Averoigne PBEM II:20, in which Bread and Cheese Is Devoured, Marcel Falls Asleep, and a Hunt Is Proposed for a Most Dangerous Game Indeed

Being Prime, Saturday, the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, at the house of Nathaire the Physician in Vyones…

Julien grits his teeth as a young man smears a pungent concoction on his wound. “What is this foul substance, good Gaspard?”

“A mixture of fermented honey, salt, and herbs,” his attendant replies, rubbing to further gasps from his patient.  “It occurs to me that we have met before, under surprisingly similar circumstances.”  He applies a fresh bandage to the wound.  “If I may ask, how does it come that a man is attacked by a wolf when visiting the home of a lady?”

“That question, I fear must wait for an answer,” says Julien, looking up to see three men trudge in with dragging feet.  “I must speak with these gentlemen in private.”

Gaspard bows to him, then to the gentlemen, and departs.  The men cluster around Julien, whose pale face nonetheless bears a hearty smile.

“We bear some bread to sop in the wine, and the remnants of an excellent cheese,” says Pierre.  “’Tis unusual to break one’s fast before noon, but we have had a long night – not to mention, mastication will keep us awake long enough to exchange our findings.”

Thus, over this meager repast, the companions tell their stories.

“I was borne here, without incident, by the Sieur de Tourgeant,” says Julien, perched on the edge of the bed, a wine-soaked hunk of bread in one hand.  “A former man-at-arms, he marched upon Egypt with our Blessed King Louis a quarter of a century below.  In one skirmish, the Turks attempted to recapture several engines of war held in the Crusader camp.  The Sieur was instrumental in beating them off, but a horse kicked him as they fled, and he has since retired from war and dwelt peacefully in Vyones.  A trifle touched – he instructed me not to discuss the size of our forces here, for Nathaire was in league with the Saracens – but a good man without guile nonetheless.”

Marcel leans against a wooden beam.  “For my part, I quickly made inquiry of the lady Orianne regarding herself and her position in town.  She maintains that she is the niece of the Sieur, and before that she lived near Orleans.   Her parents are dead, and her brother, who had cared for her before, was crippled by ruffians and is unable to support both himself and her as members of the same household.  Having no prospects of a dowry, she has come to live with her uncle and care for him in his dotage.  She has had no dealings with the Inquisition.  Her only guesses as to why her house might be targeted by the agents of the Adversary are both salacious and canonically unsound, thereby rendering them doubly irrelevant.”  He steps to the table and slices off a wedge of cheese.  “Yet my heart tells me that she conceals some matter.  Whether small or great, I do not know.”

“Dost thou say this because thou believest it absolutely, or because thou wishest to protect what dubious virtue I possess?” asks Julien.

Marcel considers this for a moment.  “Both, in truth.”  He nibbles on the cheese.  “After that, I repaired to the palace.  I turn over this matter to Monsieur le Butelier.”

Pierre gives a half-mocking bow and steps forward, telling of his vigil and his conversation with the winetaster.

“After having provided a goodly repast to the guards, who were immovable from their post, I interrogated Marc at length, along with these good clerics once they came off their watch.  He said ‘twas indeed possible that the aforementioned gentleman in his dreams had these faces on his garment, though the fog of sleep made him uncertain.”  He nods to Bruyant, who wipes his mouth and rises.

“The end of the affair, I fear, was anticlimactic.  The friar and I waited in the cold ‘til morn, watching the window, while Pierre remained before the doorway.  None entered or left, and the guards maintained their watch before the door.  Scarce minutes ago, the portal opened, and Conrad, bearing the very cross Marcel and Julien described, stepped forth to attend the morning Mass at the cathedral.  Quite haggard he seemed to me, and he did not respond to any of our pleasant greetings.  I could see no sign of wound upon him.”

“’Twas but a scratch,” sighs Julien.  “’Tis doubtful that a request for a high church official to disrobe is within the scope of our decorum.”

They fall silent.

“The beast we hunt combines the ferocity of the wolf with the intellect of the man, and the authority of our Holy Mother Church,” says Pierre quietly.

“A beast, what’s more, who knoweth that the hunt draws near.”  Bruyant motions for the group to draw together.  “No knight or gamekeeper ever sought a more dangerous quarry.”

“If indeed he be a quarry.”  Julien smirks.  “My blade nearly turned upon his hide.  I fear that, even if thou hadst caught him, thou couldst have done nothing to stop him.”

“How shall we find a way to defeat him?” Pierre sighs.

“We must rise to the occasion, of course,” says Julien.  “We must be hunters without peer, cunning and resourceful, to catch our quarry.”  He jerks a thumb at Marcel, whose head droops toward his chest.  “The hounds of God must be rested, however.  Gentlemen, I suggest we all be abed, and come to this matter with refreshed bodies and clear heads.”

Two notes.  First, this is what I did when all four characters separated to do different things in a single turn, as otherwise that’d take a lot of writing.  Second, Gaspard should be a familiar chap for Smith fans…

Published in: on July 20, 2008 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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