Brother Cadfael 13: The Rose Rent
Ellis Peters THE ROSE RENT A Brother Cadfael Mystery
By reason of the prolonged cold, which lingered far into April, and had scarcely mellowed when the month of May began, everything came laggard and reluctant that spring of 1142. The birds kept close about the roofs, finding warmer places to roost. The bees slept late, depleted their stores, and had to be fed, but neither was there any early burst of blossom for them to make fruitful. In the gardens there was no point in planting seed that would rot or be eaten in soil too chilly to engender life.
The affairs of men, stricken with the same petrifying chill, seemed to have subsided into hibernation. Faction held its breath. King Stephen, after the first exhilaration of liberation from his prison, and the Easter journey north to draw together the frayed strings of his influence, had fallen ill in the south, so ill that the rumour of his death had spread throughout England, and his cousin and rival, the Empress Maud, had cautiously moved her headquarters to Oxford, and settled down there to wait patiently and vainly for him to make truth of rumour, which he stubbornly declined to do. He had still business to settle with the lady, and his constitution was more than a match for even this virulent fever. By the end of May he was on his way manfully back to health. By the early days of June the long sub-frost broke. The biting wind changed to a temperate breeze, the sun came out over the earth like a warm hand stroking, the seed stirred in the ground and put forth green blades, and a foam of flowers, all the more exuberant for having been so long restrained, burst forth in gold and purple and white over garden and meadow. The belated sowing began in jubilant haste. And King Stephen, like a giant breaking loose from some crippling enchantment, surged out of his convalescence into vigorous action, and bearing down on the port of Wareham, the most easterly still available to his enemies, seized both town and castle with hardly a graze to show for it.
"And is making north again now towards Cirencester," reported Hugh Beringar, elated by the news, "to pick off the empress's outposts one by one, if only he can keep up this storm of energy." It was the one fatal flaw in the king's military make-up that he could not sustain action for long if he failed to get instant results, but would abandon a siege after three days, and go off to start another elsewhere, squandering for no gain the energy devoted to both. "We may see a tidy end to it yet!"
Brother Cadfael, preoccupied with his own narrower concerns, continued to survey the vegetable patch outside the wall of his herb-garden, digging an experimental toe into soil grown darker and kinder after a mild morning shower. "By rights," he said thoughtfully, "carrots should have been in more than a month ago, and the first radishes will be fibrous and shrunken as old leather, but we might get something with more juices in it from now on. Lucky the fruit-blossom held back until the bees began to wake up, but even so it will be a thin crop this year. Everything's four weeks behind, but the seasons have a way of catching up, somehow. Wareham, you were saying? What of Wareham?"
"Why, that Stephen has taken it, town and castle and harbour and all. So Robert of Gloucester, who went out by that gate barely ten days earlier, has it slammed in his face now. Did I not tell you? The word came three days since. It seems there was a meeting back in April, in Devizes, between the empress and her brother, and they made it up between them that it was high time the lady's husband should pay a little heed to her affairs, and come over in person to help her get her hands on Stephen's crown. They sent envoys over to Normandy to meet with Geoffrey, but he sent back to say he was well disposed, no question, but the men sent out to him were unknown to him, name or reputation, and he would be uneasy in dealing with any but the Earl of Gloucester himself. If Robert will not come, says Geoffrey, no use sending me any other."
Cadfael was momentarily distracted from his laggard crops. "And Robert let himself be persuaded?" he said, marvelling.
"Very reluctantly. He feared to leave his sister to the loyalties of some who were all but ready to desert her after the Westminster shambles, and I doubt if he has any great hopes of getting anything out of the Count of Anjou. But yes, he let himself be persuaded. And he's sailed from Wareham, with less
Weitere Kostenlose Bücher