Late summer, 1270. Although the Simon de Montfort rebellion is over, the smell of death still hangs over the land. In the small priory of Tyndal, the monks and nuns of the Order of Fontevraud long for a return to routine. Their hopes are dashed, however, when the young and inexperienced Eleanor of Wynethorpe is appointed their new prioress. Only a day after her arrival, a brutally murdered monk is found in the cloister gardens, and Brother Thomas, a young priest with a troubled past, arrives to bring her a more personal grief.
It is the autumn of 1278. The harvest is in. The air is crisp. Dusty summer breathes a last sigh before the dark seasons arrive. For Prioress Eleanor, dark times arrive early in Norfolk. The head of her order, Abbess Isabeau, has sent Father Etienne Davoir from their headquarters in France to inspect all aspects of Tyndal Priory, from its morals to its roofs. Surely the abbess would not have chosen her own brother for this rare and thorough investigation unless the cause was serious and she had reason to fear intervention from Rome.
As the autumn storms of 1271 ravage the East Anglian coast, Crowner Ralf finds the corpse of a brutally murdered soldier in the woods near Tyndal Priory. The dagger in the man’s chest is engraved with a strange cursive design, and the body is wrapped in a crusader’s cloak. Was this the act of a member of the Assassin sect, or was the weapon meant to mislead? Ralf’s decision to take the corpse to the priory for advice may be reasonable, but he is soon caught up in a maelstrom of conflict, both personal and political.
"Excellent as alwaysi"
When one of her company falls ill on a return journey to Tyndal, Prioress Eleanor accepts lodging at a nearby manor. There, Master Stevyns's wife is having an affair with the groom, while a local widow acts more like the lady of the manor than the lady herself. The master's eldest son and spouse are obsessed with sin and heaven, while his youngest son, bound for the church, unexpectedly returns with more interest in lute playing than the priesthood.
It is May 1272, and Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal, recovering from a near-fatal winter fever, journeys to Amesbury Priory to visit her aunt in time for the Feast of Saint Melor. Although Eleanor hopes to regain her strength in the midst of pleasant childhood memories, death reveals a most troublesome fondness for her company. A ghost now haunts Amesbury. Is it perhaps the spirit of a pregnant woman who drowned herself in the River Avon? But soon the specter turns murderous.
In the winter of 1271, death stalks the corridors of Wynethorpe Castle on the Welsh border. When the Grim Reaper touches the beloved grandson of the castle lord, Baron Adam sends for his daughter, Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal, and her subinfirmarian, Sister Anne, to save the child with their prayers and healing talents. Escorting them to the remote fortress is Brother Thomas, an unwilling monk fighting his private demons.
In the spring of 1277, Prioress Eleanor goes on a pilgrimage to a famous East Anglian shrine. There are rumors that King Edward may also visit the shrine soon to seek God's blessing for his invasion of Wales. Lurking in this sacred place, however, is an assassin hoping to murder a king. Soon after Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas arrive, a nun falls to her death from the priory bell tower. Brother Thomas finds the body, and the pair quickly grasp that this nun's death was not an accident.
In March 1279, Edward I takes a break from hammering the Welsh and bearing down on England's Jews to vacation in Gloucestershire. The royal party breaks the journey at Woodstock Manor. There, one life begins as the queen gives birth to a daughter, and one draws to an end as apoplexy fells Baron Adam Wynethorpe. Hastening to the baron's deathbed is his eldest son, Hugh, a veteran of Edward's Crusades who can't shake off the battle horrors he has witnessed.
"One of her best"
The summer of 1276 at Tyndal Priory is peaceful - until Kenelm’s corpse is found floating in the millpond. When Brother Thomas concludes that the murder occurred on priory grounds, Prioress Eleanor and Crowner Ralf swiftly agree to help each other solve the crime. The murder victim, a newcomer, was disliked in Tyndal village, and no one there wants one of their own hanged for the deed. Fingers quickly point to a Jewish family, refugees under the relocation provisions of King Edward’s Statute of Jewry. As riots loom and threats mount against the family, Eleanor and Ralf have little time before popular opinion rules the murder solved.
In the late summer of 1274, King Edward has finally been anointed England’s ruler, and his queen contemplates a pilgrimage in gratitude for their safe return from Outremer, a journey that will include a stay at Tyndal Priory. Envoys are sent to confirm that everything will be suitable for the king’s wife, and Prioress Eleanor nervously awaits them, knowing that regal visits bring along expense and honor. The cost is higher than expected, however, when Death arrives as the emissary.
The summer of 1273 is peaceful for most of England, except in the village of Tyndal, where Martin the cooper has been poisoned at the local inn. Martin had plenty of enemies; the killer could be anyone. Prioress Eleanor grieves for her friend, the newly bereaved Crowner Ralf, and offers what help she can. But then her own problems multiply.
Baron Herbert’s return from crusade should have been a joyous occasion. Instead, he grows increasingly morose, withdraws from his family, and refuses to share his wife’s bed. When his sons begin to die in strange accidents, some ask whether Herbert harbors a dark sin for which God has cursed him. Or perhaps there is a malign presence at this stormblasted castle, oddly named Doux et Dur.