Roberta Gellis
A Mortal Bane paberback A Mortal Bane hardcover
published by TOR
ISBN 0-812-57236-X
published by Tor/Forge
ISBN 0-312-87000-0
"A MORTAL BANE has a full cast of fascinating characters, a complex mystery plot, and a stunning sense of time and place. Wonderful!"
--Jill Churchill, author of Fear of Frying: a Jane Jeffrey Mystery

Hardcover September 1999

Paperback September 2001

Acclaimed author Roberta Gellis, known for her trademark blend of history and mystery, brings medieval London to life (and death) in all its squalor and splendor. A MORTAL BANE is a riveting tale of hidden motives and murder, of revenge and forbidden love.

Magdalene la Bâtarde is the whoremistress of the Old Priory Guesthouse in Southwark--where pleasures of the flesh forbidden in London are legal. But though she and her women indulge in a number of sinful delights, they have never been accused of bloody murder ... until Baldassare, the papal messenger, dies. Then Magdalene must discover who committed the crime--or hang herself.
Messer Baldassare is not a regular client in the Old Priory Guesthouse, but he was restoring himself there after a hard trip from Rome to England. When he is found in a pool of blood on the north porch of the church of St. Mary Overy priory, the monks insist that it must be the corrupt whoremistress or one of her women who committed the crime.
Sir Bellamy of Itchen is ordered by the Bishop of Winchester to investigate Baldassare's death and to watch carefully the actions of the beautiful and mysterious Magdalene. Sir Bellamy finds that order all too easy to follow. He would be delighted to follow it right into Magdalene's bed--however, duty forbids. Bell does not wish to see Magdalene hanged for murder, but it is soon apparent that she is hiding something and is involved in the messenger's death right up to her exquisite eyebrows.


"In Gellis's new series, she has created a superb female Medieval sleuth with a sexy knight for a sidekick. You'll love every minute of this tightly woven mystery."
--Catherine Coulter, author of The Countess

"Brother Cadfael, move over and make room for Magdalene. A MORTAL BANE vibrates with sharp, witty, memorable characters; Magdalene and company are uniquely qualified as historical detectives, and as always, Roberta Gellis is incomparable! This one's a page-turner. I couldn't put it down."
--Amanda Scott, author of Dangerous Lady

"In A MORTAL BANE, Roberta Gellis has created a medieval cozy with a wonderfully unique cast of characters. Life in the twelfth century leaps into vivid focus as Magdalene, a gentlewoman-turned-whoremistress, joins forces with the Bishop of Winchester's knight to solve a murder."
--Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of Face Down Among the Winchester Geese

Excerpt from A MORTAL BANE

Sabina turned toward the kitchen where the keys hung--and stopped dead in the corridor. A different snore, not terribly loud but much heavier and more rasping than that of any of the women--and from the door beyond hers--told her that Bell was asleep in his room. Sabina stood frozen. But if Bell was asleep in bed, who had closed the door to Magdalene's room?
Magdalene looked at the gleam of light on the polished metal blade and breathed, "Who are you?"

"You do not want to know that," the voice murmured, now holding a definite note of satisfaction. "If you know, I would have to kill you. If you do not know ..." The last words were unsteady, doubtful. "Never mind," he continued, "just tell me at once what you did with Baldassare's pouch and hope I will let you live."

The knife had withdrawn a little. It was no longer pricking her throat. Magdalene shifted away slightly and seized the edge of the coverlet, her hands clenching on it so hard that her knuckles whitened.

"The pouch?" she whispered. "But--"

"I do not want to hear that tale you told to everyone. It was a pack of lies--"

The low voice stopped abruptly and a hand fell over her mouth, tightening to form a gag, as heavy footsteps went by in the corridor. Magdalene made no movement and no attempt to call out. The hand over her mouth drew away. The dark figure leaned closer, his voice scarcely more than a murmur.

"I want that pouch now. I do not want to hear any lies. I know Baldassare slept here and one does not wear a pouch in bed with a whore. Nor does a man like Baldassare leave so precious a burden in the open for a whore to pick over while he sleeps. He hid it here."

"No," Magdalene said. "He hid it in the church."

"You stinking slut," he hissed. "He did not have it when he came into the church. I saw--"

A very soft scratching sound told of fingers trailing across her door. They paused. The dark figure turned half toward the door, and raised the knife higher in threat but it was displaced by his movement and no longer directly over her. Magdalene yanked hard on the coverlet, striking away the hand that reached down to gag her, and flung the quilt toward her attacker, rolling across the bed, away from him as soon as it left her hands. The man staggered back, trying to free himself from the fabric, which had fallen across his arms, and Magdalene screamed aloud.
Sabina's shock had not lasted long. She had stepped into Bell's chamber and found his bed by the sound of his breathing. "Bell," she said softly, touching his shoulder, "wake up."

She was thrust away so violently that she staggered back and fell against the wall. As she righted herself, she heard the leather straps of the bed creak and then the scrape of metal against stone. He had grabbed his sword from the floor.

"Who?" Bell growled, coming off the bed.

Sabina stepped back and then back again out of the doorway. She was about to say, "It is Sabina. Something is wrong. Magdalene's door is closed." But at that moment, Magdalene's cry rang out. Sabina instinctively moved away from the doorway through which she knew Bell would erupt. She was not wrong about that, but it was not Bell who ran into her. She was hit from the back and left side and flung down on the floor.

As Magdalene shrieked for help, she also grabbed the candlestick from her table, prepared to use the burning candle or the stick itself to ward off the knife. However, the attacker did not run at her. The moment she cried out, he turned and started for the door--only he had forgotten the quilt. That had fallen to the ground and tangled his feet, so when he tried to get away, he fell flat on his face.

Magdalene was so surprised that for one moment she just stood staring; then a gust of semi-hysterical laughter shook her. She put down the candle, which was about to fall from her hand, but, still whooping, was unable to make any other move. Less hampered by near hysteria, the man had managed to free himself of his encumbrance, fling open the door and run out. Magdalene's laughter stopped abruptly. He would escape and he must be the murderer! He had confessed that he had seen Baldassare enter the church.

Magdalene shouted again for help and ran for the door, snatching up the coverlet on the way, only to stop, gasping. The corridor was a scene of chaos. Two bodies squirmed on the floor while Bell, naked as a jay bird but clutching his sword, stood over them. Ella, holding a bedrobe to her front, had stopped in her doorway and begun shrieking. Letice, wearing a bedrobe and with knife in hand, was emerging from her room. While Magdalene, open-mouthed, watched, Sabina, also shrieking, wormed her way out from under the man, who was again flat on his face.

"He has a knife," Magdalene cried in warning, but after that unable to help herself, she began to laugh again.

The sound of laughter quieted Ella, who then stood staring from one person to another. Letice, seeing Bell was pinning the intended fugitive to the ground and that the erstwhile attacker was doing no more than shivering and crying, lowered her knife. Magdalene now reached down and pulled Sabina, who recognized her scent and touch, into her arms where she fell silent. Still chuckling, she stood staring over Sabina's head at Bell and, with an appreciative expression, ran her eyes up and down him.

"You strip very nice," she murmured.

"Roberta Gellis and the medieval mystery are a perfect match. In A MORTAL BANE, Gellis has created a rich, believable world and peopled it with fascinating characters. Wonderful reading for the medieval fan."
--Jo Beverley, author of Forbidden Magic

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