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Extract from The House of Lamentations by S.G MacLean

The House of Lamentations

The House of Lamentations is the nailbiting final historical thriller in the award-winning Seeker series by S.G MacLean.


Read the opening to The House of Lamentations below.



July 1658


Hate upon hate. Fear upon fear. Where was God in this? On men’s lips, but nowhere else. Lawrence Ingolby and Elias Ellingworth forced themselves to watch as men whom they had never encountered but whose politics happened to be different from their own, were untied from the sledges on which they’d been dragged through the streets from their prison. The thin shifts which were the only clothing the prisoners wore, were stained from their captivity and from the missiles thrown at them by the populace as they’d passed. Lawrence and Elias looked on as these men, Royalists of no loud repute in the world until now, taken in taverns and coffee houses while musing on half-formed plots against Cromwell, were pushed towards the scaffold on which they would die.

The two men were brought forward, the executioner begging forgiveness of each and of God before he did his work. With differing success, each victim sought to hide his terror. Lawrence remembered hearing that the late King, before his execution, had worn two shirts, lest the cold of January should cause him to tremble and the people think it fear. It wasn’t January now though, but the blistering heat of summer, and the stench of London was high enough. Their valedictory speeches, whether repentant or defiant, Lawrence didn’t hear, so full were his ears of the growing rumblings and mumblings of the people around him.

The executioner knew his business well: he knew to tie his rope short, enough to hang a man, to choke the breath almost out of him, but not to snap his neck. This expertise was clear from the first victim’s performance. Just as the legs were tiring in their thrashing, the one-time Royalist colonel was cut down. A foolish hope appeared in the eyes of his companion, already on the scaffold and awaiting his own turn. Elias saw it too. ‘Dear God, Lawrence – does he think it’s a reprieve? Can it be that he doesn’t know what’s coming next?’

If the second condemned man had truly not known, he was a short time in finding out. The executioner was at work again, tearing off the first victim’s shift, exposing his emaciated body and his privy parts for all to see. Lawrence looked away and heard Elias wince as the half-hanged man was castrated, his manhood then burned before his eyes. A boy near Lawrence fainted; a hearty drayman a few feet from him vomited, but the butchery went on. The hangman, much bloodied now, took a heated poker and seared a line down the dying man’s abdomen, along which he next plunged his knife. To the sound of bestial agonies from his victim, the executioner played his weapon in the man’s very bowels and drew them out before his eyes to throw them, also, in the flames. Only when he held aloft the vanquished Royalist’s heart was it clear that the ravaged carcass’s agonies were at last over.

‘I cannot watch another,’ said Lawrence, as the second man, shaking uncontrollably and now almost beyond the capability of standing, was dragged beneath his own noose that the ritual might be repeated.

‘Aye, but you must,’ said Elias as the crowd around them, at last disgusted and murmuring that this was surely not God’s plan, began to thin. ‘We both must. How else shall we bear witness? How else shall we say in truth that we know what England now is?’

When at last it was over, the gaping, bloodied heads of the traitors set on poles and their severed limbs thrown in a basket like so much offal, Lawrence turned away from the spectacle he had forced himself to watch. He had seen less butchery at Smithfield, and better done. The beheadings of June had been bad enough, but those, at least, had been swift. These latest though, would the stench of the barbarity ever clear?

Elias waited longer, looking on the scene as if to carve every detail into his mind. Lawrence walked as far as Seething Lane and then waited for him. Crowds filed past, returning from what they had thought might be an entertainment but now understood to have been a descent into something else.

London was subdued, disgusted. Royalists scarcely heard of, caught in some conspiracy against Cromwell that had never seen the light of day, were condemned to brutal ends by a court the Protector had had invented for that express purpose. The deaths were to serve as a lesson to any who might have been tempted to similar thoughts of treason. The look on the faces of those who passed him, the muted expressions of dismay, suggested to Lawrence it might have been a lesson too far.

He and Elias walked on in silence a good while until at last Elias turned in at the Rainbow. ‘I have hardly the stomach for the law, Lawrence,’ he said as he led Elias into the tavern rather than continuing to Clifford’s Inn.‘

I think the law must be engaged elsewhere today, in any case,’ said Lawrence, following him into the tavern.

The Rainbow was busy, many others perhaps wanting to shake off what they had just seen rather than carry it back with them to the business of their everyday lives. Lawrence sought a place where they might not be overheard. He knew from the look on Elias’s face what the tenor of their conversation would be.

Once they were seated and served, Lawrence said, ‘How long do you think this can go on?’

‘What, the persecution of the Royalists? Their purging from London? The suspending of Parliament in the name of the rights of the people?’
‘All of it, I suppose,’ said Lawrence.

Elias shook his head. ‘I don’t see an end. Even those who were his closest friends, his greatest supports, are cast out or worse, for that they dare question him or advise the reining in of his power, while we must call Cromwell’s children “Highness” and watch as he marries them into titles and lands and Royalists of the highest ranks who so lately supped with Charles Stuart.’

Lawrence looked around him. ‘Hush, Elias, or you’ll be up on that scaffold next.’
Elias took a long draught of his ale before speaking again. ‘No, Lawrence. I’m done with it.’
Lawrence chanced a smile. ‘You, Elias, done with sedition? Never.’

‘With sedition? Who knows? I hope so. I hope to be somewhere where sedition is not a thing that is necessary.’
Lawrence put down his own tankard and looked closely at his lawyer friend. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘England, Lawrence. I’m done with England.’
Lawrence contemplated the words a few moments, but they still didn’t make any sense to him. ‘You mean, you’ve no hopes it’ll get better?’

‘Well, yes, I suppose that means the same thing in the end, doesn’t it? I had hopes for Cromwell, for the Commonwealth, so, so long ago. But where is our freedom now, where our humanity?’ He laughed. ‘Where our parliament even? Protector or King, what does it matter to you and I, Lawrence? Those men we just saw butchered, in a different time, would you not have sat a while with them, smoked a pipe, learned something of their families, their hopes, their cares and then moved on without caring to know of their politics? My England never was, Lawrence, and I am done with this one.’