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Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Series #3)

Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Series #3)

by Ellis Peters
Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Series #3)

Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Series #3)

by Ellis Peters


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Brother Cadfael is confounded when his own potion is used to kill his former love’s new husband

Gervase Bonel is a guest of Shrewsbury Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul when he suddenly takes ill. Luckily, the abbey boasts the services of the clever and kindly Brother Cadfael, a skilled herbalist. Cadfael hurries to the man’s bedside, only to be confronted with two surprises: In Master Bonel’s wife, the good monk recognizes Richildis, whom he loved before he took his vows—and Master Bonel has been fatally poisoned by monk’s-hood oil from Cadfael’s stores.
The sheriff is convinced that the murderer is Richildis’s son, Edwin, who hated his stepfather. But Cadfael, guided in part by his concern for a woman to whom he was once betrothed, is certain of her son’s innocence. Using his knowledge of both herbs and the human heart, Cadfael deciphers a deadly recipe for murder. 

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497671119
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 08/05/2014
Series: Brother Cadfael Series , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 230
Sales rank: 7,969
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.

Read an Excerpt

Monk's Hood

The Third Chronicle Of Brother Cadfael, Of The Benedictine Abbey Of Saint Peter And Saint Paul, At Shrewsbury

By Ellis Peters

Copyright © 1980 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-7111-9


On this particular morning at the beginning of December, in the year 1138, Brother Cadfael came to chapter in tranquillity of mind, prepared to be tolerant even towards the dull, pedestrian reading of Brother Francis, and long-winded legal haverings of Brother Benedict the sacristan. Men were variable, fallible, and to be humoured. And the year, so stormy in its earlier months, convulsed with siege and slaughter and disruptions, bade fair to end in calm and comparative plenty. The tide of civil war between King Stephen and the partisans of the Empress Maud had receded into the south-western borders, leaving Shrewsbury to recover cautiously from having backed the weaker side and paid a bloody price for it. And for all the hindrances to good husbandry, after a splendid summer the harvest had been successfully gathered in, the barns were full, the mills were busy, sheep and cattle thrived on pastures still green and lush, and the weather continued surprisingly mild, with only a hint of frost in the early mornings. No one was wilting with cold yet, no one yet was going hungry. It could not last much longer, but every day counted as blessing.

And in his own small kingdom the crop had been rich and varied, the eaves of his workshop in the garden were hung everywhere with linen bags of dried herbs, his jars of wine sat in plump, complacent rows, the shelves were thronging with bottles and pots of specifics for all the ills of winter, from snuffling colds to seized-up joints and sore and wheezing chests. It was a better world than it had looked in the spring, and an ending that improves on its beginning is always good news.

So Brother Cadfael rolled contentedly to his chosen seat in the chapter-house, conveniently retired behind one of the pillars in a dim corner, and watched with half-sleepy benevolence as his brothers of the house filed in and took their places: Abbot Heribert, old and gentle and anxious, sadly worn by the troublous year now near its ending; Prior Robert Pennant, immensely tall and patrician, ivory of face and silver of hair and brows, ever erect and stately, as if he already balanced the mitre for which he yearned. He was neither old nor frail, but an ageless and wiry fifty-one, though he contrived to look every inch a patriarch sanctified by a lifetime of holiness; he had looked much the same ten years ago, and would almost certainly change not at all in the twenty years to come. Faithful at his heels slid Brother Jerome, his clerk, reflecting Robert's pleasure or displeasure like a small, warped mirror. After them came all the other officers, sub-prior, sacristan, hospitaller, almoner, infirmarer, the custodian of the altar of St. Mary, the cellarer, the precentor, and the master of the novices. Decorously they composed themselves for what bade fair to be an unremarkable day's business.

Young Brother Francis, who was afflicted with a nasal snuffle and somewhat sparse Latin, made heavy weather of reading out the list of saints and martyrs to be commemorated in prayer during the coming days, and fumbled a pious commentary on the ministry of St. Andrew the Apostle, whose day was just past. Brother Benedict the sacristan contrived to make it sound only fair that he, as responsible for the upkeep of church and enclave, should have the major claim on a sum willed jointly for that purpose and to provide lights for the altar of the Lady Chapel, which was Brother Maurice's province. The precentor acknowledged the gift of a new setting for the "Sanctus," donated by the composer's patron, but by the dubious enthusiasm with which he welcomed so generous a gift, he did not think highly of its merits, and it was unlikely to be heard often. Brother Paul, master of the novices, had a complaint against one of his pupils, suspected of levity beyond what was permitted to youth and inexperience, in that the youngster had been heard singing in the cloisters, while he was employed in copying a prayer of St. Augustine, a secular song of scandalous import, purporting to be the lament of a Christian pilgrim imprisoned by the Saracens, and comforting himself by hugging to his breast the chemise given him at parting by his lover.

Brother Cadfael's mind jerked him back from incipient slumber to recognise and remember the song, beautiful and poignant. He had been in that Crusade, he knew the land, the Saracens, the haunting light and darkness of such a prison and such a pain. He saw Brother Jerome devoutly close his eyes and suffer convulsions of distress at the mention of a woman's most intimate garment. Perhaps because he had never been near enough to it to touch, thought Cadfael, still disposed to be charitable. Consternation quivered through several of the old, innocent, lifelong brothers, to whom half the creation was a closed and forbidden book. Cadfael made an effort, unaccustomed at chapter, and asked mildly what defence the youth had made.

"He said," Brother Paul replied fairly, "that he learned the song from his grandfather, who fought for the Cross at the taking of Jerusalem, and he found the tune so beautiful that it seemed to him holy. For the pilgrim who sang was not a monastic or a soldier, but a humble person who made the long journey out of love."

"A proper and sanctified love," pointed out Brother Cadfael, using words not entirely natural to him, for he thought of love as a self-sanctifying force, needing no apology. "And is there anything in the words of that song to suggest that the woman he left behind was not his wife? I remember none. And the music is worthy of noting. It is not, surely, the purpose of our order to obliterate or censure the sacrament of marriage, for those who have not a celibate vocation. I think this young man may have done nothing very wrong. Should not Brother Precentor try if he has not a gifted voice? Those who sing at their work commonly have some need to use a God-given talent."

The precentor, startled and prompted, and none too lavishly provided with singers to be moulded, obligingly opined that he would be interested to hear the novice sing. Prior Robert knotted his austere brows, and frowned down his patrician nose; if it had rested with him, the errant youth would have been awarded a hard penance. But the master of novices was no great enthusiast for the lavish use of the discipline, and seemed content to have a good construction put on his pupil's lapse.

"It is true that he has shown as earnest and willing, Father Abbot, and has been with us but a short time. It is easy to forget oneself at moments of concentration, and his copying is careful and devoted."

The singer got away with a light penance that would not keep him on his knees long enough to rise from them stiffly. Abbot Heribert was always inclined to be lenient, and this morning he appeared more than usually preoccupied and distracted. They were drawing near the end of the day's affairs. The abbot rose as if to put an end to the chapter.

"There are here a few documents to be sealed," said Brother Matthew the cellarer, rustling parchments in haste, for it seemed to him that the abbot had turned absent-minded, and lost sight of this duty. "There is the matter of the fee-farm of Hales, and the grant made by Walter Aylwin, and also the guestship agreement with Gervase Bonel and his wife, to whom we are allotting the first house beyond the mill-pond. Master Bonel wishes to move in as soon as may be, before the Christmas feast ..."

"Yes, yes, I have not forgotten." Abbot Heribert looked small, dignified but resigned, standing before them with a scroll of his own gripped in both hands. "There is something I have to announce to you all. These necessary documents cannot be sealed today, for sufficient reason. It may well be that they are now beyond my competence, and I no longer have the right to conclude any agreement for this community. I have here an instruction which was delivered to me yesterday, from Westminster, from the king's court. You all know that Pope Innocent has acknowledged King Stephen's claim to the throne of this realm, and in his support has sent over a legate with full powers, Alberic, cardinal-bishop of Ostia. The cardinal proposes to hold a legatine council in London for the reform of the church, and I am summoned to attend, to account for my stewardship as abbot of this convent. The terms make clear," said Heribert, firmly and sadly, "that my tenure is at the disposal of the legate. We have lived through a troubled year, and been tossed between two claimants to the throne of our land. It is not a secret, and I acknowledge it, that his Grace, when he was here in the summer, held me in no great favour, since in the confusion of the times I did not see my way clear, and was slow to accept his sovereignty. Therefore I now regard my abbacy as suspended, until or unless the legatine council confirms me in office. I cannot ratify any documents or agreements in the name of our house. Whatever is now uncompleted must remain uncompleted until a firm appointment has been made. I cannot trespass on what may well be another's field."

He had said what he had to say. He resumed his seat and folded his hands patiently, while their bewildered, dismayed murmurings gradually congealed and mounted into a boiling, bees'-hive hum of consternation. Though not everyone was horrified, as Cadfael plainly saw. Prior Robert, just as startled as the rest, and adept at maintaining a decorous front, none the less glowed brightly behind his ivory face, drawing the obvious conclusion, and Brother Jerome, quick to interpret any message from that quarter, hugged himself with glee inside the sleeves of his habit, while his face exhibited pious sympathy and pain. Not that they had anything against Heribert, except that he continued to hold an office on which impatient subordinates were casting covetous eyes. A nice old man, of course, but out of date, and far too lax. Like a king who lives too long, and positively invites assassination. But the rest of them fluttered and panicked like hens invaded by the fox, clamouring variously:

"But, Father Abbot, surely the king will restore you!"

"Oh, Father, must you go to this council?"

"We shall be left like sheep without a shepherd!"

Prior Robert, who considered himself ideally equipped to deal with the flock of St. Peter himself, if need be, gave that complaint a brief, basilisk glare, but refrained from protest, indeed murmured his own commiseration and dismay.

"My duty and my vows are to the Church," said Abbot Heribert sadly, "and I am bound to obey the summons, as a loyal son. If it pleases the Church to confirm me in office, I shall return to take up my customary ward here. If another is appointed in my place, I shall still return among you, if I am permitted, and live out my life as a faithful brother of this house, under our new superior."

Cadfael thought he caught a brief, complacent flicker of a smile that passed over Robert's face at that. It would not greatly disconcert him to have his old superior a humble brother under his rule at last.

"But clearly," went on Abbot Heribert with humility, "I can no longer claim rights as abbot until the matter is settled, and these agreements must rest in abeyance until my return, or until another considers and pronounces on them. Is any one of them urgent?"

Brother Matthew shuffled his parchments and pondered, still shaken by the suddenness of the news. "There is no reason to hurry in the matter of the Aylwin grant, he is an old friend to our order, his offer will certainly remain open as long as need be. And the Hales fee-farm will date only from Lady Day of next year, so there's time enough. But Master Bonel relies on the charter being sealed very soon. He is waiting to move his belongings into the house."

"Remind me of the terms, if you will," the abbot requested apologetically. "My mind has been full of other matters, I have forgotten just what was agreed."

"Why, he grants to us his manor of Mallilie absolutely, with his several tenants, in return for a messuage here at the abbey—the first house on the town side of the mill-pond is vacant, and the most suitable to his household—together with keep for life for himself and his wife, and for two servants also. The details are as usual in such cases. They shall have daily two monks' loaves and one servants' loaf, two gallons of conventual ale and one of servants' ale, a dish of meat such as the abbey sergeants have, on meat-days, and of fish on fish-days, from the abbot's kitchen, and an intermissum whenever extra dainties are provided. These to be fetched by their manservant. They shall also have a dish of meat or fish daily for their two domestics. Master Bonel is also to have annually a robe such as the senior of the abbey officers receive, and his wife—she so prefers—shall have ten shillings yearly to provide a robe for herself as she chooses. There is also a provision of ten shillings yearly for linen, shoes and firing, and livery for one horse. And at the death of either, the other to retain possession of the house and receive a moiety of all the aforesaid provisions, except that if the wife be the survivor, she need not be provided with stabling for a horse. These are the terms, and I had intended to have witnesses come hither after chapter for the ratification. The justice has a clerk waiting."

"I fear none the less," said the abbot heavily, "that this also must wait. My rights are in abeyance."

"It will greatly inconvenience Master Bonel," said the cellarer anxiously. "They have already prepared to remove here, and expected to do so in the next few days. The Christmas feast is coming, and they cannot well be left in discomfort."

"Surely," suggested Prior Robert, "the move could be countenanced, even if the ratification must wait a while. It's highly unlikely that any abbot appointed would wish to upset this agreement." Since it was perfectly clear that he himself was in line for the appointment, and knew himself to be in better odour with King Stephen than his superior, he spoke with easy authority. Heribert jumped at the suggestion.

"I think such a move is permissible. Yes, Brother Matthew, you may proceed, pending final sanction, which I feel sure will be forthcoming. Reassure our guest on that point, and allow him to bring his household at once. It is only right that they should feel settled and at peace for the Christmas feast. There is no other case needing attention?"

"None, Father." And he asked, subdued and thoughtful: "When must you set forth on this journey?"

"The day after tomorrow I should leave. I ride but slowly these days, and we shall be some days on the road. In my absence, of course, Prior Robert will be in charge of all things here."

Abbot Heribert lifted a distrait hand in blessing, and led the way out of the chapter-house. Prior Robert, sweeping after, no doubt felt himself already in charge of all things within the pale of the Benedictine abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul of Shrewsbury, and had every intent and expectation of continuing so to his life's end.

The brothers filed out in mourne silence, only to break out into subdued but agitated conversations as soon as they were dispersed over the great court. Heribert had been their abbot for eleven years, and an easy man to serve under, approachable, kindly, perhaps even a little too easy-going. They did not look forward to changes.

In the half-hour before High Mass at ten, Cadfael betook himself very thoughtfully to his workshop in the herb-gardens, to tend a few specifics he had brewing. The enclosure, thickly hedged and well trimmed, was beginning now to look bleached and dry with the first moderate cold, all the leaves grown elderly and lean and brown, the tenderest plants withdrawing into the warmth of the earth; but the air still bore a lingering, aromatic fragrance compounded of all the ghostly scents of summer, and inside the hut the spicy sweetness made the senses swim. Cadfael regularly took his ponderings there for privacy. He was so used to the drunken, heady air within that he barely noticed it, but at need he could distinguish every ingredient that contributed to it, and trace it to its source.

So King Stephen, after all, had not forgotten his lingering grudges, and Abbot Heribert was to be the scapegoat for Shrewsbury's offence in holding out against his claims. Yet he was not by nature a vindictive man. Perhaps it was rather that he felt a need to flatter and court the legate, since the pope had recognised him as king of England, and given him papal backing, no negligible weapon, in the contention with the Empress Maud, the rival claimant to the throne. That determined lady would certainly not give up so easily, she would be pressing her case strongly in Rome, and even popes may change their allegiance. So Alberic of Ostia would be given every possible latitude in pursuing his plans for the reform of the Church, and Heribert might be but one sacrificial victim offered to his zeal on a platter.


Excerpted from Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters. Copyright © 1980 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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