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...
(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.
(The entire section is 425 words.)
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.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
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 priest, has been his only friend. The old man usually counsels the boy to have patience and accept his role in life. Asta’s son finds this difficult. He feels that his misfortunes must result from some wickedness inside himself. He spends a great deal of time praying, trying to rid himself of this evil.
Although they are not slaves, the villagers are not free to come and go as they please. They are called villeins or serfs—people who are bound to work Lord Furnival’s fields. Lord Furnival has been away fighting in wars for such a long time that many of his villagers have never seen him. This does not matter much, since they know what to do: they must raise grain in his fields. In winter, when they do not need to work the land, they tend to the animals, gather wood, and just try to stay alive. They are paid little for the work they do, barely enough to earn the barley bread and watered ale that makes up almost their entire diet. Occasionally they have cooked dried peas to go with their bread. Only on Christmas, in good years, do they get a little meat.
Almost every day of Asta’s son’s life has been the same, filled with work and hunger. According to the Holy Church and John Aycliffe, this is the life which God has assigned to serfs—the path that may bring them to eternal happiness when they reach Judgment Day. Asta’s son does not question this. He assumes that everyone lives as he does, and that everyone will continue to live this way until the end of time. Now that his mother has died, he feels as though the end of time is already here.
(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. Worried, Asta’s son hangs back in a patch of bushes to watch.
The bailiff and the reeve make a quick search of the inside of Asta’s cottage and then tear it down. It is a rickety structure with mud wattle walls and a thatch roof, so the job is not difficult for them. When the men are finished, they light the rubble on fire. Full of fear, Asta’s son sits in his hiding place and watches his home burn.
After this scary experience, Asta’s son returns to the forest and considers what to do. Clearly it is not safe for him in the village, but he does not have anywhere else to go either. He needs information, so he climbs a high rock that gives him a good view.
It is a beautiful day, and swallows flit through the air as Asta’s son looks down over the village and surrounding lands. He can see as far as the river Strom, and his eyes find the spot where the water is sometimes shallow enough for the villagers—none of whom can swim—to cross.
On the banks of the river is Lord Furnival’s manor, an enormous stone building that actually has windows. There are about forty huts, a tall stone church, and a mill for grinding wheat and barley. These buildings are surrounded by fields for growing crops and raising animals.
Two roads pass through Stromwell. Asta’s son knows from hearsay that the roads lead to the rest of England. From the priest, he also knows that a wider world exists beyond England’s borders. The priest refers to that mysterious world as “Great Christendom.”
But the village Asta’s son can now see from the rock is all he knows in the world. It belongs to Lord Furnival—the manor house, the mill, the church, the villagers’ huts, and...
(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. To his frustration, the boy is too far away to hear what the men are saying. He strains to see or hear a clue about the meaning of the gathering. He can discern nothing, but he has a bad feeling that this meeting has something to do with him.
When the speeches are finished, everyone files into the church and the bell is rung, slowly this time, as if to announce a mass. Asta’s son normally follows the call of this bell along with the other villagers, but he is too afraid to do so now. Nevertheless, he decides that the bell is a signal to pray. He bows his head and asks for help from God.
Eventually people come back out of the church. Many return to the fields or stand talking in small groups in the churchyard. John Aycliffe, the stranger, and several other men go to the manor house. As Asta’s son tries to discern their intentions, he thinks about the people of the village and wonders whom he should trust. He has no close friends his own age, but he does have the priest. Father Quinel is a good man who has always helped Asta and her son in any way he could. Asta’s son decides to find Quinel and ask for help.
The men soon reemerge from the manor house carrying weapons called "glaives," which are poles with blades on the end. A few men are armed with bows as well. The weapons confirm all of Asta’s son’s fears: he has been accused of a crime, and these people are coming to the forest to hunt him down. Knowing that his plan to seek out the priest will have to wait, Asta’s son climbs off the rock and looks for a place to hide.
(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:
Ah, Matthew, I’m sure marvelous things happen…But no, by the true cross, I don’t believe he did such a thing.
Matthew readily agrees, but this does not help Asta’s son. What John Aycliffe says is the law in Stromwell, and both Matthew and Luke say that they must follow orders. Asta's son remains silent, absorbing the news that the law considers him guilty of a terrible crime.
Continuing their conversation, the two village men gripe about John Aycliffe. The man’s tyranny over Stomwell—harsh punishments, high taxation, and increased demands for labor—has caused them and their families to suffer. Aycliffe has no blood claim to his position, being related to Lord Furnival only through marriage. To Matthew and Luke, this fact makes it even harder to bear the steward's mistreatment. They both say that they hope Lord Furnival will soon return so that the villagers can complain about Aycliffe’s leadership. Then they make the sign of the cross and continue their search.
When the two men are gone, Asta’s son is left alone to think about what he has heard. Although impressed that the men were brave enough to speak unfavorably of John Aycliffe—who has threatened to hang dissenters—Asta’s son has little interest in their complaints. It seems far more important to him that he has been declared guilty of a crime he never could have imagined committing.
When darkness falls, the search is stopped for the night. Asta’s son is very hungry from a day without food, but he remains hidden for several more hours. He only ventures out after Compline, the final prayer time for the night, is signaled on the church bell. Then, when all is still, Asta’s son...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
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 from the manor, but he is also eager to know what did happen. Asta’s son explains about the scene he witnessed in the woods. Although the boy repeats the men’s conversation about Aycliffe being related to “her” and about “a great danger,” neither can puzzle out any sense in the words.
However, Father Quinel does have some useful information. He knows that the stranger with Aycliffe is called Sir Richard du Brey, and that Lord Furnival is deathly ill. Father Quinel goes on to explain that Asta’s son has been declared a “wolf’s head.” This means that the boy is no longer considered human, and that anyone who meets him may kill him. The priest urges Asta’s son to run away and never come back. This is his only hope for survival.
Asta’s son begs to know why this has happened. Father Quinel cannot explain. However, after a moment’s hesitation, he reveals a surprising piece of information: when Asta’s son was born, his mother gave him the name Crispin. This shocks the boy, who does not understand how he could have a name he never even knew. Father Quinel hints that he knows something about the boy’s father, as well, but he does not want to reveal it. He urges the boy to run away to a city, any city. City dwellers have freedoms that serfs do not, and a person officially gains these rights by residing in a city for a year and a day. At that point, Father Quinel says, Asta’s son may begin to live “as a high-born lord…or a king.”
This is all too much for Asta’s son—who has not yet begun to think of himself as Crispin. He protests that he knows no life but the one he has always lived here in Stromwell. He does not know where any cities are, nor how to get to...
(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 criminal or an atheist. If this is the case, then Crispin can understand the strange new developments in his life. After all, is it not natural for the son of an outcast to become an outcast as well?
At nightfall, Crispin returns to Stromwell. Following the priest’s instructions, he makes his way toward the home of the oldest woman in town, Goodwife Peregrine. Partway there, Crispin meets a village boy named Cerdic, who says that plans have changed, and that Father Quinel left instructions for Crispin to go to the road leading west from town. Cerdic cannot explain why the priest changed plans in this way.
Crispin hesitates. He has never trusted Cerdic, and he sees no reason to start now. After thinking it over, Crispin decides to go to the Goodwife Peregrine as originally instructed. Father Quinel is not there, but she acknowledges that the priest asked her to help Crispin. She does not seem at all happy about this, and she mutters that she would not help the boy if Father Quinel had not pressured her to do so.
As Cerdic hovers in a corner, watching, the Goodwife Peregrine lets Crispin eat a bowl of porridge. Then she gives him a magically protective pouch to wear around his neck during his journey. She tells him that John Aycliffe mentioned a plan to take some men and search the road leading south from Stromwell. Accordingly, she advises him to take the road north. Then she hands Crispin a loaf of bread for the road and, with an air of being glad to get rid of him, shoves him out the door.
(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. John Aycliffe, who is among the men on the road, reminds everyone that the boy is a wolf’s head—an animal who can be killed without fear of repercussions. The men charge, and Crispin darts toward the mill. Hoping to hide above ground, he tries to climb the mill’s outer wall—but a flying arrow soon scares him back to ground level. He runs to the back of the building and, in the darkness, falls into the ditch full of flowing water that powers the mill.
This lucky fall provides Crispin the chance he needs to escape. From the men's shouts, he learns that nobody is sure where he has gone. As quietly as he can, he walks through the chest-deep water. Eventually he arrives at the edge of the river—and there he hesitates. He cannot swim, and he is too afraid to cross the deep water. He considers sneaking across the ford, but his ears tell him that his pursuers have already thought to cut off that means of escape. Unwilling to brave the river crossing or the guards at the ford, Crispin doubles back across town instead, making his way to the southern border of Stromwell. When he arrives at the crossroads there, he kneels in the dirt to pray for God’s protection during the upcoming journey.
As Crispin begins his prayer, he notices a dark shape on the ground. It is Father Quinel, lying on his back in the dirt. Thinking at first that the old man has fallen asleep, Crispin leans over the body. In the dim light from the moon, he sees that the priest is dead from a slit throat. Crying out in fear, Crispin says another hurried prayer and then runs away without completing his prayer. This seems a bad omen, and he cannot help but think that God may no longer want to protect him.
(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. But even after his body loses its power to go on, he is unable to quiet his brain. He sits thinking late into the night, trying to make sense of all that has happened to him. And now he has a new worry to add to all the old ones: if he dies in the open country, without a priest to bless his dead body, he will go to hell forever. He climbs to his knees and prays for mercy. This action provides him some small comfort, and he finally falls asleep.
In the morning, Crispin awakes to the sound of horse hooves. He freezes as John Aycliffe and two other men charge past. They do not see Crispin, who says a quick prayer of relief. When they are gone, he remains still, wondering what to do next. He is afraid to go on now that he has seen his pursuers on the road, but he cannot go back to Stromwell, either. He could make his way across open country, but the road is his last link to the life he used to know. Leaving it seems impossible.
Unable to decide what to do, Crispin spends two days just living in the woods beside the road. He finds almost nothing to eat, and he is so miserable that he almost wishes somebody would catch him and kill him. Then he sees one of Aycliffe’s companions, the bailiff, ride past again, heading alone back to Stromwell. As Crispin watches this new development, he silently wonders where Aycliffe has ended up.
Eventually Crispin shakes himself out of indecision and decides to continue following Father Quinel’s advice: find a city and gain freedom. Crispin returns to the road and stumbles along, not knowing what will happen or where he will end up. He is so hungry, scared, and uncomfortable that, by the time night comes, he has almost lost his will to live. With this...
(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 gallows was killed by criminals or by agents of the law. He wonders if the appearance of the body is a sign from God, or perhaps a signal that he, Crispin, has died and traveled to the gates of Hell.
After some time, Crispin realizes that he no longer wants to die. Although he cannot fathom why, the gruesome sight of a swinging corpse has awakened his desire to live. He prays to God for a sign about which way to go. When none comes, Crispin chooses a path that is dimly lit by the sun.
Crispin continues walking all day long, occasionally drinking from streams but always failing to find anything to eat. He reminds himself that he has gone hungry many times, and that he has not died yet. This does not help his discomfort, but it does help him feel resolve to go on. He begins to worry about the fact that he has not yet met a single living soul.
Eventually Crispin comes to a village. It is obviously smaller than Stromwell, but still, his first reaction is to hope that his journey is finished. But as he gets closer, he sees that the houses are all falling down. There are no animals in the meadows, and the fields are fallow. Crispin fears at first that he is witnessing something supernatural, but eventually he realizes that the village must have been destroyed by the Plague. Although he was not yet born when the Plague came, his mother and many others are old enough to have witnessed it. At the time, Stromwell’s population fell by about half. Many people died, and many others fled to the cities. This small village must have been destroyed completely.
Although he is afraid, Crispin is desperate to find some food. He goes into a cottage and sees a skeleton holding a cross. He knows...
(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. Crispin has never seen someone dressed in this way before, so he gapes in surprise.
There is a big bag on the ground beside the fat man, and Crispin stares at it, wondering if there is food inside. The man looks up, sees Crispin, and stop singing. His first action is to reach for the knife he wears at his belt—but after a moment, he takes his hand away and greets Crispin in the name of God.
Studying Crispin with obvious curiosity, the fat man demands to know where the boy is from and where he is going. Crispin is evasive, saying vaguely that he is on his way to meet his father in “some large town.” The fat man sees through this lie easily. He comments that Crispin looks dirty, half-starved, and wild. “In short, you’re more cur than boy,” he says.
Crispin does not know what to make of this man. He thinks it might be best to run away, but his desire for food makes him stay. The fat man seems to sense this, and he hints that he has food to offer. Crispin inches forward, and the stranger launches into a loud, confusing lecture about how the king and his lords get fat while the people of England go hungry. This, the man concludes, is the wrong way for the world to work.
When the stranger finishes this speech, he asks what Crispin thought of it. Crispin timidly thinks it over for a moment, then says that it “sounds like...treason.” This seems to make the stranger angry. He lures Crispin closer with some bread, then grabs the boy’s arm in a tight, painful grip.
(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 scoffs and says that nobody in the world gets to be free. He claims Crispin for himself and offers a choice: Crispin must either be a good servant or return to his hometown to accept his death sentence.
Overwhelmed and afraid, Crispin begins to cry. The stranger asks if he saw the dead man hanging at the crossroads. When Crispin says yes, the stranger explains what was written on the sign on the man’s body. The man rebelled against his master by refusing to hand over a bag of wool he owed in taxes. He only wanted to sell the wool to feed his child, who was sick and starving, but it did not matter. His lord hung him and left his body as a warning for others. The stranger asks if Crispin wants to come to the same fate. Naturally Crispin wants nothing of the sort, and he begs for mercy.
The stranger is not ready to show mercy yet. Holding Crispin at knifepoint, he makes the boy swear a holy oath of servitude. Unable to flee and too weak to fight, Crispin stammers out the words the man tells him to say. In essence, he swears to be the stranger’s servant for the rest of his life. When the oath is finished, Crispin is firmly convinced that God will strike him dead if he ever breaks the vow. He collapses to the floor in tears, hardly able to believe that he escaped servitude only to enter into it again so soon.
The stranger watches the boy's grief stoically. “Now you are mine,” he says, and he throws Crispin a piece of bread.
(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 his worldview. He cannot think of a response, so he remains silent.
Next, the stranger tries to get Crispin to smile, but Crispin is too overwhelmed and upset. This annoys the stranger, who says that humor and laughter are the only reasons to live. He is so eager to make this point that he actually shouts it. Crispin flinches, afraid he may be beaten.
The stranger calms himself and says that he will be a much better master than most. He offers Crispin the chance to ask questions. He points out that Crispin does not even know his new master’s name. Crispin shrugs, saying that it is not important. It upsets the big man that Crispin is afraid even to ask such a simple question. They both fall silent.
After a while, the stranger takes some small balls out of his bag and begins to juggle. Crispin has never seen juggling before, and he does not even know the word until his master tells it to him. He watches in fascination, thinking that he is seeing magic. His master explains that it is not magic but a skill—one that keeps him well-fed. He seems to hope that Crispin will be impressed, but Crispin is too shell-shocked to show any such emotion.
As the conversation continues, the stranger asks Crispin’s name. When Crispin says it, his master scoffs and says, “That’s too fine and noble a name for such rubbish as you.” Then, when he learns that Crispin does not even know his own surname, the man adds that Crispin is as ignorant as an animal.
Crispin's master explains that people need skills and knowledge to live on their own. He promises to teach Crispin what he needs to know. To begin, he demands that Crispin ask a question. Under direct order, Crispin still...
(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 ask a question. Addressing Bear as “sir,” Crispin ask why nobody is around. Bear explains that the Plague devastated this area of England. He adds that Crispin should not say “sir” because that is how servants speak. Crispin protests that he is a servant, and Bear growls in apparent frustration.
When the pair stops to rest, Bear gives Crispin half of the remaining bread and then begins telling a story about his life. When he was twelve years old, his father bound him to a monastery to make him a priest. Bear never saw his father again, but over the next seven years he learned to read Latin, French, and English. He is grateful for this because his knowledge protects him. Anyone who can read and write is considered a priest under the law, which means that he cannot be executed.
Continuing his story, Bear explains that he expected to become a priest as his father intended, but one day when he was about eighteen, he met a group of traveling performers. He had never met people who laughed so much before, and he was amazed. He ran away from the abbey and joined them in their travels. He became friends with the group, but eventually they broke up. Now Bear travels alone, preferring solitude to company. Hearing this last bit, Crispin tentatively asks why Bear wants a servant.
Instead of answering, Bear begins teaching Crispin to juggle. Crispin does not understand the purpose of this, but Bear tells him that it will become clear later. Crispin works at tossing one ball, and then two, back and forth between his hands until he develops a rhythm.
When Bear is satisfied with Crispin’s progress, they pack up the balls and walk on. As they walk, Bear gets out a pipe...
(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 together. Bear, who seems unbothered by Crispin’s foul mood, launches into a lecture about tyranny. He says that it is wrong for kings and lords to keep all the wild animals in England for themselves. It is totally reasonable for a man like Bear to kill a rabbit to fill his hungry belly, but under the law of the land, it is a crime.
Bear builds a fire and begins cooking his kill. As Crispin watches, he admits that he has only tasted meat a few times in his life. This is so pathetic that it makes Bear laugh bitterly. A while later, Bear hands the boy a piece of the cooked rabbit—more meat than Crispin has ever eaten at one sitting. As Crispin eats, he admits to himself that life with Bear may have its advantages.
When darkness falls, Bear lies down by the fire and tells stories about his life. He has seen more of the world—both the good and the bad—than Crispin has ever imagined existed. The man fills his stories with joking and laughter, but he also seems bitter when he speaks of injustice.
Bear explains that after his traveling performance group broke up, he spent several years as a soldier, fighting in France. In those times, he met—and disliked—Lord Furnival, the man who owns Crispin’s home village. Bear tells Crispin that people of noble birth are not necessarily good. Lord Furnival was not brave on the battlefield, but he clearly enjoyed being cruel to the people he conquered.
After hearing all of this, Crispin lets down his guard a bit. He comments that John Aycliffe, Lord Furnival’s steward, was a cruel man as well. Bear takes the opportunity to ask what town Crispin comes from, and the boy answers truthfully, naming Stromford. Then he sits in...
(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.
Crispin continues his story, saying that Aycliffe or his men killed Father Quinel. Bear is not a religious man, but he is nevertheless shocked that someone would murder a priest. Crispin says, “I think his death was my doing. God was punishing me." Bear mocks this idea, saying that the least important people—like Crispin—always assume that they are the center of the universe. God does not kill his priests just to punish unimportant, half-starved serf children. In Bear’s opinion, God does not care much about children like Crispin at all. He says that the priest must have been murdered for a reason unconnected to Crispin.
When Crispin’s story is finished, Bear advises the boy to laugh more and take life less seriously—even in times of suffering. “Lose your sorrow, and you’ll find your freedom,” he says. This annoys Crispin, who points out that his life belongs to his master. Bear seems upset by this, and he offers Crispin the freedom to choose whether to stay or go. Crispin refuses to make a choice, and this clearly angers Bear.
Before going to sleep, Crispin takes out the lead cross that used to belong to his mother. When Bear sees it, he scoffs and mocks religion. He says that many people had such crosses during the Plague and that he does not want to see Crispin’s anymore. Crispin solves this problem by turning his back. He prays aloud, asking God to save the souls of his loved ones and also promising not to listen to Bear’s sacrilege. The big man does not comment on this.
That night, Crispin lies awake thinking. He decides that Bear is crazy but kind. He also thinks about how God created lords and servants and soldiers and priests. Almost everyone,...
(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 him to think and speak in ways he cannot. He ends his outburst with a prediction that Bear will soon give up on him, as everyone else has.
It scares Crispin to speak to his master in this way, but for once, Bear does not seem angry. He just asks if Crispin wants to be different than he has always been. Crispin answers with characteristic evasiveness, putting all the blame on God and others rather than taking responsibility for himself.
Bear does not accept this answer. He grabs Crispin, drags him to the edge of a stream, and demands that the boy look at himself. Crispin hates his own reflection, but he is not brave enough to disobey. He peers into the water and sees a dirty, bruised, tear-streaked boy with long, tangled hair. Bear cuts his hair and makes him wash his face, then asks him to look again. Crispin does as he is told and sees a much different image. Bear points out that if Crispin can change this much just by washing his face and cutting his hair, then he should be able to change much more if he makes a conscious choice to become a different kind of person.
After this lesson, the pair walks onward. Returning to the original topic of the morning’s conversation, Bear explains that he goes to villages, acts pious, and then asks a community leader for permission to perform before the people. Crispin admits that he is afraid to go along with such a scheme; someone might recognize him as an outlaw. Bear says that this is unlikely. Crispin is just an insignificant child, and he did not even commit the crime Aycliffe claimed. Why would anyone keep looking for him? Crispin replies that he is evil, perhaps even lacking a soul like an animal, and that God wants to punish him with...
(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 play a tune. Bear is thrilled, and Crispin is flabbergasted. He never would have believed he could make music until he heard himself do it. Now that he has experienced a little success, he continues practicing of his own free will.
Crispin’s newfound desire is good, because Bear insists on more practice. After a while, he gets out a drum and plays a beat. Then, to Crispin’s complete astonishment, the big man begins to dance. The boy has never before seen such a strange spectacle as an enormous man bouncing around to the beat of music. At first, Crispin stops playing just to watch.
Bear makes Crispin restart the song, and again he sings and dances to the tune. When they are finished, Bear admits that this is why he took Crispin as a servant. Two people can make a better performance than just one—and this, in Bear’s words, will “bring…pennies of plenty.” This promise makes Crispin smile. Bear cheers and makes a show of praising God for the fact that the boy is capable of showing happiness.
In the evening, Bear tells Crispin that they will go in the morning to a village called Burley, which is on the way to Great Wexly. This makes Crispin nervous for many reasons, but he does not protest anymore. He is afraid that Bear will make fun of him for being afraid.
That night, after Bear goes to sleep, Crispin gets out his cross and prays to Saint Giles. He prays that he will not shame Bear in front of tomorrow’s audience. He also prays to sing and dance as well as his master someday. Lastly, Crispin begs Saint Giles to prevent Bear from turning him over to John Aycliffe and a fate of certain death.
(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.
Peering down from his vantage point, Crispin gains a view of a bridge, which is guarded by a group of men. Among them is John Aycliffe, the steward of Crispin's village. Terrified, the boy whispers the man’s identity to Bear. Bear gives Crispin a strange look, studies Aycliffe, and then leads the way back down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, Bear stops to have a talk. He says that all people make mistakes and that it is not his place to judge. Then he asks solemnly if Crispin is guilty of breaking into his lord’s house. This question bothers Crispin, who claims innocence sincerely. This answer confuses Bear, who explains that a man in Aycliffe’s position should be glad to be rid of a poor, scrawny boy like Crispin. Chasing him seems like a waste of effort. However, Bear admits that he was wrong about Aycliffe giving up. He says he should have listened when Crispin insisted the search would continue. Briefly, this makes Crispin feel triumphant. Then he sees the fear in Bear’s eyes and grows afraid himself.
Bear considers their options and decides to travel overland through the forest and fields, avoiding the main road to Great Wexly. There is only one such road through the area, and Crispin’s pursuers are obviously guarding it. The two of them set out immediately—Bear walking confidently forward, Crispin often glancing back.
During this walk, Crispin thinks about how Bear noticed the pigeons, which made him wary, which gave him a chance to see and evade John Aycliffe. It occurs to Crispin that he, too, should learn how the world works and notice when something is amiss. Given the dangers that surround him, he will need to notice as much as he can to stay alive.
(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 interested in the priest’s claim that Crispin’s mother could read and write. “How could a miserable peasant woman acquire such skills?” Bear wonders aloud. Crispin does not know but says that the priest said his mother wrote on her lead cross.
That night, before Crispin goes to bed, he gets out his lead cross to pray as usual. Bear abruptly asks to look at the cross, and Crispin hesitates, worried that Bear will destroy it. The man swears on “the bloody hands of Christ” that he will not do anything of the sort, and Crispin hands it over. Bear holds it close to their campfire and studies the words inscribed on it for a long time. When he gives the cross back, Crispin asks what it says. Bear claims that he could not read it in the dim light, but the boy suspects that this is a lie.
The next day, Crispin often catches Bear staring at him at odd moments. The man does not explain himself, so the boy does not comment on the matter either. The pair sets off through the woods and begins following a path. As they walk, they hear a church bell. This means that a village is near.
Bear thinks that now is as good a time as any to try their first performance in a village. He reviews the plan for their songs and dances, then says that if anyone attacks, Crispin must run away and save himself. Bear urges the boy to go as far north as possible, away from the king’s lands. Crispin fails to understand why he cannot simply go to Great Wexly as planned. Somewhat mysteriously, Bear explains that Great Wexly may be dangerous for Crispin. He, Bear, would cancel his plans to travel there, but he promised a friend he would go. He is supposed to give information to a brotherhood dedicated to the goal...
(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 church, he kneels at the priest’s feet. Crispin stops playing the flute and stands nervously in the background as Bear makes a respectful speech. He pretends that he is Crispin’s father and that the two of them are on a pilgrimage to Canterbury to do penance for their sins. Then he asks permission to sing and dance before the villagers.
The priest looks slightly more cheerful after this speech, but he does not grant his permission immediately. First he demands to know whether Bear sings religious music. By way of an answer, Bear sings a pious song. When he finishes, he stands with a humble posture and waits for the priest’s decision.
The priest blesses Bear and allows the performance to continue. The townspeople gather around, and Crispin plays music while Bear dances. A one-eyed young man runs off when Bear teases him in the middle of the performance, but everyone else appears to have a wonderful time. Near the end, Crispin grabs Bear’s hat and walks through the crowd accepting pennies and bread from the villagers.
After the performance, Bear and Crispin go into the church and take communion. Crispin prays, and Bear bows his head in an attitude of prayer. Then they share a bit about their travel plans with the priest, who tells them to beware of a mad boy from a nearby village who robbed his master’s house and killed the village priest. The priest does not seem to suspect that Crispin is the boy the people are searching for—but the one-eyed young man steps into the church and stares ominously during this conversation. This worries Crispin, who makes a mental note to talk to Bear about it later.
(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 a relatively small day’s pay. Even so, he gives Crispin a penny for helping. Crispin at first protests that a servant should not be paid, but Bear insists, and Crispin accepts the money.
For three weeks, Crispin and Bear crisscross the countryside, repeating their performance in many villages. Bear is careful not to go in one predictable direction, just in case anyone is trying to follow them. As Crispin learns new tunes and earns more money, he feels freer and happier than he has his whole life.
One day, Bear asks Crispin if he knows how to defend himself. Surprised, Crispin says no. Bear suggests learning to fight, and Crispin reluctantly agrees. He does not like weapons, nor the idea that he might have to use them someday, but he practices hard all the same.
Thus begins an intense period of learning for Crispin. One night when he sees Bear patching clothing, Crispin asks for sewing lessons. He also learns to catch small animals with snares. As time passes, he begins learning to look people boldly in the eye instead of staring down at the ground in a servile manner.
One evening, Bear announces that they will go to Great Wexly tomorrow. Instantly, Crispin grows worried. Tentatively, he asks if Bear is planning to betray him. This offends Bear, who says that he likes Crispin and does not want anything bad to happen to him. After a moment’s thought, he asks Crispin to become his apprentice instead of his servant. Crispin agrees.
However, when Bear falls asleep, Crispin’s unsettled feeling remains. He has not trusted many people in his life, and it is difficult for him to believe Bear’s promise of loyalty. Crispin gets out his lead cross and begins to ask...
(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 pulling wagons or carrying buckets on yokes across their shoulders. Wealthier people have oxen or horses to bear their burdens.
From people’s clothing, Bear can determine who they are and what they do. He makes Crispin give a penny to a Franciscan friar, a brown-robed monk who voluntarily lives in poverty. But when Bear spots a tax collector, he grows angry at the very sight. Crispin looks at the many colors and styles of people’s clothing in awe. He decides that he will someday learn to read the language of clothing, just as he will learn to read words.
As he nears the city, Crispin sees poor salespeople with their wares spread out on tables and blankets. He sees soldiers roughly shoving peasants aside. He notes, too, how the crowd parts in reaction to Bear’s impressive size. This makes Crispin feel safe and proud to be in Bear’s protection.
Eventually Crispin spots a huge wall made of brown stone. It stretches as far as he can see in either direction. He asks about it, and Bear explains that it goes in a circle around the city. This keeps enemies out, and it also locks people in. The sight of the vast wall, and the tall buildings beyond it, stuns Crispin into silence for a while. He has never imagined that a place so big exists, and it is hard for him to accept it even now.
Crispin and Bear near the gates, and the crowd grows thick. At first, Crispin does not understand why. He sees black cloth over the entryway, and then he spots groups of soldiers waiting at the gates, admitting travelers to the city in twos and threes. Inexperienced as he is, Crispin knows at once that those guards are looking for someone.
(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 different people. The city is a riot of sights and noise. People laugh, joke, and sell their wares. The streets are so packed, it is impossible to walk straight. Bear leads the way, weaving through the crowd. Most people do not even bother to look at passing strangers.
The city is also full of smells—mostly bad ones from unwashed bodies, emptied chamber pots, animal manure, and rotting food. The road is stone, and its wide gutter is full of dirty water, human waste, and garbage. Rather than carrying this waste out of town, people simply toss it out their doors and windows. More than once, Crispin sees an unfortunate passerby doused with muck thrown from a house.
The buildings in Great Wexly are larger than any Crispin has ever seen—two and three stories high. Many are draped with black cloth. Bear says that this is because “someone important has died.” He does not explain further.
The lower floors of most buildings on the street are shops which do business through their front windows. Crispin soon realizes that the pictures on the shops’ signs—fish, wheat, jackets—convey information about what is sold inside. The rooms above the shops do not seem to be stores. Rather, those areas provide living space for the shopkeepers and their families.
Crispin is so excited by everything he sees that he keeps wandering off. Bear repeatedly grabs him and drags him back in the direction they are trying to go. Eventually they come to a building with a green straw man hanging above the entrance. Bear says that this is the Green Man tavern, where they are going to stay. Crispin’s excitement dwindles because now he remembers that Bear’s business in Great Wexly is dangerous....
(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 adventures. He tells her about finding Crispin, but naturally, he leaves out the detail about Crispin being a wolf’s head. Bear is vague about Crispin’s background, saying only that the boy is an orphan who had to leave his home village. To Crispin’s surprise, Bear adds that the boy is a talented performer. This pleases Crispin, even though he feels a bit jealous at meeting someone who apparently knows his friend better than he does.
As the conversation continues, the Widow Daventry says that Lord Furnival has just died. Crispin is surprised not only by this news, but also by the fact that Bear already seems to know. It turns out that this was clear to Bear from the black cloths hanging all over town. Crispin feels a bit put out that his friend did not share this information sooner.
Referring to the death of Lord Furnival, the widow says that it will only help the plans of Bear's brotherhood. Furnival left no heirs, so all of his holdings have passed to the Lady Furnival, his widow. The government of the city and the land around it will remain in her power unless she remarries, which she probably will not do. However, her hold on the land and power is not totally secure. Lord Furnival was well-known for chasing women, and he is believed to have one or more illegitimate sons. If one of them gathers an army and marches on the city, he might manage to claim the Furnival holdings for himself.
After the Widow Daventry explains all this, the conversation falls silent for a moment. Crispin shivers. He believes that a sudden silence means that Death’s Angel is nearby.
(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 it is safe.
The tavern room is small and stinky, furnished only with a little table and a pallet of moldy hay for a bed, which they will share. Bear shows Crispin what makes the room special: it has a removable panel in the wall, enclosing a space big enough to hide both of them if someone should come looking. He doubts that there will be a need to hide, but Crispin is not so sure.
Eager to understand his current situation, Crispin asks what Bear is really doing in Great Wexly. Bear laughs and comments that Crispin has grown bolder lately. When they first met, Crispin was too timid even to ask Bear’s name. Now he demands to know his master’s business as if it were his own. Bear clearly appreciates this change—but he refuses to answer the question.
Crispin does not want to sit alone in an uncomfortable room when there are so many wonderful sights to see outside. He begs to go out, but Bear says no. He tells Crispin to stay hidden. Then he rushes back to the Widow Daventry.
Annoyed, Crispin eats his lunch, a bowl of stew and bread that the widow has brought. He is dying to get to know the city and to spend the penny he earned performing with Bear. For a while he tries to be good, but eventually he gives in to temptation. He sneaks out, taking Bear’s dagger for protection.
Crispin is afraid he may get caught if he goes out the front door, so he tiptoes through the building and finds a back door. He pokes his head outside and chokes from the stench. The door leads to an alley full of outhouses. He holds his nose and slips out, making his way to the street.
(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. After a while, his alleys spit him back onto the main paved street.
As he walks, Crispin sees a wealthy woman in black riding a huge horse with a silver harness. She wears gold and jewels, and she holds a cloth to her nose to avoid breathing the stench of the city. A boy with a blue and gold flag marches in front of her, and six men guard her. Crispin asks a passerby who she is, and he learns that she is Lady Furnival.
The marvels of the city keep Crispin entertained all afternoon. When he thinks he has seen everything, he suddenly comes upon the main square at the city’s center. This is a large open space surrounded by buildings even more enormous than the ones that line the main streets.
The biggest building is a church with towers and archways that appear to float above the ground. It has impressive stained-glass windows, and its walls and columns are adorned with statues. On the other side of the square is a building that is almost equally impressive, a three-story palace decorated with blue and gold flags. Both buildings are guarded by soldiers.
The open square is crowded with booths and stalls, and Crispin wanders among them for a while, marveling at the wares that are for sale. He sees hats, boots, furs, daggers, gloves, baskets, and spices. He wishes he still had his penny.
As Crispin walks, he finds himself drawn to the church. He hovers in front of it, wondering if he is allowed to go inside. Many other people go in, even people who look poor, so Crispin guesses that he can enter as well. He gathers his courage and walks through the doors.
The inside of the cathedral is even more impressive than the outside. The ceiling is higher than he...
(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 anymore. When he finally stops to rest, he begins to worry. If John Aycliffe is in Great Wexly, then Crispin has come to exactly the wrong place. Not only that, but he has disobeyed Bear and possibly destroyed their friendship forever. Is it even worth going back to the Green Man?
Crispin decides that his best bet is to get out of town. He tries to find the gate he and Bear used to enter the city this afternoon, but he does not know where it is. He wanders at random until he remembers that the city wall is a circle. This means that he should be able to follow the wall and eventually arrive at the gate.
Crispin is not sure where the wall is, but he reasons that he will reach it eventually if he walks in just one direction. This is not easy to do among the winding streets, and he keeps getting confused about which way he is going. The sun begins to set, and people go inside. As the streets empty, Crispin finds a major street that parallels the wall.
Happier now, Crispin jogs along the wall and eventually spots a gate in the distance. Just as he approaches, a bell begins to ring, and a group of soldiers slams the gate shut. Crispin stops, staring in shock. A soldier notices and explains that the gates always close at night. Crispin will have to wait until morning to leave the city. Turning, Crispin stumbles away. He spots more soldiers marching in the street. One of them shouts that everyone must go indoors for curfew.
It begins to rain, and Crispin walks up and down the streets, looking for the Green Man. His only option left is to face Bear’s anger, but he has no idea where to go. As his fear and exhaustion grow, he hears a voice call his name.
(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 way to the Green Man. Crispin is silent for a while, feeling guilty. Eventually he admits that he lost Bear’s dagger. Bear does not seem angry. He just says that Crispin probably used the weapon well before dropping it. Crispin cannot believe that his friend is forgiving him so easily.
Back at the Green Man, Bear announces that he must go meet a man named John Ball. Before leaving, Bear assures Crispin that he did nothing wrong. If he acted foolish, it was only because he did not know the risks. Bear feels that he is the one at fault for failing to explain that Aycliffe might be in town. With that, he makes his exit.
Hardly knowing what to think, Crispin sits on his straw bed and eats some bread. Then he takes out his lead cross and prays for the souls of his parents and Father Quinel. For the first time, Crispin also prays for Bear. Afterward, he tries to sleep, but he is too full of worries.
Too restless and curious to stay still, Crispin gets out of bed and tiptoes down the stairs. Halfway down, he gets a look at Bear and a small man in priest’s robes. This man says that the people of England need more money, more food, and more freedom—and he, John Ball, intends to help them get what they need.
Bear advises his friend to wait for the king’s death before attempting reform. It will be easier to make changes when the power structure is already in flux. John Ball responds by saying that much of England is already in upheaval because Lord Furnival just died without an heir. Bear says that he has some interesting information on that subject. Then he leans forward and whispers something Crispin cannot hear.
Silently, Crispin returns to his room. He knows...
(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 around them. People take no particular notice even when a pig wanders in and eats the crumbs at their feet.
Eventually Crispin sees a one-eyed young man come to the doorway and just stand there, surveying the room. Crispin recognizes this man from the first village where he and Bear performed. Afraid, Crispin retreats to his room. Bear is still there, still snoring.
Once again, Crispin decides against waking his friend. He goes back to his post on the stairs, and soon the Widow Daventry notices him and says it is not safe for him to be seen. She tells him to hide in her kitchen until the breakfast crowd leaves, and she asks him to watch over the pies she is baking. Crispin waits by the oven, looking around at the herbs and meats hanging on hooks from the ceiling. When the pies are brown, he takes them out, but he accidentally drops one on the floor. It breaks, and he panics. To destroy the evidence of his mistake, he eats it. It is rich and meaty—the best food he has ever had.
When the Widow Daventry returns, she notices immediately that Crispin has eaten one of the pies. She does not seem too angry, but she tells him not to eat anything else. When the dining room empties, she makes him help her clean up. They gather the cups and bowls, dump their contents on the floor, and wipe them out with a rag.
As he works, Crispin has the feeling that the Widow Daventry is upset. Eventually she speaks up and says that it is bad for Bear to be mixed up with people who “cause trouble.” She suggests that Crispin keep Bear interested in singing and juggling; otherwise the man may get too wrapped up in the dangers of rebellion.
(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 of them will leave Great Wexly today, after he does what he came to do. Then he departs, ordering Crispin to stay at the hotel. Crispin watches Bear leave and spots the one-eyed man following. Immediately Crispin decides that he must warn his friend. He runs after Bear.
Today is a market day, so the streets of Great Wexly are even busier than yesterday. Crispin is glad about this because he knows he must not be noticed. He is careful to avoid soldiers as he follows Bear up streets and alleys. During the walk, Crispin is frequently grateful that Bear is tall and easy to see.
After a long walk, Bear enters a building. A picture of a boot hangs above the door, indicating that it is a cobbler’s residence. Crispin has lost sight of the one-eyed man and his companion, so he is not sure if they managed to follow Bear. Unwilling to anger his friend unnecessarily, Crispin loiters outside, watching as John Ball enters the building too. Then Crispin finds a cramped alley space beside the building. It dead-ends at a stone wall. Crispin climbs this wall and hops down into a garden full of flowers and herbs.
From the garden, Crispin tiptoes to the building’s back door and listens to the voice of John Ball calling for people to be “free and equal.” Ball demands an end to high taxation, then says that “petty tyrants” like Lord Furnival should be replaced by “true and righteous men” who serve the king.
Listening to all this, Crispin realizes that John Ball is trying to help serfs like Crispin himself. The ideas sound good in themselves, but they are definitely treasonous. Afraid, Crispin backs away and returns to the street, intending to go back to the inn. Then he sees...
(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. Eventually he decides to try rescue. He climbs back over the wall—but the soldiers have already taken Bear away.
Tiptoeing into the cobbler’s shop, Crispin sees upturned chairs and scattered shoes. Bear is gone, but a soldier is standing guard by the front door. Crispin runs out into the street. Unwilling to give up yet, he begins approaching people at random and asking if they have seen any soldiers pass by leading an enormous captive. Two say yes, and they point Crispin in the right direction. Crisping goes where they direct him and eventually arrives at the town square—just in time to see Aycliffe drag Bear into the second largest building in town. A group of soldiers stands guard at the entrance, so Crispin does not dare follow.
For a while, Crispin lingers in the square, staring at the enormous building. He asks a passerby what it is, and the man says that it is Furnival’s palace. As Crispin watches, he sees John Aycliffe appear on a balcony and look at the crowd, as if searching for someone. After a while, Crispin realizes that he is the object of this search. Aycliffe is holding Bear captive to lure Crispin close.
Unsure what else to do, Crispin returns to the Green Man and climbs the stairs to his room. He lies on the pile of straw and wonders what to do next. After a while, he hears shouting and banging from the dining room below. The Widow Daventry screams. Frightened, Crispin retreats into the hiding place in his wall and waits, hardly daring to breathe. He hears soldiers search his room. After they leave, everything falls silent. Crispin emerges and finds his room in disarray, the table smashed. He can hear the Widow Daventry weeping downstairs.
(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, Crispin asks why, and she tells him to ask Bear.
Crispin explains that Bear has been captured by soldiers. He tells her all about the meeting and the attack. When his story is over, the widow takes out her rosary and begins to pray—but her prayer is mixed with angry curse words. Crispin asks what will happen, and the widow says that the best they can hope for is “a speedy death” for their friend. This idea makes her cry again.
Determined to understand what is happening, Crispin tells the widow everything he knows. He mentions that John Ball said he had been betrayed, and the widow scoffs. She says that the soldiers probably know nothing about Ball. “It’s you they want,” she says.
With nowhere else to turn, Crispin asks the Widow Daventry what he should do next. She says that Crispin is not safe at the Green Man. Bear would not willingly reveal Crispin’s whereabouts, “but even the strongest can be broken by torture.” Crispin is shocked at the very idea of torture, but the Widow Daventry seems to think of it as inevitable.
The widow tells Crispin to wait until curfew tonight and then sneak out of town. Bear is lost, and Crispin has no choice but to save himself. She orders him to go up to his room and hide in the secret panel in the wall—and not to show his face in her tavern again.
Crispin goes upstairs and sits in his dark hiding place, thinking. He is full of misery as he considers all the terrible things that have happened because of him. Bear has been captured and tortured, and the widow has been attacked. They would both be better off if they had never met Crispin at all.
(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 read the words written on his lead cross. She tells him that Bear already told her what they said: “Crispin—son of Furnival.” Crispin stares, unable to comprehend what she is saying. How could he be Lord Furnival’s son?
The Widow Daventry tells Crispin that many lords have children out of wedlock. Furnival must have seduced Crispin’s mother, a pretty and wealthy young woman who could read and write, and then abandoned her when she got pregnant. He had her taken to a faraway village and kept there so that her son, Crispin, could never make a claim on his father’s title and land.
The Widow Daventry explains that Crispin is not at all lucky to have a nobleman for a father: “Crispin…what ever noble blood there is in you, is only…poison.” She goes on to explain that Lady Furnival will want to keep her power and will therefore consider Crispin an enemy. Meanwhile, other wealthy people may seek Crispin out and try to use him to gain power for themselves.
After a moment’s hesitation, the Widow Daventry says that she thinks she knows who Crispin’s mother was. About thirteen years ago, everyone in Great Wexly was saying that Lord Furnival was having a fling with the youngest daughter of Lord Douglas. Then, suddenly, everyone was told that the young woman had died. “Apparently not,” she says dryly.
Feeling bitter, Crispin asks why it matters who his mother was, considering that she is now dead. The Widow Daventry says that it matters only because Lord Douglas could find out and try to use Crispin as a tool to claim the Furnival lands for himself. She explains:
Your connection gives you no honor. No position. What someone fears is not...
(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. Silently, Crispin thinks:
[Aycliffe] sought to kill me because of who I was. No, not who I was, but who my father and mother were.
Thinking it over, Crispin realized that Father Quinel must have known the truth, and that this caused his death. Bear, too, has been captured merely because of the “poison” that runs through Crispin’s veins. Clearly Aycliffe thinks of Bear only as bait for catching Crispin.
As Crispin sits in the darkness, he reflects that he feels different than he used to feel. Instead of being nobody, he is himself. And he is Lord Furnival’s son. His mother, his father, and his priest have all died, and people have been chasing him and trying to kill him. And somehow, in spite of all of that death, Crispin feels like he wants to live.
Crispin knows that some people would consider it lucky to have noble blood. However, he agrees with the Widow Daventry that his blood is the worst kind it is possible to have. Lords like Furnival force people to live in bondage. Crispin has lived in that bondage himself, and he has seen how others do the same.
From all he has seen, Crispin has come to respect freedom. He has no desire to become a lord and rule over others. Not only that, but he has no feeling for Lord Furnival as a father. Bear has acted far more like a father to Crispin. Bear also gave Crispin freedom to replace the life of bondage he suffered under Lord Furnival’s power. It is to Bear that Crispin owes his loyalty—and his life. Silently, Crispin resolves to free Bear, no matter what the cost.
(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 villages. When Crispin offers to pay the Widow Daventry for his stay at her hotel, she refuses to accept a penny. She says that he needs money more than she does.
Before Crispin leaves, the Widow Daventry gives him a tight hug. Then her friend, a man in dark clothes who walks with a limp and refuses to meet Crispin’s eyes, leads him out into the streets. As he exits the Green Man, Crispin looks up at the sky and sees a full moon. He wonders briefly if he will live to see the next sunrise.
Crispin follows the limping man through the city. They walk quickly, ducking into the shadows when they hear soldiers approaching. Crispin takes this moment to ask his guide to lead him to the White Stag—the tavern where John Ball is holding a meeting tonight—instead of the gates. When the guide hesitates, Crispin offers a few pennies in payment. The man accepts the money and takes Crispin where he wants to go.
The White Stag appears to be dark, but Crispin knocks on the door anyway. When someone opens it partway, Crispin whispers that Bear has been captured. He is allowed inside, where he finds five men, all wearing hoods to cover their faces. One of these men speaks with John Ball’s voice.
When they hear that Bear has been captured, John Ball and his friends say that he is sure to betray them. Ball questions Crispin’s loyalty as well. This scares Crispin, but he does not let fear overwhelm him. He points out that he warned the men of the soldiers’ approach today, and that Bear got captured because he helped everyone else escape. No matter what Ball says, Crispin insists on going to the palace to try to free Bear. Nobody else is brave enough to join the venture, but one of 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. Then, slowly and carefully, he climbs to the height of the balconies. This is difficult, and it takes him a long time. Then, when he reaches the right height, he still has to make his way around from the side of the building to the front, where the nearest balcony is located. To do this, Crispin stands on a carving of a stone lion that juts out from the building’s wall. He reaches up and grabs the balcony, swings for a minute, and hauls himself up.
On the balcony, Crispin pauses for breath and looks down. He is lucky. Nobody appears to have noticed him, so nobody is raising an alarm. He tiptoes inside and finds an empty, dimly lit hall. A quick, quiet exploration leads him past a rack of weapons, and he takes the opportunity to arm himself with a dagger.
Next, he enters the biggest room he has ever seen. It is so large, every resident of his home village could manage to stand inside it at once. It has a beautiful carved wooden ceiling and richly painted wall panels. There is a fire in the hearth, and next to it is a long table that is covered with the remnants of a feast that could have fed giants.
Crispin tiptoes through this dining hall and peeks into the next room, a little chapel decorated with gold and jewels. Crispin has never imagined the whole world contained as many riches as he sees now. Transfixed by the golden altar and the bejeweled boxes of saintly relics, Crispin steps inside this chapel and stares.
At the front of the room, Crispin sees a small painting. Stepping closer, he sees a portrait of a man kneeling in front of the Virgin Mary. The man is dressed in the armor of a night, but he looks almost exactly like Crispin. After staring for a moment, Crispin...
(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 Furnival's son, and that he looks very much like the portrait haning in this chapel.
By now, Aycliffe is obviously frightened. He demands that Crispin hand over the cross at once. But Crispin is no longer the timid, cowering boy he once was, and his knowledge about himself gives him power. Aycliffe moves to hit Crispin, but the boy blocks the blow. “It’s you who fear me. You fear I’ll become your lord,” he says. He also accuses Aycliffe of killing Father Quinel.
Aycliffe stops denying that Furnival is Crispin’s father, but he claims that Asta was “nothing but a servant.” He says that she did not deserve to take a high place in society. Then he adds that “God Himself” is behind the orders that declare someone a wolf’s head. Such a powerful decree cannot be overturned. No matter what Crispin knows, his status as wolf’s head is unchanged, and the palace guards can kill him. Aycliffe moves to call the soldiers—but Crispin attacks and manages to knock Aycliffe down.
Holding Aycliffe at knifepoint, Crispin demands that Bear be released immediately. He says that he does not want money or power, only his friend. After a moment’s consideration, Aycliffe asks Crispin to make a solemn oath to leave Great Wexly, hand over the lead cross, and renounce his claim. Crispin agrees but says that Aycliffe must first swear to deliver both Bear and Crispin out of the city.
Because he has no choice, John Aycliffe slowly makes the vow that Crispin demands. When it is finished, Crispin makes his own oath far more readily. Then he demands to be taken to Bear. Aycliffe glares, obviously unhappy at this turn of events, but he leads the way.
(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 stairs. There are men sitting on the steps, and they leap up and salute as Aycliffe passes. At the bottom, Aycliffe stops to speak with one of the soldiers who almost captured Crispin last night. The soldier seems surprised to see Crispin walking freely into the dungeon, but he does not protest when Aycliffe gives the order to lead the way to Bear’s cell.
The hallway through the dungeon smells foul. It is lit with torches, and the ceilings are blackened from smoke. Because it is so damp, green mold grows on the walls, and puddles dot the floor. Crispin passes all this without speaking and waits as the soldier unlocks Bear’s cell door.
Aycliffe urges Crispin to go into the cell. At first, Crispin is afraid the soldier might lock him in, but Aycliffe says he will not go back on a solemn vow. Taking a torch from the soldier, Crispin ducks through the low doorway and enters the cell. Inside, he finds Bear, covered in welts from a whipping, tied up to a torture device that looks like a ladder. He is unconscious, and he does not awake when Crispin shouts his name. For a moment, Crispin thinks it is too late—but then he sees Bear breathing.
Crispin cuts his friend free. Bear collapses to the ground and then slowly wakes up. When he sees who is hovering over him, he seems to think he accidentally betrayed Crispin. Crispin explains what is happening, but Bear does not seem to understand. Nevertheless, he manages to crawl out of the cell.
In the hallway, Bear drinks some water and puts on a cloak that is brought to him. He has trouble standing up, but with Crispin's help, he manages it. When it is time to leave, the soldiers stand in the way. They all have weapons, and Crispin is...
(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 who comes close. Behind him, Crispin just tries not to get in the way.
Lured by Bear’s taunts, Aycliffe attacks with his sword. Bear fights back with the dagger. Both men manage to deflect several blows while everyone else stands still, watching. Aycliffe drives Bear backward toward a group of soldiers. They draw their swords, and Crispin shouts a warning. Bear twists out of the range of the swordsmen, but in the process he manages to drop the dagger. Crispin darts into the fray to pick it up.
Now that Crispin is armed, he draws Aycliffe’s attention. Taking his chance, Bear grabs Aycliffe from behind, picks him up, and throws him at his soldiers’ swords. The soldiers do not have time to back away, and their weapons kill their own leader. This leaves them shocked and terrified—which is good for Crispin and Bear. Bear grabs the stolen dagger and Aycliffe’s sword. He brandishes them in the soldiers’ faces, and they slink away.
Even though Aycliffe is dead, Crispin is still determined to fulfill his part of their bargain. He runs forward and puts his cross of lead into Aycliffe’s dead hands. Then Crispin and Bear leave the city. When they reach a safe distance, they hug each other, and Bear puts his jester cap on Crispin’s head. Shouting for anyone nearby to hear, Bear says:
I, Bear of York…do dub this boy, Crispin of Stromford, a full member of the guild of free men. In so being, he is free of all obligations save to his God.
Crispin pulls his recorder out of Bear’s bag and begins playing a tune. As Crispin: The Cross of Lead ends, he and his friend walk away from Great Wexly, free.
(The entire section is 422 words.)