Averoigne II:2, in which an Unspeakable Insult is Uttered and a Tightrope Strung

Being None, the eleventh day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, in the great hall of the palace of Honore, Archbishop of Ximes…

What should be murmurs in the great hall have reached the strength of shouts. Rich burghers, friars, government officials, priests, clerks, and other worthies, in whatever silks, jewels, and other finery their position might afford them, cluster in the aisles between the tables, hotly debating what these new arrivals portend.

At the high table on the dais sits the wizened, bald Archbishop, surrounded by numerous men of note in Vyones – the goldsmith Patriz, the doctor Nathaire, and the Templar commander Etienne Herice. Pierre can see Marcel engaging the abbot of Cordeliers in low conversation. The friar making an occasional glance toward the Archbishop, hoping to find him free. Giving up, he bows to his superior and joins the wineseller.

“I hoped to find some idea as to why the Inquisition has arrived now, but everyone else amongst my colleagues is in the dark.” The friar accepts the proferred glass of wine from Pierre.

“My own delvings also met with little success,” answers the wineseller. “Apparently the Inquisitor and his retinue are close-mouthed about their presence. It displays an admirable degree of loyalty from his retainers.”

Through the throng, the two men spy Julien and Bruyant headed their way. Pierre waves, and the two large men shoulder their ways through the crowd.

“Did you find the well from your dream, Julien?” Marcel asks.

Julien shakes his head. “Nay. My vision was imprecise, and Averoigne is filled with all manner of heathen monuments and crumbled statuary of ancient times. Cromlechs to the west, armless goddesses to the east… In any case, the presence of the Holy Office is not conducive to scholarly research.”

Bruyant gives a quick smile. “My own delvings have been superficial, but one item is of note. Thy instincts, good wineseller, may have been correct with regard to this poor soldier. Having spoken with his colleagues, I sensed they were holding back a faithful account of his death. I did not press the issue, but perhaps they might be persuaded after the funeral.”

A trumpet sounds. “Quickly,” whispers Julien. “We must take our places according to precedence.” They separate reluctantly and find seats befitting their station, with Bruyant only reaching the proper bench at the last moment.

The huge oaken doors to the hall open, to reveal a slight figure wearing the severe black robes of the Dominicans. (Marcel straightens his back.) His red cheeks and wide smile might seem cherubic on another countenance, but on this face they seem but a flimsy mask for self-satisfaction and malice. Around his neck hangs a large gold cross, the details of which none of the companions can make out.

Conrad of Nurnburg strides confidently up the center aisle toward the high table. Behind him trail two men – a notary and a lawyer, Pierre supposes – and two bored-looking guards. While Marcel keeps a careful eye on the Dominican, the others look back to see Breschau, the mysterious monk from the night before, at the edge of the shadows outside the door. He notices them, gives a quick bow in Bruyant’s direction, and walks out of the flickering torchlight into the darkness.

In the meantime, the inquisitor has given the archbishop’s ring a perfunctory kiss and has been seated. Honore looks at the young man. “Father, welcome to Vyones. Allow me to show you our hospitality with a goblet of La Frenaie…”

Conrad smiles and nods. “I thank you, Your Excellency, but I prefer beer.”

A hush falls over the room. Muttering begins.

Half the room: “Such audacity! What an abuse of His Excellency’s hospitality!”

The other half: “Beer? In Averoigne? Surely not!”

Pierre’s face goes white.

The archbishop coughs, and the room grows silent again. “Of course, Father,” he smiles. “Steward, see if you can find this good man some… beer.”

The confused servant departs, and the first course is brought out. The archbishop and his guest talk for some time, but so quietly that none can catch more than snatches of news. Marcel believes he hears the word “Ximes”, and loses what little appetite he had left.

Soon too soon, in fact the inquisitor pleads fatigue. He bows to the Archbishop. “Your Excellency, thank you for the excellent meal. Please inform the people that the edict of faith will be read in two days’ time, and that your servants will be called upon to provide their oaths of obligation.” He strides out with the rest of his retinue. With his departure, the room becomes more talkative, even if it acquires no cheer. The beer has yet to arrive.

Each of the companions soon has a servant whispering at his ear, and they and the archbishop excuse themselves.

…in the solarium of the palace of the Archbishop…

“Beer?” Pierre wails, now that he is in privacy. “What manner of man are we dealing with? That such a shame hath befallen us!”

The Archbishop extends a hand. “My good Pierre, please restrain thyself. I know such lack of refinement offends thy loyalties to me, thy pride in our province, and the value of thy wares. Still, we have more important matters to attend to.” He gives a quick bow to the friar. “Father, please pardon my inability to meet with thee before now. Follow me, monsieurs.”

He walks slowly through the room, with the others clustered about him. He inhales deeply. “Matters of faith are rarely simple.” Walking over to the window, he draws back the shutters. The last beams of the late winter sun reflect greyly on the cobblestones of the street. Cloaked figures scuttle toward their homes, while somewhere the tramp of the watch’s boots echo off the buildings of dark stone hewed from the hills. A small crowd has gathered around a troupe of acrobats finishing their act. One of their number, in gay dress and holding a pole, balances himself on a stretch of rope between two buildings.

“These, monsieurs, are the people of Averoigne,” he says softly. “Out of God’s flock throughout the world, they are perhaps the most curious. They come to Sunday services, they take the Mass on the holy days, they are born, married, and die within the bosom of the faith. Yet that is not all. They pour milk out for the Good Folk, they leave offerings at the pillars near the King’s Highway, and they court each other under the boughs of groves desecrated with pagan blood. And those, gentlemen, are the more faithful of them who have not embraced heresy and even blasphemy. We of the faith in Averoigne play the role of that tightrope artist. That which will not bend will break, and I have no doubt that an attempt to bring strict orthodoxy to this province will likely result in open revolt, perhaps bringing down a crusade that made that against the Albigensians seem like a calm day at sea.”

He closes the shutters and seats himself on a chest. “I fear that outsiders do not understand such subtleties. Conrad of Nurnburg is known for his mass conversions, true, but he has a temper. Under that temper, he has condemned many in what I fear is an unjust fashion to the auto-da-fe. I do not want to see the ground of Vyones covered with innocent blood.”

He rests for a moment, closing his eyes. Bruyant puts a hand forward to nudge him awake, but the archbishop raises his head just as the priest touches his shoulder.

“As servants of the Church, it is our duty to aid this representative of the Church in all that he does. As men of Averoigne, though, it would be advantageous to us and the faith if this holy man were on his way sooner rather than later. As men loyal unto me, it would be proper if as much credit as possible for the suppression of heresy were taken by us rather than by this whelp.”

“Your Excellency, this request of yours is somewhat irregular, if I might be so bold,” ventures Marcel.

“And also vague, if I may follow my colleague,” adds Julien.

“I suppose it is,” grumbles the archbishop. “It cometh from an old man who is not yet sure what he wants to have done.” He sighs. “Begin by finding out what thou canst. Who is this man? What is his goal? Who are his likely targets? Then act in such a way as might bring us credit and these poor souls redemption.

“Marcel, the abbot has agreed to assign you to this duty for the time being – he may have some private concerns regarding this matter. Julien, you are freed from your clerical obligations. Pierre, I’m sure that new apprentice of whom you’ve spoken so highly can manage some affairs in your absence. Bruyant, I will free you from what duties I can, though you should nonetheless carry out tomorrow’s sad obligation.”

He walks to the doorway. “In all things, gentlemen, be discreet. The spies of the Inquisition have no doubt been here for some time, and Conrad follows the custom of sequestering himself in my dwelling. Vyones is not a haven, but a wolves’ den.” He bows slightly. “God’s blessing go with thee, but beware His servants.”

Published in: on February 24, 2008 at 9:40 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This just keeps getting better. Truly.

    Also, beer. Hmph.


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