Averoigne II:31, in which a Blade is Contemplated and Stew Eaten

Being Matins, Sunday, the fifteenth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, at the rear of the house of Nathaire the doctor on the Ruelle des Fossoyeurs…

The rain has stopped, and a chilling mist has rolled into town, scattering the first hints of dawn into a dim, eerie illumination.  Bruyant blows on his hands as he peers out through a gap in the shutters.  The house sits at the end of the alley, providing an excellent view of its full extent.  “Art thou certain that we might not be more successful at the Archbishop’s palace? And perhaps with a cage?” he asks Breschau.

The spymaster shakes his head.  “We hunt both beast and man.  This must not look suspicious.”

Julien grunts in assent, shifting under his blankets.  At the insistence of the household staff, he lies in a small bed scarcely able to hold his frame, next to the fire.  On a table at his side sit a crossbow, a pot of bubbling stew straight from the kitchen, a goblet of mulled wine, and five jars of Cyon’s ointment, the unction-seller’s entire supply.

Pierre and Marcel tromp up the stairs.  “All the men are in position,” says the friar.  He grabs a bowl and ladles in some stew.  “I could have hardly imagined a week ago I would be playing general in such a matter…”

The wineseller joins Bruyant and Breschau at the window.  “I hath made it known through surreptitious channels that the miscreant Andre d’Erlette, due to injuries sustained during his capture, will be transferred here very shortly.  If our lycanthrope is seeking such intelligence, he shall find it in abundance.”

Julien drains his goblet.  “The dogs are held in abeyance, muzzled, for the time being, in the nearby houses.  I have a whistle of great power and shrillness that will be the signal for their release.”

The priest notices Pierre fingering the pommel of the blade at his belt.  “Thou seemest uncertain regarding the blade, sir,” he says quietly.

Pierre nods.  “For such a light piece of metal, ‘tis a heavy burden to bear.  I wonder if it would not be better off in the hands of a guardsman…”

“Hist, gentlemen!”  Marcel puts down his bowl.  Julien sits upright, craning his neck toward the window.  The three men there withdraw to either side of the aperture and wait.  Pierre and the spymaster scan the roofs and windows, while Bruyant finds himself holding his breath involuntarily.

The echoes of clopping hooves and wheels churning in the mud die away, and two guards walk down the length of the alley toward the house of Nathaire, bearing Andre between them on a stretcher.  The priest whispers something to one of the guards and laughs; the guard grimaces and adjusts the stretcher.

At the entrance to the alley, a figure crudely wrapped in a muddy blanket appears.  Its face is covered, and it moves erratically, sometimes loping on all fours, sometimes standing upright to wave its arms in the air.  From within the blanket comes a mournful howling, that soon turns to snarls.  Pierre sucks the breath between his teeth and draws the blade.

Confronted with this apparition, the guardsmen drop Andre unceremoniously and back away, swords drawn, toward the door to Nathaire’s house.  Pierre and Bruyant can catch glimpses of torchlight on spearpoints at the alleyway’s entrance, but these seem impossibly far away.  Guards should also be watching from other doors and with crossbows at other windows, but they have yet to make their moves.  Andre pushes himself up on his elbows, back to the window.  The figure sinks onto its haunches, as if to spring.

Published in: on November 16, 2008 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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