Iveta de Massard is eighteen years old, beautiful, heiress to a vast
estate encompassing four counties and fifty manors and, for all that, a
most unfortunate young woman. Her guardians, Agnes and Godfrid
Picard have arranged a marriage for her with Huon de Domville, a
domineering and powerful baron of nearly sixty years. Iveta is
the only one who will not profit from the marriage, for she will see
her fortune split between Domville and the Picards and cannot marry the
man she loves.
When Brother Mark and Brother Cadfael see Iveta ride into Shrewsbury
past the lepers’ hospice at St. Giles, both are struck by the deep
sadness in her face. Having minutes before seen the cruelty of
her intended bridegroom to the unfortunates at the hospital, Cadfael is
already wondering about ways to help her.
Iveta has fallen in love with one of Domville’s three squires, the
penniless Joscelin Lucy. When Cadfael finds them in each other’s
embrace in his workshop, his soft heart leads him to seek a happy
ending for them both. However, before Cadfael can formulate any
plan, Joscelin is found with Domville’s stolen property in his
possession. Cadfael feels certain that the jewellery was planted,
but the ruse achieves its end in having Joscelin arrested and ensuring
Iveta’s co-operation at the wedding to protect Joscelin from the
When Joscelin escapes custody for the theft, it only means that he is
at large when Domville is murdered just hours before the wedding.
Sheriff Prestcote is positive that Joscelin is the culprit, so it is up
to Cadfael to clear Joscelin and discover the truth.
In this mystery, Ellis Peters looks at the life of women of noble birth
in twelfth-century England, and the plight of lepers and those mistaken
for lepers due to malnutrition and skin disorders. Like Brother
Cadfael, her view of these unfortunates is compassionate, rather than
pitying, and the lepers play an important role in the plot.
The solution to the mystery is completely surprising, having almost as
much to do with Cadfael’s experiences as a crusader as Iveta’s own
life. Ellis Peters provides a detailed and interesting glimpse
into daily life in the days when wealth and power were held by a few
men, and the poor and women were at their mercy.