Brother Cadfael 16: The Heretic's Apprentice
Elave close and watchful at her shoulder, and Cadfael knew that the boy had her by the hand still in the shelter of their bodies, as fast as ever Jevan had held her by the arm when she was the only frail barrier he had against betrayal and ruin. She gazed and gazed at the beautiful thing William had sent her as dowry, and her eyes were hooded and her lips set in a pale, still face.
No fault of Diarmaid, the Irish monk of Saint Gall, who had poured his loveliest art into a gift of love, or at least a gift for a marriage, the loftiest of the age, a mating of empires! No fault of his that this exquisite thing had brought about two deaths, and bereaved as well as endowed the bride to whom it was sent. Was it any wonder that such a perfect thing could corrupt a hitherto blameless lover of books to covet, steal, and kill?
Fortunata looked up at last, and found the bishop's eyes upon her, across the table and its radiant burden.
"My child," he said, "you have here a most precious gift. If it pleases you to sell it, it will provide you a rich dowry indeed, but take good advice before you part with it, and keep it safe. Abbot Radulfus here would surely hold it in trust for you, if you wish it, and see that you are properly counselled when you come to deal with a buyer. Though I must tell you that in truth it would be impossible to put a price on it fit for what is priceless."
"My lord," said Fortunata, "I know what I want to do with it. I cannot keep it. It is beautiful, and I shall always remember it and be glad that I've seen it. But as long as it remains with me I shall find it a bitter reminder, and it will seem to me somehow spoiled and wronged. Nothing ugly should ever have touched it. I would rather that it should go with you. In your church treasury it will be pure again, and blessed."
"I understand your revulsion," said the bishop gently, "after all that has happened, and I feel the justice of your grief for a thing of beauty and grace misused. But if that is truly what you wish, then you must accept what the library of my see can pay you for the book, though I must tell you I have not its worth to spend."
"No!" Fortunata shook her head decidedly. "Money has been paid for it once, money must not be paid for it again. If it has no price, no price must be given for it, but I may give it, and suffer no loss."
Roger de Clinton, himself a man of decision, recognized as strong a resolution confronting him, and moreover, respected and approved it. But in conscience he reminded her considerately: "The pilgrim who brought it across half the world, and sent it to you as dowry, he also has a right to have his wishes honoured. And his wish was that this gift should be yours - no one's else."
She acknowledged it with an inclination of her head, very seriously. "But having given it, and made it mine, he would have held that it was mine, to give again if I pleased, and would never have grudged it. Especially," said Fortunata firmly, "to you and the Church."
"But also he wished his gift to be used to ensure you a good marriage and a happy life," said the bishop.
She looked back at him steadily and earnestly, with Elave's hand warm in hers, and Elave's face at her shoulder matching the look. "That it has already done," said Fortunata. "The best of what he sent me I am keeping."
By midafternoon they were all gone. Bishop de Clinton and his deacon, Serlo, were on their way back to Coventry, where one of Roger's predecessors in office had transferred the chief seat of his diocese, though it was still more often referred to as Lichfield than as Coventry, and both churches considered themselves as having cathedral status. Elave and Fortunata had returned together to the distracted household by Saint Alkmund's church, where now the body of the slayer lay on the same trestle bier in the same outhouse where his victim had lain, and Girard, who had buried Aldwin, must now prepare to bury Jevan. The great holes torn in the fabric of a close-knit household would gradually close and heal, but it would take time. Doubtless the women would pray just as earnestly for both the slayer and the slain.
With the bishop, carefully and reverently packed in his saddle roll, went Princess Theofanu's psalter. How it had ever made its way back to the east, to some small monastery beyond Edessa, no one would ever know, and someday, perhaps two hundred years on, someone would marvel how it had travelled from Edessa to the library of Coventry, and
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