Averoigne II:12, featuring Acts of Prestidigitation, Dangerous Pieces of Wood, and a Devil at the Two Devils

Being Terce, Friday, the thirteenth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, on the Rue des Agneaux in Vyones…

The shutters slam shut scant inches from Pierre’s nose, nearly causing him to drop his wineskin. He shoulders it once again and shakes his head. “Little luck here.”

Bruyant gazes up at the tottering houses above him, at the eyes half-hidden behind the cracked doors and shutters. “These people are afraid. One of their neighbors has been arrested, and they fear the same might befall them via association. They likely see one even as well-known and compassionate as myself as a possible agent of ecclesiastical doom.”

Pierre bites his lip, and steps under an eave as raindrops begin to spatter the cobblestones. Bruyant quickly joins him. “I fear today has been a disaster for us,” huffs the wineseller.

“Fear not, friend. We at least have done an act of charity by providing Eve with light and comfort for her nights.” Bruyant draws his cloak about him against the sudden chill.

“Aye.” Pierre presses himself against the wall as a rivulet drips from the roof’s edge in front of his face. “’Twould be more to my liking if her every utterance, diurnal and nocturnal, were not under the seal of the Holy Office. I say!”

He runs headlong into the storm. Bruyant, after a moment of amazement, follows. Soon, they are across the street, shivering, huddled into a doorway with a soaked young man.

“My boy,” says Pierre, “dost thou live in this building?”

“Yes, sir. Jeremie, at thy service.” The boy removes a cap and holds to his chest as he bows. He turns to the street and wrings out the headpiece. “On the ground floor, sir.”

“You know the woman who was taken away? Didst thou witness anything unusual regarding her activities recently, Jeremie?”

Jeremie looks at his bare feet. “Sorry, sir, but I am not allowed to talk with people we do not know. Thou couldst be an inquisitor…”

Bruyant smiles. “No, lad. We work for the archbishop. We canst give thee some protection from the inquisitors, if thou wouldst help us.”

“Plus, we can give thee two silver pennies. Let me see…”

Pierre waves his fingers over the mud, and looks vaguely distressed. Bruyant and Jeremie look on in puzzlement. Pierre stands up and turns in a complete circle. “Aha!” His hand darts toward Bruyant’s ear, and silver glints as it moves away. “Aha!” Again he moves, this time toward Jeremie’s head. Pierre is grinning, with two silver coins in the palm of his hand. With a flick of his wrist, they dance across his knuckles, and then they are in his palm, in front of Jeremie’s nose. The boy smiles and scoops them up. “Canst thou help us?”

Jeremie wrinkles his nose. “She was pretty dull, I suppose. No men – none she brought here, anyway – no drink, no hint that she might be a witch or a sorceress… But one night, there was indeed a man, one with a cruel voice. I heard them arguing late at night.”

“Didst thou hear what they said?” Bruyant asks.

The boy shakes his head. “No. But I did go out to make water, and in coming back, I saw him leave. A man, hooded and cloaked, he was.”

“Was he a large man?” asks Pierre.

“Nay, sir. A thin one. I did not see his face.”

“And when did this occur?” the priest asks.

“A week ago today,” says the boy. “May I go?”

“Yes,” smiles Pierre, patting him on the shoulder. “You have done well.”

The boy gives a shaky smile back and hastily enters the house.

“Valere the Guardsman died on Sunday,” says Bruyant. “’Twas two days after this mysterious rendezvous.” He wipes the moisture from his nose. “And he was a large man.”

Shouts and the dissonant clanging of a bell resound through the streets.

“The alarm bells!” hisses Pierre.

“Let us hope they toll for other purposes than ours.” Bruyant breaks from shelter and into a run. “At this moment, I have little hope.”

Shortly before, in the Archbishop’s palace…

“Art thou sure this is really necessary?” asks Marcel, hefting the length of wood. “Surely even such ruffians as those in Vyones’ rough corners will not attack a holy man, and a Franciscan to boot?”

Julien says nothing. Marcel gulps and turns toward the empty length of corridor. “Very well. I had best practice, to optimize my effectiveness if an altercation develops.” He swings the staff at an imaginary foe.

“Not now.” Julien catches the butt end of the staff before it strikes his crotch. He backs up slowly, and looks out a window. “Breschau is talking to his men. In addition, it has begun to rain.” He gazes at the heavens dismally.

“It occurs to me,” says Marcel as he makes a futile attempt at twirling the staff, “that perhaps our plan to follow him has an imperfection. We are distinctive figures, and even more so as a twosome.”

“Dost thou suggest a disguise?”

“I must consult the Order’s regulations to see if decorum – Hist! Someone comes!”

Marcel stands at the side of the corridor. Around the corner walks Obert, bearing two huge volumes. He walks past Julien and the window, and stops as Marcel stands in full view. He turns one way, and the clerk is casually blocking the corridor. He turns the other, and the friar fumbles for a moment until his staff casually, but unquestionably, blocks the passage.

“What is the meaning of this?” asks the notary, looking from one man to another.

“Honored monsieur” – Marcel bows without moving his staff – “We have been grieved by the celerity with which thou departest our counsels. We much desire to speak with thee.”

“And I, sir, much desire to speak with thee, and at great length,” says Obert, his eyes twitching. “But my duties during the day prevent this, and I fear for my safety.”

“Then come see us tonight!” says Julien. “We are having, ah, a small affair at the house of our good friend, Pierre le Butelier. It should be an intimate setting where thou shouldst feel free to unburden thyself at leisure.”

“Your presence would be most welcome,” adds Marcel.

Obert sighs. “So long as thou doth realize I cannot discuss inquisitorial business, though I know thou are most anxious to do so -“

“Bells and cries!” says Julien.

“We will see thee this even. Fare thee well!” Marcel calls out to Obert as he sprints down the corridor after Julien.

Shortly thereafter, at the mouth of an alleyway leading to the Inn of Deux Diables…

Their footsteps slipping on patches of mud, their breath visible in the chill, the four companions meet.

“Pierre!” Marcel’s chest heaves from exertion. “The Order of Saint Francis requires the donation of thy home and wine cellar this evening!”

“What?” says Pierre.

“Quickly, monsieurs!” shouts Bruyant.

They weave between the houses of the alleyway, the overhanging stories creating a tunnel that channels torrents of rainwater onto the men. The passage is clogged with a milling crowd, but a cry of “Make way for the Archbishop’s men!” goes up, and the people huddle against the walls so the companions can pass.

Within the inn, someone is screaming and shouting, but no one can see who or where. The barkeep comes forward and gestures them toward a trap door in the floor. Looking down the stairs into the cellar, they gasp.

By flickering torchlight, they can see a small but high-ceilinged room, with rows after row of barrels – some on the floor, others on an improvised loft. A barmaid lies on the floor, blood gushing from a slash in her arm. Her breathing is irregular. Above her stands a man, reeling and muttering, waving a sword through the air.

“Marc l’Effronté!” cries Julien.

The winetaster looks up and snarls. “Ye demons! Ye spawn of Hell’s putrid pits! Ye black hounds of Moloch and Astoreth! Begone!” He raises his sword and stalks toward the staircase. Foam flies from his lips.

Published in: on May 11, 2008 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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