Brother Cadfael 11: An Excellent Mystery

Brother Cadfael 11: An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters Read Free Book Online

Book: Brother Cadfael 11: An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ellis Peters
striding away. If he could ask nothing with his tongue, his eyes were eloquent enough, and Edmund understood them.
    'He's easy, and he'll mend. You may go and come as you will in his service, and I will see that you are excused other duties until we're satisfied he does well, and can be left. I will make that good with Prior Robert. Fetch, carry, ask, according to need - if he has a wish, write it and it shall be fulfilled. But as for his dressings, Brother Cadfael will attend to them.'
    There was yet a question, more truly a demand, in the ardent eyes. Cadfael answered it in quick reassurance. 'No one else has been witness. No one else need be, but for Father Abbot, who has a right to know what ails all his sons. You may be content with that as Brother Humilis is content.'
    Fidelis flushed and brightened for an instant, bowed his head, made that small open gesture of his hands in submission and acceptance, and went from them swift and silent, to climb the day stairs. How many times had he done quiet service at the same sick-bed, alone and unaided? For if he had not grudged them being the first on the scene this time, he had surely lamented it, and been uncertain at first of their discretion.
    I'll go back before Compline,' said Cadfael 'and see if he sleeps, or if he needs another draught. And whether the young one has remembered to take food for himself as well as for Humilis! Now I wonder where that boy can have learned his medicine, if he's been caring for Brother Humilis alone, down there in Hyde?' It was plain the responsibility had not daunted him, nor could he have failed in his endeavours. To have kept any life at all in that valiant wreck was achievement enough.
    If the boy had studied in the art of healing, he might make a good assistant in the herbarium, and would be glad to learn more. It would be something in common, a way in through the sealed door of his silence.
    Brother Fidelis fetched and carried, fed, washed, shaved his patient, tended to all his bodily needs, apparently in perfect content so to serve day and night, if Humilis had not ordered him away sometimes into the open air, or to rest in his own cell, or to attend the offices of the church on behalf of both of them; as within two days of slow recovery Humilis increasingly did order, and was obeyed. The broken wound was healing, its lips no longer wet and limp, but drawing together gradually under the plasters of freshly-bruised leaves. Fidelis witnessed the slow improvement, and was glad and grateful, and assisted without revulsion as the dressings were changed. This maimed body was no secret from him.
    A favoured family servant? A natural son, as Edmund had hazarded? Or simply a devout young brother of the Order who had fallen under the spell of a charm and nobility all the more irresistible because it was dying? Cadfael could not choose but speculate. The young can be wildly generous, giving away their years and their youth for love, without thought of any gain.
    'You wonder about him,' said Humilis from his pillow, when Cadfael was changing his dressing in the early morning, and Fidelis had been sent down with the brothers to Prime.
    'Yes,' said Cadfael honestly.
    'But you don't ask. Neither have I asked anything. My future,' said Humilis reflectively, 'I left in Palestine. What remained of me I gave to God, and I trust the offering was not all worthless. My novitiate, clipped though it was because of my state, was barely ending when he entered Hyde. I have had good cause to thank God for him.'
    'No easy matter,' said Cadfael, musing, 'for a dumb man to vouch for himself and make known his vocation. Had he some elder to speak for him?'
    'He had written his plea, how his father was old, and would be glad to see his sons settled, and while his elder brother had the lands, he, the younger, wished to choose the cloister. He brought an endowment with him, but it was his fine hand and his scholarship chiefly commended him. I know no more of him,' said

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