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Brother Cadfael 17: The Potter's Field

Brother Cadfael 17: The Potter's Field

Titel: Brother Cadfael 17: The Potter's Field
Autoren: Ellis Peters
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Ellis Peters THE POTTERS FIELD A Brother Cadfael Mystery

Chapter One


Saint Peter's Fair of that year, 1143, was one week past, and they were settling down again into the ordinary routine of a dry and favourable August, with the corn harvest already being carted into the barns, when Brother Matthew the cellarer first brought into chapter the matter of business he had been discussing for some days during the Fair with the prior of the Augustinian priory of Saint John the Evangelist, at Haughmond, about four miles to the north-east of Shrewsbury. Haughmond was a FitzAlan foundation, and FitzAlan was out of favour and dispossessed since he had held Shrewsbury castle against King Stephen, though rumour said he was back in England again from his refuge in France, and safe with the Empress's forces in Bristol. But many of his tenants locally had continued loyal to the king, and retained their lands, and Haughmond flourished in their patronage and gifts, a highly respectable neighbour with whom business could be done to mutual advantage at times. This, according to Brother Matthew, was one of the times.


'The proposal for this exchange of land came from Haughmond,' he said, 'but it makes good sense for both houses. I have already set the necessary facts before Father Abbot and Prior Robert, and I have here rough plans of the two fields in question, both large and of comparable quality. The one which this house owns lies some mile and a half beyond Haughton, and is bounded on all sides by land gifted to Haughmond Priory. Clearly it will advantage them to add this piece to their holdings, for economy in use and the saving of time and labour in going back and forth. And the field which Haughmond wishes to exchange for it is on the hither side of the manor of Longner, barely two miles from us but inconveniently distant from Haughmond. Clearly it is good sense to consider this exchange. I have viewed the ground, and the bargain is a fair one. I recommend that we should accept.'


'If this field is on the hither side of Longner,' said Brother Richard, the sub-prior, who came from a mile or so beyond that manor and knew the outlines of the land, 'how does it lie with regard to the river? Is it subject to flooding?'


'No. It has the Severn along one flank, yes, but the bank is high, and the meadow climbs gradually from it to a headland and a windbreak of trees and bushes along the ridge. It is the field of which Brother Ruald was tenant until some fifteen months ago. There were two or three small claypits along the river bank, but I believe they are exhausted. The field is known as the Potter's Field.'


A slight ripple of movement went round the chapterhouse, as all heads turned in one direction, and all eyes fastened for one discreet moment upon Brother Ruald. A slight, quiet, grave man, with a long, austere face, very regular of feature, of an ageless, classical comeliness, he still went about the devout hours of the day like one half withdrawn into a private rapture, for his final vows were only two months old, and his desire for the life of the cloister, recognised only after fifteen years of married life and twenty-five of plying the potter's craft, had burned into an acute agony before he gained admittance and entered into peace. A peace he never seemed to leave now, even for a moment. All eyes might turn on him, and his calm remained absolute. Everyone here knew his story, which was complex and strange enough, but that did not trouble him. He was where he wanted to be.


'It is good pasture,' he said simply. 'And could well be cultivated, if it is needed. It lies well above any common floodline. The other field, of course, I do not know.'


'It may be a little greater,' said Brother Matthew judicially, contemplating his parchments with head on one side, measuring with narrowed eyes. 'But at that distance we are spared time and labour. I have said, I judge it a fair exchange.'


"The Potter's Field!' said Prior Robert, musing. 'It was such a field that was bought with the silver of Judas's betrayal, for the burial of strangers. I trust there can be no ill omen in the name.'


'It was only named for my craft,' said Ruald. 'Earth is innocent. Only the use we make of it can mar it. I laboured honestly there, before I knew whither I was truly bound. It is good land. It may well be better used than for a workshop and kiln such as mine. A narrow yard would have done

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