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A Catherine LeVendeur mystery
Catherine LeVendeur is a creature of twelfth-century France. Her life is a mirror of that time but she is a unique spirit, determined to make her way in the world and armed with a keen mind and a curiosity that often puts her in peril. Her life is both a reflection of the bonds placed upon a woman in her society and the ways in which a strong personality can triumph and succeed in spite of those strictures. ...
A Catherine LeVendeur mystery
Catherine LeVendeur is a creature of twelfth-century France. Her life is a mirror of that time but she is a unique spirit, determined to make her way in the world and armed with a keen mind and a curiosity that often puts her in peril. Her life is both a reflection of the bonds placed upon a woman in her society and the ways in which a strong personality can triumph and succeed in spite of those strictures. Catherine is fiercely loyal to both her faith and her family . . . and this loyalty is sometimes sorely tested because of a dreaded family secret. Raised a devout Catholic, she knows that if her family's Jewish roots are exposed, all she loves will be destroyed.
But how far will she go to protect that secret? When her dearest friend in the world, Astrolabe, the son of the fabled theologian Peter Abelard and Heloise, flees wrongful prosecution for the vicious murder of a young woman, Catherine's family takes him in to hide. But there are darker forces than murder at work here. Someone wishes to use Astrolabe to complete the destruction of his father's fame in the name of faith . . . and there are those who would see the destruction of the very order of Christian life.
And Catherine's family is caught right in the middle of the conflict. While she has experienced love and loss, her life is committed to preserving what peace she can for those she loves. How far will Catherine go to save her friend, and what will this sacrifice do to her family's future?
Heresy is the eighth title in Sharan Newman's critically acclaimed Catherine LeVendeur medieval mystery series. Sharan Newman has used extensive research to give us a fascinating panorama of twelfth-century France that is rich in historical detail, and she puts flesh to bone by creating portraits of people who are not so different from ourselves. Filled with fascinating details of medieval life and the intricate interplay between the Christian and Jewish cultures of the time, Heresy is a compelling mystery and a riveting historical rolled into one.
At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
Paris. Wednesday, 6 the ides February (February 10), 1148. Feast of Saint Scholastica, virgin and scholar.
Denarii salute mei, per vos ego regno,
Terrarum per vos impero principibus.
Quod probor et veneror, quod diligo atque frequento,
Gratia vestra facit que michi magna facit.
Money, come to me. Through you I rule;
Through you I command the rulers of the earth.
You whom I extol and revere, love and seek out,
Your esteem creates that which makes me great.
The black mud of the streets of Paris had become black ice. The few people insane enough to be out slipped and tripped as they made their way down the slick paths. The ice was doubly dangerous because of the hard chunks of the normal street detritus frozen into it: straw, excrement, rats half chewed by dogs, bits of broken crockery. The dung collectors couldn't be bothered to chisel out most of the leavings and were concentrating instead on the open spaces in front of the bishop's palace and the Grève, where the peddlers set up their stalls and would pay extra to have the ground cleared. So amidst the hard chunks there were also occasional steaming piles. The oaths of those who slid into these could be heard ringing through the crisp afternoon air. The beggars had left the streets and were huddled in the church porches, praying for soup and beer. Even thieves were scarce, having taken their business to the warmth of the taverns.
Catherine stepped carefully through all this in her high wooden sabots, mindful of the fact that she was once again pregnant and that her balance wasn't that good even in her normal state. The wind funneled down the narrow street, catching at her cloak. She pulled it around herself more tightly, her basket of dried fish and herbs tipping as she did so. She snatched at it to prevent everything falling and barely escaped falling herself.
It was the coldest winter in her memory. The weather of the past few years had been dismal, too cold in the summer and damp with many crops failing. Now famine was all around them and illness rampant as people weak with hunger found they had no strength to survive the winter agues. Added to everything else, the news from the king's expedition to the Holy Land was bad.
The army had left in the early summer of 1147, blessed by the pope and Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux. Swords and armor shining, banners waving, King Louis and Queen Eleanor had led an army of pilgrims to free the city of Edessa from the Moslem invaders. Along with them had gone half the lords of France, Burgundy, Champagne, Flanders and Lotharingia. They were supposed to have met up along the way with Conrad, emperor of the Germans, and his army. But almost from the first, things had gone awry. The Germans and French had argued with each other and among themselves. The emperor in Constantinople hadn't welcomed them as expected, and Christian towns had been pillaged on the route. One lord had even ordered the burning of a monastery in retaliation for the murder of one of his soldiers by local townspeople.
Then, last fall, there had been an eclipse of the sun. There were many who feared it was a sign that the expedition to the East was also to be eclipsed by the powerful Seljuk Turks. But the thing that angered those in France the most was the way King Louis kept sending back for more money. Hadn't he taxed them enough to finance the journey? Didn't he know how bad things were in his own country? What business had an anointed king leaving his land in the first place?
Catherine worried about all these things as she made her way back to her home. It seemed to her that ever since this expedition had first been preached, life in France had worsened. She wasn't the only one who was starting to believe that God wasn't happy with the Christian King Louis or his people.
When she arrived at the gate of her house, Catherine felt a deep relief. However dreadful things were outside, she knew that within there was love and warmth and peace.
Peace, of course, could be defined according to many criteria. As she entered, Catherine deducted "tranquility" from the definition. The great hall where they ate, worked, played and fought was currently being used for all these activities. Her six-year-old son, James, was chasing the dog around the room. Or perhaps, Catherine reconsidered, the dog was chasing him. Dragon might have been slowed down by the weight of four-year-old Edana. She was clinging to the dog's back with her arms around his neck. From her happy squeals and his barks, neither appeared to be in danger.
Catherine's husband, Edgar, and her cousin, Solomon, were seated at the table near the fire. There was a pitcher of spiced beer on the table that was rocking perilously as the men alternately pounded the table to emphasize the points in their argument. Neither seemed aware of the rowdiness of the children or the noise.
"I'm home!" Catherine called.
"Why should the emperor help the king?" Solomon shouted at Edgar. "Those desfaë 'pilgrims' have ravaged his towns and destroyed his truce with the Arabs."
"He had no business making truces with infidels!" Edgar shouted back.
"You'd rather Roger of Sicily ruled all of Europe?" Solomon countered. "Manuel's empire has Saracens on three sides and a Norman adventurer on the fourth. He can hardly fight Roger if he has to spend all his time wet-nursing idiotic defenders of Christendom! Even your pope agrees with me on that one."
That was undeniably true. Pope Eugenius had been counting on the help of the German king, Conrad, to defend Italy against Roger of Sicily, whom he privately considered a far more serious threat than the Turks. He was not pleased that Conrad was still in the Holy Land.
"So why are you arguing against Roger?" Edgar shouted. "He's the most lenient of all the Christian kings where Jews are concerned. You should be glad no one's helping the pope."
Solomon paused, realizing that he had just argued himself onto the wrong side. It wasn't easy being a Jew in a Christian household, or a Christian country.
Catherine took advantage of the slight lull to announce herself again.
"Edgar, are you sure we want one more person in the house to add to this cacophony?"
Edana fell off the dog; James tripped over her. Both children started howling. Before Catherine could get to them, Edgar and Solomon jumped up and came to her, each stopping on the way to pick up a child.
"You're frozen, Catherine," Edgar chided. "I knew I shouldn't have let you go out today. Come over here and get warm. Do you want some beer? I'll heat it again."
He let Edana slide down his leg and then pulled the poker from the fire. He had to set it on the edge of the hearth to wipe it off with a cloth before putting it in the pitcher, where it sizzled. No one offered to help him. Even the children knew better than to suggest there was anything Edgar couldn't do with only one hand. Neither of them could remember him with two, but Catherine still had nightmares about the moment when he had stepped between his father's sword and the man it was aimed at. The blade had slid through Edgar's wrist with barely a pause, leaving his left hand in a lake of blood on the floor.
Catherine shook the memory away and returned to the present.
"I needed to get out," she said. "The midwife said that I should keep busy as long as I can. And I wanted to stop by and see how Luca was doing. Her new baby isn't well."
"Catherine," Edgar said firmly, "I'm sure Luca is doing everything that can be done for her family. A baker always has bread, at least."
He exchanged a glance with Solomon over her head. They were both remembering Catherine's long convalescence after the winter death of her last child. Grief, along with Catherine's belief that some sin of hers must have been visited on the baby, had made it worse. The men were agreed that she mustn't be allowed to dwell on such things, particularly now, in the early months of the next pregnancy.
"Of course," Catherine said. "Luca takes excellent care of her children. And of our family, as well. She sent us some gastels made with dried apple and honey."
"Really?" Solomon began to search the basket for the package of cakes.
"Solomon!" Catherine laughed. "You're as bad as the children. Go on, there's enough for all of you. Now, did something start your argument, or were the two of you just bored?"
She looked up at Edgar, who tried to avoid her eyes.
"Nothing, really," he said. "Solomon feels that King Louis should never have left for the Holy Land."
"He has much company in that position," Catherine said. "I thought you shared it yourself."
Edgar shrugged. "It is a noble cause and he might be succeeding if it weren't for the wiles of the Greek emperor."
Catherine spoke before Solomon could restart the quarrel. "I don't know how many of the stories we've heard from those who've returned are true, but it does seem to me that the emperor could have been more welcoming to the armies. And yet, Roger of Sicily shouldn't have taken advantage of the situation to attack the emperor."
"I heard that Emperor Manuel was the one to declare war on Roger," Edgar insisted.
"It doesn't matter who's at fault, Edgar," Solomon said. "It still means that almost all of our connections to the Arab traders have been cut off. With Roger and Manuel at war and the Spanish rulers pushing the Arabs farther and farther south, everything that gets through to France is three times as dear. And Abbot Suger isn't going to pay more for his incense because we tell him that his precious King Louis has made it impossible to conduct trade."
Now that the subject was money, Catherine felt on more secure ground.
"There must be a way we can keep the cost down," she said. "Either that or trade things that the armies will need. Wool, for instance. Scotland isn't at war with anyone at the moment, are they? Our connections there are solid. Why don't we let the abbot have his incense at the agreed-on price and then prevail upon him to buy blankets from us to send to the king."
"That might help," Edgar said. "Except for the fact that the king is already heavily in debt to the Knights of the Temple. Even if we made the deal, it's likely that he wouldn't pay us. No, Solomon and I can think of only one way to ensure that this family doesn't starve. Spain is still our best source for the luxury goods that will bring the highest return. I think that he and I should leave soon so that we can be back before the fairs in May."
"Oh, Edgar, no." Catherine tried to keep the panic from her voice. "You promised to let Solomon do the traveling."
Edgar sat down on the bench next to her and put his arm around her.
"I know I did, carissima," he said. "But I also promised to take care of you and our children. If I must go to Spain to do so, I will. We can't afford to pay so many others to bring us goods. There's no profit."
There was silence. Even the children were watching Catherine carefully. She could feel the anger and fear rising.
"Will someone put that damn dog out!" she exploded. "How can anyone think with that barking? Martin!" she called their one serving boy. "Tie Dragon up in the yard. James, he's your dog. Go help Martin."
"Yes, Mama." James rushed to obey. The tone in his mother's voice subdued his usually contrary nature.
"Solomon," Catherine continued, "take Edana into the kitchen. Samonie can watch her. Then come back. We all need to discuss this."
"Of course, Catherine." Solomon was as wary as James. "I won't be a moment," he promised Edgar.
"Afraid to be alone with me?" Catherine asked her husband when the others had gone.
Edgar smiled. "Never, beloved," he said. "I stand ready to face the force of your wrath. I know I deserve it."
Catherine slumped on the bench, her elbows on the table.
"No, you don't," she muttered. "You just expect me to be unreasonable because of the baby."
He leaned over and turned her face to his.
"You know how much I hate to leave you," he said softly.
She would rather have stayed angry. Now there was no wall to stop her tears.
She was still mopping up her face with her sleeve when Solomon returned.
"If I could go on this trip alone, I would," he told Catherine. "But with the Spanish emperor's armies everywhere now, we need a Christian, especially an Englishman, in the party. Now that the English have arrived to help fight the Saracens in Spain, Alfonso looks very favorably on the English."
"I know that, Solomon," Catherine said. "It's childish of me to try to keep the both of you tied to my skirts as if you were no older than James. But there are so many signs of doom these days. Storms and sickness, war and revolt. Every day we hear of some new disaster."
Edgar wrapped his arms around her.
"Spring will come, my love," he said. "It always does. You're the one who usually tells me not to be melancholic. And this child will be born strong and healthy to create as much chaos in the house as his brother and sister."
"Am I superfluous here?" Solomon asked, after watching them a moment longer. "If so, I have work to do to prepare for our journey."
Catherine looked up from Edgar's chest.
"Go if you need to, Solomon," she said. "I'll have resigned myself to this by the time you return."
Muttering something about the likelihood of that, Solomon took his leave.
Edgar waited until he heard the door close, then returned to the discussion.
"Would you have me send Solomon alone at a time when Jews are so vulnerable?" he asked. "Too many of these pilgrims see no difference between a Saracen and a Jew. Killing the infidel is all they care about."
Catherine shook her head. "If only he would convert. What have we done wrong that he can't see that the Messiah has come? Aren't we good enough Christians?"
Edgar laughed. "I know that I'm not," he admitted. "I think we'll just have to keep trying to set a good example and hope that one day Our Lord will open Solomon's heart to the true faith."
"I suppose a miracle is all we can hope for," Catherine sighed. "I still feel so much guilt because our example couldn't keep my father from returning to Judaism after having been a Christian for forty years. I don't want to drive my cousin away. As long as Solomon remains our connection to the Jewish communities, there's still a shred of hope that Father will come back."
Edgar held her closer. "I don't know why Hubert left the faith. Some things are not meant for us to understand. But I do know that if we reject Solomon he'll never be converted. Nor, I might add, will we be able to continue in this profession. Solomon is too tactful to admit it, but I'm still his apprentice when it comes to trade."
"And the apprentice must accompany his master," Catherine sighed. "But be careful, carissime, and come back soon."
Edgar kissed her. "I promise I'll be home to hear our new baby's first cry. Will that satisfy you?
"No," Catherine said. "But it will have to do."
After spending all winter in the forest, Cecile thought it was odd that not one of Eon's followers had bothered to ask her where she had come from or why the men had been chasing her. Of course, everything about Eon and his people was odd. They seemed unaware of how bizarre they were, dressed in swaths of fine material they had stolen from local churches, pieced together with rough wool. They called themselves by strange names, like Prudence and Wisdom. She saw no sign of either in the rough encampment. But they were kind to her. They fed her and shared their shelter. Not one of the men, including Eon, ever suggested that she should repay this generosity with her body. In that, these mad peasants were more noble than the men she had fled. Cecile knew the horror that she would go back to if the count's men ever found her. This place was strange, but it was safe.
There was only one man among the group who seemed unaffected by the universal adoration of Eon. He called himself Peter. It was some weeks before she gathered up enough courage to ask him how he had become one of Eon's followers.
"The others are all people who have been damaged," she said sadly. "Beaten, starved, driven from their homes. Anyone who took them in would be treated as their savior. But you are no more like them than I am."
Peter smiled at her. "Eon knows why I'm here," he said. "He knows I have no desire to harm him or his people, so he tolerates me."
Cecile thought there would be many reasons for tolerating Peter. He was well built, tall and slender with a strong face and dark brown eyes. He had a hawklike nose that would have been overpowering in a lesser setting. If any man in this place could tempt her, it would be this one.
"Then you don't believe Eon is the son of God?" she asked.
His eyebrows rose. "Do you?"
Cecile shook her head. "I think he is a dear deluded man who has been good to me, but nothing more. His speech isn't that of a peasant. I don't understand why his family hasn't come to take him home where he can be cared for."
"They have," Peter explained. "But he refuses to leave, and his people threaten to kill anyone who tries to take him by force."
"But they have no weapons!"
"That's true, but Eon's cousins don't really want to hurt anyone," Peter said. "They asked me to stay until spring to make sure he doesn't do anything that would cause him to be taken by the authorities. His followers haven't raided a village or hermitage since I joined them. They trap their meat and rely on donations for the rest. I had hoped that if things got bad enough I could convince him to come with me back to the monastery his family placed him in. But his madness is too entrenched and the local villagers too kind. They have little enough for themselves and still they give him bread. I worry about him. I can't stay much longer and I don't know what will happen if he's left to his own devices."
"You're leaving?" Cecile looked up at him in hope. "When?"
"Within the week," he said. "My mother expects to hear from me soon, and there's been no way to get a message out all winter. I have family near Nantes who will send her word that I'm well."
Cecile put both hands on his arm. "Please," she begged, "take me with you! My family must believe me to be dead by now, or worse, still safe in the convent. No one knows what's happening there. I shouldn't have stayed here so long, but I was afraid."
From her wide eyes and shaking hands, Peter deduced that Cecile was still afraid. He had watched her since she arrived. Her gentleness with the inhabitants of Eon's village touched him. She was obviously a noblewoman, but he suspected that she had been abused as evilly as any of the serfs who had come to Eon for protection.
He had also suspected from her demeanor that she might have been in a convent. He had hoped it wasn't true. She said her prayers in Latin but he had told himself that many noblewomen knew Latin. There were other clues, but Peter had ignored them all. Being with Cecile had given him dreams he had never hoped to have.
With a vicious wrench, he brought himself back to her story.
"What is happening in your convent?" he asked. "I thought that most monastic houses were visited regularly by the bishops. Surely any serious irregularities would be noticed and corrected."
Cecile looked at him in amazement. "The bishop knows all about it, but he can do nothing, even if he wanted to. The count of Tréguier has thrown the canons out of the abbey of Sainte-Croix and installed his mistress and her friends there instead. They say that the former abbot, Moses, has left to take his complaint to the pope, but we had heard nothing from him when I escaped."
"Then the matter will soon be resolved," Peter told her soothingly. "Perhaps it has already. I still don't see why you were there. You are a professed nun, aren't you? Sainte-Croix is a male monastic house."
"Oh, yes," Cecile said. "I was at the convent of Saint-Georges-de-Rennes. That is until Count Henri decided to move some of us to his...his brothel. The abbess protested, of course, but we had no defense and so we had to go. At first we thought it was only to prove to anyone who asked that Sainte-Croix was really still a religious house. We assumed we would be allowed to continue our devotions as before. But then"--she swallowed--"we realized that his men had no respect for our vows or our persons."
"I see." Peter's dark eyes softened with pity. "And so you fled."
She nodded. "I have taken a heavenly bridegroom and will not submit willingly to any man. I told them that. They didn't care. I prayed and pleaded, but Christ didn't help me. I must have sinned greatly to be punished so."
"That's not true," Peter said sharply. "Augustine said so himself when he wrote to the consecrated virgins who had been raped by the Goths. He said that in the eyes of Heaven, they were still virgins for their souls were pure."
Cecile looked up at him, her mouth open as if breathing in hope.
"Saint Augustine said that?" she said. "He must have known." She sighed. "I'm glad that this wasn't brought upon me by my own actions, but I don't understand why God let it happen to me at all."
"Oh, Cecile," Peter said. "I'm neither a saint nor a philosopher. I have no idea. But He did help you to escape, after all."
That's so." Cecile was as comforted as she could be. "But not for long. I thought no one would notice I was gone until night. But someone betrayed me, and I hadn't gone half a league when I heard the men coming after me. They hunted me as if I were a wild beast or a criminal."
She shuddered. Peter laid his hand on her shoulder. He wanted to do more but understood now that there was no hope. He could only be her friend and protector.
"I promise to take you with me and see to it that you are restored to your convent or your family," he said. "If Saint-Georges isn't safe, I can take you to my mother. She is abbess at a convent in Champagne. It's time that you returned to the monastic life. I promise, we'll leave tomorrow."
In the county of Champagne, miles away from Brittany, Heloise, abbess of the convent of the Paraclete, had been awake since the end of the night office. The other nuns had gone back to their warm beds to rest until dawn, but Heloise used this time to work, pray, and sometimes to remember.
She was drafting replies to the many letters she received, but for some reason her mind kept drifting to her son, Astrolabe. It had always pained her that she had given him into the keeping of his father's family almost as soon as he had been born. But then it had seemed the only choice. Peter Abelard was a great philosopher and scholar. At the time Heloise had believed that it would have been wrong to burden him with a child. And she had loved Abelard too much to leave him. His sister, Denise, had raised Astrolabe with love and a stability that neither Heloise nor Abelard could give him. But Heloise loved him, too, even more now that Abelard was dead. Astrolabe was the tangible result not just of her sin but also of her passion. Of the errors she had committed in her youth, Astrolabe was not among them. She and Abelard had both agreed on that.
Astrolabe normally visited her a few times each year, but there had been no word from him since before the feast of the Nativity. His last letter had said he was going to visit a friend in northern Brittany who needed his help. What sort of help, Heloise wondered. And why was it taking so long to accomplish?
She tried to concentrate on the letter to Mahaut, Countess of Champagne, whose son had gone on the expedition with the king. The subject of the countess's concern was a conflict over a donation made by one of her vassals to another convent. The children of the original donor claimed that they hadn't been consulted before their land was given to the nuns, and they wanted it back. Heloise was used to being consulted in such matters, but worry over her own son made it hard for her to write naturally, even on a neutral matter, to Mahaut whose own child was in so much greater danger. Did Mahaut lie awake nights wondering if her eldest son would ever return?
She was deep into the letter when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. Startled, she turned quickly on her stool, nearly tipping it over.
"Mother! I'm so sorry!" The girl dropped her dark cloak, revealing that she was wearing only her shift and wooden sabots.
"Margaret!" Heloise hurried to wrap her again in the cloak. The room was cold. The abbess didn't give herself any more creature comfort than she allowed the other nuns. "What are you doing up at this hour? Does Sister Emily know you're not in your bed?"
"No, Mother. I didn't want to wake anyone." Margaret shivered, but Heloise felt that it was more from fear than the cold. "I had a horrible dream! I tried to put it out of my mind with prayer, but it wouldn't go away. I got up to use the latrine and saw a light in your window, so..."
Heloise smiled. "Your sister-in-law was not above interrupting my work, either. You and Catherine may look nothing alike, but you do have some of the same traits."
Margaret looked down. "I wish that were true, Mother. I'm not the scholar she was, nor am I as brave."
Heloise stroked the white scar across Margaret's cheek. "You have more reason to be cautious than she ever did, and a healthy fear is not a bad thing. And as for scholarship, it's true you're not as adept at rhetoric, but your diligence is marvelous. You've made great strides in your Hebrew studies. Soon you'll be beyond me. We may have to send you to a teacher in Troyes."
She had been trying to distract the girl from her dream, but something she had said caused Margaret to gasp and start trembling.
"Mother, can dreams be a prophecy?" she asked, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
"Only to prophets," Heloise answered. "Do you suspect you've been granted such a gift?"
Margaret took a deep breath. "Of course not." She tried to smile. "It's only that it was so intense, the flames and the shouting."
Heloise sat Margaret down on her bed. "Very well, tell me what you remember and I'll do my best to explain it."
"It was confusing," Margaret admitted. "There was a huge crowd of people, ugly people, with faces twisted so that they seemed more to be beasts. They were screaming something; I couldn't understand it. Then I saw a man being dragged through them. He was bound, and those he passed spat on him or kicked him. He was brought up to a platform and then the voices became clear. They shrieked 'Burn! Burn! Burn!' "
"Perhaps it was a vision of the Passion of Our Lord," Heloise suggested gently. "We are sometimes given such dreams to remind us of our faith."
"No," Margaret lowered her head and whispered. "At the end, as they tied him to the stake, I saw his face. That's what frightened me into waking."
She raised her face, tears streaming. "Mother Heloise, it was Solomon!"
Now Heloise understood. Catherine had confided to her that one of the reasons Margaret was at the Paraclete was that she had developed an unsuitable affection for Edgar's partner in trade. Solomon felt an avuncular love for the girl, nothing more, Catherine had assured her. Even if he wished to marry Margaret, it was impossible. Firstly, Solomon was a Jew. But even if he converted, such a liaison would never be permitted. Margaret was too wellborn for a match with someone outside the nobility.
Margaret understood this. She had obeyed the decision to send her to the Paraclete with only mild protest, and she appeared to be adjusting well to the pattern of life in the convent, happy to spend her time in learning until her family settled her future. But Heloise knew from bitter experience how ungovernable the heart can be.
"My poor child," she said as she smoothed Margaret's hair. "It was a dreadful dream but nothing more. It was brought about solely through your concern for your friend added to all the talk of heresy and the resentment toward the Jews that King Louis's pilgrimage has caused. I'm sure Solomon is fine."
Margaret looked up at Heloise. The tears were ebbing but the grief remained. Heloise held her until a deep sigh and a hiccough indicated that Margaret had calmed down. The abbess stifled a sigh of her own. At fifteen, Margaret couldn't know how many times the heart can break and mend only to break again. And had to. Just as well, she thought. Otherwise the convents would be so full that there would be no one left to propagate.
"Thank you, Mother." Margaret got up. "I apologize for disturbing you. I'll confess it in Chapter and take whatever penance you set."
"That won't be necessary, my dear." Heloise kissed her and led her out. "You came to me with a spiritual crisis. It's my duty to help you, even in the middle of the night. Now, try not to wake anyone else on your way back."
Heloise returned to her letter to Mahaut. It was made even harder now. Margaret's face kept interfering. The countess had taken an interest in Margaret, who was the count's granddaughter, her mother having been the product of a youthful affair between Count Thibault and a noblewoman of Ponthieu. Countess Mahaut was tolerant of something that had happened well before her marriage to the count and had become fond of her husband's granddaughter.
Heloise guessed that she and the count had an eye out for an alliance that would be beneficial to Margaret and the county of Champagne as well. It shouldn't be difficult to find a good husband for the child. Her father was a lord in Scotland, far enough away to be ignored, but still noble, and Margaret was becoming more beautiful every day. Her skin was so pale that the scar across her cheek was hardly noticeable and her eyes were large and of a deep brown. Her hair was the color of red gold much fancied by poets.
And unlike her brother's wife, Catherine, Margaret was mild and dutiful. Heloise had no doubt that she would obey her family's wishes as was proper.
So why did Heloise's heart sink at the prospect?
She looked down at the letter. There was no way she could concentrate on it any further. Finally she went and stood before the crucifix on the wall, praying fervently for wisdom and a peaceful mind. But behind that prayer was an even deeper one.
Astrolabe, my son, are you safe? Why is there no word from you?
HERESY Copyright © 2002 by Sharan Newman
Posted July 21, 2011
If you have read any of the other Catherine LeVendeur books in the series, this one is a must. Sharan Newman really captures the history of the times and throws in real people as characters in the novel, such as Countess Sybil, John of Salisbury, Astrolabe, and Prioress Heloise, making 12th century history come alive. But, as the author states, her goal is to entertain and she does. I have enjoyed the relationships of these characters, and especially, the conflict shown between Christians and Jews, nobility and peasants, friends and families. It has been interesting to see the lovely Margaret grow and this book is alot about her. In addition, while I am very good at guessing a mystery's outcome,I totally missed this one, I am happy to say!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 16, 2004
Twelfth century Paris is keenly feeling financial woes brought on by the Crusade. Catherine's husband Edgar must personally go to Spain for new trade goods, so Catherine leaves Paris with their children and household to stay at the abbey of her friend and mentor Heloise. But it's not destined to be a simple journey - even as she makes travel plans, Heloise's son Astrolabe shows up on the doorstep, in danger of being accused of heresy and murder. Astrolabe travels with them in disguise to reach his mother. Then at Heloise's request, they travel on to Reims where the pope, bishops, and a horde of other religious and secular leaders are convening for a council. Here Catherine and her sister-in-law Margaret must search for the truth and defend Astrolabe's innocence before he ends up facing the judgment of the Council. This is the eighth book in the Catherine series, and there is so much history and character development along the way that new readers will probably want to start at the beginning (Death Comes as Epiphany) to get the most out of the series. As usual with Newman, the reader is immersed into historical details that make 12th century France come alive. It has a very genuine feel and characters stay consistent with the time period. Newman is at her best with characterization and showing the issues of the times ¿ moral, political, and religious. The consequences of heresies of different flavors and degrees are woven throughout the book. This probably sounds fairly heavy, but Newman manages to balance it pretty well with both the mystery at hand and with scenes from daily life. Catherine continues to be a delightful and strong heroine, and I like the way her personality is still evolving as motherhood and other influences come into play. Newman must be given full credit for maintaining originality ¿ she hasn't fallen into the trap of reusing the same plot as with many running mystery series. However, Heresy is not Newman's strongest book. The writing is smooth and the plot flows along nicely, but the mystery seemed second to the rest of it and not as compelling as earlier entries in the series. One issue is that Edgar and Solomon (key players in many of the earlier books) are gone on their trading trip for most of the book. Without the richly drawn relationship between Edgar and Catherine, the middle of the book feels flat at times. Margaret's distress at her impending arranged marriage and the peril of Catherine's pregnancy don't really provide enough tension to carry the book when the main mystery fizzles. Read this more for the history than the mystery.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Twelfth century France is feeling the affects of all the wars that wipe out trading. Edgar and his partner Solomon travel to Spain to pick up trade goods, leaving Catherine and the children to stay in their Paris home. When illness plagues the city Catherine and her family travel to the convent of Paraclate, run by her old friend Heloise who was once the wife of the heretic Abelard. Instead of having a relaxing time visiting an old friend, Heloise prevails upon Catherine to help her son Astrolobe who is being framed for a murder he didn¿t commit. Since Catherine considers Heloise¿s son a good friend, she agrees to do all she can to find out who Astrolobe¿s enemies actually are and expose them for the liars they are. In the course of her investigation, Catherine discovers that Astrolobe is going to be tried before the pope and the council of Reims who are trying to weed out heretics. Twelfth century France comes alive between the pages of HERESY, the latest installment in the Catherine Le Vendeur mysteries. Although Catherine is in her second trimester of pregnancy, she doesn¿t allow her condition to stop her from trying to find evidence that would clear her friend¿s son. The mystery itself is complex and mesmerizing but the look into the relationship between religion and politics is totally enthralling. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.