The year is 1941 and with King Stephen held prisoner in Bristol, the Empress Maud is preparing to be crowned Queen of England. Bishop Henry (Stephen’s brother) has changed his allegiance and has called together all church leaders – including Abbot Radulfus – to encourage them to back Empress Maud. While the church leaders are in Winchester, a knight in Empress Maud’s service is murdered in a cowardly way.
Abbott Radulfus arrives back in Shrewsbury in time for the feast of St Winifred and everyone is hoping that the pilgrims will be blessed with a miracle. But, Cadfael is a bit sceptical since he knows the real contents of St Winifred’s coffin (see ‘A Morbid Taste For Bones’).
Three groups of pilgrims become the focus of the story. A group of four merchants, travelling separately come to the attention of Cadfael and Hugh Beringar as possible dice cheats, come to fleece the pilgrims and the townsfolk of Shrewsbury.
Mrs Weaver is travelling with her orphaned nephew and niece. Her nephew, Rhun, has a crippled leg and Alice Weaver is appealing to St Winifred for a miracle. Her niece, Melangell, falls in love with another pilgrim, Matthew.
Ciaran has vowed to travel to Dublin and the holy island of Ynys Enlii (to die) barefoot and with a heavy cross around his neck. His companion Matthew has vowed to travel with Ciaran every step of the way.
St Winifred blesses Shrewsbury with a number of miracles, including the appearance of Olivier de Bretagne for the second time in Cadfael’s life. Olivier is searching for Luc Meverall who is from the household of the murdered knight and went missing a few days after the murder.
All the pilgrims’ stories become entwined and Cadfael works together with Hugh Beringar and Olivier de Bretagne to discover those pilgrims who are not what they appear to be, to find the missing Luc meverall and to prevent another murder.
At the end of the story, fortunes change once again in the English civil war and Cadfael tells Hugh one of his most cherished secrets. This was another wonderful step in the Cadfael chronicles.
Book Published 1984