The woman that was to marry Lord Alan was beautiful.

She was blond, with liquid brown eyes – Cadfael described them to Hugh as the eyes of a doe – and so slim it seemed she would fall apart if she fell, like a porcelain statue.

So deceiving.

But that's running ahead of the story.

In the evening, two days before the grand wedding, Chiara McLean went to see Cadfael in his workshop. He was the brother she liked the most. Brother Prior and brother Jerome were too arrogant for her taste, and most others treated her too formal. Like if she was Lady d'Ombre already.

Cadfael, on the other hand, treated her like what she was. Someone forced into marriage with a much older man.

Her guardians, Agnes and Peter Richardson, were overjoyed when they heard that Lord d'Ombre had let his eye fall on her. Chiara, on the other hand, wasn't that happy with it. She didn't like the walking meatball one bit.

A smile was playing around her lips as she knocked on the door of Cadfaels workshop.

No one answered. She opened the door. No one was there.

Chiara sat down on a stool and waited.

It didn't take long for brother Cadfael to arrive. When he saw her there he practically dropped everything he held and he would've done so if Chiara hadn't caught the things.

'Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you would be needing my help.'

'Just a slight headache. Probably just me being nervous.'

Cadfael started working on the medicine that was cooking in the pot above the fire and soon enough the small workshop was filled with the loveliest odors one could imagine.

'Well, it is a big occasion.'

'I know, brother…'

'Cadfael, daughter, just say Cadfael.'

'Okay, Cadfael. I know. Only, I've met Lord d'Ombre only two times. And I have to say, I'd be glad to take something he values from him. And then I don't mean his money.' She rolled her eyes at the ceiling. 'Or his food.'

Cadfael turned around.

'Not really happy about the marriage?'

'It's arranged. Of course I'm not happy about it.'

Cadfael started to mash some herbs. 'I have to admit, you are the first woman I hear putting it so bluntly.'

'My behavior has always been a thorn in Agnes' eye. I act male sometimes. I just refuse to be subordinate.'

'And yet, you have agreed to the marriage.'

She sighed. 'Can I just have something for the headache?'

Cadfael poured a something in a cup and gave it to her. She drank it, gave him back the cup, thanked him and left.

What a peculiar woman. I wonder what she's up to?

Because he felt she was. A woman like that, an independent woman, would definitely not go quietly in a forced marriage.

The day after that, Lord Alan d'Ombre arrived. He was exactly as Chiara described him once to Cadfael. A walking meatball with arms and legs sticking out.

He had brown hair and a beard. A beard that looked like he never washed ever since he had it.

Cadfael understood why Chiara resented him, but he also knew it was hard to say no to someone like Lord Alan. Because Lord Alan had enough money to bribe even the king to arrest you for something you didn't do.

Chiara stood there very passively. Staring into nothing. Lord Alan stared at her.

'Why isn't my future bride greeting me?'

'I'm just nervous, Alan. Sorry.'

Lord Alan grinned. 'Ah, in that case, I will leave you to prepare for our grand moment, my love.'

He touched her cheek and Cadfael saw Chiara stiffen. But she just turned around and left, quickly followed by Agnes and Peter.

Abbot Radulfus watched it all with interest.

'Brother Cadfael. A word please.' He ordered Cadfael.

The brother followed him.

'Chiara doesn't seem too happy with the marriage.'

'Indeed she is not. But what choice does she have?' Cadfael answered.

'None, I suppose. Well, let's pray everything goes well tomorrow.'

Oh, if only they knew what was going to happen.