Brother Cadfael 08: The Devil's Novice

Brother Cadfael 08: The Devil's Novice by Ellis Peters Read Free Book Online

Book: Brother Cadfael 08: The Devil's Novice by Ellis Peters Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ellis Peters
all these things there was a human reason. But what wonder if these untravelled young things, credulous and superstitious, dreaded a reason that was not human?
    That was well into October and the same day that Canon Eluard of Winchester, on his journey south from Chester, came with his secretary and his groom to spend a night or two for repose in Shrewsbury. And not for simple reasons of religious policy or courtesy, but precisely because the novice Meriet Aspley was housed within the walls of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
    Chapter Three.
    Eluard of Winchester was a black canon of considerable learning and several masterships, some from French schools. It was this wide scholarship and breadth of mind which had recommended him to Bishop Henry of Blois, and raised him to be one of the three highest ranking and best trusted of that great prelate's household clergy, and left him now in charge of much of the bishop's pending business while his principal was absent in France.
    Brother Cadfael ranked too low in the hierarchy to be invited to the abbot's table when there were guests of such stature. That occasioned him no heart-burning, and cost him little in first-hand knowledge of what went on, since it was taken for granted that Hugh Beringar, in the absence of the sheriff, would be present at any meeting involving political matters, and would infallibly acquaint his other self with whatever emerged of importance.
    Hugh came to the hut in the herb garden, yawning, after accompanying the canon to his apartment in the guest-hall.
    'An impressive man, I don't wonder Bishop Henry values him. Have you seen him, Cadfael?'
    'I saw him arrive.'
    A big, portly, heavily-built man who nonetheless rode like a huntsman from his childhood and a warrior from puberty; a rounded, bushy tonsure on a round, solid head, and a dark shadow about the shaven jowls when he lighted down in early evening. Rich, fashionable but austere clothing, his only jewellery a cross and ring, but both of rare artistry. And he had a jaw on him and an authoritative eye, shrewd but tolerant.
    'What's he doing in these parts, in his bishop's absence overseas?'
    'Why, the very same his bishop is up to in Normandy, soliciting the help of every powerful man he can get hold of, to try and produce some plan that will save England from being dismembered utterly. While he's after the support of king and duke in France, Henry wants just as urgently to know where Earl Ranulf and his brother stand. They never paid heed to the meeting in the summer, so it seems Bishop Henry sent one of his men north to be civil to the pair of them and make sure of their favour, just before he set off for France-one of his own household clerics, a young man marked for advancement, Peter Clemence. And Peter Clemence has not returned. Which could mean any number of things, but with time lengthening out and never a word from him or from either of that pair in the north concerning him, Canon Eluard began to be restive. There's a kind of truce in the south and west, while the two sides wait and watch each other, so Eluard felt he might as well set off in person to Chester, to find out what goes on up there, and what's become of the bishop's envoy.'
    'And what has become of him?' asked Cadfael shrewdly. 'For his lordship, it seems, is now on his way south again to join King Stephen. And what sort of welcome did he get in Chester?'
    'As warm and civil as heart could wish. And for what my judgement is worth, Canon Eluard, however loyal he may be to Bishop Henry's efforts for peace, is more inclined to Stephen's side than to the empress, and is off back to Westminster now to tell the King he might be wise to strike while the iron's hot, and go north in person and offer a few sweetmeats to keep Chester and Roumare as well-disposed to him as they are. A manor or two and a pleasant title - Roumare is as good as earl of Lincoln now, why not call him so? - could secure his position there. So, at any rate, Eluard seems

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