The Difficult Saint (Catherine LeVendeur Series #6)by Sharan Newman
Catherine's estranged younger sister, Agnes, has been promised in marriage to a German lord. Bitter about their religious differences, Agnes wants no part of Catherine or their fatherexcept for the sizable dowry that he can provide.
When Catherine and her father send Agnes off with her dowry and two knights in escort, they assume that they have
Catherine's estranged younger sister, Agnes, has been promised in marriage to a German lord. Bitter about their religious differences, Agnes wants no part of Catherine or their fatherexcept for the sizable dowry that he can provide.
When Catherine and her father send Agnes off with her dowry and two knights in escort, they assume that they have seen the last of her.
But soon one of the escorts returns with terrible news: Agnes' new husband appears to have been murdered, and Agnes, the prime suspect, is being held,
accused of murder by poisoning, or even worse, witchcraft.
In spite of their differences, Catherine believes in Agnes' innocence, and knows that she must do everything she can to save her sister's life. But when
Catherine and her brood travel to Germany to begin sleuthing in a dangerously anti-Semitic climate, it becomes clear that Catherine and her husband's long-dreamt-of life of peace remains in the distant futureif they live to see it.
Read an Excerpt
The Difficult Saint
Paris, the home of Hubert LeVendeur and his family. Quin- quagesima Monday, 2 ides of February (February 11), 1146; 27 Shevat, 4906. The third birthday of James, son of Catherine and Edgar.
I shall write a book of remembrance, telling the incidents of the decree, regarding the evil and adversity which happened to the few who survived the first bitter decree. "Blessed be the Lord," we declare, "for having kept us alive to remember his mercy and take revenge from our bloodshed."
--Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn Sefer Zekhirah
Hubert leaned back in his chair with a worried sigh. "It will mean the ruin of us, you know, total ruin."
His daughter Catherine looked up from her sewing.
"Just because King Louis says he's going on an expedition to the Holy Land, that doesn't mean anyone will follow him," she assured her father. "It's only Edessa that fell, not Jerusalem. I heard that the nobles aren't very enthusiastic about taking their men to fight the Saracens, nor is Abbot Suger."
Hubert wouldn't be comforted.
"In the middle of winter, no one wants to fight," he muttered. "But just wait until spring. The first warm day and they'll all be sharpening their swords, eager for something to conquer."
"I wouldn't worry, Hubert." Catherine's husband, Edgar, spoke from the corner where he had set up his carving apparatus. "There are enough small wars here in France to keep them busy."
Hubert shook his head. "You don't know what it's like, armies swarming across the land, determined to destroy the infidel. I remember ..."
He was silent a moment. Then he pulled himself up again.
"Bad for trade," he stated. "No goods will get through; it will drive me to poverty. We'll all end up ragged beggars living in the street."
Catherine set the sewing down and went over to her father. She put her arms around him, knowing that it wasn't the loss of trade that he feared, but a repeat of the massacres of 1096, in which he had lost his mother and sisters and, for a long time, his faith.
"It won't happen again," she whispered. "The king has shownno animosity toward the Jews. There are even those who say he's overindulgent to them."
She wanted to remind her father that in the eyes of the world he was a Christian, as she and Edgar were in fact. But she only hugged him more tightly. Though it grieved her, Catherine understood how ashamed Hubert was of allowing himself to be rescued from the soldiers, baptized and raised as a Christian. Now it was too late for him to return publicly to the faith of his ancestors. He had married a Christian woman, had three children and now, grandchildren, whose lives would be forever altered if the truth were known.
Hubert accepted the embrace but not the solace.
"It's not the king I fear, but the soldiers, the townspeople--the faceless, furious mob that a moment ago had been people I knew, some even my friends." He shook his head.
"Hubert!" Edgar's voice was sharp. "That was fifty years ago. People know better now. It won't happen again. We have more immediate matters to worry about."
Catherine threw her husband an angry glance. However, the words caused Hubert to shake himself, take a deep breath and gently release the arms clasped around his shoulders.
"Quite right, Edgar," he said. "Trouble will find us soon enough without our going in search of it. What particular matters were you thinking of?"
Edgar put down the pincers he had been using to lay gold wire onto the lid of a wooden box.
"The one that just rode past the window." He grimaced. "I saw him through the gap in the shutter."
His words were almost drowned out by a heavy pounding at the outer gate.
"Who is it?" Catherine asked anxiously. The previous conversation had made her nervous. "Where are the children?"
"All upstairs," Edgar answered. "They're in no danger. But I can't believe that bastard has returned. What can he want with us now?"
"Which bastard?" Hubert asked.
Catherine shivered, although the fire was radiant. In the seven years she had known Edgar they had encountered a number of bastards.
There was a stomping of boots in the corridor and a moment later the visitor was announced.
"Sir Jehan de Blois." Ullo, the page, barely had time to get the words out before he was pushed aside.
The man scowling at them from the doorway was of middle height and lean with a face lined by years of fighting and travel in all weather.
Hubert leaped to his feet.
"Agnes?" he asked. "Is she all right?"
The visitor's scowl deepened.
"Your daughter is in excellent health, Master Hubert," he said. "No thanks to you. She has sent me to remind you of your duty to her; it's been forgotten long enough."
"Don't you speak to my father in that way, Jehan." Catherine couldn't allow the slur to go unanswered. "It's Agnes who has denied us. She exiled herself to Blois."
The knight refused to look at her. He concentrated on Hubert alone.
"The Lady Agnes sent me with a message for you. She wishes you to know that her grandfather, Lord Garnegaud, has arranged a marriage for her," Jehan began stiffly.
"Oh, no! Not to you!" Catherine couldn't contain her wail of dismay.
She was immediatly stabbed by Jehan's look of fury and despair.
"Oh," she said more softly. "Not to you."
"If she's worried about her dowry," Hubert said, "I can assure you that there will be no problem about it. There's land from her mother that was marked for her and I'll provide whatever else is needed."
Jehan repressed a sigh at the interruptions. Catherine almost felt pity for him. She knew how long he had loved Agnes, almost as long as he had hated Catherine. Now he had to help arrange to give Agnes to another.
"May I continue?" the knight asked.
"Her request is indeed that you provide the dowry required as well as the jewelry her mother left behind when she entered the convent," Jehan said.
"Of course," Hubert answered. "Although Catherine should be allowed to decide on the allotment of the jewelry, as well. When will the wedding be and to whom?"
"She is marrying a Lord Gerhardt of Trier." Jehan swallowed. "His fief is, I understand, not far from that city."
"Trier? But that's in Germany!" Hubert said. "So far away! And Agnes has no German. What could Garnegaud be thinking of?"
"He didn't tell me." Jehan stared over Hubert's head. It was obvious that he wanted to be away from there.
"No, of course not." Hubert was deep in thought. "The dowry was mainly land from her mother's dower and that's in Blois. Does she want me to give her the value in money or to retain the income from the property?"
Jehan sighed. "I have no information on that. However, if you wish to question her yourself, she will receive you this evening."
"She's in Paris?" Hubert exclaimed. "And she didn't come to us?"
Hubert swallowed the pain. He should have expected this. He knew why his youngest child refused to visit him, why she had allowed herself to be betrothed without his consent.
The fact that Hubert had been born a Jew had been a secret, known only to his wife and later, his brother, Eliazar, who had long thought Hubert had been killed with the rest of the family. When Catherine discovered the relationship she had been able to accept it, partly because she found she liked her Jewish relatives and partly because of the attitude of her teachers, Abelard and Heloise. They had kept her from absorbing the contempt for the Jews felt by most Christians.
A few years earlier Agnes had discovered the secret and been both horrified and repulsed. She had told no one, as far as Hubert knew, but the knowledge of his apostasy and Agnes's belief that this was part of what had driven her mother into madness and the care of the nuns had combined to destroy all the love and respect she felt for him. Of course she would refuse to come to his home.
Edgar hadn't moved from his corner. He knew Jehan well of old, mostly as the man holding the other end of the knife threatening him. Jehan seemed to have an uncanny talent for choosing to be on the opposite side of those Edgar supported. And Jehan had no scruplesabout crushing anyone in his way. The less Edgar had to do with him, the better he liked it.
Still, Jehan was waiting for some reply. Hubert seemed lost in thought and Edgar could tell that Catherine was about to say something that would only antagonize their visitor further.
"If you tell us where she is, Jehan," he said quietly, "then you'll have fulfilled your task and can leave."
Edgar tensed as Jehan examined him, grimy in his old work clothes. The man's eyes widened as he noted the smooth leather-covered stump where Edgar's left hand had been. They flicked back to Edgar's face.
"She's at the convent of Monmartre," he told them. "She'll expect you this evening between Vespers and Compline."
"Tell her we'll come or send word," Edgar told him.
Jehan nodded, then turned and left. He neither bowed nor took formal leave. They heard his voice in the corridor, cursing someone. Then the outside door slammed shut; the knocker clanked in reproach.
A moment later the curtain to the hall was slowly pushed aside.
"Now what do you want--" Catherine began. Then she saw who it was. "Oh, Solomon, you picked the worst time to arrive!"
Solomon ben Jacob was the only Jewish member of the family Hubert had left in Paris. Two years earlier Hubert's brother and business partner, Eliazar, had petitioned the Jewish community at Troyes to move there and had been accepted. The move had been forced by an anonymous accusation against the two men that threatened to expose their relationship. Solomon, nephew to both Hubert and Eliazar, now alternated between the two towns when he wasn't on a trading journey.
He was also Catherine and Edgar's best friend. They normally greeted him with more enthusiasm.
"Your sister is being married in Trier? But that's wonderful!" he exclaimed when they had told him why Jehan had been in the house. "What are you all so sour about?"
"She's only asked for her dowry. She hasn't even invited us to attend the wedding," Catherine said. "Not that I could, with the children and all."
But her face showed that it hurt her.
"That really is unreasonable of her," Solomon said. "Why should she cut you off just because you aren't ashamed of being related to me? If I don't mind, why should she?"
But his face showed that he knew why very well.
"Since we're not likely to have anything more to do with her, I don't see why you're pleased about the marriage," Hubert said.
"Because of the place, of course." Solomon sat himself on a low stool by the fire and looked around expectantly. "Where's the pitcher?"
"Oh, I'm sorry." Catherine was brought back to her duty as hostess. "I'll get it. Wine or beer?"
"Beer, for now," Solomon answered. "But when I get to Trier I want wine. Don't you see, Hubert? With your daughter living there, we could have a chance to get into the wine trade on the Moselle. We do well enough with Burgundy, but we might add a whole new region if we could buy that far east and even make a deal to export Burgundian wine to Denmark and the north countries."
Hubert stroked his chin. "But Agnes won't help. She's ashamed of my being a merchant even without the fact of my Jewish birth. And what of the kehillot at Trier? We can't steal business from fellow Jews."
"No, but we could arrange for them to expand their trade into Burgundy and Champagne," Solomon argued. "It would be advantageous for everyone. And if you appeared there, what could Agnes do?"
"It's a pointless argument, Solomon," Hubert said. "If you want to do business in Trier, then go. But there's nothing to be gained from Agnes's being there, too. I won't put her in a position where she has to either denounce me or pretend to give me welcome.
"I agree," Catherine said. She sniffed and tried to hold back the tears.
Edgar got up and went to Catherine, putting his arm around her shoulders. Catherine brushed her cheek against the empty space where his hand should have been. He pulled away a fraction. She sighed. Two years now since the hand had been lost and he still needed her to remind him that his touch didn't upset her. Whycouldn't he believe that she loved him no matter what life did to his body?
She looked at him and he smiled.
"Um ... Catherine." Solomon's voice brought her back with a start. "No woman should look at her husband like that. It makes other people discontented."
Edgar laughed. "If you stayed in one place long enough, Solomon, you might have a wife, too."
"Ah, but what kind could I hope for?" Solomon laughed. "With my luck she might be just like Agnes."
Hubert had been paying no attention to the conversation. His thoughts were jumbled and his throat tight from the pain of his daughter's rejection. He picked up the beer pitcher and shook it. Empty. He glared at Solomon.
"This will wait until tomorrow," Hubert stated. "We'll send word to Agnes that we'll see her in the morning instead of tonight. I need to sleep on this news. And to think that just a few moments ago I had nothing more to worry about than war and impoverishment. I should have rejoiced."
Solomon left soon after and Catherine and Edgar went upstairs to check on the children and prepare for bed. In the alcove James was sound asleep, a toy horse clutched in his fist. Next to him lay Margaret, Edgar's half sister, one arm thrown protectively over her nephew. Edana, the daughter conceived in the midst of war in England, was in the trundle bed beneath. She was now a year and a half old and would be promoted to sleeping with the others as soon as she stopped wetting.
Edgar drew open the curtain hiding their bed. He had brought up a pan of coals to warm the sheets before they got in, but he was hoping Catherine would help him heat them further.
Catherine took her time undressing and rebraiding her hair. Edgar could tell she needed to talk.
"There's nothing you can do for your sister now," he said gently. "Not unless you renounce the rest of us."
"I know that." Catherine slipped into the bed and rolled toward the wall to make room for him.
Edgar dropped his brais on the floor and climbed in. She rolled back against him, her head on his chest.
"It just seems so odd that Agnes would want to go so far and marry a stranger," she continued. "It's not as if she were a princess or a great lady who needed to seal an alliance with her body. She could have chosen someone she already knew."
"Like you did?" Edgar smiled.
"Well, since the first time we met you threw yourself at me and knocked me to the ground, I wouldn't recommend it."
"There was a body falling on you," Edgar reminded her. "I was trying to save you from being hurt."
"That's what you say now." She idly spun circles around his navel with her finger. "I think you just wanted to get on top of me."
The circles spiraled down his belly, and Catherine found something rising to greet her.
"How nice." She smiled contentedly. "Some things never change."
Edgar reached up and closed the bed curtain.
At the abbey of Clairvaux in Champagne there was also worry about the king's plan to wage war in the Holy Land. Abbot Bernard considered it only proper that Louis should go. The king still hadn't done penance for his sin of burning a church full of people at Vitry during his war with Thibault, Count of Champagne. Saving a city for God would be the least he could do after committing such an enormity. But Bernard was not as enthusiastic over the rumors that Queen Eleanor had decided to accompany her husband.
As usual, it had been laid on the abbot to bring the people of Christendom together for this great expedition.
Both his former acolyte, now Pope Eugenius III, and King Louis had begged him to preach. Only his influence, they insisted, would convince both the lords and the people to give their support to the endeavor.
Bernard sat in the speaking room, surrounded by monastic secretaries and piles of parchment and writing tablets. He was a man of middle height, thin and pale from ascetic fasts. Yet there was nothing weak about his spirit. All the energy he might have spent as a warrior,lord and husband he had channeled into his quest for God and the service of the faith.
The abbot looked up from the letter he was reading.
"Nicholas," he said.
The clerk was beside him in an instant.
"Are the encyclicals ready to be sent out?" Bernard asked. "Have you finished copying the letters for me to sign?"
"All complete, my lord abbot," Nicholas answered. He was an energetic young man, with sharp eyes and an air of competence.
"Have them ready for me after morning work," Bernard told him. "Have you ordered that crosses be made to give out to the pilgrims?"
"Yes, lord, the cellerar has arranged for the nuns of Jully to cut them for you."
Nicholas bowed, waiting for another command to perform perfectly.
Bernard only nodded. "Excellent, as always, my son. Now, I should like to retire to my cell for a time to meditate alone. Thank you for your assistance."
The monks bowed and left. Nicholas remained a moment.
"Is there nothing more I can do for you, my lord?"
The abbot shook his head. He eyes had already closed as he prepared to pray. They opened again.
"Yes, Nicholas," he said quietly. "Please close the door when you go."
Nicholas returned to the scriptorium, where a dozen men were making copies of the abbot's writings.
"Brother Geoffrey," he said, looking over the monk's shoulder. "I believe the ablative form is called for in this sentence."
Geoffrey looked up. Nicholas could tell he was almost biting his tongue in half in the effort not to make a sharp retort.
"The accusative would be more appropriate, in my estimation," Geoffrey said finally. "But I shall, of course, change it according to your wishes."
"Not mine!" Nicholas held up both hands in denial. "Abbot Bernard's. All I do is at his command."
Geoffrey returned to his work. Once he was certain that Nicholas was out of the room, he allowed himself to mutter his disbelief. The monk next to him nudged him.
"Don't worry, Geoffrey," he said. "The abbot is too trusting of his friends, but one day even he'll see the truth about Nicholas."
"And until then?" Geoffrey scowled.
"Do what I do." The monk smiled. "Offer up time spent with him as a penance."
Geoffrey considered. "Yes, I suppose I could also pray that he receives a martyr's death, as such a saint deserves."
He went back to his work in a much more cheerful frame of mind.
Jehan returned to the convent to tell Agnes that her family would call upon her. She met him in the portress's hall. As always, her frail blond beauty took his breath away. He never understood how she could be sister to Catherine, who was dark and headstrong. Jehan had long suspected that Catherine was some sort of demon insinuated upon Hubert as a false daughter in order to destroy the world. She seemed very talented at destroying his.
"I don't know why you insist on seeing your family," he complained to Agnes. "They haven't changed at all. I saw that Jew when I left, coming in as if he had a right to be there."
"That's why I won't have them interfering in my life," she said. "I only want what's mine by right. Afterwards I plan to get as far away from them as possible so they can't shame me before my husband's family."
It was Jehan's turn to cringe.
Agnes noticed. She put her hand on his arm.
"I'm sorry, Jehan," she whispered as the portress looked on, guarding against any improprieties. "And I'm very proud of you for planning to join the soldiers of Christ and find glory in the Holy Land."
"Yes," Jehan answered, mindful of the woman listening. "It is, of course, the closest a man like me can come to the religious life."
His expression suggested that it was a lot closer than he had ever intended.
"I plan to come to Vézelay." Agnes tried to cheer him. "To see you receive the cross from the hands of Abbot Bernard, himself."
"The day will be that much brighter because of your presence," he answered, his voice toneless.
When he had left and Agnes was alone in the guest house, she sank down onto the bed. After a moment, she pulled herself onto her knees, reached out and slid the curtains shut. Then she allowed herself to lie flat, her face in the pillows, crying silently but thoroughly.
The winter rain streamed down on the house, causing sudden eruptions of steam in the hearth. It was barely past midday but gloomy and dark out. Catherine, Solomon and Edgar sat on pillows by the fire, baby Edana asleep on Catherine's lap. James, his brown curls perpetually tangled, was being chased around the hall by twelve-year-old Margaret. Edgar and Catherine had brought her back from Scotland with them after her mother died. Her long red braids had come undone and, as she passed Solomon, he would make a feint at catching the loose hair. She would get close enough to make him think he could grab her and then slip away laughing.
Hubert sat on the one comfortable chair next to the fire and watched them with a lump in his throat.
This is how it should always be, he thought. Why do moments like these never last?
As James went flying past, Edgar reached out with his good hand and caught him, tumbling him onto the pillows.
"Aren't you ready to take your nap yet, young man?" he asked.
"No, Papa." James grinned. "First I kill the dragon."
He got up again at once and began racing the circuit of the room again, yelling battle cries.
"I almost think he does see a dragon," Catherine said.
"At his age, I always did." Edgar smiled.
Catherine gave him a sideways glance. Having met Edgar's uncle Æthelræd, she was half inclined to believe he had. She decided to change the subject.
"Shall we all go to visit Agnes this evening?" she asked. "Perhaps seeing the children will soften her heart."
"Or convince her never to have any of her own," Solomon suggested as James careened into him. "I'm not your dragon, Sir James!"
James, switching roles, roared at him.
Edgar watched them. "I think James and Edana can remain here," he decided. "I don't remember Agnes as being that fond of small children, do you?"
Catherine was embarrassed to realize that she didn't know.
"It's been so long," she said. "I don't know my own sister anymore."
She bit her lip in worry.
"What am I going to wear?"
Catherine settled for a proper matronly bliaut of green and blue embroidered with spring flowers at the collar and hem. With some effort, she had managed to get all of her hair braided and covered so that no stray curls emerged from under the scarf. That didn't keep her from being ridiculously nervous as they were ushered into Agnes's presence in the convent visitor's room.
Agnes looked at them all as if meeting strangers. Then her eyes widened as she saw Edgar's left arm.
"Saint Ambrose's three-tailed whip!" she exclaimed. "What happened to you?"
She stopped. "I mean ..." she started again.
"It's all right, Agnes," Edgar said. "I got between a man with a sword and his victim. That's all."
"I ... I see." Agnes couldn't keep her eyes from the emptiness at the end of the arm.
"Is that what you called us here for?" Catherine asked, ever protective of Edgar's feelings. "If so, we can leave at once."
"Catherine!" Hubert's voice was sharp. "This is as hard for her as it is for us. Agnes, I'm very happy to see you again. You are more beautiful than ever, just like your mother."
He paused at her expression. He shouldn't have mentioned Madeleine.
Agnes took a deep breath. "Perhaps we could all start again," she said. "Father, Sister, I wanted you to rejoice with me at my contract of marriage. I ask nothing from you but the dowry and property that is rightfully mine."
She was daring them to object.
Hubert nodded slowly. "I trust that your grandfather investigated this man before he allowed you to agree to the contract."
"Of course," Agnes answered. "Grandfather is old, but as sharp as ever. Sharper. This time he made sure that Gerhardt's family was also above reproach."
"Agnes!" Catherine shouted. "How can you hurt our father so!"
She wished she were still young enough to pull Agnes's hair and rub her face in the mud.
Agnes faced her, fury barely in check. "I see that you at least, are just the same, beloved sister."
Catherine heard the scorn in Agnes's voice. She pressed her lips together to keep from answering in anger.
"I was once just that, Agnes," she said softly. "Just as you were to me."
Her sister blinked hard for a moment, but no tears escaped.
"That was long ago," Agnes stated. "Now we have only duty holding us to each other. I am here to ask if you'll fulfill yours."
Hubert answered for all of them.
"You are welcome to all we have, Agnes, to impress your new husband. I'll send a troop of men to guard you and find waiting women. We wish you well in your new life."
Agnes's expression didn't change. She might have been carved from the wall she stood before.
"Very well," she answered. "That's all I need from you. You may go."
"Agnes, please!" Catherine stepped toward her.
"Don't touch me!" Agnes was on the edge of screaming. "All of you. Don't try to pacify me. There's nothing you can do. All I want is my share of Mother's jewels and never to see any of you again."
"Of course, child," Hubert said. "If you insist. But you must understand ..."
"I do, Father, all too well." Agnes turned away from him. "You chose those infidels instead of me, instead of my poor mother and instead of Our Lord. I refuse to be damned along with you. There's nothing more to say."
She fumbled with the latch on the door and swore under her breath. Then the door opened and she was gone.
Edgar, Catherine and Hubert looked at one another.
"That didn't go very well, did it?" Edgar said.
Hubert's face was grey. "My beautiful, golden child. What have I done to you?"
Catherine put her hand on his shoulder. "We are all to blame," she said. "I could have helped her understand when she found out you and Eliazar were brothers. Even earlier, I ignored her for my books. I should have helped her more when Mother began to fail. But it's too late for regret."
Hubert sighed. "My poor Agnes; I only wish I could win back her love."
"Father," Catherine said. "She's made it clear. She doesn't want our love. She doesn't want us at all."
In her room, Agnes sat and unfolded a square piece of vellum. She touched the wax seal, feeling the pattern beneath her fingers. It was her betrothal contract, her last chance for the security she craved.
Happiness was more than she expected.
The castle of Gerhardt of Trier was perched north of the city high above the east bank of the Moselle River. It had been rebuilt in stone by his father only ten years before. The walls were still raw from the quarry and the ruts made in the earth from dragging the the blocks up the hill were still deep in the road. Below, the slope was covered in vines all the way down to the river path. Grapes were his family's gold. They owed the land and military service to the archbishop, but the vines had been theirs since the time of Constantine and Gerhardt was as proud of the wine from them as any other craftsman of his work. As he should be; the wine was among the best in the region. Gerhardt oversaw its production personally. He was the one who decided the days for picking and pressing and when the barreling should end. It was a long family tradition.
This day he was being unpleasantly reminded of another long family tradition.
"How could you do this without asking me!" he wailed at his brother, Hermann.
"We did ask you," Hermann said patiently, glancing around at the rest of the family, consisting of their sister, Maria, her husband, Folmar, and Peter, Gerhardt's thirteen-year-old son.
"He did, Father," Peter confirmed. "I said I wanted a new mother and you said you hadn't time to find me one and so Uncle Hermann said ..."
Gerhardt put his hands over his ears.
"I know what Hermann said." He glared at them all. "But I can't believe he would act on it. I don't want another wife. I can't marry again."
"But, Gerhardt, you signed the contract!" Maria was shocked. "You can't change your mind now!"
"But I never made up my mind!" Gerhardt uncovered his ears only to tug at his long, blond hair. "How could I have signed a contract?"
Hermann coughed. "Well, do you remember when I gave you those documents having to do with the purchase of the property in Köln?"
"The houses I bought from the monks of Regensberg." Gerhardt nodded. "Of course. You and Folmar handled that well, Brother."
"Yes, thank you." Hermann smiled tightly. "The fourth one, and I told you quite clearly, was the contract of betrothal to Agnes de Bois Vert, of Blois."
Gerhardt sat stunned. He hadn't been paying much attention at the time. There were so many other things to do. Could he have signed himself, body and soul, to some woman from France? He shivered. It was possible. And it was impossible. He rounded on his brother-in-law, who had stayed silent up to now.
"Folmar, how could you agree to this?" he asked. "You know well that I can't remarry now!"
Folmar gave a gesture of helplessness. "I wasn't consulted, Gerhardt."
Gerhardt raised his eyes to heaven, but no advice came from that direction. So he pounded the wall with his fist.
"There is no way I will marry this woman!" he shouted.
Maria took his hand and gently examined his fingers to see if any were broken.
"Wie gehabet ir dich so?" she asked her brother. "From all accounts this Agnes is beautiful, docile and pious. She comes with a fine dowry and an excellent lineage on her mother's side. Her father is a wealthy merchant of Paris--very wealthy. I don't believe there isany thing you can find fault with in our selection, Gerhardt. It's not as if our family were that well born."
"It's not that." Gerhardt knew he couldn't give them the real reason for his intransigence. They'd never accept it. "I don't want to remarry. I'm happy as I am. I have a fine son. There's nothing more I need, least of all a French bride. You have to cancel the contract."
Hermann pursed his lips. "We can't do that, Brother," he said. "We swore oaths before witnesses and you signed the contract. By now the girl's most likely ordered new robes and begun packing. No, if you don't want to marry, you're going to have to tell Agnes yourself, and take the consequences."
Gerhardt groaned. They found his misery baffling and a bit amusing. Even Peter, his own child! They all thought that once he saw she was a perfectly nice young woman, he would accept his fate and go happily into wedlock.
But Gerhardt knew that to do so would be to send himself straight to hell. And, if he revealed his reasons, he feared that the fires would reach him long before he died.
Copyright © 1999 by Sharan Newman
Meet the Author
Sharan Newman won Romantic Times magazine's Career Achievement Award for Historical Mystery in 1999. She lives in Oregon.
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