The Duke of Clarence gives Roger the chapman, peddler by trade and meddler by fate (The Wicked Winter, 1999, etc.), his seventh errand: escort Cicely Armstrong, daughter of Clarence’s sergeant-at-arms, to her fiancé, Peter Gildersleeve, in Glastonbury. After traveling with the coquette, Roger’s only too eager to deliver her. When they arrive, however, they find that Peter has mysteriously vanished from a neighboring sheep farm. Since Peter’s mother is frantic, and his hostile younger brother Mark worried, Roger stays to help. Perhaps Peter was buying sheepskins for the vellum the Gildersleeves manufacture. But what was he doing at a remote shepherd’s hut? Confronted by a village that suspects witchcraft, Mark unlocks a chest of Peter’s manuscripts, hoping Roger, who can read, will make sense of any magical tomes. Instead, Roger discovers two things: the existence of an ancient, indecipherable manuscript not found in Peter’s chest, and the fact that Mark doesn’t always sleep in his bed at night. But when Roger begins to investigate Mark’s nocturnal activities, Mark disappears as well. Roger enlists the help of Glastonbury friars to decipher the cryptic manuscript, and a local honey merchant, Gilbert, to search for Mark. The monks, more successful than Gilbert, lead Roger to the manuscript’s translation. Incredibly, it appears to reveal the location of the Holy Grail. Was Peter in pursuit of that legendary treasure? Did Mark join him in his fatal quest?
Sedley deftly camouflages down-to-earth villainy with the magical dust of romance, but Roger’s calm detachment makes one wish for more Lancelot and less Percival.