Some consider the mere thought of sin an offence. But Cadfael isn't one of them, and he doesn't fear for his soul as he considers the opportunity before him.

He could blackmail Robert for this forever, he thinks with glee.

Well, if Prior Robert had any money, and if there was anything Cadfael actually wanted.

He doesn't feel wicked considering blackmail–if it's a sin, then not being able to tell anyone the reason for it is punishment enough. Indeed, he thinks, holding his tongue will torment him for a very long time.

He and Prior Robert had been hurrying away from the fairground, their arms laden with bundles, hearing the squawk of poultry and merchants, and the happy noise of musicians tuning up. Robert had stopped abruptly when a little girl ran out in front of them, looking around.

"Mama?" she called. Cadfael had known her at once. She was five years old, a dark-eyed, curly-haired doll.

"Hello, Minia."

"Hello, Brother," she said. She pronounced it "Brudder."

"I don't believe you've met our Prior Robert. Brother, this is Minia. Her mother made those bowls you're carrying."

Minia bowed deeply, a surprisingly grown-up gesture. Robert inclined his head in response–and with a touch of a smile, Cadfael noted. Already she was learning to wrap a man around her little finger. Someday she'd have suitors lined up for the privilege of having their hearts broken.

"You've lost your mother?" Cadfael asked.

"Yes," she said unhappily.

"Ah. Well, then, you stay here with Prior Robert, and I'll find her and bring her to you."

"Thank you," she said softly.

He'd waited a moment for the protest he was sure would come from Robert. Then Minia had grabbed the Prior's hand, a small, warm gesture of trust, and Robert's usually stern expression had...softened.

Really, Cadfael thinks, he should have at least suspected he'd come back to this.

The musicians have started a reel as Cadfael slips between the wagons, leading Minia's mother. He's just in time to see the little girl curtsy playfully, inviting the prior to dance.

Monks don't, of course.

And so Cadfael frowns, curious, as Robert stoops to whisper in her ear. She nods, and carefully plants her tiny feet on top of his. He holds her arms firmly, sways to catch the beat, and then dances her across the clearing. His steps are neat and precise, clearly the result of unmentioned childhood lessons.

But there's nothing secret about Minia's delight-and Cadfael could blackmail Robert within an inch of his life for causing it. Or he could try, he thinks; there's always the chance no one else would believe this. But he'll hold his tongue: ruining the joy of children would be a sin.

He stays out of sight, enjoying the moment as the music sweeps the unlikely couple away. Minia's laughter is sweet beyond words.

It is almost as beautiful as Robert's.