicles sat there, no two pointed quite the same direction. Jean had eyes only for the small ferry just pulling into the dock. “Yes! Plan A is officially under way.”

Wasting no words on the obvious, Alasdair parked the car, leaped out, opened the boot and extracted their bags. They were heading for the ferry, their suitcases jolting behind them, by the time it scraped against the pier’s weedy stones.

Above the smooth lower flanks of the boat, a metal panel walled off a flat deck like a mini-aircraft carrier’s. As the rumble of the engine changed tones, the rusty metal sheet creaked, gaped, and then with a mighty squeal and clang unfolded onto the dock.

You could only bring a vehicle to Farnaby Island with special permission. Jean had been anticipating stepping off a curb or two and not looking either way, let alone both, an indulgence that would be suicidal in Edinburgh.

But no one brought any vehicles away from Farnaby, either—not one rolled off the ferry. Several men and women surged over the now almost-horizontal metal panel, up the dock, and into the parking lot. Jean detected not a smile among them, even at finding their paths clear to happy hour at the closest pub. The sea was calm, only small waves tripping and falling onto the beach beyond the pier, so they couldn’t be seasick. Or not all of them could be seasick, although one or two might have a stomach as delicate as that of Jean’s friend and professional partner at Great Scot, Miranda Capaldi, who would get queasy in a hot tub.

Every one of the tight-lipped departing passengers held some sort of electronic slave—a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet. One man whose prison pallor, colorless hair, and sagging physique indicated long years of hunching over electronic slaves used his iPad to photograph Lindisfarne and its shadow, Farnaby. Jean sensed her brethren and sistren from the fourth estate.

So did Alasdair. “Your lot,” he said from the corner of his mouth.

“Yep.” She homed in on the photo-taking man, the only one standing still. “How did the opening of the tomb in the chantry chapel go? Any big revelations or no more than another medieval nobleperson?”

“Ah, Loony Lauder and her dog and pony show, with no dogs and no ponies. No worms, come to that.”

“The grave was empty?”

“Who’s to know? She cancelled the entire do. Instead, she sat us all down in the church and tried to buy us off with tea, scones, and a lecture on some Dark Age cavalry bloke. Dead loss, save for the scones.” His blunt fingertips tapped the screen. “This lot, in church? Surprised we weren’t struck by lightning.”

“Some Dark Age cavalry bloke? As in, Arthur, King of the Britons? You know, Camelot. Lancelot. Guinevere. Not that any of them actually existed, although according to Professor Lauder’s mother . . .”

“Jean!” Alasdair called. “The ferry’s away!”

“Farnaby,” said the reporter. “Loony Lauder. Better you than me, luv. Much better.” He strolled toward the parked cars, so focused on his tablet Jean figured he only knew she was female from her voice.

She hustled on down to the dock, telling herself the man must work for a tabloid. He was probably texting the office in a plea not for hazard but for boredom pay—no dead body and any living ones having nothing to do with celebrities such as, say, Princess Kate, as many Americans called her. But if not for the honorary “Duchess of Cambridge,” her name would be Princess William, counterintuitive as that sounded. A princess by marriage.

Past a battered, out-of-style phone booth—a direct connection to ferry HQ on the island, Jean suspected—and a garishly red life preserver like a huge cherry, well, Life Saver, and she reached the end of the metal gangplank. Alasdair left their bags standing on the deck of the boat and stepped back to seize her elbow and steady her up the slope of the surface.

“Thanks,” she said, the final sibilant concealed by the squeal of the rising gangplank.

Chapter Two

The gangplank thudded home. Engines roared. A tall muscular young man wearing the universal uniform of T-shirt, jacket, and jeans leaped from empty dock to deserted deck. He coiled the mooring ropes, then stepped forward, hand extended. “That’ll be five pound each.”

Alasdair reached into his pocket before Jean could bring her mini-backpack around. “Locals ride for free, do they?” he asked.

“We’ve got us a subsidy from Westminster, being the only public access to the island.” The man crammed the bills into a pocket, adding with a grin so broad every white tooth gleamed with good humor, “Never you mind, Jock, you’ll get your five quid worth of scenery.”

Alasdair’s neutral expression crackled with frost. So close to the Border, and he was already hearing Scots jokes.

An older, rather shrunken version of the young man emerged from a superstructure that appeared to be bridge, crew quarters, and passenger waiting room all in one. With his jacket and peaked cap, to say nothing of the gray stubble on the lower half of his weather-beaten face, he had to be both captain and father.

“Mind your manners, lad,” he said, and to Jean and Alasdair, “I’m Clyde Eccleston. This here’s my boy, Lance. His sense of humor’s a bit over the top.”

“Lance” was short for Lancelot, Jean assumed, an appropriate name for someone probably born and bred in sight of Bamburgh Castle.

Lance’s crest fell, if only slightly. “Sorry. No offense.”

“None taken,” lied Alasdair, and, thawing, “I’m Alasdair Cameron.”

“Jean Fairbairn. We were supposed to attend Professor Lauder’s press conference and . . .” She stopped before she said, dog and pony show, although in academia dogs and ponies were likely to perform amazing tricks. “Well, I hear she called it off.”

“She opened the grave and found nothing?” asked Alasdair.

“No,” Eccleston Senior replied before Jean could. “She cancelled the do before it started. No reason I could see, but then, wasn’t my party, was it? I’m only ever carting folk back and forth, music students, twitchers after counting their birds, wildfowlers after shooting them, divers, even the odd tourist, though never so many as go out to Lindisfarne.”

“I’ve been to Lindisfarne a couple of times, but never to Farnaby.” She didn’t add that if Maggie Lauder’s hypothesis held up, Clyde and Lance could see a surge in business. Although what Jean often saw were metaphorical castles in the air crashing down, undermined by reality. She’d been responsible for more than a little undermining herself.

Sidling back toward his command center, Clyde added over his shoulder, “The Lauder clan’s good folk, never mind being newcomers to Farnaby. Wat and Elaine came in as newlyweds, fifty years ago. Maggie was born here, bonniest lass you’ve ever seen, and now—forty if she’s a day.”

“That clock keeps right on ticking,” Jean murmured.

“They’ve all gone traveling, mind you, but they’ve always come back. Somewhat peculiar, the womenfolk are, poking about things all dead and gone. But the music’s good, and who isn’t peculiar, in their own way?”

Jean grinned at that and glanced at Alasdair, who shrugged agreement. Clyde seemed happy to cut Maggie Lauder slack. The reporter in the car park and his colleagues would not.

The boat lurched, hitting the slow swell of the sea. Simultaneously Alasdair and Jean spun toward and down onto a bench beside the railing. Lance, unsurprisingly much more sure of foot, ambled away across the expanse of deck. His tanned face and blue eyes beneath a mane of flaxen hair made him look like a throwback to his Viking forebears. All he needed was a horned helmet and berserker’s sword.

“The Ecclestons have likely lived on Farnaby for generations,” Alasdair said.

“No surprise Clyde called the Lauders newcomers.”

“Newcomers or not, they’ve all had fine careers, by the sounds of it.”

Lance avoided a rusty, muddy puddle only to step in proof that the ferry also transported cows and sheep. Alasdair’s eyes crinkled in mingled sympathy and entertainment.

“Oh yeah,” Jean said. “Wat and Gallowglass, Elaine and her literary studies, and now Maggie, digging all over the UK. She was part of the team at the recent Winchester Cathedral excavation, for example, and has worked off and on at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall. She’s worked on digs in other countries, too.”

“Ambitious, is she?”

“Ambitious and smart—she’s worked hard to get a good academic reputation to complement the model citizen bit.”

“You’ve met her, then.”

“At the odd conference, where we talked about forensics, historiography, archaeology—research stuff, not our own backgrounds. Which is understandable. I may have an academic scandal in my past, but a murder trial is another order of magnitude. She was accused of killing her boyfriend, wasn’t she?”

“Bagging the unfaithful lover’s a traditional sport. The tabloid lot will have another go at her now. Cancelling her press conference will not be improving their temper.”

“No, it won’t,” agreed Jean. “She’s shot herself in the foot. In the column inches. Peculiar, like Clyde said.”

“Scholars can be a bit peculiar,” Alasdair said with a thin smile—just teasing. “Has she ever been married?”

“Only to her work, so far as I know, hence the good academic reputation.”

“You can be having the one with the other, surely.”

“Not necessarily.” Jean’s first husband had magnanimously allowed her to get her doctorate because the university would pay her more if she had “Ph.D.” behind her name. “Who did kill Maggie’s boyfriend, way back when? Or is it a cold case?”

“Now, now, earlier the day you were after letting bygones be bygones.”

“I’m curious. As well as peculiar.”

This time he didn’t stop with a thin smile but unleashed a full grin. “I’m thinking a chap was eventually sent down for the crime—bagging the rival’s a tradition as well—but it all played out in Cambridge, mind you, where Maggie attended university, nowhere near my patch in Inverness. I was no more than a constable, then. An ambitious one.”

“Ah, a man in uniform,” Jean said with an exaggerated sigh. “Smart in both meanings of the word.”

Lance strolled back by, whistling the old folk tune “Maggie Lauder.” Wha wadna be in love wi’ bonnie Maggie Lauder?

Funny how he brought a sarcastic tone to a simple whistle. But then, Jean knew the words. For I’m a piper to my trade; My name is Rob the Ranter: The lasses loup as they were daft, When I blaw up my chanter . . . It said something about her louping, or leaping, brain cells that she always read a double meaning into the story of Maggie, dancing madly as the piper plied his chanter—the clarinet-like part of the bagpipes on which the tune was actually played. The business end, so to speak.

“I’m sure the poor woman’s heard every possible joke about her name,” she told Alasdair. “A shame her parents couldn’t resist. Wat wasn’t even a piper, but played the fiddle and guitar like Hugh. I wasn’t really familiar with Gallowglass until last year . . .” She let the sentence die away, remembering the circumstances under which she’d gotten to know Gallowglass.

“You’ve made up for lost time.” Alasdair no doubt visualized the length of her trad-music playlist. “Her mum’s an academic as well? Your lot again?”

Jean had been a history professor a lot longer than she’d been a journalist. “Elaine was an academic, yes, before she—I hate to say, lost her mind. You don’t lose your mind the way you misplace an umbrella. Succumbed to dementia. Miranda says Maggie came back to Farnaby to care first for her father and then for her mother.”

“Pity. Still, Maggie looks to have made a discovery. A grand coincidence, that. Or is it?”

Alasdair’s tone was so freighted with skepticism Jean elbowed him lightly in the ribs, in companionship rather than criticism. She might be a detective by marriage, but skepticism was a characteristic of both their former lives. “Spoken like a cop.”

Alasdair nodded acknowledgment.

“The guy I talked to said she tried to buy the reporters off with a lecture on King Arthur. No surprise there, not with her mother’s work on Guinevere and her own on the Anglo-Saxon invasions.”

“He’d rather have had her open Arthur’s grave, I reckon. A skeleton in armor, holding a sign reading, ‘Merlin was here.’ If that’s where you’re thinking she’s going.”

“Don’t laugh. Elaine’s not the only scholar to maintain Merlin actually existed. So yeah, I think that’s where she’s going. There’s no better way to get the British press and academia both to sit up and take notice than produce some relic of Arthur. You remember all the hysteria in ninety-eight, over an inscription from Cornwall with the close-but-no-cigar name of Artognou.”

“No, I’m not remembering that at all. At the time I was right distracted by more contemporary matters.”

“Well, yeah, you were.”

“As for Professor Lauder’s motives,” Alasdair counseled, “and what’s gone wrong with her plans, we’ll be learning in due course.”

“But speculating without evidence is one of my favorite hobbies, right up there with jumping to conclusions.”

“That it is.”

Not that she had any evidence to speculate with right now. Had Maggie gone out on an inferential limb, only to find some source that snapped it off at the last minute? She could have saved more face—and less media criticism—by opening an empty grave than by turning uncooperative.

Waves dashed against the sides of the boat and a fine spray of sea water flecked Jean’s glasses. Through them she saw Lindisfarne seeming to rise and fall on the horizon, a low green land spiked at one end with the rooftops of the village, the broken arches of the medieval priory, and the small but pronounced protuberance of the castle.

Farnaby Priory was the stepsister of the famous monastery on Lindisfarne, first established by the Irish Saint Aidan and Anglo-Saxon King Oswald in the seventh century. Farnaby had been a nunnery, women only, rather than a mixed house in Celtic fashion like the one at nearby Coldingham, ruled by an abbess. But that sort of equality and siblinghood had been stamped out by the Roman church early on, even before Viking sails appeared on the horizon and Viking warriors stamped out more than religious custom. By the time William the Conqueror’s Norman knights moved into the area in the eleventh century, little was left of the original priories.

Beyond Lindisfarne, the smaller and yet taller profile of Farnaby materialized from sun-shimmer on the sea, little more than a mirage, a floating island momentarily tethered near the shore of Northumbria. If not for the low rays of the westering sun picking out a rocky headland above a frill of white breakers, it would be invisible.

Like mythic Avalon, Jean thought, where grieving queens carried the mortally wounded Arthur—Wat had been mortally wounded when he came home to Farnaby . . .

An electronic deedle broke into Jean’s reverie. A ringtone, but not hers or Alasdair’s.

At the far railing, Lance pulled a cell phone from his pocket. “I’m working now, I can’t . . . Yeh, last run of the day . . . Likely so, aye, not much else doing of an evening . . . I’ll buy my own pints, thanks just the same . . . See you there, then . . . Must run, bye.” He stabbed at the phone and jammed it into his pocket with a scowl of frustration.

Hmm, Jean thought. What red-blooded young Brit would reject a mate’s offer of a pint?

The breeze was salt-fresh, slightly fishy, slightly oily, and chilly enough that Jean huddled both into her coat and closer to Alasdair. “There’s a cabin,” he said, nodding toward the superstructure.

“Yeah, and I bet the diesel fumes are even worse in there. I’ll make do with the open air, thanks.”

White gulls spiraled overhead, their harsh cries mingling with the softer, more poignant ones of oystercatchers—Jean looked around to see several black-and-white birds skimming the waves, probably heading toward the nearest beach, bed, and board. She glanced at her watch. “Two minutes shy of six.”

“Going on for tea time, then.”

“No wonder I’m getting hungry. Our B and B doesn’t do dinner. I bet the pub is open, though.”

“I’m hoping they’re properly provisioned. Musicians and reporters, they all march on their stomachs.”

So do ferrymen, Jean thought, eyeing Lance’s stiff back as he stood with arms braced on the railing. “With the press conference and the concert at the music school Saturday night, the village is probably jumping.”

The boat bucked and wallowed and Jean fell silent, not because her stomach shimmied rather than marched, but because Lance was right about getting five pounds’ worth of scenery.

Behind the boat the sun melted ever nearer to the green horizon. To their right Bamburgh Castle rose from its crag, appearing more movie set than stones and mortar. But it was no set, no castle in the air. Fortifications had risen from that hillock for two thousand years and more. No surprise some traditions named it as the home of Lancelot, knight of the Round Table and Guinevere’s adulterous lover.

Bamburgh. The music school on Farnaby. Weapons and musical instruments, both very early inventions of mankind. So was adultery, but that could only have been invented—or recognized—after the creation of marriage.

Alasdair cocked his head to the side, eyeing the castle not as a tourist but as the head of Scotland’s Protect and Survive. She wasn’t sure what his English opposite number would be, not quite English Heritage—they were into conservation more than security, whereas P and S had their priorities the other way around. That’s why they’d hired a retired policeman to run their show. “Is English Heritage in charge of Farnaby Priory? I mean, they’re in charge of Lindisfarne Priory, right? What if Maggie didn’t fill out some sort of form or get whatever permission she needed to open a tomb?”

“The priory’s listed as privately owned, likely by Maggie herself. Still, it’s a listed building, so she’s needing permissions before digging, aye. Not getting them seems right careless for someone with that good academic reputation.” Alasdair’s head swiveled, following the course of a smallish boat cutting across the path of the ferry, the glassy sea churned to froth in its wake.

Farnaby Island had resolved itself from the glare and now appeared as a long, tapering wedge of charcoal-gray rock topped with green fields. The small boat throttled back and disappeared around the headland. Seabirds blossomed from the cliff face like feathered fireworks, squawking and flapping. Some skimmed past the ferry, others spiraled upward past a small tower that could be anything from a Roman signal station to a World War II gun emplacement.

Right now Jean pondered the boat. Simple physics told her that a sleek, aerodynamic number like that would be fast. Knowledge of the world told her that one painted dark blue and marked with an insignia belonged to the authorities. “Police boat?”

Lance hulked over them, briskly coiling a rope. “That’s P.C. Crawford from Bamburgh village. Must’ve been in a right hurry to come straight across instead of round by the road and then the ferry.”

“Likely he knew he’d missed the ferry,” suggested Alasdair, “being a local lad and all, and his business couldn’t wait till tomorrow.”

“Not much call for police on Farnaby,” Lance said half to himself. His features didn’t quite crease into a frown, but the frown was imminent in its tightened lines. He added, “Loony Lauder,” as though that explained everything, and headed for the gangway.

Funny, even the local people called Maggie loony. What was she up to? “Curiouser and curiouser,” Jean murmured to Alasdair, who nodded in agreement.

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