The story begins in December 1142 when a sudden cold snap leads to extensive snow falls. So much snow falls on the Abbey guesthouse roof that the roof slates crack and the bishop’s legate is awoken by water leaking on his head. The monks must clear the snow and repair the roof before the thaw in order to avoid worse damage.
Most of the able bodied monks take a turn working up on the roof. Brother Haluin, one of the abbey’s best illuminators insists on taking his turn as well. While on the roof, he stretches too far and falls. The mountain of snow he falls on saves his life, but the slates falling after him cause serious injury, including cutting his feet beyond repair.
All of the Brothers, including Haluin himself think that he will die, so on regaining consciousness Haluin makes his confession to Abbot Radulfus with Cadfael in attendance.
At the age of 18, Haluin was involved in a forbidden love affair (with Bertrade). The girl’s mother banished him and he joined the monastery. Shortly afterwards, the girl’s mother asks Haluin for drugs to terminate the pregnancy. Haluin steals the necessary drugs from Brother Cadfael’s workshop. Haluin is later informed that both mother and child have died as a result of the attempted abortion. Haluin has lived with the guilt ever since.
Amazingly, Haluin recovers from his accident, but he will never walk again without crutches and extreme pain. As a personal penance, Haluin decides to make a pilgrimage to his old home – walking the whole way, and then spending a night in prayer at Bertrade’s tomb. The Abbott agrees, as long as Cadfael goes with him.
The pilgrimage triggers a chain of events resulting in murder and the revelation of a serious wrong committed 18 years earlier. This revelation leads to the resolution of a number of issues and in the end Brother Haluin is finally able to find the peace he has been searching for for half his life.
This is yet another brilliant Cadfael mystery although very different from most of the earlier ones. The murder is not the main focus of the story and although Cadfael assists in the resolution, it would probably have occurred without him. So, Cadfael’s role is not as strong as usual.
Book Published 1988