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The Pillars of the Earth / (by Ken Follett, 2006) -

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The Pillars of the Earth /   (by Ken Follett, 2006) -

The Pillars of the Earth / (by Ken Follett, 2006) -

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: 153
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The Pillars of the Earth / (by Ken Follett, 2006) -
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2006
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Ken Follett
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John Lee
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/ / / / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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40:55:31
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Pillars of the Earth / :

.doc (Word) ken_follett_-_the_pillars_of_the_earth.doc [2.56 Mb] (c: 2) .
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: The Pillars of the Earth

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PROLOGUE 1123 THE SMALL BOYS came early to the hanging. It was still dark when the first three or four of them sidled out of the hovels, quiet as cats in their felt boots. A thin layer of fresh snow covered the little town like a new coat of paint, and theirs were the first footprints to blemish its perfect surface. They picked their way through the huddled wooden huts and along the streets of frozen mud to the silent marketplace, where the gallows stood waiting. The boys despised everything their elders valued. They scorned beauty and mocked goodness. They would hoot with laughter at the sight of a cripple, and if they saw a wounded animal they would stone it to death. They boasted of injuries and wore their scars with pride, and they reserved their special admiration for mutilation: a boy with a finger missing could be their king. They loved violence; they would run miles to see bloodshed; and they never missed a hanging. One of the boys piddled on the base of the scaffold. Another mounted the steps, put his thumbs to his throat and slumped, twisting his face into a grisly parody of strangulation: the others whooped in admiration, and two dogs came running into the marketplace, barking. A very young boy recklessly began to eat an apple, and one of the older ones punched his nose and took his apple. The young boy relieved his feelings by throwing a sharp stone at a dog, sending the animal howling home. Then there was nothing else to do, so they all squatted on the dry pavement in the porch of the big church, waiting for something to happen. Candlelight flickered behind the shutters of the substantial wood and stone houses around the square, the homes of prosperous craftsmen and traders, as scullery maids and apprentice boys lit fires and heated water and made porridge. The color of the sky turned from black to gray. The townspeople came ducking out of their low doorways, swathed in heavy cloaks of coarse wool, and went shivering down to the river to fetch water. Soon a group of young men, grooms and laborers and apprentices, swaggered into the marketplace. They turned the small boys out of the church porch with cuffs and kicks, then leaned against the carved stone arches, scratching themselves and spitting on the ground and talking with studied confidence about death by hanging. If he_s lucky, said one, his neck breaks as soon as he falls, a quick death, and painless; but if not he hangs there turning red, his mouth opening and shutting like a fish out of water, until he chokes to death; and another said that dying like that can take the time a man takes to walk a mile; and a third said it could be worse than that, he had seen one where by the time the man died his neck was a foot long. The old women formed a group on the opposite side of the marketplace, as far as possible from the young men, who were liable to shout vulgar remarks at their grandmothers. They always woke up early, the old women, even though they no longer had babies and children to worry over; and they were the first to get their fires lit and their hearths swept. Their acknowledged leader, the muscular Widow Brewster, joined them, rolling a barrel of beer as easily as a child rolls a hoop. Before she could get the lid off there was a small crowd of customers waiting with jugs and buckets. The sheriffs bailiff opened the main gate, admitting the peasants who lived in the suburb, in the lean-to houses against the town wall. Some brought eggs and milk and fresh butter to sell, some came to buy beer or bread, and some stood in the marketplace and waited for the hanging. Every now and again people would cock their heads, like wary sparrows, and glance up at the castle on the hilltop above the town. They saw smoke rising steadily from the kitchen, and the occasional flare of a torch behind the arrow-slit windows of the stone keep. Then, at about the time the sun must have started to rise behind the thick gray cloud, the mighty wooden doors opened in the gatehouse and a small group came out. The sheriff was first, riding a fine black courser, followed by an ox cart carrying the bound prisoner. Behind the cart rode three men, and although their faces could not be seen at that distance, their clothes revealed that they were a knight, a priest and a monk. Two men-at-arms brought up the rear of the procession. They had all been at the shire court, held in the nave of the church, the day before. The priest had caught the thief red-handed; the monk had identified the silver chalice as belonging to the monastery; the knight was the thief_s lord, and had identified him as a runaway; and the sheriff had condemned him to death. While they came slowly down the hill, the rest of the town gathered around the gallows. Among the last to arrive were the leading citizens: the butcher, the baker, two leather tanners, two smiths, the cutler and the fletcher, all with their wives. The mood of the crowd was odd. Normally they enjoyed a hanging. The prisoner was usually a thief, and they hated thieves with the passion of people whose possessions are hard-earned. But this thief was different. Nobody knew who he was or where he came from. He had not stolen from them, but from a monastery twenty miles away. And he had stolen a jeweled chalice, something whose value was so great that it would be virtually impossible to sell_which was not like stealing a ham or a new knife or a good belt, the loss of which would hurt someone. They could not hate a man for a crime so pointless. There were a few jeers and catcalls as the prisoner entered the marketplace, but the abuse was half-hearted, and only the small boys mocked him with any enthusiasm. Most of the townspeople had not been in court, for court days were not holidays and they all had to make a living, so this was the first time they had seen the thief. He was quite young, somewhere between twenty and thirty years of age, and of normal height and build, but otherwise his appearance was strange. His skin was as white as the snow on the roofs, he had protuberant eyes of startling bright green, and his hair was the color of a peeled carrot. The maids thought he was ugly; the old women felt sorry for him; and the small boys laughed until they fell down. The sheriff was a familiar figure, but the other three men who had sealed the thief_s doom were strangers. The knight, a fleshy man with yellow hair, was clearly a person of some importance, for he rode a war-horse, a huge beast that cost as much as a carpenter earned in ten years. The monk was much older, perhaps fifty or more, a tall, thin man who sat slumped in his saddle as if life were a wearisome burden to him. Most striking was the priest, a young man with a sharp nose and lank black hair, wearing black robes and riding a chestnut stallion. He had an alert, dangerous look, like a black cat that could smell a nest of baby mice. A small boy took careful aim and spat at the prisoner. It was a good shot and caught him between the eyes. He snarled a curse and lunged at the spitter, but he was restrained by the ropes attaching him to the sides of the cart. The incident was not remarkable except that the words he spoke were Norman French, the language of the lords. Was he high-born, then? Or just a long way from home? Nobody knew. The ox cart stopped beneath the gallows. The sheriff_s bailiff climbed onto the flatbed of the cart with the noose in his hand. The prisoner started to struggle. The boys cheered_they would have been disappointed if the prisoner had remained calm. The man_s movements were restricted by the ropes tied to his wrists and ankles, but he jerked his head from side to side, evading the noose. After a moment the bailiff, a huge man, stepped back and punched the prisoner in the stomach. The man doubled over, winded, and the bailiff slipped the rope over his head and tightened the knot. Then he jumped down to the ground and pulled the rope taut, securing its other end to a hook in the base of the gallows. This was the turning point. If the prisoner struggled now, he would only die sooner. The men-at-arms untied the prisoner_s legs and left him standing alone on the bed of the cart, his hands bound behind his back. A hush fell on the crowd. There was often a disturbance at this point: the prisoner_s mother would have a screaming fit, or his wife would pull out a knife and rush the platform in a last-minute attempt to rescue him. Sometimes the prisoner called upon God for forgiveness or pronounced blood-curdling curses on his executioners. The men-at-arms now stationed themselves on either side of the scaffold, ready to deal with any incident. That was when the prisoner began to sing. He had a high tenor voice, very pure. The words were French, but even those who could not understand the language could tell by its plaintive melody that it was a song of sadness and loss. A lark, caught in a hunter_s net Sang sweeter then than ever, As if the falling melody Might wing and net dissever. As he sang he looked directly at someone in the crowd. Gradually a space formed around the person, and everyone could see her. She was a girl of about fifteen. When people looked at her they wondered why they had not noticed her before. She had long dark-brown hair, thick and rich, which came to a point on her wide forehead in what people called a devil_s peak. She had regular features and a sensual, full-lipped mouth. The old women noticed her thick waist and heavy breasts, concluded that she was pregnant, and guessed that the prisoner was the father of her unborn child. But everyone else noticed nothing except her eyes. She might have been pretty, but she had deep-set, intense eyes of a startling golden color, so luminous and penetrating that when she looked at you, you felt she could see right into your heart, and you averted your eyes, scared that she would discover your secrets. She was dressed in rags, and tears streamed down her soft cheeks. The driver of the cart looked expectantly at the bailiff. The bailiff looked at the sheriff, waiting for the nod. The young priest with the sinister air nudged the sheriff impatiently, but the sheriff took no notice. He let the thief carry on singing. There was a dreadful pause while the ugly man_s lovely voice held death at bay. At dusk the hunter took his prey, The lark his freedom never. All birds and men are sure to die But songs may live forever. When the song ended the sheriff looked at the bailiff and nodded. The bailiff shouted _Hup!_ and lashed the ox_s flank with a length of rope. The carter cracked his whip at the same time. The ox stepped forward, the prisoner standing in the cart staggered, the ox pulled the cart away, and the prisoner dropped into midair. The rope straightened and the thief_s neck broke with a snap. There was a scream, and everyone looked at the girl. It was not she who had screamed, but the cutler_s wife beside her. But the girl was the cause of the scream. She had sunk to her knees in front of the gallows, with her arm! stretched out in front of her, the position adopted to utter a curse. The people shrank from her in fear: everyone knew that the curses of those who had suffered injustice were particularly effective, and they had all suspected that some thing was not quite right about this hanging. The small boys were terrified. The girl turned her hypnotic golden eyes on the three strangers, the knight, the monk and the priest; and then she pronounced her curse, calling out the terrible words in ringing tones: _I curse you with sickness and sorrow, with hunger and pain; your house shall be consumed by fire, and your children shall die on the gallows; your enemies shall prosper, and you shall grow old in sadness and regret, and die in foulness and agony. ._ As she spoke the last words the girl reached into a sack on the ground beside her and pulled out a live cockerel. A knife appeared in her hand from nowhere, and with one slice she cut off the head of the cock. While the blood was still spurting from the severed neck she threw the beheaded cock at the priest with the black hair. It fell short, but the blood sprayed over him, and over the monk and the knight on either side of him. The three men twisted away in loathing, but blood landed on each of them, spattering their faces and staining their garments. The girl turned and ran. The crowd opened in front of her and closed behind her. For a few moments there was pandemonium. At last the sheriff caught the attention of his men-at-arms and angrily told them to chase her. They began to struggle through the crowd, roughly pushing men and women and children out of the way, but the girl was out of sight in a twinkling, and though the sheriff would search for her, he knew he would not find her. He turned away in disgust. The knight, the monk and the priest had not watched the flight of the girl. They were still staring at the gallows. The sheriff followed their gaze. The dead thief hung at the end of the rope, his pale young face already turning bluish, while beneath his gently swinging corpse the cock, headless but not quite dead, ran around in a ragged circle on the bloodstained snow. PART ONE 1135-1136 Chapter 1 I IN A BROAD VALLEY, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house. The walls were already three feet high and rising fast. The two masons Tom had engaged were working steadily in the sunshine, their trowels going scrape, slap and then tap, tap while their laborer sweated under the weight of the big stone blocks. Tom_s son Alfred was mixing mortar, counting aloud as he scooped sand onto a board. There was also a carpenter, working at the bench beside Tom, carefully shaping a length of beech wood with an adz. Alfred was fourteen years old, and tall like Tom. Tom was a head higher than most men, and Alfred was only a couple of inches less, and still growing. They looked alike, too: both had light-brown hair and greenish eyes with brown flecks. People said they were a handsome pair. The main difference between them was that Tom had a curly brown beard, whereas Alfred had only a fine blond fluff. The hair on Alfred_s head had been that color once, Tom remembered fondly. Now that Alfred was becoming a man, Tom wished he would take a more intelligent interest in his work, for he had a lot to learn if he was to be a mason like his father; but so far Alfred remained bored and baffled by the principles of building. When the house was finished it would be the most luxurious home for miles around. The ground floor would be a spacious undercroft, for storage, with a curved vault for a ceiling, so that it would not catch fire. The hall, where people actually lived, would be above, reached by an outside staircase, its height making it hard to attack and easy to defend. Against the hall wall there would be a chimney, to take away the smoke of the fire. This was a radical innovation: Tom had only ever seen one house with a chimney, but it had struck him as such a good idea that he was determined to copy it. At one end of the house, over the hall, there would be a small bedroom, for that was what earls_ daughters demanded nowadays_they were too fine to sleep in the hall with the men and the serving wenches and the hunting dogs. The kitchen would be a separate building, for every kitchen caught fire sooner or later, and there was nothing for it but to build them far away from everything else and put up with lukewarm food. Tom was making the doorway of the house. The doorposts would be rounded to look like columns_a touch of distinction for the noble newly weds who were to live here. With his eye on the shaped wooden template he was using as a guide, Tom set his iron chisel obliquely against the stone and tapped it gently with the big wooden hammer. A small shower of fragments fell away from the surface, leaving the shape a little rounder. He did it again. Smooth enough for a cathedral. He had worked on a cathedral once_Exeter. At first he had treated it like any other job. He had been angry and resentful when the master builder had warned him that his work was not quite up to standard: he knew himself to be rather more careful than the average mason. But then he realized that the walls of a cathedral had to be not just good, but perfect. This was because the cathedral was for God, and also because the building was so big that the slightest lean in the walls, the merest variation from the absolutely true and level, could weaken the structure fatally. Tom_s resentment turned to fascination. The combination of a hugely ambitious building with merciless attention to the smallest detail opened Tom_s eyes to the wonder of his craft. He learned from the Exeter master about the importance of proportion, the symbolism of various numbers, and the almost magical formulas for working out the correct width of a wall or the angle of a step in a spiral staircase. Such things captivated him. He was surprised to learn that many masons found them incomprehensible. After a while Tom had become the master builder_s right-hand man, and that was when he began to see the master_s shortcomings. The man was a great craftsman and an incompetent organizer. He was completely baffled by the problems of obtaining the right quantity of stone to keep pace with the masons, making sure that the blacksmith made enough of the right tools, burning lime and carting sand for the mortar makers, felling trees for the carpenters, and getting enough money from the cathedral chapter to pay for everything. If Tom had stayed at Exeter until the master builder died, he might have become master himself; but the chapter ran out of money_partly because of the master_s mismanagement_and the craftsmen had to move on, looking for work elsewhere. Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city_s fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents. But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral. His wife, Agnes, had never understood that decision. They might have had a good stone house, and servants, and their own stables, and meat on the table every dinnertime; and she had never forgiven Tom for turning down the opportunity. She could not comprehend the irresistible attraction of building a cathedral: the absorbing complexity of organization, the intellectual challenge of the calculations, the sheer size of the walls, and the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of the finished building. Once he had tasted that wine, Tom was never satisfied with anything less. That had been ten years ago. Since then they had never stayed anywhere for very long. He would design a new chapter house for a monastery, work for a year or two on a castle, or build a town house for a rich merchant; but as soon as he had some money saved he would leave, with his wife and children, and take to the road, looking for another cathedral. He glanced up from his bench and saw Agnes standing at the edge of the building site, holding a basket of food in one hand and resting a big jug of beer on the opposite hip. It was midday. He looked at her fondly. No one would ever call her pretty, but her face was full of strength: a broad forehead, large brown eyes, a straight nose, a strong jaw. Her dark, wiry hair was parted in the middle and tied behind. She was Tom_s soul mate. She poured beer for Tom and Alfred. They stood there for a moment, the two big men and the strong woman, drinking beer from wooden cups; and then the fourth member of the family came skipping out of the wheat field: Martha, seven years old and as pretty as a daffodil, but a daffodil with a petal missing, for she had a gap where two milk teeth had fallen out and the new ones had not yet grown. She ran to Tom, kissed his dusty beard, and begged a sip of his beer. He hugged her bony body. _Don_t drink too much, or you_ll fall into a ditch,_ he said. She staggered around in a circle, pretending to be drunk. They all sat down on the woodpile. Agnes handed Tom a hunk of wheat bread, a thick slice of boiled bacon and a small onion. He took a bite of the meat and started to peel the onion. Agnes gave the children food and began to eat her own. Perhaps it was irresponsible, Tom thought, to turn down that dull job in Exeter and go looking for a cathedral to build; but I_ve always been able to feed them all, despite my recklessness. He took his eating knife from the front pocket of his leather apron, cut a slice off the onion, and ate it with a bite of bread. The onion was sweet and stinging in his mouth. Agnes said: _I_m with child again._ Tom stopped chewing and stared at her. A thrill of delight took hold of him. Not knowing what to say, he just smiled foolishly at her. After a few moments she blushed, and said: _It isn_t that surprising._ Tom hugged her. _Well, well,_ he said, still grinning with pleasure. _A babe to pull my beard. And I thought the next would be Alfred_s._ _Don_t get too happy yet,_ Agnes cautioned. _It_s bad luck to name the child before it_s born._ Tom nodded assent. Agnes had had several miscarriages and one stillborn baby, and there had been another little girl, Matilda, who had lived only two years. _I_d like a boy, though,_ he said. _Now that Alfred_s so big. When is it due?_ _After Christmas._ Tom began to calculate. The shell of the house would be finished by first frost, then the stonework would have to be covered with straw to protect it through the winter. The masons would spend the cold months cutting stones for windows, vaults, doorcases and the fireplace, while the carpenter made floorboards and doors and shutters and Tom built the scaffolding for the upstairs work. Then in spring they would vault the undercroft, floor the hall above it, and put on the roof. The job would feed the family until Whitsun, by which time the baby would be half a year old. Then they would move on. _Good,_ he said contentedly. _This is good._ He ate another slice of onion. _I_m too old to bear children,_ Agnes said. _This must be my last._ Tom thought about that. He was not sure how old she was, in numbers, but plenty of women bore children at her time of life. However, it was true they suffered more as they grew older, and the babies were not so strong. No doubt she was right. But how would she make certain that she would not conceive again? he wondered. Then he realized how, and a cloud shadowed his sunny mood. _I may get a good job, in a town,_ he said, trying to mollify her. _A cathedral, or a palace. Then we might have a big house with wood floors, and a maid to help you with the baby._ Her face hardened, and she said skeptically: _It may be._ She did not like to hear talk of cathedrals. If Tom had never worked on a cathedral, her face said, she might be living in a town house now, with money saved up and buried under the fireplace, and nothing to worry about. Tom looked away and took another bite of bacon. They had something to celebrate, but they were in disharmony. He felt let down. He chewed the tough meat for a while, then he heard a horse. He cocked his head to listen. The rider was coming through the trees from the direction of the road, taking a short cut and avoiding the village. A moment later, a young man on a pony trotted up and dismounted. He looked like a squire, a kind of apprentice knight. _Your lord is coming,_ he said. Tom stood up. _You mean Lord Percy?_ Percy Hamleigh was one of the most important men in the country. He owned this valley, and many others, and he was paying for the house. _His son,_ said the squire. _Young William._ Percy_s son, William, was to occupy this house after his marriage. He was engaged to Lady Aliena, the daughter of the earl of Shiring. _The same,_ said the squire. _And in a rage._ Tom_s heart sank. At the best of times it could be difficult to deal with the owner of a house under construction. An owner in a rage was impossible. _What_s he angry about?_ _His bride rejected him._ _The earl_s daughter?_ said Tom in surprise. He felt a pang of fear: he had just been thinking how secure his future was. _I thought that was settled._ _So did we all_except the Lady Aliena, it seems,_ the squire said. _The moment she met him, she announced that she wouldn_t marry him for all the world and a woodcock._ Tom frowned worriedly. He did not want this to be true. _But the boy_s not bad-looking, as I recall._ Agnes said: _As if that made any difference, in her position. If earls_ daughters were allowed to marry whom they please, we_d all be ruled by strolling minstrels and dark-eyed outlaws._ _The girl may yet change her mind,_ Tom said hopefully. _She will if her mother takes a birch rod to her,_ Agnes said. The squire said: _Her mother_s dead._ Agnes nodded. _That explains why she doesn_t know the facts of life. But I don_t see why her father can_t compel her._ The squire said: _It seems he once promised he would never marry her to someone she hated._ _A foolish pledge!_ Tom said angrily. How could a powerful man tie himself to the whim of a girl in that way? Her marriage could affect military alliances, baronial finances . even the building of this house. The squire said: _She has a brother, so it_s not so important whom she marries._ _Even so ._ _And the earl is an unbending man,_ the squire went on. _He won_t go back on a promise, even one made to a child._ He shrugged. _So they say._ Tom looked at the low stone walls of the house-to-be. He had not yet saved enough money to keep the family through the winter, he realized with a chill. _Perhaps the lad will find another bride to share this place with him. He_s got the whole county to choose from._ Alfred spoke in a cracked adolescent voice. _By Christ, I think this is him._ Following his gaze, they all looked across the field. A horse was coming from the village at a gallop, kicking up a cloud of dust and earth from the pathway. Alfred_s oath was prompted by the size as well as the speed of the horse: it was huge. Tom had seen beasts like it before, but perhaps Alfred had not. It was a war-horse, as high at the wither as a man_s chin, and broad in proportion. Such war-horses were not bred in England, but came from overseas, and were enormously costly. Tom dropped the remains of his bread in the pocket of his apron, then narrowed his eyes against the sun and gazed across the field. The horse had its ears back and nostrils flared, but it seemed to Tom that its head was well up, a sign that it was not completely out of control. Sure enough, as it came closer the rider leaned back, hauling on the reins, and the huge animal seemed to slow a little. Now Tom could feel the drumming of its hooves in the ground beneath his feet. He looked around for Martha, thinking to pick her up and put her out of harm_s way. Agnes had the same thought. But Martha was nowhere to be seen. _In the wheat,_ Agnes said, but Tom had already figured that out and was striding across the site to the edge of the field. He scanned the waving wheat with fear in his heart but he could not see the child. The only thing he could think of was to try to slow the horse. He stepped into the path and began to walk toward the charging beast, holding his arms wide. The horse saw him, raised its head for a better look, and slowed perceptibly. Then, to Tom_s horror, the rider spurred it on. _You damned fool!_ Tom roared, although the rider could not hear. That was when Martha stepped out of the field and into the pathway a few yards in front of Tom. For an instant Tom stood still in a sick panic. Then he leaped forward, shouting and waving his arms; but this was a war-horse, trained to charge at yelling hordes, and it did not flinch. Martha stood in the middle of the narrow path, staring as if transfixed by the huge beast bearing down on her. There was a moment when Tom realized desperately that he could not get to her before the horse did. He swerved to one side, his arm touching the standing wheat; and at the last instant the horse swerved to the other side. The rider_s stirrup brushed Martha_s fine hair; a hoof stamped a round hole in the ground beside her bare foot; then the horse had gone by, spraying them both with dirt, and Tom snatched her up in his arms and held her tight to his pounding heart. He stood still for a moment, awash with relief, his limbs weak, his insides watery. Then he felt a surge of fury at the recklessness of the stupid youth on his massive war-horse. He looked up angrily. Lord William was slowing the horse now, sitting back in the saddle, with his feet pushed forward in the stirrups, sawing on the reins. The horse swerved to avoid the building site. It tossed its head and then bucked, but William stayed on. He slowed it to a canter and then a trot as he guided it around in a wide circle. Martha was crying. Tom handed her to Agnes and waited for William. The young lord was a tall, well-built fellow of about twenty years, with yellow hair and narrow eyes which made him look as if he were always peering into the sun. He wore a short black tunic with black hose, and leather shoes with straps crisscrossed up to his knees. He sat well on the horse and did not seem shaken by what had happened. The foolish boy doesn_t even know what he_s done, Tom thought bitterly. I_d like to wring his neck. William halted the horse in front of the woodpile and looked down at the builders. _Who_s in charge here?_ he said. Tom wanted to say If you had hurt my little girl, I would have killed you, but he suppressed his rage. It was like swallowing a bitter mouthful. He approached the horse and held its bridle. _I_m the master builder,_ he said tightly. _My name is Tom._ _This house is no longer needed,_ said William. _Dismiss your men._ It was what Tom had been dreading. But he held on to the hope that William was being impetuous in his anger, and might be persuaded to change his mind. With an effort, he made his voice friendly and reasonable. _But so much work has been done,_ he said. _Why waste what you_ve spent? You_ll need the house one day._ _Don_t tell me how to manage my affairs, Tom Builder,_ said William. _You_re all dismissed._ He twitched a rein, but Tom had hold of the bridle. _Let go of my horse,_ William said dangerously. Tom swallowed. In a moment William would try to get the horse_s head up. Tom felt in his apron pocket and brought out the crust of bread he had been eating. He showed it to the horse, which dipped its head and took a bite. _There_s more to be said, before you leave, my lord,_ he said mildly. William said: _Let my horse go, or I_ll take your head off._ Tom looked directly at him, trying not to show his fear. He was bigger than William, but that would make no difference if the young lord drew his sword. Agnes muttered fearfully: _Do as the lord says, husband._ There was dead silence. The other workmen stood as still as statues, watching. Tom knew that the prudent thing would be to give in. But William had nearly trampled Tom_s little girl, and that made Tom mad, so with a racing heart he said: _You have to pay us._ William pulled on the reins, but Tom held the bridle tight, and the horse was distracted, nuzzling in Tom_s apron pocket for more food. _Apply to my father for your wages!_ William said angrily. Tom heard the carpenter say in a terrified voice: _We_ll do that, my lord, thanking you very much._ Wretched coward, Tom thought, but he was trembling himself. Nevertheless he forced himself to say: _If you want to dismiss us, you must pay us, according to the custom. Your father_s house is two days_ walk from here, and when we arrive he may not be there._ _Men have died for less than this,_ William said. His cheeks reddened with anger. Out of the corner of his eye, Tom saw the squire drop his hand to the hilt of his sword. He knew he should give up now, and humble himself, but there was an obstinate knot of anger in his belly, and as scared as he was he could not bring himself to release the bridle. _Pay us first, then kill me,_ he said recklessly. _You may hang for it, or you may not; but you_ll die sooner or later, and then I will be in heaven and you will be in hell._ The sneer froze on William_s face and he paled. Tom was surprised: what had frightened the boy? Not the mention of hanging, surely: it was not really likely that a lord would be hanged for the murder of a craftsman. Was he terrified of hell? They stared at one another for a few moments. Tom watched with amazement and relief as William_s set expression of anger and contempt melted away, to be replaced by a panicky anxiety. At last William took a leather purse from his belt and tossed it to his squire, saying: _Pay them._ At that point Tom pushed his luck. When William pulled on the reins again, and the horse lifted its strong head and stepped sideways, Tom moved with the horse and held on to the bridle, and said: _A full week_s wages on dismissal, that is the custom._ He heard a sharp intake of breath from Agnes, just behind him, and he knew she thought he was crazy to prolong the confrontation. But he plowed on. _That_s sixpence for the laborer, twelve for the carpenter and each of the masons, and twenty-four pence for me. Sixty-six pence in all._ He could add pennies faster than anyone he knew. The squire was looking inquiringly at his master. William said angrily: _Very well._ Tom released the bridle and stepped back. William turned the horse and kicked it hard, and it bounded forward onto the path through the wheat field. Tom sat down suddenly on the woodpile. He wondered what had got into him. It had been mad to defy Lord William like that. He felt lucky to be alive. The hoofbeats of William_s war-horse faded to a distant thunder, and his squire emptied the purse onto a board. Tom felt a surge of triumph as the silver pennies tumbled out into the sunshine. It had been mad, but it had worked: he had secured just payment for himself and the men working under him. _Even lords ought to follow the customs,_ he said, half to himself. Agnes heard him. _Just hope you_re never in want of work from Lord William,_ she said sourly. Tom smiled at her. He understood that she was churlish because she had been frightened. _Don_t frown too much, or you_ll have nothing but curdled milk in your breasts when that baby is born._ _I won_t be able to feed any of us unless you find work for the winter._ _The winter_s a long way off,_ said Tom. II They stayed at the village through the summer. Later, they came to regard this decision as a terrible mistake, but at the time it seemed sensible enough, for Tom and Agnes and Alfred could each earn a penny a day working in the fields during the harvest. When autumn came, and they had to move on, they had a heavy bag of silver pennies and a fat pig. They spent the first night in the porch of a village church, but on the second they found a country priory and took advantage of monastic hospitality. On the third day they found themselves in the heart of the Chute Forest, a vast expanse of scrub and rough woodland, on a road not much broader than the width of an ox cart, with the luxuriant growth of summer dying between the oaks on either side. Tom carried his smaller tools in a satchel and slung his hammers from his belt. He had his cloak in a bundle under his left arm and he carried his iron spike in his right hand, using it as a walking stick. He was happy to be on the road again. His next job might be working on a cathedral. He might become master mason and stay there the rest of his life, and build a church so wonderful it would guarantee that he went to heaven. Agnes had their few household possessions inside the cooking pot which she carried strapped to her back. Alfred carried the tools they would use to make a new home somewhere: an ax, an adz, a saw, a small hammer, a bradawl for making holes in leather and wood, and a spade. Martha was too small to carry anything but her own bowl and eating knife tied to her belt and her winter cloak strapped to her back. However, she had the duty of driving the pig until they could sell it at a market. Tom kept a close eye on Agnes as they walked through the endless woods. She was more than halfway through her term now, and carrying a considerable weight in her belly as well as the burden on her back. But she seemed tireless. Alfred, too, was all right: he was at the age when boys have more energy than they know what to do with. Only Martha was tiring. Her thin legs were made for the playful scamper, not the long march, and she dropped behind constantly, so that the others had to stop and wait for her and the pig to catch up. As he walked Tom thought about the cathedral he would build one day. He began, as always, by picturing an archway. It was very simple: two uprights supporting a semicircle. Then he imagined a second, just the same as the first. He pushed the two together, in his mind, to form one deep archway. Then he added another, and another, then a lot more, until he had a whole row of them, all stuck together, forming a tunnel. This was the essence of a building, for it had a roof to keep the rain off and two walls to hold up the roof. A church was just a tunnel, with refinements. A tunnel was dark, so the first refinements were windows. If the wall was strong enough, it could have holes in it. The holes would be round at the top, with straight sides and a flat sill_the same shape as the original archway. Using similar shapes for arches and windows and doors was one of the things that made a building beautiful. Regularity was another, and Tom visualized twelve identical windows, evenly spaced, along each wall of the tunnel. Tom tried to visualize the moldings over the windows, but his concentration kept slipping because he had the feeling that he was being watched. It was a foolish notion, he thought, if only because of course he was being observed by the birds, foxes, cats, squirrels, rats, mice, weasels, stoats and voles which thronged the forest. They sat down by a stream at midday. They drank the pure water and ate cold bacon and crab apples which they picked up from the forest floor. In the afternoon Martha was tired. At one point she was a hundred yards behind them. Standing waiting for her to catch up, Tom remembered Alfred at that age. He had been a beautiful, golden-haired boy, sturdy and bold. Fondness mingled with irritation in Tom as he watched Martha scolding the pig for being so slow. Then a figure stepped out of the undergrowth just ahead of her. What happened next was so quick that Tom could hardly believe it. The man who had appeared so suddenly on the road raised a club over his shoulder. A horrified shout rose in Tom_s throat, but before he could utter it the man swung the club at Martha. It struck her full on the side of the head, and Tom heard the sickening sound of the blow connecting. She fell to the ground like a dropped doll. Tom found himself running back along the road toward them, his feet pounding the hard earth like the hooves of William_s war-horse, willing his legs to carry him faster. As he ran, he watched what was happening, and it was like looking at a picture painted high on a church wall, for he could see it but there was nothing he could do to change it. The attacker was undoubtedly an outlaw. He was a short, thickset man in a brown tunic, with bare feet. For an instant he looked straight at Tom, and Tom could see that the man_s face was hideously mutilated: his lips had been cut off, presumably as a punishment for a crime involving lying, and his mouth was now a repulsive permanent grin surrounded by twisted scar tissue. The horrid sight would have stopped Tom in his tracks, had it not been for the prone body of Martha lying on the ground. The outlaw looked away from Tom and fixed his gaze on the pig. In a flash he bent down, picked it up, tucked the squirming animal under his arm and darted back into the tangled undergrowth, taking with him Tom_s family_s only valuable possession. Then Tom was on his knees beside Martha. He put his broad hand on her tiny chest and felt her heartbeat, steady and strong, and his worst fear subsided; but her eyes were closed and there was bright red blood in her blond hair. Agnes knelt beside him a moment later. She touched Martha_s chest, wrist and forehead, then she gave Tom a hard, level look. _She will live,_ she said in a tight voice. _Fetch back that pig._ Tom quickly unslung his satchel of tools and dropped it on the ground. With his left hand he took his big iron-headed hammer from his belt. He still had his spike in his right. He could see the trampled bushes where the thief had come and gone, and he could hear the pig squealing in the woods. He plunged into the undergrowth. The trail was easy to follow. The outlaw was a heavily built man, running with a wriggling pig under his arm, and he cut a wide path through the vegetation, flattening flowers and bushes and young trees alike. Tom charged after him, full of a savage desire to get his hands on the man and beat him senseless. He crashed through a thicket of birch saplings, hurtled down a slope, and splashed across a patch of bog to a narrow pathway. There he stopped. The thief might have gone left or right, and now there was no crushed vegetation to show the way; but Tom listened, and heard the pig squealing somewhere to his left. He could also hear someone rushing through the forest behind him_Alfred, presumably. He went after the pig. The path led him down into a dip, then turned sharply and began to rise. He could hear the pig clearly now. He ran uphill, breathing hard_the years of inhaling stone dust had weakened his lungs. Suddenly the path leveled and he saw the thief, only twenty or thirty yards away, running as if the devil were behind him. Tom put on a spurt and started to gain. He was bound to catch up, if only he could keep going, for a man with a pig cannot run as fast as a man without one. But now his chest hurt. The thief was fifteen yards away, then twelve. Tom raised the spike above his head like a spear. Just a little closer and he would throw it. Eleven yards, ten_ Before the spike left his hand he glimpsed, out of the corner of his eye, a thin face in a green cap emerging from the bushes beside the path. It was too late to swerve. A heavy stick was thrust out in front of him, he stumbled on it as was intended, and he fell to the ground. He had dropped his spike but he still had hold of the hammer. He rolled over and raised himself on one knee. There were two of them, he saw: the one in the green hat and a bald man with a matted white beard. They ran at Tom. He stepped to one side and swung his hammer at the green hat. The man dodged, but the big iron hammerhead came down hard on his shoulder and he gave a screech of agony and sank to the ground, holding his arm as if it were broken. Tom did not have time to raise the hammer for another crushing blow before the bald man closed with him, so he thrust the iron head at the man_s face and split his cheek. Both men backed off clutching their wounds. Tom could see that there was no fight left in either one. He turned around. The thief was still running away along the path. Tom went after him again, ignoring the pain in his chest. But he had covered only a few yards when he heard a shout from behind in a familiar voice. Alfred. He stopped and looked back. Alfred was fighting them both, using his fists and his feet. He punched the one in the green hat about the head three or four times, then kicked the bald man_s shins. But the two men swarmed him, getting inside his reach so that he could no longer punch or kick hard enough to hurt. Tom hesitated, torn between chasing the pig and rescuing his son. Then the bald one got his foot behind Alfred_s leg and tripped him, and as the boy hit the ground the two men fell on him, raining blows on his face and body. Tom ran back. He charged the bald one bodily, sending the man flying into the bushes, then turned and swung his hammer at the green hat. This man had felt the weight of the hammer once before and was still using only one arm. He dodged the first swing, then turned and dived into the undergrowth before Tom could swing again. Tom turned and saw the bald man running away down the path. He looked in the opposite direction: the thief with the pig was nowhere in sight. He breathed a bitter, blasphemous curse: that pig represented half of what he had saved this summer. He sank to the ground, breathing hard. _We beat three of them!_ Alfred said excitedly. Tom looked at him. _But they got our pig,_ he said. Anger burned his stomach like sour cider. They had bought the pig in the spring, as soon as they had saved enough pennies, and they had been fattening it all summer. A fat pig could be sold for sixty pence. With a few cabbages and a sack of grain it could feed a family all winter and make a pair of leather shoes and a purse or two. Its loss was a catastrophe. Tom looked enviously at Alfred, who had already recovered from the chase and the fight, and was waiting impatiently. How long ago was it, Tom thought, when I could run like the wind and hardly feel my heart race? Since I was that age . twenty years. Twenty years. It seemed like yesterday. He got to his feet. He put his arm around Alfred_s broad shoulders as they walked back along the path. The boy was still shorter than his father by the span of a man_s hand, but soon he would catch up, and he might grow even bigger. I hope his wit grows too, Tom thought. He said: _Any fool can get into a fight, but a wise man knows how to stay out of them._ Alfred gave him a blank look. They turned off the path, crossed the boggy patch, and began to climb the slope, following in reverse the trail the thief had made. As they pushed through the birch thicket, Tom thought of Martha, and once again rage curdled in his belly. The outlaw had lashed out at her senselessly, for she had been no threat to him. Tom quickened his pace, and a moment later he and Alfred emerged onto the road. Martha lay there in the same place, not having moved. Her eyes were closed and the blood was drying in her hair. Agnes knelt beside her_and with them, to Tom_s surprise, were another woman and a boy. The thought struck him that it was no wonder he had felt watched, earlier in the day, for the forest seemed to be teeming with people. He bent down and rested his hand on Martha_s chest again. She was breathing normally. _She will wake up soon,_ said the strange woman in an authoritative voice. _Then she will puke. After that she_ll be all right._ Tom looked at her curiously. She was kneeling over Martha. She was quite young, perhaps a dozen years younger than Tom. Her short leather tunic revealed lithe brown limbs. She had a pretty face, with dark brown hair that came to a devil_s peak on her forehead. Tom felt a pang of desire. Then she raised her glance to look at him, and he gave a start: she had intense, deep-set eyes of an unusual honey-gold color that gave her whole face a magical look, and he felt sure that she knew what he had been thinking. He looked away from her to cover his embarrassment, and he caught Agnes_s eye. She was looking resentful. She said: _Where_s the pig?_ _There were two more outlaws,_ Tom said. Alfred said: _We beat them, but the one with the pig got away._ Agnes looked grim, but said nothing more. The strange woman said: _We could move the girl into the shade, if we_re gentle._ She stood up, and Tom realized that she was quite small, at least a foot shorter than he. He bent down and picked Martha up carefully. Her childish body was almost weightless in his arms. He carried her a few yards along the road and put her down on a patch of grass in the shadow of an old oak. She was still quite limp. Alfred was picking up the tools that had been scattered on the road during the fracas. The strange woman_s boy was watching, his eyes wide and his mouth open, not speaking. He was about three years younger than Alfred, and a peculiar-looking child, Tom observed, with none of his mother_s sensual beauty. He had very pale skin, orange-red hair, and blue eyes that bulged slightly. He had the alertly stupid look of a dullard, Tom thought; the kind of child that either dies young or grows up to be the village idiot. Alfred was visibly uncomfortable under his stare. As Tom watched, the child snatched the saw from Alfred_s hand, without saying anything, and examined it as if it were something amazing. Alfred, offended by the discourtesy, snatched it back, and the child let it go with indifference. The mother said: _Jack! Behave yourself._ She seemed embarrassed. Tom looked at her. The boy did not resemble her at all. _Are you his mother?_ Tom asked. _Yes. My name is Ellen._ _Where_s your husband?_ _Dead._ Tom was surprised. _You_re traveling alone?_ he said incredulously. The forest was dangerous enough for a man such as he: a woman alone could hardly hope to survive. _We_re not traveling,_ said Ellen. _We live in the forest._ Tom was shocked. _You mean you_re__ He stopped, not wanting to offend her. _Outlaws,_ she said. _Yes. Did you think that all outlaws were like Faramond Openmouth, who stole your pig?_ _Yes,_ said Tom, although what he wanted to say was I never thought an outlaw might be a beautiful woman. Unable to restrain his curiosity, he asked: _What was your crime?_ _I cursed a priest,_ she said, and looked away. It did not sound like much of a crime to Tom, but perhaps the priest had been very powerful, or very touchy; or perhaps Ellen just did not want to tell the truth. He looked at Martha. A moment later she opened her eyes. She was confused and a little frightened. Agnes knelt beside her. _You_re safe,_ she said. _Everything_s all right._ Martha sat upright and vomited. Agnes hugged her until the spasms passed. Tom was impressed: Ellen_s prediction had come true. She had also said that Martha would be all right, and presumably that was reliable too. Relief washed over him, and he was a little surprised at the strength of his own emotion. I couldn_t bear to lose my little girl, he thought; and he had to fight back tears. He caught a look of sympathy from Ellen, and once again he felt that her pale gold eyes could see into his heart. He broke off an oak twig, stripped its leaves, and used them to wipe Martha_s face. She still looked pale. _She needs to rest,_ said Ellen. _Let her lie down for as long as it takes a man to walk three miles._ Tom glanced at the sun. There was plenty of daylight left. He settled down to wait. Agnes rocked Martha gently in her arms. The boy Jack now switched his attention to Martha, and stared at her with the same idiot intensity. Tom wanted to know more about Ellen. He wondered whether she might be persuaded to tell her story. He did not want her to go away. _How did it all come about?_ he asked her vaguely. She looked into his eyes again, and then she began to talk. Her father had been a knight, she told them; a big, strong, violent man who wanted sons with whom he could ride and hunt and wrestle, companions to drink and carouse into the night with him. In these matters he was as unlucky as a man could be, for he got Ellen, and then his wife died; and he married again, but his second wife was barren. He came to despise Ellen_s stepmother, and eventually sent her away. He must have been a cruel man, but he never seemed so to Ellen, who adored him and shared his scorn for his second wife. When the stepmother left, Ellen stayed, and grew up in what was almost an all-male household. She cut her hair short and carried a dagger, and learned not to play with kittens or care for blind old dogs. By the time she was Martha_s age she could spit on the ground and eat apple cores and kick a horse in the belly so hard that it would draw in its breath, allowing her to tighten its girth one more notch. She knew that all men who were not part of her father_s band were called cocksuckers and all women who would not go with them were called pigfuckers, although she was not quite sure_and did not much care_what these insults really meant. Listening to her voice in the mild air of an autumn afternoon, Tom closed his eyes and pictured her as a flat-chested girl with a dirty face, sitting at the long table with her father_s thuggish comrades, drinking strong ale and belching and singing songs about battle and looting and rape, horses and castles and virgins, until she fell asleep with her little cropped head on the rough board. If only she could have stayed flat-chested forever she would have lived a happy life. But the time came when the men looked at her differently. They no longer laughed uproariously when she said: Filtered out of my way or I_ll cut off your balls and feed them to the pigs._ Some of them stared at her when she took off her wool tunic and lay down to sleep in her long linen undershirt. When relieving themselves in the woods, they would turn their backs to her, which they never had before. One day she saw her father deep in conversation with the parish priest_a rare event_and the two of them kept looking at her, as if they were talking about her. On the following morning her father said to her: _Go with Henry and Everard and do as they tell you._ Then he kissed her forehead. She wondered what on earth had come over him_was he going soft in his old age? She saddled her gray courser_she refused to ride the ladylike palfrey or a child_s pony_and set off with the two men-at-arms. They took her to a nunnery and left her there. The whole place rang with her obscene curses as the two men rode away. She knifed the abbess and walked all the way back to her father_s house. He sent her back, bound hand and foot and tied to the saddle of a donkey. They put her in the punishment cell until the abbess_s wound healed. It was cold and damp and as black as the night, and there was water to drink but nothing to eat. When they let her out she walked home again. Her father sent her back again, and this time she was flogged before being put in the cell. They broke her eventually, of course, and she donned the novice_s habit, obeyed the rules and learned the prayers, even if in her heart she hated the nuns and despised the saints and disbelieved everything anyone told her about God on principle. But she learned to read and write, she mastered music and numbers and drawing, and she added Latin to the French and English she had spoken in her father_s household. Life in the convent was not so bad, in the end. It was a single-sex community with its own peculiar rules and rituals, and that was exactly what she was used to. All the nuns had to do some physical labor, and Ellen soon got assigned to work with the horses. Before long she was in charge of the stables. Poverty never worried her. Obedience did not come easily, but it did come, eventually. The third rule, chastity, never troubled her much, although now and again, just to spite the abbess, she would introduce one of the other novice nuns to the pleasures of_ Agnes interrupted Ellen_s tale at this point and, taking Martha with her, went off to find a stream in which to wash the child_s face and clean up her tunic. She took Alfred too, for protection, although she said she would not go out of earshot. Jack got up to follow them, but Agnes told him firmly to stay behind, and he appeared to understand, for he sat down again. Tom noted that Agnes had succeeded in taking her children where they could not hear any more of this impious and indecent story, while leaving Tom chaperoned. One day, Ellen went on, the abbess_s palfrey went lame when she was several days away from the convent. Kingsbridge Priory happened to be nearby, so the abbess borrowed another horse from the prior there. After she got home, she told Ellen to return the borrowed horse to the priory and bring the lame palfrey back. There, in the monastery stable within sight of the crumbling old cathedral of Kingsbridge, Ellen met a young man who looked like a whipped puppy. He had the loose-limbed grace of a pup, and the twitching-nosed alertness, but he was cowed and frightened, as if all the playfulness had been beaten out of him. When she spoke to him he did not understand. She tried Latin, but he was not a monk. Finally she said something in French, and his face was suffused with joy and he replied in the same language. Ellen never went back to the convent. From that day on she lived in the forest, first in a rough shelter of branches and leaves, later in a dry cave. She had not forgotten the masculine skills she had learned in her father_s house: she could still hunt deer, trap rabbits and shoot swans with a bow; she could gut and clean and cook the meat; and she even knew how to scrape and cure the hides and furs for her clothes. As well as game, she ate wild fruits, nuts and vegetables. Anything else she needed_salt, woolen clothing, an ax or a new knife_she had to steal. The worst time was when Jack was born. . But what about the Frenchman? Tom wanted to ask. Was he Jack_s father? And if so, when did he die? And how? But he could tell, from her face, that she was not going to talk about that part of the story, and she seemed the type of person who would not be persuaded against her will, so he kept his questions to himself. By this time her father had died and his band of men had dispersed, so she had no relatives or friends in the world. When Jack was about to be born she built an all-night fire at the mouth of her cave. She had food and water on hand, and her bow and arrows and knives to ward off the wolves and wild dogs; and she even had a heavy red cloak, stolen from a bishop, to wrap the baby in. But she had not been prepared for the pain and fear of childbirth, and for a long time she thought she was going to die. Nevertheless the baby was born healthy and strong, and she survived. Ellen and Jack lived a simple, frugal life for the next eleven years. The forest gave them all they needed, as long as they were careful to store enough apples and nuts and salted or smoked venison for the winter months. Ellen often thought that if there were no kings and lords and bishops and sheriffs, then everyone could live like this and be perfectly happy. Tom asked her how she dealt with the other outlaws, men such as Faramond Openmouth. What would happen if they crept up on her at night and tried to rape her? he wondered, and his loins stirred at the thought, although he had never taken a woman against her will, not even his wife. The other outlaws were afraid of Ellen, she told Tom, looking at him with her luminous pale eyes, and he knew why: they thought she was a witch. As for law-abiding people traveling through the forest, people who knew they could rob and rape and murder an outlaw without fear of punishment_Ellen just hid from them. Why then had she not hidden from Tom? Because she had seen a wounded child, and wanted to help. She had a child herself. She had taught Jack everything she had learned in her father_s household about weapons and hunting. Then she had taught him all she had learned from the nuns: reading and writing, music and numbers, French and Latin, how to draw, even the Bible stories. Finally, in the long winter evenings, she had passed on the legacy of the Frenchman, who knew more stories and poems and songs than anyone else in the world_ Tom did not believe that the boy Jack could read and write. Tom could write his name, and a handful of words such as pence and yards and bushels; and Agnes, being the daughter of a priest, could do more, although she wrote slowly and laboriously with her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth; but Alfred could not write a word, and could barely recognize his own name; and Martha could not even do that. Was it possible that this half-witted child was more literate than Tom_s whole family? Ellen told Jack to write something, and he smoothed a patch of earth and scratched letters in it. Tom recognized the first word, Alfred, but not the others, and he felt a fool; then Ellen saved his embarrassment by reading the whole thing aloud: _Alfred is bigger than Jack._ The boy quickly drew two figures, one bigger than the other, and although they were crude, one had broad shoulders and a rather bovine expression and the other was small and grinning. Tom, who himself had a talent for sketching, was astonished at the simplicity and strength of the picture scratched in the dust. But the child seemed an idiot. Ellen had lately begun to realize this, she confessed, guessing Tom_s thoughts. Jack had never had the company of other children, or indeed of other human beings except for his mother, and the result was that he was growing up like a wild animal. For all his learning he did not know how to behave with people. That was why he was silent, and stared, and snatched. As she said this she looked vulnerable for the first time. Her air of impregnable self-sufficiency vanished, and Tom saw her as troubled and rather desperate. For Jack_s sake, she needed to rejoin society; but how? If she had been a man, she might conceivably have persuaded some lord to give her a farm, especially if she had lied convincingly and said she was back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela. There were some women farmers, but they were invariably widows with grown sons. No lord would give a farm to a woman with one small child. Nobody would hire her as a laborer, either in town or country; besides, she had no place to live, and unskilled work rarely came with accommodation provided. She had no identity. Tom felt for her. She had given her child everything she could, and it was not enough. But he could see no way out of her dilemma. Beautiful, resourceful, and formidable though she was, she was doomed to spend the rest of her days hiding in the forest with her weird son. Agnes, Martha and Alfred came back. Tom gazed anxiously at Martha, but she looked as if the worst thing that had ever happened to her was having her face scrubbed. For a while Tom had been absorbed in Ellen_s problems, but now he remembered his own plight: he was out of work and his pig had been stolen. The afternoon was wearing on. He began to pick up their remaining possessions. Ellen said: _Where are you headed?_ _Winchester,_ Tom told her. Winchester had a castle, a palace, several monasteries, and_most important of all_a cathedral. _Salisbury is closer,_ Ellen said. _And last time I was there, they were rebuilding the cathedral_making it bigger._ Tom_s heart leaped. This was what he was looking for. If only he could get a job on a cathedral building project he believed he had the ability to become master builder eventually. _Which way is Salisbury?_ he said eagerly. _Back the way you came, for three or four miles. Do you remember a fork in the road, where you went left?_ _Yes_by a pond of foul water._ _That_s it. The right fork leads to Salisbury._ They took their leave. Agnes had not liked Ellen, but managed nevertheless to say graciously: _Thank you for helping me take care of Martha._ Ellen smiled and looked wistful as they left. When they had walked along the road for a few minutes Tom looked back. Ellen was still watching them, standing in the road with her legs apart, shading her eyes with her hand, the peculiar boy standing beside her. Tom waved, and she waved back. _An interesting woman,_ he said to Agnes. Agnes said nothing. Alfred said: _That boy was strange._ They walked into the low autumn sun. Tom wondered what Salisbury was like: he had never been there. He felt excited. Of course, his dream was to build a new cathedral from the ground up, but that almost never happened: it was much more common to find an old building being improved or extended, or partly rebuilt. But that would be good enough for him, as long as it offered the prospect of building to his own designs eventually. Martha said: _Why did the man hit me?_ _Because he wanted to steal our pig,_ Agnes told her. _He should get his own pig,_ Martha said indignantly, as if she had only just realized that the outlaw had done something wrong. Ellen_s problem would have been solved if she had had a craft, Tom reflected. A mason, a carpenter, a weaver or a tanner would not have found himself in her position. He could always go to a town and look for work. There were a few craftswomen, but they were generally the wives or widows of craftsmen. _What she needs,_ Tom said aloud, _is a husband._ Agnes said crisply: _Well, she can_t have mine._ III The day they lost the pig was also the last day of mild weather. They spent that night in a barn, and when they came out in the morning the sky was the color of a lead roof, and there was a cold wind with gusts of driving rain. They unbundled their cloaks of thick, felted cloth and put them on, fastening them tight under their chins and pulling the hoods well forward to keep the rain off their faces. They set off in a grim mood, four gloomy ghosts in a rainstorm, their wooden clogs splashing along the puddled, muddy road. Tom wondered what Salisbury cathedral would be like. A cathedral was a church like any other, in principle: it was simply the church where the bishop had his throne. But in practice cathedral churches were the biggest, richest, grandest and most elaborate. A cathedral was rarely a tunnel with windows. Most were three tunnels, a tall one flanked by two smaller ones in a head-and-shoulders shape, forming a nave with side aisles. The side walls of the central tunnel were reduced to two lines of pillars linked by arches, forming an arcade. The aisles were used for processions_which could be spectacular in cathedral churches_and might also provide space for small side chapels dedicated to particular saints, which attracted important extra donations. Cathedrals were the most costly buildings in the world, far more so than palaces or castles, and they had to earn their keep. Salisbury was closer than Tom had thought. Around mid-morning they crested a rise, and found the road falling away gently before them in a long curve; and across the rainswept fields, rising out of the flat plain like a boat on a lake, they saw the fortified hill town of Salisbury. Its details were veiled by the rain, but Tom could make out several towers, four or five, soaring high above the city walls. His spirits lifted at the sight of so much stonework. A cold wind whipped across the plain, freezing their faces and hands as they followed the road toward the east gate. Four roads met at the foot of the hill, amid a scatter of houses spilled over from the town, and there they were joined by other travelers, walking with hunched shoulders and lowered heads, butting through the weather to the shelter of the walls. On the slope leading to the gate they came up with an ox cart bearing a load of stone_a very hopeful sign for Tom. The carter was bent down behind the crude wooden vehicle, pushing with his shoulder, adding his strength to that of the two oxen as they inched uphill. Tom saw a chance to make a friend. He beckoned to Alfred, and they both put their shoulders to the back of the cart and helped push. The huge wooden wheels rumbled onto a timber bridge that spanned an enormous dry moat. The earthworks were formidable: digging that moat, and throwing up the soil to form the town wall, must have taken hundreds of men, Tom thought; a much bigger job even than digging the foundations for a cathedral. The bridge that crossed the moat rattled and creaked under the weight of the cart and the two mighty beasts that were pulling it. The slope leveled and the cart moved more easily as they approached the gateway. The carter straightened up, and Tom and Alfred did likewise. _I thank you kindly,_ the carter said. Tom asked: _What_s the stone for?_ _The new cathedral._ _New? I heard they were just enlarging the old one._ The carter nodded. _That_s what they said, ten years ago. But there_s more new than old, now._ This was further good news. _Who_s the master builder?_ _John of Shaftesbury, though Bishop Roger has a lot to do with the designs._ That was normal. Bishops rarely left builders alone to do the job. One of the master builder_s problems was often to calm the fevered imaginations of the clerics and set practical limits to their soaring fantasies. But it would be John of Shaftesbury who hired men. The carter nodded at Tom_s satchel of tools. _Mason?_ _Yes. Looking for work._ _You may find it,_ the carter said neutrally. _If not on the cathedral, perhaps on the castle._ _And who governs the castle?_ _The same Roger is both bishop and castellan._ Of course, Tom thought. He had heard of the powerful Roger of Salisbury, who had been close to the king for as long as anyone could remember. They passed through the gateway into the town. The place was crammed so full of buildings, people and animals that it seemed in danger of bursting its circular ramparts and spilling out into the moat. The wooden houses were jammed together shoulder to shoulder, jostling for space like spectators at a hanging. Every tiny piece of land was used for something. Where two houses had been built with an alleyway between them, someone had put up a half-size dwelling in the alley, with no windows because its door took up almost all the frontage. Wherever a site was too small even for the narrowest of houses, there was a stall on it selling ale or bread or apples; and if there was not even room for that, then there would be a stable, a pigsty, a dunghill or a water barrel. It was noisy, too. The rain did little to deaden the clamor of craftsmen_s workshops, hawkers calling their wares, people greeting one another and bargaining and quarreling, animals neighing and barking and fighting. Raising her voice above the noise, Martha said: _What_s that stink?_ Tom smiled. She had not been in a town for a couple of years. _That_s the smell of people,_ he told her. The street was only a little wider than the ox cart, but the carter would not let his beasts stop, for fear they might not start again; so he whipped them on, ignoring all obstacles, and they shouldered their dumb way through the multitude, indiscriminately shoving aside a knight on a war-horse, a forester with a bow, a fat monk on a pony, men-at-arms and beggars and housewives and whores. The cart came up behind an old shepherd struggling to keep a small flock together. It must be market day, Tom realized. As the cart went by, one of the sheep plunged through the open door of an alehouse, and in a moment the whole flock was in the house, bleating and panicking and upsetting tables and stools and alepots. The ground underfoot was a sea of mud and rubbish. Tom had an eye for the fall of rain on a roof, and the width of gutter required to take the rain away; and he could see that all the rain falling on all the roofs of this half of the town was draining away through this street. In a bad storm, he thought, you would need a boat to cross the street. As they approached the castle at the summit of the hill, the street widened. Here there were stone houses, one or two of them in need of a little repair. They belonged to craftsmen and traders, who had their shops and stores on the ground floor and living quarters above. Looking with a practiced eye at what was on sale, Tom could tell that this was a prosperous town. Everyone had to have knives and pots, but only prosperous people bought embroidered shawls, decorated belts and silver clasps. In front of the castle the carter turned his ox team to the right, and Tom and his family followed. The street led around a quarter-circle, skirting the castle ramparts. Passing through another gate they left the hurly-burly of the town as quickly as they had entered it, and walked into a different kind of maelstrom: the hectic but ordered diversity of a major building site. They were inside the walled cathedral close, which occupied the entire northwest quarter of the circular town. Tom stood for a moment taking it in. Just seeing and hearing and smelling it gave him a thrill like a sunny day. As they arrived behind the cartload of stone, two more carts were leaving empty. In lean-to sheds all along the side walls of the church, masons could be seen sculpting the stone blocks, with iron chisels and big wooden hammers, into the shapes that would be put together to form plinths, columns, capitals, shafts, buttresses, arches, windows, sills, pinnacles and parapets. In the middle of the close, well away from other buildings, stood the smithy, the glow of its fire visible through the open doorway; and the clang of hammer on anvil carried across the close as the smith made new tools to replace the ones the masons were wearing down. To most people it was a scene of chaos, but Tom saw a large and complex mechanism which he itched to control. He knew what each man was doing and he could see instantly how far the work had progressed. They were building the east facade. There was a run of scaffolding across the east end at a height of twenty-five or thirty feet. The masons were in the porch, waiting for the rain to ease up, but their laborers were running up and down the ladders with stones on their shoulders. Higher up, on the timber framework of the roof, were the plumbers, like spiders creeping across a giant wooden web, nailing sheets of lead to the struts and installing the drainpipes and gutters. Tom realized regretfully that the building was almost finished. If he did get hired here the work would not last more than a couple of years_hardly enough time for him to rise to the position of master mason, let alone master builder. Nevertheless he would take the job, if he were offered it, for winter was coming. He and his family could have survived a winter without work if they had still had the pig, but without it Tom had to get a job. They followed the cart across the close to where the stones were stacked. The oxen gratefully dipped their heads to the water trough. The carter called to a passing mason: _Where_s the master builder?_ _In the castle,_ the mason replied. The carter nodded and turned to Tom. _You_ll find him in the bishop_s palace, I expect._ _Thanks._ _Mine to you._ Tom left the close with Agnes and the children following. They retraced their steps through the thronged, narrow streets to the front of the castle. Here was another dry moat and a second huge earthen rampart surrounding the central stronghold. They walked across the drawbridge. In a guardhouse to one side of the gateway, a thickset man in a leather tunic sat on a stool, looking out at the rain. He was wearing a sword. Tom addressed him. _Good day. I_m called Tom Builder. I want to see the master builder, John of Shaftesbury._ _With the bishop,_ the guard said indifferently. They went inside. Like most castles, this was a collection of miscellaneous buildings inside a wall of earth. The courtyard was about a hundred yards across. Opposite the gateway, on the far side, was the massive keep, the last stronghold in time of attack, rising high above the ramparts to provide a lookout. On their left was a clutter of low buildings, mostly wooden: a long stable, a kitchen, a bakery and several storehouses. There was a well in the middle. On the right, taking up most of the northern half of the compound, was a large stone house that was obviously the palace. It was built in the same style as the new cathedral, with small round-headed doorways and windows, and it had two stories. It was new_indeed, masons were still working on one corner of it, apparently building a tower. Despite the rain there were plenty of people in the courtyard, coming in and going out or hurrying through the rain from one building to another: men-at-arms, priests, tradesmen, construction workers and palace servants. Tom could see several doorways in the palace, all open despite the rain. He was not quite sure what to do next. If the master builder was with the bishop, perhaps he ought not to interrupt. On the other hand, a bishop was not a king; and Tom was a free man and a mason on legitimate business, not some groveling serf with a complaint. He decided to be bold. Leaving Agnes and Martha, he walked with Alfred across the muddy courtyard to the palace and went through the nearest door. They found themselves in a small chapel with a vaulted ceiling and a window in the far end over the altar. Near the doorway a priest sat at a high desk, writing rapidly on vellum. He looked up. Tom said briskly: _Where_s Master John?_ _In the vestry,_ said the priest, jerking his head toward a door in the side wall. Tom did not ask to see the master. He found that if he acted as if he were expected he was less likely to waste time waiting around. He crossed the little chapel in a couple of strides and entered the vestry. It was a small, square chamber lit by many candles. Most of the floor space was taken up by a shallow sandpit. The fine sand had been smoothed perfectly level with a rule. There were two men in the room. Both glanced briefly at Tom, then returned their attention to the sand. The bishop, a wrinkled old man with flashing black eyes, was drawing in the sand with a pointed stick. The master builder, wearing a leather apron, watched him with a patient air and a skeptical expression. Tom waited in anxious silence. He must make a good impression: be courteous but not groveling and show his knowledge without being cocky. A master craftsman wanted his subordinates to be obedient as well as skillful, Tom knew from his own experience of being the hirer. Bishop Roger was sketching a two-story building with large windows in three sides. He was a good draftsman, making straight lines and true right angles. He drew a plan and a side view of the building. Tom could see that it would never be built. The bishop finished it and said: _There._ John turned to Tom and said: _What is it?_ Tom pretended to think he was being asked for his opinion of the drawing. He said: _You can_t have windows that big in an undercroft._ The bishop looked at him with irritation. _It_s a writing room, not an undercroft._ _It will fall down just the same._ John said: _He_s right._ _But they must have light to write by._ John shrugged and turned to Tom. _Who are you?_ _My name is Tom and I_m a mason._ _I guessed that. What brings you here?_ _I_m looking for work._ Tom held his breath. John shook his head immediately. _I can_t hire you._ Tom_s heart sank. He felt like turning on his heel, but he waited politely to hear the reasons. _We_ve been building for ten years here,_ John went on. _Most of the masons have houses in the town. We_re coming to the end, and now I have more masons on the site than I really need._ Tom knew it was hopeless, but he said: _And the palace?_ _Same thing,_ said John. _This is where I_m using my surplus men. If it weren_t for this, and Bishop Roger_s other castles, I_d be laying masons off already._ Tom nodded. In a neutral voice, trying not to sound desperate, he said: _Do you hear of work anywhere?_ _They were building at the monastery in Shaftesbury earlier in the year. Perhaps they still are. It_s a day_s journey away._ _Thanks._ Tom turned to go. _I_m sorry,_ John called after him. _You seem like a good man._ Tom went out without replying. He felt let down. He had allowed his hopes to rise too early: there was nothing unusual about being turned down. But he had been excited at the prospect of working on a cathedral again. Now he might have to work on a monotonous town wall or an ugly house for a silversmith. He squared his shoulders as he walked back across the castle courtyard to where Agnes waited with Martha. He never showed his disappointment to her. He always tried to give the impression that all was well, he was in control of the situation, and it was of no great consequence if there was no work here because there was sure to be something in the next town, or the one after that. He knew that if he showed any sign of distress Agnes would urge him to find a place to settle down, and he did not want to do that, not unless he could settle in a town where there was a cathedral to be built. _There_s nothing for me here,_ he said to Agnes. _Let_s move on._ She looked crestfallen. _You_d think, with a cathedral and a palace under construction, there would be room for one more mason._ _Both buildings are almost finished,_ Tom explained. _They_ve got more men than they want._ The family crossed the drawbridge and plunged back into the crowded streets of the town. They had entered Salisbury by the east gate, and they would leave by the west, for that way led to Shaftesbury. Tom turned right, leading them through the part of the town they had not so far seen. He stopped outside a stone house that looked in dire need of repair. The mortar used in building it had been too weak, and was now crumbling and falling out. Frost had got into the holes, cracking some of the stones. If it were left for another winter the damage would be worse. Tom decided to point this out to the owner. The ground-floor entrance was a wide arch. The wooden door was open, and in the doorway a craftsman sat with a hammer in his right hand and a bradawl, a small metal tool with a sharp point, in his left. He was carving a complex design on a wooden saddle which sat on the bench before him. In the background Tom could see stores of wood and leather, and a boy with a broom sweeping shavings. Tom said: _Good day, Master Saddler._ The saddler looked up, classified Tom as the kind of man who would make his own saddle if he needed one, and gave a curt nod. _I_m a builder,_ Tom went on. _I see you_re in need of my services._ _Why?_ _Your mortar is crumbling, your stones are cracking and your house may not last another winter._ The saddler shook his head. _This town is full of masons. Why would I employ a stranger?_ _Very well._ Tom turned away. _God be with you._ _I hope so,_ said the saddler. _An ill-mannered fellow,_ Agnes muttered to Tom as they walked away. The street led them to a marketplace. Here in a half-acre sea of mud, peasants from the surrounding countryside exchanged what little surplus they might have of meat or grain, milk or eggs, for the things they needed and could not make themselves_pots, plowshares, ropes and salt. Markets were usually colorful and rather boisterous. There was a lot of good-natured haggling, mock rivalry between adjacent stall holders, cheap cakes for the children, sometimes a minstrel or a group of tumblers, lots of painted whores, and perhaps a crippled soldier with tales of eastern deserts and berserk Saracen hordes. Those who made a good bargain often succumbed to the temptation to celebrate, and spent their profit on strong ale, so that there was always a rowdy atmosphere by midday. Others would lose their pennies at dice, and that led to fighting. But now, on a wet day in the morning, with the year_s harvest sold or stored, the market was subdued. Rain-soaked peasants made taciturn bargains with shivering stall holders, and everyone looked forward to going home to a blazing fireplace. Tom_s family pushed through the disconsolate crowd, ignoring the halfhearted blandishments of the sausage seller and the knife sharpener. They had almost reached the far side of the marketplace when Tom saw his pig. He was so surprised that at first he could not believe his eyes. Then Agnes hissed: _Tom! Look!_ and he knew she had seen it too. There was no doubt about it: he knew that pig as well as he knew Alfred or Martha. It was being held, in an expert grip, by a man who had the florid complexion and broad girth of one who eats as much meat as he needs and then some more: a butcher, without doubt. Both Tom and Agnes stood and stared at him, and since they blocked his path he could not help but notice them. _Well?_ he said, puzzled by their stares and impatient to get by. It was Martha who broke the silence. _That_s our pig!_ she said excitedly. _So it is,_ said Tom, looking levelly at the butcher. For an instant a furtive look crossed the man_s face, and Tom realized he knew the pig was stolen. But he said: _I_ve just paid fifty pence for it, and that makes it my pig._ _Whoever you gave your money to, the pig was not his to sell. No doubt that was why you got it so cheaply. Who did you buy it from?_ _A peasant._ _One you know?_ _No. Listen, I_m butcher to the garrison. I can_t ask every farmer who sells me a pig or a cow to produce twelve men to swear the animal is his to sell._ The man turned aside as if to go away, but Tom caught him by the arm and stopped him. For a moment the man looked angry, but then he realized that if he got into a scuffle he would have to drop the pig, and that if one of Tom_s family managed to pick it up, the balance of power would change and it would be the butcher who had to prove ownership. So he restrained himself and said: _If you want to make an accusation, go to the sheriff._ Tom considered that briefly and dismissed it. He had no proof. Instead he said: _What did he look like_the man who sold you my pig?_ The butcher looked shifty and said: _Like anyone else._ _Did he keep his mouth covered?_ _Now that I think of it, he did._ _He was an outlaw, concealing a mutilation,_ Tom said bitterly. _I suppose you didn_t think of that._ _It_s pissing with rain!_ the butcher protested. _Everyone_s muffled up._ _Just tell me how long ago he left you._ _Just now._ _And where was he headed?_ _To an alehouse, I_d guess._ _To spend my money,_ Tom said disgustedly. _Go on, clear off. You may be robbed yourself, one day, and then you_ll wish there were not so many people eager to buy a bargain without asking questions._ The butcher looked angry, and hesitated as if he wanted to make some rejoinder; then he thought better of it and disappeared. Agnes said: _Why did you let him go?_ _Because he_s known here and I_m not,_ Tom said. _If I fight with him I_ll be blamed. And because the pig doesn_t have my name written on its arse, so who is to say whether it is mine or not?_ _But all our savings__ _We may get the money for the pig, yet,_ said Tom. _Shut up and let me think._ The altercation with the butcher had angered him, and it relieved his frustration to speak harshly to Agnes. _Somewhere in this town there is a man with no lips and fifty silver pennies in his pocket. All we have to do is find him and take the money from him._ _Right,_ said Agnes determinedly. _You walk back the way we_ve come. Go as far as the cathedral close. I_ll walk on, and come to the cathedral from the other direction. Then we_ll return by the next street, and so on. If he_s not on the streets he_s in an alehouse. When you see him, stay by him and send Martha to find me. I_ll take Alfred. Try not to let the outlaw see you._ _Don_t worry,_ Agnes said grimly. _I want that money, to feed my children._ Tom touched her arm and smiled. _You_re a lion, Agnes._ She looked into his eyes for a moment, then suddenly stood on her toes and kissed his mouth, briefly but hard. Then she turned and went back across the marketplace with Martha in tow. Tom watched her out of sight, feeling anxious for her despite her courage; then he went in the opposite direction with Alfred. The thief seemed to think he was perfectly safe. Of course, when he stole the pig, Tom had been heading for Winchester. The thief had gone in the opposite direction, to sell the pig in Salisbury. But the outlaw woman, Ellen, had told Tom that Salisbury cathedral was being rebuilt, and he had changed his plans, and inadvertently caught up with the thief. However, the man thought he would_ never see Tom again, which gave Tom a chance to catch him unawares. Tom walked slowly along the muddy street, trying to seem casual as he glanced in at open doorways. He wanted to remain unobtrusive, for this episode could end in violence, and he did not want people to remember a tall mason searching the town. Most of the houses were ordinary hovels of wood, mud and thatch, with straw on the floor, a fireplace in the middle, and a few bits of homemade furniture. A barrel and some benches made an alehouse; a bed in the corner with a curtain to screen it meant a whore; a noisy crowd around a single table signified a game of dice. A woman with red-stained lips bared her breasts to him, and he shook his head and hurried past. He was secretly intrigued by the idea of doing it with a total stranger, in daylight, and paying for it, but in all his life he had never tried it. He thought again of Ellen, the outlaw woman. There was something intriguing about her, too. She was powerfully attractive, but those deep-set, intense eyes were intimidating. An invitation from a whore made Tom feel discontented for a few moments, but the spell cast by Ellen had not yet worn off, and he had a sudden foolish desire to run back into the forest and find her and fall on her. He arrived at the cathedral close without seeing the outlaw. He looked at the plumbers nailing the lead to the triangular timber roof over the nave. They had not yet begun to cover the lean-to roofs on the side aisles of the church, and it was still possible to see the supporting half-arches which connected the outside edge of the aisle with the main nave wall, propping up the top half of the church. He pointed them out to Alfred. _Without those supports, the nave wall would bow outward and buckle, because of the weight of the stone vaults inside,_ he explained. _See how the half-arches line up with the buttresses in the aisle wall? They also line up with the pillars of the nave arcade inside. And the aisle windows line up with the arches of the arcade. Strong lines up with strong, and weak with weak._ Alfred looked baffled and resentful. Tom sighed. He saw Agnes coming from the opposite side, and his mind returned to his immediate problem. Agnes_s hood concealed her face, but he recognized her chin-forward, sure-footed walk. Broad-shouldered laborers stepped aside to let her pass. If she were to run into the outlaw, and there was a fight, he thought grimly, it would be a fairly even match. _Did you see him?_ she said. _No. Obviously you didn_t either._ Tom hoped the thief had not left the town already. Surely he would not go without spending some of his pennies? Money was no use in the forest. Agnes was thinking the same. _He_s here somewhere. Let_s keep looking._ _We_ll go back by different streets and meet again in the marketplace._ Tom and Alfred retraced their steps across the close and went out through the gateway. The rain was soaking through their cloaks now, and Tom thought fleetingly of a pot of beer and a bowl of beef broth beside an alehouse fire. Then he thought how hard he had worked to buy the pig, and he saw again the man with no lips swinging his club at Martha_s innocent head, and his anger warmed him. It was difficult to search systematically because there was no order to the streets. They wandered here and there, according to where people had built houses, and there were many sharp turns and blind alleys. The only straight street was the one that led from the east gate to the castle drawbridge. On his first sweep Tom had stayed close to the ramparts of the castle. Now he searched the outskirts, zigzagging to the town wall and back into the interior. These were the poorer quarters, with the most ramshackle buildings, the noisiest alehouses and the oldest whores. The edge of the town was downhill from the center, so the refuse from the wealthier neighborhood was washed down the streets to lodge beneath the walls. Something similar seemed to happen to the people, for this district had more than its share of cripples and beggars, hungry children and bruised women and helpless drunks. But the man with no lips was nowhere to be seen. Twice Tom spotted a man of about the right build and general appearance, and took a closer look, only to see that the man_s face was normal. He ended his search at the marketplace, and there was Agnes waiting for him impatiently, her body tense and her eyes gleaming. _I_ve found him!_ she hissed. Tom felt a surge of excitement mingled with apprehension. _Where?_ _He went into a cookshop down by the east gate._ _Lead me there._ They circled the castle to the drawbridge, went down the straight street to the east gate, then turned into a maze of alleys beneath the walls. Tom saw the cookshop a moment later. It was not even a house, just a sloping roof on four posts, up against the town wall, with a huge fire at the back over which a sheep turned on a spit and a cauldron bubbled. It was now about noon and the little place was full of people, mostly men. The smell of the meat made Tom_s stomach rumble. He raked the little crowd with his eyes, fearful that the outlaw might have left in the short time it had taken them to get here. He spotted the man immediately, sitting on a stool a little apart from the crowd, eating a bowl of stew with a spoon, holding his scarf in front of his face to hide his mouth. Tom turned away quickly so that the man should not see him. Now he had to decide how to handle this. He was angry enough to knock the outlaw down and take his purse. But the crowd would not let him walk away. He would have to explain himself, not just to bystanders but to the sheriff. Tom was within his rights, and the fact that the thief was an outlaw meant that he would not have anyone to vouch for his honesty; whereas Tom was evidently a respectable man and a mason. But establishing all that would take time, possibly weeks if the sheriff happened to be away in another part of the county; and there might still be an accusation of breaking the king_s peace, if a brawl should result. No. It would be wiser to get the thief alone. The man could not stay in the town overnight, for he had no home here, and he could not get lodgings without establishing himself as a respectable man somehow. Therefore he had to leave before the gates closed at nightfall. And there were only two gates. _He_ll probably go back the way he came,_ Tom said to Agnes. _I_ll wait outside the east gate. Let Alfred watch the west gate. You stay in the town and see what the thief does. Keep Martha with you, but don_t let him see her. If you need to send a message to me or Alfred, use Martha._ _Right,_ Agnes said tersely. Alfred said: _What should I do if he comes out my way?_ He sounded excited. _Nothing,_ Tom said firmly. _Watch which road he takes, then wait. Martha will fetch me, and we_ll overtake him together._ Alfred looked disappointed, and Tom said: _You do as I say. I don_t want to lose my son as well as my pig._ Alfred nodded reluctant assent. _Let_s break up, before he notices us huddling together and plotting. Go._ Tom left them immediately, not looking back. He could rely on Agnes to carry out the plan. He hurried to the east gate and left the town, crossing the rickety wooden bridge over which he had pushed the ox cart that morning. Directly ahead of him was the Winchester road, going east, dead straight, like a long carpet unrolled over the hills and valleys. To his left, the road by which Tom_and presumably the thief_had come to Salisbury, the Portway, curled up over a hill and disappeared. The thief would almost certainly take the Portway. Tom went down the hill and through the cluster of houses at the crossroads, then turned onto the Portway. He needed to hide himself. He walked along the road looking for a suitable spot. He went two hundred yards without finding anything. Looking back, he realized that this was too far: he could no longer see the faces of people at the crossroads, so that he would not know if the man with no lips came along and took the Winchester road. He scanned the landscape again. The road was bordered on either side by ditches, which might have offered concealment in dry weather, but today were running with water. Beyond each ditch the land rose in a hump. In the field on the south side of the road a few cows were grazing the stubble. Tom noticed that one of the cows was lying down at the raised edge of the field, overlooking the road, partly concealed by the hump. With a sigh, he retraced his steps. He jumped the ditch and kicked the cow. It got up and went away. Tom lay down in the warm, dry patch it had left. He pulled his hood over his face and settled to wait, wishing he had had the foresight to buy some bread before leaving the town. He was anxious and a little scared. The outlaw was a smaller man, but he was fast-moving and vicious, as he had shown when he clubbed Martha and stole the pig. Tom was a little afraid of being hurt but much more worried that he might not get his money. He hoped Agnes and Martha were all right. Agnes could look after herself, he knew; and even if the outlaw spotted her, what could the man do? He would just be on his guard, that was all. From where he lay Tom could see the towers of the cathedral. He wished he had had a moment to look inside. He was curious about the treatment of the piers of the arcade. These were usually fat pillars, each with arches sprouting from its top: two arches going north and south, to connect with the neighboring pillars in the arcade; and one going east or west, across the side aisle. It was an ugly effect, for there was something not quite right about an arch that sprang from the top of a round column. When Tom built his cathedral each pier would be a cluster of shafts, with an arch springing from the top of each shaft_an elegantly logical arrangement. He began to visualize the decoration of the arches. Geometric shapes were the commonest forms_it did not take much skill to carve zigzags and lozenges_but Tom liked foliage, which lent softness and a touch of nature to the hard regularity of the stones. The imaginary cathedral occupied his mind until midafternoon, when he saw the slight figure and blond head of Martha come skipping across the bridge and through the houses. She hesitated at the crossing, then picked the right road. Tom watched her walk toward him, seeing her frown as she began to wonder where he could be. As she drew level with him he called her softly. _Martha._ She gave a little squeal, then saw him and ran to him, jumping over the ditch. _Mummy sent you this,_ she said, and took something from inside her cloak. It was a hot meat pie. _By the cross, your mother_s a good woman!_ said Tom, and took a mammoth bite. It was made with beef and onions, and it tasted heavenly. Martha squatted beside Tom on the grass. _This is what happened to the man who stole our pig,_ she said. She screwed up her nose and concentrated on remembering what she had been told to say. She was so sweet that she took Tom_s breath away. _He came out of the cookshop and met a lady with a painted face, and went to her house. We waited outside._ While the outlaw spent our money on a whore, Tom thought bitterly. _Go on._ _He was not long in the lady_s house, and when he came out he went to an alehouse. He_s there now. He doesn_t drink much but he plays at dice._ _I hope he wins,_ Tom said grimly. _Is that it?_ _That_s all._ _Are you hungry?_ _I had a bun._ _Have you told Alfred all this?_ _Not yet. I_m to go to him next._ _Tell him he must try to stay dry._ _Try to stay dry,_ she repeated. _Shall I say that before or after telling him about the man who stole our pig?_ It did not matter, of course. _After,_ Tom said, as she wanted a definite answer. He smiled at her. _You_re a clever girl. Off you go._ _I like this game,_ she said. She waved and left, her girlish legs twinkling as she jumped the ditch daintily and ran back toward the town. Tom watched her with love and anger in his heart. He and Agnes had worked hard to get money to feed their children, and he was ready to kill to get back what had been stolen from them. Perhaps the outlaw would be ready to kill, too. Outlaws were outside the law, as the name implied: they lived in unconstrained violence. This might not be the first time Faramond Openmouth had come up against one of his victims. He was nothing if not dangerous. The daylight began to fade surprisingly early, as it sometimes did on wet autumn afternoons. Tom started to worry whether he would recognize the thief in the rain. As evening closed in, the traffic to and from the town thinned out, for most visitors had left in time to reach their home villages by nightfall. The lights of candles and lanterns began to flicker in the higher houses of the town and in the suburban hovels. Tom wondered pessimistically if the thief might stay overnight after all. Perhaps he had dishonest friends in the town who would put him up even though they knew he was an outlaw. Perhaps_ Then Tom saw a man with a scarf across his mouth. He was walking across the wooden bridge close to two other men. It suddenly occurred to Tom that the thief_s two accomplices, the bald one and the man in the green hat, might have come to Salisbury with him. Tom had not seen either of them in the town but the three might have separated for a while and then joined up again for the return journey. Tom cursed under his breath: he did not think he could fight three men. But as they came closer the group separated, and Tom realized with relief that they were not together after all. The first two were father and son, two peasants with dark, close-set eyes and hooked noses. They took the Portway, and the man with the scarf followed. He studied the thief_s gait as he came closer. He appeared sober. That was a pity. Glancing back to the town he saw a woman and a girl emerge onto the bridge: Agnes and Martha. He was dismayed. He had not envisaged their being present when he confronted the thief. However, he realized that he had given no instructions to the contrary. He tensed as they all came up the road toward him. Tom was so big that most people gave in to him in a confrontation; but outlaws were desperate, and there was no telling what might happen in a fight. The two peasants went by, mildly merry, talking about horses. Tom took his iron-headed hammer from his belt and hefted it in his right hand. He hated thieves, who did no work but took the bread from good people. He would have no qualms about hitting this one with a hammer. The thief seemed to slow down as he came near, almost as if he sensed danger. Tom waited until he was four or five yards away_too near to run back, too far to run past. Then Tom rolled over the bank, sprang across the ditch, and stood in his way. The man stopped dead and stared at him. _What_s this?_ he said nervously. He doesn_t recognize me, Tom thought. He said: _You stole my pig yesterday and sold it to a butcher today._ _I never__ _Don_t deny it,_ Tom said. _Just give me the money you got for it, and I won_t hurt you._ For a moment he thought the thief was going to do just that. He felt a sense of anticlimax as the man hesitated. Then the thief turned on his heel and ran_straight into Agnes. He was not traveling fast enough to knock her over_and she was a woman who took a lot of knocking over_and the two of them staggered from side to side for a moment in a clumsy dance. Then he realized she was deliberately obstructing him, and he pushed her aside. She stuck out her leg as he went past her. Her foot got between his knees and both of them fell down. Tom_s heart was in his mouth as he raced to her side. The thief was getting up with one knee on her back. Tom grabbed his collar and yanked him off her. He hauled him to the side of the road before he could regain his balance, then threw him into the ditch. Agnes stood up. Martha ran to her. Tom said rapidly: _All right?_ _Yes,_ Agnes answered. The two peasants had stopped and turned around, and they were staring at the scene, wondering what was going on. The thief was on his knees in the ditch. _He_s an outlaw,_ Agnes called out to them, to discourage them from interfering. _He stole our pig._ The peasants made no reply, but waited to see what would happen next. Tom spoke to the thief again. _Give me my money and I_ll let you go._ The man came up out of the ditch with a knife in his hand, fast as a rat, and went for Tom_s throat. Agnes screamed. Tom dodged. The knife flashed across his face and he felt a burning pain along his jaw. He stepped back and swung his hammer as the knife flashed again. The thief jumped back, and both knife and hammer swished through the damp evening air without connecting. For an instant the two men stood still, facing one another, breathing hard. Tom_s cheek hurt. He realized they were evenly matched, for although Tom was bigger, the thief had a knife, which was a deadlier weapon than a mason_s hammer. He felt the cold grasp of fear as he realized he might be about to die. He suddenly felt he could not breathe. From the corner of his eye he saw a sudden movement. The thief saw it too, and darted a glance at Agnes, then ducked his head as a stone came flying at him from her hand. Tom reacted with the speed of a man in fear of his life, and swung his hammer at the thief_s bent head. It connected just as the man was looking up again. The iron hammer struck his forehead at the hairline. It was a hasty blow, and did not have all of Tom_s considerable strength behind it. The thief staggered but did not fall. Tom hit him again. This blow was harder. He had time to lift the hammer above his head and aim it, as the dazed thief tried to focus his eyes. Tom thought of Martha as he swung the hammer down. It struck with all his force, and the thief fell to the ground like a dropped doll. Tom was wound up too tightly to feel any relief. He knelt beside the thief, searching him. _Where_s his purse? Where_s his purse, damnation!_ The limp body was difficult to move. Finally Tom laid him flat on his back and opened his cloak. There was a big leather purse hanging from his belt. Tom undid its clasp. Inside was a soft wool bag with a drawstring. Tom pulled it out. It was light. _Empty!_ Tom said. _He must have another._ He pulled the cloak from under the man and carefully felt it all over. There were no concealed pockets, no hard parts. He pulled off the boots. There was nothing inside them. He drew his eating knife from his belt and slit the soles: nothing. Impatiently, he slipped his knife inside the neck of the thief_s woolen tunic and ripped it to the hem. There was no hidden money belt. The thief lay in the middle of the mud road, naked but for his stockings. The two peasants were staring at Tom as if he were mad. Furiously, Tom said to Agnes: _He hasn_t any money!_ _He must have lost it all at dice,_ she said bitterly. _I hope he burns in the fires of hell,_ Tom said. Agnes knelt down and felt the thief_s chest. _That_s where he is now,_ she said. _You_ve killed him._ IV By Christmas they were starving. The winter came early, and it was as cold and hard and unyielding as a stonemason_s iron chisel. There were still apples on the trees when the first frost dusted the fields. People called it a cold snap, thinking it would be brief, but it was not. Villages that left the autumn plowing a little late broke their plowshares on the rock-hard earth. The peasants hastened to kill their pigs and salt them for the winter, and the lords slaughtered their cattle, because winter grazing would not support the same number of livestock as summer. But the endless freeze withered the grass, and some of the remaining animals died anyway. Wolves became desperate, and came into villages at dusk to snatch away scraggy chickens and listless children. On building sites all over the country, as soon as the first frost struck, the walls that had been built that summer were hastily covered with straw and dung to insulate them from the worst cold, because the mortar in them was not yet completely dry, and if it were to freeze it would crack. No further mortar work would be done until spring. Some of the masons had been hired for the summer only, and they went back to their home villages, where they were known as wrights rather than masons, and they would spend the winter making plows, saddles, harness, carts, shovels, doors, and anything else that required a skilled hand with hammer and chisel and saw. The other masons moved into the lean-to lodges on the site and cut stones in intricate shapes all the hours of daylight. But because the frost was early, the work progressed too fast; and because the peasants were starving, the bishops and castellans and lords had less money to spend on building than they had hoped; and so as the winter wore on some of the masons were dismissed. Tom and his family walked from Salisbury to Shaftesbury, and from there to Sherborne, Wells, Bath, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, Wallingford and Windsor. Everywhere the fires inside the lodges burned, and the churchyards and castle walls rang with the song of iron on stone, and the master builders made small precise models of arches and vaults with their clever hands encased in fingerless gloves. Some masters were impatient, abrupt or discourteous; others looked sadly at Tom_s thin children and pregnant wife and spoke kindly and regretfully; but they all said the same thing: No, there_s no work for you here. Whenever they could, they imposed upon the hospitality of monasteries, where travelers could always get a meal of some kind and a place to sleep_strictly for one night only. When the blackberries ripened in the bramble thickets, they lived on those for days on end, like the birds. In the forest, Agnes would light a fire under the iron cooking pot and boil porridge. But still, much of the time, they were obliged to buy bread from bakers and pickled herrings from fishmongers, or to eat in alehouses and cookshops, which was more expensive than preparing their own food; and so their money inexorably drained away. Martha was naturally skinny but she became even thinner. Alfred was still getting taller, like a weed growing in shallow soil, and he became lanky. Agnes ate sparingly, but the baby growing inside her was greedy, and Tom could see that she was tormented by hunger. Sometimes he ordered her to eat more, and then even her iron will yielded to the combined authority of her husband and her unborn child. Still she did not grow plump and rosy, as she had during other pregnancies. Instead she looked gaunt despite her swollen belly, like a starving child in a famine. Since leaving Salisbury they had walked around three quarters of a big circle, and by the end of the year they were back in the vast forest that stretched from Windsor to Southampton. They were heading for Winchester. Tom had sold his mason_s tools, and all but a few pennies of that money had been spent: he would have to borrow tools, or the money to buy them, as soon as he found employment. If he did not get work in Winchester he did not know what he would do. He had brothers, back in his hometown; but that was in the north, a journey of several weeks, and the family would starve before they got there. Agnes was an only child and her parents were dead. There was no agricultural work in midwinter. Perhaps Agnes could scrape a few pennies as a scullery maid in a rich house in Winchester. She certainly could not tramp the roads much longer, for her time was near. But Winchester was three days away and they were hungry now. The blackberries were gone, there was no monastery in prospect, and Agnes had no oats left in the cooking pot which she carried on her back. The previous night they had traded a knife for a loaf of rye bread, four bowls of broth with no meat in it, and a place to sleep by the fire in a peasant_s hovel. They had not seen a village since. But toward the end of the afternoon Tom saw smoke rising above the trees, and they found the home of a solitary verderer, one of the king_s forest police. He gave them a sack of turnips in exchange for Tom_s small ax. They had walked only three miles farther when Agnes said she was too tired to go on. Tom was surprised. In all their years together he had never known her to say she was too tired for anything. She sat down in the shelter of a big horse-chestnut tree beside the road. Tom dug a shallow pit for a fire, using a worn wooden shovel_one of the few tools they had left, for nobody would want to buy it. The children gathered twigs and Tom started the fire, then he took the cooking pot and went to find a stream. He returned with the pot full of icy water and set it at the edge of the fire, Agnes sliced some turnips. Martha collected the conkers that had dropped from the tree, and Agnes showed her how to peel them and grind the soft insides into a coarse flour to thicken the turnip soup. Tom sent Alfred to find more firewood, while he himself took a stick and went poking around in the dead leaves on the forest floor, hoping to find a hibernating hedgehog or squirrel to put in the broth. He was unlucky. He sat down beside Agnes while darkness fell and the soup cooked. _Have we any salt left?_ he asked her. She shook her head. _You_ve been eating porridge without salt for weeks,_ she said. _Haven_t you noticed?_ _No._ _Hunger is the best seasoning._ _Well, we_ve plenty of that._ Tom was suddenly terribly tired. He felt the crushing burden of the piled-up disappointments of the last four months and he could not be brave any longer. In a defeated voice he said: _What went wrong, Agnes?_ _Everything,_ she said. _You had no work last winter. You got a job in the spring; then the earl_s daughter canceled the wedding and Lord William canceled the house. Then we decided to stay and work in the harvest_that was a mistake._ _For sure it would have been easier for me to find a building job in the summer than it was in the autumn._ _And the winter came early. And for all that, we would still have been all right, but then our pig was stolen._ Tom nodded wearily. _My only consolation is knowing that the thief is even now suffering all the torments of hell._ _I hope so._ _Do you doubt it?_ _Priests don_t know as much as they pretend to. My father was one, remember._ Tom remembered very well. One wall of her father_s parish church had crumbled beyond repair, and Tom had been hired to rebuild it. Priests were not allowed to marry, but this priest had a housekeeper, and the housekeeper had a daughter, and it was an open secret in the village that the priest was the father of the girl. Agnes had not been beautiful, even then, but her skin had had a glow of youth, and she had seemed to be bursting with energy. She would talk to Tom while he was working, and sometimes the wind would flatten her dress against her so that Tom could see the curves of her body, even her navel, almost as clearly as if she had been naked. One night she came to the little hut where he slept, and put a hand over his mouth to tell him not to speak, and pulled off her dress so that he could see her nude in the moonlight, and then he took her strong young body in his arms and they made love. _We were both virgins,_ he said aloud. She knew what he was thinking about. She smiled, then her face saddened again, and she said: _It seems so long ago._ Martha said: _Can we eat now?_ The smell of the soup was making Tom_s stomach rumble. He dipped his bowl into the bubbling cauldron and brought out a few slices of turnip in a thin gruel. He used the blunt edge of his knife to test the turnip. It was not cooked all the way through, but he decided not to make them wait. He gave a bowlful to each child, then took one to Agnes. She looked drawn and thoughtful. She blew on her soup to cool it, then raised the bowl to her lips. The children quickly drained theirs and wanted more. Tom took the pot out of the fire, using the hem of his cloak to avoid burning his hands, and emptied the remaining soup into the children_s bowls. When he returned to Agnes_s side she said: _What about you?_ _I_ll eat tomorrow,_ he said. She seemed too tired to argue. Tom and Alfred built the fire high and gathered enough wood to last the night. Then they all rolled up in their cloaks and lay down on the leaves to sleep. Tom slept lightly, and when Agnes groaned he woke up instantly. _What is it?_ he whispered. She groaned again. Her face was pale and her eyes were closed. After a moment she said: _The baby is coming._ Tom_s heart missed a beat. Not here, he thought; not here on the frozen ground in the depths of a forest. _But it_s not due,_ he said. _It_s early._ Tom made his voice calm. _Have the waters broken?_ _Soon after we left the verderer_s hut,_ Agnes panted, not opening her eyes. Tom remembered her suddenly diving into the bushes as if to answer an urgent call of nature. _And the pains?_ _Ever since._ It was like her to keep quiet about it. Alfred and Martha were awake. Alfred said: _What_s happening?_ _The baby is coming,_ Tom said. Martha burst into tears. Tom frowned. _Could you make it back to the verderer_s hut?_ he asked Agnes. There they would at least have a roof, and straw to lie on, and someone to help. Agnes shook her head. _The baby has dropped already._ _It won_t be long, then!_ They were in the most deserted part of the forest. They had not seen a village since morning, and the verderer had said they would not see one all day tomorrow. That meant there was no possibility of finding a woman to act as midwife. Tom would have to deliver the baby himself, in the cold, with only the children to help, and if anything should go wrong he had no medicines, no knowledge. . This is my fault, Tom thought; I got her with child, and I brought her into destitution. She trusted me to provide for her, and now she is giving birth in the open air in the middle of winter. He had always despised men who fathered children and then left them to starve; and now he was no better than they. He felt ashamed. _I_m so tired,_ Agnes said. _I don_t believe I can bring this baby into the world. I want to rest._ Her face glistened, in the firelight, with a thin film of sweat. Tom realized he must pull himself together. He was going to have to give Agnes strength. _I_ll help you,_ he said. There was nothing mysterious or complicated about what was going to happen. He had watched the births of several children. The work was normally done by women, for they knew how the mother felt, and that enabled them to be more helpful; but there was no reason why a man should not do it if necessary. He must first make her comfortable; then find out how far advanced the birth was; then make sensible preparations; then calm her and reassure her while they waited. _How do you feel?_ he asked her. _Cold,_ she replied. _Come closer to the fire,_ he said. He took off his cloak and spread it on the ground a yard from the blaze. Agnes tried to struggle to her feet. Tom lifted her easily, and set her down gently on his cloak. He knelt beside her. The wool tunic she was wearing underneath her own cloak had buttons all the way down the front. He undid two of them and put his hands inside. Agnes gasped. _Does it hurt?_ he said, surprised and worried. _No,_ she said with a brief smile. _Your hands are cold._ He felt the outline of her belly. The swelling was higher and more pointed than it had been last night, when the two of them had slept together in the straw on the floor of a peasant_s hovel. Tom pressed a little harder, feeling the shape of the unborn baby. He found one end of the body, just beneath Agnes_s navel; but he could not locate the other end. He said: _I can feel its bottom, but not its head._ _That_s because it_s on the way out,_ she said. He covered her and tucked her cloak around her. He would need to make his preparations quickly. He looked at the children. Martha was snuffling. Alfred just looked scared. It would be good to give them something to do. _Alfred, take that cooking pot to the stream. Wash it clean and bring it back full of fresh water. Martha, collect some reeds and make me two lengths of string, each big enough for a necklace. Quick, now. You_re going to have another brother or sister by daybreak._ They went off. Tom took out his eating knife and a small hard stone and began to sharpen the blade. Agnes groaned again. Tom put down his knife and held her hand. He had sat with her like this when the others were born: Alfred; then Matilda, who had died after two years; and Martha; and the child who had been born dead, a boy whom Tom had secretly planned to name Harold. But each time there had been someone else to give help and reassurance_Agnes_s mother for Alfred, a village midwife for Matilda and Harold, and the lady of the manor, no less, for Martha. This time he would have to do it alone. But he must not show his anxiety: he must make her feel happy and confident. She relaxed as the spasm passed. Tom said: _Remember when Martha was born, and the Lady Isabella acted as midwife?_ Agnes smiled. _You were building a chapel for the lord, and you asked her to send her maid to fetch the midwife from the village. ._ _And she said: _That drunken old witch? I wouldn_t let her deliver a litter of wolfhound pups!_ And she took us to her own chamber, and Lord Robert could not go to bed until Martha was born._ _She was a good woman._ _There aren_t many ladies like her._ Alfred returned with the pot full of cold water. Tom set it down near the fire, not close enough to boil, so there would be warm water. Agnes reached inside her cloak and took out a small linen bag containing clean rags which she had ready. Martha came back with her hands full of reeds and sat down to plait them. _What do you need strings for?_ she asked. _Something very important, you_ll see,_ Tom said. _Make them well._ Alfred looked restless and embarrassed. _Go and collect more wood,_ Tom told him. _Let_s have a bigger fire._ The boy went off, glad to have something to do. Agnes_s face tautened with strain as she began to bear down again, pushing the baby out of her womb, making a low noise like a tree creaking in a gale. Tom could see that the effort was costing her dear, using up her last reserves of strength; and he wished with all his heart that he could bear down for her, and take the strain himself, to give her some relief. At last the pain seemed to ease, and Tom breathed again. Agnes seemed to drift off into a doze. Alfred returned with his arms full of sticks. Agnes became alert again and said: _I_m so cold._ Tom said: _Alfred, build up the fire. Martha, lie down beside your mother and keep her warm._ They both obeyed with worried looks. Agnes put her arms around Martha and held her close, shivering. Tom was sick with worry. The fire was roaring, but the air was getting colder. It might be so cold that it would kill the baby with its first breath. It was not unknown for children to be born out-of-doors; in fact it happened often at harvesttime, when everyone was so busy and the women worked up until the last minute; but at harvest the ground was dry and the grass was soft and the air was balmy. He had never heard of a woman giving birth outside in winter. Agnes raised herself on her elbows and spread her legs wider. _What is it?_ Tom said in a frightened voice. She was straining too hard to reply. Tom said: _Alfred, kneel down behind your mother and let her lean on you._ When Alfred was in position, Tom opened Agnes_s cloak and unbuttoned the skirt of her dress. Kneeling between her legs, he could see that the birth opening was beginning to dilate a little already. _Not long now, my darling,_ he murmured, struggling to keep the tremor of fear out of his voice. She relaxed again, closing her eyes and resting her weight on Alfred. The opening seemed to shrink a little. The forest was silent but for the crackling of the big fire. Suddenly Tom thought of how the outlaw woman, Ellen, had given birth in the forest alone. It must have been terrifying. She had feared that a wolf would come upon her while she was helpless and steal the newborn baby away, she had said. This year the wolves were bolder than usual, people said, but surely they would not attack a group of four people. Agnes tensed again, and fresh beads of sweat appeared on her contorted face. This is it, thought Tom. He was frightened. He watched the opening widen again, and this time he could see, by the light of the fire, the damp black hair of the baby_s head pushing through. He thought of praying but there was no time now. Agnes began to breathe in short, fast gasps. The opening stretched wider_impossibly wide_and then the head began to come through, face-down. A moment later Tom saw the wrinkled ears flat against the side of the baby_s head; then he saw the folded skin of the neck. He could not yet see whether the baby was normal. _The head is out,_ he said, but Agnes knew that already, of course, for she could feel it; and she had relaxed again. Slowly the baby turned, so that Tom could see the closed eyes and mouth, wet with blood and the slippery fluids of the womb. Martha cried: _Oh! Look at its little face!_ Agnes heard her and smiled briefly, then began to strain again. Tom leaned forward between her thighs and supported the tiny head with his left hand as the shoulders came out, first one then the other. Then the rest of the body emerged in a rush, and Tom put his right hand under the baby_s hips and held it as the tiny legs slithered into the cold world. Agnes_s opening immediately started to close around the pulsing blue cord that came from the baby_s navel. Tom lifted the baby and scrutinized it anxiously. There was a lot of blood, and at first he feared something was terribly wrong; but on closer examination he could see no injury. He looked between its legs. It was a boy. _It looks horrible!_ said Martha. _He_s perfect,_ Tom said, and he felt weak with relief. _A perfect boy._ The baby opened its mouth and cried. Tom looked at Agnes. Their eyes met, and they both smiled. Tom held the tiny baby close to his chest. _Martha, fetch me a bowl of water out of that pot._ She jumped up to do his bidding. _Where are those rags, Agnes?_ Agnes pointed to the linen bag lying on the ground beside her shoulder. Alfred passed it to Tom. The boy_s face was running with tears. It was the first time he had seen a child born. Tom dipped a rag into a bowl of warm water and gently washed the blood and mucus off the baby_s face. Agnes unbuttoned the front of her tunic and Tom put the baby in her arms. He was still squalling. As Tom watched, the blue cord that went from the baby_s belly to Agnes_s groin stopped pulsing and shriveled, turning white. Tom said to Martha: _Give me those strings you made. Now you_ll see what they_re for._ She passed him the two lengths of plaited reeds. He tied them around the birth cord in two places, pulling the knots tight. Then he used his knife to cut the cord between the knots. He sat back on his haunches. They had done it. The worst was over and the baby was well. He felt proud. Agnes moved the baby so that his face was at her breast. His tiny mouth found her enlarged nipple, and he stopped crying and started to suck. Martha said in an amazed voice: _How does he know he should do that?_ _It_s a mystery,_ said Tom. He handed the bowl to her and said: Filtered your mother some fresh water to drink._ _Oh, yes,_ said Agnes gratefully, as if she had just realized she was desperately thirsty. Martha brought the water and Agnes drank the bowl dry. _That was wonderful,_ she said. _Thank you._ She looked down at the suckling baby, then up at Tom. _You_re a good man,_ she said quietly. _I love you._ Tom felt tears come to his eyes. He smiled at her, then dropped his gaze. He saw that she was still bleeding a lot. The shriveled birth cord, which was still slowly coming out, lay curled in a pool of blood on Tom_s cloak between Agnes_s legs. He looked up again. The baby had stopped sucking and fallen asleep. Agnes pulled her cloak over him, then her own eyes closed. After a moment, Martha said to Tom: _Are you waiting for something?_ _The afterbirth,_ Tom told her. _What_s that?_ _You_ll see._ Mother and baby dozed for a while, then Agnes opened her eyes again. Her muscles tensed, her opening dilated a little, and the placenta emerged. Tom picked it up in his hands and looked at it. It was like something on a butcher_s slab. Looking more closely, he saw that it seemed to be torn, as if there were a piece missing. But he had never looked this closely at an afterbirth, and he supposed they were always like this, for they must always have broken away from the womb. He put the thing on the fire. It made an unpleasant smell as it burned, but if he had thrown it away it might have attracted foxes, or even a wolf. Agnes was still bleeding. Tom remembered that there was always a rush of blood with the afterbirth, but he did not recall so much. He realized that the crisis was not yet over. He felt faint for a moment, from strain and lack of food; but the spell passed and he pulled himself together. _You_re still bleeding, a little,_ he said to Agnes, trying not to sound as worried as he was. _It will stop soon,_ she said. _Cover me._ Tom buttoned the skirt of her dress, then wrapped her cloak around her legs. Alfred said: _Can I have a rest now?_ He was still kneeling behind Agnes, supporting her. He must be numb, Tom thought, from staying so long in the same position. _I_ll take your place,_ Tom said. Agnes would be more comfortable with the baby if she could stay half-upright, he thought; and also a body behind her would keep her back warm and shield her from the wind. He changed places with Alfred. Alfred grunted with pain as he stretched his young legs. Tom wrapped his arms around Agnes and the baby. _How do you feel?_ he asked her. _Just tired._ The baby cried. Agnes moved him so that he could find her nipple. As he suckled, she seemed to sleep. Tom was uneasy. It was normal to be tired, but there was a lethargy about Agnes that bothered him. She was too weak. The baby slept, and after a while the other two children fell asleep, Martha curled up beside Agnes, and Alfred stretched out on the far side of the fire. Tom held Agnes in his arms, stroking her gently. Every now and again he would kiss the top of her head. He felt her body relax as she fell into a deeper and deeper sleep. It was probably the best thing for her, he decided. He touched her cheek. Her skin was clammy, despite all his efforts to keep her warm. He reached inside her cloak and touched the baby_s chest. The child was warm and his heart was beating strongly. Tom smiled. A tough baby, he thought; a survivor. Agnes stirred. _Tom?_ _Yes._ _Do you remember the night I came to you, in your lodge, when you were working on my father_s church?_ _Of course,_ he said, patting her. _How could I ever forget?_ _I never regretted giving myself to you. Never, for one moment. Every time I think of that night, I feel so glad._ He smiled. That was good to know. _Me, too,_ he said. _I_m glad you did._ She dozed for a while, then spoke again. _I hope you build your cathedral,_ she said. He was surprised. _I thought you were against it._ _I was, but I was wrong. You deserve something beautiful._ He did not know what she meant. _Build a beautiful cathedral for me,_ she said. She was not making sense. He was glad when she fell asleep again. This time her body went quite limp, and her head leaned sideways. Tom had to support the baby to prevent him falling off her chest. They lay like that for a long time. Eventually the baby woke again and cried. Agnes did not respond. The crying woke Alfred, and he rolled over and looked at his baby brother. Tom shook Agnes gently. _Wake up,_ he said. _The baby wants to feed._ _Father!_ said Alfred in a scared voice. _Look at her face!_ Tom was filled with foreboding. She had bled too much. _Agnes!_ he said. _Wake up!_ There was no response. She was unconscious. He got up, easing her back until she lay flat on the ground. Her face was ghastly white. Dreading what he would see, he unwrapped the folds of the cloak from around her thighs. There was blood everywhere. Alfred gasped and turned away. Tom whispered: _Christ Jesus save us._ The baby_s crying woke Martha. She saw the blood and began to scream. Tom picked her up and smacked her face. She became silent. _Don_t scream,_ he said calmly, and put her down again. Alfred said: _Is Mother dying?_ Tom put his hand on Agnes_s chest, just underneath her left breast. There was no heartbeat. No heartbeat. He pressed harder. Her flesh was warm, and the underside of her heavy breast touched his hand, but she was not breathing, and there was no heartbeat. A numb coldness settled over Tom like a fog. She was gone. He stared at her face. How could she not be there? He willed her to move, to open her eyes, to draw breath. He kept his hand on her chest. Sometimes a heart might start again, people said_but she had lost so much blood. . He looked at Alfred. _Mother is dead,_ he whispered. Alfred stared at him dumbly. Martha began to cry. The new baby was crying too. I must take care of them, Tom thought. I must be strong for them. But he wanted to weep, to put his arms around her and hold her body while it cooled, and remember her as a girl, and laughing, and making love. He wanted to sob with rage and shake his fist at the merciless heavens. He hardened his heart. He had to stay controlled, he had to be strong for the children. No tears came to his eyes. He thought: What do I do first? Dig a grave. I must dig a deep hole, and lay her in it, to keep the wolves off, and preserve her bones until the Day of Judgment; and then say a prayer for her soul. Oh, Agnes, why have you left me alone? The new baby was still crying. His eyes were screwed tightly shut and his mouth opened and closed rhythmically, as if he could get sustenance from the air. He needed feeding. Agnes_s breasts were full of warm milk. Why not? thought Tom. He shifted the baby toward her breast. The child found a nipple and sucked. Tom pulled Agnes_s cloak tighter around the baby. Martha was watching, wide-eyed, sucking her thumb. Tom said to her: _Could you hold the baby there, so he doesn_t fall?_ She nodded and knelt beside the dead woman and the baby. Tom picked up the spade. She had chosen this spot to rest, and she had sat under the branches of the chestnut tree. Let this be her last resting-place, then. He swallowed hard, fighting an urge to sit on the ground and weep. He marked a rectangle on the ground some yards from the trunk of the tree, where there would be no roots near the surface; then he began to dig. He found it helped. When he concentrated on driving his shovel into the hard ground and lifting the earth, the rest of his mind went blank and he was able to retain his composure. He took turns with Alfred, for he too could take comfort in repetitious physical labor. They dug fast, driving themselves hard, and despite the bitter cold air they both sweated as if it were noon. A time came when Alfred said: _Isn_t this enough?_ Tom realized that he was standing in a hole almost as deep as he was tall. He did not want the job to be finished. He nodded reluctantly. _It will do,_ he said. He clambered out. Dawn had broken while he was digging. Martha had picked up the baby and was sitting by the fire, rocking it. Tom went to Agnes and knelt down. He wrapped her cloak tightly around her, leaving her face visible, then picked her up. He walked over to the grave and put her down beside it. Then he climbed into the hole. He lifted her down and laid her gently on the earth. He looked at her for a long moment, kneeling there beside her in her cold grave. He kissed her lips once, softly. Then he closed her eyes. He climbed out of the grave. _Come here, children,_ he said. Alfred and Martha came and stood either side of him, Martha holding the baby. Tom put an arm around each of them. They looked into the grave. Tom said: _Say: _God bless Mother._ _ They both said: _God bless Mother._ Martha was sobbing, and there were tears in Alfred_s eyes. Tom hugged them both and swallowed his tears. He released them and picked up the shovel. Martha screamed when he threw the first shovelful of earth into the grave. Alfred put his arms around his sister. Tom kept on shoveling. He could not bear to throw earth on her face, so he covered her feet, then her legs and body, and piled the earth high so that it formed a mound, and every shovelful slid downward, until at last there was earth on her neck, then over the mouth he had kissed, and finally her face disappeared, never to be seen again. He filled the grave up quickly. When it was done he stood looking at the mound. _Goodbye, dear,_ he whispered. _You were a good wife, and I love you._ With an effort he turned away. His cloak was still on the ground where Agnes had lain on it to give birth. The lower half of it was sodden with congealed and drying blood. He took his knife and roughly cut the cloak in half. He threw the bloodied portion on the fire. Martha was still holding the baby. _Give him to me,_ Tom said. She gazed at him with fear in her eyes. He wrapped the naked baby in the clean half of the cloak and laid it on the grave. The baby cried. He turned to the children. They were staring at him dumbly. He said: _We have no milk, to keep the baby alive, so he must lie here with his mother._ Martha said: _But he_ll die!_ _Yes,_ Tom said, controlling his voice tightly. _Whatever we do, he will die._ He wished the baby would stop crying. He collected their possessions and put them in the cooking pot, then strapped the pot to his back the way Agnes always did. _Let_s go,_ he said. Martha began to sob. Alfred was white-faced. They set off down the road in the gray light of a cold morning. Eventually the sound of the baby crying faded to nothing. It was no good to stay by the grave, for the children would be unable to sleep there and no purpose would be served by an all-night vigil. Besides, it would do them all good to keep moving. Tom set a fast pace, but his thoughts were now free, and he could no longer control them. There was nothing to do but walk: no arrangements to make, no jobs to do, nothing to be organized, nothing to look at but the gloomy forest and the shadows fidgeting in the light of the torches. He would think of Agnes, and follow the trail of some memory, and smile to himself, then turn to tell her what he had remembered; then the shock of realizing that she was dead would strike like a physical pain. He felt bewildered, as if something totally incomprehensible had happened, although of course it was the most ordinary thing in the world for a woman of her age to die in childbirth, and for a man of his age to be left a widower. But the sense of loss was like a wound. He had heard that people who had the toes chopped off one foot could not stand up, but fell over constantly until they learned to walk again. He felt like that, as if part of him had been amputated, and he could not get used to the idea that it was gone forever. He tried not to think about her, but he kept remembering how she had looked before she died. It seemed incredible that she had been alive just a few hours ago, and now she was gone. He pictured her face as she strained to give birth, and then her proud smile as she looked at the baby boy. He recalled what she had said to him afterward: I hope you build your cathedral; and then, Build a beautiful cathedral for me. She had spoken as if she knew she was dying. As he walked on, he thought more and more about the baby he had left, wrapped in half a cloak, lying on top of a new grave. He was probably still alive, unless a fox had smelled him already. He would die before morning, however. He would cry for a while, then close his eyes, and his life would slip away as he grew cold in his sleep. Unless a fox smelled him. There was nothing Tom could do for the baby. He needed milk to survive, and there was none: no villages where Tom could seek a wet-nurse, no sheep or goat or cow that could provide the nearest equivalent. All Tom had to give him were turnips, and they would kill him as surely as the fox. As the night wore on, it seemed to him more and more dreadful that he had abandoned the baby. It was a common enough thing, he knew: peasants with large families and small farms often exposed babies to die, and sometimes the priest turned a blind eye; but Tom did not belong to that kind of people. He should have carried it in his arms until it died, and then buried it. There was no purpose to that, of course, but all the same it would have been the right thing to do. He realized that it was daylight. He stopped suddenly. The children stood still and stared at him, waiting. They were ready for anything; nothing was normal anymore. _I shouldn_t have left the baby,_ Tom said. Alfred said: _But we can_t feed him. He_s bound to die._ _Still I shouldn_t have left him,_ Tom said. Martha said: _Let_s go back._ Still Tom hesitated. To go back now would be to admit he had done wrong to abandon the baby. But it was true. He had done wrong. He turned around. _All right,_ he said. _We_ll go back._ Now all the dangers which he had earlier tried to discount suddenly seemed more probable. For sure a fox had smelled the baby by now, and dragged him off to its lair. Or even a wolf. The wild boars were dangerous, even though they did not eat meat. And what about owls? An owl could not carry off a baby, but it might peck out its eyes_ He walked faster, feeling light-headed with exhaustion and starvation. Martha had to run to keep up with him, but she did not complain. He dreaded what he might see when he returned to the grave. Predators were merciless, and they could tell when a living creature was helpless. He was not sure how far they had walked: he had lost his sense of time. The forest on either side looked unfamiliar, even though he had just passed through it. He looked anxiously for the place where the grave was. Surely the fire could not have gone out yet_they had built it so high. . He scrutinized the trees, looking for the distinctive leaves of the horse chestnut. They passed a side turning which he did not remember, and he began to wonder crazily whether he could possibly have passed the grave already and not seen it; then he thought he saw a faint orange glow ahead. His heart seemed to falter. He quickened his step and narrowed his eyes. Yes, it was a fire. He broke into a run. He heard Martha cry out, as if she thought he was leaving her, and he called over his shoulder: _We_re there!_ and heard the two children running after him. He drew level with the horse-chestnut tree, his heart pounding in his chest. The fire was burning merrily. There was the pile of firewood. There was the bloodstained patch of ground where Agnes had bled to death. There was the grave, a mound of freshly dug earth, under which she now lay. And on the grave was_nothing. Tom looked around frantically, his mind in a turmoil. There was no sign of the baby. Tears of frustration came to Tom_s eyes. Even the half a cloak the baby had been wrapped in had disappeared. Yet the grave was undisturbed_there were no animal tracks in the soft, earth, no blood, no marks to indicate that the baby had been dragged away. . Tom began to feel as if he could not see very clearly. It became difficult to think straight. He knew now that he had done a dreadful thing in leaving the baby while it was still alive. When he knew it was dead he would be able to rest. But it might still be alive somewhere_somewhere nearby. He decided to circle around and look. Alfred said: _Where are you going?_ _We must search for the baby,_ he said, without looking back. He walked around the edge of the little clearing, looking under the bushes, still feeling slightly dizzy and faint. He saw nothing, not even a clue to the direction in which the wolf might have taken the baby. He was now sure it was a wolf. The creature_s lair might be nearby. _We must circle wider,_ he said to the children. He led them around again, moving farther from the fire, pushing through bushes and undergrowth. He was beginning to feel confused, but he managed to keep his mind focused on one thing, the imperative need to find the baby. He felt no grief now, just a fierce, raging determination, and in the back of his mind the appalling knowledge that all of this was his fault. He blundered through the forest, raking the ground with his eyes, stopping every few paces to listen for the unmistakable wailing monotone of a newborn baby; but when he and the children were quiet, the forest was silent. He lost track of time. His ever-increasing circles brought him back to the road at intervals for a while, but later he realized that it seemed a long time since they crossed it. At one point he wondered why he had not come across the verderer_s cottage. It occurred to him vaguely that he had lost his way, and might no longer be circling around the grave, but instead wandering through the forest more or less at random; but it did not really matter, so long as he kept searching. _Father,_ Alfred said. Tom looked at him, irritated by the interruption of his concentration. Alfred was carrying Martha, who appeared to be fast asleep on his back. Tom said: _What?_ _Can we rest?_ Alfred said. Tom hesitated. He did not want to stop, but Alfred looked about to collapse. _All right,_ he said reluctantly. _But not for long._ They were on a slope. There might be a stream at its foot. He was thirsty. He took Martha from Alfred and picked his way down the slope, cradling her in his arms. As he expected, he found a small clear stream, with ice at its edges. He put Martha down on the bank. She did not wake. He and Alfred knelt and scooped up the cold water in their hands. Alfred lay down next to Martha and closed his eyes. Tom looked around him. He was in a clearing carpeted with fallen leaves. The trees all around were low, stout oaks, their bare branches intertwining overhead. Tom crossed the clearing, thinking of looking for the baby behind the trees, but when he reached the other side his legs went weak and he was obliged to sit down abruptly. It was full daylight now, but misty, and it seemed no warmer than midnight. He was shivering uncontrollably. He realized he had been walking around wearing only his undertunic. He wondered what had happened to his cloak, but he could not remember. Either the mist thickened, or something strange happened to his vision, for he could not see the children on the far side of the clearing any longer. He wanted to get up and go to them but there was something wrong with his legs. After a while a weak sun broke through the cloud, and soon after that the angel came. She walked across the clearing from the east, dressed in a long winter cloak of blanched wool, almost white. He watched her approach without surprise or curiosity. He was beyond wonder or fear. He looked at her with the dull, vacant, emotionless gaze he had bestowed upon the massive trunks of the surrounding oaks. Her oval face was framed with rich dark hair, and her cloak hid her feet, so that she might have been gliding over the dead leaves. She stopped right in front of him, and her pale gold eyes seemed to see into his soul and understand his pain. She looked familiar, as if he might have seen a picture of this very angel in some church he had attended recently. Then she opened her cloak. Underneath it she was naked. She had the body of an earthly woman in her middle twenties, with pale skin and pink nipples. Tom had always assumed angels_ bodies to be immaculately hairless, but this one was not. She went down on one knee in front of him where he sat cross-legged by the oak tree. Leaning toward him, she kissed his mouth. He was too stunned by previous shocks to feel surprise even at this. She pushed him back gently until he was lying flat, then she opened her cloak and lay on top of him with her naked body pressed against him. He felt the heat of her body through his undertunic. After a few moments he stopped shivering. She took his bearded face in her hands and kissed him again, thirstily, like someone drinking cool water after a long, dry day. After a moment she ran her hands down his arms to his wrists, then lifted his hands to her breasts. He grasped them reflexively. They were soft and yielding, and her nipples swelled under his fingertips. In the back of his mind he conceived the idea that he was dead. Heaven was not supposed to be like this, he knew, but he hardly cared. His critical faculties had been disengaged for hours. What little capacity he had left for rational thought vanished, and he let his body take charge. He strained upward, pressing his body against hers, drawing strength from her heat and her nakedness. She opened her mouth and thrust her tongue inside his mouth, seeking his tongue, and he responded eagerly. She pulled away from him briefly, raising her body off his. He watched, dazed, as she pushed up the skirt of his undertunic until it was around his waist, then she straddled his hips. She looked into his eyes, with her all-seeing gaze, as she lowered herself. There was a tantalizing moment when their bodies touched, and she hesitated; then he felt himself enter her. The sensation was so thrilling he felt he might burst with pleasure. She moved her hips, smiling at him and kissing his face. After a while she closed her eyes and started to pant, and he understood that she was losing control. He watched in delighted fascination. She uttered small rhythmic cries, moving faster and faster, and her ecstasy moved Tom to the depths of his wounded soul, so that he did not know whether he wanted to weep with despair or shout for joy or laugh hysterically; and then an explosion of delight shook them both like trees in a gale, again and again; until at last their passion subsided, and she slumped on his chest. They lay like that for a long time. The heat of her body warmed him right through. He drifted into a kind of light sleep. It seemed short, and more like daydreaming than real sleep; but when he opened his eyes his mind was clear. He looked at the beautiful young woman lying on top of him, and he knew immediately that she was not an angel, but the outlaw woman Ellen, whom he had met in this part of the forest on the day the pig was stolen. She felt him stir and opened her eyes, regarding him with an expression of mingled affection and anxiety. He suddenly thought of his children. He rolled Ellen off him gently and sat up. Alfred and Martha lay on the leaves, wrapped in their cloaks, with the sun shining on their sleeping faces. Then the events of the night came back to him in a rush of horror, and he remembered that Agnes was dead, and the baby_his son!_was gone; and he buried his face in his hands. He heard Ellen give a strange two-tone whistle. He looked up. A figure emerged from the forest, and Tom recognized her peculiar-looking son, Jack, with his dead-white skin and orange hair and bright bird-like blue eyes. Tom got up, rearranging his clothing, and Ellen stood and closed up her cloak. The boy was carrying something, and he brought it across and showed it to Tom. Tom recognized it. It was the half of his cloak in which he had wrapped the baby before placing it on Agnes_s grave. Uncomprehending, Tom stared at the boy and then at Ellen. She took his hands in hers, looked into his eyes, and said: _Your baby is alive._ Tom did not dare to believe her. It would be too wonderful, too happy for this world. _He can_t be,_ he said. _He is._ Tom began to hope. _Truly?_ he said. _Truly?_ She nodded. _Truly. I will take you to him._ Tom realized she meant it. A flood of relief and happiness washed over him. He fell to his knees on the ground; and then, at last, like the opening of a floodgate, he wept. V _Jack heard the baby cry,_ Ellen explained. _He was on his way to the river, to a place north of here where you can kill ducks with stones, if you_re a good shot. He didn_t know what to do, so he ran home to fetch me. But while we were on our way back to the spot, we saw a priest, riding a palfrey, carrying the baby._ Tom said: _I must find him__ _Don_t panic,_ Ellen said. _I know where he is. He took a side turning, quite near the grave; a path that leads to a little monastery hidden in the forest._ _The baby needs milk._ _The monks have goats._ _Thank God,_ Tom said fervently. _I_ll take you there, after you_ve had something to eat,_ she said. _But ._ She frowned. _Don_t tell your children about the monastery just yet._ Tom glanced across the clearing. Alfred and Martha slept on. Jack had drifted across to where they lay, and was staring at them in his vacant way. _Why not?_ _I_m not sure . I just think it might be wiser to wait._ _But your son will tell them._ She shook her head. _He saw the priest, but I don_t think he_s worked out the rest of it._ _All right._ Tom felt solemn. _If I_d known you were nearby, you might have saved my Agnes._ Ellen shook her head, and her dark hair danced around her face. _There_s nothing to be done, except keep the woman warm, and you did that. When a woman is bleeding inside, either it stops, and she gets better, or it doesn_t, and she dies._ Tears came to Tom_s eyes, and Ellen said: _I_m sorry._ Tom nodded dumbly. She said: _But the living must take care of the living, and you need hot food and a new coat._ She stood up. They woke the children. Tom told them that the baby was all right, that Ellen and Jack had seen a priest carrying him; and that Tom and Ellen were going to go looking for the priest later, but first Ellen was going to give them food. They accepted the startling news calmly: nothing could shock them now. Tom was no less bemused. Life was moving too fast for him to take in all the changes. It was like being on the back of a runaway horse: everything happened so quickly that there was no time to react to events, and all he could do was hold on tightly and try to stay sane. Agnes had given birth in the cold night air; the baby had been born miraculously healthy; everything had seemed all right and then Agnes, Tom_s soul mate, had bled to death in his arms, and he had lost his mind; the baby had been doomed, and left for dead; then they had tried to find it, and failed; then Ellen had appeared, and Tom had taken her for an angel, and they had made love as if in a dream; and she had said the baby was alive and well. Would life ever slow down enough to let Tom think about these awful events? They set off. Tom had always assumed that outlaws lived in squalor, but there was nothing squalid about Ellen, and Tom wondered what her home would be like. She led them on a zigzag course through the forest. There was no path, but she never hesitated as she stepped over streams, ducked low branches, and negotiated a frozen swamp, a mass of shrubbery, and the enormous trunk of a fallen oak. Finally she walked toward a bramble thicket and seemed to vanish into it. Following her, Tom saw that, contrary to his first impression, there was a narrow passageway winding through the thicket. He followed her. The brambles closed over his head and he found himself in semi-darkness. He stood still, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Gradually he realized he was in a cave. The air was warm. Ahead of him a fire glowed on a hearth of flat stones. The smoke was going straight upward: there was a natural chimney somewhere. On either side of him were animal skins, a wolf and a deer, fixed to the walls of the cave with wooden pegs. A haunch of smoked venison hung from the roof above him. He saw a homemade box full of crab apples, rushlights on ledges, and dry reeds on the floor. At the edge of the fire was a cooking pot, just as there would be in any ordinary household; and, judging by the smell, it contained the same kind of pottage as everyone else ate_vegetables boiled with meat bones and herbs. Tom was astonished. This was a home more comfortable than those of many serfs. Beyond the fire were two mattresses made of deerskin and stuffed, presumably, with reeds; and neatly rolled on top of each was a wolf fur. Ellen and Jack would sleep there, with the fire between them and the mouth of the cave. At the back of the cave was a formidable collection of weapons and hunting gear: a bow, some arrows, nets, rabbit traps, several wicked daggers, a carefully made wooden lance with its tip sharpened and fire-hardened; and, among all those primitive implements, three books. Tom was flabbergasted: he had never seen books in a house, let alone a cave; books belonged in church. The boy Jack picked up a wooden bowl, dipped it into the pot, and began to drink. Alfred and Martha watched him hungrily. Ellen gave Tom an apologetic look and said: _Jack, when there are strangers, we give them food first, before we eat._ The boy stared at her, mystified. _Why?_ _Because it_s a gentle thing to do. Give the children some pottage._ Jack was not convinced, but he obeyed his mother. Ellen gave some soup to Tom. He sat down on the floor and drank. It tasted meaty, and warmed him from the inside. Ellen put a fur around his shoulders. When he had drunk the juice he fished out the vegetables and meat with his fingers. It was weeks since he had tasted meat. This seemed to be duck_shot by Jack with stones and a sling, presumably. They ate until the pot was empty; then Alfred and Martha lay down on the rushes. Before they fell asleep, Tom told them that he and Ellen were going to look for the priest, and Ellen said Jack would stay here and take care of them until the parents returned. The two exhausted children nodded assent and closed their eyes. Tom and Ellen went out, Tom wearing the fur Ellen had given him draped over his shoulders to keep him warm. As soon as they were out of the bramble thicket, Ellen stopped, turned to Tom, pulled his head down to hers, and kissed his mouth. _I love you,_ she said fiercely. _I loved you from the moment I saw you. I always wanted a man who would be strong and gentle, and I thought there was no such thing. Then I saw you. I wanted you. But I could see you loved your wife. My God, how I envied her. I_m sorry she died, truly sorry, because I can see the grief in your eyes, and all the tears waiting to be shed, and it breaks my heart to see you so sad. But now that she_s gone, I want you for myself._ Tom did not know what to say. It was hard to believe that a woman so beautiful and resourceful and self-sufficient should have fallen in love with him at first sight; harder still to know how he felt. He was devastated by the loss of Agnes_Ellen was right to say that he had unshed tears, he could feel their weight behind his eyes. But he was also consumed by desire for Ellen, with her wonderful hot body and her golden eyes and her shameless lust. He felt dreadfully guilty about wanting Ellen so badly when Agnes was only hours in her grave. He stared back at her, and once again her eyes saw into his heart, and she said: _Don_t say anything. You don_t have to feel ashamed. I know you loved her. She knew it too, I could tell. You still love her_of course you do. You always will._ She had told him not to say anything, and in any case he had nothing to say. He was struck dumb by this extraordinary woman. She seemed to make everything all right. Somehow, the fact that she appeared to know everything that was in his heart made him feel better, as if now he had nothing more to be ashamed of. He sighed. _That_s better,_ she said. She took him by the hand, and they walked away from the cave together. They pushed through the virgin forest for almost a mile, then came to the road. As they walked along, Tom kept looking at Ellen_s face beside him. He recalled that when he first met her he had thought she fell short of being beautiful, because of her strange eyes. Now he could not understand how he had ever felt that. He now saw those astonishing eyes as the perfect expression of her unique self. Now she seemed absolutely perfect, and the only puzzle was why she was with him. They walked for three or four miles. Tom was still tired but the pottage had given him strength; and although he trusted Ellen completely he was still anxious to see the baby with his own eyes. When they could see the monastery through the trees, Ellen said: _Let_s not reveal ourselves to the monks at first._ Tom was mystified. _Why?_ _You abandoned a baby. It counts as murder. Let_s spy on the place from the woods and see what kind of people they are._ Tom did not think he was going to be in trouble, given the circumstances, but there was no harm in being cautious, so he nodded assent and followed Ellen into the undergrowth. A few moments later they were lying at the edge of the clearing. It was a very small monastery. Tom had built monasteries, and he guessed this one must be what they called a cell, a branch or outpost of a large priory or abbey. There were only two stone buildings, the chapel and the dormitory. The rest were made of wood and wattle-and-daub: a kitchen, stables, a barn, and a range of smaller agricultural buildings. The place had a clean, well-kept look, and gave the impression that the monks did as much farming as praying. There were not many people about. _Most of the monks have gone to work,_ Ellen said. _They_re building a barn at the top of the hill._ She glanced up at the sky. _They_ll be back around noon for their dinner._ Tom scanned the clearing. Over to their right, partly concealed by a small herd of tethered goats, he saw two figures. _Look,_ he said, pointing. As they studied the two figures he saw something else. _The man sitting down is a priest, and ._ _And he_s holding something in his lap._ _Let_s go closer._ They moved through the woods, skirting the clearing, and emerged at a point close to the goats. Tom_s heart was in his mouth as he looked at the priest sitting on a stool. He had a baby in his lap, and the baby was Tom_s. There was a lump in Tom_s throat. It was true, it really was; the baby had lived. He felt like throwing his arms around the priest and hugging him. There was a young monk with the priest. Looking closely, Tom saw that the youngster was dipping a rag into a pail of milk_goat_s milk, presumably_and then putting the sodden corner of the rag into the baby_s mouth. That was ingenious. _Well,_ Tom said apprehensively, _I_d better go and own up to what I_ve done, and take my son back._ Ellen looked at him levelly. _Think for a moment, Tom,_ she said. _What are you going to do then?_ He was not sure what she was getting at. _Ask the monks for milk,_ he said. _They can see I_m poor. They give alms._ _And then?_ _Well, I hope they_ll give me enough milk to keep him alive for three days, until I get to Winchester._ _And after that?_ she persisted. _How will you feed the baby then?_ _Well, I_ll look for work__ _You_ve been looking for work since last time I met you, at the end of the summer,_ she said. She seemed to be a little angry with Tom, he could not see why. _You_ve no money and no tools,_ she went on. _What will happen to the baby if there_s no work in Winchester?_ _I don_t know,_ Tom said. He felt hurt that she should speak so harshly to him. _What am I to do_live like you? I can_t shoot ducks with a stone_I_m a mason._ _You could leave the baby here,_ she said. Tom was thunderstruck. _Leave him?_ he said. _When I_ve only just found him?_ _You_d be sure he_d be warm and fed. You wouldn_t have to carry him while you look for work. And when you do find something, you can come back here and fetch the child._ Tom_s instinct rebelled against the whole idea. _I don_t know,_ he said. _What would the monks think of my abandoning the baby?_ _They already know you did that,_ she said impatiently. _It_s just a question of whether you confess now or later._ _Do monks know how to take care of babies?_ _They know as much about it as you do._ _I doubt it._ _Well, they_ve worked out how to feed a newborn who can only suck._ Tom began to see that she was right. Much as he longed to hold the tiny bundle in his arms, he could not deny that the monks were better able to care for the baby than he was. He had no food and no money and no sure prospect of getting work. _Leave him again,_ he said sadly. _I suppose I must._ He stayed where he was, gazing across the clearing at the small figure in the priest_s lap. It had dark hair, like Agnes_s hair. Tom had made up his mind, but now he could not tear himself away. Then a large group of monks appeared on the far side of the clearing, fifteen or twenty of them, carrying axes and saws, and suddenly there was a danger that Tom and Ellen would be seen. They ducked back into the undergrowth. Now Tom could no longer see the baby. They crept away through the bushes. When they came to the road they broke into a run. They ran for three or four hundred yards, holding hands; then Tom was exhausted. They were at a safe distance, however. They stepped off the road and found a place to rest out of sight. They sat down on a grassy bank lit by dappled sunlight. Tom looked at Ellen, lying on her back, breathing hard, her cheeks flushed, her lips smiling up at him. Her robe had fallen open at the neck, revealing her throat and the swell of one breast. Suddenly he felt a compulsion to look at her nakedness again, and the desire was much stronger than the guilt he felt. He leaned over to kiss her, then hesitated, because she was so lovely to look at. When he spoke, it was unpremeditated, and his own words took him by surprise. _Ellen,_ he said, _will you be my wife?_ Chapter 2 I PETER OF WAREHAM was a born troublemaker. He had been transferred to the little cell in the forest from the mother house at Kingsbridge, and it was easy to see why the prior of Kingsbridge had been anxious to get rid of him. A tall, rangy man in his late twenties, he had a powerful intellect and a scornful manner, and he lived in a permanent state of righteous indignation. When he first arrived and started working in the fields he had set a furious pace and then accused others of laziness. However, to his surprise most of the monks had been able to keep up with him, and eventually the younger ones had tired him out. He had then looked for a vice other than idleness, and his second choice had been gluttony. He began by eating only half his bread and none of his meat. He drank water from streams during the day, diluted his beer, and refused wine. He reprimanded a healthy young monk who asked for more porridge, and reduced to tears a boy who playfully drank another_s wine. The monks showed little evidence of gluttony, Prior Philip thought as they walked back from the hilltop to the monastery at dinnertime. The youngsters were lean and muscular, and the older men were sunburned and wiry. Not one of them had the pale, soft roundness that came from having plenty to eat and nothing to do. Philip thought all monks should be thin. Fat monks provoked poor men to envy and hatred of God_s servants. Characteristically, Peter had disguised his accusation as a confession. _I have been guilty of the sin of gluttony,_ he had said this morning, when they were taking a break, sitting on the trees they had felled, eating rye bread and drinking beer. _I have disobeyed the Rule of Saint Benedict, which says that monks must not eat meat nor drink wine._ He looked around at the others, his head high and his dark eyes blazing with pride, and he let his gaze rest finally on Philip. _And every one here is guilty of the same sin,_ he finished. It was very sad that Peter should be like this, Philip thought. The man was dedicated to God_s work, and he had a fine mind and great strength of purpose. But he seemed to have a compelling need to feel special and be noticed by others all the time; and this drove him to create scenes. He was a real nuisance, but Philip loved him as much as any of them, for Philip could see, behind the arrogance and the scorn, a troubled soul who did not really believe that anyone could possibly care for him. Philip had said: _This gives us an opportunity to recall what Saint Benedict said on this topic. Do you remember his exact words, Peter?_ _He says: _All but the sick should abstain from meat,_ and then: _Wine is not the drink of monks at all,_ _ Peter replied. Philip nodded. As he had suspected, Peter did not know the rule as well as Philip. _Almost correct, Peter,_ he said. _The saint did not refer to meat, but to _the flesh of four-footed animals,_ and even so he made exceptions, not just for the sick, but also for the weak. What did he mean by _the weak_? Here in our little community, we take the view that men who have been weakened by strenuous work in the fields may need to eat beef now and then to keep up their strength._ Peter had listened to this in sullen silence, his brow creased with disapproval, his heavy black eyebrows drawn together over the bridge of his large curved nose, his face a mask of suppressed defiance. Philip had gone on: _On the subject of wine, the saint says: _We read that wine is not the drink of monks at all._ The use of the words we read implies that he does not wholly endorse the proscription. He also says that a pint of wine a day should be sufficient for anyone. And he warns us not to drink to satiety. It is clear, is it not, that he does not expect monks to abstain totally?_ _But he says that frugality should be maintained in everything,_ Peter said. _And you say we are not frugal here?_ Philip asked him. _I do,_ he said in a ringing voice. _ _Let those to whom God gives the gift of abstinence know that they shall receive their proper reward,_ _ Philip quoted. _If you feel that the food here is too generous, you may eat less. But remember what else the saint says. He quotes the first epistle to the Corinthians, in which Saint Paul says: _Every one has his proper gift from God, one thus, another thus._ And then the saint tells us: _For this reason, the amount of other people_s food cannot be determined without some misgiving._ Please remember that, Peter, as you fast and meditate upon the sin of gluttony._ They had gone back to work then, Peter wearing a martyred air. He was not going to be silenced so easily, Philip realized. Of the monks_ three vows, of poverty, chastity and obedience, the one that gave Peter trouble was obedience. There were ways of dealing with disobedient monks, of course: solitary confinement, bread and water, flogging, and ultimately excommunication and expulsion from the house. Philip did not normally hesitate to use such punishments, especially when a monk seemed to be testing Philip_s authority. Consequently he was thought of as a tough disciplinarian. But in fact he hated meting out punishment_it brought disharmony into the monastic brotherhood and made everyone unhappy. Anyway, in the case of Peter, punishment would do no good at all_indeed, it would serve to make the man more prideful and unforgiving. Philip had to find a way to control Peter and soften him at the same time. It would not be easy. But then, he thought, if everything were easy, men would not need God_s guidance. They reached the clearing in the forest where the monastery was. As they walked across the open space, Philip saw Brother John waving energetically at them from the goat pen. He was called Johnny Eightpence, and he was a little soft in the head. Philip wondered what he was excited about now. With Johnny was a man in priest_s robes. He looked vaguely familiar, and Philip hurried toward him. The priest was a short, compact man in his middle twenties, with close-cropped black hair and bright blue eyes that twinkled with alert intelligence. Looking at him was for Philip like looking in a mirror. The priest, he realized with a shock, was his younger brother Francis. And Francis was holding a newborn baby. Philip did not know which was more surprising, Francis or the baby. The monks all crowded around. Francis stood up and handed the baby to Johnny; then Philip embraced him. _What are you doing here?_ Philip said delightedly. _And why have you got a baby?_ _I_ll tell you later why I_m here,_ Francis said. _As for the baby, I found him in the woods, all alone, lying near a blazing fire._ Francis stopped. _And ._ Philip prompted him. Francis shrugged. _I can_t tell you any more than that, because that_s all I know. I was hoping to get here last night, but I didn_t quite make it, so I spent the night in a verderer_s hut. I left at dawn this morning, and I was riding along the road when I heard a baby cry. A moment later I saw it. I picked it up and brought it here. That_s the whole tale._ Philip looked incredulously at the tiny bundle in Johnny_s arms. He reached out a hand tentatively, and lifted a corner of the blanket. He saw a wrinkled pink face, an open toothless mouth and a little bald head_a miniature of an aging monk. He unwrapped the bundle a little more and saw tiny fragile shoulders, waving arms, and tight-clenched fists. He looked closely at the stump of the umbilical cord which hung from the baby_s navel. It was faintly disgusting. Was this natural? Philip wondered. It looked like a wound that was healing well, and would be best left alone. He pulled the blanket down farther still. _A boy,_ he said with an embarrassed cough, and covered it up again. One of the novices giggled. Philip suddenly felt helpless. What on earth am I to do with it? he thought. Feed it? The baby cried, and the sound tugged at his heartstrings like a well-loved hymn. _It_s hungry,_ he said, and he thought in the back of his mind: How did I know that? One of the monks said: _We can_t feed it._ Philip was about to say: Why not? Then he realized why not: there were no women for miles. However, Johnny had already solved that problem, Philip now saw. Johnny sat down on the stool with the baby in his lap. He had in his hand a towel with one corner twisted into a spiral. He dipped the corner into a pail of milk, let the towel soak up some of the liquid, then put the cloth to the baby_s mouth. The baby opened its mouth, sucked on the towel, and swallowed. Philip felt like cheering. _That was clever, Johnny,_ he said in surprise. Johnny grinned. _I_ve done it before, when a nanny goat died before her kid was weaned,_ he said proudly. All the monks watched intently as Johnny repeated the simple action of dipping the towel and letting the baby suck. As he touched the towel to the baby_s lips, some of the monks would open their own mouths, Philip saw with amusement. It was a slow way of feeding the baby, but no doubt feeding babies was a slow business anyway. Peter of Wareham, who had succumbed to the general fascination with the baby and consequently had forgotten to be critical of anything for some time, now recovered himself and said: _It would be less trouble to find the child_s mother._ Francis said: _I doubt it. The mother is probably unmarried, and was overtaken in moral transgression. I imagine she is young. Perhaps she managed to keep her pregnancy secret; then, when her time was near, she came out into the forest, and built a fire; gave birth alone, then abandoned the child to the wolves and went back to wherever she came from. She will make sure she can_t be found._ The baby had fallen asleep. On impulse, Philip took it from Johnny. He held it to his chest, supporting it with his hand, and rocked it. _The poor thing,_ he said. _The poor, poor thing._ The urge to protect and care for the baby suffused him like a flush. He noticed that the monks were staring at him, astonished at his sudden display of tenderness. They had never seen him caress anyone, of course, for physical affection was strictly prohibited in the monastery. Obviously they had thought him incapable of it. Well, he thought, they know the truth now. Peter of Wareham spoke again. _We_ll have to take the child to Winchester, then, and try to find a foster mother._ If this had been said by anyone else, Philip might not have been so quick to contradict it; but Peter said it, and Philip spoke hastily, and his life was never quite the same afterward. _We_re not going to give him to a foster mother,_ he said decisively. _This child is a gift from God._ He looked around at them all. The monks gazed back at him wide-eyed, hanging on his words. _We_ll take care of him ourselves,_ he went on. _We_ll feed him, and teach him, and bring him up in the ways of God. Then, when he is a man, he will become a monk himself, and that way we will give him back to God._ There was a stunned silence. Then Peter said angrily: _It_s impossible! A baby cannot be brought up by monks!_ Philip caught his brother_s eye, and they both smiled, sharing memories. When Philip spoke again, his voice was heavy with the weight of the past. _Impossible? No, Peter. On the contrary, I_m quite sure it can be done, and so is my brother. We know from experience. Don_t we, Francis?_ On the day Philip now thought of as the last day, his father had come home wounded. Philip had been the first to see him, riding up the twisting hillside path to the little hamlet in mountainous North Wales. Six-year-old Philip ran out to meet him, as usual; but this time Da did not swing his little boy up onto the horse in front of him. He was riding slowly, slumped in the saddle, holding the reins in his right hand, his left arm hanging limp. His face was pale and his clothes were splashed with blood. Philip was at once intrigued and scared, for he had never seen his father appear weak. Da said: _Fetch your mother._ When they got him into the house, Mam cut off his shirt. Philip was horrified: the sight of his thrifty mother willfully ruining good clothes was more shocking than the blood. _Don_t worry about me now,_ Da had said, but his normal bark had weakened to a murmur and nobody took any notice_another shocking event, for normally his word was law. _Leave me, and get everyone up to the monastery,_ he said. _The damned English will be here soon._ There was a monastery with a church at the top of the hill, but Philip could not understand why they should go there when it was not even Sunday. Mam said: _If you lose any more blood you won_t be able to go anywhere, ever._ But Auntie Gwen said she would raise the alarm, and went out. Years later, when he thought about the events that followed, Philip realized that at this moment everyone had forgotten about him and his four-year-old brother, Francis, and nobody thought to take them to the safety of the monastery. People were thinking of their own children, and assumed that Philip and Francis were all right because they were with their parents; but Da was bleeding to death and Mam was trying to save him, and so it happened that the English caught all four of them. Nothing in Philip_s short experience of life had prepared him for the appearance of the two men-at-arms as they kicked the door open and burst into the one-room house. In other circumstances they would not have been frightening, for they were the kind of big, clumsy adolescents who mocked old women and abused Jews and got into fistfights outside alehouses at midnight. But now (Philip understood years later, when at last he was able to think objectively about that day) the two young men were possessed by bloodlust. They had been in a battle, they had heard men scream in agony and seen friends fall down dead, and they had been scared, literally, out of their wits. But they had won the battle and survived, and now they were in hot pursuit of their enemies, and nothing could satisfy them but more blood, more screaming, more wounds and more death; and all this was written on their twisted faces as they came into the room like foxes into a henhouse. They moved very fast, but Philip could remember each step forever afterward, as if it had all taken a very long time. Both men wore light armor, just a short vest of chain mail and a leather helmet with iron bands. Both had their swords drawn. One was ugly, with a big bent nose and a squint, and his teeth were bared in a dreadful ape-like grin. The other had a luxuriant beard that was matted with blood_someone else_s, presumably, for he did not seem to be wounded. Both men scanned the room without breaking stride. Their merciless, calculating eyes dismissed Philip and Francis, noted Mam, and focused on Da. They were almost upon him before anyone else could move. Mam had been bending over him, tying a bandage to his left arm. She straightened up and turned on the intruders, her eyes blazing with hopeless courage. Da sprang to his feet and got his good hand to the hilt of his sword. Philip let out a cry of terror. The ugly man raised his sword above his head and brought it down hilt-first on Mam_s head, then pushed her aside without stabbing her, probably because he did not want to risk getting his blade stuck in a body while Da was still alive. Philip figured that out years later: at the time he just ran to his mother, not understanding that she could no longer protect him. Mam stumbled, stunned, and the ugly man went by her, raising his sword again. Philip clung to his mother_s skirts as she staggered, dazed; but he could not help looking at his father. Da got his weapon clear of its scabbard and raised it defensively. The ugly man struck downward and the two blades clashed, ringing like a bell. Like all small boys, Philip thought his father was invincible; and this was the moment when he learned the truth. Da was weak from loss of blood. When the two swords met, his dropped; and the attacker lifted his blade just a little and struck again quickly. The blow landed where the big muscles of Da_s neck grew out of his broad shoulders. Philip began to scream when he saw the sharp blade slice into his father_s body. The ugly man drew his arm back for a stab, and thrust the point of the sword into Da_s belly. Paralyzed with terror, Philip looked up at his mother. His eyes met hers just as the other man, the bearded one, struck her down. She fell to the floor beside Philip with blood streaming from a head wound. The bearded man changed his grip on his sword, reversing it so that it pointed downward and holding it in both hands; then he raised it high, almost like a man about to stab himself, and brought it down hard. There was a sickening crack of breaking bone as the point entered Mam_s chest. The blade went in deep; so deep (Philip noted, even then when he was consumed by blind hysterical fear) that it must have come through her back and stuck in the ground, fixing her to the floor like a nail. Philip looked wildly for his father again. He saw him slump forward over the ugly man_s sword and spew out a huge gout of blood. His assailant stepped back and jerked at the sword, trying to disengage it. Da stumbled another step and stayed with him. The ugly man gave a cry of rage and twisted his sword in Da_s belly. This time it came out, Da fell to the floor and his hands went to his open abdomen, as if to cover the gaping wound. Philip had always imagined people_s insides to be more or less solid, and he was mystified and nauseated by the ugly tubes and organs that were falling out of his father. The attacker lifted his sword high, point downward, over Da_s body, as the bearded man had over Mam, and delivered the final blow in the same way. The two Englishmen looked at one another, and quite unexpectedly Philip read relief on their faces. Together, they turned and looked at him and Francis. One nodded and the other shrugged, and Philip realized they were going to kill him and his brother by cutting them open with those sharp swords, and when he realized how much it was going to hurt, the terror boiled up inside him until he felt as if his head would burst. The man with blood in his beard stooped swiftly and picked Francis up by one ankle. He held him upside-down in the air while the little boy screamed for his mother, not understanding that she was dead. The ugly man pulled his sword out of Da_s body and brought his arm back ready to stab Francis through the heart. The blow was never struck. A commanding voice rang out, and the two men froze. The screaming stopped, and Philip realized it was he who had been doing it. He looked at the door and saw Abbot Peter, standing there in his homespun robe, with the wrath of God in his eyes, holding a wooden cross in his hand like a sword. When Philip relived that day in his nightmares, and woke up sweating and screaming in the dark, he would always be able to calm himself, and eventually relax into sleep again, by bringing to mind that final tableau, and the way the screaming and the wounds had been swept aside by the unarmed man with the cross. Abbot Peter spoke again. Philip did not understand the language he used_it was English, of course_but the meaning was clear, for the two men looked ashamed, and the bearded one put Francis down quite gently. Still talking, the monk strode confidently into the room. The men-at-arms backed off a step, almost as if they were afraid of him_they with their swords and armor, and him with a wool robe and a cross! He turned his back on them, a gesture of contempt, and crouched to speak to Philip. His voice was matter-of-fact. _What_s your name?_ _Philip._ _Ah, yes, I remember. And your brother_s?_ _Francis._ _That_s right._ The abbot looked at the bleeding bodies on the earth floor. _That_s your Mam, isn_t it?_ _Yes,_ said Philip, and he felt panic come over him as he pointed to the mutilated body of his father and said: _And that_s my Da!_ _I know,_ the monk said soothingly. _You mustn_t scream anymore, you must answer my questions. Do you understand that they_re dead?_ _I don_t know,_ Philip said miserably. He knew what it meant when animals died, but how could that happen to Mam and Da? Abbot Peter said: _It_s like going to sleep._ _But their eyes are open!_ Philip yelled. _Hush. We_d better close them, then._ _Yes,_ Philip said. He felt as if that would resolve something. Abbot Peter stood up, took Philip and Francis by the hand, and led them across the floor to their father_s body. He knelt down and took Philip_s right hand in his. _I_ll show you how,_ he said. He moved Philip_s hand over his father_s face, but suddenly Philip was afraid to touch his father, because the body looked so strange, pale and slack and hideously wounded, and he snatched his hand away. Then he looked anxiously at Abbot Peter_a man no one disobeyed_but the abbot was not angry with him. _Come,_ he said gently, and took Philip_s hand again. This time Philip did not resist. Holding Philip_s forefinger between his own thumb and finger, the monk made the boy touch his father_s eyelid and bring it down until it covered the dreadfully staring eyeball. Then the abbot released Philip_s hand and said: _Close his other eye._ Unaided now, Philip reached out, touched his father_s eyelid, and closed it. Then he felt better. Abbot Peter said: _Shall we close your Mam_s eyes, too?_ _Yes._ They knelt beside her body. The abbot wiped blood off her face with his sleeve. Philip said: _What about Francis?_ _Perhaps he should help, too,_ said the abbot. _Do what I did, Francis,_ Philip said to his brother. _Close Mam_s eyes, like I closed Da_s, so she can sleep._ _Are they asleep?_ said Francis. _No, but it_s like sleeping,_ Philip said authoritatively, _so she should have her eyes shut._ _All right, then,_ said Francis, and without hesitation he reached out a chubby hand and carefully closed his mother_s eyes. Then the abbot picked them both up, one in each arm, and without another glance at the men-at-arms he carried them out of the house and all the way up the steep hillside path to the sanctuary of the monastery. He fed them in the monastery kitchen; then, so that they should not be left idle with their thoughts, he told them to help the cook prepare the monks_ supper. On the following day he took them to see their parents_ bodies, washed and dressed and with the wounds cleaned and repaired and partly concealed, lying in coffins side by side in the nave of the church. There too were several of their relatives, for not all the villagers had made it to the monastery in time to escape the invading army. Abbot Peter took them to the funeral, and made sure they watched the two coffins being lowered into the single grave. When Philip cried, Francis cried too. Someone hushed them, but Abbot Peter said: _Let them weep._ Only after that, when they had taken to their hearts the knowledge that their parents had really gone and were never coming back, did he at last talk about the future. Among their relatives there was not a single family left entire: in every case, either the father or the mother had been killed. There were no relations to look after the boys. That left two options. They could be given, or even sold, to a farmer who would use them as slave labor until they grew old enough and big enough to run away. Or they could be given to God. It was not unknown for small boys to enter a monastery. The usual age was about eleven, and the lower limit around five, for the monks were not set up to cope with babies. Sometimes the boys were orphans, sometimes they had lost just one parent, and sometimes their parents had too many sons. Normally the family would give the monastery a substantial gift along with the child_a farm, a church or even a whole village. In cases of direst poverty the gift might be waived. However, Philip_s father had left a modest hill farm, so the boys were not a charity case. Abbot Peter proposed that the monastery should take over the boys and the farm; the surviving relatives agreed; and the deal was sanctioned by the Prince of Gwynedd, Gruffyd ap Cynan, who was temporarily humbled but not permanently deposed by the invading army of King Henry, which had killed Philip_s father. The abbot knew a lot about grief, but for all his wisdom he was not prepared for what happened to Philip. After a year or so, when grief had seemed to pass, and the two boys had settled into the life of the monastery, Philip became possessed by a kind of implacable rage. Conditions in the hilltop community were not bad enough to justify his anger: there was food, and clothing, and a fire in the dormitory in winter, and even a little love and affection; and the strict discipline and tedious rituals at least made for order and stability; but Philip began to act as if he had been unjustly imprisoned. He disobeyed orders, subverted the authority of monastic officers at every opportunity, stole food, broke eggs, loosed horses, mocked the infirm and insulted his elders. The one offense he stopped short of was sacrilege, and because of that the abbot forgave him everything else. And in the end he simply grew out of it. One Christmas he looked back over the past twelve months and realized that he had not spent a single night in the punishment cell all year. There was no single reason for his return to normality. The fact that he got interested in his lessons probably helped. The mathematical theory of music fascinated him, and even the way Latin verbs were conjugated had a certain satisfying logic. He had been put to work helping the cellarer, the monk who had to provide all the supplies the monastery needed, from sandals to seed; and that, too, compelled his interest. He developed a hero-worshiping attachment for Brother John, a handsome, muscular young monk who seemed the epitome of learning, holiness, wisdom and kindness. Either in imitation of John, or from his own inclination, or both, he began to find some kind of solace in the daily round of prayers and services. And so he slipped into adolescence with the organization of the monastery on his mind and the holy harmonies in his ears. In their studies both Philip and Francis were far ahead of any boys of their own age that they knew, but they assumed this was because they lived in the monastery and had been educated more intensively. At this stage they did not realize they were exceptional. Even when they began to do much of the teaching in the little school, and take their own lessons from the abbot himself instead of the pedantic old novice master, they thought they were ahead only because they had got such an early start. When he looked back on his youth, it seemed to Philip that there had been a brief Golden Age, a year or perhaps less, between the end of his rebellion and the onslaught of fleshly lust. Then came the agonizing era of impure thoughts, nocturnal emissions, dreadfully embarrassing sessions with his confessor (who was the abbot), endless penances and mortification of the flesh with scourges. Lust never completely ceased to afflict him, but it did eventually become less important, so that it bothered him only now and again, on the rare occasions when his mind and body were idle; like an old injury that still hurts in wet weather. Francis had fought this battle a little later, and although he had not confided to Philip on the subject, Philip had the impression that Francis had struggled less bravely against evil desires, and had taken his defeats rather too cheerfully. However, the main thing was that they had both made their peace with the passions that were the greatest enemy of the monastic life. As Philip worked with the cellarer, so Francis worked for the prior, Abbot Peter_s deputy. When the cellarer died, Philip was twenty-one, and despite his youth he took over the job. And when Francis reached the age of twenty-one the abbot proposed to create a new post for him, that of sub-prior. But this proposal precipitated a crisis. Francis begged to be excused the responsibility, and while he was at it he asked to be released from the monastery. He wanted to be ordained as a priest and serve God in the world outside. Philip was astonished and horrified. The idea that one of them might leave the monastery had never occurred to him, and now it was as disconcerting as if he had learned that he was the heir to the throne. But, after much hand-wringing and heart-searching, it happened, and Francis went off into the world, before long to become chaplain to the earl of Gloucester. Before this happened Philip had seen his future very simply, when he had thought of it at all: he would be a monk, live a humble and obedient life, and in his old age, perhaps, become abbot, and strive to live up to the example set by Peter. Now he wondered whether God intended some other destiny for him. He remembered the parable of the talents: God expected his servants to increase his kingdom, not merely to conserve it. With some trepidation he shared these thoughts with Abbot Peter, fully aware that he risked a reprimand for being puffed up with pride. To his surprise, the abbot said: _I_ve been wondering how long it would take you to realize this. Of course you_re destined for something else. Born within sight of a monastery, orphaned at six, raised by monks, made cellarer at twenty-one_God does not take that much trouble over the formation of a man who is going to spend his life in a small monastery on a bleak hilltop in a remote mountain principality. There isn_t enough scope for you here. You must leave this place._ Philip was stunned by this, but before leaving the abbot a question occurred to him, and he blurted it out. _If this monastery is so unimportant, why did God put you here?_ Abbot Peter smiled. _Perhaps to take care of you._ Later that year the abbot went to Canterbury to pay his respects to the archbishop, and when he came back he said to Philip: _I have given you to the prior of Kingsbridge._ Philip was daunted. Kingsbridge Priory was one of the biggest and most important monasteries in the land. It was a cathedral priory: its church was a cathedral church, the seat of a bishop, and the bishop was technically the abbot of the monastery, although in practice it was ruled by its prior. _Prior James is an old friend,_ Abbot Peter told Philip. _In the last few years he has become rather dispirited, I don_t know why. Anyway, Kingsbridge needs young blood. In particular, James is having trouble with one of his cells, a little place in the forest, and he desperately needs a completely reliable man to take over the cell and set it back on the path of godliness._ _So I_m to be prior of the cell?_ Philip said in surprise. The abbot nodded. _And if we_re right in thinking that God has much work for you to do, we can expect that he will help you to resolve whatever problems this cell has._ _And if we_re wrong?_ _You can always come back here and be my cellarer. But we_re not wrong, my son; you_ll see._ His farewells were tearful. He had spent seventeen years here, and the monks were his family, more real to him now than the parents who had been savagely taken from him. He would probably never see these monks again, and he was sad. Kingsbridge overawed him at first. The walled monastery was bigger than many villages; the cathedral church was a vast, gloomy cavern; the prior_s house a small palace. But once he got used to its sheer size he saw the signs of that dispiritedness that Abbot Peter had noted in his old friend the prior. The church was visibly in need of major repairs; the prayers were gabbled hastily; the rules of silence were breached constantly; and there were too many servants, more servants than monks. Philip quickly got over being awed and became angry. He wanted to take Prior James by the throat and shake him and say: _How dare you do this? How dare you give hasty prayers to God? How dare you allow novices to play at dice and monks to keep pet dogs? How dare you live in a palace, surrounded by servants, while God_s church is falling into ruin?_ He said nothing of the kind, of course. He had a brief, formal interview with Prior James, a tall, thin, stooped man who seemed to have the weight of the world_s troubles on his rounded shoulders. Then he talked to the sub-prior, Remigius. At the start of the conversation Philip hinted that he thought the priory might be overdue for some changes, expecting that its deputy leader would agree wholeheartedly; but Remigius looked down his nose at Philip, as if to say Who do you think you are?, and changed the subject. Remigius said that the cell of St-John-in-the-Forest had been established three years earlier with some land and property, and it should have been self-supporting by now, but in fact it was still dependent on supplies from the mother house. There were other problems: a deacon who happened to spend the night there had criticized the conduct of services; travelers alleged they had been robbed by monks in that area; there were rumors of impurity. . The fact that Remigius was unable or unwilling to give exact details was just another sign of the indolent way the whole organization was being run. Philip left trembling with rage. A monastery was supposed to glorify God. If it failed to do that, it was nothing. Kingsbridge Priory was worse than nothing. It shamed God by its slothfulness. But Philip could do nothing about it. The best he could hope for was to reform one of Kingsbridge_s cells. On the two-day ride to the cell in the forest he mulled over the scanty information he had been given and prayerfully considered his approach. He would do well to tread softly at first, he decided. Normally a prior was elected by the monks; but in the case of a cell, which was just an outpost of the main monastery, the prior of the mother house might simply choose. So Philip had not been asked to submit himself for election, and that meant he could not count on the goodwill of the monks. He would have to feel his way cautiously. He needed to learn more about the problems afflicting the place before he could decide how best to solve them. He had to win the respect and trust of the monks, especially those who were older than he and who might resent his position. Then, when his information was complete and his leadership secure, he would take firm action. It did not work out that way. The light was fading on the second day when he reined in his pony on the edge of a clearing and inspected his new home. There was only one stone building, the chapel, in those days. (Philip had built the new stone dormitory the following year.) The other, wooden buildings looked ramshackle. Philip disapproved: everything made by monks was supposed to last, and that meant pigsties as well as cathedrals. As he looked around he noted further evidence of the kind of laxity that had shocked him at Kingsbridge: there were no fences, the hay was spilling out of the barn door, and there was a dunghill next to the fishpond. He felt his face go tense with suppressed reproof, and he said to himself: Softly, softly. At first he saw no one. This was as it should be, for it was time for vespers and most of the monks would be in the chapel. He touched the pony_s flank with his whip and crossed the clearing to a hut that looked like a stable. A youth with straw in his hair and a vacant look on his face popped his head over the door and stared at Philip in surprise. _What_s your name?_ Philip said, and then, after a moment_s shyness, he added: _My son._ _They call me Johnny Eightpence,_ the youngster said. Philip dismounted and handed him the reins. _Well, Johnny Eightpence, you can unsaddle my horse._ _Yes, Father._ He looped the reins over a rail and moved away. _Where are you going?_ Philip said sharply. _To tell the brothers that a stranger is here._ _You must practice obedience, Johnny. Unsaddle my horse. I will tell the brothers that I_m here._ _Yes, Father._ Looking frightened, Johnny bent to his task. Philip looked around. In the middle of the clearing was a long building like a great hall. Near it was a small round building with smoke rising from a hole in its roof. That would be the kitchen. He decided to see what was for supper. In strict monasteries only one meal was served each day, dinner at noon; but this was evidently not a strict establishment, and there would be a light supper after vespers, some bread with cheese or salt fish, or perhaps a bowl of barley broth made with herbs. However, as he approached the kitchen he smelled the unmistakable, mouth-watering aroma of roasting meat. He stopped, frowning, then went in. Two monks and a boy were sitting around the central hearth. As Philip watched, one of the monks passed a jug to the other, who drank from it. The boy was turning a spit, and on the spit was a small pig. They looked up in surprise as Philip stepped into the light. Without speaking, he took the jug from the monk and sniffed it. Then he said: _Why are you drinking wine?_ _Because it makes my heart glad, stranger,_ said the monk. _Have some_drink deep._ Clearly they had not been warned to expect their new prior. Equally clearly they had no fear of the consequences if a passing monk should report their behavior to Kingsbridge. Philip had an urge to break the wine jug over the man_s head, but he took a deep breath and spoke mildly. _Poor men_s children go hungry to provide meat and drink for us,_ he said. _This is done for the glory of God, not to make our hearts glad. No more wine for you tonight._ He turned away, carrying the jug. As he walked out he heard the monk say: _Who do you think you are?_ He made no reply. They would find out soon enough. He left the jug on the ground outside the kitchen and walked across the clearing toward the chapel, clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to control his anger. Don_t be precipitate, he told himself. Be cautious. Take your time. He paused for a moment in the little porch of the chapel, calming himself, then softly pushed the big oak door and went silently in. A dozen or so monks and a few novices stood with their backs to him in ragged rows. Facing them was the sacrist, reading from an open book. He spoke the service rapidly and the monks muttered the responses perfunctorily. Three candles of uneven length sputtered on a dirty altarcloth. At the back, two young monks were holding a conversation, ignoring the service and discussing something in an animated fashion. As Philip drew level, one said something funny, and the other laughed aloud, drowning the gabbled words of the sacrist. This was the last straw for Philip, and all thought of treading softly disappeared from his mind. He opened his mouth and shouted at the top of his voice: _BE SILENT!_ The laughter was cut off. The sacrist stopped reading. The chapel fell silent, and the monks turned around and stared at Philip. He reached out to the monk who had laughed and grabbed him by the ear. He was about Philip_s age, and taller, but he was too surprised to resist as Philip pulled his head down. _On your knees!_ Philip yelled. For a moment it looked as if the monk might try to struggle free; but he knew he was in the wrong, and, as Philip had anticipated, his resistance was sapped by his guilty conscience; and when Philip tugged harder on his ear the young man knelt. _All of you,_ Philip commanded. _On your knees!_ They had all taken vows of obedience, and the scandalous indiscipline under which they had evidently been living recently was not enough to erase the habit of years. Half the monks and all the novices knelt. _You_ve all broken your vows,_ Philip said, letting his contempt show. _You_re blasphemers, every one._ He looked around, meeting their eyes. _Your repentance begins now,_ he said finally. Slowly they knelt, one by one, until only the sacrist was left standing. He was a fleshy, sleepy-eyed man about twenty years older than Philip. Philip approached him, stepping around the kneeling monks. _Give me the book,_ he said. The sacrist stared defiantly back and said nothing. Philip reached out and lightly grasped the big volume. The sacrist tightened his grip. Philip hesitated. He had spent two days deciding to be cautious and move slowly, yet here he was, with the dust of the road still on his feet, risking everything in a stand-up confrontation with a man he knew nothing about. _Give me the book, and get down on your knees,_ he repeated. There was the hint of a sneer on the sacrist_s face. _Who are you?_ he said. Philip hesitated again. It was obvious that he was a monk, from his robes and his haircut; and they all must have guessed, from his behavior, that he was in a position of authority; but it was not yet clear whether his rank placed him over the sacrist. All he had to say was I am your new prior, but he did not want to. Suddenly it seemed very important that he should prevail by sheer weight of moral authority. The sacrist sensed his uncertainty and took advantage of it. _Tell us all, please,_ he said with mock courtesy. _Who is it that commands us to kneel in his presence?_ All hesitation left Philip in a rush, and he thought: God is with me, so what am I afraid of? He took a deep breath, and his words came out in a roar that echoed from the paved floor to the stone-vaulted ceiling. _It is God who commands you to kneel in his presence!_ he thundered. The sacrist looked a fraction less confident. Philip seized his chance and snatched the book. The sacrist had lost all authority now, and at last, reluctantly, he knelt. Hiding his relief, Philip looked around at them all and said: _I am your new prior._ He made them remain kneeling while he read the service. It took a long time, because he made them repeat the responses again and again until they could speak them in perfect unison. Then he led them in silence out of the chapel and across the clearing to the refectory. He sent the roast pork back to the kitchen and ordered bread and weak beer, and he nominated a monk to read aloud while they ate. As soon as they had finished he led them, still in silence, to the dormitory. He ordered the prior_s bedding brought in from the separate prior_s house: he would sleep in the same room as the monks. It was the simplest and most effective way to prevent sins of impurity. He did not sleep at all the first night, but sat up with a candle, praying silently, until it was midnight and time to wake the monks for matins. He went through that service quickly, to let them know he was not completely merciless. They went back to bed, but Philip did not sleep. He went out at dawn, before they woke, and looked around, thinking about the day ahead. One of the fields had recently been reclaimed from the forest, and right in the middle of it was the huge stump of what must have been a massive oak tree. That gave him an idea. After the service of prime, and breakfast, he took them all out into the field with ropes and axes, and they spent the morning uprooting the enormous stump, half of them heaving on the ropes while the other half attacked the roots with axes, all saying _He-eeeave_ together. When the stump finally came up, Philip gave them all beer, bread, and a slice of the pork he had denied them at supper. That was not the end of the problems, but it was the beginning of solutions. From the start he refused to ask the mother house for anything but grain for bread and candles for the chapel. The knowledge that they would get no meat other than what they raised or trapped themselves turned the monks into meticulous livestock husbandmen and bird-snarers; and whereas they had previously looked upon the services as a way of escaping work, they now were glad when Philip cut down the hours spent in chapel so that they could have more time in the fields. After two years they were self-sufficient, and after another two they were supplying Kingsbridge Priory with meat, game, and a cheese made from goat_s milk which became a coveted delicacy. The cell prospered, the services were irreproachable, and the brothers were healthy and happy. Philip would have been content_but the mother house, Kingsbridge Priory, was going from bad to worse. It should have been one of the leading religious centers in the kingdom, bustling with activity, its library visited by foreign scholars, its prior consulted by barons, its shrines attracting pilgrims from all over the country, its hospitality renowned by the nobility, its charity famous among the poor. But the church was crumbling, half the monastic buildings were empty, and the priory was in debt to moneylenders. Philip went to Kingsbridge at least once a year, and each time he came back seething with anger at the way in which wealth, which had been given by devout worshipers and increased by dedicated monks, was being dissipated carelessly like the inheritance of the prodigal son. Part of the problem was the location of the priory. Kingsbridge was a small village on a back road that led nowhere. Since the time of the first King William_who had been called the Conqueror, or the Bastard, depending on who was speaking_most cathedrals had been transferred to large towns; but Kingsbridge had escaped this shake-up. However, that was not an insuperable problem, in Philip_s view: a busy monastery with a cathedral church should be a town in itself. The real trouble was the lethargy of old Prior James. With a limp hand on the tiller, the ship was blown about at hazard and went nowhere. And, to Philip_s bitter regret, Kingsbridge Priory would continue to decline while Prior James was still alive. They wrapped the baby in clean linen and laid him in a large breadbasket for a cradle. With his tiny belly full of goat_s milk he fell asleep. Philip put Johnny Eightpence in charge of him, for despite being somewhat half-witted, Johnny had a gentle touch with creatures that were small and frail. Philip was agog to know what had brought Francis to the monastery. He dropped hints during dinner, but Francis did not respond, and Philip had to suppress his curiosity. After dinner it was study hour. They had no proper cloisters here, but the monks could sit in the porch of the chapel and read, or walk up and down the clearing. They were allowed to go into the kitchen from time to time to warm themselves by the fire, as was the custom. Philip and Francis walked around the edge of the clearing, side by side, as they had often walked in the cloisters at the monastery in Wales; and Francis began to speak. _King Henry has always treated the Church as if it were a subordinate part of his kingdom,_ he began. _He has issued orders to bishops, imposed taxes, and prevented the direct exercise of papal authority._ _I know,_ Philip said. _So what?_ _King Henry is dead._ Philip stopped in his tracks. He had not expected that. Francis went on: _He died at his hunting lodge at Lyons-la-For?t, in Normandy, after a meal of lampreys, which he loved, although they always disagreed with him._ _When?_ _Today is the first day of the year, so it was a month ago exactly._ Philip was quite shocked. Henry had been king since before Philip was born. He had never lived through the death of a king, but he knew it meant trouble, and possibly war. _What happens now?_ he said anxiously. They resumed walking. Francis said: _The problem is that the king_s heir was killed at sea, many years ago_you may remember it._ _I do._ Philip had been twelve years old. It was the first event of national importance to penetrate his boyish consciousness, and it had made him aware of the world outside the monastery. The king_s son had died in the wreck of a vessel called the White Ship, just off Cherbourg. Abbot Peter, who told young Philip all this, had been worried that war and anarchy would follow the death of the heir; but in the event, King Henry kept control, and life went on undisturbed for Philip and Francis. _The king had many other children, of course,_ Francis went on. _At least twenty of them, including my own lord, Earl Robert of Gloucester; but as you know, they are all bastards. Despite his rampant fecundity he managed to father only one other legitimate child_and that was a girl, Maud. A bastard can_t inherit the throne, but a woman is almost as bad._ _Didn_t King Henry nominate an heir?_ Philip said. _Yes, he chose Maud. She has a son, also called Henry. It was the old king_s dearest wish that his grandson should inherit the throne. But the boy is not yet three years old. So the king made the barons swear fealty to Maud._ Philip was puzzled. _If the king made Maud his heir, and the barons have already sworn loyalty to her . what_s the problem?_ _Court life is never that simple,_ Francis said. _Maud is married to Geoffrey of Anjou. Anjou and Normandy have been rivals for generations. Our Norman overlords hate the Angevins. Frankly, it was very optimistic of the old king to expect that a crowd of Anglo-Norman barons would hand over England and Normandy to an Angevin, oath or no oath._ Philip was somewhat bemused by his younger brother_s knowing and disrespectful attitude to the most important men in the land. _How do you know all this?_ _The barons gathered at Le Neubourg to decide what to do. Needless to say, my own lord, Earl Robert, was there; and I went with him to write his letters._ Philip looked quizzically at his brother, thinking how different Francis_s life must be from his own. Then he remembered something. _Earl Robert is the eldest son of the old king, isn_t he?_ _Yes, and he is very ambitious; but he accepts the general view, that bastards have to conquer their kingdoms, not inherit them._ _Who else is there?_ _King Henry had three nephews, the sons of his sister. The eldest is Theobald of Blois; then there is Stephen, much loved by the dead king and endowed by him with vast estates here in England; and the baby of the family, Henry, whom you know as the bishop of Winchester. The barons favored the eldest, Theobald, according to a tradition which you probably think perfectly reasonable._ Francis looked at Philip and grinned. _Perfectly reasonable,_ Philip said with a smile. _So Theobald is our new king?_ Francis shook his head. _He thought he was, but we younger sons have a way of pushing ourselves to the fore._ They reached the farthest corner of the clearing and turned. _While Theobald was graciously accepting the homage of the barons, Stephen crossed the Channel to England and dashed to Winchester, and with the help of baby brother Henry, the bishop, he seized the castle there and_most important of all_the royal treasury._ Philip was about to say: So Stephen is our new ruler. But he bit his tongue: he had said that about Maud and Theobald and had been wrong both times. Francis went on: _Stephen needed only one more thing to make his victory secure: the support of the Church. For until he could be crowned at Westminster by the archbishop he would not really be king._ _But surely that was easy,_ Philip said. _His brother Henry is one of the most important priests in the land_bishop of Winchester, abbot of Glastonbury, as rich as Solomon and almost as powerful as the archbishop of Canterbury. And if Bishop Henry wasn_t intending to support him, why had he helped him take Winchester?_ Francis nodded. _I must say that Bishop Henry_s operations throughout this crisis have been brilliant. You see, he wasn_t helping Stephen out of brotherly love._ _Then what was his motivation?_ _A few minutes ago I reminded you of how the late King Henry had treated the Church as if it were just another part of his kingdom. Bishop Henry wants to ensure that our new king, whoever he may be, will treat the Church better. So before he would guarantee support, Henry made Stephen swear a solemn oath to preserve the rights and privileges of the Church._ Philip was impressed. Stephen_s relationship with the Church had been defined, right at the start of his reign, on the Church_s terms. But perhaps even more important was the precedent. The Church had to crown kings but until now it had not had the right to lay down conditions. The time might come when no king could come to power without first striking a deal with the Church. _This could mean a lot to us,_ Philip said. _Stephen may break his promises, of course,_ Francis said. _But all the same you_re right. He will never be able to be quite as ruthless with the Church as Henry was. But there_s another danger. Two of the barons were bitterly aggrieved by what Stephen did. One was Bartholomew, the earl of Shiring._ _I know of him. Shiring is only a day_s journey from here. Bartholomew is said to be a devout man._ _Perhaps he is. All I know is that he is a self-righteous and stiff-necked baron who will not renege on his loyalty oath to Maud, despite the promise of a pardon._ _And the other discontented baron?_ _My own Robert of Gloucester. I told you he was ambitious. His soul is tormented by the thought that if only he were legitimate, he would be king. He wants to put his half sister on the throne, believing that she will rely so heavily on her brother for guidance and advice that he will be king in everything but name._ _Is he going to do anything about it?_ _I_m afraid so._ Francis lowered his voice, although there was no one near. _Robert and Bartholomew, together with Maud and her husband, are going to foment a rebellion. They plan to unseat Stephen and put Maud on the throne._ Philip stopped walking. _Which would undo everything the bishop of Winchester has achieved!_ He grasped his brother_s arm. _But, Francis ._ _I know what you_re thinking._ Suddenly all Francis_s cockiness left him, and he looked anxious and frightened. _If Earl Robert knew I_d even told you, he would hang me. He trusts me completely. But my ultimate loyalty is to the Church_it has to be._ _But what can you do?_ _I thought of seeking an audience with the new king, and telling him everything. Of course, the two rebel earls would deny it all, and I would be hanged for treachery; but the rebellion would be frustrated and I would go to heaven._ Philip shook his head. _We_re taught that it_s vain to seek martyrdom._ _And I think God has more work for me to do here on earth. I_m in a position of trust in the household of a great baron, and if I stay there and advance myself by hard work, there_s a lot I could do to promote the rights of the Church and the rule of law._ _Is there any other way . ?_ Francis looked Philip in the eye. _That_s why I_m here._ Philip felt a shiver of fear. Francis was going to ask him to get involved, of course; there was no other reason for him to reveal this dreadful secret. Francis went on: _I can_t betray the rebellion, but you can._ Philip said: _Jesus Christ and all the saints, preserve me._ _If the plot is uncovered here, in the south, no suspicion will fall on the Gloucester household. Nobody knows I_m here; nobody even knows you_re my brother. You could think of some plausible explanation of how you came by the information: you might have seen men-at-arms assembling, or it might be that someone in Earl Bartholomew_s household revealed the plot while confessing his sins to a priest you know._ Philip pulled his cloak closer around him, shivering. It seemed to have turned colder suddenly. This was dangerous, very dangerous. They were talking about meddling in royal politics, which regularly killed experienced practitioners. Outsiders such as Philip were foolish to get involved. But there was so much at stake. Philip could not stand by and see a rebellion against a king chosen by the Church, not when he had a chance to prevent it. And dangerous though it would be for Philip, it would be suicidal for Francis to expose the plot. Philip said: _What_s the rebels_ plan?_ _Earl Bartholomew is on his way back to Shiring right now. From there he will send out messages to his followers all over the south of England. Earl Robert will arrive in Gloucester a day or two later and muster his forces in the West Country. Finally Brian Fitzcount, who holds Wallingford Castle, will close its gates; and the whole of southwest England will belong to the rebels without a fight._ _Then it_s almost too late!_ Philip said. _Not really. We_ve got about a week. But you_ll have to act quickly._ Philip realized with a sinking feeling that he had more or less made up his mind to do it. _I don_t know whom to tell,_ he said. _One would normally go to the earl, but in this case he_s the culprit. The sheriff is probably on his side. We have to think of someone who is certain to be on our side._ _The prior of Kingsbridge?_ _My prior is old and tired. The likelihood is that he would do nothing._ _There must be someone._ _There_s the bishop._ Philip had never actually spoken to the bishop of Kingsbridge, but he would be sure to receive Philip and listen to him; he would automatically side with Stephen because Stephen was the Church_s choice; and he was powerful enough to do something about it. Francis said: _Where does the bishop live?_ _It_s a day and a half from here._ _You_d better leave today._ _Yes,_ Philip said with a heavy heart. Francis looked remorseful. _I wish it were someone else._ _So do I,_ Philip said feelingly. _So do I._ Philip called the monks into the little chapel and told them that the king had died. _We must pray for a peaceful succession and a new king who will love the Church more than the late Henry,_ he said. But he did not tell them that the key to a peaceful succession had somehow fallen into his own hands. Instead he said: _There is other news that obliges me to visit our mother house at Kingsbridge. I must leave right away._ The sub-prior would read the services and the cellarer would run the farm, but neither of them was a match for Peter of Wareham, and Philip was afraid that if he stayed away long Peter might make so much trouble that there would be no monastery left when he returned. He had not been able to think up a way of controlling Peter without bruising his self-esteem, and now there was no time left, so he had to do the best he could. _Earlier today we talked about gluttony,_ he said after a pause. _Brother Peter deserves our thanks for reminding us that when God blesses our farm and gives us wealth, it is not so that we should become fat and comfortable, but for his greater glory. It is part of our holy duty to share our riches with the poor. Until now we have neglected this duty, mainly because here in the forest we don_t have anybody to share with. Brother Peter has reminded us that it_s our duty to go out and seek the poor, so that we may bring them relief._ The monks were surprised: they had imagined that the subject of gluttony had been closed. Peter himself was looking uncertain. He was pleased to be the center of attention again, but he was wary of what Philip might have up his sleeve_quite rightly. _I have decided,_ Philip went on, _that each week we will give to the poor one penny for every monk in our community. If this means we all have to eat a little less, we will rejoice in the prospect of our heavenly reward. More important, we must make sure that our pennies are well spent. When you give a poor man a penny to buy bread for his family, he may go straight to the alehouse and get drunk, then go home and beat his wife, who would therefore have been better off without your charity. Better to give him the bread; better still to give the bread to his children. Giving alms is a holy task that must be done with as much diligence as healing the sick or educating the young. For this reason, many monastic houses appoint an almoner, to be responsible for almsgiving. We will do the same._ Philip looked around. They were all alert and interested. Peter wore a gratified look, evidently having decided that this was a victory for him. No one had guessed what was coming. _The almoner_s job is hard work. He will have to walk to the nearest towns and villages, frequently to Winchester. There he will go among the meanest, dirtiest, ugliest and most vicious classes of people, for such are the poor. He must pray for them when they blaspheme, visit them when they_re sick, and forgive them when they try to cheat and rob him. He will need strength, humility and endless patience. He will miss the comfort of this community, for he will be away more than he is with us._ He looked around once again. Now they were all wary, for none of them wanted this job. He let his gaze rest on Peter of Wareham. Peter realized what was coming, and his face fell. _It was Peter who drew our attention to our shortcomings in this area,_ Philip said slowly, _so I have decided that it shall be Peter who has the honor of being our almoner._ He smiled. _You can begin today._ Peter_s face was as black as thunder. You_ll be away too much to cause trouble, Philip thought; and close contact with the vile, verminous poor of Winchester_s stinking alleyways will temper your scorn of soft living. However, Peter evidently saw this as a punishment, pure and simple, and he looked at Philip with an expression of such hatred that for a moment Philip quailed. He tore his gaze away and looked at the others. _After the death of a king there is always danger and uncertainty,_ he said. _Pray for me while I_m away._

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