Disclaimer: I do not own Cadfael or any other characters created by Ellis Peters. There will be a number of original characters over the course of the story that are my own and are not intentionally based on any other person's creativity. Any similarities are purely coincidental. That being said, if anyone would like to link to this site, please do so only after asking me by email or review, which ever works best for you. Any feedback would be appreciated!

I will do my best to try and keep this as historically "in-times" as possible. However, some of my characters may be "out of times" but that's because I prefer their personalities to be that way. Anything that seems completely unrealistic, please let me know and I will do my best to try and correct it as best as I am able.

NEW 10/14/08: Chapters 1-4 have been edited, as well as a new chapter 5. While I do not think there are any significant changes from the original chapters, there are just some story details that have been changed to be a better fit for the time period.

The mist slowly rose from the lush, green fields, revealing figures already toiling even though it was not yet an hour past dawn. Bent backs covered by black robes were scattered across the field, with hoes that fell between blue sky and green grass as the monks prepared for the spring planting. The morning still held a crispness that made the brothers grateful for their thick woolen robes, but there was a promise of warmth in the hours to come, for there were no clouds in the pale blue sky foretelling rain or snow. Already having suffered a severe winter, the monks prayed fervently for warmer weather to allow them and the rest of the town of Shrewsbury to plant the food they would need in order to last through the summer months.

Away from the toil of the fields, a small outbuilding surrounded by gardens seemed a rather tranquil place to be in comparison. It was a rather unremarkable building with a thatch roof, whitewashed walls, two windows framed by brown shutters, and a chimney on top. The wisps of smoke that came from that chimney had no negative impact on the surrounding air. The scents of dried thyme, rosemary, and poppies blended with the smells of wood smoke and horse manure to create a unique smell that was quite pleasant. Green shoots were beginning to come through the dark soil in the many box gardens surrounding the building, braving the fickle weather. The hardy plants would be needed by the main occupant of the hut to create the remedies needed by the brothers and the people of the town to overcome the maladies people would come to him with, especially since his stores had been depleted over the course of the winter. Tranquility seemed to be the order of life there. But even the tranquility could be disrupted by a brother becoming impatient with one of his novices.

"OSWIN! What have you done to my beaker? How many times do I have to tell you boy that you do not take a beaker out of the hot fire and place it immediately into a bucket of cold water?" A short and stocky monk hustled around the table to the tall gangly youth who clutched a pair of tongs in his hand.

"I'm sorry Brother. I was only thinking about how…"

"You were only thinking. Oswin, if you were thinking, you would have remembered you do not put the hot beaker into the cold water."

"I am sorry Brother." Oswin seemed extremely distressed by his mistake. While he had good intentions, Brother Oswin had a tendency to be slightly absentminded. Brother Cadfael had taken that into account when he accepted him as an assistant in the herbarium, but there were days where his frustration would boil over. Having been closeted together because of the severe winter, the symptoms of too much time together were beginning to show in Cadfael's fraying nerves.

The clang of the iron bells rolled across the lands of the abbey. "Saints above, we're going to be late for offices." Cadfael muttered under his breath. "Go Oswin. It will be far worse for you rather than me to miss offices."

"Are you sure Brother?" While Oswin knew that the punishment for him would be weighty due to his constant "offenses", he did not want to see his mentor take the blame for him.

"Yes, yes. Now go. If you hurry and cut through the cloisters, you will make it on time and not give Prior Robert and Brother Jerome an opportunity to give you more penance to add to what you had to do not even a week ago?" Cadfael was touched that Oswin was showing concern for the deed that he was trying to do for him, but he knew that what Oswin wanted more than anything was to be a good, devout, and holy brother. "Well Brother, if you are sure. You won't need any assistance with tidying up?" Cadfael nodded his head, not trusting himself to answer. Eager to go, Oswin rushed out the door. Then as Oswin left, Cadfael said softly, "You would probably create an even bigger mess by trying to help clean up." And with that Cadfael returned to straightening up his workshop as the sounds of the Benedictine monks filled the abbey grounds.

"BROTHER CADFAEL." The words echoed in stone hallways as the black robed monks filed out of offices. Cadfael stopped and turned to face the two brothers coming towards him, both with obvious disdain marring their features. The two brothers made no move to hurry to meet him, but rather walked with a haughty manner. The other brothers who were going about their daily duties following offices inconspicuously steered away from Brother Jerome and Prior Robert. While one of the requirements of taking Holy Orders was to take an oath of obedience, Prior Robert had expected to become the abbot when Father Heribert had been called away. Of course, Prior Robert had been disappointed for while Heribert had been removed as abbot, another had been chosen to replace him. Brother Jerome was a horrid gossip and felt that the gossip he learned would be best suited by attaching himself to Prior Robert. The two of them felt that they needed to know everything that went on inside the abbey walls. And since Brother Jerome served as overseer of the novices, he was in charge of meting out punishments.

"Yes Brother Prior." Cadfael had had his share of run-ins with the two bothersome brothers ever since Brother Jerome had joined as a young man ten years previous, and Prior Robert years before when Cadfael had taken the cowl. Prior Robert did not bother with the pleasantries of small talk. "Brother Cadfael, you were late for offices again this morning."

"I am sorry, Prior, but it couldn't be helped. I was making some potions in order to restock the infirmary," Brother Jerome cut him off before Cadfael could continue speaking. "Are you saying Brother, that your work is more important than the worship of our Lord God? Surely you do not mean this blasphemy." A predatory look in his eyes showed that he would find a way to finally punish the brother that always managed to make him look like a fool.

"Why of course not Brother Jerome." Cadfael's voice took on a condescending tone that gave away his amusement that once again he would get away with putting Brother Jerome in his place. "I was only trying to tell you that it is part of God's will for us to look after one another and his people on Earth. My potions and rubs do that and if I had been called away, even for such a high and noble calling, such as offices, I would have ruined several valuable assets. That would put me behind on what I need to make, which would mean that there would be people who would have to suffer until such a time as I would be able to properly make them." Cadfael's face took on a smug grin as Brother Jerome looked to Prior Robert to come to his aide. Another monk made his way over to the trio before Prior Robert could rebuke Cadfael. "Excuse me Prior Robert, Brothers."

"Yes, Brother Joseph?" Prior Robert's voice took on an air of authority that he always used when around the novices. "Prior Robert, Father Abbot asks that you and Brother Cadfael join him in his quarters at your earliest convenience."

"Why yes, of course Brother Joseph." Cadfael said as he turned and started walking with the boy. Prior Robert quickly sent Brother Jerome, who looked very put off about not being included, off on some task while he hurried to overtake the two other monks. "Did Father Abbot say what he required of us?"

"No, Brother Cadfael. But my Lord Beringar was with him and he seemed to be the bringer of bad tidings." With that, Brother Joseph hurried along the corridor. Well, thought Cadfael, if Hugh is the bringer of bad tidings, this may turn into an even more interesting day than it already has become. Cadfael's thinking was quickly brought to an end as they approached the abbot's door. Two quick knocks by the novice was all it took for them to hear a calm, collected voice bid them to enter.

Cadfael and Prior Robert entered the room, Brother Cadfael quickly taking in the details he needed to know. Abbot Radulfus and Hugh Beringar were without doubt two of the most powerful men in Shrewsbury and Cadfael could not help comparing them. One man was a figure of authority in the secular world, overseeing the laws which governed the land. With such an important job, it was surprising that Hugh Beringar did not cut a more imposing figure. While he stood taller than Cadfael's own five and a half feet, it was only by one or two inches. His average shoulders sat on a lean torso, which narrowed into a smaller waist. He possessed a cat-like grace that made him extremely dangerous but did not become apparent until Hugh was engaged in fighting. Brown eyes that looked out from underneath heavy brows the same color as his dark blonde hair showed whenever Hugh was trying to work out a mystery of some sort. Cadfael knew that such a harmless looking man really hid a very shrewd mind, nearly the match for Cadfael's own. It was how they had met, through a crossing of wits as Hugh tried to track down his intended bride Godith, and with it the location of a treasure that was meant for Empress Maude. Cadfael had been the victor of that battle of wits, but it had earned for both a lifelong friend and confidant when they needed to test theories the rest of the world was not quite ready to accept.

Abbot Radulfus was the same height as Hugh Beringar but he possessed a more imposing stature. His features were sharp edges on his face, with a nose that some compared to an eagle's beak. His eyes showed the same intensity as the bird of prey; for he took very seriously the duties he had as abbot. While those of the Benedictine order were not in it to be powerful, to the people of Shrewsbury and surrounding properties, Father Radulfus was one of God's vessels on Earth, and as abbot was the most powerful, and thereby governed their spiritual lives. While it may have seemed to some that the abbot was a hard man, he was a fair man and made sure to hear out each side before he made his decision. His decisions were well received by the community and as a result he and the secular leaders were able to work together to ensure a life with as few problems as possible.

Cadfael noticed also that there was another man in the room. Having never seen him before, but marking the make of his clothes to be very fine, even if the clothes themselves were plain, he decided that, for now, he would act as a proper monk. Bowing his head, he said, "Father Abbot, my Lord Beringar, my lord." With that, he stood up straight, awaiting the pleasure of the three powerful men and trying to determine what the third man was doing there. As he had noted before bowing, the clothes were of fine make, but without any pattern or identifying mark, at least that Cadfael could see. Tunic, leggings, and cloak were all neutral tones of tan, brown, and dark green but fit very well on the man's tall frame. He was taller than Hugh, topping six feet, Cadfael realized. His shoulders were broad over a muscled chest, coming down to a slightly narrower waist, beneath which were long legs, Legs of a man who could run a fair distance without tiring Cadfael thought to himself. Two things very clearly marked him as a noble: an intricate silver clasp on his cloak and a very fine sword. The man stood with the ease of someone accustomed to a sword, not the way nobles who wore them for ceremonial reasons only. I bet that he would be an even match for Hugh if they were pitted against each other, Cadfael thought as Hugh opened his mouth to begin. "My lord Abbot, Prior Robert, Brother Cadfael, this is Lyam. He has brought us terrible news which I will require your help in dealing with. With your permission, I will have him tell you why he is here."

"Of course, Lord Beringar. Please, my Lord Lyam, tell us. The abbey will be happy to help you in any way that it can." Abbot Radulfus looked as perplexed as Cadfael felt. For Beringar to have the stranger tell the news spelled news that Beringar was uncomfortable with proceeding. Lyam came forward, inclined his head, and began to speak. "My lord Abbot, brothers, as Lord Beringar has told you, my name is Lyam. I serve Conor of Deepwoods family." Good Lord, the man's Irish. Cadfael quickly scanned the man again. Black, shoulder length hair was tied back with a leather strap, revealing ice blue eyes that were as intense as Abbot Randulfus'. His face was sharp angles, with a scar over his left eye whose whiteness stood out against the dark skin and eyebrows. Those features, and his accent, were the only things that distinguished him from any other noble Cadfael had met. No wonder Hugh has no idea what to do. Cadfael thought excitedly. "As you may be aware, Conor's eldest daughter married an Englishman from this part of England. Ian of Avon was the heir to Avon up until that point. But since he married an Irish heiress, he had to renounce his claim to Avon, much to the distress of his father, Richard. Because of this, Richard had to name his younger son, Mark, as heir." Prior Robert cut in, obviously irritated. "Thank you, Lord Lyam, but we are all familiar with this situation. Lord Richard is a good man and has been extremely generous to the abbey in recent years, asking for prayers to be said for his son, who..." Prior Robert quickly stopped as a sad smile came to Lord Lyam's face. "Aye, brother, his son, who died fighting protecting his lands from outlaws, leaving his father without an heir. Lord Richard loved his son, but to have lost two heirs over the course of two years was too much for him."

Hugh broke in. "What Lord Lyam is trying to say is that Lord Richard has passed away and leaves us with a slightly delicate situation. Having been aware that his father was unwell, Lord Ian was returning to Avon for a visit with a small retinue, only to arrive to find a household in mourning for a lord who had passed not even an hour before." The sheriff of Shropshire stopped to take a moment to breathe while the three Benedictines crossed themselves and attempted to process the tale. As Cadfael went over it, he was suddenly struck by a rather important detail. "Excuse me, Father Abbot, if I may…" Father Radulfus nodded to give his consent for Cadfael to ask his questions. "Lord Lyam, as I understand it, Lord Ian and his retinue is now staying at Avon, is that correct?"

"Yes Brother. We arrived just an hour after Lord Richard had died. While my lord was struck by grief, he bade me quickly to come to Shrewsbury to find either Sheriff Beringar or one of his deputies, and then to go to the abbey to ask that preparations for a funeral could be begun." Lyam seemed to be as upset as a member of the Avon household would be to party to such news.

"Lord Lyam, one more question, if you please. Who will be lord at Avon? As I understand it, Lord Richard was a wise, virtuous man. He had no bastard sons who will become lord? Or is it the daughter who now will rule at Avon?" Lyam's head snapped to Cadfael and Cadfael could tell by the understanding in Lyam's eyes he knew Cadfael had read into what Lyam had not said. Before he could answer, Beringar stepped in. "That is why it is a delicate situation. While Avon is only a small property, it is still a property that reports to the King." Ah, politics Cadfael remembered. Beringar was loyal to King Stephen and had to see to his interests. "There is the daughter, Lady Rhiannon, but since there is no other male heir, with Lord Ian having to renounce his claim, that would leave the lady as the closest blood relative. Naturally, that leaves Lady Rhiannon as a ward of the Crown."

"Not necessarily, my lord Beringer. My lord Ian believes that the laws of England say that Lady Rhiannon would not become a ward of the crown until the king has heard the case. Since that has not happened yet, she remains her own entity at Avon." Lyam said quietly from his spot.

Silence settled over the room, leaving each man with his own thoughts. Finally, Father Radulfus cleared his throat. "My lords, with your permission, I would like to send with you Brother Cadfael to help assist preparing the body. If it is agreeable to Lord Ian and Lady Rhiannon, I myself will come out in two days time to perform the funeral mass, unless they would like to bring the body here."

"My lord and his sister made it very clear to me that they want their father buried on the estate that he loved." Lyam interjected. "Very well. If you would not mind waiting for a few minutes here in my office, Lord Lyam, I can send for refreshments while Brother Cadfael goes to get the supplies he needs from the herbarium." Lyam inclined his head in agreement. "Brother Cadfael, please go and collect anything you may need for your journey. Please go with the blessing of this abbey and our Lord God to take comfort to the family in this time of need." Cadfael received the blessing and quickly made his way out the door, off to the herbarium. Halfway down the hall he called out, "If you don't want to be left behind Hugh you better quicken your pace. I have many things I need to get and we will need to get started very soon if we want to reach Avon at a decent hour."

Beringar quickly overtook the monk. "You, my friend, are entirely too clever for your own good. I suppose you've got your own opinion on who should be lord at Avon without having been there yet."

"No Hugh, but I do know what it is like to lose someone that you love dearly and would like to get to Avon as soon as possible to offer comfort. Besides, who I believe should rule in Avon is not important." By this time they had reached the herbarium and Cadfael was going through what he needed to take and putting in into a bag. Hugh had seated himself on a stool next to the table which stood in the middle of the room. "Cadfael, this could become a situation that comes to the attention of the king."

"Well obviously it would come to the attention of the king, Hugh. As you said yourself, the girl has become a ward of the crown. Now, with the civil war going on, which crown she becomes a ward of is the question."

"Cadfael, you know my views and my duty. I was appointed to this position by King Stephen, and as such I am Stephen's man. What you say could be treason." Hugh sounded exasperated with his friend, as if they were merely traversing old ground. Before he could continue, Cadfael cut in. "And as a holy brother, I am on no one's side but God's, so it would not be treason. Now think Hugh, why else would this be important?"

Hugh looked over at him. "You're two steps ahead of me already, aren't you? I'm sure that you already have everything sorted and know the wills of lords and kings. Well then, I'll play along. While Avon is not much of a concern strategically, it has been allied with King Stephen. We are looking at a situation which could result in an unknown coming in and disrupting the balance between Stephen and Maude."

"Hugh, it is not necessary to go to such lengths. Have you thought about it from another way? That girl is the closest blood relative to Richard, and there will be many men who look to her as a way to advance themselves. Property is property, even if it does not bring much revenue. Lady Rhiannon has just lost her father and as of now, is the one people will be looking to enter into alliances with, counting on the grief that she and her older brother are going through will make them less cunning than they really are. I'm sure that there are many who believe that this will be a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a situation like this." Cadfael could tell that Hugh was not following his line of thought. Finding himself a stool he sat down across from Hugh and started dividing up herbs. "I cannot believe that I'm going to have to let Oswin fend for himself in here until I return," he muttered to himself in an attempt to lighten the mood. Seeing that Hugh had turned his eyes down to the smooth, slightly stained table, he could see that he was going to have to make Hugh see what was going on. "Hugh, you were lucky with Aline. She turned over her property to Stephen following the death of her brother, and was lady of the lands in her own right because Stephen acknowledged her. But that did not stop Adam Courcelle from trying to insinuate himself into her good graces and take advantage of her grief to try and become a property holder and thereby more powerful. Granted, we found out that Courcelle was a murderer and had no good intentions toward Aline, and you were able to save her from a fate that would have been much worse than what she has now. But this girl has no protection of a king to allow her to keep her lands until another lord can be found to administer them. Stephen is in London, which means that he cannot acknowledge her and that she and her brother will have to decide what will be the best course for them." Cadfael could see that Hugh saw why this was just not another struggle between Stephen and Maude, but the struggle of someone who was closer to his being, and a situation that was similar to what he had gone through years ago when he and Cadfael had first met.

Looking up from the table, Hugh gave Cadfael a smile. "As always, my friend, you are able to point out what is the more important issue. How is it that a monk of almost twenty years can always find the right solution?" Cadfael returned Hugh's smile with one of his own. "Hugh, you always forget that I was in the world for nearly forty years before I took the cowl. My experience in worldly matters greatly outweighs your own, even if I have spent nearly the last twenty in an abbey." With that, Cadfael stood and moved the stool to one side. "And with that, I believe that I will have everything I will need for a trip of a few days. Let us go and collect Lord Lyam from Father Abbot and be on our way. If I recall, it is not terribly far but just far enough to Avon and I am sure that Lord Ian will be wondering where his messenger has gotten to." As they made their way out of Cadfael's workshop, Cadfael took a long look and hoped that it would remain in one piece until he returned.