A Friend in Need
Stirring his latest herbal medicine Cadfael was surprised Hugh had not stopped by the herb garden as he normally did mid morning. Especially today of all days. Finally Cadfael took the pan off the fire and then turned to leave for the noon office of Sext. He wanted to surprise Prior Robert and be on time for once.
He left the warmth of his hut and headed across the still frosty gardens towards the abbey. His stomach rumbled as he did so, reminding him that it would soon be lunch time. He wondered what it would be today and took a deep breath as he passed the kitchen's catching a faint whiff of stew of some kind.
That only made him hungrier and he increased his speed towards the church. Sext was a short office, around fifteen minutes and following that was the midday meal and hopefully bigger helpings than usual.
Just as he entered the courtyard leading to the abbey there was a pounding on the gates. His curiosity got the better of him and he crossed over to see who it was. "Sergeant Warden," he said greeting the rider as he leapt from his horse. "What is the matter?"
"Brother I am sent by Mistress Beringar to summon you."
"Did she say why?" Cadfael noticed the slight change in the burly officer's eyes. "She did… it is not the baby is it?"
Warden shook his head. "Please brother… Run to her. I must speak with the Lord Abbot."
Gathering his skirts in one hand, his hunger forgotten Cadfael ran for the gate. Sheriff Hugh Beringer and his wife Aline lived not far from the foregate, something he had quite often been grateful for. No more so than now. He ran with a speed most unbecoming to a monk, never mind a man of his age, reaching the house a little out of breath.
Aline was waiting in the street for him. "Brother Cadfael," she said.
Cadfael looked at her catching his breath and taking in the distress on her face. "Aline what is it? Sergeant Warden came with your message but…"
"It's Hugh," she whispered. "They've taken him…" And with that she fainted dead away.
Cadfael picked her up and carried her into the house. He laid her gently down just as she started to wake. "Gently does it child," he said.
Aline looked at him. "I am hardly that." She sat up taking the beaker of water he offered her.
"Now," Cadfael said sitting next to her. "What's this about Hugh? Who has taken him?"
Aline handed him the parchment. "Here."
Cadfael read it. "Are they going to do what they ask?"
Aline shook her head. "They will not. Officially they do not have the manpower to spare. I am not convinced of Sergeant Warden's loyalty."
Cadfael shook his head. "The king's sheriff gets kidnapped and the law does nothing? We'll see about that." He put a hand on her shoulder. "I'll do what I can. Try not to worry."
"Easier said than done."
"May I keep this?" Cadfael asked looking at the parchment in his hand. His thirst for knowledge and his hunger for justice now forefront in his mind.
Aline nodded. "Of course." She paused. "This came with it… to prove they have him." She held out the ruby from the top of Hugh's dagger.
Cadfael took it holding it to the light. A small piece of fern was caught in the gold settings round it. "May I?" he asked. At her nod of consent he slid both jewel and parchment into his tunic. "Now I must away to do what I can." He hugged her briefly. "If you need of anything send to the abbey. Brother Oswin will be there if I am not."
He set off back to the abbey having missed not only Sext but probably the best of the stew as well. Food was the least of his worries though as his thoughts centred on his missing friend. Where are you Hugh? He thought. And what have you got into?
He reached the dining hall to find his plate still there and barely warm. He apologised for his tardiness and ignored the glares coming from Prior Robert and Brother Jerome. He glanced at Abbot Radulfus indicating he needed a word later and then attacked his meal with the gusto of one who had not eaten for several hours.
After the meal Prior Robert went over to Cadfael. "You missed Sext," he said.
"I had important business outside the abbey," Cadfael said. "I will not miss None if that is your concern. Now if you'll excuse me I have things to do." He stepped away. "Father Abbot, might I have a word." Ignoring the horrified look Robert gave him at the brush off Cadfael moved over to Radulfus. He would have to leave the abbey again and wanted permission to do so as and when. If it was not given he would simply go anyway. Plus he would need supplies for what could be a long trip.
Radulfus read the letter and shook his head. "I am sorry," he said. "But I cannot let you go."
Cadfael looked at him. "Father Abbot… we can't just leave him there."
"What we can't do is interfere in matters of the law."
"This letter says quite clearly that the law should not get involved. And from what I hear they are not."
Radulfus looked hard at him. "Brother Cadfael, I can not let you go. Winter will soon be upon us, we need the medicine stocks high enough to tide us over. There are several in the infirmary who need you as well." He paused. "Besides what they are demanding is not within my power to grant."
"But Father the cup…"
"Belongs to the abbey and as such belongs to God."
"I am sure God would not mind. After all, the King appointed Hugh to Shrewsbury and therefore was appointed by God. It is only a logical step to say that God wants…"
"It is not up to you to determine what God wants Brother," Radulfus interrupted. "The answer is no."
Radulfus merely lifted an eyebrow. "As for the other matter of missing Sext. You know very well you have to ask before leaving the abbey."
"And I would have done had there been time. You have given me leave to come and go as needed and the message seemed urgent…"
"That is beside the point. You missed office. The way you spoke to the prior was inappropriate and rude. You will apologise and do whatever penance he sees fit."
Cadfael nodded, inwardly rolling his eyes at the mere thought of having to grovel like that. He could just imagine what penance Robert would come up with.
"I will see you at None is that understood? There you will apologise to Prior Robert for the way you spoke to him and will explain your actions."
Sighing Cadfael got to his feet. "Yes Father."
He turned slightly. "Yes Father?"
The Abbot held out the parchment. "Don't forget this."
Cadfael nodded and taking the parchment, headed back out into the early afternoon sunlight. He shivered. It was not his body or his soul he was worried about. It was Hugh's. He shoved his hands into his tunic and ran his fingers over the ruby from Hugh's dagger. Again he felt the fern caught in the gilt and then he felt a stab of pain and then something wet on his hand.
Pulling out his hand he examined it. He was bleeding. Putting his finger in his mouth he carefully pulled out the stone with his other hand and looked at it more carefully. There were rough edges on the gem itself. He glanced at the sun and knew he had at least an hour before None. That would be plenty of time to look at it properly.
In his hut, he pulled the chair close to the window and then threw more wood onto the brazier to try to warm the place a little more. Then he pulled out the jewel and turned it over in his hand. "What have we here?" he wondered aloud. He glanced up as Oswin came in. "Ah Oswin, pass me those small tweezers will you?"
Oswin did as he was asked. "Prior Robert is calling for your blood," he said.
"Is he now?" Cadfael concentrated on teasing the fern from where it was held fast.
"He spoke about you in a most uncomplimentary way to the Abbot. I heard as I passed by. I wasn't eavesdropping… he was shouting and it was hard not to hear."
"Glad to hear it…" His gaze narrowed as he finally freed the fern. "Now then… which one are you?"
"Hearts fern," Oswin said looking at it.
Cadfael smiled. "You're learning. There aren't many places this grows round here. I only know of four." He laid it gently on the table and turned his attention to the ruby.
"You cut your finger Brother," Oswin said.
"Indeed I have but I will live." He turned the stone round. "But this… This is altogether different. You see here?" He pointed to scratches on one side. "Indicates a fight and here it's broken, which indicates…" He broke off. "We must go. Don't want to be late."
Once None was completed Radulfus looked over at Cadfael. "I believe you had something to say Brother."
Cadfael took a deep breath and moving from his customary corner moved to lie prostrate on the floor. "Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I missed Sext, left the abbey without permission, spoke sharply to Sergeant Warden and showed great disrespect to Prior Robert earlier."
Robert looked down at him. "Why did you do so?"
"I had just received word that Mistress Beringar was unwell and in her condition and being the wife of the Sheriff I thought it prudent to leave at once."
"And what is her condition?"
"She is with child," Cadfael replied.
The prior took a sharp breath. "I see. So how is she now?"
"It is Sheriff Beringar who needs our concern. He has been kidnapped and the law…"
Radulfus coughed cutting Cadfael off.
Cadfael changed what he was going to say. "That is why I missed sext. I had no reason to be rude to you when you asked me about it. I am sorry."
Robert looked at Radulfus. "I have given thought to the matter of penance. Brother Cadfael continues to make a mockery of everything. Defies me, the rule, God and abuses the trust you have placed in him. Perhaps fasting for three days and being confined to within the abbey walls for a week would focus his attention on his duties here within the abbey rather on things outside."
Cadfael drew a breath to argue but stopped himself. He acknowledged the penance and gave the correct responses to it.
Back in his hut he resumed finishing the supply of cough medicine he was working on and then started on the next batch of back rub. His mind not on the task in hand but on the four places you would find hearts tongue and what Hugh would be doing close to any of them.
Two days later Cadfael was not only hungry but desperate for news of his friend. He had sent Oswin out on visits to some of the infirm who live in the foregate and instructed him to bring back what news he could find. That had been almost two full days ago and he had not seen Oswin since. Robert had reassigned him to serving duty for a week. No doubt in an effort to stop Cadfael doing exactly what he had tried to do.
He crossed the garden to his hut slowly. The door was slightly ajar and he knew he had left it closed. He pushed against it half expecting to find the Prior there or Brother Jerome checking up on him. Both of them had taken it upon themselves to come in randomly several times a day just to make sure he had not tried to leave the conclave between services.
He closed the door behind him and looked across the room. A single figure sat there, a brown cloak around the shoulders seemingly so lost in thought they were unaware of his presence. He coughed slightly.
The figure turned. "You should get that seen to brother," she said. "I hear it is going to be a bad winter."
He moved over to her and gave her a quick embrace. "Aline. If you are found here…"
"Father Abbot knows I am here. I think I may have sprained my wrist and wondered if you had something to ease it."
He nodded and moved over to the shelf. "Of course." He started looking over a couple of the pots. "We need something that will not hurt the child. How are you doing?"
"It is hard," she said. "The days are long without him." She caught his hand and lowered her voice. "I had another letter. They sent me this." She pressed a small cloth into his hand.
Cadfael took it and looked at it. The cloth square contained a lock of blond hair.
"Both are Hugh's," Aline whispered. "The letter said if I did not co-operate next time…" She broke off handing him the parchment.
Cadfael took it and read it. The threat was clear. If she did not co-operate then the next letter would contain Hugh's finger. There was a sound at the door and he slid the letter into his tunic. "There is no news?" he asked pulling down a pot and taking an empty jar. He started to fill it.
Aline shook her head. "Hugh's men have found nothing."
Prior Robert came in and stood silently waiting.
Cadfael nodded to him to acknowledge his presence. "I'm sure Sergeant Warden is doing all he can to find him."
"I wish I were as sure of his loyalty as you. It seems these days you can trust no one."
He looked at her. "His heart is in the right place, even if his methods are sometimes inaccurate."
She smiled. "Adeptly put."
He handed her the jar. "This should help. If it does not then please come back again."
Aline nodded. "I will Brother, thank you." She nodded to Robert as she left. "Brother Prior."
"Mistress Beringar…" He watched her leave and then looked at Cadfael.
"She came to me," Cadfael told him.
Robert nodded. "I am aware of that fact. I understand that Sheriff Beringar is still missing." He paused. "You are aware of the penalty for breaking your penance."
Cadfael nodded. "I am."
Robert nodded. "Watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation. The spirit may be willing but the body is weak."
Cadfael looked down for a moment. "Weak with hunger and the knowledge that my friend is out there, in trouble and with no one to help him. Brother Prior, it is within the Abbey's power to help, if only you would have a word with Father Abbot."
"It is up to the law to find him."
"They sent Mistress Beringar a piece of his coat and a lock of his hair. They said it would be a finger next time."
"Brother… no doubt she would say anything to get us to help. Besides she is a wealthy woman in her own right."
Cadfael drew out the letter. "See for yourself. She would not make up something like this. See for yourself."
Robert took the letter, read it and placed it within his own tunic. "Perhaps you should spend time in prayer searching your soul to see just where your priorities and allegiance lie," he said.
Cadfael bristled inside at that. He knew full well but he also had other allegiances which did not clash with his life here in any way. But he just nodded replying "My life lies here within these walls. A life I chose for myself freely and knowingly."
Robert nodded. "It is time for None. I will walk with you."
That evening Cadfael lay in his cot his mind going over the letter which he had not received back. Where are you Hugh? He wondered. What did you innocently walk into to have deserved this? Then he turned the problem over to God, trusting him to find a solution that somehow involved him.
Day three of his fasting penance dawned with the sky overcast and heavy with snow clouds. Cadfael arrived for breakfast as usual to lay face down on the floor while the others ate. This time he was stopped by Abbot Radulfus. He looked at him. "Father?"
"Go and join the others and eat. You will need your strength today."
"I don't understand…"
"Breakfast then chapter. Then we will talk."
Cadfael nodded and took his place with the other brothers. He looked down at his plate. The simple meal seemed like a feast after going without. The urge was to rush it but he took his time. He wondered what he could have done this time. The penance was not due to finish until supper tonight.
Something had obviously happened but what? He glanced over at Robert who as usual kept his poker face devoid of emotion. Was it possible that Robert had done what he had asked? Somehow he did not think it likely. More likely knowing the way things were going right now he was to be sent to guard the sheep on some remote mountain somewhere for another monastery.
He finished breakfast and spent Chapter in his usual seat. He dozed through it as was his want, managing as usual to hear and take in most of what was said. Once it was finished he went to see Radulfus, still unsure what he had done. To his concern Prior Robert was there also, though he was relieved to see Brother Jerome was not.
Radulfus looked up at him. "Brother…"
"Father… Prior…" Cadfael replied.
"I had an interesting conversation with Prior Robert yesterday." Radulfus laid the letter on the desk. "He showed me this."
Cadfael looked at it and then back up.
"I understand you have seen the cloth and lock of hair of which it speaks."
"I gave those back to Mistress Beringar but I have seen them and they are undoubtedly from the Sheriff."
"Hmmm. Mistress Beringar did appeal to me again yesterday for help but I am still of the opinion the law should deal with the situation. However… it is apparent, taking into consideration what Prior Robert said that there may be something we can do." Radulfus looked squarely at Cadfael. "I am sending you to do what you can."
"Thank you. You will not regret this."
Robert's face had 'Oh I am already' written all over it.
Radulfus looked at him. "You will not however remove any abbey property is that understood."
"But Father how am I meant to negotiate if I do not have what they want?"
"I am sure you will manage. Giving them what they want is no guarantee they will release the Sheriff unharmed."
Robert looked at him. "You were a man of the world for several years before taking the cowl. You know how things are done. I am sure you will find some way."
"I am sure I will." He took the letter Radulfus held out to him. "What's this?"
"A letter from me to whoever is holding the Sheriff, entreating them to let him go. I am sure that will sway them."
Cadfael did not say what ran through his mind but merely nodded. Once dismissed he made his way back to his hut to make sure everything was done that needed to be done before he left. He put a few things into his script that he thought he might need and then took a deep breath. There was one more thing. He had been told not to take it but he did not see he had much choice.
He went to the kitchen to pick up three day's worth of food for two people. Mainly bread but that would be sufficient. Then he headed to the church. He noted that Jerome was there. "Brother," he said.
"Are you leaving us brother?" Jerome asked.
"An errand for the Abbot for which I am seeking the Lord's blessing before I leave." Cadfael lowered himself to his knees and proceeded to do exactly that, his mind on his prayer and his ears listening for Jerome to leave. Finally he did and Cadfael gave him a few minutes grace before slowly getting up from his knees and making his way to the altar. He raised his eyes heavenward. "Forgive me Father," he whispered, then picked up the cup and placed it into his script before leaving the church.
He loaded his bags onto the white donkey and led her from the stables. He would ride later but for now he wanted to walk. He would first make for the places where hearts fern was found. If he could find the place where Hugh was taken then perhaps he would find a clue as to why.
The open road lay before him, the clouds thick, heavy and oppressive above him and a seemingly hopeless task for him to do. But he had to succeed. He noticed Aline standing in the doorway of her house as he passed and he nodded to her. He would succeed; he owed it to Hugh and Aline to do so.
Cadfael pulled his cloak closer round him as he knelt on the ground looking at the fern. This was the fourth and last place he could find. The light was failing badly now, despite the fact it was not yet past 3pm. The wind was cold and lazy in the respect it chose to blow straight through him instead of round him.
This however was the place. It was bound to be. As his mother had told him, things were always in the last place you look. After all it was not as if you were going to think 'oh look I've found it I'll go search a few more places for it now' was it?
Despite the passage of time, the damage to the fern told a tale. There had been a struggle here. Several pieces of the fern were broken and he had also found a piece of cloth that looked like it had been torn from a cloak. More disturbingly there were traces of blood.
He caught sight of something buried and pushed the leaves aside to uncover the rest of Hugh's dagger. He picked it up and looked it over. "So why weren't you found with the other piece," he said. He looked round noting the way the surrounding paths were well used in both directions. Despite the fact he had not seen anyone for several hours. "What were you doing out here Hugh?" The wind whipped his words from his mouth, tossing them across the clearing.
Cadfael glanced up as the remaining light vanished into a cloud of white as winter arrived suddenly and with a vengeance. He tucked the dagger into his belt and holding a hand in front of him he slowly made his way to where he thought he had left the donkey. Fortunately he went the right way. Gripping the leading rein tightly he started walking blindly into what was now a blizzard. Hopefully he would find shelter before he froze to death.
It was a good twenty minutes of stumbling through thick swirling snow before Cadfael even saw a glimmer of light ahead. Pulling his cloak closer round him he changed direction slightly, heading towards it. He whispered to himself as he walked, upholding the office, praying for deliverance from the storm.
Something suddenly lurched from the storm in front of him and he ground to a halt. A dog barked loudly causing the donkey to back off in fright. Cadfael tried to calm it speaking softly to it.
"Who goes there?" a voice asked. The owner of the voice appeared in front of him, more of a shadow than reality but there none the less
"Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury," Cadfael answered grateful to have found someone in this storm.
"A long way from home Brother and in such weather too. Please, take refuge with us until it passes."
"Gladly," Cadfael answered. He followed the figure towards a large black object which slowly turned into a house. From the way the sound echoed they were now in a large courtyard. Someone took the donkey from him and someone else led him inside.
"Stay here Brother and I will go and fetch the Master."
Cadfael stamped his feet and wrapped his arms round himself in a futile effort to warm up. He glanced round the room, some kind of entrance hall he guessed. The house must belong to a rich man. He turned as footsteps and a loud booming voice echoed across the hall.
"Brother… welcome to my humble abode. My name is Simon Franks." The owner of the voice was tall and big boned. His rich clothes clung tightly to his ample figure. His teeth were yellow and his long hair hung in greasy strands. He wiped his hands on his clothes and held one out to Cadfael. "Please join us at table. You must be cold and hungry. Brother…?"
"Cadfael and yes thank you. I am rather cold." Cadfael followed his host into the great hall. A huge fire roared in the centre and a large table was filled with meat and bread.
Seven people were in the room and Simon completely ignored them, not introducing anyone. He showed Cadfael to a seat by the fire and placed a plate of food in front of him along with a mug of ale. "Get yourself outside of that brother," he said taking his seat at the head of the table again. He took a huge bite out of his meat. "So what brings you this way in a blizzard?" he asked with his mouthful.
"I'm on an errand for the Abbot," Cadfael replied. "I must admit I think I got lost in the storm. I was intending to head north."
"Then you are very lost," Simon laughed. "I am west of Shrewsbury, well off the beaten path. The only company here are my pets."
Cadfael looked round expecting to see the dogs from before.
Simon looked at him. "What are you looking for?"
"You mentioned pets; I was looking for the dogs from earlier."
Simon laughed. "Not animals brother… I have far more interesting pets than animals." The wind howled round the building. "You'd best be spending the night here. No sense trying to go north in this weather. No telling where you'd end up." Once Cadfael had finished eating he clicked his fingers.
One of the figures looked up.
"Show the Brother here to the guest room," Simon ordered. "Sleep well brother. I will see you at breakfast."
"Goodnight." Cadfael stood and followed the bent figure from the room. He tried to make conversation with him but it was like talking to a brick wall. His room when he reached it was barer than the prison cell in the monastery. Containing nothing but a bed and what looked like chains on the wall. Cadfael shivered and not just with the gale coming through the open windows. Something was very wrong here.
Cadfael woke several times over night and crawled from his bed to his knees in the freezing room to recite the prayers and psalms of each office. The dawn was only noticeable when the light outside became grey rather than black. The blizzard had not eased up at all and it looked like he would be stuck here a while longer.
The nagging feeling that something was wrong still pulled at him. When someone came to get him for breakfast he again tried to engage them in conversation but again his efforts fell on dead ears. So he turned his thoughts to the conversation last night. His host had mentioned pets other than animals. What could he have meant?
Simon was waiting for Cadfael in the great hall. "Good morning Brother!" he said. "And how are you?"
"Fine thank you. Yourself?"
"Very well. Now I figured some breakfast." He indicated the table and seat by it. "It is still snowing heavily so unless you have the ability to see through it, I suggest you stay with me another day."
"Oh I couldn't possibly do that," Cadfael said as they started to eat. "I have this errand that must be completed…"
"Ah yes Abbot Radulfus's errand. The one that is so vital he sends you out into a storm on your own. Your habit will not protect you from brigands Brother. Nor will your skill with a sword."
Cadfael paused the mug part way to his mouth. "My skill with a sword?" he repeated.
Simon nodded to Cadfael's belt. "You come armed. Surely you were expecting trouble."
"Oh this… no no it is not mine. I am merely returning it to its rightful owner."
"May I see it?"
Not wanting to appear rude Cadfael handed it over. He watched as Simon turned it over, measuring its weight and appearance. He held out his hand for it.
Simon handed it back. He knew that blade, had seen it before, experienced it first hand one could say. "It is broken. A broken blade is no good."
"It will be repaired once its rightful owner has it back." Cadfael tucked it away again. He picked up his mug once again, pushing aside his instincts which were shouting at him, telling him that something was not right. "However, I really must leave after breakfast no matter how bad the storm is."
"Tell me Brother Cadfael," Simon said with his mouth full. "What is so important that you have to leave before the storm is over. Vital abbey business, yes you said. But Abbot Radulfus does not concern himself with anything other than the abbey. I sent word to him some days ago now and have not heard from him."
"Perhaps the message never reached him. I am sure he would have replied if he could." Cadfael finished and pushed back. "Thank you again for the shelter…"
Simon slammed his hand down on the table. "YOU WILL SIT DOWN!!" he yelled.
Cadfael flinched slightly. "I'm sorry?"
Simon lowered his voice, emphasising every word. "You will sit down," he repeated. "You are going nowhere."
"But my errand…"
"No longer matters." Simon turned. "I think it is time I introduced you to a few of my pets Brother."
Simon grinned. "You'll like them… maybe even be one yourself."
Cadfael made to stand up but found a hand on his shoulder keeping him in his chair.
Simon pulled one of the women across to him. "This is one of my pets," he said. "She has many uses… I would offer her to you but being a monk you have no need of women." He paused. "Which is your loss but my gain." He kissed her roughly then pushed her away.
Cadfael watched her fall and noticed the red marks round her ankles and wrists. Then he noticed the collar on her neck. "What are…" he began.
Simon laughed. "They are pets, I told you. Come see where they live." He moved over to the door and opened it. A chill wind blew through but he seemed oblivious to it. "It's not far."
Cadfael followed him down the passage way to the courtyard. It was bitterly cold outside and in the short trip across to the stables he was frozen. He looked round. It was not horses stabled here but people. There must be about twenty he realised. One per compartment. Straw to sleep on, water in a trough. Each of them was chained by wrists and ankles with a third chain attached to the collar round their necks.
Simon grabbed the head of the nearest figure, yanking it upright by the hair. "This is my newest pet, not housetrained unfortunately."
Haunted eyes met Cadfael's, the hint of recognition vanishing as soon as it appeared.
Cadfael stared in shock for a moment. The beaten, swollen face was barely recognisable, the blond hair dirty, the body held stiffly, betraying the amount of pain he was in. From the way the figure was breathing Cadfael estimated at least one if not more broken ribs. "Do you always mistreat them so?"
Simon dropped the figure. "Only when they can not obey a simple order. I had tried to bargain for his release but apparently he is worthless."
"Bargain for his release?"
"There is no point keeping a pet that is worth less than his keep. Not even his woman wants him back." Simon laughed. "I am sure I will find a use for him somewhere."
Cadfael tried to keep his voice from shaking. "Do you not know who this man is?"
Simon smirked. "Remind me."
"This is Hugh Beringar, Sheriff of…"
Simon's smirk grew. "Then perhaps the King will pay his ransom then… as the Abbot will not Brother."
Cadfael straightened, dropping all pretence now. "Then I was not going the wrong way in the storm after all. It is you I seek. I have come on behalf of Abbot Radulfus and Mistress Beringar to negotiate with you for the Sheriff's release."
Simon laughed and looked at Cadfael. "Oh really. Well, Brother I do not negotiate. The way it works is I give whoever the price and they pay it. Buy the pet off me so to speak. It's a business you understand. The price for this one is St Stephen's cup."
Cadfael reached into his script. "As was stipulated in the letter you sent to Mistress Beringar. The threat in the next letter only served to upset her more and increase the Abbot's rigidity to refuse." He noticed Hugh's reaction to his wife's name.
"I sent no threat," Simon objected.
"Pay up or I send him to you piece by piece. If that is not a threat then I do not know what is." Cadfael held up the letter from Radulfus. "However I do bring a letter from the Abbot."
Simon held out his hand for it. "Let me see it." He tore open the seal and scanned it. "This is an insult!" he spat. "The Abbot wants me to do my duty as a Christian man and let the sheriff go." He tore the letter up. "If I wanted to just let him go does he not think I would already have done so?"
He turned round taking his anger out solely on Hugh.
Hugh hunched up as much as the chains would allow him trying to protect his head and stomach. His breath came in muffled gasps and hissed intakes of breath.
"Stop!" Cadfael said.
Simon looked at him. "And why should I?"
Cadfael drew the cup from his script. "This is why."
Simon's eyes widened as he saw it and held out his hand. "Give it to me."
Cadfael put it back. "Not until you let me make sure Sheriff Beringar is alright."
"You certainly like giving orders. The thing is… You are totally in my hands now brother. You know too much and no one knows where you are. You vanished in the storm, your body was never found. Such a tragedy."
Hugh glanced up. "You... can't..." he began, his swollen jaw muffling his words somewhat.
"You will be silent!" Simon's foot shot out, eliciting a cry of pain from Hugh. He smirked at Cadfael. "Now, as I was saying, your body was never found, buried by the snow or eaten by animals or something like that… So very sad. And you my dear Sheriff… perhaps now the king will take note and react."
Hugh shook his head. "He will not negotiate…" he broke off in a gasp of pain as Simon's foot connected with his chest.
"That's enough!" Cadfael began, breaking off as he found himself on the receiving end of a blow which winded him.
"Do you not know how rude it is to interrupt someone?" Simon asked him. "Now the cup if you will. Brother." He held out his hand.
Cadfael hesitated. "The deal was the cup in exchange for the Sheriff."
"The cup. Give it to me."
Cadfael hesitated for a moment. Then something connected hard with the side of his neck sending him to the floor. Blackness came and then he knew nothing.
He came too some time later with a huge headache and somewhat blurred vision. It took him a moment to realise he was chained to the wall by his wrists and ankles and there was also a chain round his neck. He moaned softly.
"You're awake then," said a quiet voice.
Cadfael struggled to sit up. "Hugh?"
"What happened? How did you end up here?"
"It's a long story." Hugh eased himself back against the wall. "I had heard rumours about this place, thought my position as sheriff would protect me. It did not. No more so than that habit will protect you. They took the cup by the way."
Cadfael looked at him. "That does not surprise me," he sighed. He rubbed the lump on his head. "You don't look so good."
"You can talk," Cadfael said. He blinked hard finally seeing one Hugh instead of two.
"I'll live," Hugh whispered. "How is Aline?"
"She is worried about you but she's alright."
Hugh nodded, wanting to ask about the baby but not wanting to give anymore ammunition to Simon. "Can I assume my men know where you are?"
Cadfael shook his head. "I found this place by mistake. I got lost in the storm. No one knows where we are."
Hugh nodded slowly. "Then there is no hope."
"Oh there's always hope. That's something I learned in the crusades."
Hugh looked surprised. "I thought you would have said that God would get us out of here."
Cadfael smiled. "Of that there is no doubt. Whether it is by our own hand or by divine intervention remains to be seen."
"Would it be greedy to ask to get out of here alive and by divine intervention?" Hugh asked wryly.
"It might be," the monk said. "But there's no harm in asking." He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall.
An hour later the door to the main stable flung open. Both men looked up as Simon came in and over to them. "Greetings," he said. "Thanks for the cup by the way; it makes a nice addition to my collection. Now I have a proposition for you Brother. A possible way to save one of your lives."
Cadfael looked at Hugh and then Simon. A possible way to save only one of their lives did not sound particularly hopeful. "I thought we had a deal," he said. "The cup in exchange for the sheriff's life."
"Well see now that's a problem. You did not actually give me the cup now did you? You refused to. So even though it's in my possession now the question is does it count?"
"That's hardly…" Cadfael objected wondering how many more times Simon could fit the word now into his sentences.
"Fair?" Simon finished. "No I suppose not but then neither is holding out on me." He leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. "Now as I said, there is a way for one of you to leave."
Hugh looked at him. "Just one of us?" he asked emphasising the one.
Simon nodded. "Thing is … you both know where we are now and what is going on here. Now the good sheriff has made it abundantly clear that he does not approve of my, shall we say lifestyle."
"Too right I don't!" Hugh told him. He pushed himself upright, ignoring the pain that shot through him. "What you are doing is wrong."
Simon ignored him. "And no doubt you don't approve Brother."
"I do not."
"So we find ourselves in a quandary. I did say when I had the cup of St Stephen I would release the sheriff. However if I did he would merely return with an armed detachment of men to free the rest of my pets. And if I were to release you Brother, then you would return with said armed detachment to release said pets plus the sheriff. So what am I to do? Which one do I release?"
Cadfael looked at Hugh and then back at Simon. "What if we gave our word not to return at all?"
"Cadfael!" Hugh began.
Simon looked at him. "Now that's worth considering for what five seconds? So let me think…" He counted to five in his head. "No, no can do. So what I propose is this. One of you goes home and the other stays here; kind of a guarantee that no one will return because if they do the one that remains here dies. Now which one dies and which one goes home?"
Cadfael looked at Hugh. "Let the sheriff go," he said. "I will stay here in his place."
"You can't," Hugh said. "I will not have you taking…"
"I am an old man, Hugh" Cadfael said. "I have seen many things over the years and lost many friends in battle, without losing another one. I do not need to sit here and procratinate over whose life is worth more, mine or yours. The answer is an unequivocal yours." He looked at Simon. "Let him go and I will stay here."
Simon raised an eyebrow. "Such loyalty. I wonder what he did to deserve such a thing." He paused. "No matter. I will take your offer under advisement." He turned to leave. "There is water if you want it."
Cadfael watched him leave and turned to Hugh. "I meant what I said. If it comes down to it, you should leave."
Hugh coughed and turned his head to spit the mouthful of blood to one side. "And how far do you think I will get?"
"Aline and the baby need you," Cadfael said. "Your people need you."
"And people need you," Hugh told him. He put a hand to his chest, in far more pain than he would ever admit.
"I am one monk amongst many," Cadfael said. "I am an old man near the end of this part of his journey."
Hugh looked at him. "I need you," he told him bluntly. "Who else would I talk to when I need someone to bounce theories off?"
"You'll find someone." Cadfael took a deep breath. "But as much as we hate the idea nothing is going to change his mind."
Hugh let out a long sigh. "Perhaps I did ask too much when I asked for us both to get out alive and by divine intervention."
"Sometimes Hugh you just have to wait on God and trust him."
"You can't tell me it's God's will for you to die here."
Cadfael looked at him. "If it is then that is what I will do." He smiled wryly. "I have faced life as a prisoner before. There is nothing new he can do that has not been done."
"I would not bet my life on that."
'That's exactly what I am doing' Cadfael thought. 'But it will be worth it to get Hugh safely out of here.' He just had to hope that if Simon finally decided to take his life instead of Hugh's, that Hugh would not do something stupid like try a rescue.
They sat in the cold for four hours during which they argued back and forth as to who would leave and who would stay. Hugh finally gave in, although he would not agree to not sending a rescue if he made it home. He honestly couldn't see getting that far. Not in this weather. He would far rather that Cadfael left and came back with a rescue. But in any event until Simon finally made up his mind and returned to them there was nothing they could do but wait.
By midnight as he recited matins, Cadfael was both hungry and tired. He had baulked at the thought of drinking the brackish water from the trough but it was that or nothing. Not much of a choice but at least it would keep him alive for now. He was pleased to note that Hugh who had fallen asleep sometime around Compline was still sleeping. Albeit a haunted restless sleep it at least gave him a respite from the pain.
Cadfael managed to check him over to some extent and it was as he had feared. Two broken ribs, both of which would heal given time and rest. The danger was the risk from any internal damage the broken ribs may cause. And from the bruising it was possible there was internal bleeding but nothing could be done for that. Not here anyway. Back at the abbey there were some poultices which would ease the swelling and the pain but here he could do nothing but watch his friend deteriorate.
He kept the night watch, dozing in between offices praying for a safe deliverance for Hugh and respite from his pain. His own life he cast directly into God's hands.
Just before Prime around dawn, the door swung open and Simon came in. Worse for wear Cadfael noticed as it was obvious from his gait and the way he smelt that he had been drinking heavily.
"You are not sleeping Brother?" Simon slurred.
"No," Cadfael replied. "I am keeping the office as best as I can."
Simon staggered over to him. "Well that's a good monk," he said. "Maybe I keep you as my pet after all. I was going to keep the sheriff but he's no fun. He just says no and gets on his high horse. But you… you I could have fun with."
Cadfael tensed as Simon moved over to him and grabbed his wrists.
"Promise you won't run," Simon hissed, his alcohol fused breath filling the monk's senses. Getting the acknowledgement he wanted he unfastened him, leaving the collar round his neck. "Get up!"
Cadfael slowly got to his feet. "What are you doing?"
"I am bored," Simon said. He drew the sword from his belt. "I assume as you were in the Crusades you are a good swordsman."
"Fair," Cadfael replied.
Hugh stirred and sat up slowly. "What's going on?" he asked.
"It's playtime," Simon laughed. "I want to see if the good brother is as good as he says he is." He looked at Cadfael. "Now if I give you this you will play by the rules?"
Cadfael looked at the sword Simon was holding out to him. "That depends. Is this a fight to the death?"
Simon held out the blade. "Just fight."
"What's a fight without some kind of trophy at the end?" Cadfael pulled up his sleeves and then looked at Hugh. "How about you win and the sheriff goes free. I get to stay here and do whatever you want."
"You can't," Hugh objected.
"Yes Hugh I can." He looked at Simon. "Well?"
Simon nodded. "Alright."
Cadfael nodded, having banked on the amount of alcohol to have addled his senses somewhat. "Now unchain him, he is injured and can't rest properly as he is now."
Simon looked at Hugh. "You won't try to run away?" he asked, moving over to him.
Hugh shook his head, wondering what Cadfael was up to but trusting his friend enough not to question him.
Simon unchained Hugh and then turned to Cadfael offering him the sword. "May the best man win … and I always do," he slurred making the first strike immediately.
Cadfael stepped back in time, the blow just tearing his cowl instead of severing his arm. He hefted the sword in his hand meeting the next blow just in time.
Simon smirked. This was going to be easy.
Cadfael parried with the sword, the footwork coming back to him. He had never lost the art of fighting, in this day and age it was best not to, even if he did now live a life of peace.
Sparks flew from the blades, the clash of steel filling the stable.
Simon hit hard, sending Cadfael staggering backwards.
Cadfael tripped over a beam and lost his balance, falling heavily. The sword fell from his hands landing out of his reach.
Simon stood over him, his own sword raised high above his head, ready to deliver the final blow. "Such a shame," he said. "Give my regards to God when you see him Brother." The last word spat out derisively. He plunged the blade downwards.
Cadfael waited for the blow which never came.
There was a cry of anger from Hugh which turned into a scream of pain.
Cadfael turned his head to see blood pouring from where the sword was embedded in Hugh's body.
The colour drained from Hugh's face and he fell to his knees. "Al…ine…" he whispered, his eyes closing and blackness filling him as his lifeless body hit the floor.
Rage filled Cadfael. Using language quite unbecoming to a monk he rolled out from under Simons's feet and stood upright. He grabbed the sword from Hugh's outstretched hand and struck out at Simon. The blow caught him unawares and Cadfael watched as Simon fell to the floor, dead before he hit it. "Give God the message yourself," he said harshly.
Then he threw the sword to one side and dropped to his knees beside the body of his friend. "Hugh…" he said gently rolling him over. The sword still protruded from Hugh's side. Cautiously Cadfael checked for a pulse. It was slow but it was there. He closed his eyes for a moment offering a prayer of thanks for that.
Reaching under his cowl, Cadfael removed his apron. He tore it into strips before carefully feeling round the sword. It did not seem to have gone too deep and although it was bleeding seemed to have missed anything vital. Cadfael grabbed one of the strips of cloth and pulling out the blade, clamped his hand down firmly on the wound, applying as much direct pressure as he could. He was glad Hugh was out of it as this would have caused him a great deal of pain. Hopefully he would remain unconscious for some time yet.
Whereas the blood had been a trickle before it now gushed from the wound in Hugh's side. Cadfael applied more pressure wishing there was someone to help him. Almost as soon as he thought it there was a sound from the door. He glanced up to see the girl from the night before standing there. In this light she looked no more than fifteen.
She looked at Simon. "Is he dead?" she asked.
"Yes… and so will the sheriff be if I can't stop the bleeding. I need help. Water, clean linen, whatever you can spare." He watched her leave and then turned his attention back to Hugh. Finally the blood flow began to stem and he eased back on the pressure slightly.
The girl returned with linen strips and a bowl of clean water. "Here. Someone will come and remove the body."
"Thank you." Cadfael began to clean and bandage the wound, treating the rest of Hugh's injuries as best he could while he was there. "What is your name?"
"I am not your master child."
"But you killed him. The law states that we now belong to you."
Cadfael looked at her. "Then I set you all free," he said firmly. "I am master of no one. But right now my only concern is the sheriff. I need to get him back to the Abbey. Is there a wagon or something here."
She nodded. "There is a carriage."
"Good, we'll use that. Organise it for me will you?"
She nodded and ran off.
Cadfael turned back to Hugh. He was loathe to move him but conditions here were less than ideal Back at the Abbey there would be others to help him. He had all his herbs there and those he would need.
Hugh opened his eyes slowly. "Cadfael…"
"Don't say anything," Cadfael said gently. "You're a fool, a brave one but a fool none the less."
"You… can… talk…"
"Yes I can now hush. And don't move. I want you alive when I get you back to the Abbey."
Hugh closed his eyes again, falling into the blackness where at least the pain did not exist.
"The carriage is ready. I found some men to help you with him."
"Good." He gave orders as to how Hugh was to be carried out into the waiting carriage. "Oh and there was one other thing," he said. "There was a cup, a gold one I brought with me."
Elizabeth nodded. "It's in the great hall. Along with the other things."
"I'll go and get it." Cadfael hurried to the great hall and retrieved the cup along with Hugh's dagger and other things he recognised as Hugh's or his. Then he went back to the carriage. "One of the sheriff's men will be along later," he said. He looked up at the driver. "The abbey in Shrewsbury," he said. He climbed in with Hugh. "Stay with me," he said.
There was a jerk as the carriage began to move. Cadfael had no idea how long it would take them to get home, he just prayed they would get there in time. The wound had started to bleed again, not the gush of before but the more blood he lost the less his chance of survival.
Eleven - 17. Night.
By the time they reached the Abbey night had fallen. The carriage arriving in the foregate sent someone running for the Abbot. He arrived with Prior Robert and half the brothers on his trail.
Cadfael slowly got out of the carriage. "Sent someone for Sergeant Warden," he said. He looked at Radulfus. "I bring the sheriff. He is badly injured."
Radulfus looked at him and nodded. "Bring him through." He looked at Robert. "Send someone to fetch the sergeant and also Mistress Beringar."
"Father… don't send for Mistress Beringar just yet. I wish to treat at least some of his injuries first."
Radulfus looked at him and nodded slightly. "Just the sergeant then," he said. He watched as they gently lifted Hugh from the carriage and placed him on a wooden frame to carry him to the infirmary.
Cadfael looked at the coach driver. "Wait for the sergeant. You can take him back with you."
Once Hugh was laid on a bed, Cadfael and a couple of the other monks began undressing him. His wounds and bruises were many, the worst being the wound the sword made. As Cadfael worked silently, he heard footsteps behind him.
"You wanted to see me brother?" Warden asked.
Cadfael nodded. He explained briefly what had happened the last few days and where Hugh had been kept. He watched Warden leave and then turned his full attention back to his friend. He noted that although his colour was still pale, his breathing was at least regular now. Having done all he could he sat wearily by the bed, his eyes closing. It would be a long night.
Radulfus looked at him. "You should let some one look at you," he said. He had seen the red marks on Cadfael's wrists and neck.
"I'll keep," came the reply.
"It was not a request. You also need some rest."
Cadfael looked at him then reluctantly lay down on the bed next to Hugh's. He would admit to no one just how good it felt. His eyes closed and he fell asleep.
He woke as usual with each office and as he was not permitted to leave the infirmary he instead got up and checked on Hugh before sleeping a little more.
Morning came and Cadfael once more rose to check on Hugh. This time he found him awake.
Hugh grasped his hand, his grip not as firm as usual but his hand no longer cold. "I owe you my life," he said.
"And I owe you mine," Cadfael replied. "Had you not stepped in like that…"
Hugh looked at him. "What happened to him?"
"He's dead," Cadfael said shortly. He took a deep breath. "I killed him."
Hugh looked at him. "You killed him?"
Cadfael nodded. "Something I shall regret for a long time. It is good to see you awake again," he said changing the subject. "For a while I was not sure that would happen."
Radulfus coughed slightly. He had heard what Cadfael had said but now was not the time for that. "Sheriff Beringar how are you feeling?"
"Better thank you."
"You have a visitor if you feel up to it. Your wife is here."
Hugh looked at the Abbot. "She's here?"
Radulfus nodded. "She is. Do you wish to see her?"
Hugh nodded. "Of course." He pushed himself upright, determined to greet his wife on his feet not lying in some sick bed.
Cadfael gently helped him. "You must be careful," he said.
"Time for that later," he whispered, his breath coming in pain filled gasps. "Help me to the door."
Cadfael gently led Hugh to the door and then stepped back a bit as he saw Aline coming down the hallway.
Aline looked at the battered and bedraggled figure in the doorway and ran to him. She pulled him into her arms, holding him tightly but not tight enough to cause him any more pain. She murmured his name over and over; afraid that if she let go he would vanish again.
Hugh eased himself against her, his body sore and broken. "I'm here," he told her. He had thought he would never see her again. Part of him was still convinced he was dreaming. "Aline," he whispered, covering her lips with his, not caring he was in the abbey.
Aline kissed him back. As the kiss broke she looked over at Cadfael. "Thank you," she mouthed, knowing what it had cost the monk to find her husband.
Cadfael nodded back at her. "Welcome."
Three days later Hugh was resting at home under the watchful eye of his wife who was not letting him do so much as lift a finger without her express permission. Under normal circumstances he would object. Now however he was just pleased to be alive and back in her arms so he let her fuss as much as she wanted.
Sergeant Warden had cleared up things at Simon's place.
All the prisoners had been set free and gone back to their homes.
The snow had stopped falling and lay in a crisp white coat across the land.
Back at the abbey Cadfael lay prostrate in front of Abbot Radulfus. "Forgive me Father," he began.
"Go on," Radulfus said.
"For I have sinned," Cadfael said.
Prior Robert raised his eyebrow. "Again?" he sighed.
Radulfus raised his hand, silencing him. "Let him continue."
"I took the life of another Father," Cadfael replied.
There was a collective gasp of shock from the other monks.
Cadfael continued to explain. "And after the sheriff fell I was angry. I lashed out, said and thought things I should not before I killed him."
Robert spoke out in outrage. "This can not be tolerated. That is at least three of the Ten Commandments he has broken. Four if you include breaking the Sabbath rest. There can only be one punishment."
"And what would you recommend Prior?"
"Excommunication of course. Such a man has no place here."
Radulfus looked at Robert. "And you feel this is justified by his actions?"
"He has stolen, lied, murdered and broken the Sabbath. It is the only course of action."
Radulfus nodded and turned back to the figure on the floor. "As I understand it, your actions saved the life of Hugh Beringar."
"I have spoken to the sheriff at great length and he agrees with me on this. Without your intervention, neither he nor the other people kept there would have survived. In this case perhaps the end does justify the means. However," Radulfus spoke over Robert's protest. "That does not mean you can just steal Abbey property anytime you wish."
Sliding his hand beneath his tunic Cadfael pulled out the cup he had now stolen twice. "Forgive me Father…"
Robert rolled his eyes.
Radulfus leaned down and took the cup from him. "In spite of all that was going on you brought it back." His voice softened slightly. "I can not allow this to go unpunished. Despite the fact you were held prisoner and injured yourself you still broke the church laws."
Cadfael took a deep breath. He knew he would be in hot water over this. The question was how hot was it going to be?
"Would you do this again if you had to?" Robert asked.
Cadfael looked up. "Do what? Kill in anger or kill to save the life of a friend?"
"Both. As well as steal and lie…"
Cadfael took a long breath. "If it meant saving the life of a friend then probably yes."
Robert leaned back triumphantly. Now they would have to throw the annoying man out of the order. A self confessed murderer who would do the same again had no place here.
Radulfus looked at him and then back at Cadfael. "I appreciate your honesty. Do you understand that what you did was wrong?"
"And that with God's help you can avoid committing the same sins again?"
"Yes Father." But God knows I would if I had to he finished silently.
Radulfus nodded. That was all he needed. "Then I do not think we need to go as far as excommunication… however you will be confined within the abbey for a period of three weeks. In that time you will see no one. The time will be spent in prayer and supplication."
"Yes Father." Cadfael listened to the rest of his punishment and heard Robert objecting as to its leniency. Three weeks was a long time to spend alone but after the past few days some quiet reflection would be good. Time to rest his tired body and spend time alone with God and seek His forgiveness for what he had done.
He left the chapter house and walked quietly with the Abbot to the cells. He had done what he had set out to do, saved his friend and that was all that mattered. Everything else would just fall into place in time.
September 11 2007