In the summer of 1144, a strange calm has settled over England. The armies of King Stephen and the Empress Maud, the two royal cousins contending for the throne, have temporarily exhausted each other. On the whole, Brother Cadfael considers peace a blessing. Still, a little excitement never comes amiss to a former soldier, and Cadfael is delighted to accompany a friend on a mission of diplomacy to his native Wales.
But shortly after their arrival, the two monks are caught up in another royal feud. The Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd has banished his brother Cadwaladr, accusing him of the treacherous murder of an ally. The reckless Cadwaladr has retaliated by landing an army of Danish mercenaries, poised to invade Wales. As the two armies teeter on the brink of bloody civil war, Cadfael is captured by the Danes and must navigate the brotherly quarrel that threatens to plunge an entire kingdom into chaos.
About the Author
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.
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The Summer of the Danes
The Eighteenth Chronicle Of Brother Cadfael, Of The Benedictine Abbey Of Saint Peter And Saint Paul, At Shrewsbury
By Ellis Peters
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1991 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
The extraordinary events of that Summer of 1144 may properly be said to have begun the previous year, in a tangle of threads both ecclesiastical and secular, a net in which any number of diverse people became enmeshed, clerics, from the archbishop down to Bishop Roger de Clinton's lowliest deacon, and the laity from the princes of North Wales down to the humblest cottager in the trefs of Arfon. And among the commonalty thus entrammelled, more to the point, an elderly Benedictine monk of the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury.
Brother Cadfael had approached that April in a mood of slightly restless hopefulness, as was usual with him when the birds were nesting, and the meadow flowers just beginning to thrust their buds up through the new grass, and the sun to rise a little higher in the sky every noon. True, there were troubles in the world, as there always had been. The vexed affairs of England, torn in two by two cousins contending for the throne, had still no visible hope of a solution. King Stephen still held his own in the south and most of the east; the Empress Maud, thanks to her loyal half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, was securely established in the southwest and maintained her own court unmolested in Devizes. But for some months now there had been very little fighting between them, whether from exhaustion or policy, and a strange calm had settled over the country, almost peace. In the Fens the raging outlaw Geoffrey de Mandeville, every man's enemy, was still at liberty, but a liberty constricted by the king's new encircling fortresses, and increasingly vulnerable. All in all, there was room for some cautious optimism, and the very freshness and lustre of the spring forbade despondency, even had despondency been among Cadfael's propensities.
So he came to chapter, on this particular day at the end of April, in the most serene and acquiescent of spirits, full of mild good intentions towards all men, and content that things should continue as bland and uneventful through the summer and into the autumn. He certainly had no premonition of any immediate change in this idyllic condition, much less of the agency by which it was to come.
As though compelled, half fearfully and half gratefully, to the same precarious but welcome quietude, the business at chapter that day was modest and aroused no dispute, there was no one in default, not even a small sin among the novices for Brother Jerome to deplore, and the schoolboys, intoxicated with the spring and the sunshine, seemed to be behaving like the angels they certainly were not. Even the chapter of the Rule, read in the flat, deprecating tones of Brother Francis, was the 34th, gently explaining that the doctrine of equal shares for all could not always be maintained, since the needs of one might exceed the needs of another, and he who received more accordingly must not preen himself on being supplied beyond his brothers, and he that received less but enough must not grudge the extra bestowed on his brothers. And above all, no grumbling, no envy. Everything was placid, conciliatory, moderate. Perhaps, even, a shade on the dull side?
It is a blessed thing, on the whole, to live in slightly dull times, especially after disorder, siege and bitter contention. But there was still a morsel somewhere in Cadfael that itched if the hush continued too long. A little excitement, after all, need not be mischief, and does sound a pleasant counterpoint to the constant order, however much that may be loved and however faithfully served.
They were at the end of routine business, and Cadfael's attention had wandered away from the details of the cellarer's accounts, since he himself had no function as an obedientiary, and was content to leave such matters to those who had. Abbot Radulfus was about to close the chapter, with a sweeping glance around him to make sure that no one else was brooding over some demur or reservation, when the lay porter who served at the gatehouse during service or chapter put his head in at the door, in a manner which suggested he had been waiting for this very moment, just out of sight.
"Father Abbot, there is a guest here from Lichfield. Bishop de Clinton has sent him on an errand into Wales, and he asks lodging here for a night or two."
Anyone of less importance, thought Cadfael, and he would have let it wait until we all emerged, but if the bishop is involved it may well be serious business, and require official consideration before we disperse. He had good memories of Roger de Clinton, a man of decision and solid good sense, with an eye for the genuine and the bogus in other men, and a short way with problems of doctrine. By the spark in the abbot's eye, though his face remained impassive, Radulfus also recalled the bishop's last visit with appreciation.
"The bishop's envoy is very welcome," he said, "and may lodge here for as long as he wishes. Has he some immediate request of us, before I close this chapter?"
"Father, he would like to make his reverence to you at once, and let you know what his errand is. At your will whether it should be here or in private."
"Let him come in," said Radulfus.
The porter vanished, and the small, discreet buzz of curiosity and speculation that went round the chapterhouse like a ripple on a pond ebbed into anticipatory silence as the bishop's envoy came in and stood among them.
A little man, of slender bones and lean but wiry flesh, diminutive as a sixteen-year-old boy, and looking very much like one, until discerning attention discovered the quality and maturity of the oval, beardless face. A Benedictine like these his brothers, tonsured and habited, he stood erect in the dignity of his office and the humility and simplicity of his nature, as fragile as a child and as durable as a tree. His straw-coloured ring of cropped hair had an unruly spikiness, recalling the child. His grey eyes, formidably direct and clear, confirmed the man.
A small miracle! Cadfael found himself suddenly presented with a gift he had often longed for in the past few years, by its very suddenness and improbability surely miraculous. Roger de Clinton had chosen as his accredited envoy into Wales not some portly canon of imposing presence, from the inner hierarchy of his extensive see, but the youngest and humblest deacon in his household, Brother Mark, sometime of Shrewsbury abbey, and assistant for two fondly remembered years among the herbs and medicines of Cadfael's workshop. Brother Mark made a deep reverence to the abbot, dipping his ebullient tonsure with a solemnity which still retained, until he lifted those clear eyes again, the slight echo and charm of absurdity which had always clung about the mute waif Cadfael first recalled. When he stood erect he was again the ambassador; he would always be both man and child from this time forth, until the day when he became priest, which was his passionate desire. And that could not be for some years yet, he was not old enough to be accepted.
"My lord," he said, "I am sent by my bishop on an errand of goodwill into Wales. He prays you receive and house me for a night or two among you."
"My son," said the abbot, smiling, "you need here no credentials but your presence. Did you think we could have forgotten you so soon? You have here as many friends as there are brothers, and in only two days you will find it hard to satisfy them all. And as for your errand, or your lord's errand, we will do all we can to forward it. Do you wish to speak of it? Here, or in private?"
Brother Mark's solemn face melted into a delighted smile at being not only remembered, but remembered with obvious pleasure. "It is no long story, Father," he said, "and I may well declare it here, though later I would entreat your advice and counsel, for such an embassage is new to me, and there is no one could better aid me to perform it faithfully than you. You know that last year the Church chose to restore the bishopric of Saint Asaph, at Llanelwy."
Radulfus agreed, with an inclination of his head. The fourth Welsh diocese had been in abeyance for some seventy years, very few now living could remember when there had been a bishop on the throne of Saint Kentigern. The location of the see, with a foot either side the border, and all the power of Gwynedd to westward, had always made it difficult to maintain. The cathedral stood on land held by the earl of Chester, but all the Clwyd valley above it was in Owain Gwynedd's territory. Exactly why Archbishop Theobald had resolved on reviving the diocese at this time was not quite clear to anyone, perhaps not even the archbishop. Mixed motives of Church politics and secular manoeuvring apparently required a firmly English hold on this borderland, for the appointed man was a Norman. There was not much tenderness towards Welsh sensitivities in such a preferment, Cadfael reflected ruefully.
"And after his consecration last year by Archbishop Theobald, at Lambeth, Bishop Gilbert is finally installed in his see, and the archbishop wishes him to receive assurance he has the support of our own bishop, since the pastoral duties in those parts formerly rested in the diocese of Lichfield. I am the bearer of letters and gifts to Llanelwy on my lord's behalf."
That made sense, if the whole intent of the Church was to gain a firm foothold well into Welsh land, and demonstrate that it would be preserved and defended. A marvel, Cadfael considered, that any bishop had ever contrived to manage so huge a see as the original bishopric of Mercia, successively shifting its base from Lichfield to Chester, back again to Lichfield, and now to Coventry, in the effort to remain in touch with as diverse a flock as ever shepherd tended. And Roger de Clinton might not be sorry to be quit of those border parishes, whether or not he approved the strategy which deprived him of them.
"The errand that brings you back to us, even for a few days, is dearly welcome," said Radulfus. "If my time and experience can be of any avail to you, they are yours, though I think you are equipped to acquit yourself well without any help from me or any man."
"It is a weighty honour to be so trusted," said Mark very gravely.
"If the bishop has no doubts," said Radulfus, "neither need you. I take him for a man who can judge very well where to place his trust. If you have ridden from Lichfield you must be in need of some rest and refreshment, for it's plain you set out early. Is your mount being cared for?"
"Yes, Father." The old address came back naturally.
"Then come with me to my lodging, and take some ease, and use my time as you may wish. What wisdom I have is at your disposal." He was already acutely aware, as Cadfael was, that this apparently simple mission to the newly made and alien bishop at Saint Asaph covered a multitude of other calculated risks and questionable issues, and might well send this wise innocent feeling his way foot by foot through a quagmire, with quaking turf on every hand. All the more impressive, then, that Roger de Clinton had placed his faith in the youngest and least of his attendant clerics.
"This chapter is concluded," said the abbot, and led the way out. As he passed the visitor by, Brother Mark's grey eyes, at liberty at last to sweep the assembly for other old friends, met Cadfael's eyes, and returned his smile, before the young man turned and followed his superior. Let Radulfus have him for a while, savour him, get all his news from him, and all the details that might complicate his coming journey, give him the benefit of long experience and unfailing commonsense. Later on, when that was done, Mark would find his own way back to the herb garden.
* * *
"The bishop has been very good to me," said Mark, shaking off firmly the idea of any special preference being shown him in his selection for this mission, "but so he is to all those close about him. There's more to this than favour to me. Now that he's set up Bishop Gilbert in Saint Asaph, the archbishop knows very well how shaky his position must be, and wants to make sure his throne is secured by every support possible. It was his wish—indeed his command—that our bishop should pay the new man this complimentary visit, seeing it's from his diocese most of Gilbert's new see has been lopped. Let the world see what harmony there is among bishops—even bishops who have had a third of their territory whipped from under their feet. Whatever Bishop Roger may be thinking of the wisdom of planting a Norman, with not a word of Welsh, in a see nine-tenths Welsh, he could hardly refuse the archbishop. But it was left to him how he carried out the order. I think he chose me because he does not wish to make too lavish and flattering a show. His letter is formal and beautifully executed, his gift is more than suitable. But I—I am a judicious half-measure!"
They were gathered in conference in one of the carrels of the north walk, where the spring sunshine still reached slanting fingers of pale gold even in late afternoon, an hour or so before Vespers. Hugh Beringar had ridden down from his house in the town as soon as word of Brother Mark's arrival had reached him, not because the sheriff had any official business in this clerical embassage, but for the pleasure of seeing again a young man he held in affectionate remembrance, and to whom, in this present instance, he might be able to give some help and advice. Hugh's relations with North Wales were good. He had a friendly agreement with Owain Gwynedd, since neither of them trusted their mutual neighbour the earl of Chester, and they could accept each other's word without question. With Madog ap Meredith of Powis the sheriff had a more precarious relationship. The Shropshire border was constantly alert against sporadic and almost playful raids from beyond the dyke, though at this present time all was comparatively quiet. What the conditions of travel were likely to be on this ride to Saint Asaph, Hugh was the most likely man to know.
"I think you are too modest," he said seriously. "I fancy the bishop knows you well enough by now, if he's had you constantly about him, to have a very good opinion of your wit, and trusts you to step gently where a weightier ambassador might talk too much and listen too little. Cadfael here will tell you more than I can about Welsh feeling in Church matters, but I know where politics enter into it. You can be sure that Owain Gwynedd has a sharp eye on the doings of Archbishop Theobald in his domain, and Owain is always to be reckoned with. And only four years ago there was a new bishop consecrated in his own home diocese of Bangor, which is totally Welsh. There at least they did sanction a Welshman, one who at first refused to swear fealty to King Stephen or acknowledge the dominance of Canterbury. Meurig was no hero, and did finally give way and do both, and it cost him Owain's countenance and favour at the time. There was strong resistance to allowing him to take his seat. But they've come to terms and made up their differences since then, which means they'll certainly work together to keep Gwynedd from being wholly subservient to Theobald's influence. To consecrate a Norman now to Saint Asaph is a challenge to princes as well as prelates, and whoever undertakes a diplomatic mission there will have to keep a sharp eye on both."
"And Owain at least," Cadfael added shrewdly, "will be keeping a sharp eye on what his people are feeling, and an ear open to what they are saying. It behoves Gilbert to do the same. Gwynedd has no mind to give way to Canterbury, they have saints and customs and rites of their own."
"I have heard," said Mark, "that formerly, a long time ago, St David's was the metropolitan see of Wales, with its own archbishop not subject to Canterbury. There are some Welsh churchmen now who want that rule restored."
Cadfael shook his head rather dubiously at that. "Better not to look too closely into the past, we're hearing more of that claim the more the writ of Canterbury is urged on us. But certainly Owain will be casting his shadow over his new bishop, by way of a reminder he's in alien territory, and had better mind his manners. I hope he may be a wise man, and go gently with his flock."
"Our bishop is very much in agreement with you," said Mark, "and I'm well briefed. I did not tell the whole of my errand in chapter, though I have told it to Father Abbot since. I have yet another letter and gift to deliver. I am to go on to Bangor—oh, no, this is certainly not at Archbishop Theobald's orders!—and pay the same courtesy to Bishop Meurig as to Bishop Gilbert. If Theobald holds that bishops should stand together, then Roger de Clinton's text is that the principle applies to Norman and Welsh alike. And we propose to treat them alike."
Excerpted from The Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters. Copyright © 1991 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A bit of a twist, far from the Abbey. The mystery is solved in the end, but not by Cadfael. For this tale, he is pretty much along for the ride rather than central to the story and the solution. Still, it is an excellent read with the usual twists and turns. Ever closer to the last book in the series. That saddens me. These are a joy to read.
Ellis Peters presents us with another elegantly written medieval mystery featuring Brother Cadfael, herbalist and amateur sleuth of the Abbey in Shrewbury, England. Cadfael journeys to Wales on a diplomatic mission with Brother Mark, a young, slight monk who radiates innocence and goodness in the jaded and sometimes brutal world of 12th century England. There is interesting history of Danish mauraders who settled in Dublin, Ireland and an interesting discussion of the culture of medieval Wales focusing on honor and kinship obligations. While on their mission to Wales, Cadfael and Mark become caught up in a battle between noble brothers with the expected love interest threading through the tale. Beautiful language in a medieval cadence and a sense of authenticity in the colorful details and description of the passing scenes.
Cadfael accompanies the Bishop of Lichfield's representative as interpreter on a journey to the newly-revived Welsh diocese of St Asaph. The journey is more eventful than expected. The Danish fleet is sighted approaching the Menai Strait, a girl disappears and a corpse is discovered. Cadfael goes back home into Wales, to act as interpreter between the new abbot, and the local princes. Problems occur, when the younger brother of one of the princes, who has been disowned from his land, arrives back in Wales with an army of Danes over from Dublin.Not exactly full of tension - the Danes are decent folk, and Owain and Otin have no quarrel with each other, preferring to watch Owain's brother make an eejit of himself, but an enjoyable quick read none the less
I am finding as I read these novels that Peters is not consistent. This one should not be labeled a mystery. Oh there is a body and early enough that one thinks a mystery is to be solved, but Cadfael certainly has no part in it, or so little at the begining that one thinks that Peters/Pargeter wanted to indulge in the aspects of the time period that she found more fascinating.Through 17 earlier adventurers we have warmed to Brother Cadfael and seen that his keen mind and his ability to be a deep study of human nature leads him to uncover man's basest nature, that of the murderer. Here in this novel we see that Cadfael still is an observer of humanity and history, but his skill set in solving crime is unneeded. Prince Owain and his brother Cadwaladr have a falling out. Cadwaladr is banished, in order to get back to his lands, he hires Dane raiders from Dublin, hence the title.Cadfael happens to be deep in Wales and far from Shrewsbury as a translator for his old protege, Brother Mark and immediately he is caught up on the edge of events. But the body and the murder have little to do with the Danes and the two princely brothers. Indeed at the end of the book, Peters just conveniently resolves it. What happened to the smart Cadfael who allowed me to read alongside his discoveries to solve the mystery too?
Brother Cadfael must travel in this story. It makes for an interesting history as well as a mystery.
Brother Cadfael has an opportunity to visit Wales with Brother Mark, and is soon caught up in the local politics.