Read in February 2009
Brother Cadfael is thrust into the heart of political intrigue via his herb garden. Or rather, an unlikely new addition to the herb garden – a lay servant of youthful boyish appearance. Cadfael soon realizes his new assistant’s secret, and agrees to lend aid as he is able.
It is the time of King Stephen’s war upon the Empress Maude, granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Lines are drawn and England is divided. Stephen, also a grandson of William, has laid siege to Shrewsbury, on his way to fight Robert of Gloucester.
Stephen takes Shrewsbury but fails to acquire the prize personages who had been within it’s walls – FitzAlan and Adeney. After a thorough search of the town, these two are missing and the remaining garrison leader, Hesdin, does not reveal their whereabouts, even under torture. Adam Courcelle, one of Stephen’s captains, suggests that mercy to the garrison would be seen as a sign of weakness, so Stephen orders the entire garrison, and Hesdin, hanged immediately. Stephen’s Flemish mercenaries carry out this grim duty.
Brother Cadfael beseeches the Abbott and the king to allow the monks of the abbey to retrieve the bodies, prepare them for burial and allow the townsfolk to claim the bodies of their kin. While laying out the bodies, Cadfael discovers there are ninety-five, instead of ninety-four, bodies. And the extra corpse is a young squire, not a seasoned soldier. He reports this discrepancy to King Stephen, who agrees to allow Brother Cadfael to investigate and bring about justice.
The rest of the tale involves Cadfael’s continuing investigation, discoveries and battle of wits with various players in and around Shrewsbury. A medieval murder mystery well worth the reading.