The ruinous civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud for 12th-century England brings added heartache to Brother Cadfael (The Holy Thief, 1993, etc.) when he learns that his unacknowledged son, Olivier de Bretagne, has become a casualty. Philip FitzRobert's quixotic decision to turn against his father, the empress's half-brother, and order his castellan Brien de Soulis to surrender the castle of Cricklade to the king has stranded 30 of Philip's followers who decline to switch sides so abruptly. Most of these steadfast supporters have been ransomed, but Olivier remains imprisoned in unknown hands. So Cadfael, wresting his abbot's permission to attend the peace conference in Coventry under pain of expulsion if he stays past the meeting's close, ventures forth. By the end of the conference he has to deal with two captives--after Yves Hugonin, the young brother of Olivier's pregnant wife and a suspect in the stabbing death of de Soulis, is snatched from under a safe-conduct as he rides away from the foiled conference. Cadfael will have little trouble proving Yves's innocence, or eliciting a confession from the real assassin, but the abiding interest here is in the increasingly revelatory series of meetings he has with the ruthlessly political yet deeply human turncoat Philip FitzRobert over the fates of Yves, Olivier, and FitzRobert himself. Persevere past the drumbeat of canned history in the opening chapter and you'll find the pace quickening to unfold one of Cadfael's most moving adventures, one that touches his own generous heart most closely.