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One of my favourite Ellis Peters books. Royal cousins King Stephen and Empress Maud are still competing for the throne, and the conflict has brought King Stephen to Shrewsbury, to take the fort held by William FitzAlan and Fulke Adeney. Brother Cadfael, monk, herbalist and former crusader, is brought a young boy named Godric as an assistant, and assumes his family has sent him to the monastery to protect the boy from conscription. Godric expresses loyalty to Empress Maud and Cadfael states his own neutrality, cautioning the boy not to be too open as there are tale tellers everywhere. The worldly monk soon discovers that 'Godric' is actually 'Godith' - and the daughter of Fulke Adeney!
She was betrothed as a child to Hugh Beringar, an intelligent, cunning man now looking to find favour with the King. He seeks an audience with King Stephen at the same time as a young woman named Aline Siward, who has come to present the king with her house's loyalty. She explains that her brother should have done this, but that he has gone over to Empress Maud's party. Both Beringar and the King's right hand man, Adam Courcelle, take an interest in her, prompting a subtle rivalry between the two men. Courcelle escorts her to the abbey guest house that same evening. The King intimates to Beringar that if he secured Godith Adeney, that would help his prospects in court. Beringar goes in search of Godith, and overhears her former nurse, Petronilla, discuss both girl and the treasury of the fort, which has disappeared - he learns it is to move that very night.
Later, a beggar glimpses a desperate looking man entering the King's camp, intent on making some sort of deal.
The next day the army take Shrewsbury fort, and King Stephen has the garrison hanged to make an example, though FitzAlan and Adeney had escaped. The abbot fearfully asks the king to let him give the garrison Christian burials, and Cadfael takes charge of the work, and finds an extra corpse amongst those hanged - and demands the matter be investigated. The bodies are laid out, and the townspeople come to identify them. Aline Siward finds her brother Giles among the hanged, to Courcelle's great distress - the man returns a cloak with a particular clasp, a symbol of her family. Aline decides to donate her brother's clothing and asks Cadfael to distribute it.
Cadfael shows Godith the 'extra' corpse and she identifies Nicholas Faintree, a squire she knew whilst growing up. The king gives Cadfael license to pursue the matter. He then visits Petronilla with a message from Godith. The nurse explains that Nicholas Faintree and another squire named Torold were tasked with moving the treasury, and that Beringar had come looking for Godith the day before. Meanwhile, Godith has gone harvesting with the rest of the novices, and comes upon Torold, injured and hiding in a mill. She brings Cadfael to treat him and the two strike up a friendship. He discovers Godith's true gender when they have a play fight, and they confide in one another. Cadfael plans their escape (along with the treasury), but becomes suspicious that Beringar is spying on them.
Courcelle descends upon the monastery to search for Godith, who seeks refuge - with the treasury - in Aline Siward's house, knowing it is the one place he will not ransack. Aline protects her and the two women bond. Torold goes to collect Godith, and the two kiss. They begin their escape, pausing at an abbey outpost where they are confronted by Beringar. Later, Cadfael searches for clues - with a tip from the beggar that saw the suspicious man entering the King's camp - until there is a dénouement culminating in a duel between Beringar and Courcelle.