The Last Word

Hugh Berengar is neither blind nor a fool, no matter what Cadfael says–and not always in jest. If he didn't already know the good brother hates to be wrong, the words that pass between them on occasion would prove it. Cadfael's are sharp when Hugh suggests he might be wrong, drawled when a puzzle distracts him, and soft when he wishes he hadn't spoken at all. Being least blind about Cadfael himself, Hugh lets them pass.

But he doesn't forget them.

He recalls a conversation on these steps five years ago, after Susanna was buried and Lilliwin wed. He'd asked a question with no plain answer: "Does Iestyn really have a life before him, one worth living?"

Cadfael had said, "It will be a minor devotion, but yes, he'll marry–and breed–yet."

"And forget her?"

"Have I said so? Time will ease his pain, but he'll carry the wound of her love to his grave."

Hugh had considered those words carefully. Cadfael also had scars he'd take to the grave, not all of them gifts of the battlefield. They pained him at unexpected moments, too; but they hadn't stopped him from moving forward.

"I have stood on the field of battle," Cadfael said, "my armor smoking with the blood of the fallen, and felt nothing. Such is war's harvest–after the first death no other reaches your heart."

Wrong, Hugh thought fondly. Susanna's death, and her unborn child's, had hit Cadfael hard. He might wish otherwise sometimes, but his heart could still be touched.

And today, apparently, so can Iestyn's. His new bride, Enna, is golden-haired, a steady, good-humoured woman; and not one who'll settle for being second-best. Hugh sees Cadfael's gaze sweep her up and down, and agrees that yes, she might already be breeding–her figure is gently rounded, her skin flushed. But it wouldn't do for either of them to be caught observing her for long, and they glance away as Father Radulphus leads the couple down the steps.

It doesn't look like a minor devotion to Hugh–Iestyn's smile is that of a man given an unexpected second chance, and smart enough to be grateful for it.

He's sure Cadfael knows what that's like.

He watches his friend's eyes close, his lips moving silently, and doesn't need to hear the words to know Cadfael's offering thanks for–this time–being wrong.