Three decades ago, a teenaged Lucas Cornith joined the Austrian Resistance, helping to lead escapees from German oppression across the Alps to Switzerland and safety. But when Hitler’s storm troopers got too close, Lucas fled his homeland, leaving his compatriots behind to face the Nazi’s wrath.
Many years later, Cornith is returning to his hometown for the first time since the war’s end. Now a world-renowned classical composer, he’s premiering a new musical work, The Horn of Roland, at a festival in Gries-am-See, the tiny Alpine village of his birth.
But not everyone wants to welcome him home with open arms. Someone here refuses to forgive and will never forget the past. And unless Cornith can unmask his mystery antagonist in time, the premier of his new composition might well be the composer’s swan song.
The Edgar, Agatha, and Gold Dagger Award–winning author of the Brother Cadfael medieval mysteries and “beguiling writer” perfectly blends intrigue and suspense in this novel of a man haunted by his past (The Daily Telegraph).
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About the Author
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Read an Excerpt
The Horn of Roland
By Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1974 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
The road coiled, breasting the last gentle rise, and idled coquettishly on the crest, broadside to a plane of level grass like a country train at a halt, to allow unsuspecting arrivals to lose and regain their breath on first encountering the view beyond. The upland meadows, here suavely shaped and dazzlingly green, parted and drew back like curtains, to reveal the shallow, symmetrical bowl in which the road terminated, spread out before their eyes in the sparkling air like a sketch-map inlaid with diamonds, all artfully deployed round the single great sapphire of the Himmelsee. Polished and still as a mirror, the lake duplicated the unbelievable blueness of the sky over it. Round its scalloped shores the bright red and bronze-green roofs of Gries-am-See rose tier on tier to the fringe of scattered farms and patchwork fields, then to the foothill fretwork of wooded valleys and terraced alpine pastures, then to the raw, clear colours of outcrop rock, to melt at last into the backcloth of pure steel-and-snow mountains that barred the way to the Swiss frontier.
Una sat up straighter in the back seat of the car, and drew breath in an audible gasp of delight. 'Oh, stop! Please, couldn't we, just for a moment?'
The shoulder of grass, broad as a lay-by and on the convenient side of the road, seemed to have been designed especially for that purpose. An odd circumstance, considering the road itself was a blind way into the hills, originally meant only to serve the network of farms and bring out the mountain timber, long before Gries ever so much as built its onion-domed church. Bearing still more southerly from the south-westerly road between Landeck and Galtür, no doubt it had once dwindled before this point into a rutted cart-track. Now it was a calculated tourist road, well engineered and artfully designed, and the worn grass of this belvedere, honed away into gravel, showed how unerringly it achieved its desired effect.
'But of course!' said their guide, gratified, and the driver wheeled the big car gently to the edge of the slope. No doubt he had had his orders in advance, Una needn't have asked. The young man had the door open for her almost before they were still, and was waiting to point out all the amenities and beauties of his town and its jewelled setting. Lucas followed his daughter out of the car slowly and resignedly, even with a suggestion of reluctance, though she was far too absorbed in the dazzling view before her to notice his reactions. She followed the pointing hand with excited pleasure, fingering the controls of her camera and eyeing the angle of the sun.
'There on the right-hand fringe of the town, you see the castle.' The tall, narrow cluster of Gothic roofs looked just as it had looked all those years ago, the old jetty below probed into the lake like a gnarled grey finger. 'It is partly in ruins, just a great shell, but we keep up the gardens as a public park, and there is a sunken water-garden there, where the brook runs through – so good acoustics, perfect for chamber concerts. Some of the recitals will be given there, in the open air. Even in the evening it is warm enough during July. And beyond, you see the island. From here it looks almost as if connected to the castle pier, but it is nearly a mile out. There was a keep of the Hohenstaufen there centuries ago, but in the eighteenth century they built a small summer palace belonging to the castle. From there just south of the castle our new lake-front promenade runs right round to the harbour.'
The crescent of white, tree-lined road was clear even at this distance, together with its inner crescent of pale, peach-coloured strand, dotted with the bright specks of sun-umbrellas and small beach-shelters. Everywhere along lake-front and square and in the streets of the town there was a curious scintillation that dazzled the eyes, as a breeze from the water, in a noon otherwise absolutely still, fluttered the flags and streamers in which Gries had arrayed herself for her July Festival.
'Our great church, the one there on the square, you must see, it is very fine, and has one of the best organs in Austria, or so we say. There will be a recital on Sunday. And perhaps Mr Corinth would care to try the instrument for himself?'
He had not forgotten his duty to the guest of honour, in spite of his marked preoccupation with Una's delicate fairness, and candid and enthusiastic grey eyes. He turned his undoubted charm momentarily upon Lucas, and recollected that this town he was demonstrating with such proprietorial condescension was the great man's birthplace, even if he had not seen it for nearly thirty years.
'I beg your pardon, I must not let my local pride run away with me. It is for you to introduce Miss Corinth to your native town, not for me.'
'After so long,' said Lucas rather drily, 'you could probably lose me here without effort. Do go on. The place has grown considerably since I left it, and probably changed considerably, too.'
'Your own fault, Lu,' said Una warmly, 'for staying away so long. It's lovely! Why haven't you ever brought me here before?'
It was the question for which his wincing senses had been waiting. He couldn't blame her. It was every bit as beautiful as he remembered it. If the plaster was still falling off the walls in the back streets, as it always had been, and the yards on the edge of the town still smelled strongly of manure, that was not perceptible from here; nor would she care very much, in all probability, when the flaws did come within range.
He need not have worried, the question had been merely rhetorical, and she had already returned her attention to the young man from the Mayor's office. He had introduced himself to them at Innsbruck as Herr Graf's secretary and representative, his own name being obviously of only secondary importance; but Una, after her forthright fashion, had extracted it from him before the car was a mile out of the city. Jörg-Erich Fischer was a very spruce, good-looking, confident young man, with quick, intelligent eyes and a smooth, adaptable manner, quite capable of supplying the whole conversation single-handed if he had to, and quite bright enough to keep his mouth shut and at least seem to be listening if his admirable protective instincts told him it was required of him: the perfect courier and welcoming committee for distinguished visitors. But young enough and human enough to be deflected slightly from his careerist efficiency when a honey like Una happened to crop up in the path of duty. Or sharp enough to understand at once that the quickest way to Lucas Corinth's favour would be through patent admiration of and devotion to his daughter? In which latter case he was soon going to be in some trouble, when it also dawned on him that the way to Una's heart was a reverent detour embracing her adored father.
'Which of all those copper roofs is the concert-hall?' Una wanted to know.
'Just aside from the main square, that big building with the red tiles. Not copper, no. It is quite new, only last year.' It had to be new, there had never been a concert-hall in the old days.
'And is that used for rehearsals, too?'
'The first rehearsal, with orchestra only, will be in the large hall at the Town Hall – that is the long roof opposite the church. But of course Mr Corinth will know it well – this one has not changed at all. Grown,' he said seriously to Lucas, 'yes, the town has grown, as you see, inland in every direction. But the inner town has changed very little. You will find it familiar, I am sure.'
Quite familiar enough, Lucas thought, to set every nerve on edge and start every memory heaving its way out of the past. For a moment his mind recoiled into the craven wish that he had never accepted the sudden invitation to come and conduct his own compositions at the Gries July Festival. He could certainly have mustered another and supposedly prior commitment to make the thing impossible, if he had given his mind to it. But the letter had caught him at a moment of hard communication with his own weaknesses, and he had said yes without giving himself time to turn coward. Twenty-eight years without ever going back! The moment could not be put off for ever. He was here; it was done. Now he had to go through with it, and find out the hard way what kind of Lucas Corinth would emerge at the other side of crisis.
'What's that?' asked Una, pointing. In the blue of the lake, close to the main jetty at the harbour end of the town, a small square of white was tethered, and all its outline quivered with the bright flutter of bunting.
'That's the floating stage we shall use for some madrigal and choral concerts. Herr Graf designed it himself.'
The ubiquitous Herr Graf was not only mayor of the town and director of this first major festival, it seemed, but also the proprietor of the big dairy lower down the valley, owner of a large timber business and a fleet of heavy lorries, and a large share-holder in half a dozen other regional industries. There had always been Grafs in Gries, Lucas recalled, but they had been obscure enough in the old days, small farmers and timber-men like almost everyone else in the district. Evidently one of the tribe had developed an aptitude for business on a bigger scale.
'Our lake, Miss Corinth, is said to be the most beautiful in the whole Tyrol, though it is not very large. It is the setting, of course. The mountains.' He embraced the radiant, icy ring with a dramatic sweep of a long young arm, naming the peaks as he went, from left to right, to end with the highest and most impressive. 'Vesulspitze – Vesilspitze – and away to the right the Silvretta peaks. Fluchthorn is nearest, and beyond you can just see the Dreiländerspitze and Piz Buin.'
'And beyond all those,' she said, 'it's Switzerland?'
'Yes, that is right.'
She lowered her eyes again from the diamond heights in the sky to the shield of the lake, and the meadows rising from the outskirts of the town towards the foothills. Lucas knew what she was looking for; and she knew enough to look towards the left, to the south and southeast, where the barrier of mountains looked less impassable. 'Which is the path that goes up into the Filsertal?'
She was not asking Jörg-Erich Fischer, Lucas realised; she was asking Lucas Corinth. And there was nothing he could do but answer her fairly.
'Look beyond the harbour, at the extreme edge of the town. You can trace the beginning of the cart-track, a pale line up the meadows, then it disappears in the folds of those first woods. Later it becomes simply a footpath. Look above, where the rock crops out – you see that paler slash crossing it diagonally and vanishing again into the trees? That's the same track.'
'Is it difficult?' she said. 'Could we go?'
'Not difficult until the last stages,' he said shortly. 'In my day it was hard to find beyond the alp, or it would have been less useful, but there was no real climbing until the last half-mile.'
'If you are staying to the end of the festival,' said Jörg-Erich eagerly, 'I hope there will be time for you to see everything. Whatever Miss Corinth wishes, we shall arrange it.' He added, on a tentative note which suggested that he had antennae sensitive enough to have picked up the latent tension in the air: 'There is a small monumental plaque fixed in the rocks now, on the pass. Where you used to cross. The town put it there last year.'
He knew all about that route and its wartime uses, of course, though he surely had not been born when the last fugitives crossed into Switzerland in 1944, at about this time of year. The plaque had been placed, the history had been disinterred and refurbished, very recently, it seemed. After Lucas Corinth began to be a name to be reckoned with in the world of music, as conductor and composer? And after Herr Graf had conceived the ambitious notion of staging a really big musical festival to bring tourism to Gries-am-See? And glory to himself? The weedy young local boy who had guided some thirty-five wanted anti-Nazis to safety in Switzerland before leaving his country with the last of them, one jump ahead of the SS, had been allowed to sleep peacefully for twenty-five years in his chosen exile in England, but when he began to assume the second identity of a composer of world reputation he became well worth polishing and setting up on a small pedestal in his native place. Why not? The benefit was mutual. They had made him a very handsome offer to come over and conduct the first performance of his new work here in Gries, and they were going out of their way to provide him with the forces he needed, and of the quality he needed, to make the occasion a success. He didn't grudge being made use of. But he didn't look forward to the accompanying publicity.
'I'd like to go and see it,' said Una firmly.
'I've no doubt Herr Fischer can arrange it for you. I expect to be rather preoccupied with rehearsals, myself. Oughtn't we,' he said rather abruptly, 'to be moving on? I shouldn't like to keep the party waiting.'
'Of course! You're quite right.' The young man looked guiltily at his watch, and ushered them back to the car. They began the short, descending run into the bowl, in a series of long, well-shaped curves. The fields opened about them as the view foreshortened, harlequin stripes of cultivation hemming the edges of the upland pastures, where the tall hay-poles under their fragrant loads stood like soldiers. The mountains shrank, the lake gradually disappeared, subsiding into its rim of roofs and trees.
'We have prepared only a brief sherry party to welcome you before lunch,' said Jörg-Erich. 'We thought you would be rather tired after the journey, and would prefer to lunch quietly at the hotel and rest until the opening procession begins at three. Then tonight there will be a dinner in your honour at the Town Hall. It is quite a heavy day, so tomorrow you are to be at leisure, and the first rehearsal is arranged for the following day. The orchestra has been studying the work under its own conductor for a fortnight now. I hope everything will be to your liking.'
'I'm sure everything will be excellent,' said Lucas resignedly. He was in it now, there was nowhere to go but straight ahead, and nothing to do but concentrate on the music, which was, at any rate, his one pure and willing contribution. And, perhaps, with whatever energy he had left, on keeping Una happy, and taking her home with none but happy memories of this place which plagued him with such ambivalent recollections.
They were entering the fringes of the town. Decorated shop-fronts rose about them, banners and flowers danced above their heads. There was the usual blaze and flutter of overflowing window-boxes, and the elegant iron and gilt of old craft signs under the gables. Una closed her hand gently about her father's wrist, and said in his ear:
'Lu, where is it? The house where you used to live?'
'Up the hill to the right, behind the other church. You can't see it from the street.'
'You'll show me, won't you?'
It was all exactly as he had foreseen. She would want to see everything, the places where he had played as a child, the cemetery laced with gilded metal-work, where his parents were buried, the school he had attended with so little distinction, the organ in the small church, where he had first improvised. Everything! He would have to shake himself out of his dark abstraction, or she would sense that there was something desperately wrong with this tardy homecoming. He could not be sure that she had not sensed it already. She had all her mother's quickness of perception, as well as her mother's small, fine bones and fair colouring. In a sense she had even performed her mother's part towards him, as well as her own, ever since she was about ten years old.
With all his heart Lucas wished himself away. The very vista of the square opening before him was like the yawning of a trap, recognised too late to be avoided. And yet it had always been inevitable that this visit must take place sooner or later, and the sudden invitation from the festival committee had seemed to him like the finger of fate pointing him sternly to a return he had postponed all too long. It would not improve with keeping. It had not improved with all these years of keeping. He might as well make the plunge, and survive the cold shock as well as he could. Something might even emerge of comfort; his mind might achieve a degree of clarity and stability again.
Excerpted from The Horn of Roland by Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas. Copyright © 1974 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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