In the year of our Lord 1141, civil war over England’s throne leaves a legacy of violence—and the murder of a knight dear to Brother Cadfael. And with gentle bud-strewn May, a flood of pilgrims comes to the celebration of Saint Winifred at the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, carrying with it many strange souls—and perhaps the knight’s killer.
Brother Cadfael’s shrewd eyes see all: the prosperous merchant who rings false, an angelic lame boy, his beautiful dowerless sister, and two wealthy penitents. In the name of justice Cadfael decides to uncover the strange and twisted tale that accompanies these travelers. Instead he unearths a quest for vengeance, witnesses a miracle, and finds himself on a razor’s edge between death and the absolution of love.
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 Pilgrim of Hate
The Tenth Chronicle Of Brother Cadfael, Of The Benedictine Abbey Of Saint Peter And Saint Paul, At Shrewsbury
By Ellis Peters
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1984 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
They were together in Brother Cadfael's hut in the herbarium, in the afternoon of the twenty-fifth day of May, and the talk was of high matters of state, of kings and empresses, and the unbalanced fortunes that plagued the irreconcilable contenders for thrones.
"Well, the lady is not crowned yet!" said Hugh Beringar, almost as firmly as if he saw a way of preventing it.
"She is not even in London yet," agreed Cadfael, stirring carefully round the pot embedded in the coals of his brazier, to keep the brew from boiling up against the sides and burning. "She cannot well be crowned until they let her in to Westminster. Which it seems, from all I gather, they are in no hurry to do."
"Where the sun shines," said Hugh ruefully, "there whoever's felt the cold will gather. My cause, old friend, is out of the sun. When Henry of Blois shifts, all men shift with him, like starvelings huddled in one bed. He heaves the coverlet, and they go with him, clinging by the hems."
"Not all," objected Cadfael, briefly smiling as he stirred. "Not you. Do you think you are the only one?"
"God forbid!" said Hugh, and suddenly laughed, shaking off his gloom. He came back from the open doorway, where the pure light spread a soft golden sheen over the bushes and beds of the herb-garden and the moist noon air drew up a heady languor of spiced and drunken odours, and plumped his slender person down again on the bench against the timber wall, spreading his booted feet on the earth floor. A small man in one sense only, and even so trimly made. His modest stature and light weight had deceived many a man to his undoing. The sunshine from without, fretted by the breeze that swayed the bushes, was reflected from one of Cadfael's great glass flagons to illuminate by flashing glimpses a lean, tanned face, clean shaven, with a quirky mouth, and agile black eyebrows that could twist upward sceptically into cropped black hair. A face at once eloquent and inscrutable. Brother Cadfael was one of the few who knew how to read it. Doubtful if even Hugh's wife Aline understood him better. Cadfael was in his sixty-second year, and Hugh still a year or two short of thirty but, meeting thus in easy companionship in Cadfael's workshop among the herbs, they felt themselves contemporaries.
"No," said Hugh, eyeing circumstances narrowly, and taking some cautious comfort, "not all. There are a few of us yet, and not so badly placed to hold on to what we have. There's the queen in Kent with her army. Robert of Gloucester is not going to turn his back to come hunting us here while she hangs on the southern fringes of London. And with the Welsh of Gwynedd keeping our backs against the earl of Chester, we can hold this shire for King Stephen and wait out the time. Luck that turned once can turn again. And the empress is not queen of England yet."
But for all that, thought Cadfael, mutely stirring his brew for Brother Aylwin's scouring calves, it began to look as though she very soon would be. Three years of civil war between cousins fighting for the sovereignty of England had done nothing to reconcile the factions, but much to sicken the general populace with insecurity, rapine and killing. The craftsman in the town, the cottar in the village, the serf on the demesne, would be only too glad of any monarch who could guarantee him a quiet and orderly country in which to carry on his modest business. But to a man like Hugh it was no such indifferent matter. He was King Stephen's liege man, and now King Stephen's sheriff of Shropshire, sworn to hold the shire for his cause. And his king was a prisoner in Bristol castle since the lost battle of Lincoln. A single February day of this year had seen a total reversal of the fortunes of the two claimants to the throne. The Empress Maud was up in the clouds, and Stephen, crowned and anointed though he might be, was down in the midden, close-bound and close-guarded, and his brother Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester and papal legate, far the most influential of the magnates and hitherto his brother's supporter, had found himself in a dilemma. He could either be a hero, and adhere loudly and firmly to his allegiance, thus incurring the formidable animosity of a lady who was in the ascendant and could be dangerous, or trim his sails and accommodate himself to the reverses of fortune by coming over to her side. Discreetly, of course, and with well-prepared arguments to render his about-face respectable. It was just possible, thought Cadfael, willing to do justice even to bishops, that Henry also had the cause of order and peace genuinely at heart, and was willing to back whichever contender could restore them.
"What frets me," said Hugh restlessly, "is that I can get no reliable news. Rumours enough and more than enough, every new one laying the last one dead, but nothing a man can grasp and put his trust in. I shall be main glad when Abbot Radulfus comes home."
"So will every brother in this house," agreed Cadfael fervently. "Barring Jerome, perhaps, he's in high feather when Prior Robert is left in charge, and a fine time he's had of it all these weeks since the abbot was summoned to Winchester. But Robert's rule is less favoured by the rest of us, I can tell you."
"How long is it he's been away now?" pondered Hugh. "Seven or eight weeks! The legate's keeping his court well stocked with mitres all this time. Maintaining his own state no doubt gives him some aid in confronting hers. Not a man to let his dignity bow to princes, Henry, and he needs all the weight he can get at his back."
"He's letting some of his cloth disperse now, however," said Cadfael. "By that token, he may have got a kind of settlement. Or he may be deceived into thinking he has. Father Abbot sent word from Reading. In a week he should be here. You'll hardly find a better witness."
Bishop Henry had taken good care to keep the direction of events in his own hands. Calling all the prelates and mitred abbots to Winchester early in April, and firmly declaring the gathering a legatine council, no mere church assembly, had ensured his supremacy at the subsequent discussions, giving him precedence over Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury, who in purely English church matters was his superior. Just as well, perhaps. Cadfael doubted if Theobald had greatly minded being outflanked. In the circumstances a quiet, timorous man might be only too glad to lurk peaceably in the shadows, and let the legate bear the heat of the sun.
"I know it. Once let me hear his account of what's gone forward, down there in the south, and I can make my own dispositions. We're remote enough here, and the queen, God keep her, has gathered a very fair array, now she has the Flemings who escaped from Lincoln to add to her force. She'll move heaven and earth to get Stephen out of hold, by whatever means, fair or foul. She is," said Hugh with conviction, "a better soldier than her lord. Not a better fighter in the field—God knows you'd need to search Europe through to find such a one, I saw him at Lincoln—a marvel! But a better general, that she is. She holds to her purpose, where he tires and goes off after another quarry. They tell me, and I believe it, she's drawing her cordon closer and closer to London, south of the river. The nearer her rival comes to Westminster, the tighter that noose will be drawn."
"And is it certain the Londoners have agreed to let the empress in? We hear they came late to the council, and made a faint plea for Stephen before they let themselves be tamed. It takes a very stout heart, I suppose, to stand up to Henry of Winchester face to face, and deny him," allowed Cadfael, sighing.
"They've agreed to admit her, which is as good as acknowledging her. But they're arguing terms for her entry, as I heard it, and every delay is worth gold to me and to Stephen. If only," said Hugh, the dancing light suddenly sharpening every line of his intent and eloquent face, "if only I could get a good man into Bristol! There are ways into castles, even into the dungeons. Two or three good, secret men might do it. A fistful of gold to a malcontent gaoler ... Kings have been fetched off before now, even out of chains, and he's not chained. She has not gone so far, not yet. Cadfael, I dream! My work is here, and I am but barely equal to it. I have no means of carrying off Bristol, too."
"Once loosed," said Cadfael, "your king is going to need this shire ready to his hand."
He turned from the brazier, hoisting aside the pot and laying it to cool on a slab of stone he kept for the purpose. His back creaked a little as he straightened it. In small ways he was feeling his years, but once erect he was spry enough.
"I'm done here for this while," he said, brushing his hands together to get rid of the hollow worn by the ladle. "Come into the daylight, and see the flowers we're bringing on for the festival of Saint Winifred. Father Abbot will be home in good time to preside over her reception from Saint Giles. And we shall have a houseful of pilgrims to care for."
They had brought the reliquary of the Welsh saint four years previously from Gwytherin, where she lay buried, and installed it on the altar of the church at the hospital of Saint Giles, at the very edge of Shrewsbury's Foregate suburb, where the sick, the infected, the deformed, the lepers, who might not venture within the walls, were housed and cared for. And thence they had borne her casket in splendour to her altar in the abbey church, to be an ornament and a wonder, a means of healing and blessing to all who came reverently and in need. This year they had undertaken to repeat that last journey, to bring her from Saint Giles in procession, and open her altar to all who came with prayers and offerings. Every year she had drawn many pilgrims. This year they would be legion.
"A man might wonder," said Hugh, standing spread-footed among the flower beds just beginning to burn from the soft, shy colours of spring into the blaze of summer, "whether you were not rather preparing for a bridal."
Hedges of hazel and may-blossom shed silver petals and dangled pale, silvergreen catkins round the enclosure where they stood, cowslips were rearing in the grass of the meadow beyond, and irises were in tight, thrusting bud. Even the roses showed a harvest of buds, erect and ready to break and display the first colour. In the walled shelter of Cadfael's herb-garden there were fat globes of peonies, too, just cracking their green sheaths. Cadfael had medicinal uses for the seeds, and Brother Petrus, the abbot's cook, used them as spices in the kitchen.
"A man might not be so far out, at that," said Cadfael, viewing the fruits of his labours complacently. "A perpetual and pure bridal. This Welsh girl was virgin until the day of her death."
"And you have married her off since?"
It was idly said, in revulsion from pondering matters of state. In such a garden a man could believe in peace, fruitfullness and amity. But it encountered suddenly so profound and pregnant a silence that Hugh pricked up his ears, and turned his head almost stealthily to study his friend, even before the unguarded answer came. Unguarded either from absence of mind, or of design, there was no telling.
"Not wedded," said Cadfael, "but certainly bedded. With a good man, too, and her honest champion. He deserved his reward."
Hugh raised quizzical brows, and cast a glance over his shoulder towards the long roof of the great abbey church, where reputedly the lady in question slept in a sealed reliquary on her own altar. An elegant coffin just long enough to contain a small and holy Welshwoman, with the neat, compact bones of her race.
"Hardly room within there for two," he said mildly.
"Not two of our gross make, no, not there. There was space enough where we put them." He knew he was listened to, now, and heard with sharp intelligence, if not yet understood.
"Are you telling me," wondered Hugh no less mildly, "that she is not there in that elaborate shrine of yours, where everyone else knows she is?"
"Can I tell? Many a time I've wished it could be possible to be in two places at once. A thing too hard for me, but for a saint, perhaps, possible? Three nights and three days she was in there, that I do know. She may well have left a morsel of her holiness within, if only by way of thanks to us who took her out again, and put her back where I still, and always shall, believe she wished to be. But for all that," owned Cadfael, shaking his head, "there's a trailing fringe of doubt that nags at me. How if I read her wrong?"
"Then your only resort is confession and penance," said Hugh lightly.
"Not until Brother Mark is full-fledged a priest!" Young Mark was gone from his mother-house and from his flock at Saint Giles, gone to the household of the bishop of Lichfield, with Leoric Aspley's endowment to see him through his studies, and the goal of all his longings shining distant and clear before him, the priesthood for which God had designed him. "I'm saving for him," said Cadfael, "all those sins I feel, perhaps mistakenly, to be no sins. He was my right hand and a piece of my heart for three years, and knows me better than any man living. Barring, it may be, yourself?" he added, and slanted a guileless glance at his friend. "He will know the truth of me, and by his judgement and for his absolution I'll embrace any penance. You might deliver the judgement, Hugh, but you cannot deliver the absolution."
"Nor the penance, neither," said Hugh, and laughed freely. "So tell it to me, and go free without penalty."
The idea of confiding was unexpectedly pleasing and acceptable. "It's a long story," said Cadfeel warningly.
"Then now's your time, for whatever I can do here is done, nothing is asked of me but watchfulness and patience, and why should I wait unentertained if there's a good story to be heard? And you are at leisure until Vespers. You may even get merit," said Hugh, composing his face into priestly solemnity, "by unburdening your soul to the secular arm. And I can be secret," he said, "as any confessional."
"Wait, then," said Cadfael, "while I fetch a draught of that maturing wine, and come within to the bench under the north wall, where the afternoon sun falls. We may as well be at ease while I talk."
"It was a year or so before I knew you," said Cadfael, bracing his back comfortably against the warmed, stony roughness of the herb-garden wall. "We were without a tame saint to our house, and somewhat envious of Wenlock, where the Cluny community had discovered their Saxon foundress Milburga, and were making great play with her. And we had certain signs that sent off an ailing brother of ours into Wales, to bathe at Holywell, where this girl Winifred died her first death, and brought forth her healing spring. There was her own patron, Saint Beuno, ready and able to bring her back to life, but the spring remained, and did wonders. So it came to Prior Robert that the lady could be persuaded to leave Gwytherin, where she died her second death and was buried, and come and bring her glory to us here in Shrewsbury. I was one of the party he took with him to deal with the parish there, and bring them to give up the saint's bones."
"All of which," said Hugh, warmed and attentive beside him, "I know very well, since all men here know it."
"Surely! But you do not know to the end what followed. There was one Welsh lord in Gwytherin who would not suffer the girl to be disturbed, and would not be persuaded or bribed or threatened into letting her go. And he died, Hugh—murdered. By one of us, a brother who came from high rank, and had his eyes already set on a mitre. And when we came near to accusing him, it was his life or a better. There were certain young people of that place put in peril by him, the dead lord's daughter and her lover. The boy lashed out in anger, with good reason, seeing his girl wounded and bleeding. He was stronger than he knew. The murderer's neck was broken."
"How many knew of this?" asked Hugh, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully upon the glossy-leaved rose-bushes.
"When it befell, only the lovers, the dead man and I. And Saint Winifred, who had been raised from her grave and laid in that casket of which you and all men know. She knew. She was there. From the moment I raised her," said Cadfael, "and by God, it was I who took her from the soil, and I who restored her—and still that makes me glad—from the moment I uncovered those slender bones, I felt in mine they wished only to be left in peace. It was so little and so wild and quiet a graveyard there, with the small church long out of use, meadow flowers growing over all, and the mounds so modest and green. And Welsh soil! The girl was Welsh, like me, her church was of the old persuasion, what did she know of this alien English shire? And I had those young things to keep. Who would have taken their word or mine against all the force of the church? They would have closed their ranks to bury the scandal, and bury the boy with it, and he guilty of nothing but defending his dear. So I took measures."
Excerpted from The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters. Copyright © 1984 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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