It’s February 1141 and the civil war has flared up again in England. This time it’s Ranulf of Chester and Robert of Gloucester trying to create their own little empire against King Stephen in the battle of Lincoln, which follows on from the end of the previous novel – ‘The Devil’s Novice’. This is the 9th Cadfael chronicle and is the third book in the third Cadfael Omnibus together with ‘The Sanctuary Sparrow’ and ‘The Devil’s Novice’.
Joining King Stephen at the battle of Lincoln are Gilbert Prescote, the sheriff of Shropshire, Hugh Beringar, the deputy sheriff, and many other men from Shrewsbury. The other side of the battle is assisted by a group of renegade Welsh led by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd and Madog ap Maredudd. The tide turns against King Stephen and he is defeated and taken to Bristol as a hostage. Gilbert Prescote is also taken hostage and held in Wales. The Welsh, revelling in their win, decide to carry out a few raids through Shropshire on their way home.
The Welsh attempt a raid on the Benedictine convent at Godfric’s Ford, but are held off due to the strategic skills of Cadfael’s friend, Sister Magdalen (formerly Avice of Thornbury – see ‘The Leper of Saint Giles’) and help from the men of the surrounding forests. The nuns save a young Welshman, Elis ap Cynan, from drowning. Elis proves to be suitably noble to be used in a hostage exchange with Gilbert Prescote.
While waiting in Shrewsbury castle for the exchange to take place, Elis and Gilbert Prescote’s daughter, Melicent fall in love. They are determined to be together despite Elis’s betrothal to a Welsh girl and Gilbert Prescote’s hatred of the Welsh. When Gilbert Prescote dies before the hostage exchange can be completed, half their problems seem to be solved until Melicent accuses Elis of murdering her father.
Cadfael needs to gather enough evidence to prove Elis innocent and find out the real murderer, and to solve the difficulties in the way of Elis and Melicent’s love.
This is another great Cadfael mystery. This story sees Cadfael making a number of trips into Wales where his Welsh connections allow him to be a hostage negotiator and a detective. I recommend this book as a pivotal story in the Cadfael series.
Book Published 1984