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Hugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, feeling no certain calling despite a lively faith, he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris and then hanging out his sign in Oxford. A local lord asks him to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cess pit. She is identified as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith, and her young man, whom she had provoked very publicly, is in due course arrested and sentenced at the Oxford assizes. From there the tale unfolds, with graphic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, misdirection, ambition, romantic distractions and a consistent underlying Christian compassion.
Hugh de Singleton searches for books stolen from his mentor's collection, pursues a woman dating another man, and tries to figure out if a series of strange accidents are connected to the stolen books or his romantic efforts.
Master Hugh is asked to provide a sleeping potion for Sir Henry Burley, a friend and guest of Lord Gilbert at Bampton Castle. Sir Henry, (with his wife, a daughter by a first wife, two knights, two squires, and assorted servants), has outstayed his welcome at Bampton Castle. The next morning after Master Hugh provides the potion, Sir Henry is found dead, eyes open, in his bed. Master Hugh, the target of the wife's wrath, is asked by Lord Gilbert to determine the cause of death ...
It is the autumn of 1367. Master Hugh is enjoying the peaceful life of Bampton, when a badly beaten man is found under the porch of St. Andrew's Chapel. The dying man is a chapman -- a traveling merchant. Before he is buried in the chapel grounds an ancient, corroded coin is found in the man's mouth. Master Hugh's quest for the chapman's assailants, and his search for the origin of the coin, makes steady progress But Master Hugh, and his assistant, the groom Arthur, are determined to uncover the thieves and murderers, and the source of the chapman's coin. They do, but not before they become involved with a kidnapped maiden, a tyrannical abbot, and a suffering monk
Master Hugh, Kate, and their children attend the Midsummer's Eve fire. Next morning early Hugh hears the passing bell ring from the Church of St. Beornwald, and moments later is summoned. Tenants collecting the ashes to spread upon their fields have found burned bones. Master Hugh learns of several men of Bampton and nearby villages who have gone missing recently. Most are soon found, some alive, some dead. Master Hugh eventually learns that the bones are those of a bailiff from a nearby manor. Someone has slain him and placed his body in the fire to destroy evidence of murder. Bailiffs are not popular men; they dictate labour service, collect rents, and enforce other obligations. Has this bailiff died at the hand of some angry tenant? Hugh soon discovers this is not the case. There is quite another reason for murder ...
King Charles of France has announced that he is confiscating Aquitaine, and Prince Edward has sent for knights and men at arms from England to assist him in opposing the French king. Lord Gilbert Talbot is required to provide five knights, twelve squires, and twenty archers and men at arms, and wishes his surgeon – Hugh de Singleton – to travel with the party, while Hugh’s wife Kate will oversee the castle. Among the party will be Sir Simon Trillowe, Hugh’s old nemesis and Kate’s former suitor, who had once set fire to Hugh’s house. After a brawl on the streets of Oxford Sir Simon had nearly lost an ear; Hugh had sewn it back on but it had healed crooked, and Simon blamed Hugh for the disfigurement. Finding himself in the same party, Hugh resolves not to turn his back on the knight – but it is Sir Simon who should not have turned his back.
When Bampton’s coroner, Hubert Shillside, does not return from a trip to Oxford, Master Hugh de Singleton is called. Concerned for his old friend, Hugh takes to the road to investigate. Travel is safer than in times hence but, out of sight of prying eyes, it is still unwise to travel alone… Hugh finds a body, stabbed and left to rot, but it is not the body he was expecting to find. Indeed, reports of pillage, attacks, and chaos on the roads out of Oxford suddenly seem rampant. Hugh must ascertain whether the incidents are random, or whether something darker is afoot. The guilty cannot afford to be caught, but what lengths will they go to to cover their tracks, and will Hugh escape unscathed?

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