Averoigne II:6, in which a Lady’s Chamber Becomes Overly Crowded and an Inquisitor’s Robes Are Smudged

Being Vespers, Wednesday, the twelfth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, in the house of Eve the weaver…

Bruyant opens the door at the base of the stairs and finds Conrad in front of a company of grim-faced soldiers.  In the flickering torchlight, the inquisitor’s smile seems even more ghastly than before.  The gold and honey-coloured stones on his cross glimmer as he steps forward.

Fortunately, Pierre keeps his wits about him.  He holds onto a beam while giving a quick bow.  “Good Conrad of Nurnburg?  I am Pierre le Butelier.  I am surprised – indeed, shocked – to see thee about at this hour.  Art thou also here to bring comfort to the lady of the house?”

The inquisitor stops short and narrows his eyes.  “Ah, yes, the wineseller.  I have heard of thee.”  He gives a perfunctory bow in return.  “I have come here on a manner of business, though it is not comfort that I may extend.”

“Perhaps we could be of assistance,” says Bruyant.

“Perhaps,” replies Conrad.  “At the moment, however, thou art an impediment in my path, which might be uncharitably interpreted as hindering an officer of the Holy Office, which is a crime.  Now, if thou pleasest…”

Given Julien’s size, the three companions have no choice but to back up clumsily to the second floor landing.

“Sir,” says the clerk as Conrad walks toward the door, “Father Marcel is inside delivering the sacrament of confession to the lady.”

“In her home?  And why is not her parish priest performing this duty?” Conrad turns to Bruyant, who is caught off-guard.

“Well, sir, the lady… she seemed more comfortable with the father, and…”

“That is poor theology, father.  Indeed, leaving a Franciscan alone to provide comfort to a woman is of questionable judgment in itself.”  He turns to the door.  “Still, while the confession must be private, it need not be in seclusion.”

Pierre looks to Julien, who spreads his hands.  “This man’s acumen with the law exceeds my own, I fear,” he says.

“’Tis of sound doctrine,” whispers Bruyant.  Pierre gives him a dirty look.  “Appeal to the pope, if thou likest it not.”

Conrad pushes open the door slowly.  The friar and the woman look up.  “Please continue.”  He gives an unpleasant smile.  The two stare at him for a moment before continuing in hushed voices.

Finally, Marcel speaks the “Te absolvo” in a louder voice.  As a snake strikes, Conrad springs into the room, making his way directly for the fireplace.  He pushes aside the fire with a set of tongs, scraping them across the hearth, and studies the left wall of the fireplace for a moment.  “Aha!”  He reaches up, and stone rasps against stone.  The inquisitor emerges, muttering an oath under his breath as he attempts to brush the soot off his cowl, only grinding it in more deeply.

In his right hand, he grasps a small ceramic jar.

Eve gasps.

Julien joins Conrad as the inquisitor removes the cork.  An exotic, almost tart, odor wafts into the room.  Within the clerk can see a dull, sickly orange stain, indicating where liquid had once filled the jar.  Further, its depositions have formed three distinct layers within.  Conrad’s eye has a triumphant gleam.

“Now, milady,” he walks toward her, slowly and with menace, “perhaps thou couldst explain how thou camest into possession of this?  One dose no doubt wast used on the guardsman – but where are the other two?  Who are thy confederates?  If thou dost speak now, perhaps I might be able to save thee…”

The girl has shrunk into a corner, hands before her face.

Marcel steps forward.  “I believe thou wilt get little more out of her in this manner.  If I could talk with her -“

“Thank thee, but thy chance hath passed fruitlessly.  Thy next interview will be at the pleasure of the archbishop.  And my own.”  He waves in two of his guards.  “Take her away.”

Published in: on March 23, 2008 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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