Averoigne 2:1

Being Compline, the tenth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six…

Slapping branches aside, Julien utters a muffled oath and thrusts the torch forward.  The shouts and footfalls of his companions in the dead leaves fade away behind him.  He briefly considers returning or shouting, but he grits his teeth and presses ahead.

The trees are gone, and he stands in a clearing.  The moon has come out from behind the clouds, casting a cerulean sheen over the crumbling remnants of an earlier time.  Broken colonnades, uprooted cobblestones, and a decapitated statue of some forgotten god frame a sunken well, the curve of its rim missing the occasional stone.  By this oubliette stands a woman, long red tresses falling over creamy white shoulders.  She wears a peasant blouse and a dress of such light blue that it blends with the rest of the moonlit landscape, so that one is almost convinced it is the shade of angel’s raiment.  Her eyes light on Julien, and she steps toward him, a smile playing across her lips.

Then she falls – or is she pulled? – toward the lip of the well.  Her arms flail, and she reels backward, her heel catching on the stonework.  Julien drops the torch and leaps forward, knowing he is too late, his arms reaching forward in desperation…

…in the palace of Honore, Archbishop of Vyones…

…lunging across the room from his bed, Julien’s bulk collides with the legs of the washbasin.  They fly one way, the basin tips in the other, and Julien le Grand, law clerk of Vyones, gasps as a wave of icy water splashes over his back and shoulders.  After a moment, he brushes the sodden blond locks out of his eyes.  Towelling off as best he can with his blanket and muttering horrid imprecations, Julien lights a candle and makes his way through the labyrinthine halls, his feet striking the chilly flagstones.

He reaches the kitchen.  Pushing the door open, he walks to the fire, which (he dimly reflects) is well built up for this late hour.  He stretches out his arms and feels the heat on the shirt that covers his bulky frame.

A low snicker reverberates through the room.  The clerk whirls to find three men, each with a mug and a pitcher in front of him, sitting at the table.

“Bad dreams again, Julien?” asks a dark-haired, tonsured man in a Franciscan’s robe.

Julien sighs.  “I wish it were not so, Marcel, but this is my third nocturnal vision of the lady.”  He rubs his eyes and takes a closer look at the others.  “Who be these gentlemen?”

A rotund man with short hair and a thick beard rises, bows and speaks.”I, good sir, am Pierre le Butelier, wineseller to the Archbishop. I was called in when a servant, moving a purchased cask of my fine vintage, punctured it with clumsy handling. The damage being irrevocable, I have remained to aid in its consumption, thereby ensuring that the Archbishop’s household is not besmirched as a haven of wastrels.”

The tall man with unruly hair has ceased laughing. “Bruyant le Grand is my name.” Julien’s eyebrows raise slightly, but the man continues. “My parish in this city has recently suffered a loss. A guardsman who attended my church fell from his post on the city walls, and I must preside over his funeral in two days. I sought surcease and comfort for his family in holy books, but at this hour, I must confess that comforting his family will be a difficult task.  I apologize for my reaction to your appearance, but today has been a dark one for me.”

Julien considers this and gives a quick bow.  “I am honored to bring laughter into your darkness, Father Bruyant.”

“Well said!” says Pierre.  Bruyant pours a glass of wine and brings it to Julien by the fire.

“What of you, Marcel?” the clerk asks. The Franciscan looks tipsier than he usually does while imbibing.  “Why are you not abed?”

“I have, good sirs,” says the friar, “just received this letter,” he waves a packet in the air, “from the University of Paris. It seems that my promised position as lecturer in the science of astronomy has been denied, and instead awarded to -” he spits out the words – “a Dominican!” He takes another draught from the cup.

Bruyant, who has beem thinking, looks toward Julien with wonder. “You must Julien le Grand, then? You were one of those present when the blessed Philbert aided Saint Azedarac, come down from heaven, against the demon in the Cathedral at Ximes! What a glorious thing to witness!”

“I said nothing of the matter,” says Marcel wistfully, studying the ceiling beams.

Still half asleep, Julien is having some trouble deciding which version of the story is appropriate.  He clears his throat.  “Well – “

The kitchen door crashes open.

A hulking man with coarse features stands in the doorway.  Though he is intimidating at first glance, his eyes betray a sensitive nature.  He gives a quick bow.  “Excuse, please.  I did not know others awake.”  He moves hesitantly toward a barrel of apples in the corner.

The companions exchange looks – none of them have seen this man before. “What is your name, good sir?” asks Pierre.  “And will you not join us?”

(“This man is from the Teutonic Lands, or thereabouts,” Marcel whispers quickly to Bruyant.)

“I am Breschau,” says the newcomer, whose hands now cradle a brown, shriveled apple.  “The invitation is kind, but I must sleep.  My master rises early tomorrow.”  He moves toward the door.

“And who is your master?” asks Julien.

The man pauses.  “Conrad of Nurnburg,” he answers.  Then he is gone.

Bruyant hastily finishes his wine and wipes his mouth with his hand.  “If what he says is true, gentlemen, then we should all be abed.  Who knows how much sleep we will have in the days to come?”

The others look at him quizzically.

“I see you did not recognize the name,” says the priest, as he rises and looks about with concern.  “My friends, the Inquisition has come to Vyones.”

Published in: on February 17, 2008 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

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