Fidelma thought for a moment. “There are three conditions that must be met. The owner of the maigen, whether secular or ecclesiastic, must have given the fugitive permission, having been given a truthful account by the fugitive of the need for asylum. Thus the owner of the maigen becomes legally entitled to act for the fugitive. The next condition is that any pursuer must be clearly informed by the owner that this place is regarded as a sanctuary. The last condition is that while the fugitive remains in the maigen he cannot use it to profit from his alleged crimes, going forth from the asylum area and attacking people and then returning to claim asylum.”

Brehon Morann nodded approval and turned to Faichen Glas.

“I presume that all three conditions have been fulfilled in the matter we are discussing?”

The northern noble looked troubled. “I know nothing of the law here. It is true that when I approached the church Brother Mongan came forward and forbade me to enter with hospitality, declaring that it was a sanctuary … what you said-a maigen dà shy;gona. That is why I came here to find out what I could do.”

Fidelma leaned quickly toward Brehon Morann. “Of course, it is not lawful for even a cleric to give protection to certain classes of fugitive, especially a murderer, indefinitely.”

Brehon Morann grimaced. “My young colleague speaks truly. But the snádud, that is, the legal protection, can be extended until guilt or innocence is made certain.”

Faichen Glas looked from one to the other with a frown.

“What can I do, then? How can his guilt be proved before he is brought to trial? Ulam Fionn is hiding in this church and I am powerless to bring him to justice. I am minded to go with my men and take the man by force.”

“Do that,” Fidelma quickly commented, “and it will be you that will stand trial. The fugitive, whatever his alleged crimes, is under protection of the law.”

“We must act in accordance with the law, Faichen Glas,” added Brehon Morann firmly.

He paused for a moment and then rose with a smile.

“Faichen Glas, you will accept the hospitality of this college-you and your men will stay here while we investigate this matter further.” He picked up a handbell from a nearby table and rang it.

Adnaà shy;, the elderly steward of the college, entered almost immediately, as if he had been waiting outside the door for the summons.

Brehon Morann instructed the man to see to the needs of the noble of the Echach Cobo and his men and provide them with food and beds in the college hostel.

When they had gone, Fidelma stood nervously wondering whether she, too, should leave, but Brehon Morann gestured her to be seated again.

“This is a fairly simple case,” he began thoughtfully. “Provided the sanctuary has been granted in the legal form, then our friend Faichen Glas will have to return to the land of the shy; Echach Cobo. He must then bring his witness and his own Brehon before the abbot in whose jurisdiction the church of St. Benignus lies. I happen to know Abbot Sionna and he is a fair man. If Faichen Glas can present a just case as to why the sanctuary should be withdrawn, then the abbot can instruct that Ulam Fionn be handed over for trial.”

Fidelma waited politely. Her recent class on the law of sanctuary had taught her this much.

“Before I can inform Faichen Glas that this is the course of action he must take, we will have to ensure that the sanctuary has been properly given. I have no reason to suspect otherwise but, Fidelma, in law you can never assume anything. Assumption without verification can lead to great miscarriages of justice.”

“I understand,” Fidelma replied, not really understanding why he was emphasising what she had already learnt.

“It will be good experience for you to go to this church of St. Benignus and speak with Brother Mongan and ensure that all has been done in legal form,” went on Brehon Morann.

“Me?” Fidelma’s ejaculation was one of surprise.

“It is only a half-day’s ride there and a half-day back again. It doubtless means that you will have to stay overnight in a public hostel. There is no one from the college staff who can afford this time. You, on the other hand, are qualified to take this deposition and can be spared from your studies … rather this is part of your studies, for this matter of sanctuary may well occur in your future career when you begin to practise law.”

“Of course,” responded Fidelma nervously and then added weakly, “but I don’t know where this church of St. Benignus is.”

“I will give you instructions to the abbey of Sionna and he will instruct you further. You may take one of the college horses. Once you have returned, having ensured that all is satisfactory under the law, then we can instruct Faichen Glas on the appropriate action.” Brehon Morann glanced through the window at the darkening sky. “It is too late to begin today. You should leave at first light tomorrow.” He smiled in gentle rebuke as Fidelma rose slowly and reluctantly. “The practise of law is not all about solving puzzles or clearing up mysteries. Often it is very boring and pedestrian work, checking and rechecking simple facts and making tiring journeys to do so.”

Fidelma was contrite again.

“I apologise, Brehon Morann, if I seem to display a lack of enthusiasm for the task. I will, of course, carry it out.”

It was noon on the following day when Fidelma found herself sitting before Abbot Sionna. He was a chubby-featured man who was well past his middle years. His silver hair and wide blue eyes gave him an almost cherubic look.

“The chapel of St. Benignus?” he was saying thoughtfully, after she had explained her mission. “It is not far from here and it is only recently that Brother Mongan was sent to administer there. You will find him most helpful. He is a thoughtful man, a good scholar. He entered our abbey as the poor son of a farmer and achieved his scholarship by his own diligence. He worked in our library for a while, where he copied most of the Pauline texts from the scriptures. I was loath to see him go but he wanted experience in administering a small chapel. Don’t concern yourself, young lawyer. He will have obeyed all the laws governing the granting of sanctuary.”

“But he has not informed you of the matter yet?” Fidelma asked, picking up on the tense used by the abbot.

Abbot Sionna shook his head.

“Brother Mongan would probably have to wait until he could find someone to bring me a message. The chapel is two hours’ good riding from here and off the main highway. As he is alone at the chapel, he could not, in law, leave the fugitive there by himself. However, I will leave this matter in your hands. Report back to me as to the situation on your return.”

It was midafternoon when Fidelma spotted the oblong shape of the chapel of St. Benignus. The five kingdoms of Ãirinn were abounding in vast forests, so it was usual for most of the small churches to be built of wood, although in the western parts, such as Fidelma’s own homeland of Muman, many abbeys and oratories were constructed of local stone. Here, in Midhe, the middle kingdom, it was unusual to see a limestone church building, strong like a fortress. Such, however, was the chapel of St. Benignus. It was strongly built, six metres wide and twenty-five metres in length. Its roof towered upwards, and the jambs of the main door-the only door so far as she could see-were inclined so that it was wider at the bottom than the top.

The grounds around it were planted with yew and ash. Fidelma knew that this was often called the fidnemed or sacred grove covering the area of the nemed or termonn, the sanctuary’s limits.

She approached on horseback, slowly and deliberately, but she was already some way from the gates to the sanctuary area when the door of the chapel swung inward and a thin figure in badly fitting religious robes stepped out.

“Halt, stranger!” the figure called in a harsh voice. “I have to warn you that you are approaching sanctuary land and may not enter if you seek harm to one who has claimed sanctuary here.”

Fidelma smiled inwardly. At least the religieux seemed to know the legal requirement of informing everyone approaching the church. She drew rein and sat for a moment regarding the man from her horse.

He seemed young, fair-haired with pale blue eyes. In spite of his slight build, he was pleasant-looking. He came slowly down the short path from the chapel to the gates into the fidnemed.

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