Averoigne I:34

Being Sext, the sixth day of November, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Five, in the square before the Cathedral of Saint-Azedarac…

Two men stand before the forbidding bulk of the cathedral.  Nodding to each other, they step toward the doors.

Behind them moves a tremendous crowd.  First comes Victor, at the head of a phalanx of armed guards.  He, the men in front, and the two commanders bear a curious symbol in iron on their chests.  In their wake come more guards, followed by a procession of every imaginable divine within a half-day’s ride, singing and telling their beads.  Next is a crew of glum workmen carrying crowbars, rope, and other tools of their trades.  Behind them follows a throng of the people of Ximes, looking ahead with trepidation.  Victor has not the men to keep them back at the moment, so they are grudgingly allowed to come along.  Bringing up the rear are the peddlers, selling relics, sweetmeats, and other delicacies for the troubled body and soul.  Their purses are filling before the doors open.

The vanguard enters the cathedral cautiously.  After ascertaining that no sign of the bishop is present, save for a suggestive dark spot on the cobblestones, they make their way forward to the crypt.  The crowd stops outside, as the rest continue.

The crypt is empty, save for a few corroded heads of partisans and war hammers.  The monks and priests redouble their prayers.  Richard and Julien stare at the mausoleum of Saint Azedarac for a moment.  The student gives an order to Victor, who waves to the workmen.

In a short while, a block and tackle has been rigged, and the stone lid is slowly raised.  Julien and Richard, as well as some of the workmen, blench and cover their noses at the sweet stench of corruption that rises from the tomb.  The workmen remain professional, slowly easing the stone slab to one side and lowering it until it touches the ground as a mother might tuck in a baby.

Richard, Julien, and Victor step forward.  Julien takes two glances inside, and two at the carven figure of Azedarac on the lid next to them.  “Richard!” he hisses.  “It looks nothing like -“

The lawyer, who sees the expectant faces behind him, places a hand on his shoulder.  “To protect the sanctity of these remains from the vulgar, it will be necessary to remove this body from the crypt behind a screen and with the utmost care and secrecy.”

Julien looks confused for a moment.  He sighs.  “I understand.  Still, will not such an act ignite suspicion?”

Victor chuckles.  “I know the people of Ximes, good sir.  With the passage of years, all these worthies  and half the people outside this crypt  will loudly proclaim how they beheld the sanctified and uncorrupted form of Saint Azedarac removed temporarily from its resting place.”

Being None, in the crypt…

Fear and loathing have turned into monotony.  Having removed the base of the sepulcher, the laborers have formed a line along which soil, mud, and other detritus are passed as the digging continues.  The men have gone down fifteen feet already, and the impact of their shovels is muted.  The clerics now take turns with their chanting, and the others sit in silent prayer, or gossip amongst themselves.  Richard’s keen ears catch the sounds of dice in one corner.

Nonetheless, gloom has fallen upon the companions.  They were gladdened by the arrival of Marcel, along with a line of Franciscans sent from Cordeliers he met on the road.  He relayed the account of what had befallen him, and followed this with sad news.

“I regret to say that our friend Thibault is dead. I feel responsible since it was my idea to journey to Saint-Crapauld, but the devilment within this land has extended its hand even to that place. I swear that God’s justice will visit itself upon those responsible.”

Richard sighs.  “Indeed.  And may we be His instruments.”

“I shall miss Thibault.”  Julien wipes his eyes.  “For all his faults, he was a good man, honest and full of mirth beneath his rough exterior.”

“A man steadfast and zealous in pursuit of the law,” says Richard.

“A man of piety and good heart,” says Marcel, pouring them each a glass of wine from a flask.  “To Thibault.”

“To Thibault.”

“To Thibault.”

They toast their fallen friend and drain the cups.

“To whom?” asks someone who has just come down the stairs.

“Good God!” shouts Richard.

“A demon!” cries Marcel.

“Seize him!”  Julien bellows.

Richard returns to Julien.  “Good sir, having consulted with these worthies, I believe it is necessary for us to list the signs.  Item, this creature does indeed speak foul blasphemies, as demons are wont to do.”

“Damn thee all to hell!”

Julien nods.  “Item, it reacts poorly to the sign of the Cross, to holy water, and to the presence of men of God.”

“They all jumped at me!  I was defending myself, fool!”

Richard stares at Thibault.  “Item, its mouth moves oddly, its eyes roll back in its head, and its limbs jerk spasmodically.”

“Of course they do!  Julien is sitting on me!”

Richard continues.  “Item, he speaks in weird and unknown tongues.”

“That was merely grumbling, I think,” Julien says.

Marcel reappears from a corner.  He bears a chipped wooden cup and a long, thin bone.  “Gentlemen, my examination of the accoutrements that this creature bore hath uncovered no trace of the diabolic.”

“Wretched friar!  That was my lunch!”  Thibault’s head sags back.  He sighs.  “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou above all women…”

After running through Marcel’s complete repertoire of prayers twice, those present are finally convinced that this man is flesh and blood and free of taint.  Julien helps Thibault to his feet.  The summoner gives them a look of exasperation before turning to the men.  “Thou, man, put your back into it!  We must finish the work quickly!  Someone find me another lunch!”

“How didst thou escape from the deadly clutches of the monks?” asks Marcel.

Thibault has barely begun his tale when he hears a cry.  “Gentlemen!  We have found a layer of wooden planks!  And when we tap it, we hear a hollow sound!”

Richard looks toward the top of the stairs.  “The sun approaches the horizon.”

Published in: on January 6, 2008 at 9:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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