Crispin: The Cross of Lead (2002) is an engaging story about a young boy (Crispin) in medieval England. The book starts with the death of the boy’s mother, which sets a series of political complications in motion, dislodging Crispin from the village he has known his entire life and sending him out across the countryside. His path cuts across the various layers of society, exposing them from a peasant’s view and showing readers just how frightening life in a world defined by plagues, illiteracy, and the feudal system could be.
At the same time, though, Crispin: The Cross of Lead is a book of innocence and wonder. Not long after Crispin is forced to leave his village, he gains a new friend in Bear, a traveling juggler, political agitator, and spy. Bear protects Crispin, helps him understand the society in which they live, and trains him to be a man, as his absent father never did. Crispin’s world had been so limited that every new encounter is a roller coaster; some are terrible, but some are wonderful. Through a series of adventures, Bear and Crispin become essentially foster father and son. As they do, they forge a new destiny and identity for Crispin, making him brave where he was frightened, inquisitive where he was passive, and free where he was essentially chained.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead opens the day after Crispin’s mother, Asta, dies some time in 1377. Asta’s death sets a chain of events in motion that disrupts the dull but stable life Crispin had known up to that point. Crispin overhears John Aycliffe, the local steward, speaking with a stranger. When they realize he has been listening, they try to capture him. Failing, they make a public proclamation that Crispin stole from the manor house and declare him a “wolf’s head”: someone outside of human society, who can be killed at will. The village priest, Father Quinel, advises him to leave the village, but he also tells Crispin surprising things about his mother, specifically that she could read and write. Those abilities are rare in the fourteenth century, and they mark her, and Crispin, as special.
Crispin goes to Goodwife Peregrine’s home. The priest has arranged for her to help him, but the boy Cedric, who says he was sent in Father Quinel’s place, leads Crispin into a trap. Crispin runs, and when he does, he stumbles across Father Quinel’s murdered body.
Crispin flees across the countryside alone. Searching for food in a village where everyone was killed by the plague, Crispin finds only bodies, until he hears a voice singing from the village church. Crispin investigates. The singer is a large, strangely dressed man. The man quizzes Crispin about who he is and quickly uncovers that he is a runaway. The man claims Crispin as his own and makes him swear an oath of service.
This strange man, Orson Hrothgar, is better known as Bear because he is so large and strong. Rather than living and working in one place his whole life, like everyone Crispin has ever met, Bear travels, earning his living as a juggler, dancer, and entertainer. As they walk, Bear educates Crispin, explaining politics, the social organization of English society, religion, and his (Bear’s) own views on truth, faith, and the meaning of life. Bear also teaches Crispin practical skills. He shows him how to juggle, how to sing and play a recorder, and how to observe details in people’s actions. At the same time, Bear helps “unteach” Crispin some of the narrow beliefs about life the boy picked up in Stromford, including Crispin’s acceptance of his own outsider and “wolf’s head” status.
Crispin is becoming accustomed to Bear’s strange ways when they run across John Aycliffe and some armed men waiting for them. Bear and Crispin cut across fields and eventually end up in the village of Lodgecot. Once there, Bear and Crispin entertain the locals and make good money, though one of Bear’s tricks angers a one-eyed young man.
The pair travel on toward Great Wexly. As they do, Bear begins to teach Crispin how to fight with weapons. As they approach Great Wexly, they see more travelers. Bear uses this as an opportunity to explain more about social classes. When they arrive at Great Wexly itself, the city is walled, and everyone must enter through a few narrow gates. Men are stationed there, looking for Crispin. Rather than trying to hide, Bear has Crispin play the recorder and dances them through the gate.
Bear takes Crispin to the...
(The entire section is 1304 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Crispin: The Cross of Lead begins in a small village in medieval England. A woman named Asta has just died, and her thirteen-year-old son is helping the priest carry the body to the pauper’s section of the graveyard. As they do so, the other villagers stare but do not show any sign of respect for the dead woman. The boy, who has no name and is known only as Asta’s son, reflects that the villagers have always shunned his mother in this way.
Asta’s son and the priest dig a grave in the wet earth and lay the body in it. They kneel, and the priest recites prayers in Latin. As Asta’s son listens, he tries to trust in God—but this is difficult, considering that he has just lost the only family he ever knew.
When the funeral is over, Asta’s son sees a wealthy man named John Aycliffe sitting on his horse outside the cemetery gates. He obviously wants to speak with Asta’s son. The boy approaches warily, reflecting that Aycliffe hates him and often hits or kicks him.
The medieval village where Asta’s son lives is the property of Lord Furnival, who has been away for many years, fighting in a war. John Aycliffe is the steward of the land—the man responsible for overseeing the manor and the serfs in the lord’s absence. Everyone is terrified of Aycliffe, who can and often does exact cruel punishments on villagers who complain, skip mass, or do poor work. Aycliffe typically has villagers whipped for committing small crimes like these. Once in a while he cuts off someone’s hand or ear. The worst crimes—such as poaching in the forests outside the village—are punishable by death.
Aycliffe orders Asta’s son to give up the only animal he owns, an ox, as a “death tax” for his mother’s burial. Asta’s son protests that he will be unable to work in the fields without it. Aycliffe is unsympathetic; he simply orders the boy to starve.
When Aycliffe leaves, the priest tries to offer comfort. He says that the living must trust God to save them, as He saved Asta. This statement upsets and confuses the boy, who wonders if there is any salvation aside from death. Refusing to stay for further prayer, he rushes into the forest to be alone. He is so distraught that he runs without looking where he is going, and before long he falls down and hits his head.
Chapter 2 Summary
When Asta’s son awakes, it is completely dark. At first he does not know where he is, but eventually he remembers running away from the funeral and falling in the woods. Touching his head carefully, he finds that it is sore and scabbed. He is cold, and his tunic—the only item of clothing he owns—is wet with mud.
Peering into the darkness to get his bearings, Asta’s son spots a flickering torchlight. Unsure what to think of this, he makes the sign of the cross and says a prayer to guard against evil. Honest people should all be in bed by now, so whoever is making the light is most likely a criminal or a demon.
Asta’s son knows that curiosity is a trait of the Devil, but he feels curious anyway. He carefully moves toward the light, careful not to fall again in the dark woods. Soon he comes to a clearing and finds John Aycliffe, who is armed with a sword as always. With him is an unfamiliar gentleman who has gray hair.
As Asta’s son watches, the grey-haired stranger gives Aycliffe a piece of parchment that is covered in writing and adorned with tassels and seals. Aycliffe looks at it closely and swears. The gentleman points out that Aycliffe is “her kin” and that something is “a great danger.” Aycliffe agrees and promises to act immediately. Asta’s son does not understand what any of this means.
A moment later, Aycliffe looks up, sees Asta’s son watching, and grows furious. Drawing his sword, Aycliffe charges the boy and attacks. At first, Asta’s son can hardly react—but he gets away out of sheer luck. He runs into the woods and falls down a small cliff. At the bottom, he freezes and stays silent, hoping that his pursuer will move away in the darkness. This strategy works, and Aycliffe and his torch soon retreat.
When Aycliffe is gone, Asta’s son gets up and runs as far and as fast as he can. When his strength gives out, he collapses and tries to rest. However, he is too afraid to sleep. He spends the night thinking about all his sins: refusing to pray with the priest after his mother’s burial, staying out past the curfew, and even stealing communion wine to use as medicine for his mother before she died. He is sure God must be angry. What else could explain such a string of misfortune? As he waits for dawn, Asta’s son prays for forgiveness.
Chapter 3 Summary
Asta’s son was born thirteen years ago, in 1363, under the reign of King Edward III. His mother always called him only “son,” and the rest of the town accordingly calls him “Asta’s son.” If he had a father, he would have an identity—but the man died of Plague when Asta was pregnant. In his absence, Asta’s son lives “in a shadow”—one of the poorest people in a poor village.
Asta never remarried after her husband’s death, and her son does not find this surprising. She was always small, frail, and poor. What man would want such a woman? Moreover, she was always shunned, as her son has been shunned also.
The children of the village have always teased Asta’s son. Father Quinel, the...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Asta’s son eventually falls asleep in the forest. He wakes in the morning when he hears the church bell ringing. He gets up and thinks about what happened last night. There is no doubt that John Aycliffe looked truly ferocious during that attack. However, Asta’s son has often known cruel treatment from this man—and there is nothing to be done about it. All he can think to do is to return to his ordinary life and hope that Aycliffe will forget the incident.
Unfortunately, this plan proves unworkable. Asta’s son makes his way to the tiny one-room hut where he has always lived. On his way, he sees two village officials, the bailiff and the reeve, walking toward the cottage with axes and weapons called pikes....
(The entire section is 528 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
At first everything appears normal in Stromwell. The villagers are at work in the fields, just as always. Then two men on horseback ride into the center of the village. Asta’s son is too far away to see the men's faces, but he recognizes John Aycliffe’s posture on his horse, and he guesses that the other rider is the grey-haired stranger from the forest. The men ring the church bell, loudly and insistently. When the villagers hear it, they stop working and look around warily. Then they all drop their tools and make their way to the churchyard.
When the villagers have gathered, Aycliffe and the stranger begin to speak to the crowd. They are joined by Father Quinel, whom Asta’s son recognizes by his stooped posture....
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
All day, Asta’s son hides in the woods. Searching men pass him several times—twice so close that he can almost touch them. On one of these occasions, Asta’s son is hiding up a tree when two men named Matthew and Luke stop beneath it. Asta’s son knows them as he knows everyone in Stromwell. They are both honest men, but he does not dare speak to them because he is not sure what they would do.
Leaning against the base of the tree, Matthew says musingly that Asta’s son is probably far away by now. Apparently Aycliffe is claiming that the boy went mad after his mother’s death, stole money from the manor house, and fled. Matthew asks whether Luke believes this story. Luke replies:
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Chapter 8 Summary
The church is dark. Asta’s son tiptoes up to the door at the back of the building, which leads to a small room where Father Quinel sleeps. When the old man hears the knock at the door, he seems surprised—and then, when he realizes who has come, he offers up praise to God. He ushers Asta’s son into the church and produces a loaf of barley bread.
The stone church building is enormous—the height of two tall men, one standing on the other’s shoulders. The villagers of Stromwell believe it is “as old as the world.” The interior walls are adorned with pictures of Mary and Saint Giles, and a wooden crucifix hangs at the front.
Father Quinel is quick to believe that Asta’s son did not steal money...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The next day, Asta’s son lies low in the woods. In the morning, he climbs the high rock and watches carefully in case another search party comes after him. To his relief, none does. Nevertheless, he is quiet and watchful as he gathers what little food he can find to stave off his growing hunger. Occasionally he says the name Crispin out loud, trying to get used to it.
While he waits for the day to be over, Crispin wonders what the priest knows about his father. Crispin and his mother have always been shunned. Crispin has a strong sense that God makes the world work as it should, so he thinks that something must be wrong with him to make him deserve such treatment. He wonders if his father was evil, perhaps a...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Chapters 10-11 Summary
As soon as the boys are alone, Cerdic tells Crispin to go west instead of north. According to Cerdic, Aycliffe would not have announced the plan to search the south road unless he meant it as a trap. The road west goes past the manor house—the one direction nobody would expect Crispin to run.
Crispin cannot deny that this advice seems reasonable. For lack of a better plan, he agrees to go west. But as the boys approach the manor house and the nearby mill, four men step out of the shadows. Cerdic immediately slips away, and Crispin realizes that this is the trap. He turns to run, but four more men are climbing into the road behind him.
For a moment, Crispin stands frozen in terror and uncertainty....
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Chapters 12-13 Summary
Crispin travels as quickly as he can, running as much as possible and walking during periods of fatigue. On the way, he weeps for Father Quinel. Although Crispin does not know for sure, he guesses that the old man was murdered for trying to help him.
The road is little more than a muddy trail, and nobody but Crispin is on it. As he walks, he realizes that he has lost the bread from Goodwife Peregrine. He stops, wondering if he should go back and find it. Ultimately he decides that this would be too dangerous. He will just have to go on without food and hope to survive until he reaches a city.
Crispin passes through open country, then enters a forest. Eventually he leaves the trail and collapses under a tree....
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Chapters 14-15 Summary
The next morning, Crispin awakes to a dense fog. He continues walking up the road until he sees a person ahead. He stops, afraid that this stranger means to harm him. After watching and waiting for some time, Crispin realizes that the stranger is a dead body swinging from a gallows.
Crispin approaches the corpse and stares at it in disgust. The body is rotting, and crows have been eating the flesh. The tongue is hanging out, covered in mold, and one of the eyes is missing. A sign is stuck to the body with an arrow. Crispin cannot read, so he does not know what the words say.
Crispin kneels down and prays. Then, for a long time, he continues kneeling and just thinks. He does not know whether the man at the...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Crispin stops in his tracks, listening to the singing voice. He cannot imagine that anyone is alive in this dead village, so his first thought is that the owner of the voice must be a ghost. The singing continues, and Crispin realizes that the sounds are coming from a church. To Crispin, it seems highly unlikely that an evil spirit would hide in such a place. This gives him courage, and he tiptoes to the door to peek inside.
As it turns out, the singer is a traveler—an enormously fat man wearing colorful but ragged clothing. His hat has two points, each with a bell on the end. His pants are baggy, with each leg died a different bright color. Even the man’s face is strange, with a fat red nose and a shaggy red beard....
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
Crispin begs the stranger to let go of his arm. The stranger sneers and says that bread is never free. He demands to know whether Crispin is a runaway serf—in other words, a criminal. Crispin admits that he is but adds that he had to run because he was declared a wolf's head because of a crime he never committed. When the stranger questions him further, Crispin admits that he is an orphan with no known relatives.
After a moment’s consideration, the stranger lets go of Crispin’s arm—but he also stands in the doorway to prevent the boy from running away. The stranger explains that, under English law, any free man can claim a serf who lacks a master. Crispin stammers that he does not want a master, but the stranger...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Crispin takes his bread to a corner of the church, as far away from his new master as he can safely go. His master sits down in a doorway, apparently still worried that Crispin might run away. The stranger asks if Crispin expected to remain free. Crispin refuses to answer.
Apparently determined to start a conversation, the stranger asks if Crispin thinks men will ever live without masters. Crispin has been told all his life that it is the serf’s holy duty to obey his superiors, so he says, “God…has willed it otherwise." Apparently unsatisfied with this response, the stranger points out that Adam and Eve lived without kings or lords. This argument does not seem exactly wrong to Crispin, but it is totally alien to...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
Chapters 20-21 Summary
Bear walks quickly, the bells of his hat ringing in time with his steps. Crispin, who is stuck carrying Bear’s heavy bag, struggles to keep up. His mind is reeling; he simply cannot absorb the fact that he is stuck with a new tyrannical master just days after running away from the old one.
Crispin considers dropping Bear’s bag and fleeing, but he truly believes that God would strike him dead. Moreover, Crispin knows that Great Wexly is a city, and that cities are where people gain liberty. He decides to stick to his vow of servitude for now and hope that he can somehow gain freedom later.
For the rest of the day, Crispin and Bear walk without seeing anyone. After a while, Crispin works up the courage to...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
In the evening, Bear ties Crispin to a tree and then goes off to find food. Crispin begs not to be tied up. He thinks it is unnecessary since he made a sacred oath not to run away, but Bear refuses to listen. “As God in heaven knows, both wheat and trust take a full season to grow,” the man says. Then he walks away and leaves Crispin to wonder if he has been left to die. His only consolation is that Bear has left his sack behind as well. Crispin reasons that, even if Bear does not value the life of his new servant, he will surely return for his possessions.
After a long time, Bear returns with a dead rabbit. He unties Crispin, who is too angry to speak. He sits down and rubs his arms, which are sore from being tied...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
Sitting by the campfire, Bear asks about Crispin’s mother. Hesitantly, Crispin explains that she was shunned by the others in the village, always given the hardest work even though she was small and frail. She rarely spoke except to express anger at her fate. Bear finds it difficult to believe that she had no family, but Crispin replies that she said they all died in the Plague.
Next, Bear asks Crispin to explain how he became a wolf’s head. Crispin tells his story honestly and completely, and Bear is obviously mystified. Like Crispin, he cannot imagine why Aycliffe proclaimed the boy a wolf’s head, especially when his only apparent crime was to see a piece of paper he could not possibly read or understand....
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
On the next morning's leg of the journey, Bear begins to explain how he earns money. His first step is to walk into a village and pray at the church. Crispin interrupts and asks why Bear prays if he does not believe in God. Impatiently, Bear says that he has to act like he believes in order to gain people’s trust. Crispin finds this confusing and annoying. He demands to know, once and for all, what kind of person Bear really is.
Bear says simply that he is “a man.” Then he turns the question back at Crispin, who says he is “nothing.” Bear asks why, and Crispin says it is because he had no surname, no family, and no position in society. His last master declared him a wolf’s head, and his present master wants...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
Crispin does not think he is capable of helping Bear perform in villages, but Bear refuses to accept the boy's lack of confidence. He forces Crispin to learn to play the flute. Crispin does not believe that he can learn, but he watches as Bear explains how to hold his fingers and how to shape his mouth. Then Crispin halfheartedly takes the instrument and gives it a try. When he fails on his first few attempts, he says he wants to quit. Bear refuses to allow it. He threatens all kinds of terrible punishments unless Crispin keeps practicing, so Crispin obeys—at first in terror, and then with a growing understanding that Bear’s threats are just a gruff sort of kindness.
After half a day’s practice, Crispin manages to...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
The next morning, Crispin and Bear get up early and walk along the narrow dirt road. The road is surrounded by forest, so they can see little of what lies ahead. Suddenly Bear stops, looking wary. He points at a flock of flying pigeons and explains that something has scared them. Thoughtfully, he says that he wants to find out what it is before going forward.
Motioning to Crispin to follow, Bear leaves the road and cuts through the woods. As he heads for a hill, Crispin stays close and quiet. They both climb up the hill on hands and knees. When they reach the top, Bear gestures to Crispin to wait and then looks out over the road. After a moment, he ducks down and gives Crispin the chance to look for himself.
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapters 28-29 Summary
Bear and Crispin wend their way through the forest all day, rarely following any path. When Crispin asks, Bear says that he is not going anywhere in particular, just trying to keep Crispin alive. Eventually he stops, lights a fire, and snares some pigeons. He lets Crispin watch how to make the snares out of hair from a horse’s tail.
After dinner, Bear and Crispin sit in thoughtful silence. Again trying to understand why John Aycliffe is pursuing him, Crispin mentally reviews the details of his last days at home. Now and then he pipes up with a bit of information. Bear seems unimpressed when he learns that the stranger with Aycliffe in the forest was a wealthy man on an expensive horse. However, Bear seems far more...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
The little village is called Lodgecot, and Crispin realizes immediately that it is almost exactly the same as the place where he grew up. The peasants are poor, and they work extremely hard. They live in the same kinds of huts and wear the same kinds of clothes. The children are dirty—more dirty even than most of the animals.
While walking through the fields toward the village, Bear looks around alertly and comments that Crispin’s pursuers do not seem to be here. Then he commands Crispin to play the flute. The boy obeys, and the pair enters the village noisily and cheerfully. They march directly to the church, where a priest comes out to meet them with a frown on his face.
When Bear arrives at the...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapters 31-32 Summary
Crispin and Bear leave the village of Lodgecot just as they entered it, playing the flute and dancing. For a while, the children of the village follow them up the road. Only after the kids turn back, when Crispin and Bear know they are alone, do they discuss what they heard from Lodgecot’s priest. Bear seems unperturbed by the fact that Aycliffe is accusing Crispin of murder. Crispin criticizes Bear for sharing their travel plans, and the man admits this was not the best choice.
Changing the subject, Bear praises Crispin for his performance in the village. This makes Crispin proud. They look into Bear’s hat and see several small coins and six loaves of bread. To Crispin, this seems a fortune—but Bear thinks it is...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
Chapter 33 Summary
In the morning, Bear leads the way up the road to Great Wexly. Crispin walks silently, afraid of what will happen there. By now, Bear knows when Crispin is scared. He offers quiet encouragement throughout the day’s walk. Unfortunately, Crispin has also learned to read his companion’s moods, and he can tell that Bear is more afraid than he admits.
At first, the road is empty, but as the pair nears the city, more and more people appear. Because Crispin has seen so little of the world, Bear takes the opportunity to explain the roles of the people they see. He points out peasants and nobility, pilgrims and nuns, and merchants from various far-flung cities. Crispin looks around curiously, noticing adults and children...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
Bear tells Crispin not to act nervous as they approach the gate. If they look guilty, the guards will pay more attention to them. Although this makes sense, Crispin cannot quell his worry. Bear thinks a moment and then tells Crispin to play his flute. This sounds crazy to the boy, who knows that music will attract attention. However, he obeys, playing music while Bear dances. People all around them—including the soldiers—stop to laugh and clap at the performance. Because Crispin and Bear are so bold, the soldiers assume them to be harmless. They get to enter the city without submitting to searches or questioning.
Inside Great Wexly, Crispin stares in amazement. In his whole life together, he has never seen so many...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 35 Summary
Bear leads Crispin into a big room that is dimly lit with tallow candles placed on narrow shelves in the walls. The place stinks of stale beer and sweat. The floor is made of wood and strewn with rushes.
As he and Bear walk further into the room, Crispin sees a long counter covered with mugs for ale. Behind the counter is a big woman in a grease-stained dress. On her leather belt hangs a rosary and a leather purse that appears heavy. She has a flat nose that looks like it has been broken more than once, and her cheeks are pink but sunken. When she sees Bear, she grins, displaying a toothless mouth, and hugs him. He calls her the Widow Daventry.
The Widow Daventry begs to hear stories about Bear’s...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 36 Summary
The Widow Daventry invites Bear to sit down and chat over a meal. Bear agrees but says that he is first going to take Crispin upstairs. Crispin guesses that they do not want him to hear their conversation. He wishes they would let him stay but decides not to complain in front of the widow.
Bear asks the widow for keys to the “special” room he likes to rent. Then he leads the way to the second floor. As Crispin climbs the stairs, he holds the wall to keep steady. He has never been inside a two-story building before, and he grows dizzy from being indoors and up high at the same time. After a moment’s hesitation, he asks Bear if there is any risk that a building this tall will fall down. Bear laughs and promises that...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Chapters 37-38 Summary
Crispin runs out to the street, proud that he is brave enough to venture out alone. At first he just stands still and watches people walking by. Then he chases a group of children, eager to see where they go. When they disappear, he simply wanders by himself and looks at whatever interests him—which is everything.
At a bakery, Crispin discovers white bread—a curiosity he has never seen before. He spends his penny on a loaf and eats it. It tastes light and fluffy. It amuses him to eat something that needs so little chewing.
After a while, Crispin leaves the main road and explores the winding dirt roads that wend through the center of town. He enjoys choosing new paths and not knowing where they will lead....
(The entire section is 538 words.)
Chapter 39 Summary
Crispin runs until he is exhausted. In a narrow alley, two men catch up and corner him. One is armed with a stick, the other with a knife. Crispin draws Bear’s dagger and, remembering his fighting lessons, holds it at the ready.
The sight of the dagger makes Crispin’s pursuers hesitate. He takes the offensive, darting at the man with the stick. The man dodges and knocks Bear's dagger from Crispin’s hand. The other man grabs Crispin from behind, but he does not give up. He kicks and butts until he gets free. Then he charges the man with the stick, knocking him briefly off-balance.
Seizing this short moment of advantage, Crispin flees again. This time he gets away. He keeps running until he cannot run...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapters 40-41 Summary
At first, Crispin does not know who is calling him. He turns to run, but the man comes closer and shouts, “Crispin, you son of a scoundrel!” It is Bear. Relieved, Crispin runs and hugs his friend. Bear returns the embrace and then demands to know what happened.
Somewhat breathlessly, Crispin tells all about the attack by John Aycliffe’s men. Hurriedly, he shares a piece of information he worked out during his flight. Aycliffe is known to be related to Lady Furnival, and she must have called him to Great Wexly when her husband died. Bear admits that he thought that might happen, but he says he hoped to escape Aycliffe's notice during their short visit.
Following back streets and alleys, Bear leads the...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
Chapters 42-43 Summary
Crispin wakes up to the sound of many church bells ringing all at once. He remembers that today is a religious holiday called the Feast of John the Baptist. Bear, who was up late last night, snores through the racket. Crispin decides to stay quiet until Bear wakes on his own. To amuse himself, Crispin squishes a few of the fleas that live in the straw he and Bear are using for a bed.
When he cannot remain still any longer, Crispin gets up and tiptoes partway down the stairs. The tavern room is full of people breakfasting on bread dipped in wine. The Widow Daventry laughs and jokes with them, serving food and collecting money. Crispin watches the scene curiously, amazed at how nonchalantly everyone accepts all the action...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapters 44-45 Summary
Bear wakes up and comes downstairs. He calls for his breakfast and then notices Crispin cleaning the dining room. This pleases Bear, who comments that this work will reduce the expense of their stay in the hotel. He announces that he is going out and asks the widow to keep Crispin busy for the rest of the morning. Hesitantly, she asks if Bear has another meeting with John Ball. When Bear evades the question, Crispin guesses that the answer is yes.
While Bear eats breakfast, Crispin shares his worries about being followed. He explains about seeing the one-eyed young man whom Bear teased in the first village they visited. Bear seems impressed by his young friend’s observations, but not worried. He promises that the two...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapters 46-47 Summary
Afraid that John Aycliffe may arrest Bear and John Ball, Crispin quickly returns to the cobbler’s garden. He throws open the back door and shouts a warning. John Ball calls out that someone has betrayed him, and that everyone must run. All the men in the room rush toward Crispin.
In the garden, Bear grabs men one by one and lifts them to the top of the wall so they can jump down and run away. Before fleeing, John Ball says that his meeting will continue tonight at a tavern called the White Stag. Then he leaves, and Bear lifts Crispin to the top of the wall too. As soon as Crispin is safely out of sight, he hears the soldiers capture Bear. Crispin hesitates, unsure whether he should save himself or go back and fight....
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 48 Summary
Gathering his courage, Crispin tiptoes downstairs. All of the tavern’s chairs and tables are smashed. Cups are strewn on the floor, many of them broken. In the center of the mess, the Widow Daventry lies collapsed on the floor, crying, her body bruised and her clothing torn. When she hears Crispin approach, the widow starts in fear—and then relaxes when she realizes who it is. She wipes blood from her face and forces herself to stop crying.
Crispin asks the widow what happened, and she says that soldiers came looking for him. He asks if they will come back, and she replies—with an air of tired resignation—that they might. He asks what they will do if they find him. “Kill you,” she says simply. Hesitantly,...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 49 Summary
Crispin sits silently in his hiding place for a long time. Eventually the widow taps on the wall. He returns to the room, where she gives him some soup and bread. He takes it and eats quickly, although he feels ashamed of himself for getting hungry when his friends are suffering so much for his sake.
The widow asks what Crispin did while he was hiding. He replies that he thought about Bear. She sighs sadly and says that she, too, has lost people—two husbands and seven children. She asks why God allows some people to live while others die. Crispin cannot answer, and she begins to cry again.
When the widow finally stops crying, Crispin asks hesitantly whether she can read. When she says she can, he asks her to...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
Chapters 50-51 Summary
When the widow leaves, Crispin returns to his hiding place and lies down to think. Suddenly his whole life makes more sense to him than it ever has before. He understands why his mother gave him a noble name but hid it from him, and why she knew how to read and write but never taught him. He understands why she was so bitter, and why the people of the town shunned both him and her as though they were different. And finally, he understands why Aycliffe—a relative of Lady Furnival’s—acted so hatefully. He saw Crispin as a threat to his kinswoman’s power.
Remembering that night with Aycliffe in the forest, Crispin realizes that the men had already decided to try to kill him even before they noticed him listening....
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapters 52-53 Summary
In the late afternoon, the Widow Daventry returns to Crispin’s room. Speaking quickly, she says that she has found a friend who will sneak Crispin out of Great Wexly late tonight, after curfew is in force. When Crispin asks, she adds that Bear is probably already dead. In her view, the best thing Crispin can do now is get himself as far away as possible—perhaps even out of England altogether.
Crispin falls asleep after the widow leaves, and he awakes when the bells ring at the beginning of the citywide curfew. A few minutes later, the widow enters and says that her friend is ready to lead Crispin away. Crispin gathers Bear’s possessions, including all the money left from the juggling and music performances in the...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapters 54-55 Summary
Crispin’s guide takes him to the square and then slips away into the darkness. Crispin lingers in the shadows, looking at the empty tables and stalls in the open area before him. Using these for cover, he approaches the palace.
Two guards stand in front of the main entrance, and Crispin knows that he has no hope of fighting his way past them. But he thinks he could climb up to the second level and enter through a door to one of the balconies. Keeping to the shadows, he makes his way to the edge of the building. Only a narrow space exists between it and the building beside it. A grown man could not fit in the gap, but Crispin can.
Crispin squeezes himself between the buildings and sets down Bear’s sack....
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Chapter 56 Summary
Face to face with John Aycliffe, Crispin has the urge to fall into his old submissive posture. However, he remembers how Aycliffe tormented his mother and murdered Father Quinel. This makes Crispin angry, and anger helps him meet Aycliffe’s eyes. Boldly, Crispin says, “If you’re intending to call the guards…tell them Lord Furnival’s son has come.”
Aycliffe pretends not to believe that Crispin is really Aycliffe’s son. Crispin says he has proof, and he shows Aycliffe the lead cross with the writing on it. Aycliffe hesitates, then argues that anyone could have written this. Crispin does not back down. He points out that few people know how to read and write, that several people believe him to be Lord...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 57 Summary
Crispin can hardly believe that he has won. Unwilling to trust Aycliffe, Crispin keeps his dagger pointed at the man's back as the two of them walk through the palace together. Inwardly, Crispin reflects that his current strategy may not succeed. He promises himself that if his cross does not save Bear, he will try the dagger instead.
On the way to the dungeons, Crispin and Aycliffe pass through a well-stocked pantry, a room hung with tapestries, and a group of servants sleeping on the floor. Although curious about the wealthy household and its many occupants, Crispin forces himself to keep his attention on Aycliffe and the dagger.
The air gets cold and damp as Crispin and Aycliffe descend the dungeon...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Chapter 58 Summary
On the way to the gates, Crispin furtively hands Bear the stolen dagger from the castle. Bear hides it in his cloak. When they arrive at the gates, Aycliffe shouts that Crispin is a wolf’s head. Aycliffe cannot attack Crispin personally because of a vow, but he offers a monetary reward to anyone willing to kill the boy.
Quickly, Bear shoves Crispin behind him and draws the dagger. As he does so, his cloak slips partway off, showing how beaten and bloody his body is. The wounds do not seem to slow him down. He shouts curses at Aycliffe: “Oath Breaker! Murderer!” As the nearby soldiers draw their swords and surround Crispin and Bear, the city people gather to watch. Bear brandishes the dagger, threatening anyone...
(The entire section is 422 words.)