Authors: Ellis Peters
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
emerged slowly and silently from the open doorway of the chapel, drawing the
door to after him, so that the tiny gleam of red vanished. He came somewhat wearily
across the ward, seemingly unaware of the two who stood motionless and mute in
the shadows, until Cadfael stepped forward to intercept him, mildly seeking
information from one who might be expected to be able to supply it: “A moment!
Do you know in which of the many lodgings here this Bledri ap Rhys slept
overnight?” And as the young man halted abruptly, turning on him a startled and
wary face: “I saw you greet him yesterday when we rode in, I thought you might
know. You must have been glad to have some talk with an old acquaintance while
he was here.”
some reason the protracted interval of silence was more eloquent than what was
finally said in reply. It would have been natural enough to answer at once:
“Why do you want to know? What does it matter now?” seeing that lodging must be
empty, if the man who had slept there had fled in the night. The pause made it
plain that Gwion knew well enough who had walked in upon him in the chapel, and
was well aware that they must have seen Bledri departing. He had time to think
before he spoke, and what he said was: “I was glad, to set eyes on a man of my
own tribe. I have been here hostage more than half a year. They will have told
you as much. The steward had given him one of the lodgings against the north wall.
I can show you. But what difference does it make now? He’s gone. Others may
blame him,” he said haughtily, “but not I. If I had been free, I would have
done as he did. I never made secret of where my fealty lay. And lies still!”
forbid anyone should condemn a man for keeping faith,” agreed Cadfael equably.
“Did Bledri have his chamber to himself?”
did.” Gwion hoisted his shoulders, shrugging off an interest it seemed he did
not understand, but accepted as meaning something to these wandering Benedictines
if it meant nothing to him. “There was none sharing it with him, to prevent his
going, if that is what you mean.”
was wondering, rather,” said Cadfael deprecatingly, “whether we are not
assuming too much, just because a horse is missing. If his lodging was in a
remote corner of the wards, with many a wall between, may he not have slept
through this whole uproar, and be still snoring in all innocence? Since he lay
alone, there was no one to wake him, if he proved so sound a sleeper.”
stood staring, eye to eye with him, his thick dark brows raised. “Well, true
enough, but for the horn call a man with enough drink in him might have slept
through it all. I doubt it, but if you feel the need to see for yourself… It’s
not on my way, but I’ll show you.” And without more words he set off into the
passage between the rear of the great hall and the long timber range of the
storehouse and armoury. They followed his brisk figure, shadowy in the dimness,
through towards the long line of buildings in the shelter of the outer wall.
“The third door was his.” It stood just ajar, no gleam of light showing in the
crack. “Go in, Brothers, and see for yourselves. But by the look of it you’ll
find him gone, and all his gear with him.”
range of small rooms was built in beneath the watch-platform along the outer
wall, and shadowed deeply by its overhang. Cadfael had seen only one stairway
to the platform, broad and easy of access but in full view of the main gate.
Moreover, it would not be easy to descend on the outer side, unless with a long
rope, for the fighting gallery projected outward from the wall, and there was a
ditch below. Cadfael set a hand to the door and pushed it open upon darkness.
His eyes, by this time accustomed to the night and such light as the clear but
moonless sky provided, were at once blind again. There was no movement, and no
sound within. He set the door wide, and advanced a step or two into the small
should have brought a torch,” said Mark, at his shoulder.
need for that, it seemed, to show that the room was empty of life. But Gwion,
tolerant of these exigent visitors, offered from the threshold: “The brazier
will be burning in the guardhouse. I’ll bring a light.”
had made another step within, and all but stumbled as his foot tangled
soundlessly with some shifting fold of soft material, as though a rumpled
brychan had been swept from bed to floor. He stooped and felt forward into the
rough weave of cloth, and found something of firmer texture within it. A fistful
of sleeve rose to his grip, the warmth and odour of wool stirred on the air,
and an articulated weight dangled and swung as he lifted it, solid within the
cloth. He let it rest back again gently, and felt down the length of it to a
thick hem, and beyond that, the smooth, lax touch of human flesh, cooling but
not yet cold. A sleeve indeed, and an arm within it, and a large, sinewy hand
at the end of the arm.
that,” he said over his shoulder. “Bring a light. We are going to need all the
light we can get.”
is it?” asked Mark, intent and still behind him.
dead man, by all the signs. A few hours dead. And unless he has grappled with
someone who stood in the way of his flight, and left him here to tell the tale,
who can this be but Bledri ap Rhys?”
came running with a torch, and set it in the sconce on the wall, meant only to
hold a small lantern. In such confined rooms a torch would never normally be
permitted, but this was crisis. The sparse contents of the chamber sprang
sharply outlined from the dark, a rumpled bench bed against the rear wall, the
brychans spilled over and dangling to the floor, the impression of a long body
still discernible indenting the cover of the straw mattress. On a shelf beside
the bed-head, convenient to the guest’s hand, a small saucer-lamp stood. Not
quenched, for it had burned out and left only a smear of oil and the charred
wick. Beneath the shelf, half-unfolded, lay a leather saddle-roll, and dropped
carelessly upon it a man’s cotte and chausses and shirt, and the rolled cloak
he had not needed on the journey. And in the corner his riding-boots, one
overturned and displaced, as if a foot had kicked it aside.
between the bed and the doorway, sprawled on his back at Cadfael’s feet, arms
and legs flung wide, head propped against the timber wall, as though a great
blow had lifted and hurled him backwards, Bledri ap Rhys lay with eyes
half-open, and lips drawn back from his large, even teeth in a contorted grin.
The skirts of his gown billowed about him in disorder, the breast had fallen
open wide as he fell, and beneath it he was naked. In the flickering of the
torch it was hard to tell whether the darkened blotch on his left jaw and cheek
was shadow or bruise, but there was no mistaking the gash over his heart, and
the blood that had flowed from it down into the folds of cloth under his side.
The dagger that had inflicted the wound had been as quickly withdrawn, and
drawn out the life after it.
went down on his knees beside the body, and gently turned back the breast of
the woollen gown to reveal the wound more clearly to the quivering light.
Gwion, behind him in the doorway and hesitant to enter, drew deep breath, and
let it out in a gusty sob that caused the flame to flicker wildly, and what
seemed a living shudder passed over the dead face.
easy,” said Cadfael tolerantly, and leaned to close the half-open eyes. “For he
is easy enough now. Well I know, he was of your allegiance. And I am sorry!”
Mark stood quiet and still, staring down in undismayed compassion. “I wonder
had he wife and children,” he said at last. Cadfael marked the first focus of
one fledgling priest’s concern, and approved it. Christ’s first instinct might
have been much the same. Not: “Unshriven, and in peril!” not even: “When did he
last confess and find absolution?” but: “Who will care for his little ones?”
said Gwion, very low. “Wife and children he has. I know. I will deal.”
prince will give you leave freely,” said Cadfael. He rose from his knees, a
little stiffly. “We must go, all, and tell him what has befallen. We are within
his writ and guests in his house, all, not least this man, and this is murder.
Take the torch, Gwion, and go before, and I will close the door.”
obeyed this alien voice without question, though it had no authority over him
but what he gave of his own free will. On the threshold he stumbled, for all he
was holding the light. Mark took his arm until he had his balance again, and as
courteously released him as soon as his step was secure. Gwion said no word,
made no acknowledgement, as Mark needed none. He went before like a herald,
torch in hand, straight to the steps of the great hall, and lit them steadily
were all in error, my lord,” said Cadfael, “in supposing that Bledri ap Rhys
had fled your hospitality. He did not go far, nor did he need a horse for the
journey, though it is the longest a man can undertake. He is lying dead in the
lodging where your steward housed him. From all we see there, he never intended
flight. I will not say he had slept. But he had certainly lain in his bed, and
certainly put on his gown over his nakedness when he rose from it, to encounter
whoever it may have been who walked in upon his rest. These two with me here
have seen what I have seen, and will bear it out.”
is so,” said Brother Mark.
is so,” said Gwion.
Owain’s council table in his private apartment, austerely furnished, the
silence lasted long, every man among his captains frozen into stillness,
waiting for the prince’s reaction. Hywel, standing at his father’s shoulder, in
the act of laying a parchment before him, had halted with the leaf
half-unrolled in his hands, his eyes wide and intent upon Cadfael’s face.
said consideringly, rather digesting than questioning the news thus suddenly
laid before him: “Dead. Well!” And in a moment more: “And how did this man
a dagger in the heart,” said Cadfael with certainty.
before? Face to face?”
have left him as we found him, my lord. Your own physician may see him just as
we saw him. As I think,” said Cadfael, “he was struck a great blow that hurled
him back against the wall, so that he fell stunned. Certainly whoever struck
him down faced him, this was confrontation, no assault from behind. And no
weapon, not then. Someone lashed out with a fist, in great anger. But then he
was stabbed as he lay. His blood has run down and gathered in the folds of his
gown under his left side. There was no movement. He was out of his senses when
he was stabbed. By someone!”
same someone?” wondered Owain.
can tell? It is probable. It is not certain. But I doubt he would have lain
helpless more than a matter of moments.”
spread his hands upon the table before him, pushing aside the parchments
scattered there. “You are saying that Bledri ap Rhys has been murdered. Under
my roof. In my charge, however he may have come there, friend or enemy, to all
intent he was a guest in my house. This I will not abide.” He looked beyond
Cadfael, at Gwion’s sombre face. “You need not fear that I will value my honest
enemy’s life at less than any man of my own,” he said in generous reassurance.
lord,” said Gwion, very low, “that I never doubted.”
I must go after other matters now,” said Owain, “yet he shall have justice, if
by any means I can ensure it. Who last saw the man, living?”
saw him leave the chapel, late,” said Cadfael, “and cross towards his own
lodging. So did Brother Mark, who was with me. Beyond that I cannot say.”
that time,” said Gwion, his voice a little hoarse with constraint, “I was in
the chapel. I talked with him. I was glad to see a face I knew. But when he
left I did not follow.”
shall be made,” said Owain, “of all the servants of the house, who would be the
last wakeful about the maenol. See to it, Hywel. If any had occasion to pass
there, and saw either Bledri ap Rhys, or any man going or coming late about his
door, bring the witness here. We muster at first light, but we have yet a few
hours before dawn. If this thing can be resolved before I go to deal with my
brother and his Danes, so much the better.”
departed on the word, laying his leaf of vellum down on the table, and plucking
a couple of men out of the council to speed the search. There was to be no rest
that night for the menservants, stewards and maids of Owain’s court, none for
the members of his bodyguard, or the young men who followed him in arms. Bledri
ap Rhys had come to Saint Asaph intending mischief, threatening mischief, and
the cost had fallen on his own head, but the echoes would spread outward like
ripples from a stone flung into a pool, and scarify the lives of all here until
murder was paid for.
dagger that was used,” said Owain, returning to his quest like a hawk stooping.
“It was not left in the wound?”
was not. Nor have I examined the wound so closely that I dare guess what manner
of blade it had. Your own men, my lord, will be able to hazard that as well as
I. Better,” said Cadfael, “since even daggers change with years, and I am long
out of the practice of arms.”
the bed, you say, had been slept in. At least lain in. And the man had made no
preparation for riding, and left no sign he ever intended flight. It was not so
vital a matter that I should set a man to watch him through the night. But there
is yet another mystery here,” said the prince. “For if he did not make away
with one of our horses, who did? There is no question but the beast is gone.”