This story has a different feel to it than most of the other Cadfael stories as Brother Cadfael gets the opportunity to travel to his native Wales. Brother Mark, one of Cadfael’s former assistants is now a Deacon with Bishop Roger de Clinton, and has been sent on an errand into Wales. And, who else should Brother Mark choose as his interpreter and travelling companion than Brother Cadfael.
In carrying out their errand, Brother Mark and Brother Cadfael find themselves travelling with Prince Owain of Gwynedd and a large group of his men. Also travelling with the group is a young lady, Heledd, whose father (a priest) is safely marrying her off to enable his own progression within the church (the Celtic tradition allowed priests to have families, but the Roman tradition didn’t).
Heledd is not happy to be marrying a man that she has not chosen, so in Owain’s compound in Aber, she escapes overnight to go and make her own life. That same night Owain hears that his dispossessed brother, Cadwaladr, has arrived in Wales with a group of Danish mercenaries to try to reclaim his land.
Cadfael and Mark immediately go to search for Heledd. Cadfael finds her just as a Danish raiding party find them.
The remainder of the story involves the negotiations between Owain and the leader of the Danes – Otir, and between Owain and Cadwaladr as they try to resolve their differences. Owain wants the Danes out of his country and the hostages returned with the minimum of bloodshed.
This story is not part of the normal flow of events that we see in the other Cadfael chronicles, but it relates to a real dispute that took place between the Welsh princes Owain and Cadwaladr.
The novel does contain some of the usual Ellis Peters elements – a murder (though not solved by Cadfael in this instance) and a romance. This was a fun story – with Cadfael off adventuring, but I couldn’t help feeling that the Danes were a bit too tame when compared with their bloodthirsty reputation. It was good to see the return of Brother Mark, one of Cadfael’s favourite assistants.
Book Published 1991