keep a whole skin, but there was little to fear now. She would no longer sell her body.
“I’m going for a walk, Kate,” she said, “tell Theresa I will be back later.”
Kate gave her a suspicious look. “How much later? We’ve been busy these past weeks, and likely to be again tonight.”
Maud pushed through the ranks of beggars and idlers gawping at the awful trophies. She didn’t look back, even when Kate shouted after her.
She made her way west, past Saint Paul’s and on to Greyfriars. Few paid her any heed, the slender dark-haired girl in worn and patched clothing. Occasionally a wagon rattled past, splashing her already soiled dress with wet mud, and a group of drunken toughs lolling outside a tavern jeered at her. She responded with an obscene gesture and hurried on, pursued by mocking laughter.
Eventually she came to a wide street lined with modest but decent houses. Compared to Southwark, there was air of cleanliness and respectability about the place. Every house boasted a small but neatly-kept garden.
Maud fought against a sense of shame and dread. This part of the city was not for her. She was a creature of the stews, the brothels and taverns and crooked alleyways. Women like her were not welcome here, unless invited under cover of darkness.
She approached a house halfway down the street, to the left, with a pretty red door and half-timbered upper storey. Maud stopped and glanced around the street. There might be any number of eyes watching from hidden windows.
Foolish , she thought, I should have waited until dusk. Anger has made me over-bold.
She didn’t even know if the mistress of the house was at home. Maud knew she had come to the city for the coronation, but might well have returned to East Anglia by now.
As she dithered, the front door opened and a man strode out. He was dressed like a servant, in a plain russet jerkin and woollen hose, yet there was nothing servile about his demeanour. His face was marked by old pox scars and a knife-wound down the length of one cheek, and his long arms were thick with muscle, ending in powerful, swollen hands.
Maud knew the look. This one was a soldier, still fit and active for his age – she judged him to be in his sixties – and had lived through war and plague.
“Come here to beg alms, have you?” he said in a thick northern accent as she turned to run.
Maud’s pride flared. “Piss on your alms, you ugly old sot,” she hissed back, “I go where I please, and am no beggar.”
To her surprise, he grinned and stuck his tongue in his cheek. “I haven’t been under fire like that for a while. Ugly old sot, is it? You’re the hawk’s chick, right enough.”
“Follow me,” he said before she could respond, “my mistress sent me to fetch you before your courage failed.”
Maud hesitated. After a long moment she quelled her doubts and followed him inside.
The house was as she remembered it. The door led into a narrow screened passage opening onto a little entrance hall, with a tiled floor and whitewashed walls. The furnishings were sparse, a chair or two and an old chest made of dark polished wood, and there were no carpets or wall hangings.
She shivered. This was a severe, comfortless place, moulded in the character of its mistress.
The servant glanced up at the bare wooden stairs, and sniffed. “No sign of her ladyship yet,” he said, “better come through to the dining room. She will be down when it pleases her.”
There were two doors to the left of the main entrance. He pushed open the furthest and beckoned Maud to follow.
“I’m Jack,” he said, ushering her towards the small table in the middle of the room, “just Jack. And you’re Elizabeth Bolton. Honoured to meet you.”
The table was made of the same dark wood as the rest of the furniture, old but of good quality. There were two