Better late than never, right?
At the end of Pierre’s path is a dense growth of cedar. Pierre pushes through and finds himself in a clearing illuminated by a roaring fire. Over this blaze roasts a succulent young boar, the odors of which make the merchant’s mouth water. Round about, on sacks, barrels, and other makeshift bits of furniture, sit a group of motley rogues with tonsured heads, wearing fine clothing and swords. They are catching their breaths after a jest, elbowing each other and gasping as wine sloshes on the thawing ground.
“Halloo! ‘Tis Pierre le Butelier, wine merchant of Vyones!” One of the crowd leaps up, and before Pierre can react, takes his arm and draws him to the fire. He holds his hands over its welcome heat for a moment, then turns to warm his other side. “Who art thou?” he asks.
The man gives an exaggerated bow. “We, sir, are a troupe of exclusive and sanctified anchorites. Our days are spent out doing good, whether that be through blessings and exorcisms, through song and dance, or through helping rich men become worthy for heaven by divesting them of their burdens. Nay, friend!” He laughs at Pierre’s uneasy face. “We hath no quarrel with thee. In fact, we hath a proposition that thou shouldst find appealing.”
The men have taken on a more serious mien, and begin practicing a low, sonorous Gregorian chant. Their leader hands Pierre a mug of mulled wine. “We knowest thou art a man of wealth, position and stature in Vyones. We also know that hath reached the middle years of thy life, and must find these honors tiresome. Wouldst thou not join our merry troupe? A prestidigitator would be a welcome addition to our repertoire.”
Pierre gives an unguarded smile for a moment, then becomes thoughtful. “Monsieur, I fear I have obligations…”
“But of course.” The heterodox hermit beams. “Thou wouldst not be in the Wood of Averoigne so late if ‘twere otherwise. No matter. If thou desirest it, thou mayst discharge thy duties and return here.” He puts an arm on Pierre’s shoulder. “We offer no great store of coin or mystical wonders. All we can promise is that thou shalt see much of the world, thy art will delight crowds in every town, thy food will be the best that any host can provide to clergy, and thy bed will be softened with hay, grass, or the bosoms of nubile maids and wenches.” He winks. “All we wish for now is thy answer. Wilt thou come with us?”
Pierre looks wistfully at the assembled troupe.
“In truth I have never been the most constant of men. My heart is often filled with wanderlust and desire for new sensations. Thy offer speaks to some of my most secret desires – a free rogue wanderer I would be if my life had been different. Yet no matter how much I wander my heart always bids me return to the people and places I love – my family, friends and Averoigne itself – these are my true wealth. I’m afraid I must decline thy offer.”
Pierre then smiles a little. “And, gentlemen, if THY wanderings bring thee to Vyones a welcome thou wilt find at my house. It is not as grand or exotic as some thou mayest have seen but thou wouldst find an appreciative audience. Who knows? The Archbishop might also welcome entertainers such as thyselves..?” Pierre grins at the thought of the Archbishop and the nobler townspeople meeting these particular merrymakers.
Pierre then says inquiringly whilst glancing around at faces “On thy many travels hast thou ever heard of a man who can assume the supernatural form of wolf? Such brings me to the Forest of Averoigne this night and such it is that stalks the streets near my home preying upon good people. I seek a way of settling a final account with this man-beast. Thy advice, if any, would place me in thy debt…”
The man bows before Pierre. “I do not sympathize with thy answer, sir, but ‘tis well-spoken, and that is a great deal in itself. We wilt take thee up on thy offer of hospitality if e’er we come to Vyones. The presence at this time of the Inquisition makes it less commodious than might otherwise be the case.” He sits down on a barrel. “As for the dreaded loup-garou, friend, I suggest that thou stayest as far away from it as possible. From the determined look in thy eyes, I fear that will not be far enough.”
The troupe waves to the merchant as he continues on his path.