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Authors: Ellis Peters

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BOOK: The Summer of the Danes
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harsh a name,” said Bledri fiercely, “for a deed done in heat. Nor did your
lordship wait to hear my prince’s side of the quarrel.”

a deed done in heat,” said Owain with immovable composure, “this was well
planned. Eight men do not lie in wait in cover for four travellers unsuspecting
and unarmed, in hot blood. You do your lord’s cause no favour by defending his
crime. You said you came to plead. My mind is not closed against
reconciliation, civilly sought. It is proof against threats.”

Owain,” cried Bledri, flaring like a resinous torch, “it behoves even you to
weigh what consequences may follow if you are obdurate. A wise man would know
when to unbend, before his own brand burns back into his face.”

started out of his stillness, quivering, and was half rising to his feet when
he regained control, and sank back in his place, again mute and motionless.
Hywel had not moved, nor had his face changed. He had his father’s formidable
composure. And Owain’s unshaken and unshakable calm subdued in a moment the
uneasy stir and murmur that had passed round the high table and started louder
echoes down in the floor of the hall.

I to take that as threat, or promise, or a forecast of a doom from heaven?”
asked Owain, in the most amiable of voices, but none the less with a razor edge
to the tone that gave it piercing sweetness, and caused Bledri to draw back his
head a little as if from a possible blow, and for a moment veil the smouldering
fire of his black eyes, and abate the savage tightness of his lips. Somewhat
more cautiously he responded at last:

meant only that enmity and hatred between brothers is unseemly among men, and
cannot but be displeasing to God. It cannot bear any but disastrous fruit. I
beg you, restore your brother his rights.”

said Owain thoughtfully, and eyeing the petitioner with a stare that measured
and probed beyond the words offered, “I am not yet ready to concede. But
perhaps we should consider of this matter at more leisure. Tomorrow morning I
and my people set out for Aber and Bangor, together with some of the lord
bishop’s household and these visitors from Lichfield. It is in my mind, Bledri
ap Rhys, that you should ride with us and be our guest at Aber, and on the way,
and there at home in my llys, you may better develop your argument, and I
better consider on those consequences of which you make mention. I should not
like,” said Owain in tones of honey, “to invite disaster for want of
forethought. Say yes to my hospitality, and sit down with us at our host’s

was entirely plain to Cadfael, as to many another within the hall, that by this
time Bledri had small choice in the matter. Owain’s men of the guard had fully
understood the nature of the invitation. By his tight smile, so had Bledri,
though he accepted it with every evidence of pleasure and satisfaction. No
doubt it suited him to continue in the prince’s company, whether as guest or
prisoner, and to keep his eyes and ears open on the ride to Aber. All the more
if his hint of dire consequences meant more than the foreshadowing of divine
disapproval of enmity between brothers. He had said a little too much to be
taken at his face value. And as a guest, free or under guard, his own safety
was assured. He took the place that was cleared for him at the bishop’s table,
and drank to the prince with a discreet countenance and easy smile. The bishop
visibly drew deep breath, relieved that his well-meaning effort at peace-making
had at least survived the first skirmish. Whether he had understood the
vibrating undertones of what had passed was doubtful. The subtleties of the
Welsh were probably wasted on a forthright and devout Norman, Cadfael
reflected. The better for him, he could speed his departing guests, thus
augmented by one, and console himself that he had done all a man could do to
bring about reconciliation. What followed, whatever it might be, was no
responsibility of his.

mead went round amicably, and the prince’s harper sang the greatness and
virtues of Owain’s line and the beauty of Gwynedd. And after him, to Cadfael’s
respectful surprise, Hywel ab Owain rose and took the harp, and improvised
mellifluously on the women of the north. Poet and bard as well as warrior, this
was undoubtedly an admirable shoot from that admirable stem. He knew what he
was doing with his music. All the tensions of the evening dissolved into amity
and song. Or if they survived, at least the bishop, comforted and relaxed, lost
all awareness of them.


the privacy of their own lodging, with the night still drowsily astir outside
the half-open door, Brother Mark sat mute and thoughtful on the edge of his bed
for some moments, pondering all that had passed, until at last he said, with
the conviction of one who has reviewed all circumstances and come to a firm
conclusion: “He meant nothing but good. He is a good man.”

not a wise one,” said Cadfael from the doorway. The night without was dark,
without a moon, but the stars filled it with a distant, blue glimmer that
showed where occasional shadows crossed from building to building, making for
their rest. The babel of the day was now an almost-silence, now and then
quivering to the murmur of low voices tranquilly exchanging goodnights. Rather
a tremor on the air than an audible sound. There was no wind. Even the softest
of movements vibrated along the cords of the senses, making silence eloquent.

trusts too easily,” Mark agreed with a sigh. “Integrity expects integrity.”

you find it missing in Bledri ap Rhys?” Cadfael asked respectfully. Brother
Mark could still surprise him now and then.

doubt him. He comes too brazenly, knowing once received he is safe from any
harm or affront. And he feels secure enough in Welsh hospitality to threaten.”

he did,” said Cadfael thoughtfully. “And passed it off as a reminder of
heaven’s displeasure. And what did you make of that?”

drew in his horns,” said Mark positively, “knowing he had gone a step too far.
But there was more in that than a pastoral warning. And truly I wonder where
this Cadwaladr is now, and what he is up to. For I think that was a plain
threat of trouble here and now if Owain refused his brother’s demands.
Something is in the planning, and this Bledri knows of it.”

fancy,” said Cadfael placidly, “that the prince is of your opinion also, or at
least has the possibility well in mind. You heard him. He has given due notice
to all his men that Bledri ap Rhys is to remain in the royal retinue here, in
Aber, and on the road between. If there’s mischief planned, Bledri, if he can’t
be made to betray it, can be prevented from playing any part in it, or letting
his master know the prince has taken the warning, and is on his guard. Now I
wonder did Bledri read as much into it, and whether he’ll go to the trouble to
put it to the test?”

did not seem to me to be put out of his stride,” said Mark doubtfully. “If he
did understand it so, it did not disquiet him. Can he have provoked it

knows? It may suit him to go along with us to Aber, and keep his eyes and ears
open along the way and within the llys, if he’s spying out the prince’s
dispositions for his master. Or for himself!” Cadfael conceded thoughtfully,
“Though what’s the advantage to him, unless it’s to put him safely out of the
struggle, I confess I don’t see.” For a prisoner who enjoys officially the
status of a guest can come to no harm, whatever the issue. If his own lord
wins, he is delivered without reproach, and if his captor is the victor he is
immune just as surely, safe from injury in the battle or reprisals after it.
“But he did not strike me as a cautious man,” Cadfael owned, rejecting the
option, though with some lingering reluctance.

few threads of shadow still crossed the gathering darkness of the precinct,
ripples on a nocturnal lake. The open door of the bishop’s great hall made a
rectangle of faint light, most of the torches within already quenched, the fire
turfed down but still glowing, distant murmurs of movement and voices a slight
quiver on the silence, as the servants cleared away the remnants of the feast
and the tables that had borne it.

tall, dark figure, wide-shouldered and erect against the pale light, appeared
in the doorway of the hall, paused for a long moment as though breathing in the
cool of the night, and then moved leisurely down the steps, and began to pace
the beaten earth of the court, slowly and sinuously, like a man flexing his
muscles after being seated a while too long. Cadfael opened the door a little
wider, to have the shadowy movements in view.

are you going?” asked Mark at his back, anticipating with alert intelligence.

far,” said Cadfael. “Just far enough to see what rises to our friend Bledri’s
bait. And how he takes it!”

stood motionless outside the door for a long moment, drawing the door to behind
him, to accustom his eyes to the night, as doubtless Bledri ap Rhys was also
doing as he trailed his coat to and fro, nearer and nearer to the open gate of
the precinct. The earth was firm enough to make his crisp, deliberate steps
audible, as plainly he meant them to be. But nothing stirred and no one took
note of him, not even the few servants drifting away to their beds, until he
turned deliberately and walked straight towards the open gate. Cadfael had
advanced at leisure along the line of modest canonical houses and guest
lodgings, to keep the event in view.

admirable aplomb two brisk figures heaved up into the gateway from the fields
without, amiably wreathed together, collided with Bledri in midpassage, and
untwined themselves to embrace him between them. “What, my lord Bledri!” boomed
one blithe Welsh voice. “Is it you? Taking a breath of air before sleeping? And
a fine night for it!”

bear you company, willingly,” the second voice offered heartily. “It’s early to
go to bed yet. And we’ll see you safe to your own brychan, if you lose your way
in the dark.”

none so drunk as to go astray,” Bledri acknowledged without surprise or
concern. “And for all the good company there is to be had in Saint Asaph
tonight, I think I’ll get to my bed. You gentlemen will be needing your sleep,
too, if we’re off with the morn tomorrow.” The smile in his voice was clear to
be sensed. He had the answer he had looked for, and it caused him no dismay,
rather a measure of amusement, perhaps even satisfaction. “Goodnight to you!”
he said, and turned to saunter back towards the hall door, still dimly lighted
from within.

hung outside the precinct wall, though the nearest tents of Owain’s camp were
not far away. The wall was not so high that it could not be climbed, though
wherever a man mounted, there would be someone waiting below on the other side.
But in any case Bledri ap Rhys had no intention of removing himself, he had
merely been confirming his expectation that any attempt to do so would very
simply and neatly be frustrated. Owain’s orders were readily understood even when
obliquely stated, and would be efficiently carried out. If Bledri had been in
any doubt of that, he knew better now. And as for the two convivial guards,
they withdrew again into the night with an absence of pretence which was almost

that, on the face of it, was the end of the incident. Yet Cadfael continued
immobile and detachedly interested, invisible against the dark bulk of the
timber buildings, as if he expected some kind of epilogue to round off the
night’s entertainment.

the oblong of dim light at the head of the steps came the girl Heledd,
unmistakable even in silhouette by the impetuous grace of her carriage and her
tall slenderness. Even at the end of an evening of serving the bishop’s guests
and the retainers of his household she moved like a fawn. And if Cadfael
observed her appearance with impersonal pleasure, so did Bledri ap Rhys, from
where he stood just aside from the foot of the steps, with a startled
appreciation somewhat less impersonal, having no monastic restraints to hold it
in check. He had just confirmed that he was now, willing or otherwise, a member
of the prince’s retinue at least as far as Aber, and in all probability he
already knew, since he was lodged in the bishop’s own house, that this
promising girl was the one who would be riding with the party at dawn. The
prospect offered a hope of mild pleasure along the way, to pass the time
agreeably. At the very least, here was this moment, to round off an eventful
and enjoyable evening. She was descending, with one of the embroidered drapings
of the high table rolled up in her arms, on her way to the canonical dwellings
across the precinct. Perhaps wine had been spilled on the cloth, or some of the
gilt threads been snagged by a belt buckle or the rough setting of a dagger
hilt or a bracelet, and she was charged with its repair. He had been about to
ascend, but waited aside instead, for the pleasure of watching her at ever
closer view as she came down, eyes lowered to be sure of stepping securely. He
was so still and she so preoccupied that she had not observed him. And when she
had reached the third step from the ground he suddenly reached out and took her
by the waist between his hands, very neatly, and swung her round in a
half-circle, and so held her suspended, face to face with him and close, for a
long moment before he set her quite gently on her feet. He did not, however,
relinquish his hold of her.

was done quite lightly and playfully, and for all Cadfael could see, which was
merely a shadow play, Heledd received it without much trace of displeasure, and
certainly none of alarm, once the surprise was past. She had uttered one small,
startled gasp as he plucked her aloft, but that was all, and once set down she
stood looking up at him eye to eye, and made no move to break away. It is not
unpleasant to any woman to be admired by a handsome man. She said something to
him, the words indistinguishable but the tone light and tolerant to Cadfael’s
ear, if not downright encouraging. And something he said in return to her, at
the very least with no sign of discouragement. No doubt Bledri ap Rhys had a
very good opinion of himself and his attractions, but it was in Cadfael’s mind
that Heledd, for all she might enjoy his attentions, was also quite capable of
keeping them within decorous bounds. Doubtful if she was considering letting
him get very far. But from this pleasurable brush with him she could extricate
herself whenever she chose. They were neither of them taking it seriously. In
the event she was not to be given the opportunity to conclude it in her own
fashion. For the light from the open doorway above was suddenly darkened by the
bulk of a big man’s body, and the abrupt eclipse cast the linked pair below
into relative obscurity. Canon Meirion paused for a moment to adjust his vision
to the night, and began to descend the steps with his usual selfconscious
dignity. With the dwindling of his massive shadow renewed light fell upon
Heledd’s glossy hair and the pale oval of her face, and the broad shoulders and
arrogant head of Bledri ap Rhys, the pair of them closely linked in what fell
little short of an embrace.

BOOK: The Summer of the Danes
6.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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