Title: The Gypsy's Curse
Based on the BBC television program and books by Ellis Peters.
Cadfael found himself sitting at a rough hewn table in a quaint kitchen with a fireplace and shelves stocked with several spices. Across from him and Sheriff Beringer, sat Gawain and Bofar, the blacksmith. Both men had red rimmed eyes, though tried to hide it.
"When was the last time you saw your son?" Hugh asked.
Bofar coughed, before looking the sheriff directly in the eye. "At dinner time last night, then he said he had to go out and not to wait up for him since he would be late."
"Did Alan routinely stay out late at night?"
"Not routinely, no, but he has done it before."
"And did you ever worry about him?"
"No, not really," Bofar nearly choked up at that. "Though I suppose I should have." He stared at the sheriff angrily. "Why are you asking me these questions when you should be putting that gypsy boy in jail?"
"You mean, Conan?"
"I don't care what his name is! I want him arrested!"
"How do you know of him?"
"Gawain told me of him and how that gypsy attacked them in the tavern yesterday!"
"Did Gawain also tell you how he and Alan jumped Conan in the dark the night before last?" Cadfael questioned angrily.
Bofar looked at his son to confirm that fact.
"He's lying!" Gawain turned red in the face.
"Are you calling a man of God a liar?" Hugh said quietly.
"Then did you or did you not attack Conan that night before your brother's murder?"
"Well, we may have roughed him up a bit, but-"
"Do you call several bruises, a deep cut on the forehead, and a black eye roughing up a bit?" Cadfael interrupted, barely concealing his fury.
Sheriff Beringer nudged his foot under the table to get the monk to calm down.
"Does it matter?" Bofar asked. "Gypsies are the scum of the earth and deserve whatever we give them."
Cadfael was about to heatedly argue when Hugh asked another question.
"Did Alan mention getting a note before he left?"
"A note?" Bofar frowned. "No. Should he have?"
"No, I suppose not." Hugh glanced over at Gawain. "You were Alan's closest friend, correct?"
"Yes." Gawain looked a little nervous.
"Did he tell you about the note he received from someone telling him to meet this person at the Abbey Mill?"
"N-no." Gawain's gaze wavered before finally settling firmly on the sheriff.
"Your brother is your best friend and he did not tell you of the meeting he had late at night?"
"No, he didn't."
"Maybe it was from a girl and he didn't want me to interrupt them?"
"Was there a girl he was interested in?"
Gawain gave a short laugh before glancing at Cadfael and sobering quickly. "Yes. He liked several girls."
"Any interested in him?"
Hannah and Alaine were interested in him a lot and he encouraged both, but prefered Alaine more."
"Because she was prettier."
Cadfael made sure to keep his face blank, but was disgusted with the boy in front of him as well as the dead one for having such shallow feelings.
"I will be sure to talk with them about the note."
"When are you going to stop talking about this note and arrest that gypsy boy?" Bofar asked.
"I do not plan on arresting him," Hugh replied. "At least not until I have sufficent evidence against him."
"He's a gypsy! That should be proof enough."
"There are other suspects, do you wish me to arrest them as well?"
"What other suspects?"
"Gawain, for one."
"What?" Gawain shouted in outrage. "Why me? I'm Alan's brother!"
"Brothers have killed each other before now." Hugh slid a slip of paper toward the boy. "Would you mind writing something down for us about the Abbey Mill."
Hugh did not reply, only waited.
"Are you wanting to compare my handwriting to that on the note?" Gawain gritted his teeth.
"If you are innocent then you have nothing to hide."
"Did you make the gypsy boy do this?"
Hugh again did not reply.
"All right!" Gawain said angrily and found an inkwell, scrawling furiously on the parchment, thrusting it toward the sheriff.
Hugh calmly picked it up and looked at it before folding it in half. "I suppose that is it for now. Good day."
The sheriff and Cadfael stood and showed themselves to the door.
"Well?" Cadfael asked.
"It's not a match," Hugh said and gave the parchment to him.
Cadfael's eyes scanned the paper. "Abbey is spelled correctly, though I do not particularly like the insult."
"Yes. Sorry about that. I would have wrung his neck if his father hadn't been there."
"It does not matter," Cadfael waved his hand to dismiss it. "Did you notice that he lied about knowing of the note?"
"Yes, I did."
"What do you suppose he is hiding?"
Hugh shrugged. "Possibly the person who wrote the note."
"Hmm," Cadfael frowned. "Why did you not test Conan and his family?"
Hugh looked slightly embarrassed. "It didn't occur to me until now."
Cadfael hid his smile. "Perhaps we should part ways here. I have some things I must attend to at the abbey."
Hugh nodded. "Let's meet up later today and compare our thoughts. I am sure that whatever you are doing you will be thinking about this mystery."
With that the two men parted ways.
"What have you done, boy?" Omar growled.
"It is the curse, father," Conan said haughtily. "Everyone I hate ends up dead."
"By your hand?"
Conan looked slightly shocked. "Of course not! I do not know how they die, but they always do."
Omar reached over and grabbed his son by the front of his shirt. "Lord help me, I swear, if I find out that you are behind all these murders that follow us, I will cast you out of this family. I have half a mind to do so anyway."
"Maybe I'll leave," Conan said angrily. "At least then I won't have to see the disappointment in your eyes everytime I don't meet your expectations!"
"If you want to leave then that is fine with me! With you gone I won't have to worry about sheriffs breathing down my neck and watching my every move."
Conan stared at his father with hate filled eyes. "You will always be looked down upon because you're a gypsy!"
"I'm a Welshman!"
"Perhaps you should take that earing out of your ear then!"
Omar stared at the boy before calmly reaching up to take off the earing and placed it on the counter in front of them. "You are no son of mine. Do as you will, only get out of my home."
"Gladly!" Conan stomped out of the caravan wagon and ran down the street. In his blind rage, he didn't see where he was going and knocked into someone. A sense of Dé jà vu washed over him.
"Ho there, young man!" Strong hands steadied him and he looked up to see the sheriff and stiffened. "Where are you going in such a hurry?" The man's eyes studied him minutely.
"No where...sir," he said cautiously.
"Hmm, I was on my way to see you again. It is fortunate we crossed paths."
Conan's heart sped up. He was going to arrest him, wasn't he? The sheriff pulled out a parchment. "Might I have the use of one of your quills? I need you to write something down for me."
Conan shifted on his feet nervously and the other man noticed.
"Is something the matter?"
"I can't write," he mumbled quietly.
"I see," the sheriff replied in an even tone. "What of the rest of your family? Can they write?"
"Only my sister. My father and I have no use for writing and my mother...she is not well, sir."
The sheriff appeared to be thinking very hard as he frowned. "Stay close to the abbey," he warned before continuing down the street.
The moment he could, Conan took off toward the abbey, knowing that his sister would still be there. He found her with the nosy monk. They looked to be deep in discussion about something and he had a feeling he knew what it was about. He caught Annabel's eyes and motioned her over.
After making her excuses, she left the monk and walked over toward him. He caught a look of apprehension and fear on her face as she stopped in front of him. "Conan," she whispered. "This is the seventh time!"
"I know," he said. "I promise I didn't do it."
Annabel sighed. "I want to believe you, I really do, but how can I when everywhere we go, someone you argued with, dies?"
"It's a curse. After the third killing I knew it was a curse."
"A curse?" Annabel frowned. "Who would have cursed you?"
"I don't know," Conan shrugged. "And I don't want to know. This curse is working out for me."
"How could you say that? People are dying."
"Yes, but it's always the people that hate me because of what I am. This curse punishes them."
"Oh, Conan!" Annabel wailed. "Has your heart and mind become so twisted with hate as to believe that?"
"Aren't you tired of everyone looking down on you? I want to be recognized for what I am. Not a gypsy or a welshman, but a person."
Annabel looked over her shoulder at the monk who was attending his garden. "Talk to Brother Cadfael. He could help you, he would understand."
"A monk understand?" Conan spat out. "Men of the Church are the worst kind! He would not understand me nor would he want to."
"Brother Cadfael is different and not like the other monks. He is not at all sure about your guilt and that is the only reason the sheriff hasn't arrested you yet."
"It's true. Brother Cadfael told me that while the evidence points against you, he does not believe you are the type to murder anyone. Please, won't you at least talk to him?"
"He'll probably try to get a confession out of me."
"He's a monk, not a priest, Conan."
"What's the difference?" he muttered.
"Please, Conan, talk to him. Convince him that you are not the murderer."
"Fine," Conan groused. "I will talk to him for your sake, but do not expect me to be pleasant."
Annabel broke out into a smile and Conan couldn't help feeling a little better. He didn't like the idea that his sister didn't know whether to believe his innocence or guilt. Perhaps talking with the monk would be a good idea.