Averoigne II:16, in which the Conscience of the Notory Is Caught and a Troubling Testament to Saintliness Heard

Being Compline, Friday, the thirteenth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, in the home of Pierre le Butelier…

As the men howl with laughter, Madame le Butelier clears away the remnants of a rich repast, save for the mugs and pitchers.  Marcel takes a break from his jesting to sop up the last of the rabbit stew with his bread before the bowl departs.  Pierre has forgotten prestidigitation, being keen to remember the details of his conversation with Obert regarding the wine trade beyond Averoigne.  Bruyant looks pensive, very much wanting to rejoin his books and his search for the beast, but he nonetheless smiles and keeps the notary’s mug filled.

“A song, Julien!” Marcel cries.

Julien gives the Franciscan a dark look, arises and begins a popular lay:

“Since I’m making lays, Bisclavret
Is one I don’t want to forget.
In Breton, Bisclavret’s the name;
Garwolf in Norman means the same.
Long ago thou heard the tale told–
And it used to happen, in days of old–
Quite a few men became garwolves,
And set up housekeeping in the woods.
A garwolf is a savage beast,
While the fury’s on it, at least:
Eats men, wreaks evil, does no good,
Living and roaming in the deep wood.
Now I’ll leave this topic set,
I want to tell thee about Bisclavret…”

“But perhaps thou should not, despite thy fine voice” Marcel interrupts.  “Our friend Obert looks unwell.”

“Oh… oh… I am fine, really,” says the notary.  His cup shakes, and the wine sloshes onto his hand.

“Thou must be chilled, friend.  Come by the fire, and I will serve thee my house recipe for mulled wine.  ‘’Tis guaranteed to put the color back in thy cheeks,” says his host.

The men quickly repair to the hearth, where Bruyant throws an additional log in the fire against the chill of early spring.  The conversation takes on a more somber mien.  Obert mentions that Petrus A. Tarantasia, one time bishop of Lyons, has been crowned as Pope Innocent V.  (All but Pierre remember that this man is a Dominican, but none fails to toast his health.)  The talk turns to hard times for the labourers at the end of winter, the possibility of taxes for a new Crusade, and the bandits in the woods.

“Even the streets of this town are not safe,” says Pierre.  “It seems a curious beast walks them at night, sniffling about different doors and slaying animals.”  He glances sidelong at the notary, and continues.  “These two gentlemen must have encountered it as well.”

Marcel and Julien begin their tale, but now Obert is visibly shaking and pale.  Bruyant places a hand on his shoulder.  “Friend, if there is something we should know…”

“Yes, yes, there is,” says their guest.

The Tale of Obert the Notary

I am a younger brother from a noble family from Loire, fallen upon hard times. My father was able to scrape together some coin to send me to the university for a few years, but our funds ran out long before I could be ordained. I soon fell upon the courts as my trade, as I wrote in a hand both neat and quick.

Of course, none need the services of a good notary so much as the Holy Office, for whom the least slip of the pen can mean the difference between converting a heretic and leaving a cancer to rot out the inside of Christendom. With a reluctant recommendation from my bishop, I was sent to Conrad of Nurnburg five years ago to aid him in his duties.

I can tell from thy looks that thou art not fond of Conrad. ‘Tis a common attitude, I fear, but only amongst those who have not gained familiarity with him. I know him to be a good man, zealous in the faith, and kind to the innocent. Even as a youth, he would often wander in the woods near his home and pray mightily to God and the saints for wisdom, as he bestowed upon Solomon.  His years in the Dominican Order have enhanced his virtues and checked what little vice still remained within.  Didst thou see his cross – the great gold one, set with amber? He wears it, not out of vanity, but because it was given as a gift of gratitude. Thus we can see how often appearances are deceiving, and how we should follow Scripture in viewing the fruits of a man’s endeavors.

We have traveled together for all that time, most recently from a short stop in Ximes, with its beautiful if ill-regarded cathedral. I have seen him prosecute Albigensians and Bogomils, Manichees and Waldensians, sorcerers and poisoners, maleficia and witches, all with the same concern for the law of the land and the judgment of both the Church and the Almighty whose hand steers its course. Truly I have been blessed in seeing the wicked thrown down and the powerless exalted through the actions of our tribunal.

Yet, I fear that my master is himself in mortal, if not spiritual, peril.

Our prosecutorial success in a region often hangs on a thread of goodwill and piety, and I need not remind thee that we are less successful in some cases than in others. In those districts where doors and mouths are closed, where bishops and officials drag their feet, where the love of God finds not its home in the heart, that is when Satan mocks us by sending his most malevolent henchman.  It is then that a denizen of the pits of hell comes forth, to stalk the streets and slaughter the malefactors before their salvation can be obtained. We have sought its lair, said Masses, fasted, and worn hair shirts for weeks, hoping that our sacrifice should cause it to depart. Still, nothing can be done against it until we depart that town for another, at which time it vanishes once again.

And I am closer to the mystery than others, for I have seen it… Yet, I wish not to speak of that. Certain things cannot be borne.  I only know that this beast is an abomination against all which is holy.  Either it must be destroyed or we must depart, before more fall beneath its teeth.  And my master will not depart.

The guests fall silent before the fire.  Finally, Obert speaks.  “It is late, and my work begins early.  I must be back to the archbishop’s palace.”

(The beginning of the Lay of Bisclavret above was lifted from this site, in case you want to read the whole thing.  Congratulations to Mr. K. for discovering this and integrating it into the session.)

Published in: on June 22, 2008 at 7:53 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. That was definitely worth waiting for. Merci beaucoup.

    *stifles pun, though*

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