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This novel in Newman's series of medieval mysteries featuring Catherine LeVendeur takes place in the twelfth century amidst Europe's religious and political turbulence and intolerance. Catherine, wife of one-handed Edgar, daughter of a Jewish merchant, and mother of two small children, is a Christian convert. Agnes, her estranged sister, has returned to Paris with the news that she is to marry a German lord. She wants no part of her Jewish family, except the sizable dowry her father can provide. After Agnes departs for Germany, her family receives terrible news: Agnes' husband has been murdered by poison and Agnes herself is the prime suspect. Catherine, putting their differences aside, goes undercover in the dangerous anti-Semitic climate of Germany to save her sister's life and possibly lose her own in the effort.
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Sharan Newman is the author of the Catherine LeVendeur series as well as three historical novels chronicling the life of Guinevere: Guinevere, The Chessboard Queen, and Guinevere Evermore. She lives in Aloha, Oregon.
C. M. Hebert is an Earphones Award winner and Audie Award nominee. She is the recording studio director for the Talking Books Program at the Library of Congress' National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband, daughter, cat, and assorted fish.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Difficult Saint
OneParis, 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.Hubert nodded."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. T...
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