/ Language: English / Genre:antique

The Heretic's Apprentice

Ellis Peters


antiqueEllisPetersThe Heretic's Apprenticeencalibre 0.7.4230.1.2011853f19ce-649b-4e57-8015-06acb7e016dc1.0

THE HERETIC’S APPRENTICE

Ellis Peters

The Sixteenth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael

Digital Edition v2 HTML – January 28, 2003

Copyright © 1990 by Ellis Peters

Cover design and illustration by Bascove

Originally published in hardcover by The Mysterious Press.

CONTENTS

^

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter One

^ »

On the nineteenth day of June, when the eminent visitor arrived, Brother Cadfael was in the abbot’s garden, trimming off dead roses. It was a task Abbot Radulfus kept jealously to himself in the ordinary way, for he was proud of his roses, and valued the brief moments he could spend with them, but in three more days the house would be celebrating the anniversary of the translation of Saint Winifred to her shrine in the church, and the preparations for the annual influx of pilgrims and patrons were occupying all his time, and keeping all his obedientiaries busy into the bargain. Brother Cadfael, who had no official function, was for once allowed to take over the dead-heading in his place, the only brother privileged to be trusted with the abbatial blossoms, which must be immaculate and bright for the saint’s festival, like everything else within the enclave.

This year there would be no ceremonial procession all the way from Saint Giles, at the edge of the town, as there had been two years previously, in 1141. There her relics had rested while proper preparation was made to receive them, and on the great day, Cadfael remembered, the threatened rain had fallen all around, yet never a drop had spattered her reliquary or its attendants, or doused the candles that accompanied her erect as lances, undisturbed by the wind. Small miracles followed wherever Winifred passed, as flowers sprang in the footsteps of Welsh Olwen in the legend. Great miracles came more rarely, but Winifred could manifest her power where it was deserved. They had good reason to know and be glad of that, both far away in Gwytherin, the scene of her ministry, and here in Shrewsbury. This year the celebrations would remain within the enclave, but there would still be room enough for wonders, if the saint had a mind to it.

The pilgrims were already arriving for the festival, in such numbers that Cadfael hardly spared a look or an ear for the steady bustle far up the great court, round the gatehouse and the guest hall, or the sound of hooves on the cobbles, as grooms led the horses down into the stableyard. Brother Denis the hospitaler would have a full house to accommodate and feed, even before the festival day itself, when the townsfolk and the villagers from miles around would flood in for worship.

It was only when Prior Robert was seen to round the corner of the cloister at the briskest walk his dignity would permit, and head purposefully for the abbot’s lodging, that Cadfael paused in his leisurely trimming of spent flowers to note the event, and speculate. Robert’s austere long visage had the look of an angel sent on an errand of cosmic importance, and endowed with the authority of the superb being who had sent him. His silver tonsure shone in the sun of early afternoon, and his thin patrician nose probed ahead, sniffing glory.

We have a more than ordinarily important visitor, thought Cadfael. And he followed the prior’s progress into the doorway of the abbot’s lodging with interest, not greatly surprised to see the abbot himself issue forth a few minutes later, and set off up the court with Robert striding at his side. Two tall men, much of a height, the one all smooth, willowy elegance, carefully cultivated, the other all bone and sinew and hard, undemonstrative intelligence. It had been a severe blow to Prior Robert when he was passed over in favor of a stranger, to fill the vacancy left by the deposition of Abbot Heribert, but he had not given up hope. And he was durable, he might even outlive Radulfus and come into his own at last. Not, prayed Cadfael devoutly, for many years yet.

He had not long to wait before Abbot Radulfus and his visitor came down the court together, in the courteous and wary conversation of strangers measuring each other at first meeting. Here was a guest of too great and probably too private significance to be housed in the guest hall, even among the nobility. A man almost as tall as Radulfus, and in all but the shoulders twice his width, well fleshed and portly almost to fat, and yet it was powerful and muscular flesh, too. At first glance his was a face rounded and glossy with good living, full-lipped, full-cheeked, and self-indulgent. At second glance the lips set into a formidable and intolerant strength, the fleshy chin was seen to clothe a determined jaw, and the eyes in their slightly puffy settings had nevertheless a sharp and critical intelligence. His head was uncovered, and wore the tonsure; otherwise Cadfael, who had never seen him before, would have taken him for some baron or earl of the king’s court, for his clothing, but for its somber colors of dark crimson and black, had a lordly splendor about its cut and its ornament, a long, rich gown, full-skirted but slashed almost to the waist before and behind for riding, its gold-hemmed collar open in the summer weather upon a fine linen shirt, and a gold-linked chain and cross that circled a thick, muscular throat. Doubtless there was a body servant or a groom somewhere at hand to relieve him of the necessity of carrying cloak or baggage of any kind, even the gloves he had probably stripped off on dismounting. The pitch of his voice, heard distantly as the two prelates entered the lodging and vanished from sight, was low and measured, and yet held a suggestion of current displeasure.

In a few moments Cadfael saw the possible reason for that. A groom came down the court from the gatehouse leading two horses to the stables, a solid brown cob, most likely his own mount, and a big, handsome black beast with white stockings, richly caparisoned. No need to ask whose. The impressive harness, scarlet saddle cloth, and ornamented bridle made all plain. Two more men followed with their less decorated horseflesh in hand, and a packhorse into the bargain, well loaded. This was a cleric who did not travel without the comforts to which he was accustomed. But what might well have brought that note of measured irritation into his voice was that the black horse, the only one of the party worthy to do justice to his rider’s state, if not the only one fitted to carry his weight, went lame in the left foreleg. Whatever his errand and destination, the abbot’s guest would be forced to prolong his stay here for a few days, until that injury healed.

Cadfael finished his clipping and carried away the basket of fading heads into the garden, leaving the hum and activity of the great court behind. The roses had begun to bloom early, by reason of fine, warm weather. Spring rains had brought a good hay crop, and June, ideal conditions for gathering it. The shearing was almost finished, and the wool dealers were reckoning up hopefully the value of their clips. Saint Winifred’s modest pilgrims, coming on foot, would have dry traveling and warm lying, even out-of-doors. Her doing, perhaps? Cadfael could well believe that if the Welsh girl smiled, the sun would shine on the borders.

The earlier sown of the two pease fields that sloped down from the rim of the garden to the Meole brook had already ripened and been harvested, ten days of sun bringing on the pods very quickly. Brother Winfrid, a hefty, blue-eyed young giant, was busy digging in the roots to feed the soil, while the haulms, cropped with sickles, lay piled at the edge of the field, drying for fodder and bedding. The hands that wielded the spade were huge and brown, and looked as if they should have been clumsy, but in fact were as deft and delicate in handling Cadfael’s precious glass vessels and brittle dried herbs as they were powerful and effective with mattock and spade.

Within the walled herb garden the drowning sweetness hung heavy, spiced and warm. Weeds can enjoy good growing weather no less than the herbs on which they encroach, and there was always work to be done at this season. Cadfael tucked up his habit and set to work on his knees, close to the warm earth, with the heady fragrance disturbed and quivering round him like invisible wings, and the sun caressing his back.

He was still at it, though in a happy languor that made no haste, rather luxuriating in the touch of leaf and root and soil, when Hugh Beringar came looking for him two hours later. Cadfael heard the light, springy step on the gravel, and sat back on his heels to watch his friend’s approach. Hugh smiled at seeing him on his knees.

“Am I in your prayers?”

“Constantly,” said Cadfael gravely. “A man has to work at it in so stubborn a case.”

He crumbled a handful of warm, dark earth between his hands, dusted his palms, and Hugh gave him a hand to help him rise. There was a good deal more steel in the young sheriff’s slight body and slender wrist than anyone would suppose. Cadfael had known him for five years only, but drawn nearer to him than to many he had rubbed shoulders with all the twenty-three years of his monastic life. “And what are you doing here?” he demanded briskly. “I thought you were north among your own lands, getting in the hay.”

“So I was, until yesterday. The hay’s in, the shearing’s done, and I’ve brought Aline and Giles back to the town. Just in time to be summoned to pay my respects to some grand magnate who’s visiting here, and is none too pleased about it. If his horse hadn’t fallen lame he’d still be on his way to Chester. Have you not a drink, Cadfael, for a thirsty man? Though why I should be parched,” he added absently, “when he did all the talking, is more than I know.”

Cadfael had a wine of his own within the workshop, new but fit to drink. He brought a jug of it out into the sunshine, and they sat down together on the bench against the north wail of the garden, to sun themselves in unashamed idleness.

“I saw the horse,” said Cadfael. “He’ll be days yet before he’s fit to take the road to Chester. I saw the man, too, if it’s he the abbot made haste to welcome. By the sound of it he was not expected. If he’s in haste to get to Chester he’ll need a fresh horse, or more patience than I fancy he possesses.”

“Oh, he’s reconciled. Radulfus may have him on his hands a week or more yet. If he made for Chester now he wouldn’t find his man there, there’s no haste. Earl Ranulf is on the Welsh border, fending off another raid from Gwynedd. Owain will keep him busy a while.”

“And who is this cleric on his way to Chester?” asked Cadfael curiously. “And what did he want with you?”

“Well, being frustrated himself—until I told him there was no hurry, for the earl was away riding his borders—he had a mind to be as busy a nuisance to all about him as possible. Send for the sheriff, at least exact the reverence due! But there is a grain of purpose in it, too. He wanted whatever information I had about the whereabouts and intentions of Owain Gwynedd, and especially he wished to know how big a threat our Welsh prince is being to Earl Ranulf, how glad the earl might be to have some help in the matter, and how willing he might be to pay for it in kind.”

“In the king’s interests,” Cadfael deduced, after a moment of frowning thought. “Is he one of Bishop Henry’s familiars, then?”

“Not he! Stephen’s making wise use of the archbishop for once, instead of his brother of Winchester. Henry’s busy elsewhere. No, your guest is one Gerbert, of the Augustinian canons of Canterbury, a big man in the household of Archbishop Theobald. His errand is to make a cautious gesture of peace and goodwill to Earl Ranulf, whose loyalty—to Stephen’s or any side!—is never better than shaky, but might be secured—or Stephen hopes it might!—on terms of mutual gain. You give me full and fair support there in the north, and I’ll help you hold off Owain Gwynedd and his Welshmen. Stronger together than apart!”

Cadfael’s bushy eyebrows were arched towards his grizzled tonsure. “What, when Ranulf is still holding Lincoln castle, in Stephen’s despite? Yes, and other royal castles he holds illegally? Has Stephen shut his eyes to that fashion of support and friendship?”

“Stephen has forgotten nothing. But he’s willing to dissemble if it will keep Ranulf quiet and complacent for a few months. There’s more than one unchancy ally getting too big for his boots,” said Hugh. “I fancy Stephen has it in mind to deal with one at a time, and there’s one at least is a bigger threat than Ranulf of Chester. He’ll get his due, all in good time, but there’s one Stephen has more against than a few purloined castles, and it’s worth buying Chester’s complacence until Essex is dealt with.”

“You sound certain of what’s in the king’s mind,” said Cadfael mildly.

“As good as certain, yes. I saw how the man bore himself at court, last Christmas. A stranger might have doubted which among us was the king. Easygoing Stephen may be, meek he is not. And there were rumors that the earl of Essex was bargaining again with the empress while she was in Oxford, but changed his mind when the siege went against her. He’s been back and forth between the two of them times enough already. I think he’s near the end of his rope.”

“And Ranulf is to be placated until his fellow-earl has been dealt with.” Cadfael rubbed dubiously at his blunt brown nose, and thought that over for a moment in silence. “That seems to me more like the bishop of Winchester’s way of thinking than King Stephen’s,” he said warily.

“So it may be. And perhaps that’s why the king is using one of Canterbury’s household for this errand, and not Winchester’s. Who’s to suspect that any motion of Henry’s mind could be lurking behind Archbishop Theobald’s hand? There isn’t a man in the policies of king or empress who doesn’t know how little love’s lost between the two.”

Cadfael could not well deny the truth of that. The enmity dated back five years, to the time when the archbishopric of Canterbury had been vacant, after William of Corbeil’s death, and King Stephen’s younger brother, Henry, had cherished confident pretensions to the office, which he certainly regarded as no more than his due. His disappointment was acute when Pope Innocent gave the appointment instead to Theobald of Bec, and Henry made his displeasure so clear and the influence he could bring to bear so obvious that Innocent, either in a genuine wish to recognize his undoubted ability or in pure exasperation and malice, had given him, by way of consolation, the papal legateship in England, thus making him in fact superior to the archbishop, a measure hardly calculated to endear either of them to the other. Five years of dignified but fierce contention had banked the fires. No, no suspect earl approached by an intimate of Theobald’s was likely to look behind the proposition for any trace of Henry of Winchester’s devious manipulations.

“Well,” allowed Cadfael cautiously, “it may suit Ranulf to be civil, seeing his hands are full with the Welsh of Gwynedd. Though what Stephen can offer him by way of help is hard to see.”

“Nothing,” agreed Hugh with a short bark of laughter, “and Ranulf will know that as well as we do. Nothing but his forbearance, but that will be worth welcoming, in the circumstances. Oh, they’ll understand each other well enough, and no trust on either side, but either one of them will see that the other will keep to his part for the present, out of self-interest. An agreement to put off contention to a more convenient time is better at this moment than no agreement at all, and the need to look over a shoulder everyhour or so. Ranulf can give all his mind to Owain Gwynedd, and Stephen can give all his to the matter of Geoffrey de Mandeville in Essex.”

“And in the meantime we must entertain Canon Gerbert until his horse is fit to bear him.”

“And his body servant and his two grooms, and one of Bishop de Clinton’s deacons, lent as his guide here through the diocese. A meek little fellow called Serlo, who goes in trembling awe of the man. I doubt if he’d ever heard of Saint Winifred, for that matter—Gerbert, I mean, not Serlo—but he’ll be wanting to direct her festival for you, now that he’s halted here.”

“He had that look about him,” Cadfael admitted. “And what have you told him about the small matter of Owain Gwynedd?”

“The truth, if not the whole truth. That Owain is able to keep Ranulf so busy on his own border that he’ll have no time to make trouble elsewhere. No need to make any real concessions to keep him quiet, but sweet talk can do no harm.”

“And no need to mention that you have an arrangement with Owain,” agreed Cadfael placidly, “to leave us alone here, and keep the earl of Chester off your back. It may not restore any of Stephen’s purloined castles in the north, but at least it keeps the earl’s greedy hands off any more of them. And what’s the news from the west? This uneasy quietness down there in Gloucester’s country has me wondering what’s afoot. Have you any word of what he’s up to?”

The desultory and exhausting civil war between cousins for the throne of England had been going on for more than five years, in spasmodic motion about the south and west, seldom reaching as far north as Shrewsbury. The Empress Maud, with her devoted champion and illegitimate half brother Earl Robert of Gloucester, held almost undisputed sway now in the southwest, based on Bristol and Gloucester, and King Stephen held the rest of the country, but with a shaky and tenuous grip in those parts most remote from his base in London and the southern counties. In such disturbed conditions every baron and earl was liable to look to his own ambitions and opportunities, and set out to secure a little kingdom for himself rather than devote his energies to supporting king or empress. Earl Ranulf of Chester felt himself distant enough from either rival’s power to feather his own nest while fortune favored the bold, and it was becoming all too plain that his professed loyalty to King Stephen took second place to the establishment of a realm of his own spanning the north from Chester to Lincoln. Canon Gerbert’s errand certainly implied no confidence in the earl’s word, however piously pledged, but was meant to hold him quiescent for a time for his own interests, until the king was ready to deal with him. So, at least, Hugh judged the matter.

“Robert,” said Hugh, “is busy strengthening all his defenses and turning the southwest into a fortress. And he and his sister between them are bringing up the lad she hopes to make king some day. Oh, yes, young Henry is still there in Bristol, but Stephen has no chance in the world of carrying his war that far, and even if he could, he would not know what to do with the boy when he had him. But neither can she get more good out of the child than the pleasure of his presence, though perhaps that’s benefit enough. In the end they’ll have to send him home again. The next time he comes—the next time it may be in earnest and in arms. Who knows?”

The empress had sent over into France, less than a year ago, to plead for help from her husband, but Count Geoffrey of Anjou, whether he believed in his wife’s claim to the throne of England or not, had no intention of sending over to her aid forces he himself was busy using adroitly and successfully in the conquest of Normandy, an enterprise which interested him much more than Maud’s pretensions. He had sent over, instead of the knights and arms she needed, their ten-year-old son.

What sort of father, Cadfael wondered, could this count of Anjou be? It was said that he set determined store upon the fortunes of his house and his successors, and gave his children a good education, and certainly he had every confidence, justifiably, in Earl Robert’s devotion to the child placed in his charge. But still, to send a boy so young into a country disrupted by civil war! No doubt he had Stephen’s measure, of course, and knew him incapable of harming the child even if he got him into his hands. And what if the child himself had a will of his own, even at so tender an age, and had urged the venture in his own right?

Yes, an audacious father might well respect audacity in his son. No doubt, thought Cadfael, we shall hear more of this Henry Plantagenet who’s minding his lessons and biding his time in Bristol.

“I must be off,” said Hugh, rising and stretching lazily in the warmth of the sun. “I’ve had my fill of clerics for today—no offense to present company, but, then, you’re no cleric. Did you never fancy taking minor orders, Cadfael? Just far enough to claim the benefit if ever one of your less seemly exploits came to light? Better the abbot’s court than mine, if ever it came to it!”

“If ever it came to it,” said Cadfael sedately, rising with him, “the likelihood is you’d need to keep your mouth tight shut, for you’d be in it with me nine times out of ten. Do you remember the horses you hid from the king’s roundup when—”

Hugh flung an arm round his friend’s shoulders, laughing. “Oh, if you’re to start remembering, I can more than match you. Better agree to let old deeds rest. We were always the most reasonable of men. Come on, bear me company as far as the gatehouse. It must be getting round towards Vespers.”

They made their way along the gravel path together without haste, beside the box hedge and through the vegetable garden to where the rose beds began. Brother Winfrid was just coming over the crest from the slope of the pease field, striding springily with his spade over his shoulder.

“Get leave soon, and come up and see your godson,” said Hugh as they rounded the box hedge, and the hum and the bustle of the court reached out to surround them like the busy sound of bees in swarm. “As soon as we reach town Giles begins asking for you.”

“I will, gladly. I miss him when you go north, but he’s better there through the summer than here shut within walls. And Aline’s well?” He asked it serenely, well aware that he would have heard of it at once if there had been anything amiss.

“Blooming like a rose. But come and see for yourself. She’ll be expecting you.”

They came round the comer of the guest hall into the court, still almost as lively as a town square. One more horse was being led down to the stables; Brother Denis was receiving the arriving guest, dusty from the road, at the door of his domain; two or three attendant novices were running to and fro with brychans and candles and pitchers of water; visitors already settled stood watching the newcomers throng in at the gatehouse, greeting friends among them, renewing old acquaintances and embarking on new, while the children of the cloister, oblates and schoolboys alike, gathered in little groups, all eyes and ears, bouncing and shrilling like crickets, and darting about among the pilgrims as excitedly as dogs at a fair. The passing of Brother Jerome, scuttling up the court from the cloister towards the infirmary, would normally have subdued the boys into demure silence, but in this cheerful turmoil it was easy to avoid him.

“You’ll have your house full for the festival,” said Hugh, halting to watch the colored chaos, and taking pleasure in it as candidly as did the children.

In the group gathered just within the gate there was a sudden ripple of movement. The porter drew back towards the doorway of his lodge, and on either side people recoiled as if to allow passage to horsemen, but there was no sharp rapping of hooves striking the cobbles under the arch of the gateway. Those who entered came on foot, and as they emerged into the court the reason for making such generous way for them became apparent. A long, flat handcart came creaking in, towed by a thickset, grizzled countryman before, and pushed by a lean and travel-stained young man behind. The load it carried was covered by a dun-colored cloak, and topped with a bundle wrapped in sacking, but by the way the two men leaned and strained at it, it was seen to be heavy, and the shape of it, a man’s height long and shoulder-wide, brought mortality to mind. A ripple of silence washed outward from it, and by degrees reached the spot where Hugh and Cadfael stood watching. The children looked on great-eyed, ears pricked, at once awestricken and inquisitive, intent on missing nothing.

“I think,” said Hugh quietly, “you have a guest who’ll need a bed somewhere else than in the guest hall.”

The young man had straightened up wincingly from stooping into the weight of the cart, and looked round him for the nearest authority. The porter came towards him, circling the cart and coffin with the circumspect bearing of one accustomed to everything, and not to be put out of countenance even by the apparition of death intruding like a morality play into the preparations for a festival. What passed between them was too soft, too earnest and private to be heard beyond the two of them, but it seemed that the stranger was asking lodging for both himself and his charge. His bearing was reverent and courteous, as was due in these surroundings, but also quietly confident. He turned his head and gestured with his hand towards the church. A young fellow of perhaps twenty-six or twenty-seven years, in clothes sun-faded and very dusty from the roads. Above average tall, thin and sinewy, large-boned and broad-shouldered, with a tangle of straw-colored hair somewhat fairer than the deep tan of his forehead and cheeks, and a good, bold prow of a nose, thin and straight. A proud face, somewhat drawn with effort just now, and earnest with the gravity of his errand, but by nature, Cadfael thought, studying him across the width of the court, it should be an open, hopeful, good-natured countenance, ready to smile, and a wide-lipped mouth ready to confide at the first friendly invitation.

“One of your flock from here in the Foregate?” asked Hugh, viewing him with interest. “But no, by the look of him he’s been on the roads from somewhere a good deal more distant.”

“But for all that,” said Cadfael, shaking his head over an elusive likeness, “it seems to me I’ve seen that face before, somewhere, at some time. Or else he reminds me of some other lad I’ve known.”

“The lads you’ve known in your time could come from half the world over. Well, you’ll find out, all in good time,” said Hugh, “for it seems Brother Denis is giving his attention to the matter, and one of your youngsters is off into the cloister in haste to fetch somebody else.”

The somebody else proved to be no less than Prior Robert himself, with Brother Jerome trotting dutifully at his heels. The length of Robert’s stride and the shortness of Jerome’s legs turned what should have been a busy, self-important bustle into a hasty shamble, but it would always get Jerome in time to any spot where there was something happening that might provide him with occasion for curiosity, censure, or sanctimony.

“Your strange visitors are acceptable,” observed Hugh, seeing how the conference was proceeding, “if only on probation. I suppose he could hardly turn away a dead man.”

“The fellow with the cart I do know,” said Cadfael. “He comes from close under the Wrekin. I’ve seen him bringing goods in to market. Cart and man must be hired for this delivery. But the other has come from far beyond that, for sure. Now I wonder how far he’s brought his charge, hiring help along the way. And whether he’s reached the end of his journey here.”

It was by no means certain that Prior Robert welcomed the sudden appearance of a coffin in the center of a court thronged with pilgrims hoping for good omens and pleasurable excitement. In fact, Prior Robert never showed an approving face to anything that in any way disrupted the smooth and orthodox course of events within the enclave. But clearly he could find no reason to refuse whatever was being requested here with due deference. If only on probation, as Hugh had said, they were to be permitted to remain. Jerome ran officiously to round up four sturdy brothers and novices, to hoist the coffin from the cart and bear it away towards the cloister, bound, no doubt, for the mortuary chapel within the church. The young man lifted the modest roll of his possessions, and trudged somewhat wearily along behind the cortege, to vanish into the south archway of the cloister. He walked as if he were stiff and footsore, but bore himself erect and steadily, with no studied show of grief, though his face remained thoughtfully solemn, preoccupied rather with what went on in his own mind than what those around him here might be thinking.

Brother Denis came down the steps from the guest hall and walked briskly down the court after this funereal procession, presumably to retrieve and house with decent friendliness the living guest. The onlookers stared after for a moment, and then returned to their interrupted occasions, and the hum and motion of activity resumed, at first softly and hesitantly, but very soon more vociferously than before, since they had now something pleasurably strange to talk about, once the moment of awe was over.

Hugh and Cadfael crossed the court to the gatehouse in considering silence. The carter had taken the shafts of his lightened cart and hauled it back through the arch of the gatehouse into the Foregate. Evidently he had been paid for his trouble in advance, and was content with his hire.

“It seems that one’s job is done,” said Hugh, watching him turn into the street. “No doubt you’ll soon hear what’s afoot from Brother Denis.”

His horse, the tall grey he perversely favored, was tethered at the gatehouse; no great beauty in looks or temperament, hard-mouthed, strong-willed, and obstinate, with a profound contempt for all humanity except his master, and nothing more than the tolerant respect of an equal even for Hugh.

“Come up soon,” said Hugh with his toe in the stirrup and the reins gathered in his hand, “and bring me all the gossip. Who knows, in a day or so you may be able to fit a name to the face.”

Chapter Two

« ^ »

Cadfael came out from the refectory after supper into a light, warm evening, radiant with reflected brightness from a rosy sunset. The readings during the meal, probably chosen by Prior Robert in compliment to Canon Gerbert, had been from the writings of Saint Augustine, of whom Cadfael was not as fond as he might have been. There is a certain unbending rigidity about Augustine that offers little compassion to anyone with whom he disagrees. Cadfael was never going to surrender his private reservations about any reputed saint who could describe humankind as a mass of corruption and sin proceeding inevitably towards death, or one who could look upon the world, for all its imperfections, and find it irredeemably evil. In this glowing evening light Cadfael looked upon the world, from the roses in the garden to the wrought stones of the cloister wails, and found it unquestionably beautiful. Nor could he accept that the number of those predestined to salvation was fixed, limited and immutable, as Augustine proclaimed, nor indeed that the fate of any man was sealed and hopeless from his birth, or why not throw away all regard for others and rob and murder and lay waste, and indulge every anarchic appetite in this world, having nothing beyond to look forward to?

In this undisciplined mood Cadfael proceeded to the infirmary, instead of to Collations, where the pursuit of Saint Augustine’s ferocious righteousness would certainly continue. Much better to go and check the contents of Brother Edmund’s medicine cupboard, and sit and gossip a little while with the few old brothers now too feeble to play a full part in the order of the monastic day.

Edmund, a child of the cloister from his fourth year and meticulous in observation, had gone dutifully to the chapter house to listen to Jerome’s reading. He came back to make his nightly rounds just as Cadfael was closing the doors of the medicine cupboard, and memorizing with silently moving lips the three items that needed replenishment.

“So this is where you got to,” said Edmund, unsurprised. “That’s fortunate, for I’ve brought with me someone who needs to borrow a sharp eye and a steady hand. I was going to try it myself, but your eyes are better than mine.”

Cadfael turned to see who this late evening patient might be. The light within there was none too good, and the man who came in on Edmund’s heels was hesitant in entering, and hung back shyly in the doorway. Young, thin, and about Edmund’s own height, which was above the average.

“Come in to the lamp,” said Edmund, “and show Brother Cadfael your hand.” And to Cadfael, as the young man drew near in silence: “Our guest is newly come today, and has had a long journey. He must be in good need of his sleep, but he’ll sleep the better if you can get the splinters out of his flesh, before they fester. Here, let me steady the lamp.”

The rising light cast the young man’s face into sharp and craggy relief, fine, jutting nose, strong bones of cheek and jaw, deep shadows emphasizing the set of the mouth and the hollows of the eyes under the high forehead. He had washed off the dust of travel and brushed into severe order the tangle of fair, waving hair. The color of his eyes could not be determined at this moment, for they were cast down beneath large, arched lids at the right hand he was obediently holding close to the lamp, palm upturned. This was the young man who had brought with him into the abbey a dead companion, and asked shelter for them both.

The hand he proffered deprecatingly for inspection was large and sinewy, with long, broad-jointed fingers. The damage was at once apparent. In the heel of his palm, in the flesh at the base of the thumb, two or three ragged punctures had been aggravated by pressure into a small inflamed wound. If it was not already festering, without attention it very soon would be.

“Your porter keeps his cart in very poor shape,” said Cadfael. “How did you impale yourself like this? Pushing it out of a ditch? Or was he leaving you more than your share of the work to do, safe with his harness in front there? And what have you been using to try to dig out the splinters? A dirty knife?”

“It’s nothing,” said the young man. “I didn’t want to bother you with it. It was a new shaft he’d just fitted, not yet smoothed off properly. And it did make a very heavy load, what with having to line and seal it with lead. The slivers have run in deep, there’s wood still in there, though I did prick out some.”

There were tweezers in the medicine cupboard. Cadfael probed carefully in the inflamed flesh, narrowing his eyes over the young man’s palm. His sight was excellent, and his touch, when necessary, relentless. The rough wood had gone deep, and splintered further in the flesh. He coaxed out fragment after fragment, and flexed and pressed the place to discover if any still remained. There was no telling from the demeanor of his patient, who stood placid and unflinching, taciturn by nature, or else shy and withdrawn here in a place still strange to him.

“Do you still feel anything there within?”

“No, only the soreness, no pricking,” said the youth, experimenting.

The path of the longest splinter showed dark under the skin. Cadfael reached into the cupboard for a lotion to cleanse the wound, comfrey and cleavers and woundwort, which had got its name for good reason. “To keep it from taking bad ways. If it’s still angry tomorrow, come to me and we’ll bathe it again, but I think you have good healing flesh.”

Edmund had left them, to make the round of his elders, and refill the little constant lamp in their chapel. Cadfael closed the cupboard, and took up the lamp by which he had been working, to restore it to its usual place. It showed him his patient’s face fully lit from before, close and clear. The deep-set eyes, fixed unwaveringly on Cadfael, must surely be a dark but brilliant blue by daylight; now they looked almost black. The long mouth with its obstinate set suddenly relaxed into a wide boyish smile.

“Now I do know you!” said Cadfael, startled and pleased. “I thought when I saw you come in at the gatehouse I’d seen that face somewhere before. Not your name! If ever I knew that, I’ve forgotten it years since. But you’re the boy who was clerk to old William of Lythwood, and went off on pilgrimage with him, long ago now.”

“Seven years,” said the boy, flashing into animation at being remembered. “And my name’s Elave.”

“Well, well, so you’re safe home after your wanderings! No wonder you had the look of having come half across the world. I remember William bringing his last gift to the church here, before he set out. He was bent on getting to Jerusalem. I recall at the time I half wished I could go with him. Did he reach the city indeed?”

“He did,” said Elave, growing ever brighter. “We did! Lucky I was that ever I took service with him. I had the best master a man could have. Even before he took the notion to take me with him on his journey, not having a son of his own.”

“No, no more he had,” agreed Cadfael, looking back through seven years. “It’s his nephews took over his business. A shrewd man he was, and a good patron to our house. There are many here among the brothers will remember his benefits…”

He caught himself up abruptly there. In the flush of recollection of the past he had lost sight for a while of the present. He came back to it with a sudden recoil into gravity. This boy had departed with a single companion, and with a single companion he now returned.

“Do you tell me,” Cadfael asked soberly, “that it’s William of Lythwood you’ve brought home in a coffin?”

“It is,” said Elave. “He died at Valognes, before we could reach Barfleur. He’d kept money by to pay his score if it happened, and get us both home. He’d been ill since we started north through France. Sometimes we had to halt a month or more along the way till he could go again. He knew he was dying, he made no great trouble about it. And the monks were good to us. I write a good hand, I worked when I could. We did what we wanted to do.” He told it quite simply and tranquilly; having been so long with a master content in himself and his faith, and unafraid of his end, the boy had grown into the same practical and cheerful acceptance. “I have messages to deliver for him to his kin. And I’m charged to ask a bed for him here.”

“Here in abbey ground?” asked Cadfael.

“Yes, I’ve asked to be heard tomorrow at chapter. He was a good patron to this house all his life, the lord abbot will remember that.”

“It’s a different abbot we have now, but Prior Robert will know, and many others among us. And Abbot Radulfus will listen, you need not fear a refusal from him. William will have witnesses enough. But I’m sorry he could not come home alive to tell us of it.” He eyed the lanky young man before him with considered respect. “You’ve done well by him, and a hard road you must have had of it, these last miles. You must have been barely a grown man when he took you off overseas.”

“I was nearly nineteen,” said Elave, smiling. “Nineteen and hardy enough, strong as a horse I was. I’m twenty-six now, I can make my own way.” He was studying Cadfael as intently as he was being studied. “I remember you, Brother. You were the one who soldiered in the east once, years ago.”

“So I did,” acknowledged Cadfael, almost fondly. Confronted with this young traveler from places once well known, and sharp with memories for him, he felt the old longings quickening again within him, and the old ghosts stirring. “When you have time, you and I could have things to talk about. But not now! If you’re not worn out with journeying, you should be, and there’ll be a moment or two to spare tomorrow. Better go and get your sleep now. I’m bound for Compline.”

“It’s true,” owned Elave, heaving a long, fulfilled sigh at having reached the end of his charge. “I’m main glad to be here, and have done with what I promised him. I’ll bid you good night, then, Brother, and thanks.”

Cadfael watched him cross the width of the court to the steps of the guest hall, a tough, durable young man who had packed into seven years more journeying than most men saw in a lifetime. No one else within these walls could follow in spirit where he had been, no one but Cadfael. The old appetite stirred ravenously, after contented years of stability and peace.

“Would you have known him again?” asked Edmund, emerging at Cadfael’s shoulder. “He came once or twice on his master’s errands, I remember, but between eighteen or so and his middle twenties a man can change past recognition, especially a man who’s made his way to the ends of the earth and back. I wonder sometimes, Cadfael, I even glimpse sometimes, what I may have missed.”

“And do you thank your father for giving you to God.” wondered Cadfael, “or wish he’d left you your chances among men?” They had been friends long enough and closely enough to permit such a question.

Brother Edmund smiled his quiet, composed smile. “You at least can question no one’s act but your own. I am of a past order, Cadfael, there’ll be no more of me, not under Radulfus, at any rate. Come to Compline, and pray for the constancy we promised.”

The young man Elave was admitted to chapter next morning, as soon as the immediate household affairs had been dealt with.

The numbers at chapter were swelled that day by the visiting clerics. Canon Gerbert, his mission necessarily delayed for a while, could not but turn his frustrated energies to meddling in whatever came to hand, and sat enthroned beside Abbot Radulfus throughout the session, and the bishop’s deacon, committed to faithful attendance on this formidable prelate, hovered anxiously at his elbow. This Serlo was, as Hugh had said, a meek little fellow with a soft, round, ingenuous face, much in awe of Gerbert. He might have been in his forties, smooth-cheeked and pink and wholesome, with a thin, greying ring of fair hair, erased here and there by incipient baldness. No doubt he had suffered from his overpowering companion along the road, and was intent simply on completing his errand as soon and as peaceably as possible. It might seem a very long way to Chester, if he was instructed to go so far.

Into this augmented and august assembly Elave came when he was bidden, refreshed and bright with the relief of reaching his goal and shedding his burden of responsibility. His face was open and confident, even joyful. He had no reason to expect anything but acceptance.

“My lord,” said Elave, “I have brought back from the Holy Land the body of my master, William of Lythwood, who was well known in this town, and has been in his time a benefactor to the abbey and the church. Sir, you will not have known him, for he left on his pilgrimage seven years ago, but there are brothers here who will remember his gifts and charities, and bear witness for him. It was his wish to be buried in the cemetery here at the abbey, and I ask for him, with all respect, his funeral and grave within these walls.”

Probably he had rehearsed that speech many times, Cadfael thought, and shaped and reshaped it doubtfully, for he did not seem like a man of many or ready words, unless, perhaps, he was roused in defense of something he valued. However that might be, he delivered it from the heart. He had a pleasant voice, pitched agreeably low, and travel had taught him how to bear himself among men of all kinds and all fortunes.

Radulfus nodded acknowledgment, and turned to Prior Robert. “You were here, Robert, seven years ago and more, as I was not. Tell me of this man as you remember him. He was a merchant of Shrewsbury?”

“A much respected merchant,” said the prior readily. “He kept a flock folded and grazed on the Welsh side of the town, and acted as agent for a number of other sheep farmers of the middle kind, to sell their clips together to the best advantage. He also had a workshop preparing vellum from the skins. Of good repute, very fine white vellum. We have bought from him in the past. So do other monastic houses. His nephews have the business now. Their family house is near Saint Alkmund’s church in the town.”

“And he has been a patron of our house?”

Brother Benedict the sacristan detailed the many gifts William had made over the years, both to the choir and to the parish of Holy Cross. “He was a close friend of Abbot Heribert’s, who died here among us three years ago.” Heribert, too gentle and mild for the taste of Bishop Henry of Winchester, then papal legate, had been demoted to give place to Radulfus, and had ended his days quite happily as a simple choir-monk, without regrets.

“William also gave freely in winter for the poor,” added Brother Oswald the almoner.

“It seems that William has well deserved to have what he asks,” said the abbot, and looked up encouragingly at his petitioner. “I understand you went with him on pilgrimage. You have done well by your master, I commend your loyalty, and I trust the journey has done great good to you, living, as to your master, who died still a pilgrim. There could be no more blessed death. Leave us now. I will speak with you again very soon.”

Elave made him a deep reverence, and went out from the chapter house with a buoyant step, like a man going to a festival.

Canon Gerbert had refrained from comment while the petitioner was present, but he cleared his throat vociferously as soon as Elave had vanished, and said with weighty gravity: “My lord abbot, it is a great privilege to be buried within the walls. It must not be granted lightly. Is it certain that this is a fit case for such an honor? There must be many men, above the rank of merchant, who would wish to achieve such a resting place. It behooves your house to consider very gravely before admitting anyone, however charitable, who may fall short of worthiness.”

“I have never held,” said Radulfus, unperturbed, “that rank or trade is valued before God. We have heard an impressive list of this man’s gifts to our church, let alone those to his fellowmen. And bear in mind that he undertook, and accomplished, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, an act of devotion that testifies to his quality and courage.”

It was characteristic of Serlo, that harmless and guileless soul—so Cadfael thought long afterward, when the dust had settled—to speak up with the best of intentions at the wrong moment, and in disastrously wrong words.

“So good counsel prevailed,” he said, beaming. “A timely word of admonishment and warning has had this blessed effect. Truly a priest should never be silent when he hears doctrine misread. His words may turn a soul astray into the right path.”

His childlike gratification faded slowly into the heavy silence he had provoked. He looked about him without immediate understanding, and gradually perceived how most eyes avoided him, looking studiously far into distance or down into folded hands, while Abbot Radulfus viewed him steadily and hard but without expression, and Canon Gerbert turned on him a cold, transfixing glare. The beaming smile faded sickly from Serlo’s round and innocent face. “To pay good heed to stricture and obey instruction atones for all errors,” he ventured, trying to edge away whatever in his words had caused this consternation, and failing. His voice ebbed feebly into silence.

“What doctrine,” demanded Gerbert with black deliberation, “had this man misread? What occasion had his priest had to admonish him? Are you saying that he was ordered to go on pilgrimage, to purge some mortal error?”

“No, no, not ordered,” said Serlo faintly. “It was suggested to him that his soul would benefit by such a reparation.”

“Reparation for what gross offense?” pursued the canon relentlessly.

“Oh, none, none that did harm to any, no act of violence or dishonesty. It is long past,” said Serlo gallantly, digging in his heels with unaccustomed bravery to retrieve what he had launched. “It was nine years ago, when Archbishop William of Corbeil, of blessed memory, sent out a preaching mission to many of the towns in England. As papal legate he was concerned for the well-being of the Church, and thought fit to use preaching canons from his own house at Saint Osyth’s. I was sent to attend on the reverend Father who came into our diocese, and I was with him when he preached here at the High Cross. William of Lythwood entertained us to supper afterward, and there was much earnest talk. He was not contumacious, he did but enquire and question, and in all solemnity. A courteous, hospitable man. But even in thought—for want of proper instruction…”

“What you are saying,” pronounced Gerbert menacingly, “is that a man who was reproved for heretical views is now asking for burial within these walls.”

“Oh, I would not say heretical,” babbled Serlo in haste. “Misguided views, perhaps, but I would not say heretical. There was no complaint ever made of him to the bishop. And you have seen that he did as he was counseled, for two years later he set out on this pilgrimage.”

“Many men undertake pilgrimages for their own pleasure,” said Gerbert grimly, “rather than for the proper purpose. Some even for trade, like hucksters. The act is no absolution for error, it is the sincere intent that delivers.”

“We have no reason,” Abbot Radulfus pointed out drily, “to conclude that William’s intent was less than sincere. These are judgments which are out of our hands. We should have the humility to acknowledge as much.”

“Nevertheless, we have a duty under God, and cannot evade it. What proof have we that the man ever changed those suspect beliefs he held? We have not examined as to what they were, how grave, and whether they were ever repented and discarded. Because there is here in England a healthy and vigorous Church, we must not think that the peril of false belief belongs only to the past. Have you not heard that there are loose preachers abroad in France who draw the credulous after them, reviling their own priests as greedy and corrupt, and the rites of the Church as meaningless? In the south the abbot of Clairvaux is grown much concerned about such false prophets.”

“Though the abbot of Clairvaux has himself warned,” interjected Radulfus briskly, “that the failure of the priesthood to set an example of piety and simplicity helps to turn people to these dissenting sects. The Church has a duty also to purge its own shortcomings.”

Cadfael listened, as all the brothers were listening, with pricked ears and alert eyes, hoping that this sudden squall would slacken and blow over just as nimbly. Radulfus would not allow any prelate to usurp his authority in his own chapter house, but not even he could forbid an envoy of the archbishop to assert his rights of speech and judgment in a matter of doctrine. The very mention of Bernard of Clairvaux, the apostle of austerity, was a reminder of the rising influence of the Cistercians, to which order Archbishop Theobald was sympathetically inclined. And though Bernard might put in a word for popular criticism of the worldliness of many high churchmen, and yearn for a return to the poverty and simplicity of the Apostles, by all accounts he would have small mercy on anyone who diverged from the strictly orthodox where dogma was concerned. Radulfus might sidestep one citation of Bernard by countering with another, but he was quick to change the subject before he risked losing the exchange.

“Here is Serlo,” he said simply, “who remembers whatever contention the archbishop’s missioner had with William. He may also recall whatever points of belief had arisen between them.”

Serlo, by the dubious look on his face, hardly knew whether to be glad of such an opportunity or sorry. He opened his mouth hesitantly, but Radulfus stopped him with a raised hand.

“Wait! It is also only fair that the one man who can truly testify to his master’s mind and observance before death should be present to hear what is said of him, and answer it on his behalf. We have no right to exclude a man from the favor he has asked without a just hearing. Denis, will you go and ask the young man Elave to come back into council?”

“Very gladly,” said Brother Denis, and went out with such indignant alacrity that it was not difficult to read his mind.

Elave came back into chapter in all innocence, expecting his formal answer and in no doubt what it would be. His alert step and confident face spoke for him. He had no warning of what was to come, even when the abbot spoke up, choosing his words with careful moderation.

“Young sir, there is here some debate concerning your master’s request. It has been said that before he departed on his pilgrimage he had been in some dispute with a priest sent by the archbishop to preach here in Shrewsbury, and had been reproved for certain beliefs he held, which were not altogether in accord with Church doctrine. It is even suggested that his pilgrimage was enjoined upon him almost as penance. Do you know anything of this? It may well be that it never came to your ears at all.”

Elave’s level brows, thick and russet, darker than his hair, drew together in doubt and bewilderment, but not yet disquiet.

“I knew he had given much thought to some articles of faith, but no more than that. He wanted his pilgrimage. He was growing old but still hearty, there were others and younger could manage here in his stead. He asked me if I would go with him, and I went. There was never any dispute between him and Father Elias that I know of. Father Elias knew him for a good man.”

“The good who go astray into wrong paths do more harm than the evil, who are our open enemies,” said Canon Gerbert sharply. “It is the enemy within who betrays the fortress.”

Now that, thought Cadfael, rings true of Church thinking. A Seljuk Turk or a Saracen can cut down Christians in battle or throw stray pilgrims into dungeons, and still be tolerated and respected, even if he’s held to be already damned. But if a Christian steps a little aside in his beliefs he becomes anathema. He had seen it years ago in the east, in the admittedly beleaguered Christian churches. Hard-pressed by enemies, it was on their own they turned most savagely. Here at home he had never before encountered it, but it might yet come to be as common as in Antioch or Alexandria. Not, however, if Radulfus could rein it in.

“His own priest does not seem to have regarded William as an enemy, either within or without,” said the abbot mildly. “But Deacon Serlo here is about to tell us what he recalls of the contention, and it is only just that you should afterward speak as to your master’s mind before his death, in assurance that he is worthy to be buried here within the precinct.”

“Speak up!” said Gerbert as Serlo hesitated, dismayed and unhappy at what he had set in motion. “And be precise! On what heads was fault found with the man’s beliefs?”

“There were certain small points at issue,” Serlo said submissively, “as I remember it. Two in particular, besides his doubts concerning the baptism of infants. He had difficulty in comprehending the Trinity…”

Who does not! thought Cadfael. If it were comprehensible, all these interpreters of the good God would be out of an occupation. And every one of those denies the interpretation set up by every other.

“He said if the first was Father, and the second Son, how could they be co-eternal and co-equal? And as to the Spirit, he could not see how it could be equal with either Father or Son if it emanated from them. Moreover, he saw no need for a third, creation, salvation, and all things complete in Father and Son. Thus the third served only to satisfy the vision of those who think in threes, as the songmakers and the soothsayers do, and all those who deal with enchantment.”

“He said that of the Church?” Gerbert’s countenance was stiff and his brow black.

“Not of the Church, no, that I do not believe he ever said. And the Trinity is a most high mystery, many have difficulty with it.”

“It is not for them to question or reason with inadequate minds, but to accept with unquestioning faith. Truth is set before them, they have only to believe. It is the perverse and perilous who have the arrogance to bring mere fallible reason to bear on what is ineffable. Go on! Two points, you said. What is the second?”

Serb cast an almost apologetic glance at Radulfus, and an even more rapid and uneasy one at Elave, who all this time was staring upon him with knotted brows and thrusting jaw, not yet committed to fear or anger or any other emotion, simply waiting and listening.

“It arose out of this same matter of the Father and the Son. He said that if they were of one and the same substance, as the creed calls them consubstantial, then the entry of the Son into humankind must mean also the entry of the Father, taking to himself and making divine that which he had united with the godhead. And therefore the Father and the Son alike knew the suffering and the death and the resurrection, and as one partake in our redemption.”

“It is the Patripassian heresy!” cried Gerbert, outraged. “Sabellius was excommunicated for it, and for other his errors. Noetus of Smyrna preached it to his ruin. This is indeed a dangerous venture. No wonder the priest warned him of the pit he was digging for his own soul.”

“Howbeit,” Radulfus reminded the assembly firmly, “the man, it seems, listened to counsel and undertook the pilgrimage, and as to the probity of his life, nothing has been alleged against it. We are concerned, not with what he speculated upon seven years and more ago, but with his spiritual well-being at his death. There is but one witness here who can testify as to that. Now let us hear from his servant and companion.” He turned to look closely at Elave, whose face had set into controlled and conscious awareness, not of danger, but of deep offense. “Speak for your master,” said Radulfus quietly, “for you knew him to the end. What was his manner of life in all that long journey?”

“He was regular in observance everywhere,” said Elave, “and made his confession where he could. There was no fault found with him in any land. In the Holy City we visited all the most sacred places, and going and returning we lodged whenever we could in abbeys and priories, and everywhere my master was accepted for a good and pious man, and paid his way honestly, and was well regarded.”

“But had he renounced his views,” demanded Gerbeit, “and recanted his heresy? Or did he still adhere secretly to his former errors?”

“Did he ever speak with you about these things?” the abbot asked, overriding the intervention.

“Very seldom, my lord, and I did not well understand such deep matters. I cannot answer for another man’s mind, only for his conduct, which I knew to be virtuous.” Elave’s face had set into contained and guarded calm. He did not look like a man who would fall short in understanding of deep matters, or lack the interest to consider them.

“And in his last illness,” Radulfus pursued mildly, “he asked for a priest?”

“He did, Father, and made his confession and received absolution without question. He died with all the due rites of the Church. Wherever there was place and time along the way he made his confession, especially after he first fell ill, and we were forced to stay a whole month in the monastery at Saint Marcel before he was fit to continue the journey home. And there he often spoke with the brothers, and all these matters of faith and doubt were understood and tolerated among them. I know he spoke openly of things that troubled him, and they found no fault there with debating all manner of questions concerning holy things.”

Canon Gerbert stared cold suspicion. “And where was this place, this Saint Marcel? And when was it you spent a month there? How recently?”

“It was in the spring of last year. We left early in the May, and made the pilgrimage from there to Saint James at Compostela with a party from Cluny, to give thanks that my master was restored to health. Or so we thought then, but he was never in real health again, and we had many halts thereafter. Saint Marcel is close by Chalon on the Saône. It is a daughter house of Cluny.”

Gerbert sniffed loudly and turned up his masterful nose at the mention of Cluny. That great house had taken seriously to the pilgrim traffic and had given aid and support, protection along the roads, and shelter in their houses to many hundreds not only from France, but of recent years from England, too. But for the close dependents of Archbishop Theobald it was first and foremost the mother house of that difficult colleague and ambitious and arrogant rival, Bishop Henry of Winchester.

“There was one of the brothers died there,” said Elave, standing up sturdily for the sanctity and wisdom of Cluny, “who had written on all these things, and taught in his young days, and he was revered beyond any other among the brothers, and had the most saintly name among them. He saw no wrong in pondering all these difficult matters by the test of reason, and neither did his abbot, who had sent him there from Cluny for his health. I heard him read once from Saint John’s Gospel, and speak on what he read. It was wonderful to hear. And that was but a short time before he died.”

“It is presumption to play human reason like a false light upon divine mysteries,” warned Gerbert sourly. “Faith is to be received, not taken apart by the wit of a mere man. Who was this brother?”

“He was called Pierre Abelard, a Breton. He died in the April, before we set out for Compostela in the May.”

The name had meant nothing to Elave beyond what he had seen and heard for himself, and kept wonderingly in his mind ever since. But it meant a great deal to Gerbert. He stiffened in his stall, flaring up half a head taller, as a candle suddenly rears pale and lofty when the wick flares.

“That man? Foolish, gullible soul, do you not know the man himself was twice charged and convicted of heresy? Long ago his writings on the Trinity were burned, and the writer imprisoned. And only three years ago at the Council of Sens he was again convicted of heretical writings, and condemned to have his works destroyed and end his life in perpetual imprisonment.”

It seemed that Abbot Radulfus, though less exclamatory, was equally well informed, if not better.

“A sentence which was very quickly revoked,” he remarked drily, “and the author allowed to retire peacefully into Cluny at the request of the abbot.”

Unwarily Gerbert was provoked into snapping back without due thought. “In my view no such revocation should have been granted. It was not deserved. The sentence should have stood.”

“It was issued by the Holy Father,” said the abbot gently, “who cannot err.” Whether his tongue was in his cheek at that moment Cadfael could not be sure, but the tone, though soft and reverent, stung, and was meant to sting.

“So was the sentence!” Gerbert snapped back even more unwisely. “His Holiness surely had misleading information when he withdrew it. Doubtless he made a right judgment upon such truth as was presented to him.”

Elave spoke up as if to himself, but loudly enough to carry to all ears, and with a brilliance of eye and a jut of jaw that spoke more loudly still. “Yet by very definition a thing cannot be its opposite; therefore one judgment or the other must be error. It could as well be the former as the latter.”

Who was it claimed, Cadfael reflected, startled and pleased, that he could not understand the arguments of the philosophers? This lad had kept his ears open and his mind alert all those miles to Jerusalem and back, and learned more than he’s telling. At least he’s turned Gerbert purple and closed his mouth for a moment.

A moment was enough for the abbot. This dangerous line of talk was getting out of hand. He cut it short with decision.

“The Holy Father has authority both to bind and to loose, and the same infallible will that can condemn can also with equal right absolve. There is here, it seems to me, no contradiction at all. Whatever views he may have held seven years ago, William of Lythwood died on pilgrimage, confessed and shriven, in a state of grace. There is no bar to his burial within this enclave, and he shall have what he has asked of us.”

Chapter Three

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As Cadfael came through the court after dinner, to return to his labors in the herb garden, he encountered Elave. The young man was just coming down the steps from the guest hall, in movement and countenance bright and vehement, like a tool honed for fine use. He was still roused and ready to be aggressive after the rough passage of his master’s body to its desired resting place, the bones of his face showed polished with tension, and his prow of a nose quested belligerently on the summer air.

“You look ready to bite,” said Cadfael, coming by design face-to-face with him.

The boy looked back at him for a moment uncertain how to respond, where even this unalarming presence was still an unknown quantity. Then he grinned, and the sharp tension eased.

“Not you, at any rate, Brother! If I showed my teeth, did I not have cause?”

“Well, at least you know our abbot all the better for it. You have what you asked. But as well keep a lock on your lips until the other one is gone. One way to be sure of saying nothing that can be taken amiss is to say nothing at all. Another is to agree with whatever the prelates say. But I doubt that would have much appeal for you.”

“It’s like threading a way between archers in ambush,” said Elave, relaxing. “For a cloistered man, Brother, you say things aside from the ordinary yourself.”

“We’re none of us as ordinary as all that. What I feel, when the divines begin talking doctrine, is that God speaks all languages, and whatever is said to him or of him in any tongue will need no interpreter. And if it’s devoutly meant, no apology. How is that hand of yours? No inflammation?”

Elave shifted the box he was carrying to his other arm, and showed the faded scar in his palm, still slightly puffed and pink round the healed punctures.

“Come round with me to my workshop, if you’ve the time to spare,” Cadfael invited, “and let me dress that again for you. And that will be the last you need think of it.” He cast a glance at the box tucked under the young man’s arm. “But you have errands to do in the town? You’ll be off to visit William’s kinsfolk.”

“They’ll need to know of his burying, tomorrow,” said Elave. “They’ll be here. There was always a good feeling among them all, never bad blood. It was Girard’s wife who kept the house for the whole family. I must go and tell them what’s arranged. But there’s no haste. I daresay once I’m up there it will be for the rest of the day and into the evening.”

They fell in amicably together, side by side, out of the court and through the rose garden, rounding the thick hedge. As soon as they entered the walled garden, the sun-warmed scent of the herbs rose to enfold them in a cloud of fragrance, every step along the gravel path between the beds stirring wave on wave of sweetness.

“Shame to go withindoors on such a day,” said Cadfael. “Sit down here in the sun, I’ll bring the lotion out to you.”

Elave sat down willingly on the bench by the north wall, tilting his face up to the sun, and laid his burden down beside him. Cadfael eyed it with interest, but went first to bring out the cleansing lotion, and anoint the fading wound once again.

“You’ll feel no more of that now, it’s clean enough. Young flesh heals well, and you’ve surely been through more risks crossing the world and back than you should be meeting here in Shrewsbury.” He stoppered the flask, and sat down beside his guest. “I suppose they won’t even know yet, that you’re back and their kinsman dead—the family there in the town?”

“Not yet, no. There was barely time last night to get my master well bestowed, and what with the dispute in chapter this morning, I’ve had no chance yet to get word to them. You know them—his nephews? Girard sees to the flock and the sales, and fetches in the wool clips from the others he deals for. Jevan always managed the vellum-making, even in William’s day. Come to think of it, for all I know things may be changed there since we left.”

“You’ll find them all living,” said Cadfael reassuringly, “that I do know. Not that we see much of them down here in the Foregate. They come sometimes on festival days, but they have their own church at Saint Alkmund’s.” He eyed the box Elave had laid down on the bench between them. “Something William was bringing back to them? May I look? Faith, I own I’m looking already, I can’t take my eyes from it. That’s a wonderful piece of carving. And old, surely.”

Elave looked down at it with the critical appreciation and indifferent detachment of one to whom it meant simply an errand to be discharged, something he would be glad to hand over and be rid of. But he took it up readily and placed it in Cadfael’s hands to be examined closely.

“I have to take it by way of a dowry for the girl. When he grew too ill to go on he thought of her, seeing he’d taken her into his household from the day she was born. So he gave me this to bring to Girard, to be used for her when she marries. It’s a poor lookout for a girl with no dowry when it comes to getting a husband.”

“I remember there was a little girl,” said Cadfael, turning the box in his hands with admiration. It was enough to excite the artist in any man. Fashioned from some dark eastern wood, about a foot long by eight inches wide and four deep, the lid flawlessly fitted, with a small, gilded lock. The under surface was plain, polished to a lustrous darkness almost black, the upper surface and the edges of the lid beautifully and intricately carved in a tracery of vine leaves and grapes, and in the center of the lid a lozenge containing an ivory plaque, an aureoled head, full-face, with great Byzantine eyes. It was so old that the sharp edges had been slightly smoothed and rounded by handling, but the lines of the carving were still picked out in gold.

“Fine work!” said Cadfael, handling it reverently. He balanced it in his hands, and it hung like a solid mass of wood, nothing shifting within. “You never wondered what was in it?”

Elave looked faintly surprised, and hoisted indifferent shoulders. “It was packed away, and I had other things to think about. I’ve only this past half hour got it out of the baggage roll. No, I never did wonder. I took it he’d saved up some money for her. I’m just handing it over to Girard as I was told to do. It’s the girl’s, not mine.”

“You don’t know where he got it?”

“Oh, yes, I know where he bought it. From a poor deacon in the market in Tripoli, just before we took ship for Cyprus and Thessaloniki on our way home. There were Christian fugitives beginning to drift in then from beyond Edessa, turned out of their monasteries by Mamluk raiders from Mosul. They came with next to nothing; they had to sell whatever they’d contrived to bring with them in order to live. William drove shrewd bargains among the merchants, but he dealt fairly with those poor souls. They said life was becoming hard and dangerous in those parts. The journey out we made the slow way, by land. William wanted to see the great collection of relics in Constantinople. But coming home we started by sea. There are plenty of Greek and Italian merchant ships plying as far as Thessaloniki, some even all the way to Bari and Venice.”

“There was a time,” mused Cadfael, drawn back through the years, “when I knew those seas very well. How did you fare for lodging on the way out, all those miles afoot?”

“Now and then we went a piece in company, but mostly it was we two alone. The monks of Cluny have hospices all across France and down through Italy. Even close by the emperor’s city they have a house for pilgrims. And as soon as you reach the Holy Land the Knights of Saint John provide shelter everywhere. It’s a great thing to have done,” said Elave, looking back in awe and wonder. “Along the way a man lives a day at a time, and looks no further ahead than the next day, and no further behind than the day just passed. Now I see it whole, and it is wonderful.”

“But not all good,” said Cadfael. “That couldn’t be, we couldn’t ask it. Remember the cold and the rain and the hunger at times, and the losses by thieves now and then, and a few knocks from those who prey on travelers—oh, never tell me you met none! And the weariness, and the times when William fell ill, the bad food, the sour water, the stones of the road. You’ve met all that. Every man who travels that far across the world has met it all.”

“I do remember all that,” said Elave sturdily, “but it is still wonderful.”

“Good! So it should be,” said Cadfael, sighing. “Lad, I should be glad to sit and talk with you about every step of the way, when your time’s free. You go and deliver your box to Master Girard, and that’s your duty done. And what will you do now? Go back to work for them as before?”

“No, not that. It was for William I worked. They have their own clerk. I wouldn’t wish to displace him, and they don’t need two. Besides, I want more, and different. I’ll take time to look about me. I’ve come back with more skills than when I went, I’d like to use them.” He rose, and tucked the carved box securely under his arm.

“I’ve forgotten,” said Cadfael, following the gesture thoughtfully, “if indeed I ever knew—how did he come by the child? He had none of his own, and as far as I know, Girard has none, and the other brother has never married. Where did the girl come from? Some foundling he took in?”

“You could say so. They had a serving maid, a simple soul, who fell foul of a small huckster at the fair one year,” and brought forth a daughter. William gave houseroom to the pair of them, and Margaret cared for the baby like her own child, and when the mother died they simply kept the girl. A pretty little thing she was. She had more wit than her mother. It was William named her Fortunata, for he said she’d come into the world with nothing, not even a father, and still found herself a home and a family, and so she’d still fall on her feet lifelong. She was eleven, rising twelve,” said Elave, “when we set out, and grown into a skinny, awkward little thing, all teeth and elbows. They say the prettiest pups make the ugliest dogs. She’ll need a decent dowry to make up for her gawky looks.”

He stretched his long person, hoisted his box more firmly under his arm, dipped his fair head in a small, friendly reverence, and was off along the path, his haste to discharge all the final duties with which he had been entrusted tempered somewhat by a sense of the seven years since he had seen William’s family, and the inevitable estrangement that time must have brought about, until now scarcely realized. What had once been familiar was now alien, and it would take time to edge his way back to it. Cadfael watched him disappear round the corner of the box hedge, torn between sympathy and envy.

The house of Girard of Lythwood, like so many of the merchant burgages of Shrewsbury, was in the shape of an L, the short base directly on the street, and pierced by an arched entry leading through to the yard and garden behind. The base of the L was of only one story, and provided the shop where Jevan, the younger brother, stored and sold his finished leaves and gatherings of vellum and the cured skins from which they were folded and cut to order. The upright of the L showed its gable end to the street, and consisted of a low undercroft and the living floor above, with a loft in the steep roof that provided extra sleeping quarters. The entire burgage was not large, space being valuable within so enclosed a town, in its tight noose of river. Outside the loop, in the suburbs of Frankwell on one side and the Foregate on the other, there was room to expand, but within the wall every inch of ground had to be used to the best advantage.

Elave halted before the house, and stood a moment to take in the strangeness of what he felt, a sudden warmth of homecoming, an almost panic reluctance to go in and declare himself, a mute wonder at the smallness of the house that had been his home for a number of years. In the overwhelming basilicas of Constantinople, as in the profound isolation of deserts, a man grows used to immensity.

He went in slowly through the narrow entry and into the yard. On his right the stables, the byre for the cow, the store shed, and the low coop for the chickens were just as he remembered them, and on his left the house door stood wide open, as it always had on such summer days. A woman was just coming up from the garden that stretched away beyond the house, with a basket of clothes in her arms, crisp washing just gathered from the hedge. She observed the stranger entering, and quickened her step to meet him.

“Good day, sir! If you’re wanting my husband…” She halted there, astonished, recognizing but not believing at first what she saw. Between eighteen and twenty-five a young man does not change so much as to be unrecognizable to his own family, however he may have filled out and matured during that time. It was simply that she had had no warning, no word to indicate that he was within five hundred miles of her.

“Mistress Margaret,” said Elave, “you’ve not forgotten me?”

The voice completed what his face had begun. She flushed bright with acceptance and evident pleasure. “Dear, now, and it is you! Just for a moment there you had me struck out of my wits, thinking I was seeing visions, and you still half the world away, in some outlandish place. Well, now, and here you are safe and sound, after all that journeying. Glad I am to see you again, boy, and so will Girard and Jevan be. Who’d have thought you’d spring out of nowhere like this, all in a moment, and just in time for Saint Winifred’s festival. Come within, come, let me put this laundry down and get you a draught to drink, and tell me how you’ve fared all this long time.”

She freed a hand to take him warmly by the arm and usher him within, to a bench by the unshuttered window of the hall, with such voluble goodwill that his silence passed unnoticed. She was a neat, brown-haired, bustling woman in her middle forties, healthy and hardworking and a good and discreet neighbor, and her shining housekeeping reflected her own strong-willed brightness.

“Girard’s away making up the wool clip. He’ll be a day or so yet. His face will be a sight to see when he comes in and sees Uncle William sitting here at the table like in the old days. Where is he? Is he following you up now, or has he business below at the abbey?”

Elave drew breath and said what had to be said. “He’ll not be coming, mistress.”

“Not coming?” she said, astonished, turning sharply in the doorway of her larder.

“Sorry I am to have no better word to bring you. Master William died in France, before we could embark for home. But I’ve brought him home, as I promised him I would. He lies at the abbey now, and tomorrow he’s to be buried there, in the cemetery among the patrons of the house.”

She stood motionless, staring at him with pitcher and cup forgotten in her hands, and for a long moment she was silent.

“It was what he wanted,” said Elave. “He did what he set out to do, and he has what he wanted.”

“Not everyone can say as much,” said Margaret slowly. “So Uncle William’s gone! Business below at the abbey, did I say? And so he has, but not as I supposed. And you left to bring him over the sea alone! And Girard away, and who’s to tell where at this moment? It will grieve him if he’s not here to pay the last dues to a good man.” She shook herself, and stirred out of her brief stillness, practical always. “Well, now, no fault of yours, you did well by him, and have no need to look back. Sit you down and be easy. You’re home, at least. Done your wanderings for the time being, you can do with a rest.”

She brought him ale, and sat down beside him, considering without distress all that was now needful. A competent woman, she would have everything ordered and seemly whether her husband returned in time or not.

“He was nearing eighty years old,” she said, “by my reckoning. He had a good life, and was a good kinsman and a good neighbor, and he ended doing a blessed thing, and one that he wanted with all his heart, once that old preacher from Saint Osyth’s put the thought in his mind. There,” said Margaret, shaking her head with a sigh, “here am I harking back like a fool, and I never meant to. Time’s short! I should have thought the abbot could have sent us word of the need as soon as you came in at the gatehouse.”

“He knew nothing of it until this morning at chapter. He’s been here only four years, and we’ve been gone seven. But everything is in hand now.”

“Maybe it is, down there, but I must see to it that all’s ready up here, for there’ll be all the neighbors in to join us, and I hope you’ll come back with us, after the funeral. Conan’s here, that’s lucky. I’ll send him west to see if he can find Girard in time, though there’s no knowing just where he’ll be. There are six flocks he has to deal with out there. Sit you here quietly, while I go and bring Jevan from the shop, and Aldwin from his books, and you can tell us all how it was with the old man. Fortunata’s off in the town marketing, but she’ll surely be back soon.”

She was off on the instant, bustling out to fetch Jevan out of his shop, and Elave was left breathless and mute with her ready volubility, having had no chance as yet to mention the charge he had still to deliver. In a few minutes she was back with the vellum-maker, the clerk, and the shepherd Conan hard on her heels, the entire core of the household but for the absent foster child. All these Elave knew well from his former service, and only one was much changed. Conan had been a youngster of twenty when last seen, slender and willowy; now he had broadened out and put on flesh and muscle, swelling into gross good looks, ruddy and strong with outdoor living. Aldwin had entered the household in Girard’s service, and stepped into Elave’s shoes when William took his own boy with him on pilgrimage. A man of past forty at that time, barely literate but quick with numbers as a gift of nature, Aldwin looked much the same now at nearing fifty, but that his hair had rather more grey in it, and was thinning on the crown. He had had to work hard to earn his place and hold it, and his long face had set into defensive lines of effort and anxiety. Elave had got his letters early, from a priest who had seen his small parishioner’s promise and taken pains to bring it to fruit, and the boy had shamelessly enjoyed his superiority when he had worked in Aldwin’s company. He remembered now how he had happily passed on his own skills to the much older man, not out of any genuine wish to help him, but rather to impress and dazzle both Aldwin and the observers with his own cleverness. He was older and wiser now; he had discovered how great was the world and how small his own person. He was glad that Aldwin should have this secure place, this sound roof over his head, and no one now to threaten his tenure.

Jevan of Lythwood was just past forty, seven years younger than his brother, tall, erect, and lightly built, with a clean-shaven, scholarly face. He had not been formally educated in boyhood, but by reason of taking early to the craft of vellum-making he had come to the notice of lettered men who bought from him, monastics, clerks, even a few among the lords of local manors who had some learning, and being of very quick and eager intelligence he had set himself to learn from them, aroused their interest to help him forward, and turned himself into a scholar, the only person in this house who could read Latin, or more than a few words of English. It was good for business that the seller of parchments should measure up to the quality of his work, and understand the uses the cultured world made of it.

All these came hurrying in on Margaret’s heels to gather familiarly round the table, and welcome back the traveler and his news. The loss of William, old, fulfilled, and delivered from this world in a state of grace and to the resting place he had desired, was not a tragedy, but the completion of an altogether satisfactory life, the more easily and readily accepted because he had been gone from this household for seven years, and the gap he had left had closed gently, and had not now been torn open again by his recovered presence. Elave told what he could of the journey home, of the recurring bouts of illness, and the death, a gentle death in a clean bed and with a soul confessed and shriven, at Valognes, not far from the port where he should have embarked for home.

“And his funeral is to be tomorrow,” said Jevan. “At what hour?”

“After the Mass at ten. The abbot is to take the office himself. He stood by my master’s claim for admittance,” said Elave by way of explanation, “against some visiting canon there from Canterbury. One of the bishop’s deacons is traveling with him, and let out like a fool some old business of falling out with a traveling preacher, years ago, and this Gerbert would have every word dragged out again, and wanted to call William a heretic and refuse him entry, but the abbot set his foot firmly on that and let him in. I came close,” admitted Elave, roused at the recollection, “to sticking my own neck in a heretic’s collar, arguing with the man. And he’s one who doesn’t take kindly to being opposed. He could hardly turn on the abbot in his own house, but I doubt he feels much love for me. I’d better keep my head low till he moves on.”

“You did quite right,” said Margaret warmly, “to stand by your master. I hope it’s done you no harm.”

“Oh, surely not! It’s all past now. You’ll be at the Mass tomorrow?”

“Every man of us,” said Jevan, “and the women, too. And Girard, if we can find him in time, but he’s on the move, and may be near the border by now. He meant to come back for Saint Winifred’s feast, but there’s always the chance of delays among the border flocks.”

Elave had left the wooden box lying on the bench under the window. He rose to fetch it to the table. All eyes settled upon it with interest.

“This I was ordered to deliver into Master Girard’s hands. Master William sent it to him to be held in trust for Fortunata until her marriage. It’s her dowry. When he was so ill he thought of her, and said she must have a dowry. And this is what he sent.”

Jevan was the first to reach out to touch and handle it, fascinated by the beauty of the carving.

“This is rare work. Somewhere in the east he found this?” He took it up, surprised at the weight. “It makes a handsome treasury. What’s within it?”

“That I don’t know. It was near his death when he gave it to me and told me what he wanted. Nothing more, and I never questioned him. I had enough to do, then and afterward.”

“So you did,” said Margaret, “and you did it well, and we owe you thanks, for he was our kin, and a good man, and I’m glad he had so good a lad to see him safely all that way and back again home.” She took up the box from the table, where Jevan had laid it down, and was fingering the gilded carving with evident admiration. “Well, if it was sent to Girard, I’ll keep it aside until Girard comes home. This is the business of the man of the house.”

“Even the key,” said Jevan, “is a piece of art. So our Fortunata lives up to her name, as Uncle William always said she would. And the lucky girl still out marketing, and doesn’t yet know of her fortune!”

Margaret opened the tall press in a corner of the room, and laid both box and key on an upper shelf within. “There it stays until my husband comes home, and he’ll take good care of it until my girl shows a fancy to get wed, and maybe sets eyes on the lad she wants for husband.”

All eyes had followed William’s gift to its hiding place. Aldwin said sourly: “There’ll be a plenty will fancy her for wife, if they get wind she has goods to bring with her. She’ll have need of your good counsel, mistress.”

Conan had said nothing at all. He had never been a talker. His eyes followed the box until the door of the press closed on it, but all he had to say throughout was said at the last, when Elave rose to take his leave. The shepherd rose with him.

“I’ll be off, then, and take the pony, and see if I can find where the master is. But whether or not, I’ll be back by nightfall.”

They were all dispersing to their various occupations when Margaret drew Elave back by the sleeve, delaying him until the rest had gone.

“You’ll understand, I’m sure, how it is,” she said confidingly. “I wouldn’t say anything but just to you, Elave. You were always a good lad with the accounts, and worked hard, and to tell the honest truth, Aldwin is no match for you, though he does his best, and can manage well enough all that’s required of him. But he’s getting older, and has no home or folks of his own, and what would he do if we parted with him now? You’re young, there’s many a merchant would be glad to hire you, with your knowledge of the world. You won’t take it amiss…”

Elave had caught her drift long before this, and broke in hastily to reassure her. “No, no, never think of it! I never expected to have my old place back. I wouldn’t for the world put Aldwin out on the roads. I’m glad he should be secure the rest of his life. Never trouble for me, I shall look about me and find work to do. And as for bearing any grudge that I’m not asked back, I never so much as thought of it. Nothing but good have I had from this house, and I shan’t forget it. No, Aldwin can go on with his labors with all my goodwill.”

“That’s like the lad I remember!” she said with hearty relief. “I knew you’d take it as it’s meant. I hope you may get good service with some traveling merchant, one that trades overseas. That would suit you, after all you’ve seen and done. But you will come up with us tomorrow after Uncle William’s burial, and take meat with us?”

He promised readily, glad to have their relationship established and understood. To tell the truth, he thought he might have felt confined and restricted here now, dealing with the buying of stock and paying of wages, the weighing and marketing of wool, and the small profits and expenses of a good but limited business. He was not yet sure what he did want; he could afford to spend a little while looking round before committing himself. Going out at the hall door he came shoulder-to-shoulder with Conan, on his way out to the stable, and dropped back to let Margaret’s messenger go first.

A young woman with a basket on her arm had just emerged from the narrow entry that led to the street, and was crossing the yard towards them. She was not overtall, but looked tall by reason of her erect bearing and long, free step, light and springy from the ground like the gait of a mettlesome colt. Her plain grey gown swayed with the lissome movement of a trim body, and the well-poised head on her long neck was crowned with a great coiled braid of dark hair lit with shadowy gleams of red. Halfway across the yard towards them she halted abruptly, gazing open-mouthed and wide-eyed, and suddenly she laughed aloud, a joyous, silver sound of pleasurable amazement.

“You!” she said in a soft, delighted cry. “Is it truth? I am not dreaming?”

She had stopped them both on the instant, brought up short by the warmth of her greeting, Elave gaping like an idiot at this unknown girl who yet appeared not only to recognize him, but to take pleasure in the recognition, Conan fallen warily silent beside him, his face expressionless, his eyes roving from one face to the other, narrowed and intent.

“Do you not know me?” cried the girl’s clear bell of a voice, through the bubbling spring of her laughter.

Fool that he was, who else could she be, coming in thus bareheaded from the shops of the town? But it was true, he would not have known her. The thin little pointed face had filled out into a smooth ivory oval. The teeth that had looked far too many and too large for her mouth shone now even and white between dark-rose lips that smiled at his astonishment and confusion. All the sharp little bones had rounded into grace. The long hair that had hung in elflocks round scrawny childish shoulders looked like a crown, thus braided and coiled upon her head, and the greenish hazel eyes whose stare he had found disconcerting seven years ago now sparkled and glowed with pleasure at seeing him again, a very arresting flattery.

“I know you now,” he said, fumbling for words. “But you’re changed!”

“You are not,” she said. “Browner, perhaps, and your hair’s even fairer than it used to be, but I’d have known you anywhere. And you turn up like this without a word of warning, and they were letting you go without waiting for me?”

“I’m coming again tomorrow,” he said, and hesitated to attempt the explanation, here in the yard, with Conan still lingering on the borders of their meeting. “Mistress Margaret will tell you about it. I had messages to bring…”

“If you knew,” said Fortunata, “how often and how long we’ve talked of you both, and wondered how you were faring in those far places. It’s not every day we have kinsfolk setting out on such an adventure. Do you think we never gave you a thought?”

Hardly once in all those years had it entered his mind to wonder about any of those left behind. Closest to him in this house, and alone significant, had been William, and with William he had gone, blithely, without a thought for anyone left to continue life here, least of all a leggy little girl of eleven with a spotty skin and a disconcerting stare.

“I doubt,” he said, abashed, “that I ever deserved you should.”

“What has dessert to do with it?” she said. “And you were leaving now until tomorrow? No, that you can’t! Come back with me into the house, if only for an hour. Why must I wait until tomorrow to get used to seeing you again?”

She had him by the hand, turning him back towards the open door, and though he knew it was no more than the open and gallant friendliness of one who had known him from her childhood, and wished him well in absence as she wished well to all men of goodwill—nothing more than that, not yet!—he went with her like a bidden child, silenced and charmed. He would have gone wherever she led him. He had that to tell her that would cloud her brightness for a while, and afterward no rights in her or in this house, no reason to believe she would ever be more to him than she was now, or he to her. But he went with her, and the warm dimness of the hall received them.

Conan looked after them for a long moment, before he went on towards the stable, his thick brows drawn together, and his wits very busy in his head.

Chapter Four

« ^ »

It was fully dark when Conan came home again, and he came alone.

“I went as far as Forton, but he’d gone on to Nesse early in the day. Likely he’d have finished there and moved on before night. I thought it best to come back. He’ll not be home tomorrow, not until too late to see old William to his grave, not knowing the need.”

“He’ll be sorry to let the old man go without him,” said Margaret, shaking her head, “but there’s nothing to be done about it now. Well, we’ll have to manage everything properly on his behalf. I suppose it would have been a pity to fetch him back so far and lose two days or more in the middle of the shearing time. Perhaps it’s just as well he was out of reach.”

“Uncle William will sleep just as well,” said Jevan, unperturbed. “He had an eye to business in his day. He wouldn’t favor waste of time, or risk of another dealer picking up one of his customers while his back was turned. Never fret, we’ll make a good family showing tomorrow. And if you want to be up early to prepare your table, Meg, you’d best be off to bed and get your rest.”

“Yes,” she said, sighing, and braced her hands on the table to rise. “Never mind, Conan, you did what you could. There’s meat and bread and ale in the kitchen for you, as soon as you’ve stabled the pony. Good night to you both! Jevan, you’ll put out the lamp and see the door bolted?”

“I will. When did you know me to forget? Good night, Meg!”

The master bedchamber was the only one on this main floor. Fortunata had a small room above, closed off from the larger part of the loft where the menservants had their beds, and Jevan slept in a small chamber over the entry from the street into the yard, where he kept his choicest wares and his chest of books.

Margaret’s door closed behind her. Conan had turned to go out to the kitchen, but in the doorway he looked back, and asked: “Did he stay long? The young fellow? He was for going, the same time I left, but we met with Fortunata in the yard, and he turned back with her.”

Jevan looked up in tolerant surprise. “He stayed and ate with us. He’s bidden back with us tomorrow, too. Our girl seemed pleased to see him.” His grave, long face, very solemn in repose, was nevertheless lit by a pair of glittering black eyes that missed very little, and seemed to be seeing too far into Conan at this moment for Conan’s comfort, and finding what they saw mildly amusing. “Nothing to fret you,” said Jevan. “He’s no shepherd, to put a spoke in your wheel. Go and get your supper, and let Aldwin do the fretting, if there’s any to be done.”

It was a thought which had not been in Conan’s mind until that moment, but it had its validity, just as surely as the other possibility which had really been preoccupying him. He went off to the kitchen with the two considerations churning in his brain, to find the meal left for him, and Aldwin sitting morosely at the trestle table with a half-empty mug of ale.

“I never thought,” said Conan, spreading his elbows on the other side of the table, “we should ever see that young spark again. All those perils by land and sea that we hear about, cutthroats and robbers by land, storm and shipwreck and pirates on the sea, and he has to wriggle his way between the lot of them and come safe home. More than his master did!”

“Did you find Girard?” asked Aldwin.

“No, he’s too far west. There was no time to go farther after him. They’ll have to bury the old man without him. Small grief to me,” said Conan candidly, “if it was Elave we were burying.”

“He’ll be off again,” Aldwin said, strenuously hoping so. “He’ll be too big for us now, he won’t stay.”

Conan gave vent to a laugh that held no amusement. “Go, will he? He was for going this afternoon until he set eyes on Fortunata. He came back fast enough when she took him by the hand and bade him in again. And by what I saw of the looks between them, she’ll have no eyes for another man while he’s around.”

Aldwin gave him a wary and disbelieving look. “Are you taking a fancy to get the girl for yourself? I never saw sign of it before.”

“I like her well enough, always have. But for all they treat her like a daughter, she’s none of their kin, just a foundling taken in for pity. And when it’s money, it sticks close in the blood, and mostly to the men, and Dame Margaret has nephews if Girard has none on his side. Like or not like, a man has to think of his prospects.”

“And now you think better of the girl because she has a dowry from old William,” Aldwin guessed shrewdly, “and want the other fellow out of sight and mind. For all he brought her the dowry! And how do you know but what’s in it may be worth nothing to boast of?”

“In a fine carved casket like that? You saw how it was ornamented, all tendrils and ivory.”

“A box is a box. It’s what it holds that counts.”

“No man would put rubbish in a box like that. But little value or great, it’s worth the wager. For I do like the girl, and I think it only good sense and no shame,” vowed Conan roundly, “to like her the better for having possessions. And you’d do well,” he added seriously, “to think on your own case if that youngster comes to Fortunata’s lure and stays here, where he was taught his clerking.”

He was giving words to what had been eating away at Aldwin’s always tenuous peace of mind ever since Elave had showed his face. But he made one feeble effort to stand it off. “I’ve seen no sign he’d be wanted back here.”

“For one not wanted he was made strangely welcome, then,” retorted Conan. “And didn’t I just say something to Jevan, that made him answer how I had nothing to fret about, seeing Elave was no shepherd, to threaten me! Let Aldwin do the fretting, says he, if there’s any to be done.”

Aldwin had been doing the fretting all the evening, and it was made manifest by the tight clenching of his hands, white at the knuckles, and the sour set of his mouth, as though it were full of gall. He sat mute, seething in his fears and suspicions, and this light pronouncement of Jevan’s, all the confirmation they needed.

“Why did he have to come safe out of a mad journey that’s killed its thousands before now?” wondered Conan, brooding. “I wish the man no great harm, God-knows, but I wish him elsewhere. I’d wish him well, if only he’d make off somewhere else to enjoy it. But he’d be a fool not to see that he can do very well for himself here. I can’t see him taking to his heels.”

“Not,” agreed Aldwin malevolently, “unless the hounds were snapping at them.”

Aldwin sat for some while after Conan had gone off to his bed. By the time he rose from the table the hall would certainly be in darkness, the outer door barred, and Jevan already in his own chamber. Aldwin lit an end of candle from the last flicker of the saucer lamp, to light him through the hall to the wooden stairway to the loft, before he blew out the dwindling flame.

In the hall it was silent and still, no movement but the very slight creak of a shutter in the night breeze. Aldwin’s candle made a minute point of light in the darkness, enough to show him his way the width of a familiar room. He was halfway to the foot of the stair when he halted, stood hesitating for a moment, and listening to the reassuring silence, and then turned and made straight for the corner press.

The key was always in the lock, but seldom turned. Such valuables as the house contained were kept in the coffer in Girard’s bedchamber. Aldwin carefully opened the long door, set his candle to stand steady on a shelf at breast level, and reached up to the higher shelf where Margaret had placed Eortunata’s box. Even when he had it set down beside his light he wavered. How if the key turned creakingly instead of silently, or would not yield at all? He could not have said what impelled him to meddle, but curiosity was strong and constant in him, as if he had to know the ins and outs of everything in the household, in case some overlooked detail might be held in store to be used against him. He turned the little key, and it revolved sweetly and silently, well made like the lock it operated and the box it adorned and guarded. With his left hand he raised the lid, and with his right lifted the candle to cast its light directly within.

“What are you doing there?” demanded Jevan’s voice, sharp and irritable from the top of the stairway.

Aldwin started violently, shaking drops of hot wax onto his hand. He had the lid closed and the key turned in an instant, and thrust the box back onto its upper shelf in panic haste. The open door of the press screened what he was about. From where Jevan came surging down the first few treads of the stairs, a moving shadow among shadows, he would see the light, though not its source, a segment of the open cupboard, and Aldwin’s body in sharp silhouette, but could not have seen what his hands were up to, apart, perhaps, from that movement of reaching up to replace the violated treasure. Aldwin clawed along the shelf and turned with the candle in one hand, and the small knife he had just palmed from his own belt in the other.

“I left my penknife here yesterday, when I cut a new peg to fasten the handle of the small bucket. I shall need it in the morning.”

Jevan had come the rest of the way down the staircase, and advanced upon him in resigned irritation, brushing him aside to close the door of the press.

“Take it, then, and get to bed, and give over disturbing the household at this hour.”

Aldwin departed with what was for him unusual alacrity and docility, only too pleased to have come so well out of what might have been an awkward encounter. He did not so much as look round, but carried his guttering candle end up the stairs and into the loft with a shaking hand. But behind him he heard the small, grating sound of a large key turning, and knew that Jevan had locked the press. His clerk’s furtive foragings might be tolerated and passed over as annoying but harmless, but they were not to be encouraged. Aldwin had best walk warily with Jevan for a while, until the incident was forgotten.

The vexing thing was that it had all been for nothing. He had never had time to examine what was in the box, but had had to close the lid hastily in the same moment as opening it, with no time to get a glimpse within. He was not going to try that again. The contents of Fortunata’s box would have to remain a secret until Girard came home.

On the twenty-first day of June, after midmorning Mass, William of Lythwood was buried in a modest corner of the graveyard east of the abbey church, where good patrons of the house found a final resting place. So he had what he wanted, and slept content.

Brother Cadfael could discern certain currents of discontent among those attending. He knew the clerk Aldwin much as he had known Elave in his day, as an occasional messenger on behalf of his master, and to tell truth, had never yet seen him looking content, but his bearing on this day seemed more abstracted and morose than usual, and he and the shepherd had their heads together in a conspiratorial manner, and their eyes narrowed and sharp upon the returned pilgrim in a manner which suggested that he was by no means welcome to them, however amiably the rest of the household behaved to him. And the young man himself seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts, and for all his concentration upon the office, his eyes strayed several times towards the young woman who stood modestly a pace behind Dame Margaret, earnestly attentive and very solemn beside the grave of the man who had given her a home and a name. And a dowry!

She was well worth looking at. Possibly Elave was debating reconsidering his determination to look about him for something more and better than could be found in his old employment. The skinny little thing all teeth and elbows had grown into a very attractive woman. One, however, who showed no sign at this moment of finding the young man as disturbing as he obviously found her. She had devoted herself wholly to her benefactor’s funeral rites, and had no attention to spare for anything else.

Before the company dispersed there were civilities to be exchanged, condolences to be dispensed by the clerics and gracefully received by the family. In the sunlit court the company sorted itself into little groups, kind with kind, Abbot Radulfus and Prior Robert paying due attentions to Margaret and Jevan of Lythwood before withdrawing, Brother Jerome, as the prior’s chaplain, making it his business to spend some minutes with the lesser members of the bereaved household. A few words had to be said to the girl, before he moved on to the menservants. The pious platitudes he first offered to Conan and Aldwin showed signs of developing into something much more voluble and interesting, and at the same time more confidential, for now there were three heads together instead of two, and still the occasional narrowed glance darted in Elave’s direction.

Well, the young man had behaved impeccably throughout, and since the confrontation with Canon Gerbert had kept a guard on his tongue. Small bait for Brother Jerome there, though the very hint of unorthodoxy, especially when frowned upon by so eminent a prelate, was enough to cause Jerome’s little nose to sniff the air like a meager hound on a scent. The canon himself had not chosen to grace William’s obsequies with his presence, but he would probably receive a full account from Prior Robert, who also knew how to value the opportunity to cultivate a close confidant and agent of the archbishop.

Howbeit, this minor matter, which had briefly threatened to blaze up into a dangerous heat, must surely be over now. William had his wish, Elave had done his loyal duty in securing it for him, and Radulfus had maintained the petitioner’s right. And once tomorrow’s festivities were over, Gerbert would soon be on his way, and without his exalted rigidity, almost certainly sincere, and probably excited by recent embassages to France and Rome, there would be an end here in Shrewsbury of these arid measurings and probings of every word a man spoke.

Cadfael watched the household of William of Lythwood muster its funeral guests and sally forth from the gatehouse towards the town, and went off to dinner in the refectory with the easy mind of a man who believes himself to have seen an important matter satisfactorily settled.

William’s wake was well supplied with ale, wine, and mead, and went the way of most wakes, from dignified solemnity and pious remembrance to sentimental and increasingly elaborated reminiscence, while discreet voices grew louder and anecdotes borrowed as much from imagination as from memory. And since Elave had been his companion for seven years while he had been out of sight and often out of mind of these old neighbors of his, the young man found himself being plied with the best ale in the house, in exchange for the stories he had to tell of the long journey and the wonders seen along the way, and of William’s dignified farewell to the world.

If he had not drunk considerably more than he was accustomed to, he might not have given direct and open answers to oblique and insinuating questions. On the other hand, in view of his habitual and belligerent honesty, and the fact that he had no reason to suppose he had need of caution in this company, it is at least equally probable that he would.

It did not begin until all the visitors were leaving, or already gone, and Jevan was out in the street taking slow and pleasurable leave of the last of them, and being a comfortable, neighborly time about it. Margaret was in the kitchen with Fortunata, clearing away the remains of the feast and supervising the washing of the pots that had provided it. Elave was left sitting at the table in the hall with Conan and Aldwin, and when most of the work in the kitchen was done, Fortunata came in quietly and sat down with them.

They were talking of the next day’s festival. It was only seemly that a funeral should be fittingly observed and tidied away before the day of Saint Winifred’s translation, so that everything on the morrow could be festive and auspicious, like the unclouded weather they hoped for. From the efficacy of the relics of saints and the validity of their miracles it was no long way to the matter of William. It was, after all, William’s day, and fitting that they should be remembering him well into the dusk.

“According to one of the brothers down there,” said Aldwin earnestly, “the little anxious grey fellow that runs so busy about the prior, it was a question whether the old man would be let in at all. Somebody there was for digging up that old scuffle he had with the missioner, to deny him a place.”

“It’s a grave matter to disagree with the Church,” agreed Conan, shaking his head. “It’s not for us to know better than the priests, not where faith’s concerned. Listen and say Amen, that’s my advice. Did ever William talk to you about such things, Elave? You traveled a long way and a good many years with him. Did he try to take you along with him down that road, too?”

“He never made any secret of what he thought,” said Elave. “He’d argue his point, and with good sense, too, even to priests, but there was none of them found any great fault with him for thinking about such things. What are wits for unless a man uses them?”

“That’s presumption,” said Aldwin, “in simple folk like us, who haven’t the learning or the calling of the churchmen. As the king and the sheriff have power over us in their field, so has the priest in his. It’s not for us to meddle with matters beyond us. Conan’s right, listen and say Amen!”

“How can you say Amen to damning a newborn child to hell because the little thing died before it could be baptized?” Elave asked reasonably. “It was one of the things that bothered him. He used to argue not even the worst of men could throw a child into the fire, so how could the good God? It’s against his nature.”

“And you,” said Aldwin, staring curiosity and concern, “did you agree with him? Do you say so, too?”

“Yes, I do say so. I can’t believe the reason they give us, that babes are born into the world already rotten with sin. How can that be true? A creature new and helpless, barely into this world, how can it ever have done wrong?”

“They say,” ventured Conan cautiously, “even babes unborn are rotten with the sin of Adam, and fallen with him.”

“And I say that it’s only his own deeds, bad and good, that a man will have to answer for in the judgment, and that’s what will save or damn him. Though it’s not often I’ve known a man so bad as to make me believe in damnation,” said Elave, still absorbed in his own reasoning, and intent only on expressing himself clearly and simply, without suspicion of hostility or danger. “There was a father of the Church, once, as I heard tell, in Alexandria, who held that in the end everyone would find salvation. Even the fallen angels would return to their fealty, even the devil would repent and make his way back to God.”

He felt the chill and the shiver that went through his audience, but thought no more of it than that his traveled wisdom, small as it still was, had carried him out of the reach of their parochial innocence. Even Fortunata, listening silently to the talk of the menfolk, had stiffened and opened her eyes wide and round at such an utterance, startled and perhaps shocked. She said nothing in this company, but she followed every word that was spoken, and the color ebbed and flowed in her cheeks as she glanced attentively from face to face.

“That’s blasphemous!” said Aldwin in an awed whisper. “The Church tells us there’s no salvation but by grace, not by works. A man can do nothing to save himself, being born sinful.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Elave stubbornly. “Would the good God have made a creature so imperfect that he can have no free will of his own to choose between right and wrong? We can make our own way towards salvation, or down into the muck, and at the last we must every one stand by his own acts in the judgment. If we are men we ought to make our own way towards grace, not sit on our hams and wait for it to lift us up.”

“No, no, we’re taught differently,” insisted Conan doggedly. “Men are fallen by the first fall, and incline towards evil. They can never do good but by the grace of God.”

“And I say they can and do! A man can choose to avoid sin and do justly, of his own will, and his own will is the gift of God, and meant to be used. Why should a man get credit for leaving it all to God?” said Elave, roused but reasonable. “We think about what we’re doing daily with our hands, to earn a living. What fools we should be not to give a thought to what we’re doing with our souls, to earn an eternal life. Earn it,” said Elave with emphasis, “not wait to be given it unearned.”

“It’s against the Church fathers,” objected Aldwin just as strongly. “Our priest here preached a sermon once about Saint Augustine, how he wrote that the number of the elect is fixed and not to be changed, and all the rest are lost and damned, so how can their free will and their own acts help them? Only God’s grace can save. Everything else is vain and sinful.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Elave loudly and firmly. “Or why should we even try to deal justly? These very priests urge us to do right, and demand of us confession and penance if we fall short. Why, if the roll is already made up? Where is the sense of it? No, I do not believe it!”

Aldwin was looking at him in awed solemnity. “You do not believe even Saint Augustine?”

“If he wrote that, no, I do not believe him.”

There was a sudden heavy silence, as though this blunt statement had knocked both his interrogators out of words. Aldwin, looking side wise with narrowed and solemn eyes, drew furtively along the bench, removing even his sleeve from compromising contact with so perilous a neighbor.

“Well,” said Conan at length, too cheerfully and too loudly, shifting briskly on his side of the table as though time had suddenly nudged him in the ribs, “I suppose we’d best be stirring, or we’ll none of us be up in time to get the work done tomorrow before Mass. Straight from a wake to a wedding, as the saying goes! Let’s hope the weather still holds.” And he rose, thrusting back his end of the bench, and stood stretching his thick, long limbs.

“It will,” said Aldwin confidently, recovering from his wary stillness with a great intake of breath. “The saint had the sun shine on her procession when they brought her here from Saint Giles, while it rained all around. She won’t fail us tomorrow.” And he, too, rose, with every appearance of relief. Plainly the convivial evening was over, and two, at least, were glad of it.

Elave sat still until they were gone, with loud and overamiable good-nights, about their last tasks before bed. The house had fallen silent. Margaret was sitting in the kitchen, going over the day’s events for flaws and compensations with the neighbor who came in to help her on such special occasions. Fortunata had not moved or spoken. Elave turned to face her, doubtfully eyeing her stillness, and the intent gravity of her face. Silence and solemnity seemed alien in her, and perhaps really were, but when they took possession of her they were entire and impressive.

“You are so quiet,” said Elave doubtfully. “Have I offended you in anything I’ve said? I know I’ve talked too much, and too presumptuously.”

“No,” she said, her voice measured and low, “nothing has offended me. I never thought about such things before, that’s all. I was too young, when you went away, for William ever to talk so to me. He was very good to me, and I’m glad you spoke up boldly for him. So would I have done.”

But she had no more to say, not then. Whatever she was thinking now about such things she was not yet ready to say, and perhaps by tomorrow she would have abandoned the consideration of what was difficult even for the world’s philosophers and theologians, and would come down with Margaret and Jevan to Saint Winifred’s festival content to enjoy the music and excitement and worship without questioning, to listen and say Amen.

She went out with him across the yard and through the entry into the street when he left, and gave him her hand at parting, still in a silence that was composed and withdrawn.

“I shall see you at church tomorrow?” said Elave, belatedly afraid that he had indeed alienated her, for she confronted him with so wide and thoughtful a stare of her unwavering hazel eyes that he could not even guess at what went on in the mind behind them.

“Yes,” said Fortunata simply, “I shall be there.” And she smiled, briefly and abstractedly, withdrew her hand gently from his, and turned back to return to the house, leaving him to walk back through the town to the bridge still unhappily in doubt whether he had not talked a great deal too much and too rashly, and injured himself in her eyes.

The sun duly shone for Saint Winifred on her festival day, as it had on the day of her first coming to the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The gardens overflowed with blossom, the eager pilgrims housed by Brother Denis put on their best and came forth like so many more gaily colored flowers, the burgesses of Shrewsbury flocked down from the town, and the parishioners of Holy Cross in from the Foregate and the scattered villages of Father Boniface’s extensive parish. The new priest had only recently been inducted after a lengthy interregnum, and his flock were still carefully taking his measure, after their unhappy experience with the late Father Ailnoth. But first reactions were entirely favorable. Cynric the verger acted as a kind of touchstone for Foregate opinion. His views, so seldom expressed in words, but so easy for the simple and direct to interpret by intuition, would be accepted without question by most of those who worshipped at Holy Cross, and it was already clear to the children, Cynric’s closest cronies in spite of his taciturnity, that their long, bony, silent friend liked and approved of Father Boniface. That was enough for them. They approached their new priest with candor and confidence, secure in Cynric’s recommendation.

Boniface was young, not much past thirty, of unassuming appearance and modest bearing, no scholar like his predecessor, but earnestly cheerful about his duties. The deference he showed to his monastic neighbors disposed even Prior Robert to approve of him, though with some condescension in view of the young man’s humble birth and scanty Latin. Abbot Radulfus, conscious of one disastrous mistake in the previous appointment, had taken his time over this one, and studied the candidates with care. Did the Foregate really need a learned theologian? Craftsmen, small merchants, husbandmen, cottars, and hardworking villeins from the villages and manors, they were better off with one of their own kind, aware of their needs and troubles, not stooping to them but climbing laboriously with them, elbow-to-elbow. It seemed that Father Boniface had energy and determination for the climb, force enough to urge a few others upward with him, and the stubborn loyalty not to leave them behind if they tired. In Latin or in the vernacular, that was language the people could understand.

This was a day on which secular and monastic clergy united to do honor to their saint, and chapter was postponed until after High Mass, when the church was open to all the pilgrims who wished to bring their private petitions to her altar, to touch her silver reliquary and offer prayers and gifts in the hope of engaging her gentle attention and benevolence for their illnesses, burdens, and anxieties. All day long they would be coming and going, kneeling and rising in the pale, resplendent light of the scented candles Brother Rhun made in her honor. Ever since she had visited Rhun, himself a pilgrim, with her secret counsel, and lifted him out of lameness in her arms, to the bodily perfection of his present radiance, Rhun had made himself her page and squire, and his beauty reflected and testified to hers. For everyone knew that Winifred had been, as her legend said, the fairest maiden in the world in her day.

Everything, in fact, seemed to Brother Cadfael to be working together in perfect accord to make this what it should be, a day of supreme content, without blemish. He went to his stall in the chapter house well satisfied with the world in general, and composed himself to sit through the day’s business, even the most uninteresting details, with commendable attention. Some of the obedientiaries could be tedious enough on their own subjects to send a tired man to sleep, but today he was determined to extend virtuous tolerance even to the dullest of them.

Even to Canon Gerbert, he resolved, watching that superb cleric sail into the chapter house and appropriate the stall beside the abbot, he would attribute only the most sanctified of motives, whatever fault the visitor might find with the discipline here, and however supercilious his behavior towards Abbot Radulfus. Today nothing must ruffle the summer tranquillity.

Into this admirable mood a sudden disagreeable wind blew, driven before the billowing skirts of Prior Robert’s habit as he strode in with aristocratic nose aloft and nostrils distended, as though someone had thrust an evil-smelling obscenity under them. Such sweeping speed in one so dedicated to preserving his own dignity sent an ominous shiver along the ranks of the brothers, all the more as Brother Jerome was disclosed scuttling in the prior’s shadow. His narrow, pallid face proclaimed an excitement half horrified, half gratified.

“Father Abbot,” exclaimed Robert, trumpeting outrage loud and clear, “I have a most grave matter to bring before you. Brother Jerome here brought it to my notice, as I must in conscience bring it to yours. There is one waiting outside who has brought a terrible charge against William of Lythwood’s apprentice, Elave. You recall how suspect the master’s faith was once shown to be; now it seems the servant may outdo the master. One of the same household bears witness that last night, before other witnesses also, this man gave voice to views utterly opposed to the Church’s teaching. Girard of Lythwood’s clerk, Aldwin, denounces Elave for abominable heresies, and stands ready to maintain the charge against him before this assembly, as is his bounden duty.”

Chapter Five

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It was said, and could not be unsaid. The word, once launched, has a deadly permanence. This word brought with it a total stillness and silence, as though a killing frost had settled on the chapter house. The paralysis lasted for some moments before even the eyes moved, swerving from the righteous indignation of the prior’s countenance to glide sidelong over Brother Jerome and peer through the open doorway in search of the accuser, who had not yet shown himself, but waited humbly somewhere out of sight.

Cadfael’s first thought was that this was no more than another of Jerome’s acidities, impulsive, ill-founded, and certain to be refuted as soon as enquiry was made. Most of Jerome’s mountains turned out molehills on examination. Then he looked round to read Canon Gerbert’s austere face, and knew that this was a far graver matter, and could not be lightly set aside. Even if the archbishop’s envoy had not been present to hear, Abbot Radulfus himself could not have ignored such a charge. He could bring reason to bear on the proceedings that must follow, but he could not halt them.

Gerbert would clench his teeth into any such deviation, that much was certain from the set of his lips and the wide, predatory stare of his eyes, but at least he had the courtesy to leave the first initiative here to the abbot.

“I trust,” said Radulfus, in the dry, deliberate voice that indicated his controlled displeasure, “that you have satisfied yourself, Robert, that this accusation is seriously meant, and not a gesture of personal animosity? It might be well, before we proceed further, to warn the accuser of the gravity of what he is doing. If he speaks out of some private spite, he should be given the opportunity to think better of his own position, and withdraw the charge. Men are fallible, and may say on impulse things quickly regretted.”

“I have so warned him,” said the prior firmly. “He answers that there are two others who heard what he heard, and can bear witness as he can. This does not rest simply on a dispute between two men. Also, as you know, Father, this Elave returned here only a few days ago; the clerk Aldwin can have no grudge against him, surely, in so short a time.”

“And this is the same who brought home his master’s body,” Canon Gerbert cut in sharply, “and showed even then, I must say, certain rebellious and most questionable tendencies. This charge must not pass as leniently as the lingering suspicions against the dead man.”

“The charge has been made, and apparently is persisted in,” agreed Radulfus coldly. “It must certainly be brought to question, but not here, not now. This is a matter for the seniors only, not for novices and the younger brothers among us. Am I to understand, Robert, that the accused man as yet knows nothing of what is charged against him?”

“No, Father, not from me, and certainly not from the man Aldwin, who came secretly to Brother Jerome to tell what he had heard.”

“The young man is a guest in our house,” said the abbot. “He has a right to know what is said of him, and to answer it fully. And the other two witnesses of whom the accuser speaks, who are they?”

“They belong to the same household, and were present in the hall when these things were spoken. The girl Fortunata is a foster child to Girard of Lythwood, and Conan is his head shepherd.”

“They are both still here within the enclave,” put in Brother Jerome, eagerly helpful. “They attended Mass, and are still in the church.”

“This matter should be dealt with at once,” urged Canon Gerbert, stiff with zeal. “Delay can only dim the memories of the witnesses, and give the offender time to consider his interests and run from trial. It is for you to direct, Father Abbot, but I would recommend you to do so immediately, boldly, while you have all these people here within your gates. Dismiss your novices now, and send word and summon those witnesses and the man accused. And I would give orders to the porters to see that the accused does not pass through the gates.”

Canon Gerbert was accustomed to instant compliance with even his suggestions, let alone his orders, however obliquely expressed, but in his own house Abbot Radulfus went his own way.

“I would remind this chapter,” he said shortly, “that while we of the order certainly have a duty to serve and defend the faith, every man has also his parish priest, and every parish priest has his bishop. We have here with us the representative of Bishop de Clinton, in whose diocese of Lichfield and Coventry we dwell, and in whose cure accused, accuser, and witnesses rest.” Serlo was certainly present, but had said not a word until now. In Gerbert’s presence he went in awe and silence. “I am sure,” said Radulfus with emphasis, “that he will hold, as I do, that though we may be justified in making a first enquiry into the charge made, we cannot proceed further without referring the case to the bishop, within whose discipline it falls. If we find upon examination that the charge is groundless, that can be the end of the matter. If we feel there is need to proceed further with it, then it must be referred to the man’s own bishop, who has the right to deal with it by whatever tribunal he sees fit to appoint.”

“That is truth,” said Serlo gallantly, thus encouraged to follow where he might have hesitated to lead. “My bishop would certainly wish to exercise his writ in such a case.”

A judgment of Solomon, thought Cadfael, well content with his abbot. Roger de Clinton will be no better pleased to have another cleric usurping his authority in his diocese than Radulfus is to see any man, were it the archbishop himself, leave alone his envoy, twitching the reins away from him here. And young Elave will probably have good reason to be glad of it before all’s done. Now, how did he come to let down his guard so rashly with witnesses by, after one fright already past?

“I would not for the world trespass upon the ground of Bishop de Clinton,” said Gerbert, hastily jealous for his own good repute, but not sounding at all pleased about it. “Certainly he must be informed if this matter proves to be of true substance. But it is we who are faced with the need to probe the facts, while memories are fresh, and put on record what we discover. No time should be lost. Father Abbot, in my view we should hold a hearing now, at once.”

“I am inclined to the same opinion,” said the abbot drily. “In the event of the charge turning out to be malicious or trivial, or untrue, or simply mistaken, it need then go no further, and the bishop will be spared a grief and an aggravation, no less than the waste of his time. I think we are competent to probe out the difference between harmless speculation and willful perversion.”

It seemed to Cadfael that that indicated pretty clearly the abbot’s view of the whole unfortunate affair, and though Canon Gerbert had opened his mouth, most probably to proclaim that even speculation among the laity was itself harm enough, he thought better of it, and clenched his teeth again grimly on the undoubted reserve he felt about the abbot’s attitude, character, and fitness for his office. Men of the cloth are as liable to instant antipathies as are ordinary folk, and these two were as far apart as east from west.

“Very well,” said Radulfus, running a long, commanding glance round the assembly, “let us proceed. This chapter is suspended. We will summon it again when time permits. Brother Richard and Brother Anselm, will you see all the juniors set to useful service, and then seek out those three people named? The young woman Fortunata, the shepherd Conan, and the accused man. Bring them here, and say nothing as to the cause until they come before us. The accuser, I take it,” he said, turning upon Jerome, “is already here without.”

Jerome had lingered in the shadow of the prior’s skirts all this time, sure of his righteousness but not quite sure of the abbot’s recognition of it. This was the first encouragement he had received, or so he read it, and visibly brightened.

“He is, Father. Shall I bring him in?”

“No,” said the abbot, “not until the accused is here to confront him. Let him say what he has to say face-to-face with the man he denounces.”

Elave and Fortunata entered the chapter house together, open of face, puzzled and curious at being summoned thus, but plainly innocent of all foreboding. Whatever had been said unwisely at last night’s gathering, whatever she was expected to confirm against the speaker, it was perfectly clear to Cadfael that the girl had no reservations about her companion; indeed the very fact that they came in together, and had obviously been found together when the summons was delivered, spoke for itself. The expectancy in their faces was wondering but unthreatened, and Aldwin’s accusation, when it was uttered, would come as a shattering blow not to the young man only, but to the girl as well. Gerbert would certainly have one reluctant witness, if not a hostile one, Cadfael reflected, conscious of his own heart’s alerted and partisan sympathy. Conscious, too, that Abbot Radulfus had noted, as he had, the significance of their trusting entrance, and the wondering look they exchanged, smiling, before they made their reverence to the array of prelates and monastics before them, and waited to be enlightened.

“You sent for us, Father Abbot,” said Elave, since no one else broke the silence. “We are here.”

The “we” says it all, thought Cadfael. If she had any doubts of him last night, she has forgotten them this morning, or thought them over and rejected them. And that is valid evidence, too, whatever she may be forced to say later.

“I sent for you, Elave,” said the abbot with deliberation, “to help us in a certain matter which has arisen here this morning. Wait but a moment, there is one more has been summoned to attend.”

He came in at that moment, circumspectly and in some awe of the tribunal before him, but not, Cadfael thought, ignorant of its purpose. There was no open-eyed but unintimidated wonder in Conan’s weathered, wary, rosily comely face, and he kept his eyes respectfully upon the abbot, and never cast a glance aside at Elave. He knew what was in the wind; he came prepared for it. And this one, if he discreetly showed no eagerness, displayed no reluctance, either.

“My lord, they told me Conan is wanted here. That’s my name.”

“Are we now ready to proceed?” demanded Canon Gerbert impatiently, stirring irritably in his stall.

“We are,” said Radulfus. “Well, Jerome, bring in the man Aldwin. And Elave, stand forward in the center. This man has somewhat to say of you that should be said only in your presence.”

The name alone had jolted both Fortunata and Elave, even before Aldwin showed his face in the doorway, and came in with a resolution and belligerence that were not native to him, and probably cost him an effort to maintain. His long face was set in lines of arduous determination, a man naturally resigned and timorous bent on going through with an enterprise that called for courage. He took his stand almost within arm’s length of Elave, and jutted an aggressive jaw at the young man’s shocked stare, but there were drops of sweat on his own balding forehead. He spread his feet to take firm grip on the stones of the floor, and stared back at Elave without blinking. Elave had already begun to understand. By her bewildered face Fortunata had not. She drew back a pace or two, looking searchingly from one man’s face to the other, her lips parted on quickened breath.

“This man,” said the abbot evenly, “has made certain charges against you, Elave. He says that last night, in his master’s house, you gave voice to views on matters of religion that run counter to the teachings of the Church, and bring you into grave danger of heresy. He cites these witnesses present in support of what he urges against you. How do you say, was there indeed such talk between you? You were there to speak, and they to hear?”

“Father,” said Elave, grown very pale and quiet, “I was there in the house. I did have speech with them. The talk did turn on matters of faith. We had only yesterday buried a good master; it was natural we should give thought to his soul and our own.”

“And do you yourself, in good conscience, believe that you said nothing that could run counter to true belief?” asked Radulfus mildly.

“To the best that I know and understand, Father, I never did.”

“You, fellow, Aldwin,” ordered Canon Gerbert, leaning forward in his stall, “repeat those things of which you complained to Brother Jerome. Let us hear them all, and in the words you heard spoken, so far as you can recall them. Change nothing!”

“My lords, as we sat together, we were speaking of William who was newly buried, and Conan asked if William had ever taken Elave with him down the same road that got him into straits with the priest, those years ago. And Elave said William never made any secret of what he thought, and on his travels no one ever found fault with him for thinking about such matters. What are wits for, he said, unless a man uses them? And we said that it was presumption in us simple folk, that we should listen and say Amen to what the Church tells us, for in that field the priests have authority over us.”

“A very proper saying,” said Gerbert roundly. “And how did he reply?”

“Sir, he said how could a man say Amen to damning a child unchristened to hell? The worst of men, he said, could not cast an infant into the fire, so how could God, being goodness itself, do so? It would be against God’s very nature, he said.”

“That is to argue,” said Gerbert, “that infant baptism is unneeded, and of no virtue. There can be no other logical end of such reasoning. If they are in no need of redemption by baptism, to be spared inevitable reprobation, then the sacrament is brought into contempt.”

“Did you say the words Aldwin reports of you?” asked Radulfus quietly, his eyes on Elave’s roused and indignant face.

“Father, I did. I do not believe such innocent children, just because baptism does not reach them in time before they die, can possibly fall through God’s hands. Surely his hold is more secure than that.”

“You persist in a deadly error,” insisted Gerbert. “It is as I have said, such a belief casts out and debases the sacrament of baptism, which is the only deliverance from mortal sin. If one sacrament is brought into derision, then all are denied. On this count alone you stand in danger of judgment.”

“Sir,” Aldwin took him up eagerly, “he said also that he did not believe in the need because he did not believe that children are born into the world rotten with sin. How could that be, he said, of a little thing newly come into being, helpless to do anything of itself, good or evil. Is not that indeed to make an empty mockery of baptism? And we said that we are taught and must believe that even the babes yet unborn are rotten with the sin of Adam, and fallen with him. But he said no, it is only his own deeds, bad and good, that a man must answer for in the judgment, and his own deeds will save or damn him.”

“To deny original sin is to degrade every sacrament,” Gerbert repeated forcibly.

“No, I never thought of it so,” protested Elave hotly. “I did say a helpless newborn child cannot be a sinner. But surely baptism is to welcome him into the world and into the Church, and help him to keep his innocence. I never said it was useless or a light thing.”

“But you do deny original sin?” Gerbert pressed him hard.

“Yes,” said Elave after a long pause. “I do deny it.” His face had sharpened into icy whiteness, but his jaw was set and his eyes had begun to burn with a deep, still anger.

Abbot Radulfus eyed him steadily and asked in a mild and reasonable voice: “What, then, do you believe to be the state of the child on entering this world? A child the son of Adam, as are we all.”

Elave looked back at him as gravely, arrested by the serenity of the voice that questioned him. “His state is the same,” he said slowly, “as the state of Adam before his fall. For even Adam had his innocence once.”

“So others before you have argued,” said Radulfus, “and have not inevitably been called heretical. Much has been written on the subject, in good faith and in deep concern for the good of the Church. Is this the worst you have to urge, Aldwin, against this man?”

“No, Father,” Aldwin said in haste, “there is more. He said it is a man’s own acts that will save or damn him, but that he had not often met a man so bad as to make him believe in eternal damnation. And then he said that there was a father of the Church once, in Alexandria, who held that in the end everyone would find salvation, even the fallen angels, even the devil himself.”

In the shudder of unease that passed along the ranks of the brothers the abbot remarked simply: “So there was. His name was Origen. It was his theme that all things come from God, and will return to God. As I recall, it was an enemy of his who brought the devil into it, though I grant the implication is there. I gather that Elave merely cited what Origen is said to have written and believed. He did not say that he himself believed it? Well, Aldwin?”

Aldwin drew in his chin cautiously at that, and gave some thought to the possibility that he himself was edging his way through quicksands. “No, Father, that is true. He said only that there was a father of the Church who spoke so. But we said that was blasphemy, for the teaching of the Church is that salvation comes by the grace of God, and no other way, and a man’s works can avail him not at all. But then he said outright: I do not believe that!”

“Did you so?” asked Radulfus.

“I did.” Elave’s blood was up, the pallor of his face had burned into a sharp-edged brightness that was almost dazzling. Cadfael at once despaired of him and exulted in him. The abbot had done his best to temper all this fermenting doubt and malice and fear that had gathered in the chapter house like a bitter cloud, making it hard to breathe, and here was this stubborn creature accepting all challenges, and digging in his heels to resist even his friends. Now that he was embattled he would do battle. He would not give back one pace out of regard for his skin. “I did say so. I say it again. I said that we have the power in ourselves to make our own way towards salvation. I said we have free will to choose between right and wrong, to labor upward or to dive down and wallow in the muck, and at the last we must every one answer for our own acts in the judgment. I said if we are men, and not beasts, we ought to make our own way towards grace, not sit on our hams and wait for it to lift us up, unworthy.”

“By such arrogance,” trumpeted Canon Gerbert, offended as much by the flashing eyes and obdurate voice as by what was said, “by such pride as yours the rebel angels fell. So you would do without God, and repudiate his divine grace, the only means to salve your insolent soul—”

“You wrong me,” flashed back Elave. “I do not deny divine grace. The grace is in the gifts he has given us, from free will to choose good and refuse evil, and mount towards our own salvation, yes, and the strength to choose rightly. If we do our part, God will do the rest.”

Abbot Radulfus tapped sharply with his ring on the arm of his stall, and called the assembly to order with unshaken authority. “For my part,” he said as they quieted, “I find no fault with a man for holding that he can and should aspire to grace by right use of grace. But we are straying from what we are here to do. Let us by all means listen scrupulously to all that Elave is alleged to have said, and let him admit what he admits and deny what he denies of it, and let these witnesses confirm or refute. Have you yet more to add, Aldwin?”

By this time Aldwin had learned to be careful how he trod with the abbot, and add nothing to the bare words he had memorized overnight.

“Father, but one more thing. I said I had heard a preacher tell how Saint Augustine wrote that the number of the elect is already fixed and cannot be changed, and all the rest are doomed to reprobation. And he said that he did not believe it. And I could not keep from asking again, did he not believe even Saint Augustine? And he said again, no, he did not.”

“I said,” cried Elave hotly, “that I could not believe the roll was already made up, for why then should we even try to deal justly or pay God worship, or give any heed to the priests who urge us to keep from sin, and demand of us confession and penance if we trespass? To what end, if we are damned whatever we do? And when he asked again, did I not believe even Saint Augustine, I said that if he wrote that, no, I did not believe him. For I have no knowledge else that he ever did write such a thing.”

“Is that truth?” demanded Radulfus, before Gerbert could speak. “Aldwin, do you bear out those were the actual words spoken?”

“It may be so,” agreed Aldwin cautiously. “Yes, I think he did say if the saint had so written. I saw no difference there, but your lordships will better judge than I.”

“And that is all? You have nothing more to add?”

“No, Father, that’s all. After that we let him lie, we wanted no more of him.”

“You were wise,” said Canon Gerbert grimly. “Well, Father Abbot, can we now hear if the witnesses confirm all that has been said? It seems to me there is substance enough in what we have heard, if these two persons also can verify it.”

Conan gave his own account of the evening’s talk so fluently and willingly that Cadfael could not resist the feeling that he had learned his speech by heart, and the impression of a small conspiracy emerged, for Cadfael at least, so clearly that he wondered it was not obvious to all. To the abbot, he thought, studying the controlled, ascetic face, it almost certainly was, and yet even if these two had connived for their own ends, yet the fact remained that these things had been said, and Elave, even if he corrected or enlarged here and there, did not deny them. How had they contrived to get him to talk so openly? And more important still, how had they ensured that the girl should also be present? For it became increasingly plain that on her evidence everything depended. The more Abbot Radulfus might suspect Aldwin and Conan of malice against Elave, the more important was what Fortunata might have to say about it.

She had listened intently to all that passed. Belated understanding had paled her oval face and dilated her eyes into glittering green anxiety, flashing from face to face as question and answer flew and the tension in the chapter house mounted. When the abbot turned to look at her she stiffened, and the set of her lips tightened nervously.

“And you, child? You also were present and heard what passed?”

She said carefully: “I was not present throughout. I was helping my mother in the kitchen when these three were left together.”

“But you joined them later,” said Gerbert. “At what stage? Did you hear him say that infant baptism was needless and useless?”

At that she spoke up boldly: “No, sir, for he never did say that.”

“Oh, if you stick upon the wording… Did you hear him say, then, that he did not believe unbaptized children suffered damnation? For that leads to the same end.”

“No,” said Fortunata. “He never did say what his own belief was in that matter. He was speaking of his master, who is dead. He said that William used to say not even the worst of men could throw a child into the fire, so how could God do so? When he said this,” said Fortunata firmly, “he was telling us what William had said, not what he himself thought.”

“That is true, but only half the truth,” cried Aldwin, “for the next moment I asked him plainly: Do you also hold that belief? And he said: Yes, I do say so.”

“Is that true, girl?” demanded Gerbert, turning upon Fortunata a black and threatening scowl. And when she faced him with eyes flashing but lips tight shut: “It seems to me that this witness has no devout wish to help us. We should have done better to take all testimony under oath, it seems. Let us at least make sure in this woman’s case.” He turned his forbidding gaze hard and long upon the obdurately silent girl. “Woman, do you know in what suspicion you place yourself if you do not speak truth? Father Prior, bring her a Bible. Let her swear upon the Gospels and imperil her soul if she lies.”

Fortunata laid her hand upon the proffered book which Prior Robert solemnly opened before her, and took the oath in a voice so low as to be barely audible. Elave had opened his mouth and taken a step towards her in helpless anger at the aspersion cast upon her, but stopped himself as quickly and stood mute, his teeth clenched upon his rage, and his face soured with the bitter taste of it.

“Now,” said the abbot, with such quiet but formidable authority that even Gerbert made no further attempt to wrest the initiative from him, “let us leave questioning until you have told us yourself, without haste or fear, all you recall of what went on in that meeting. Speak freely, and I believe we shall hear truth.”

She took heart and drew steady breath, and told it carefully, as best she remembered it. Once or twice she hesitated, sorely tempted to omit or explain, but Cadfael noticed how her left hand clasped and wrung the right hand that had been laid upon the open Gospel, as though it burned, and impelled her past the momentary silence.

“With your leave, Father Abbot,” said Gerbert grimly when she ended, “when you have put such questions as you see fit to this witness, I have three to put to her, and they encompass the heart of the matter. But first do you proceed.”

“I have no questions,” said Radulfus. “The lady has given us her full account on oath, and I accept it. Ask what you have to ask.”

“First,” said Gerbert, leaning forward in his stall with thick brown brows drawn down over his sharp, intimidating stare, “did you hear the accused say, when asked point-blank if he agreed with his master in denying that unbaptized children were doomed to reprobation, that yes, he did so agree?”

She turned her head aside for an instant, and wrung at her hand for reminder, and in a very low voice she said: “Yes, I heard him say so.”

“That is to repudiate the sacrament of baptism. Second, did you hear him deny that all the children of men are rotten with the sin of Adam? Did you hear him say that only a man’s own deeds will save or damn him?”

With a flash of spirit she said, louder than before: “Yes, but he was not denying grace. The grace is in the gift of choice—”

Gerbert cut her off there with uplifted hand and flashing eyes. “He said it. That is enough. It is the claim that grace is unneeded, that salvation is in a man’s own hands. Thirdly, did you hear him say, and repeat, that he did not believe what Saint Augustine wrote of the elect and the rejected?”

“Yes,” she said, this time slowly and carefully, “If the saint so wrote, he said, he did not believe him. No one has ever told me, and I cannot read or write, beyond my name and some small things. Did Saint Augustine say what the preacher reported of him?”

“That is enough!” snapped Gerbert. “This girl bears out all that has been charged against the accused. The proceedings are in your hands.”

“It is my judgment,” said Radulfus, “that we should adjourn, and deliberate in private. The witnesses are dismissed. Go home, daughter, and be assured you have told truth, and need trouble not at all what follows, for the truth cannot but be good. Go, all of you, but hold yourselves ready should you be needed again and recalled. And you, Elave…” He sat studying the young man’s face, which was raised to him pale, resolute, and irate, with set mouth and wide and brilliant eyes, still burning for Fortunata’s distress. “You are a guest in our house. I have seen no cause why any man of us should not take your word.” He was aware of Gerbert stiffening with disapproval beside him, but swept on with raised voice, overriding protest. “If you promise not to leave here until this matter is resolved, then you are free in the meantime to go back and forth here as you will.”

For a moment Elave’s attention wavered. Fortunata had turned in the doorway to look back, then she was gone. Conan and Aldwin had left hastily on their dismissal, and vanished before her, eager to escape while their case was surely safe in the hands of the visiting prelate, whose nose for unorthodoxy was shown to be so keen and his zeal so relentless. Accuser and witnesses were gone. Elave returned his obdurate but respectful gaze to the abbot, and said with deliberation: “My lord, I have no mind to leave my lodging here in your house until I can do so free and vindicated. I give you my word on that.”

“Go, then, until I ask your attendance again. And now,” said Radulfus, rising, “this session is adjourned. Go to your duties, everyone, and bear in mind we are still in a day dedicated to the remembrance of Saint Winifred, and the saints also bear witness to all that we do, and will testify accordingly.”

“I understand you very well,” said Canon Gerbert, when he was alone with Radulfus in the abbot’s parlor. Closeted thus in private with his peer, he sat relaxed, even weary, all his censorious zeal shed, a fallible man and anxious for his faith. “Here retired from the world, or at the worst concerned largely with the region and the people close about you, you have not seen the danger of false belief. And I grant you it has not yet cast a shadow in this land, and I pray our people may be sturdy enough to resist all such devious temptations. But it comes, Father Abbot, it comes! From the east the serpents of undoing are working their way westward, and of all travelers from the east I go in dread that they may bring back with them bad seed, perhaps even unwittingly, to take root and grow even here. There are malignant wandering preachers active even now in Flanders, in France, on the Rhine, in Lombardy, who cry out against Holy Church and her priesthood, that we are corrupt and greedy, that the Apostles lived simply, in holy poverty. In Antwerp a certain Tachelm has drawn deluded thousands after him to raid churches and tear down their ornaments. In France, in Rouen itself, yet another such goes about preaching poverty and humility and demanding reform. I have traveled in the south on my archbishop’s errands, and seen how error grows and spreads like a heath fire. These are not a few sick in mind and harmless. In Provence, in Languedoc, there are regions where a fashion of Manichean heresy has grown so strong it is become almost a rival church. Do you wonder that I dread even the first weak spark that may start such a blaze?”

“No,” said Radulfus, “I do not wonder. We should never relax our guard. But also we must see every man clearly, with his words and his deeds upon him, and not hasten to cover him from sight with this universal cloak of heresy. Once the word is spoken the man himself may become invisible. And therefore expendable! Here is certainly no wandering preacher, no inflamer of crowds, no ambitious madman whipping up a following for his own gain. The boy spoke of a master he had valued and served, and therefore tended to speak in praise of him, in defense of his bold doubts, the more loyally and fiercely if his companions raised their voices against him. He had probably drunk enough to loosen his tongue, besides. He may well have said, and repeated to us, more than he truly means, to the aggravation of his cause. Shall we do the same?”

“No,” said Gerbert heavily, “I would not wish that. And I do see him clearly. You say rightly, here is no wild man bent on mischief, but a sound, hardworking fellow, profitable to his master and I doubt not honest and well meaning with his neighbors. Do you not see how much more dangerous that makes him? To hear false doctrine from one himself plainly false and vile is no temptation at all; to hear it from one fair of countenance and reputation, speaking it with his heart’s conviction, that can be deadly seduction. It is why I fear him.”

“It is why one century’s saint is the next century’s heretic,” the abbot replied drily, “and one century’s heretic the next century’s saint. It is as well to think long and calmly before affixing either name to any man.”

“That is to neglect a duty we cannot evade,” said Gerbert, again bristling. “The peril which is here and now must be dealt with here and now, or the battle is lost, for the seed will have fallen and rooted.”

“Then at least we may know the wheat from the tares. And bear in mind,” said Radulfus gravely, “that where error is sincere and bred out of misguided goodness, the blemish may be healed by reason and persuasion.”

“Or failing that,” said Gerbert with inflexible resolution, “by lopping off the diseased member.”

Chapter Six

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Elave passed through the gates unchallenged, and turned towards the town. Evidently the porter had not yet got word of the alarm raised against this one ordinary mortal among the abbey guests, or else he had already received the abbot’s fiat that the accused’s parole was given and accepted, and he was free to go and come as he pleased, provided he did not collect his belongings and take to his heels altogether, for no attempt was made to bar his way. The brother on the gate even gave him a cheerful good-day as he passed.

Out in the Foregate he paused to look both ways along the highroad, but all the witnesses against him had vanished from sight. He set off in haste towards the bridge and the town, certain that Fortunata in her distress would make straight for home. She had left the chapter house before he had given his word he had no intention of departing unvindicated. She might well think him already a prisoner, might even blame herself for his plight. He had seen how reluctantly she had borne true witness against him, and at this moment it grieved him more that she should grieve than that his own liberty and life should be in danger. In that danger he found it hard to believe; therefore it was easy to bear. Her evident agitation he believed in utterly, and it caused him deep and compelling pain. He had to speak to her, to reassure her she had done him no wrong in the world, that this commotion would pass, that the abbot was a reasonable man, and the other one, the one who wanted blood, would soon be gone and leave the judgment to saner judges. And more beyond that, that he had understood how valiantly she had striven to defend him, that he was grateful for it, perhaps even hoping in his heart to find in it a deeper meaning than sympathy, and more intimate than concern for justice. Though he must guard his tongue from saying too much, as long as even the shadow of reprobation hung over him.

He had reached the end of the enclave wall, where the ground on his left opened out over the silvery oval of the mill pool, and on the right of the road the houses of the Foregate gave way to a grove of trees that stretched as far as the approaches to the bridge over the Severn. And there she was before him, unmistakable in her bearing and gait, hastening along the dusty highway with an impetuosity that suggested angry resolution rather than consternation and dismay. He broke into a run, and overtook her in the shadow of the trees. At the sound of his racing feet she had swung round to face him, and at sight of him, without a word said beyond his breathless “Mistress…!” she caught him hastily by the hand and drew him well aside into the grove, out of sight from the road.

“What is this? Have they freed you? Is it over?” She raised to him a face glowing and intent with unmistakable joy, but still holding it in check for fear of a fall as sudden as her elation.

“No, not yet. No, there’ll be more debate yet before I’m quit of all this. But I had to speak to you, to thank you for what you did for me—”

Thank me!” she said in a soft, incredulous cry. “For digging the pit a little deeper under you? I burn with shame that I had not even the courage to lie!”

“No, no, you mustn’t think so! You did me no wrong at all, you did everything you could to help me. Why should you be forced to lie? In any case, you could not do it, it is not in you. Nor will I lie,” said Elave fiercely, “nor give back from what I believe. What I came to say is that you must not fret for me, nor ever for a moment think that I have anything but gratitude and reverence for you. You stood my friend the only way I would have you stand my friend.”

He had not even realized that he was holding both her hands, clasped close against his breast, so that they stood heart-to-heart, the rhythm of matched heartbeats and quickened breathing shaking them both. Her face, raised to his, was intent and fierce, her hazel eyes dazzlingly wide and bright.

“If they have not freed you, how are you here? Do they know you are gone? Will they not be hunting for you if you’re missed?”

“Why should they? I’m free to go and come, as long as I remain a guest in the abbey until there’s a judgment. The abbot took my word I would not run.”

“But you must,” she said urgently. “I thank God that you ran after me like this, while there’s time. You must go, get away from here as far as you can. Into Wales would be best. Come with me now, quickly, I’ll get you to Jevan’s workshop beyond Frankwell, and hide you there until I can get you a horse.”

Elave was shaking his head vigorously before she had ended her plea. “No, I will not run! I gave the abbot my word, but even if he had never asked it or I given it, I would not run. I will not bow to such superstitious foolishness. It would be to encourage the madmen, and put other souls in worse danger than mine. This I don’t believe can come to anything perilous, if I stand my ground. We have not yet come to that extreme of folly, that a man can be hounded for thinking about holy things. You’ll see, the storm will all pass over.”

“No,” she insisted, “not so easily. Things are changing, did you not smell the smoke of it even there in the chapter house? I foresee it, if you do not. I was hurrying back now to talk to Jevan, to see what more can be brought to bear, to deliver you away out of danger. You brought me something of my own, it must have value. I want to use it to have you away and safe. What better use could I make of it?”

“No!” he said in sharp protest. “I will not have it! I am not going to run, I refuse to run. And that, whatever it may be, is for you, for your marriage.”

“My marriage!” she said in a wondering voice, very low, and opened wide at him the greenish fire of her eyes, as though the thought was new to her and very strange.

“Never trouble for me, in the end it will all be well. I am going back now,” said Elave firmly, too dazzled to be observant. “Never fear, I’ll take good care how I speak, how I carry myself, but I will not deny what I believe, or say aye to what I do not believe. And I will not run. From what? I have no guilt from which to run.”

He loosed her hands with a gesture almost rough, because at the end it seemed such a hard thing to do. He was turning away through the trees when he looked back, and she had not moved. Her eyes were on him, fixed thoughtfully, almost severely, and her lower lip was caught between even teeth.

“There is another reason,” he said, “why I will not go. Alone it would be enough to hold me. To run now would be to leave you.”

“And do you think,” said Fortunata, “that I would not follow and find you?”

She heard the several voices before she entered the hall, voices raised not so much in anger or argument as in bewilderment and consternation. Either Conan or Aldwin had thought it wise to acquaint the household with the morning’s sensational turn of events at once on arrival home, no doubt to put the best aspect on what they had done. She had no doubt that they were in collusion in the matter, but whatever their motives, they would not want to appear simply as squalid informers. A gloss of genuine religious revulsion and sense of duty would have to gloze over the malice entailed.

They were all there, Margaret, Jevan, Conan, and Aldwin, gathered in an agitated group, baffled question and oblique answer flying at the same time, Conan standing back to be the innocent bystander caught up in someone else’s quarrel, Aldwin bleating aloud as Fortunata entered: “How could I know? I was worried that such things should be said, I feared for my own soul if I hid them. All I did was tell Brother Jerome what was troubling me—”

“And he told Prior Robert,” cried Fortunata from the doorway, “and Prior Robert told everyone, especially that great man from Canterbury, as you knew very well he would. How can you pretend you never meant Elave harm? Once you launched it, you knew where it would end.”

They had all swung about to face her, startled by her anger rather than by the suddenness of her entry.

“No!” protested Aldwin, recovering his breath. “No, I swear I only thought the prior might speak to him, warn him, turn him to better counsel…”

“And therefore,” she said sharply, “you told him who had been present to hear. Why do that unless you meant it to go further? Why force me into your plans? That I shall never forgive you!”

“Wait, wait, wait!” cried Jevan, throwing up his hands. “Are you telling me, chick, that you were called to witness? In God’s name, man, what possessed you? How dared you bring our girl into such a business?”

“It was not I who wanted that,” protested Aldwin. “Brother Jerome got it out of me who was there. I never meant to bring her into the tangle. But I am a son of the Church. I needed to slough the load from my conscience, but then it got out of hand.”

“I never knew you all that constant in observance,” said Jevan ruefully. “You could as well have refused to name any names but your own. Well, what’s done is done. Is it over even now? Need we expect her to be called to more enquiries, more interrogations? Is it to drag on to exhaustion, now it’s begun?”

“It isn’t over,” said Fortunata. “They have not pronounced any judgment, but they won’t let go so easily. Elave is pledged not to go away until he’s freed of the charge. I know it because I have just left him, among the trees close by the bridge, and he’s on his way back now to the abbey to stand his ground. I wanted him to run, I begged him to run, but he refuses. See what you’ve done, Aldwin, to a poor young man who never did you any harm, who has no family or patron now, no safe home and secure living, as you have. Here are you provided for life, without a care for your old age, and he has to find work again wherever he can, and now you have put a shadow upon him that will cling round him whatever the judgment, and turn men away from employing him for fear of being thought suspect by contagion. Why did you do it? Why?”

Aldwin had been gradually recovering his composure since the shock of her entrance had upset it, but now it seemed he had lost it altogether, and his wits with it. He stood gaping at her mutely, and from her to Jevan. Twice he swallowed hard before he could find a word to say, and even then he brought out the words with infinite caution, disbelieving.

“Provided for life?”

“You know you are,” she said impatiently, and herself was struck mute the next moment, suddenly sensible that for Aldwin nothing had ever been known beyond possibility of doubt. Every evil was to be expected, every good suspect and to be watched jealously, lest it evaporate as he breathed on it. “Oh, no!” she said on a despairing breath. “Was that it? Did you think he was come to turn you out and take your place? Was that why you wanted rid of him?”

“What?” cried Jevan. “Is the girl right, man? Did you suppose you were to be thrown out on the roads to make way for him to get his old place back again? After all the years you’ve lived here and worked for us? Did this house ever treat any of its people so? You know better than that!”

But that was Aldwin’s trouble, that he valued himself so low he expected as low a regard from everyone else, even after years, and the respect and consideration the house of Lythwood showed towards its other dependents could not, in his eyes, be relied on as applying equally to him. He stood dumbstruck, his mouth working silently.

“My dear soul!” said Margaret, grieving. “The thought never entered our heads to part with you. Certainly he was a good lad when we had him, but we wouldn’t have displaced you for the world. Why, the boy didn’t want it, either. I told him how it was, the first time he came back here, and he said surely, the place was yours, he never had the least wish to take it from you. Have you been fretting all this time over that? I thought you knew us better.”

“I’ve damaged him for no reason,” said Aldwin, as though to himself. “No reason at all!” And suddenly, with a convulsive movement that shook his aging body as a gale shakes a bush, he turned and blundered towards the doorway. Conan caught him by the arm and held him fast.

“Where are you going? What can you do? It’s done. You told no lies, what was said was said.”

“I’ll overtake him,” said Aldwin with unaccustomed resolution. “I’ll tell him I’m sorry for it. I’ll go with him to the monks, and see if I can undo what I’ve done—any part of what I’ve done. I’ll own why I did it. I’ll withdraw the charge I made.”

“Don’t be a fool!” urged Conan roughly. “What difference will that make? The charge is laid now; the priests won’t let it be dropped, not they. It’s no small matter to accuse a man of heresy and then go back on it; you’ll only end in as bad case as he. And they have my witness, and Fortunata’s; what use is it taking back yours? Let be, and show some sense!”

But Aldwin’s courage was up, and his conscience stricken too deeply for sense. He dragged himself free from the detaining hand. “I can but try! I will! That at least.” And he was out at the door, and halfway across the yard towards the street. Conan would have gone after him, but Jevan called him back sharply.

“Let him alone! At the very least, if he owns to his own fear and malice, he must surely shake the case against the lad. Words, words, I don’t doubt they were spoken, but words can be interpreted many ways, and even a small doubt cast can alter the image. You get back to work, and let the poor devil go and ease his mind the best way he can. If he falls foul of the priests, we’ll put in a word for him and get him out of it.”

Conan gave up reluctantly, shrugging off his misgivings about the whole affair. “Then I’d best get out to the folds until nightfall. God knows how he’ll fare, but by then, one way or another, I suppose we shall find out.” And he went out still shaking his head disapprovingly over Aldwin’s foolishness, and they heard his solid footsteps cross the yard to the passage into the street.

“What a coil!” said Jevan with a gusty sigh. “And I must be off, too, and fetch some more skins from the workshop. There’s a canon of Haughmond coming tomorrow, and I’ve no notion yet what size of book he has in mind. Don’t take things too much to heart, girl,” he said, and embraced Fortunata warmly in a long arm. “If it comes to the worst we’ll get the prior of Haughmond to say a word to Gerbert for any man of ours—one Augustinian must surely listen to another, and the prior owes me a favor or two.”

He released her and was off towards the door in his turn, when she demanded abruptly: “Uncle—does Elave count as a man of ours?”

Jevan swung about to stare at her, his thin black brows raised, and the dark, observant eyes beneath them flashed into the smile that came seldom but brilliantly, a little teasing, a little intimidating, but for her always reassuring. “If you want him,” he said, “he shall.”

Elave had gone but a few yards back towards the abbey gatehouse when he saw half a dozen men come boiling out of the open gate, and split two ways along the Foregate. The suddenness of the eruption and the distant clamor of their raised voices as they emerged and separated made him draw back hastily into the cover of the trees, to consider what this hubbub might have to do with him. They were certainly sent forth in a body, and carrying staves, which boded no good if they were indeed hunting for him. He worked his way cautiously along the grove to get a closer view, for they were sweeping the open road first before enlarging their field, and two were away on the run along the farther length of the enclave wall, to reach the corner and get a view along the next stretch of the road. Someone or something was certainly being hunted. Not by any of the brothers. Here were no black habits, but sober workaday homespun and hard-wearing leather, on sturdy laymen. Three of them he knew for the grooms attendant on Canon Gerbert, a fourth was his body servant, for Elave had seen the man about the guest hall, busy and pompous, jack in office by virtue of his master’s status. The others must surely have been recruited from among those pilgrims ablest in body and readiest for zealous mischief. It was not the abbot who had set the dogs on him, but Gerbert.

He drew back deeper into cover, and stood scowling at the intent hunters quartering the Foregate. He had no mind to show himself, however boldly, and risk being set upon and dragged back like a felon, when he had not, in his reading of his commitment, ever broken his parole. Maybe Canon Gerbert read the terms differently, and considered his going outside the gate, even without his gear, as proof of a guilty mind and instant flight. Well, he should not have the satisfaction of being able to sustain that view. Elave was going back through that gate on his own two feet, of his own obstinate will, true to his bond and staking his liberty and perhaps his life. The peril in which he could not bring himself to believe looked more real and sinister now.

They had left a single groom, the brawniest of Gerbert’s three, sentinel before the gatehouse, prowling up and down as though neither time nor force could shift him. Small hope of slipping past that great sinewy hulk! And a couple of the hounds, having beaten the road, the gardens, and the cottages along the Foregate for a hundred paces either way, were crossing the road purposefully towards the trees. Better remove himself from here to a safe distance until they either abandoned the hunt or pursued it into more remote coverts, and allowed him safe passage back into the fold. Elave drew off hastily through the trees, and followed their dwindling course northeastward until he came round into the orchards beyond the Gaye, and the belt of bushes that clothed the riverside. They were more likely to search for him westward. Along the border, English fugitives made for Wales, Welsh fugitives for England. The two laws balked and held off at the dyke, though trade crossed back and forth merrily enough.

There was still a matter of three hours or so before Vespers, when he could hope that everyone would be in church again, and he might be able to slip in either through the gatehouse, if the burly guard had departed, or into the church by the west door among the local parishioners. No point in going back, meantime, to risk running his head into a snare. He found himself a comfortable nest among the tall grass above the river, screened by bushes and islanded in a silence that would give him due warning of any foot rustling the grass or shoulders brushing through the branches of alder and willow for a hundred yards around, and sat thinking of Fortunata. He could not credit that he was in the kind of danger she envisaged, and yet he could not quite put the shadow away from him.

Across the swift and sinuous currents of the Severn, sparkling in sunlight, the hill of the town rose sharply, its long, enfolding wall terminating here opposite his hiding place in the thick sandstone towers of the castle, and giving place to the highroad launching away to the north from the Castle Foregate towards Whitchurch and Wem. And even now he could have forded the river only a little way downstream and made off at speed by that road, but he was damned if he would! He had committed no crime; he had said only what he held to be right, and there was nothing in it of blasphemy or disrespect to the Church, and he would not take back a word of it, or run away from his own utterances and afford his accusers a cheap triumph.

He had no way of knowing the time, but when he thought it must be drawing near to Vespers he left his nest, and made his way cautiously back by the same route, keeping in cover, until he could see between the trees the dusty whiteness of the road, the people passing along it, and the lively bustle about the gatehouse. He had a while to wait before the Vesper bell rang, and he spent it moving warily from one cover to another, to see whether any of his pursuers were to be noted among the people gathering outside the west door of the church. He recognized none, but in the constant movement it was difficult to be sure. The big man who had been left to guard the gate was nowhere within view. Elave’s best moment would come when the little bell was heard, and the gossips passing the time of day there in the early evening sunshine would gather and move into the church.

The moment was on him as fast as the thought. The bell chimed, and the worshippers gathered their families, saluted their friends, and began to move in by the west door. Elave darted out in time to mingle with them and hide himself in the middle of the procession, and there was no outcry, no rough hand grasping him by the shoulder. Now he had a choice between continuing left with the good people of the Foregate into the church, or slipping through the open gate of the enclave into the great court, and walking calmly across to the guest hall. If he had chosen the church all might have been well, but the temptation to walk openly into the court as from a respectable stroll was too much for him. He left the shelter of the worshippers, and turned in through the gate.

From the doorway of the porter’s lodge on his right a great howl of triumph soared, and was echoed from the road he had left behind. The canon’s giant groom had been talking with the porter, vengeance in ambush, and two of his colleagues were just coming back from a foray into the town All three of them fell upon the returning prodigal at once A heavy cudgel struck him on the back of the head, sending him staggering, and before he could regain his balance or his wits he was grappled in the big mans muscular arms, while one of the others caught him by the hair dragging his head back. He let out a yell of rage, and laid about him with fist and foot, heaving off his assailant from behind, wrenching one arm free from the big man’s embrace and lashing out heartily at his nose. A second blow on the head drove him to his knees, half stunned. Distantly he heard dismayed voices crying out at such violence on sacred ground, and sandaled feet running hastily over the cobbles. Lucky for him that the brothers were just gathering from their various occupations to the sound of the bell.

Brother Edmund from the infirmary, Brother Cadfael from the turn of the path into the garden, bore down on the unseemly struggle with habits flying.

“Stop that! Stop at once!” cried Edmund, scandalized at the profanation, and waving agitated arms impartially at all the offenders.

Cadfael, with a sharper turn of speed, wasted no breath on remonstrance, but made straight for the cudgel that was uplifted for a third blow at the victim’s already bloodied head, halted it in midair, and twisted it without difficulty out of the hand that wielded it, fetching a howl from the overenthusiastic groom in the process. The three huntsmen ceased battering their captive, but kept fast hold of him, hauling him to his feet and pinning him between them as though he might yet slip through their fingers and make off like a hare through the gate.

“We’ve got him!” they proclaimed almost in unison. “It’s him, it’s the heretic! He was for making off out of trouble, but we’ve got him for you, safe and sound—”

“Sound?” Cadfael echoed ruefully. “You’ve half killed the lad between you. Did it need three of you to deal with one man? Here he was, within the pale, did you have to break his head for him?”

“We’ve been hunting him all the afternoon,” protested the big man, swelling with his own prowess, “as Canon Gerbert ordered us. Were we to take any chances with such a fellow when we did lay hand on him? Find and bring him back, we were told, and here he is.”

“Bring him?” said Cadfael, shoving one of Elave’s captors unceremoniously aside to take his place, with an arm about the young man’s body to support him. “I saw from the turn of the hedge there who brought him back. He walked in here of his own will. You can take no credit for it, even if you count what you’re about as credit. What possessed your master to set the dogs on him in the first place? He gave his word he wouldn’t run, and Father Abbot accepted it, and said he was free to go and come as he pleased for the time being. A pledge good enough for our abbot was not good enough for Canon Gerbert, I suppose?”

By that time three or four others had gathered excitedly about them, and here came Prior Robert, sailing towards them from the corner of the cloister in acute displeasure at seeing what appeared to be an agitated and disorderly gathering disturbing the procession to Vespers.

“What is this? What is happening here? Have you not heard the bell?” His eye fell upon Elave, propped up unsteadily between Cadfael and Edmund, his clothes dusty and in disarray, his brow and cheek smeared with blood. “Oh,” he said, satisfaction tempered with some dismay at the violence done, “so they brought you back. It seems the attempt at flight has cost you dear. I am sorry you are hurt, but you should not have run from justice.”

“I did not run from justice,” said Elave, panting. “The lord abbot gave me leave to go and come freely, on my word not to run, and I did not run.”

“That is truth,” said Cadfael, “for he walked in here of his own accord. He was heading for the guest hall, where he’s lodged like any other traveler, when these fellows fell upon him, and now they claim to have recaptured him for Canon Gerbert. Did he ever give such orders?”

“Canon Gerbert understood the liberty granted him as holding good only within the enclave,” said the prior sharply. “So, I must say, did I. When this man was found to have gone from the court we supposed him to have attempted escape. But I am sorry it was necessary to be so rough with him. Now what is to be done? He needs attention… Cadfael, see to his hurts, if you will, and after Vespers I will see the abbot and tell him what has happened. It may be he should be housed in isolation…”

Which meant, thought Cadfael, in a cell, under lock and key. Well, at worst that would keep these great oafs away from him. But we shall see what Abbot Radulfus will say.

“If I may miss Vespers,” he said, “I’ll have him away into the infirmary for now, and take care of his injuries there. He’ll need no armed guards, the state he’s in, but I’ll stay with him until we get the lord abbot’s orders concerning him.”

“Well, at least,” said Cadfael, bathing away blood from Elave’s head in the small anteroom in the infirmary, where the medicine cupboard was kept, “you left your mark on a couple of them. And though you’ll have a devil of a headache for a while, you’ve a good hard skull, and there’ll be no lasting harm. I don’t know but you’d be just as well in a penitential cell till all blows over. The bed’s the same as all the other beds, the cell’s fine and cool in this weather, there’s a little desk for reading—our delinquents are meant to spend their time during imprisonment in improving their minds and repenting their errors. Can you read?”

“Yes,” said Elave, passive under the ministering hands.

“Then we could ask books from the library for you. The right course with a young fellow who’s gone astray after unblessed beliefs is to ply him with the works of the Church fathers, and visit him with good counsel and godly argument. With me to minister to your bruises, and Anselm to discuss this world and the next with you, you’d have some of the best company to be had in this enclave, and with official sanction, mind. And a solitary cell keeps out the bleatings of fools and the zealous idiots who hunt three to a lone man. Keep still now! Does that hurt?”

“No,” said Elave, curiously soothed by this flow of talk which he did not quite know how to take. “You think they will shut me up in a cell?”

“I think Canon Gerbert will insist. And it’s not so easy to refuse the archbishop’s envoy over details. For they’ve come to the conclusion, I hear, that your case cannot be simply dismissed. That’s Gerbert’s verdict. The abbot’s is that if there is to be further probing, it must be by your own bishop, and nothing shall be done until he declares what he wishes in the matter. And little Serlo is off to Coventry tomorrow morning, to report to him all that has happened. So no harm can come to you and no one can question or fret you until Roger de Clinton has had his say. You may as well pass your time as pleasantly as possible. Anselm has built up a very passable library.”

“I think,” said Elave with quickening interest, in spite of his aching head, “I should like to read Saint Augustine, and see if he really did write what he’s said to have written.”

“About the number of the elect? He did, in a treatise called De Correptione et Gratia, if my memory serves me right. Which,” said Cadfael honestly, “I have never read, though I have had it read to me in the frater. Could you manage him in the Latin? I’d be small help to you there, but Anselm would.”

“It’s a strange thing,” said Elave, pondering with deep solemnity over the course of events which had brought him to this curious pass, “all the years I worked for William, and traveled with him, and listened to him, I never truly gave any thought to these things until now. They never bothered me. They do now, they matter to me now. If no one had meddled with William’s memory and tried to deny him a grave, I never should have given thought to them.”

“If it’s any help to have company along the way,” admitted Cadfael, “I begin to find my case much the same as yours. Where the seed lights the herb grows. And there’s nothing like hard usage and drought to drive its roots in deep.”

Jevan came back to the house near Saint Alkmund’s when it was already dark, with a bundle of new white skins of vellum, of a silken, creamy texture, and very thin and supple. He was proud of the work he did. The prior of Haughmond would not be disappointed in the wares on offer. Jevan bestowed them carefully in the shop, and locked up there before crossing the yard to the hall, where supper was laid, and Margaret and Fortunata were waiting for him.

“Is Aldwin not back yet?” he asked, looking round with raised brows as they sat down only three to table.

Margaret looked up from serving with a somewhat anxious face. “No, no sign of him since. I was getting worried about him. What can possibly have kept him this long?”

“He’ll have fallen foul of the theologians,” said Jevan, shrugging, “and serve him right for throwing the other lad to them, like a bone to a pack of dogs. He’ll be still at the abbey, and his turn to answer awkward questions. But they’ll turn him loose when they’ve wrung him dry. Whether they’ll do as much for Elave there’s no knowing. Well, I shall lock up the house as usual before I go to my bed. If he creeps back later than that he’ll have to lie in the stable loft for the night.”

“Conan’s not back, either,” said Margaret, shaking her head over the distressful day that should have been all celebration. “And I thought Girard would have been home before this. I hope nothing has happened to him.”

“Nothing will have happened,” Jevan assured her firmly, “but some matter of business to his profit. You know he can take very good care of himself, and he has excellent relations all along the border. If he meant to be back for the festival, and has missed his day, it will be because he’s added a couple of new customers to his tally. It takes time to strike a bargain with a Welsh sheepman. He’ll be back home safe and sound in a day or so.”

“And what will he find when he does get home?” she sighed ruefully. “Elave in this trouble as soon as he shows his face here again, Uncle William dead and buried, and now Aldwin getting himself still deeper into so bad a business. Truly I hope you’re right, and he has done well with the wool clip. It will be some comfort at least if one thing has gone right.”

She rose to clear away the supper dishes, still shaking her head over undefined misgivings, and Fortunata was left alone with Jevan.

“Uncle,” she said hesitantly, after some minutes of silence, “I wanted to talk to you. Whether I like it or not, I have been drawn into this terrible charge against Elave. He will not believe he is in grave danger, but I know he is. I want to help him. I must help him.”

The solemnity of her voice had caused him to turn and regard her long and attentively, with those black, penetrating eyes that saw deep into her now as in her childhood, and always with detached affection.

“I think this matters to you,” he said, “more than might appear, when you have barely seen him again, and after years.”

It was not a question, but she answered it. “I think I love him. What else can this be? It is not so strange. There were years before the years of his absence. I liked him then, better than he knew.”

“And you talked with him today, as I remember,” he said keenly, “after this hearing at the abbey.”

“Yes,” she said.

“And thereafter, I fancy, he knows better how well you like him! And has he given you cause to be as certain of his liking for you?”

“Cause enough. He said that if there were no other reason, I should be reason enough to hold him fast, in despite of whatever danger there may be to him here. Uncle, you know I have a dowry now from William. When my father comes home, and that box is opened, I want to use whatever he has given me to help Elave. To offer for his fine, if a fine is allowed to pay off his debt, to bargain for his liberty if they hold him, yes, even to corrupt his guards if the worst comes, and get him away over the border.”

“And you’d feel no guilt,” said Jevan with his sharp, dark smile, “at defying the law and flouting the Church?”

“None, because he has done no wrong. If they condemn him, it’s they who are guilty. But I mean to ask Father to speak up for him. As one who knows him, and is respected by everyone, law, Church, and all. If Girard of Lythwood stood guarantor for his future behavior, I believe they might listen.”

“So they might,” agreed Jevan heartily. “At least that and every other means can be tried. I told you—if you want him, then Elave can and shall count as a man of ours. There, you be off to your bed and sleep easy. Who knows what magic may be discovered when William’s box is opened?”

Late but not too late, Conan came home just before the door was locked, only a little tipsy after celebrating the end of the day, as he freely admitted, with half a dozen boon companions at the alehouse in Mardol.

Aldwin did not come home at all.

Chapter Seven

« ^ »

Brother Cadfael arose well before Prime, took his scrip, and went out to collect certain waterside plants, now in their full summer leaf. The morning was veiled with a light covering of cloud, through which the sun shimmered in pearly tints of faint rose and misty blue. Later it would clear and be hot again. As he went out from the gatehouse a groom was just bringing up Serlo’s mule from the stableyard, and the bishop’s deacon came out from the guest hall ready for his journey, and paused at the top of the steps to draw deep breath, as though the solitary ride to Coventry held out to him all the delights of a holiday, by comparison with riding in Canon Gerbert’s overbearing company. His errand, perhaps, was less pleasurable. So gentle a soul would not enjoy reporting to his bishop an accusation that might threaten a young man’s liberty and life, but by his very nature he would probably make as fair a case as he could for the accused. And Roger de Clinton was a man of good repute, devout and charitable if austere, a founder of religious houses and patron of poor priests. All might yet go well for Elave, if he did not let his newly discovered predilection for undisciplined thought run away with him.

I must talk to Anselm about some books for him, Cadfael reminded himself as he left the dusty highroad and began to descend the green path to the riverside, threading the bushes now at the most exuberant of their summer growth, rich cover for fugitives or the beasts of the woodland. The vegetable gardens of the Gaye unfolded green and neat along the riverside, the uncut grass of the bank making a thick emerald barrier between water and tillage. Beyond were the orchards, and then two fields of grain and the disused mill, and after that trees and bushes leaning over the swift, silent currents, crowding an overhanging bank, indented here and there by little coves, where the water lay deceptively innocent and still, lipping sandy shallows. Cadfael wanted comfrey and marsh mallow, both the leaves and the roots, and knew exactly where they grew profusely. Freshly prepared root and leaf of comfrey to heal Elave’s broken head, marsh mallow to sooth the surface soreness, were better than the ready-made ointments or the poultices from dried materia in his workshop. Nature was a rich provider in summer. Stored medicines were for the winter.

He had filled his scrip and was on the point of turning back, in no hurry since he had plenty of time before Prime, when his eye caught the pallor of some strange water flower that floated out on the idle current from under the overhanging bushes, and again drifted back, trailing soiled white petals. The tremor of the water overlaid them with shifting points of light as the early sun came through the veil. In a moment they floated out again into full view, and this time they were seen to be joined to a thick pale stem that ended abruptly in something dark.

There were places along this stretch of the river where the Severn sometimes brought in and discarded whatever it had captured higher upstream. In low water, as now, things cast adrift above the bridge were usually picked up at that point. Once past the bridge, they might well drift in anywhere along this stretch. Only in the swollen and turgid floods of winter storms or February thaws did the Severn hurl them on beyond, to fetch up, perhaps, as far downstream as Attingham, or to be trapped deep down in the debris of storms, and never recovered at all. Cadfael knew most of the currents, and knew now from what manner of root this pallid, languid flower grew. The brightness of the morning, opening like a rose as the gossamer cloud parted, seemed instead to darken the promising day.

He put down his scrip in the grass, kilted his habit, and clambered down through the bushes to the shallow water. The river had brought in its drowned man with just enough impetus and at the right angle to lodge him securely under the bank, from drifting off again into the current. He lay sprawled on his face, only the left arm in deep enough water to be moved and cradled by the stream, a lean, stoop-shouldered man in dun-colored coat and hose, indeed with something dun-colored about him altogether, as though he had begun life in brighter colors and been faded by the discouragement of time. Grizzled, straggling hair, more grey than brown, draped a balding skull. But the river had not taken him; he had been committed to it with intent. In the back of his coat, just where its ample folds broke the surface of the water, there was a long slit, from the upper end of which a meager ooze of blood had darkened and corroded the coarse homespun. Where his bowed back rose just clear of the surface, the stain was even drying into a crust along the folds of cloth.

Cadfael stood calf-deep between the body and the river, in case the dead man should be drawn back into the current when disturbed, and turned the corpse face upward, exposing to view the long, despondent, grudging countenance of Girard of Lythwood’s clerk, Aldwin.

There was nothing to be done for him. He was sodden and bleached with water, surely dead for many hours. Nor could he be left lying here while help was sought to move him, or the river might snatch him back again. Cadfael took him under the arms and drew him along through the shallows to a spot where the bank sloped gently down, and there pulled him up into the grassy shelf above. Then he set off at speed, back along the riverside path to the bridge. There he hesitated for a moment which way to take, up into the town to carry the news to Hugh Beringar, or back to the abbey to inform abbot and prior, but it was towards the town he turned. Canon Gerbert could wait for the news that the accuser would never again testify against Elave, in the matter of heresy or any other offense. Not that this death would end the case! On the contrary, it was at the back of Cadfael’s mind that an even more sinister shadow was closing over that troublesome young man in a penitent’s cell at the abbey. He had no time to contemplate the implications then, but they were there in his consciousness as he hurried across the bridge and in at the town gate, and he liked them not at all. Better, far better, to go first to Hugh, and let him consider the meaning of this death, before other and less reasonable beings got their teeth into it.

“How long,” asked Hugh, looking down at the dead man with bleak attention, “do you suppose he’s been in the water?”

He was asking, not Cadfael, but Madog of the Dead-Boat, summoned hastily from his hut and his coracles by the western bridge. There was very little about the ways of the Severn that Madog did not know; it was his life, as it had been the death of many of his generation in its treacherous flood-times. Given a hint as to where an unfortunate had gone into the stream, Madog would know where to expect the river to give him back, and it was to him everyone turned to find what was lost. He scratched thoughtfully at his bushy beard, and viewed the corpse without haste from head to foot. Already a little bloated, grey of flesh, and oozing water and weed into the grass, Aldwin peered back into the bright sky from imperfectly closed eyes.

“All last night, certainly. Ten hours it might be, but more likely less, for it would still have been daylight then. Somewhere, I fancy,” said Madog, “he was laid up dead until dark, and then cast into the river. And not far from here. Most of the night he’s lain here where Cadfael found him. How else would there still be blood to be seen on him? If he had not washed up within a short distance, facedown as you say he was, the river would have bleached him clean.”

“Between here and the bridge?” Hugh suggested, eyeing the little dark, hairy Welshman with respectful attention. Sheriff and waterman, they had worked together before this, and knew each other well.

“With the level as it is, if he’d gone in above the bridge I doubt if he’d ever have passed it.”

Hugh looked back along the open green plain of the Gaye, lush and sunny, through the fringe of bushes and trees. “Between here and the bridge nothing could happen in open day. This is the first cover to be found beside the water. And though this fellow may be a lightweight, no one would want to carry or drag him very far to reach the river. And if he’d been cast in here, whoever wanted to be quit of him would have made sure he went far enough out for the current to take him down the next reach and beyond. What do you say, Madog?”

Madog confirmed it with a jerk of his shaggy head.

“There’s been no rain and no dew,” said Cadfael thoughtfully. “Grass and ground are dry. If he was hidden until nightfall, it would be close where he was killed. A man needs privacy and cover both to kill and hide his dead. Somewhere there may be traces of blood in the grass, or wherever the murderer bestowed him.”

“We can but look,” agreed Hugh, with no great expectation of finding anything. “There’s the old mill offers one place where murder could be done without a witness. I’ll have them search there. We’ll comb this belt of trees, too, though I doubt there’ll be anything here to find. And what should this fellow be doing at the mill, or here, for that matter? You’ve told me how he spent the morning. What he did afterward we may find out from the household up there in the town. They know nothing of this yet. They may well be wondering and enquiring about him by this time, if it’s dawned on them yet that he’s been out all night. Or perhaps he often was, and no one wondered. I know little enough about him, but I know he lived there with his master’s family. But beyond the mill, upstream—no, the whole stretch of the Gaye lies open. There’s nothing from here on could give shelter to a killing. Nothing until the bridge. But surely, if the man was killed by daylight, and left in the bushes there even a couple of hours until dark, he might be found before he could be put into the river.”

“Would that matter?” wondered Cadfael. “A little more risky, perhaps, but still there’d be nothing to show who slipped the dagger into his back. Sending him downriver does but confuse place and time. And perhaps that was important to whoever did it.”

“Well, I’ll take the news up to the wool merchants myself, and see what they can tell me.” Hugh looked round to where his sergeant and four men of the castle garrison stood a little apart, waiting for his orders in attentive silence. “Will can see the body brought up after us. The fellow has no other home, to my knowledge. They’ll need to take care of his burying. Come back with me, Cadfael. We’ll at least take a look among the trees by the bridge, and under the arch.”

They set off side by side, out of the fringe of trees into the abbey wheatfields and past the abandoned mill. They had reached the waterside path that hemmed the kitchen gardens when Hugh asked, slanting a brief, oblique, and burdened smile along his shoulder: “How long did you say that heretical pilgrim of yours was out at liberty yesterday? While Canon Gerbert’s grooms went puffing busily up and down looking for him to no purpose?”

It was asked quite lightly and currently, but Cadfael understood its significance, and knew that Hugh had already grasped it equally well. “From about an hour before Nones until Vespers,” he said, and clearly heard the unacknowledged but unmistakable reserve and concern in his own voice.

“And then he walked into the enclave in all conscious innocence. And has not accounted for where he spent those hours?”

“No one has yet asked him,” said Cadfael simply.

“Good! Then do my work for me there, will you? Tell no one in the abbey yet about this death, and let no one question Elave until I do it myself. I’ll be with you before the morning’s out, and we’ll talk privately with the abbot before anyone else shall know what’s happened. I want to see this lad for myself, and hear what he has to say for himself before any other gets at him. For you know, don’t you,” said Hugh with detached sympathy, “what his inquisitors are going to say?”

Cadfael left them to their search of the grove of trees and the bushes that cloaked the path down to the riverside, and made his way back to the abbey, though with some reluctance at abandoning the hunt even for a few hours. He was well aware of the immediate implications of Aldwin’s death, and uneasily conscious that he did not know Elave well enough to discount them out of hand. Instinctive liking is not enough to guarantee any man’s integrity, let alone his innocence of murder, where he had been basely wronged, and was by chance presented with the opportunity to avenge his injury. A high and hasty temper, which undoubtedly he had, might do the rest almost before he could think at all, let alone think better of it.

But in the back!

No, that Cadfael could not imagine. Had there been such an encounter it would have been face-to-face. And what of the dagger? Did Elave even possess such a weapon? A knife for all general purposes he must possess; no sensible traveler would go far without one. But he would not be carrying it on him in the abbey, and he certainly had not taken the time to go and collect it from his belongings in the guest hall, before hurrying out at the gate after Fortunata. The porter could testify to that. He had come rushing straight up from the chapter house without so much as a glance aside. And if by unlikely chance he had had it on him at that hearing, then it must be with him now in his locked cell. Or if he had discarded it, Hugh’s sergeants would do their best to find it. Of one thing Cadfael was certain: he did not want Elave to be a murderer.

Just as Cadfael was approaching the gatehouse, someone emerged from it and turned towards the town. A tall, lean, dark man, frowning down abstractedly at the dust of the Foregate as he strode, and shaking his head at some puzzling frustration of his own, probably of no great moment but still puzzling. He jerked momentarily out of his preoccupation when Cadfael gave him good-day, and returned the greeting with a vague glance and an absent smile before withdrawing again into whatever matter was chafing at his peace of mind.

It was altogether too apt a reminder, that Jevan of Lythwood should be calling in at the abbey gatehouse at this hour of the morning, after his brother’s clerk had failed to come home the previous night. Cadfael turned to look after him. A tall man with a long, ardent stride, making for home with his hands clasped behind his back, and his brows knotted in so-far-unenlightened conjecture. Cadfael hoped he would cross the bridge without pausing to look down over the parapet towards the level, sunlit length of the Gaye, where at this moment Will Warden’s men might be carrying the litter with Aldwin’s body. Better that Hugh should reach the house first, both to warn the household and to harvest whatever he could from their bearing and their answers, before the inevitable burden arrived to set the busy and demanding rites of death in motion.

“What was Jevan of Lythwood wanting here?” Cadfael asked of the porter, who was making himself useful holding a very handsome and lively young mare while her master buckled on his saddle roll behind. A good number of the guests would be moving on today, having paid their annual tribute to Saint Winifred.

“He wanted to know if his clerk had been here,” said the porter.

“Why did he suppose his clerk should have been here?”

“He says he changed his mind, yesterday, about laying charges against that lad we’ve got under lock and key, as soon as he found out the young fellow had no intention of elbowing him out of his employment. Said he was all for rushing off down here on the spot to take back what he’d laid against him. Much good that would do! Small use running after the arrow once it’s loosed. But that’s what he wanted to do, so his master says.”

“What did you tell him?” asked Cadfael.

“What should I tell him? I told him we’d seen nor hide nor hair of his clerk since he went out of the gate here early yesterday afternoon. If seems he’s been missing overnight. But wherever he’s been, he hasn’t been here.”

Cadfael pondered this new turn of events with misgiving. “When was it he took this change of heart, and started back here? What time of the day?”

“Very near as soon as he got home, so Jevan says. No more than an hour after he’d left here. But he never came,” said the porter placidly. “Changed his mind again, I daresay, when he got near, and began to reason how it might fall back on him, without delivering the other fellow.”

Cadfael went on down the court very thoughtfully. He had already missed Prime, but there was ample time before the Mass. He might as well take himself off to his workshop and unload his scrip, and try to get all these confused and confusing events clear in his mind. If Aldwin had come running back with the idea of undoing what he had done, then even if he had encountered an angry and resentful Elave, it would have needed only the first hasty words of penitence and restitution to disarm the avenger. Why kill a man who is willing at least to try to make amends? Still, some might argue, an angry man might not wait for any words, but strike on sight. In the back? No, it would not do. That Elave had killed his accuser might be the first thought to spring into other minds, but it could find no lodging in Cadfael’s. And not for mere obstinate liking, either, but because it made no sense.

Hugh arrived towards the end of chapter, alone, and somewhat to Cadfael’s surprise, as well as to his profound relief, ahead of any other and untoward report. Rumor was usually so blithe and busy about the town and the Foregate that he had expected word of Aldwin’s death to worm its way in with inconvenient speed and a good deal of regrettable embroidery to the plain tale, but it had not happened. Hugh could tell the story his own way, and in the privacy of Abbot Radulfus’s parlor, with Cadfael to confirm and supplement. And the abbot did not say what, inevitably, someone else very soon would. Instead he said directly:

“Who last saw the man alive?”

“From what we know so far,” said Hugh, “those who saw him go out of the house early yesterday afternoon. Jevan of Lythwood, who came enquiring for him here this morning, as Cadfael says, before ever I got the word to him of his man’s death. The foster child Fortunata, she who was made a witness to the charge yesterday. The woman of the house. And the shepherd Conan. But that was broad daylight. He must have been seen by others, at the town gate, on the bridge, here in the Foregate, or wherever he turned aside. We shall trace his every step, to fill in the time before he died.”

“But we cannot know when that was,” said Radulfus.

“No, true, no better than a guess. But Madog judges he was put into the river as soon as it grew dark, and that he’d lain hidden somewhere after his death, waiting for dark. Perhaps two or three hours, but there’s no knowing. I have men out looking for any trace of where he may have lain hidden. If we find that, we find where he was murdered, for he could not have been moved far.”

“And all Lythwood’s household are in one tale together—that the clerk, when he heard the young man made no claim to his place, started to come here, to confess his malice and withdraw the charge he had made?”

“Further, the girl says that she had parted from Elave in the trees, there not far from the bridge, and told Aldwin so. She believes he went off in such haste in the hope of overtaking him. She says also,” said Hugh with emphasis, “that she urged Elave to take to his heels, and he refused.”

“Then what he did accords with what he said,” Radulfus allowed. “And his accuser set out to confess and beg pardon. Yes—it argues against,” he said, holding Hugh eye-to-eye.

“There are those who will argue for. And it must be said,” Hugh owned fairly, “that circumstances give body to what they’ll say. He was at liberty, he had good reason to bear a grudge. We know of no one else who had cause to strike at Aldwin. He set off to meet Elave, there in the trees. In cover. It hangs together, on the face of it, all too well, for the body must surely have gone into the water below the bridge, and cover is scant there along the Gaye.”

“All true,” said Radulfus. “But equally true, I think, that if the young man had killed he would hardly have walked back into our precinct of his own will, as admittedly he did. Moreover, if the dead man was cast into the river after dark, that was not done by Elave. At least we know at what hour he returned here, it was just when the Vesper bell sounded. That does not prove past doubt that he did not kill, but it casts it into question. Well, we have him safe.” He smiled, a little grimly. It was an ambiguous reassurance. A stone cell, securely locked, ensured Elave’s personal safety no less than his close custody. “And now you wish to question him.”

“In your presence,” said Hugh, “if you will.” And catching the sharp, intelligent eye he said simply: “Better with a witness who cannot be suspect. You are as good a judge of a man as I am, and better.”

“Very well,” said Radulfus. “He shall not come to us. We will go to him, while they are all in the frater. Robert is in attendance on Canon Gerbert.” So he would be, thought Cadfael uncharitably. Robert was not the man to let slip the chance to ingratiate himself with a man of influence with the archbishop. For once his predilection for the powerful would be useful. “Anselm has been asking me to send the boy books to read,” said the abbot. “He points out, rightly, that we have a duty to provide good counsel and exhortation, if we are to combat erroneous beliefs. Do you feel fitted, Cadfael, to undertake an advocacy on God’s behalf?”

“I am not sure,” said Cadfael bluntly, thus brought up against the measure of his own concern and partisanship, “that the instructed would not be ahead of the instructor. I see my measure more in tending his broken head than in meddling with the sound mind inside it.”

Elave sat on his narrow pallet in one of the two stone penitential cells which were seldom occupied, and told what he had to tell, while Cadfael renewed the dressings on his gashes, and bandaged him afresh. He still looked somewhat the worse for wear, bruised and stiff from the attentions of Gerbert’s overzealous grooms, but by no means subdued. At first, indeed, he was inclined to be belligerent, on the assumption that all these officials, religious and secular alike, must be hostile, and predisposed to find fault in every word he said. It was an attitude which did not consort well with his customary openness and amiability, and Cadfael was sorry to see him thus maimed, even for a brief time. But it seemed that he did not find in his visitors quite the animosity and menace he had expected, for in a little while his closed and wary face eased and warmed, and the chill edge melted from his voice.

“I gave my word I would not quit this place,” he said firmly, “until I was fairly dismissed as free and fit to go, and I never meant to do otherwise than as I said. You told me, my lord, that I was free to come and go on my own business meantime, and so I did, and never thought wrong. I went after the lady because she was in distress for me, and that I could not abide. You saw it yourself, Father Abbot. I overtook her before the bridge. I wanted to tell her not to fret, for she did me no wrong. What she said of me I had indeed said, and I would not for the world have had her grieve at speaking truth, whatever might fall on me. And also,” said Elave, taking heart in remembering, “I wanted to show her my thankfulness, that she felt gently towards me. For it showed plain, you also saw it, and I was glad of it.”

“And when you parted from her?” said Hugh.

“I would have come back straightaway, but I saw them come boiling out of the gate here and quartering the Foregate, and it was plain they were hot on my heels already. So I drew off into the trees to wait my chance. I had no mind to be dragged back by force,” said Elave indignantly, “when I had nothing in mind but to walk in of my own will, and sit and wait for my judgment. But they left the big fellow standing guard, and I never got my chance to get past him. I thought if I waited for Vespers I might take cover and slip in among the folk coming to church.”

“But you did not spend all that time close here in hiding,” said Hugh, “for I hear they drew every covert for half a mile from the road. Where did you go?”

“Made my way back through the trees, round behind the Gaye, and a fair way down the river, and lay up in cover there till I thought it must be almost time for Vespers.”

“And you saw nobody in all that time? Nobody saw or spoke to you?”

“It was my whole intent that nobody should see me.” said Elave reasonably. “I was hiding from a hue and cry. No, there’s no one can speak for me all that time. But why should I come back as I did, if I meant to run? I could have been halfway to the border in that time. Acquit me at least of going back on my word.”

“That you certainly have not done,” said Abbot Radulfus. “And you may believe that I knew nothing of this pursuit of you, and would not have countenanced it. No doubt it was done out of pure zeal, but it was misdirected and blameworthy, and I am sorry you should have fallen victim to violence. No one now supposes that you had any intent of running away. I accepted your word, I would do so again.”

Elave peered from beneath Brother Cadfael’s bandages with brows drawn together in puzzlement, looking from face to face without understanding. “Then why these questions? Does it matter where I went, since I came back again? How is it to the purpose?” He looked longest and most intently at Hugh, whose authority was secular, and should have had nothing to do or say in a charge of heresy. “What is it? Something has happened. What can there be new since yesterday? What is it that I do not know?”

They were all studying him hard and silently, wondering indeed whether he did or did not know, and whether a relatively simple young man could dissemble so well, and one whose word the abbot had taken without question only one day past. Whatever conclusion they came to could not then be declared. Hugh said with careful mildness: “First, perhaps you should know what Fortunata and her family have told us. You parted from her between here and the bridge, that she confirms, and she then went home. There she encountered and reproached your accuser Aldwin for bringing such a charge against you, and it came out that he had been afraid of losing his place to you, a matter of great gravity to him, as you’ll allow.”

“But it was no such matter,” said Elave, astonished. “That was settled the first time I set foot in the house. I never wanted to elbow him out, and Dame Margaret told me fairly enough they would not oust him. He had nothing to fear from me.”

“But he thought he had. No one had put it in plain terms to him until then. And when he heard it, as they all four agree—the shepherd, too—he declared his intent of running after you to confess and ask pardon, and if he failed to overtake you—the girl having told him where she had left you—of following you here to the abbey to do his best to undo what he had done against you.”

Elave shook his head blankly. “I never saw him. I was among the trees ten minutes or more, watching the road, before I gave up and went off towards the river. I should have seen him if he’d passed. Maybe he took fright when he saw them beating all the coverts and baying after me along the Foregate, and thought better of repenting.” It was said without bitterness, even with a resigned grin. “It’s easier and safer to set the hounds on than to call them off.”

“A true word!” said Hugh. “They have been known to bite the huntsman, if he came between them and the quarry once their blood was up. So you never saw and had speech with him, and have no notion where he went or what happened to him?”

“None in the world. Why?” asked Elave simply. “Have you lost him?”

“No,” said Hugh, “we have found him. Brother Cadfael found him early this morning lodged under the bank of Severn beyond the Gaye. Dead, stabbed in the back.”

“Did he know or did he not?” wondered Hugh, when they were out in the great court, and the cell door closed and locked on the prisoner. “You saw him, do you know what to make of him? Fix him as watchfully as you will, any man can lie if he must. I would rather rely on things solid and provable. He did come back. Would a man who had killed do so? He has a good, serviceable knife, well able to kill, but it’s in his bundle in the guest hall still, not on him, and we know he no sooner showed his face in the gateway than he was set on, and attended every moment after, until that door closed on him. If he had another knife, and had it on him, he must have discarded it. Father Abbot, do you believe this lad? Is he telling truth? When he offered his word, you accepted it. Do you still do so?”

“I neither believe nor disbelieve,” said Radulfus heavily. “How dare I? But I hope!”

Chapter Eight

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William Warden, who was the longest-serving and most experienced of Hugh’s sergeants, came looking for the sheriff just as Hugh and Cadfael were crossing to the gatehouse; a big, bearded, burly man of middle age, grizzled and weatherbeaten, and with a solid conceit of himself that sometimes tended to undervalue others. He had taken Hugh for a lightweight when first the young man succeeded to the sheriff’s office, but time had considerably tempered that opinion, and brought them into a relationship of healthy mutual respect. The sergeant’s beard was bristling with satisfaction now. Clearly he had made progress, and was pleased with himself accordingly. “My lord, we’ve found it—the place where he was laid up till dark. Or at least, where he or some other bled long enough to leave his traces clear enough. While we were beating the bushes Madog thought to search through the grass under the arch of the bridge. Some fisherman had drawn up his light boat there, and turned it up to do some caulking on the boards. He wouldn’t be working on it yesterday, a feast day. When we hoisted it, there was the grass flattened the length of it, and a small patch of it blackened with blood. What with the dry weather that ground has been uncovered a month or more, it’s bleached pale as straw. There’s no missing that stain, meager though it is. A dead man could lie snug enough under there, with a boat upturned over him and nothing to show.”

“So that was the place!” said Hugh on a long, thoughtful breath. “And no great risk, slipping a body into the water there in the dark, from under the arch. No sound, no splash, nothing to see. With an oar, or a pole, you could thrust him well out into the current.”

“We were right, it seems,” said Cadfael. “You have to deal only with that length of the water, from the bridge to where he fetched up. You did not find the knife?”

The sergeant shook his head. “If he killed his man there, under the arch or in the bushes, he’d clean the knife in the edge of the water and take it away with him. Why waste a good knife? And why leave it lying about for some neighbor to find, and say: I know that, it belongs to John Weaver, or whoever it might be, and how comes it to have blood on it? No, we shan’t find the knife.”

“True,” said Hugh, “a man would have to be scared out of his wits to throw it away to be found, and I fancy this man was in sharp command of his. Never mind, you’ve done well, we know now where the thing was done, there or close by.”

“There’s more yet to tell you, my lord,” said Will, gratified, “and stranger, if he was in such a hurry as they told us, when he ran off to recant his charges. We asked the porter on the town gate if he’d seen him pass out and cross the bridge, and he said yes, he had, and spoke to him, but barely got an answer. But he hadn’t come straight from Lythwood’s house, that’s certain. It was more than an hour later, maybe as much as an hour and a half.”

“He’s sure of that?” demanded Hugh. “There’s no real check there, not in quiet times. He could be hazy about time passing.”

“He’s sure. He saw them all come back after the hubbub they had here at chapter, Aldwin and the shepherd first and the girl after, and it seemed to him they were all of them in an upset. He’d heard nothing then of what had happened, but he did notice the fuss they were in, and long before Aldwin came down to the gate again the whole tale was out. The porter was all agog when he laid eyes on the very man coming down the Wyle. He was hoping to stop him and gossip, but Aldwin went past without a word. Oh, he’s sure enough! He knows how long had passed.”

“So all that time he was still in the town,” said Hugh, and gnawed a thoughtful lip. “Yet in the end he did cross the bridge, going where he’d said he was going. But why the delay? What can have kept him?”

“Or who?” suggested Cadfael.

“Or who! Do you think someone ran after him to dissuade him? None of his own people, or they would have said so. Who else would try to turn him back? No one else knew what he was about. Well,” said Hugh, “nothing else for it, we’ll walk every yard of the way from Lythwood’s house to the bridge, and hammer on every door, until we find out how far he got before turning aside. Someone must have seen him, somewhere along the way.”

“I fancy,” said Cadfael, pondering all he had seen and known of Aldwin, which was meager enough and sad enough, “he was not a man who had many friends, nor one of any great resolution of mind. He must have had to pluck up all his courage to accuse Elave in the first place. It would cost him more to withdraw his accusation, and put himself in the way of being suspect of perjury or malice or both. He may well have taken fright on the way, and changed his mind yet again, and decided to let well or ill alone. Where would a solitary dim soul like that go to think things out? And try to get his courage back? They sell courage of a sort in the taverns. And another sort, though not for sale, a man can find in the confessional. Try the alehouses and the churches, Hugh. In either a man can be quiet and think.”

It was one of the young men-at-arms of the castle garrison, not at all displeased at being given the task of enquiring at the alehouses of the town, who came up with the next link in Aldwin’s uncertain traverse of Shrewsbury. There was a small tavern in a narrow, secluded close off the upper end of the steep, descending Wyle. It was sited about midway between the house near Saint Alkmund’s church and the town gate, and the lanes leading to it were shut between high walls, and on a feast day might well be largely deserted. A man overtaken by someone bent on changing his mind for him, or suddenly possessed by misgivings calculated to change it for him without other persuasion, might well swerve from the direct way and debate the issue over a pot of ale in this quiet and secluded place. In any case, the young enquirer had no intention of missing any of the places of refreshment that lay within his commission.

“Aldwin?” said the potman, willing enough to talk about so sensational a tragedy. “I only heard the word an hour past. Of course I knew him. A silent sort, mostly. If he did come in he’d sit in a corner and say hardly a word. He always expected the worst, you might say, but who’d have thought anyone would want to do him harm? He never did anyone else any that I knew of, not till this to-do yesterday. The talk is that the lad he informed on has got his own back with a vengeance. And him with trouble enough,” said the potman, lowering his voice confidentially. “If the Church has got its claws into him, small need to go crying out for worse.”

“Did you see the man yesterday at all?” asked the man-at-arms.

“Aldwin? Yes, he was here for a while, up in the corner of the bench there, as glum as ever. I hadn’t heard anything then about this business at the abbey, or I’d have taken more notice. We’d none of us any notion the poor soul would be dead by this morning. It falls on a man without giving him time to put his affairs in order.”

“He was here?” echoed the enquirer, elated. “What time was that?”

“Well past noon. Nearly three, I suppose, when they came in.”

“They? He wasn’t alone?”

“No, the other fellow brought him in, very confidential, with an arm round his shoulders and talking fast into his ear. They must have sat there for above half an hour, and then the other one went off and left him to himself another half hour, brooding, it seemed. He was never a drinker, though, Aldwin. Sober as stone when he got up and went out at the door, and without a word, mind you. Too late for words now, poor soul.”

“Who was it with him?” demanded the questioner eagerly. “What’s his name?”

“I don’t know that I ever heard his name, but I know who he is. He works for the same master—that shepherd of theirs who keeps the flock they have out on the Welsh side of town.”

“Conan?” echoed Jevan, turning from the shelves of his shop with a creamy skin of vellum in his hands. “He’s off with the sheep, and he may very well sleep up there; these summer nights he often does. Why, is there anything new? He told you what he knew, what we all knew, this morning. Should we have kept him here? I knew of no reason you might need him again.”

“Neither did I then,” agreed Hugh grimly. “But it seems Master Conan told no more than half a tale, the half you and all the household could bear witness to. Not a word about running after Aldwin and haling him away into the tavern in the Three-Tree Shut, and keeping him there more than half an hour.”

Jevan’s level dark brows had soared to his hair, and his jaw dropped for a moment. “He did that? He said he’d be off to the flock and get on with his work for the rest of the day. I took it that’s what he’d done.” He came slowly