Averoigne II:3, wherein We Find a Play, a Funeral, and Two Unburdenings

Being Terce, Wednesday, the twelfth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, outside the walls of Vyones…

The wind whips Bruyant’s robe about his legs as the funeral procession winds down the path outside the somber stone walls of the city.  In front of Bruyant, a plain pine box is borne by six fellow members of the city guard in full regalia.  Behind him come the mourners, singing a low dirge, barely heard over the wind.

While the priest’s face shows the calm that befits his role on this sad occasion, inside his thoughts whirl.  His fear for his flock, his astonishment at the archbishop’s commands, and his curiosity as to this mysterious death – all of these are matters that bear deep consideration, if he but had the time.

Bruyant shakes his head, hoping to clear it.  The most important matter at hand was the archbishop’s orders.

So, who were the Inquisition’s most likely targets?  After all, a profusion of astrologers, heretics, alchemists, diviners, charm-vendors, faith-healers, and other individuals of a profane odour permeated the realm of Averoigne.  A mere glance over his shoulder would turn up two likely candidates – Myriam, the widowed midwife who used certain incantations and prayers during difficult labour, and Cyon, the grizzled old man who makes unctions to frighten wolves and philters to bring love, though the latter were markedly unsuccessful.  There were also rumors of wandering students evoking Beelzebub in their cramped garrets, and strange shapes seen about the very cemetery to which his feet now led him.

Farther afield, of course, the wood of Averoigne was rumored to be filled with all manner of sorceresses and witches intent on seducing good villagers onto the path of evil.  In the marshes beyond Les Hiboux was Mere Antoinette, whose hideous appearance was supposedly as strong as her elixirs.  And finally – here the priest gazes to the Puy-des-Sorciers that looms above the town with a shiver – there were those who danced atop the hills and made their offerings on the pagan feast days.  No inquisitor had yet had the fortitude or the men to beard these beasts in their dens.  The threat would be to the good people of Vyones and the other towns.

No more time – the crowd has reached the cemetery.  Bruyant takes up his place at the head of the grave, next to a pile of dirt still rimed with frost.  He opens his breviary and speaks.  “I am the resurrection and the life, sayeth the Lord…”

His speech is short, by necessity.  The cold and the wind had more of an effect on the parishioners than any words he could say.  Some of the guardsmen avert their eyes when he talks of the all-seeing God, so perhaps he has sown some seeds of use in later questioning.

He takes a handful of the chilled, crumbling earth, and sprinkles it onto the coffin.  The clumps of earth echo dully on the lid.  The family – a stout wife and two small children – follow suit.

At the edge of the crowd, the priest sees a young woman, wrapped in a cloak like a winding sheet.  Her face is lovely, but while her face is streaked with tears, another motion struggles to reach her face.  Once she notices Bruyant’s attention, she turns away and strides up the path to town.

Then the weeping family has come forward, and Bruyant begins his duty of consolation.

Being Sext, in the town square of Vyones…

Pierre and Marcel thread their way through the crowd, pushing their way past some of the more unruly townsfolk.  Soon they stand near the front, gazing at the jugglers, acrobats, and other performers – all male, the wineseller notes with a sigh.  A man tossing flaming torches seems near the end of his act, while the others are rummaging in chests, trying on masks, and preparing for a play.

“This morning I secured audiences with both the goldseller and the doctor,” breathes Pierre to the friar.  “Both are secure in their positions, but they fear the Inquisition’s effect.  The confiscations of the property of the accused more often goes to the Holy Office’s coffers than to those of the locals.”

“Did they say anything in particular?” asks Marcel.

“Little.  Nathaire fears that the inquisition’s presence will interfere with advances in astrology and medicine.  The lines between doctrine and error are often unclear, and an inquisitor who lacks the doctor’s theological acumen might make an error.  As for Patriz,” Pierre groans, “he could talk of little but the Inquisitor’s golden cross, which is apparently of exotic workmanship and set with some yellow stone.”

“For my part,” says Marcel, “I have discussed this matter with the brothers.  They are quite frightened – sending a Dominican to an area with a Franciscan house does not inspire their confidence.  I have asked them to inform me when traveling members arrive at the house; they might have news we lack.”

The applause has subsided, and the performers have taken their places.  One has adopted an old man’s mask, complete with white beard, a walking stick and a bent gait.  Three others’ masks are those of boys, and they whoop and gambol as they come on stage.  The remaining performers are still rummaging in the chests.

“I do not recognize this play,” whispers Pierre.

“It is the second chapter of the second book of Kings.  The story of Elisha and the mocking children.  An unusual piece of repertoire.”  Marcel glances at his friend, who is scanning the crowd.  “The performance does not please you?”

“I have some small skill with sleight of hand,” murmurs the wineseller.  “The key principle is never to look where everyone else is.”

Marcel does the same, and grasps his friend’s arm.  “There!” he hisses.  “The headman of the company passed something off to the man in the blue cloak!”

Pierre nods. “Let us follow him.”

They make their way out of the crowd and walk at a leisurely pace behind the man, who casually strolls across the square toward an alleyway.  As they get closer, the man ducks inside.  The two men change direction and walk slowly past the gap between the buildings.  There is the man, whispering excitedly to the monk Breschau.  He glances up at them and nods.  The companions nod back.  Breschau pulls the man deeper in the alley, giving an expression that politely expresses that any intrusion will be most unwelcome.

“So, this troupe is among the Inquisition’s spies,” says Marcel.

“And once again, those are the ones where everyone is looking,” answers Pierre.

On the other side of the square, two pair of performers have donned large monstrous masks and large shaggy pelts.  They ravage the actors disguised as children, to the horror and secret glee of the crowd.

Meanwhile, in the courtyard of the Archbishop’s Palace…

Julien runs alongside a young, fair-haired man with a split ear and harried disposition.  His new acquaintance is Obert, notary to Conrad of Nurnburg, who is in the process of moving into his new quarters.  The two walk at a fast pace into the courtyard, where a wagon is parked.

“You must understand,” Julien huffs, “that many are concerned – unjustly, of course – about the Inquisitor’s presence.  Could you perhaps give me some words of comfort in that regard?  What manner of a man is he?”

“The Inquisitor is a good man who has humbly submitted to his duty to the Church and performs his charge out of mercy and zeal for the faith,” says Obert in carefully-practiced words.  “Now, if you please, I must continue with supervising the unloading.”  He grabs a bag of books.

Julien can see that this discussion is going nowhere.  Certainly asking Conrad’s birthday for a horoscope is impossible.  “As I know, but…”

Julien is reaching for a small chest, when a spearhead appears an inch from his nose.  The clerk looks up at the guard standing on the wagon, who bears a smug grin.

“The inquisitorial records,” says Obert.  “None but those appointed by the Holy Office may even touch them.”  He sighs.  “Here.  Grab that package from the first mule.”

Julien does so and follows the notary through the winding passages of the palace to the Inquisitor’s chamber on the second floor.  He removes the oilskins to find a dog-eared Bible.  He opens it, and it falls open near the middle.  Recognizing the passage, he is struck with inspiration.

“Psalm Forty-five,” he says.  “My tongue is the pen of a writer writing rapidly.”  He looks up.  “An appropriate metaphor, indeed.”

Obert gives a slight smile.  “Indeed.  It is one of my favorites.”

The two men pause.

“Good sir, is there nothing you can tell me?”

Obert bites his lip, and looks toward the door.  “I know, sir, in my heart and with my eyes that the Inquisitor is a sincere and dedicated follower of God, but…”  He steps closer, and Marcel can see a youthful face covered with lines.  “Some men mock his order by saying the Dominicans are the hounds of God.  ‘Tis slander, make no doubt about it, but my master – I assure you, he is no hound.  He – “

A crash emanates from outside the door.  With a guilty expression, Obert scuttles into the corridor.  “You there!  Be careful!  That is the inquisitor’s finery!”

Julien closes the Bible.

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Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 12:25 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I’m running out of original fangirl commentary, so I’ve decided to express my continuing delight in the Averoigne saga with the following made-up word:

    Xipatheque!

    There you go. 🙂


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