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Authors: Ellis Peters

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ab Owain already knows,” said Cadfael.

doubtless will have told his father. But the spectacle will not suffer any
diminution by that. Indeed, it’s a happy chance that you came on this of all
days, for tomorrow the royal party is leaving to return to Aber.”

that case,” said Mark, choosing to be open with a host who was certainly being
open with them, “we can ride on among his company, for I am the bearer of a
letter also to Bishop Meurig of Bangor.”

canon received this with a short pause for reflection, and then nodded
approvingly. He was, after all, a Welshman himself, even if he was doing his
able best to hold on to favour with a Norman superior. “Good! Your bishop is
wise. It puts us on a like footing, and will please the prince. As it chances,
my daughter Heledd and I will also be of the party. She is to be betrothed to a
gentleman in the prince’s service, who holds land in Anglesey, and he will come
to meet us at Bangor. We shall be companions along the way.”

pleasure to ride in company,” said Mark.

come for you as soon as they take their places at table,” the canon promised,
well content, and left them to an hour of rest. Not until he was gone did the
girl come back, bearing a dish of honey cakes and a jar of mead. She served
them in silence, but made no move to go. After a moment of sullen thought she
asked abruptly: “What did he tell you?”

he and his daughter are bound for Bangor tomorrow, as we two are. It seems,”
said Cadfael equably, and watching her unrevealing face, “that we shall have a
prince’s escort as far as Aber.”

he does still own he is my father,” she said with a curling lip.

does, and why should he not profess it proudly? If you look in your mirror,”
said Cadfael candidly, “you will see very good reason why he should boast of
it.” That coaxed a reluctant smile out of her. He pursued the small success:
“What is it between you two? Is it some threat from the new bishop? If he’s
bent on ridding himself of all the married priests in his diocese he has an
uphill row to hoe. And your father seems to me an able man, one a new incumbent
can ill afford to lose.”

he is,” she agreed, warming, “and the bishop wants to keep him. His case would
have been much worse, but my mother was in her last illness when Bishop Gilbert
arrived, and it seemed she could not last long, so they waited! Can you
conceive of it? Waiting for a wife to die, so that he need not part with her
husband, who was useful to him! And die she did, last Christmas, and ever since
then I have kept his house, cooked and cleaned for him, and thought we could go
on so. But no, I am a reminder of a marriage the bishop says was unlawful and
sacrilegious. In his eyes I never should have been born! Even if my father
remains celibate the rest of his life, I am still here, to call to mind what he
wants forgotten. Yes, he, not only the bishop! I stand in the way of his

said Mark, shocked, “you do him injustice. I am certain he feels a father’s
affection for you, as I do believe you feel a daughter’s for him.”

never was tested before,” she said simply. “No one grudged us a proper love.
Oh, he wishes me no ill, neither does the bishop. But very heartily they both
wish that I may go somewhere else to thrive, so far away I shall trouble them
no more.”

that is why they’ve planned to match you with a man of Anglesey. As far away,”
said Cadfael ruefully, “as a man could get and still be in North Wales. Yes,
that would certainly settle the bishop’s mind. But what of yours? Do you know
the man they intend for you?”

that was the prince’s doing, and he meant it kindly, and indeed I take it
kindly. No, the bishop wanted to send me away to a convent in England, and make
a nun of me. Owain Gwynedd said that would be a wicked waste unless it was my
wish, and asked me there in front of everyone in the hall if I had any mind to
it, and very loudly and clearly I said no. So he proposed this match for me.
His man is looking for a wife, and they tell me he’s a fine fellow, not so
young but barely past thirty, which is not so old, and good to look at, and
well regarded. Better at least,” she said without great enthusiasm, “than being
shut up behind a grid in an English nunnery.”

it is,” agreed Cadfael heartily, “unless your own heart drives you there, and I
doubt that will ever happen to you. Better, too, surely, than living on here
and being made to feel an outcast and a burden. You are not wholly set against

she said vehemently.

you know of nothing against this man the prince has in mind?”

that I have not chosen him,” she said, and set her red lips in a stubborn line.

you see him you may approve him. It would not be the first time,” said Cadfael
sagely, “that an intelligent matchmaker got the balance right.”

or ill,” she said, rising with a sigh, “I have no choice but to go. My father
goes with me to see that I behave, and Canon Morgant, who is as rigid as the
bishop himself, goes with us to see that we both behave. Any further scandal
now, and goodbye to any advancement under Gilbert. I could destroy him if I so
wished,” she said, dwelling vengefully on something she knew could never be a
possibility, for all her anger and disdain. And from the evening light in the
doorway she looked back to add: “I can well live without him. Soon or late, I
should have gone to a husband. But do you know what most galls me? That he
should give me up so lightly, and be so thankful to get rid of me.”


Meirion came for them as he had promised, just as the bustle in the courtyard
was settling into competent quietness, building work abandoned for the day, all
the domestic preparations for the evening’s feast completed, the small army of
servitors mustered into their places, and the household, from princes to
grooms, assembled in hall. The light was still bright, but softening into the
gilded silence before the sinking of the sun.

for ceremony, the canon was brushed and immaculate but plain, maintaining the
austerity of his office, perhaps, all the more meticulously to smooth away from
memory all the years when he had been married to a wife. Time had been, once,
long ago in the age of the saints, when celibacy had been demanded of all
Celtic priests, just as insistently as it was being demanded now by Bishop
Gilbert, by reason of the simple fact that the entire structure of the Celtic
Church was built on the monastic ideal, and anything less was a departure from
precedent and a decline in sanctity. But long since even the memory of that
time had grown faint to vanishing, and there would be just as indignant a
reaction to the reimposition of that ideal as there must once have been to its
gradual abandonment. For centuries now priests had lived as decent married men
and raised families like their parishioners. Even in England, in the more
remote country places, there were plenty of humble married priests, and
certainly no one thought the worse of them. In Wales it was not unknown for son
to follow sire in the cure of a parish, and worse, for the sons of bishops to
take it for granted they should succeed their mitred fathers, as though the
supreme offices of the Church had been turned into heritable fiefs. Now here
came this alien bishop, imposed from without, to denounce all such practices as
abominable sin, and clear his diocese of all but the celibate clergy.

this able and impressive man who came to summon them to the support of his
master had no intention of suffering diminution simply because, though he had
buried his wife just in time, the survival of a daughter continued to accuse
him. Nothing against the girl, and he would see her provided for, but somewhere
else, out of sight and mind.

do him justice, he made no bones about going straight for what he wanted, what
would work to his most advantage. He meant to exploit his two visiting
monastics and their mission to his bishop’s pleasure and satisfaction. “They
are just seated. There will be silence until princes and bishop are settled. I
have seen to it there is a clear space below the high table, where you will be
seen and heard by all.”

him justice, too, he was no way disappointed or disparaging in contemplating
Brother Mark’s smallness of stature and plain Benedictine habit, or the
simplicity of his bearing; indeed he looked him over with a nod of satisfied
approval, pleased with a plainness that would nevertheless carry its own

took the illuminated scroll of Roger de Clinton’s letter and the little carved
casket that contained the cross in his hands, and they followed their guide
across the courtyard to the door of the bishop’s hall. Within, the air was full
of the rich scent of seasoned timber and the resiny smoke of torches, and the
subdued murmur of voices among the lower tables fell silent as the three of
them entered, Canon Meirion leading. Behind the high table at the far end of
the hall an array of faces, bright in the torchlight, fixed attentively upon
the small procession advancing into the cleared space below the dais. The
bishop in the midst, merely a featureless presence at this distance, princes on
either side of him, the rest clerics and Welsh noblemen of Owain’s court
disposed alternately, and all eyes upon Brother Mark’s small, erect figure,
solitary in the open space, for Canon Meirion had stepped aside to give him the
floor alone, and Cadfael had remained some paces behind him.

lord bishop, here is Deacon Mark, of the household of the bishop of Lichfield
and Coventry, asking audience.”

messenger of my colleague of Lichfield is very welcome,” said the formal voice
from the high table.

made his brief address in a clear voice, his eyes fixed on the long, narrow countenance
that confronted him. Straight, wiry steel-grey hair about a domed tonsure, a
long, thin blade of a nose flaring into wide nostrils, and a proud,
tight-lipped mouth that wore its formal smile somewhat unnervingly for lack of

lord, Bishop Roger de Clinton bids me greet you reverently in his name, as his
brother in Christ and his neighbour in the service of the Church, and wishes
you long and fruitful endeavour in the diocese of Saint Asaph. And by my hand
he sends you in all brotherly love this letter, and this casket, and begs you
accept them in kindness.”

of which Cadfael took up, after the briefest of pauses for effect, and turned
into ringing Welsh that brought an approving stir and murmur from his
fellow-countrymen among the assembly.

bishop had risen from his seat, and made his way round the high table to
approach the edge of the dais. Mark went to meet him, and bent his knee to
present letter and casket into the large, muscular hands that reached down to
receive them.

accept our brother’s kindness with joy,” said Bishop Gilbert with considered
and gratified grace, for the secular power of Gwynedd was there within earshot,
and missing nothing that passed. “And we welcome his messengers no less gladly.
Rise, Brother, and make one more honoured guest at our table. And your comrade
also. It was considerate indeed of Bishop de Clinton to send a Welsh speaker
with you into a Welsh community.”

stood well back, and followed only at a distance on to the dais. Let Mark have
all the notice and the attention, and be led to a place of honour next to Hywel
ab Owain, who sat at the bishop’s left. Was that Canon Meirion’s doing, the
bishop’s own decision to make the most of the visit, or had Hywel had a hand in
it? He might well be interested in learning more about what other cathedral
chapters thought of the resurrection of Saint Kentigern’s throne, and its
bestowal on an alien prelate. And probing from him might be expected to find a
more guileless response than if it came from his formidable father, and produce
a more innocent and lavish crop. A first occasion, it might be, for Mark to say
little and listen much.

own allotted place was much further from the princely centre, near the end of
the table, but it gave him an excellent view of all the faces ranged along the
seats of honour. On the bishop’s right sat Owain Gwynedd, a big man every way,
in body, in breadth of mind, in ability, very tall, exceeding by a head the
average of his own people, and flaxen-fair by contrast with their darkness, for
his grandmother had been a princess of the Danish kingdom of Dublin, more Norse
than Irish, Ragnhild, a granddaughter of King Sitric Silk-Beard, and his mother
Angharad had been noted for her golden hair among the dark women of Deheubarth.
On the bishop’s left Hywel ab Owain sat at ease, his face turned towards
Brother Mark in amiable welcome. The likeness was clear to be seen, though the
son was of a darker colouring, and had not the height of the sire. It struck
Cadfael as ironic that one so plainly signed with his father’s image should be
regarded by the cleric who sat beside him as illegitimate, for he had been born
before Owain’s marriage, and his mother, too, was an Irishwoman. To the Welsh a
son acknowledged was as much a son as those born in marriage, and Hywel on
reaching manhood had been set up honourably in South Ceredigion, and now, after
his uncle’s fall, possessed the whole of it. And very well capable, by his
showing so far, of holding on to his own. There were three or four more
Welshmen of Owain’s party, all arranged turn for turn with Gilbert’s canons and
chaplains, secular and clerical perforce rubbing shoulders and exchanging
possibly wary conversation, though now they had the open casket and its
filigree silver cross as a safe topic, for Gilbert had opened it and set it on
the board before him to be admired, and laid de Clinton’s scroll beside it,
doubtless to await a ceremonial reading aloud when the meal was drawing to its

BOOK: The Summer of the Danes
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