The Colour of Rubies, Excerpt by Toni Mount

Murder lurks at the heart of the royal court in the rabbit warren of the Palace of Westminster. The year is 1480. Treason is afoot amongst the squalid grandeur and opulent filth of this medieval world of contrasts. Even the Office of the King’s Secretary hides a dangerous secret.

Meeting with lords and lackeys, clerks, courtiers and the mighty King Edward himself, can Seb Foxley decipher the encoded messages and name the spy?

Will Seb be able to prevent the murder of the most important heir in England?

All will be revealed as we join Seb Foxley and his abrasive brother Jude in the latest intriguing adventure amid the sordid shadows of fifteenth-century London.


‘My Lord Hastings,’ Jude said, sketching a hasty bow that was little more than a bob, although he did have grace enough to remove his hood, leaving his clerk’s coif in place. ‘My brother, Sebastian Foxley – who is known to you – requires speech with you, urgently… and privily, sir.’ Jude shoved Seb forward before retreating in haste to a board where ale jugs and cups stood ready.

Seb went on one knee, baring his head, awaiting a response – if there was to be one, other than his instant removal by his lordship’s servants or the guards summoned to cart him off to some filthy dungeon in the bowels of the palace. He imagined the worst but Lord Hastings only snorted his disapproval.

‘Well, at least you have better manners than the oaf who accompanied you. Get up, Foxley, and tell me what can possibly be so urgent that you require an audience without the proper procedure and civilities.’

Seb stood, realising everyone in the Great Hall was observing the spectacle of a scruffy clerk demanding an audience with the Lord Chamberlain.

‘F-forgive me, my lord. I apologise for this ill-mannered intrusion but ’tis a matter of some import… regarding certain… m-matters of, er, consequence.’ Seb bit his lip. He was sounding like a lack-wit.

Lord Howard grinned at him, came down the steps from the dais and clapped him hard on the shoulder.

‘Never expected to see an honest citizen such as my favourite artist in this den of iniquity. How do you fare, Foxley?’

The grey-haired lord leaned close. ‘Watch yourself, Seb,’ he said under his breath.

‘Come away, Thomas,’ he waved to the bald man. ‘Let’s leave Will to his privy business. I’ll show you that fine new gelding of mine; put him through his paces. What say you?’ With that, Lord Howard and his companion, departed.

Arms folded across his belly, Hastings looked at Seb and sighed, as though such lowly persons were a constant irritant and vexation, like gnats on a summer’s eve, spoiling an otherwise-pleasant day.

‘Follow me,’ he said after a lengthy silence during which Seb grew hotter and increasingly anxious. The chamberlain came down the steps and led the way to a door set off to one side of the dais, concealed behind a fine tapestry, pausing to let a servant lift it away so they could pass through, unimpeded. The chamber beyond gave the air of magnificence but Seb had no chance to admire the sumptuous luxuries. His eyes did not stray from Hastings’ velvet- and fur-clad back.

Hastings’ flung himself into a cushioned chair – almost grand enough for a throne – signed to a waiting servant to bring him wine and then sent the fellow away, telling him to stand beyond the door and admit none but the king himself.

Seb swallowed in panic. The king? Edward… in person! But the king did not come, to Seb’s immense relief. Hastings crossed his legs, displaying silken hose of thrush-egg blue, and sipped his wine, keeping Seb on tenterhooks, waiting and fretting as the minutes stretched out.

‘So… who murdered that clerk? Thank God it has taken but a week to find him out. Name the rascal and I’ll see him hanged before sunset.’ Hastings set down his wine cup and picked at a hang-nail. ‘Well? I don’t have all day to wait upon your answer. Tell me.’

‘I f-fear, my lord, I cannot name the miscreant but –’

‘Then don’t waste my time. Get out!’

‘But I have this, my lord.’ Seb held out the crumpled page of the Italian letter, his acrostic version and his neatly written message, translated from the Italian as best he and Jude could achieve.

‘What are these? Pleas for more money? I paid you at the beginning sufficient for two months’ work, at least.’

”The first is a letter my brother discovered, left by accident among papers in the scriptorium. ‘Tis encoded in a cipher, my lord, in the Italian tongue. I solved the code and we – my brother and I – have made it out into English and think you may have concerns regarding it.’

Hastings snatched the papers and squinted at them. His eyes were, mayhap, not so good for reading small writing any longer.

‘You invented this.’ He shook the paper bearing Seb’s version of the code in English: Alliance with Scotland ended. Edward to invade. France alliance with Scotland.

‘Nay. As I shall attempt to explain, I worked it out. The original letter, as you see, is in the form of an acrostic and we…’

‘A what?’

‘A word puzzle, my lord. The first letters of each line spell out words anew. But they are in Italian, of course. We have translated them.’

Hastings was only interested in the English, not knowing other tongues save French and some little Latin. ‘How could you know of these matters? They have been discussed in council by the king and his closest advisors only. How did you learn of these intentions? You have been listening at doors. Are you an espier? An intelligencer?’

‘Nay, I did but unravel the meaning of the cipher. If there be any truth in what I have written there, it has been uncovered by a very real espier; not by me.’

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Meet Toni Mount

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript.

Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to  As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies.

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