The next morning, Hugh came into the garden a bit hesitatingly. Cadfael saw him approach and smiled.
"Hello, lad. I will be glad for your assistance today, I have finally finished harvesting the ingredients for all ointments and potions needed."
He did notice the slight unease in his friend, but chose to ignore it. Hugh would not get over his insecurities in just one day and from now on, he just needed the reassuring everyday routine he was used to before his injury and illness.
Inside, he set Hugh to chopping and grinding ingredients while he started several potions and mixed a number of ointments. The silence was comforting this time instead of awkward and an hour and a half later, Cadfael bottled three potions, set two others to simmer and took out another flask.
"What do you think of this mix?" he asked, handing Hugh a mug of it, "drink it."
The Sheriff sniffed and tasted. "Ugh." He made a face and tried to hand the beaker back to Cadfael.
Cadfael smiled. "Finish it."
Hugh curled his lip. "It tastes revolting."
"It is also very good for you. Drink it, and I'll pour you some wine."
"Can't you add something to at least hide the taste?" Hugh complained as he drained the cup.
"Yes, but it is too early in the season for the plants I would need for it. Here."
Hugh gratefully took a rather larger gulp of the wine than he normally would and promptly starting choking, coughing helplessly.
Cadfael shook his head and thumped him on the back. "Honestly, where did you learn to drink? Easy now."
"You try drinking something as vile as that!" the younger man protested, "what WAS that, anyway? It tastes like horsepi…"
A stern glare from Cadfael made him stop before he could finish the word.
"This is an extract of several plants that will help you build up your strength. Be sure to eat good solid food over the next weeks – meat and eggs. You've lost far too much weight."
Hugh bit his lip. "I wasn't hungry at all when…when…"
"I know, it has that effect," Cadfael nodded, "that is why we have to get some flesh back on your bones! You'll find that it is much easier to regain your strength with some proper nourishment. If you do not see to it yourself, I shall send a message to Aline."
Hugh held up his hands in surrender. "Please, spare me! I shall follow your every direction as long as you do not set my wife on me."
"Then take this flask of horse urine and drink a cup every day."
Hugh made an urchin's face at him just as brother Jerome entered the small hut. The Sheriff turned bright red and Cadfael bit his lip not to laugh out loud.
The small brother looked down upon them haughtily. "Father Abbot requests your presence, my Lord Sheriff, and yours, brother."
Ten minutes later both of them sat in the Abbot's quarters waiting for the man to arrive.
"Brother Jerome's good opinion of me is lost forever, isn't it?" Hugh groaned.
"Undoubtedly. That will teach you to show such disrespect to revered brothers of the Benedictines, you young heathen," Cadfael smirked.
Hugh was about to stick his tongue out at the revered brother but thought better of it. Luckily for him, just in time as the Abbot entered, but not fast enough to wipe the embarrassed expression off his face.
Radulfus smiled indulgently. "Has the good brother here been teasing you, my lord Sheriff?"
"Well, he's making me drink horse…"
"HUGH!" Cadfael exclaimed, shocked.
"My apologies, Father," Hugh bowed his head contritely, shooting Cadfael an impish grin from under his eyelashes.
The Abbot shook his head. "I am glad you are reconciled," he said warmly, "I was concerned."
"Thank you, Father," Cadfael said heartfelt, "for your support."
Hugh turned his head. "I – Thank you," he hesitated. "I know you must have a very poor opinion of me now," he continued, "but I will endeavour to regain your trust, my Lord."
Radulfus kept his gaze for a long time, until Hugh was nearly squirming. "Sins are a serious business," he finally said, and the younger man paled.
Cadfael made to protest, but the Abbot raised his hand to silence him.
"Forgiveness is an equally serious business, or perhaps more so. While sins are sometimes committed in the spur of the moment, forgiveness is always deliberate. You are forgiven, Hugh. Neither Cadfael or myself have done so lightly, nor do we wish to ignore the guilt you feel. But you are forgiven. The slate is clean. As for this town, I still could not wish for a more amiable relationship between law and church, or a better Sheriff to work with, son."
Hugh blushed and ducked his head while Cadfael smiled and nodded in approval.
Two months later
Cadfael sat lazily in the warm sun in front of his hut, tired from hours of weeding and brewing, to all appearances fast asleep, when he heard the familiar sounds of boots on gravel. Then quiet.
"Don't you dare, you young rascal," he growled.
His small, dark haired would-be assailant barely started, and dropped the long blade of grass that he was about to use to tickle Cadfael's face with.
"I should know I can never surprise you," he commented ruefully.
"Next time, walk on the grass, not on the gravel," Cadfael advised as he opened his eyes, "I could hear you coming before you turned the corner."
"I'll remember that," Hugh promised as he sank down next to Cadfael on the bench.
"Business with Father Abbot?" Cadfael asked.
"Yes, though nothing serious. I did obtain permission for you to come with me and visit Aline and your godson."
That woke Cadfael up properly. "They are here? I thought they would be spending the entire summer at Maesbury?"
"True, but they came back early. The weather will likely change soon, or so I'm told, and I wanted them back in town before the rain begins."
Cadfael eyed the clear blue sky sceptically. "It is entirely possible, with the heath of the past weeks," he admitted, "at any rate I am glad for it. I miss them when they are out of town."
"Then you will be happy that you have leave to dine with us as well," Hugh grinned.
Cadfael got up, content. "Certainly. I have a present for Giles, I will retrieve it and come with you."
Together they walked towards town, shoulder to shoulder, Hugh's horse trotting behind, and when Giles threw himself into his godfather's arms with an excited scream, Cadfael was absolutely sure everything was once again as it should be.