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Brother Cadfael 15: The Confession of Brother Haluin

Brother Cadfael 15: The Confession of Brother Haluin

Titel: Brother Cadfael 15: The Confession of Brother Haluin
Autoren: Ellis Peters
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Ellis Peters THE CONFESSION OF BROTHER HALUIN A Brother Cadfael Mystery
    Chapter One
    The worst of the winter came early, that year of 1142. After the prolonged autumn of mild, moist, elegiac days, December came in with heavy skies and dark, brief days that sagged upon the rooftrees and lay like oppressive hands upon the heart. In the scriptorium there was barely light enough at noon to form the letters, and the colours could not be used with any certainty, since the unrelenting and untimely dusk sapped all their brightness. The weather-wise had predicted heavy snows, and in midmonth they came, not with blizzard winds, but in a blinding, silent fall that continued for several days and nights, smoothing out every undulation, blanching all colour out of the world, burying the sheep in the hills and the hovels in the valleys, smothering all sound, climbing every wall, turning roofs into ranges of white, impassable mountains, and the very air between earth and sky into an opaque, drifting whirlpool of flakes large as lilies. When the fall finally ceased, and the heavy swags of cloud lifted, the Foregate lay half buried, so nearly smoothed out into one white level that there were scarcely any shadows except where the tall buildings of the abbey soared out of the pure pallor, and the eerie, reflected light made day even of night, where only a week before the ominous gloom had made night of day.
    These December snows, which covered most of the west, did more than disrupt the lives of country people, starve some isolated hamlets, bury not a few hill shepherds with their flocks, and freeze all travel into enforced stillness; they overturned the fortunes of war, made sport of the preoccupations of princes, and sent history spinning off-course into the new year of 1143.
    They also brought about a strange cycle of events in the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury.
    In the five years that King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maud, had fought for the throne of England, fortune had swung between them like a pendulum many times, presenting the cup of victory to each in erratic turn, only to snatch it away again untasted, and offer it tantalizingly to the other contender. Now, in the white disguise of winter, it chose to turn probability topsy-turvy once again, and deliver the empress out of the king's mailed hands as by a miracle, just as his fist seemed closing securely on his prisoner, and his warfare triumphantly ending. Back to the beginning of the five-year struggle, and all to do again. But that was in Oxford, far away beyond the impassable snows, and some time would elapse before the news reached Shrewsbury.
    What was happening in the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was no more than a small annoyance by comparison, or seemed so at first. An envoy from the bishop, lodged in one of the upper chambers of the guest hall, and already irritated and displeased at being halted here perforce until the roads were passable again, was unpleasantly awakened in the night by the sudden descent of a stream of icy water onto his head, and made very sure that everyone within range of his powerful voice should hear of it without delay. Brother Denis the hospitaler made haste to placate him, and move him to a dry bed elsewhere, but within the hour it became clear that while the first drenching soon slackened, a steady drip continued, and was soon joined by half a dozen more, spanning a circle some yards across. The great weight of snow on the southern roof of the guest hall had somehow worked a passage through the lead and filtered in between the slates, perhaps even caved in a number of them. Pockets of the driven snow had felt the comparative warmth within, and with the mute malice of inanimate things had chosen to baptize the bishop's emissary. And the leak was rapidly getting worse.
    There was urgent conference at chapter that morning over what should and could be done. Perilous and unpleasant work on roofs was certainly to be avoided if possible during such weather, but on the other hand, if repairs were delayed until the thaw came, they were in for a flood, and the damage, limited at this point, might be greatly aggravated.
    There were several among the brothers who had worked on the building of additions to the enclave, barns and stabling and storehouses, and Brother Conradin, who was still in his fifties and robust as a bull, had been one of the first child oblates, and worked as a boy under the monks of Seez,
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