Hugh watched as Olivier left them to bid his farewells to Aline. He was about to accompany him, but he held back. There was something about Olivier. He shook his head, thinking that he must be mistaken. For a moment he had seen a much younger Cadfael raise his hand in farewell, the familiar tilt of the head, the look in the eyes... "I thought I saw something of you about him. The set of the head, something…"
Cadfael spoke softly, almost without thinking. "Oh no, he is all together the image of his mother."
During the long silence which followed, Cadfael gazed after the retreating figure. He wondered if he would ever see him again. Perhaps one day Olivier would return this way and Cadfael would have the chance to know him better. He wondered if he would ever be a grandfather and hoped in a small way that he would be. However, for now it was enough to know that the love he and Mariam had shared now lived on in his son, this fine strong man walking away through the courtyard with strong, determined strides.
Hugh watched the varying emotions crossing Cadfael's face. It was not possible. How could his friend have possibly known Olivier de Bretagne's mother? He knew Cadfael had fought in the Holy Land and had been a man of the world long before he took his vows, but it seemed so unlikely. He looked at Cadfael, wondering if his thoughts were leading him to the obvious conclusion, or totally astray. Finally he spoke. "I do recall that he spoke of one for whose sake he held the Benedictine order in reverence. One whom had used him like a son…"
Cadfael turned and smiled into his friend's thoughtful eyes. "I always meant to tell you someday, what he does not know and never will from me. He is my son."
Hugh had no time now to pursue this, despite his interest in the revelation. "I will wish to know more of this you know," he said with a smile.
"I am sure you will," Cadfael nodded and watched his friend leave before slowly returning to the abbey.
It was another eight days before Hugh had time to pick up the threads of the conversation. One of the merchants passing through Shrewsbury had been assaulted and he demanded that Hugh deal with it personally.
Hugh did so, even though it necessitated an absence from home of several days, which he spent tracking the fugitive across a good portion of the shire. When finally he arrived back in Shrewsbury, he made sure his charge was safely locked up and guarded before he headed home; his tiredness diminishing at the thought of who was waiting for him. He was barely off his horse at his doorway before she was upon him.
Aline pulled him tightly into her arms, for once not caring that she ought to act with decorum. "They sent word you were back. I missed you," she whispered pulling him inside. "I have dinner waiting."
His lips found hers and he kissed her with all the passion of a man who has not seen his wife in over a week. Especially one whom he loved as much as he did Aline. "Dinner can wait," he told her sweeping her into his arms and pushing the door shut behind him.
Several hours later he finished the meal and pulled himself away from the table. He kissed her. "I will not be long," he told her. "There is something I have to do at the abbey."
She smiled. "You have an hour," she teased. "Then I want you back."
Hugh shook his head. "Such a demanding woman. But very well, just an hour." He kissed her again and then went in search of Cadfael.
Cadfael was tending a new crop of herbs in the garden, his skirts kilted and his sleeves pushed up. The sun was setting and he glanced up as a long shadow fell across him. He smiled slightly. "Does the sheriff really have nothing better to do than block what little daylight there is left?" he asked dryly.
"I am sure the sheriff can find plenty to do," Hugh replied. "But he is in need of the company of an old friend right now."
"I would have thought that he would prefer the company of his young wife having been away from home for a time, rather than that of any old friend. Particularly one so much older than he."
"You're not that old," Hugh said giving Cadfael a hand up. "And I have spent the last few hours in the very good company of my wife. She allowed me an hour to come and catch up with you."
Cadfael smiled. "That is very generous of her. Then let's go inside and not waste a minute of it. I have a new wine for you to try."
Hugh sat in Cadfael's hut, his long legs stretched out in front of him and a cup of wine in his hands. He watched his friend add something to the pot on the fire and stir it. He looked at him over the top of the cup. "So what was her name?" he asked, knowing Cadfael would know who he meant.
Cadfael left the fire and came over to the table. He sat down and picked up his cup before answering. "Her name was Mariam. She was," Cadfael paused. He sipped from his cup thoughtfully looking at the hyssop he had just added.
… He saw her standing in her house in Antioch with a long spoon in her hand stirring something in the pot suspended from the chimney. She was laughing, her slender figure shaking with mirth. She turned slightly towards him, her long dark hair falling out from under her veil. He reached forwards to tuck it back under, only his hand touched nothing but thin air…
Hugh looked at him. "Cadfael?"
Cadfael looked at him, jerked out of his memories. He lowered his arm self-consciously. "Sorry, I was lost in my memories. She was a widow. Her husband had been dead some months. After the fall of Antioch I stayed on along with several of the others. I wanted to learn more of the local medicines and herb lore, or more specifically hers."
Hugh smiled. "Are you sure that was the only reason?"
Cadfael scoffed. "Of course. My intentions towards her were entirely honourable. At that particular moment in time, anyway," he smiled slightly. "Her husband was not long dead; I was but a young lad myself. She offered me board and lodging and I accepted."
"Just friends?" Hugh teased. He took a long drink, watching his friend's reaction to his words.
"At first." Cadfael took a long drink. "But being with her every day, learning from her..." He looked over at the fire again.
… Mariam leaned against the hearth, a bunch of hyssop in her hand. "And then you crush--"
Cadfael sat on the stool to the side of the fire studying the dark-haired woman in front of him, mesmerized by her beauty. She was by far the loveliest woman he had ever seen. The firelight seemed to make her skin glow.
"--crush the right hand of the opposing soldier with a large rock. This you then grind into a bowl along with the bones of the King of England, the blood of his wife and the hair of a maiden."
Cadfael nodded. "I see. And then?" He was not really listening, more watching her. The sound of her voice ebbed and flowed, her hands moved just so in perfect rhythm with her words. He noticed the way the light from the single window angled across the room and hit her. Her veil was glinting in the sun, the hair beneath it crying out to have his fingers run through it.
"Then you heat it until it boils. Simmer for half an hour then cool rapidly. Store until the full moon, then drink it in one go whilst standing on a hill top wearing nothing but a loin cloth while dancing the dance of the seven veils..." She broke off smiling at the look on his face as he realised what she was saying.
"Forgive me... I was not listening."
"Indeed, I had noticed. Your thoughts were evidently elsewhere." She put down the hyssop. "So what were you thinking about that was so engaging?"
"You," he told her honestly.
"Me?" she asked, looking down, suddenly nervous and shy.
Cadfael rose to his feet and crossed the short space between them. He slowly lifted his hand, placing it over hers. "You," he repeated. He moved closer, his robe touching hers. He could smell the scent she had used on her hair, the clean fragrance of her skin. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
She smiled. "And you are the most skilful liar..." She broke off as his fingers traced across her lips. "Cadfael?"
"That is not all I am skilled in," he whispered, moving closer still, until he was touching her. He ran his fingers down her arms, smiling as he felt the goose bumps start to rise on her skin. He captured her lips just as surely as ever a soldier captured a castle and as surely as she had captured his heart. His hands held her close as he poured enough passion into his kiss to leave no doubt as to how he felt about her.
Breathless she looked at him. "I…" she began.
"Don't say anything," he whispered his fingers brushing down her arm. "Unless you wish me to stop then say so now and I will."
She raised her hand to his face. "I should so say. There are many reasons I should tell you to stop," she whispered. "You are one of the invaders, a Christian, this is wrong in so many ways but, but I do not wish you to stop." She sought his lips as his hands cupped her face…
"Cadfael?" Hugh repeated. "Are you all right? Do you wish me to find someone?"
Cadfael looked at him. "No I am fine, quite fine. Mariam was a wonderful woman, well worth the loving. I stayed with her for a year until I was recalled for the siege at Jerusalem. After it fell, I returned to Antioch and to Mariam. I was there another two months. It must have been one of our last nights together…" He picked up the flask of wine and refilled both cups. "So now you know. I still think of her, even after all these years. Aside from God Himself, no one has ever touched my life with love the way she did."
"And you have proof of that love in your son," Hugh said.
Cadfael smiled wistfully. "Aye. She will never die as long as part of her lives on in him."
© Tels Dec 2007