Previously on World Without End: Petranilla proved she’d do anything to help her son get ahead, including murder. A dickish new lord took over as Earl of Shiring, disinheriting the real earl’s two sons, and a knight with a mysterious past arrived, asking to become a monk and naming none other than Queen Isabella as his patron. Queen Isabella? Not happy about that at all.
Elfric and Caris are getting married in the cathedral. Wow, she actually went through with it. Not that she had a choice, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering Aliena married Alfred in the last book, but still, wow. Her father looks a bit sad. So do Mattie and Merthin.
Roland’s kicking around the court of petitioners at Westminster. When he’s called in, he steels himself, and then announces to Isabella that two more traitors have been arrested and hung in Kingsbridge. She asks if there were any monks among them, and he, taken aback, tells her no, because let’s remember it was a terrible one-way-trip-to-hell kind of sin to attack monks, nuns, and priests in those days. He wheels and reassures her that Kingsbridge is now totally loyal. She responds by imposing some extra taxes on Kingsbridge wool and weavers and the monks to pay for an upcoming war. Roland is not pleased, but what can he do?
It’s time for the Kingsbridge Summer Fair, as the jaunty music and the chyron tell us. People mill about, crowding the bridge and jamming up the town. A monk announces that a witch will be tried on the last day of the fair. Roland arrives with his sons, and Petranilla wonders what he’s doing there, because he never deigns to come to the fair. Edmund figures he’s there to see his new fiancée, Lady Marjorie. Petranilla seems a bit surprised and put out.
Roland and his boys—one’s a bishop by the look of him, named Richard—dismount and talk about this Lady Marjorie. Only Richard’s met her, from the sound of it, and he says she’s charming enough but seems mostly disinterested. Petranilla waits until they leave and then asks Ralph if it’s true that Roland’s getting married. Ralph gives her the brush off, only saying that the bride is young and pretty.
Thomas arrives at Elfric’s studio looking for the builder but only finds Merthin and some rather impressive models that turn out to be Merthin’s work. Thomas compliments his skill. Merthin says he sees things in his mind he wants to build, but he doesn’t quite have the skills yet. Thomas says that he used to be a student of architecture, back in the day. He urges the younger man not to doubt his talents.
Caris, who’s helping Mattie out with something or other, sees one of the regular traders leaving early and asks him what’s up. He says her aunt’s raised the wool prices again, so he’s not interested in trading anymore. Caris apologises and promises to speak to her father. The trader asks her to talk to someone about widening the crappy bridge too, while she’s at it. A lightbulb goes off over her head, and Caris goes to fetch Merthin.
Edmund is meeting with the prior, explaining that the bridge is simply inadequate for the town’s needs. The prior doesn’t care, because he’s not much of a thinker. He insists that the widened bridge would only benefit the town, not the priory, as if the town’s wealth and the priory’s ability to thrive weren’t completely and inextricably linked. God, this man is stupid. Edmund says the guild will pay for it, but the prior says they can’t afford it, because Elfric will charge an arm and a leg. Caris and Merthin show up, and Thomas asks for Merthin’s opinion. He says he’d wait for midsummer, when the river’s low, and close off sections of the bridge, so the town’s never completely cut off. He also promises to build it cheaper than Elfric. The prior asks who would own the bridge, if the guild pays for it, and the answer is, the guild, of course. The prior whines about the priory’s coffers going bare, since right now the priory owns the bridge, and if they don’t have that income anymore, they’ll suffer. Wait, so, if the priory would, in fact, benefit monetarily from having a better, wider bridge (more people crossing=more money), than what’s his argument against improving the bridge? His insistence that the priory wouldn’t benefit from a better bridge makes no sense whatsoever anymore! Wow, he’s even stupider than I thought. How did he and Petranilla actually come out of the same womb?
Anyway, bottom line: No bridge for you! He stomps off, and Merthin steps forward to tell Edmund that this issue will probably resolve itself soon enough, because the bridge wasn’t built to withstand so much traffic and will probably collapse within the year. He’s awfully blasé about something that will undoubtedly cost many, many lives.
Back at the fair, Ralph wanders around and catches sight of a young noblewoman with enormous, frizzy blonde hair. He’s enchanted and goes over to try to flirt with her, but he really sucks at it, and she calls him on his lame pick-up line. She’s soon joined by Roland’s eldest son, her husband, who kindly gives her a name (Philippa). She’s also got Marjorie with her, and although Marjorie’s supposed to be 16, she looks all of about 12, which is more than a little creepy. The son, William, introduces himself to Marjorie and takes the ladies away to check out some furs. None of them give Ralph a second glance.
Elsewhere at the fair, a young man named Wulfric juggles some eggs and is told to knock it off by some cute blonde and his dad, who tell him that’s their livelihood he’s playing with. Blondie peels off to go sell the eggs and runs into Ralph. The fact that she recognizes him and immediately starts complimenting him is just the balm his wounded pride needs. She introduces herself as Annet and the flirting quickly gets pretty dirty, and she plays right along. Wulfric starts to watch them, and she reveals that he’s her fiancé. When Ralph keeps up with the dirty flirting, Wulfric comes over and attacks him. Annet looks pretty turned on by the sight of the two men brawling. Philippa, less so. Someone comes along and grabs Wulfric and bundles him off, leaving Ralph bloodied and embarrassed on the ground.
King Edward’s eating dinner all alone. He calls for more wine, and his mother comes in and tells him not to get too used to it, because the French have blockaded all the ports. He reassures her he’s going to clear the coast, but he’s not going to invade France. She sniffs that, with such provocation, his father would have declared war immediately. Really? I don’t know a lot about Edward II, but I’ve never heard that he was a terribly fierce warrior. His father, yes, but not Edward himself. But then, like I said, I’m no expert there. Edward laughs about how, in death, his father’s been transformed into this great king. Isabella insists that they have a right to the French throne, but Edward tells her to back the hell off, because he’s not interested in owning France. He also reminds her that she’s not in charge, she’s just his mother.
Caris serves up some dinner, and her dickish husband declares it lousy. She apologises and says it was ok to her. He calls her worthless and barren, and when he grabs her hand, we can see an angry bruise on her cheek. And then he rapes her, because it’s not a Ken Follett novel without some rape thrown in. Outside, Merthin can hear the awful sounds of his master…at work, if you will, and grimaces.
The next day, Mattie tends to Caris’s wounds. Caris wonders if she should give the man a child, like she really has that much control over such a thing, and Mattie warns her that children don’t tend to make brutes loving husbands all of a sudden. She asks Caris if she even wants kids, and Caris admits she didn’t even want marriage, so I guess that’s a no.
Gwenda arrives in town and notes Wulfric standing in the stocks, stoically taking his licks from some local kids throwing all kinds of crap (and yes, that appears to include actual crap) at him. She asks a nearby man what the deal is and he catches her up. She chases the kids away, saunters over to Wulfric, and asks his name. He introduces himself, and she recognizes the name. He knows her as well, and she seems pleased by that. She goes over to the guard or whatever, hands him some coins, and tells him to let Wulfric out already.
Elfric wanders into the shop, clearly drunk and looking for a fight, and starts picking on Merthin, who’s just trying to get his work done. He notices one of Merthin’s models and calls it a toy, telling Merthin he pisses him off. Showing some terrible timing, Caris shows up looking for Merthin, and Elfric accuses her of trying to give his jobs to Merthin. Guess he heard about that bridge, then. Godwyn told him, unsurprisingly. Merthin tries to stick up for her, but Elfric tells him to shut up, then slaps Caris across the face. And that very neatly pushes Merthin’s Berserk Button, and he starts mercilessly beating the hell out of Elfric and gets far enough to attempt murder, but Caris holds him back, reminding him that he’d be hanged. Merthin warns him never to touch Caris again. Elfric kicks both Merthin and Caris out. They leave, and then wonder what they’ll do. Well, Caris can always go back to her dad’s, but Merthin’s in a tight spot, since he’s not a member of the guild, which’ll make it hard for him to get builder work. She tells him he could apprentice in another town, but he doesn’t want to leave her. She reminds him that she’s not a free woman, but she admits that she could love him. He suggests they run away together, and she asks him for some time to get things together in her life. Fair enough.
Thomas is at work in the scriptorium when he’s joined by another monk, Matthias, who admires his work. Godwyn yells at them for talking, so Thomas silently gestures for Matthias to sit and shows him how to write in script. Matthias is cutely delighted, and Godwyn sours slightly at the sight of two people actually enjoying themselves. And then he notices that the nun sitting next to him has lips and breasts and he begins glaring reaaaaaally creepily at her.
He goes to his mummy and growls that the priory should go back to the old ways, separating the men and women. Petranilla, not being an idiot, realizes her son’s threatened by women’s sexual power (though, I think it can be pretty heavily argued, especially in these stories, that men have significant sexual power as well. It’s just they always seem to use it for evil). Petranilla remembers how Godwyn used to be obsessed with Caris, presumably (hopefully) when they were kids, and tells him that Caris is asleep upstairs. She also suggests that he could put these rules in play once he’s prior. He doubts he’ll ever be prior, because he seems to be expecting his uncle to live forever, but Petranilla tells him he’ll be prior before he knows it, and if we know anything about her, it’s that she makes good on all her promises, especially if they involve murder. She leaves to run an errand or something, and he heads upstairs to Caris’s room, where she’s fast asleep. And she must be a really deep sleeper, because she doesn’t even stir when he unlaces her nightgown, exposing her breast. Her eyes finally pop open when he begins feeling her up, and she’s so surprised she doesn’t even react. He quickly make the sign of the cross and hastens out of there.
Once again, Gwenda’s father tries to rape her, but this time, she pulls a knife and slashes the back of his hand. He curses at her and she warns him to stay the hell away. Yeah, it’s tough when they get big enough to fight back, isn’t it, you sicko?
Back at the fair, Gwenda’s selling some bits and bobs when her father shows up toting a cow and a slack-jawed idiot whom he introduces as her new husband. Apparently he sold her for the cow. Gwenda refuses to go along with this, but her new hubby loops a rope around her and gets ready to drag her off. Caris intercedes and tells him he can’t trade a woman for a cow. Actually, in those days, I think you could. She calls it slavery, and then Godwyn shows up and gets caught up. Because we’re supposed to hate him unconditionally (because God forbid he have any nuance whatsoever), he sides with cow-man, claiming the bible sanctions such transactions. Yeah, well, the bible sanctions a lot of things, Godwyn, like handing your daughters over to be gang-raped, sleeping with your own father, pimping your maid out to your husband so you can claim her baby as your own, and having multiple wives all at once. Are all those things cool with you too? Gwenda calls her father out for all the awful things he’s done to her over the years, but Godwyn tells them all to be quiet, because the priory has authority here. He tells Cowman to take her away. Caris goes over to him and says that he may call himself a man of God, but she’s seen the devil’s side of him.
It’s time for a witch killing! Everyone’s gathered in front of the cathedral, including Roland and William and Philippa, who get the best seats, of course.
Meanwhile, Cowman’s playing dice out in the woods with some shady types while Gwenda sits tied up nearby. One of the other guys bets a gold coin against Gwenda, and then wins, so goes to take his prize, as it were. This poor woman just can’t catch a break. He drags Gwenda somewhere slightly more private, and though she tries to beg him to let her go, once it becomes obvious he won’t, she plays along, hiking up her skirts and lying back. He gets started, and then stupidly puts down the knife he was holding, which she quickly buries in his neck. Cowman comes to investigate and finds the other guy dead and her gone.
Before the witch trial starts, Roland has an announcement: new taxes! Also, all foodstuffs have to be sold to royal troops at prices below market value. Way to piss off as many people as possible, Isabella. Talk about a stupid character. This is a pretty tenuous peace, you know. Naturally, this does not go over well with the crowd. Roland tries to assert himself, but the crowd boos and drowns him out. So, Ralph steps forward and tells everyone that French ships are stopping up the harbours, preventing their goods from getting to foreign markets, and that’s not good for anyone. He insists they can still pay their taxes and make a good profit, and because he talks about how awesome Kingsbridge is and how much France sucks, everyone immediately starts cheering. These people are sheep. Even Edmund says so, but Petranilla says they have a brilliant shepherd.
Gwenda’s fleeing through the woods, closely pursued by Cowman.
The witch is brought out, and it’s Mattie, of course. Saw that one coming a mile away. The proceedings are overseen by Bishop Richard and the Prior, who call forward Brother Joseph as the chief witness against her. Joseph insists that she uses unknown herbs and is half Moor, which makes her an infidel. One woman remembers that Mattie cured her son of a terrible fever. Joseph goes on to say that her patients sicken and die and Mattie insists that more of his die, and that I’d believe. Richard tells Mattie to speak up, if she has something to say, so Mattie steps forward and reminds everyone that lots of people have been cured and attended by Mattie, and that there’s no proof that she’s a witch. One guy steps forward, says that he’s a mendicant friar who has examined witches all over, and says that a third nipple (otherwise known as a devil’s teat) is sure proof that someone’s a witch. He’s allowed to examine Mattie and finds a mole underneath her breast. That’s proof. The crowd actually shouts ‘hang the witch,’ like this is a Monty Python sketch. Mattie freaks out, as one would, the crowd gets bizarrely excited by the idea of the town’s only competent healer being put to death, and the mob takes her out to the bridge/gibbet. Mattie wails, and Merthin pulls Caris aside so she doesn’t have to watch this.
Gwenda makes it to the road and is running flat out, but Cowman’s close behind.
The bridge begins to groan dangerously underneath the weight of the crowd. Mattie is dragged to one of the gallows and strung up.
Gwenda and Cowman reach the bridge and join the crowd, she desperately trying to escape.
The bridge finally gives way and starts to collapse, just as Mattie’s about to be hanged. Hey, folks? Don’t you consider this a sign? People and horses are thrown into the river and start flailing about. Mattie horribly swings free, choking at the end of the rope; Caris is horrified. Cowman grabs Gwenda and tries to use her as a flotation device, but she manages to shake him off. From the shore, Philippa shrieks for someone to save Sir Roland, and Ralph obediently goes back to look for his master. Merthin dives into the water and starts pulling people out. The prior manages to splash to the shore and is spotted by Petranilla, who wastes no time checking to make sure no one’s looking before drowning him. Except one person is looking: Godwyn, Not that he’ll say anything. Once the man’s dead, Petranilla starts shrieking for help.
Ralph drags Roland onto the shore and calls for help. Caris, pulling people from the water, sees Mattie floating lifeless and cradles her body, weeping.