Being Terce, Sunday, the fifteenth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, in the alley behind the house of Nathaire the doctor on the Ruelle des Fossoyeurs…
The archbishop casts his gaze about the alley. He walks forward to where Marcel lies on the ground, his habit covered with dirt and blood. The archbishop closes his eyes. His knuckles are white as he grips his crozier.
After a moment, he speaks.
“On thy elbows, Father. As uncomfortable as thou art, this must be completed.”
Marcel sighs and grimaces, shifting into the desired, but less comfortable, position. “My apologies, Thy Excellency. Why can I not be myself?” He points to a disgruntled looking sentinel nearby, carrying Marcel’s staff and wrinkling his nose at a stinking pot of ointment.
The archbishop sighs. “’Tis vital that I understand what hath occurred. As Andre is indisposed and thou wert the closest to him, thou shalt stand – or lie – in his place.” He turns to the alley’s mouth. “And thou art not the only one to play another role. Come forward, Breschau, as this one didst.”
The spymaster, wrapped in a blanket, stalks forward, moving his arms in a menacing manner.
“So,” the archbishop muses, “the guards drop Andre and move back. The figure advances, when…”
“Conrad of the Inquisition! Surrender thyself now or thou wilt forfeit thy life!”
Marcel slams the door open, striding into the alley. Pierre follows, lantern held high, sword at ready.
The figure’s head jerks back, revealing the visage of Conrad of Nurnburg. His once cherubic face is now twisted in a grimace of hate. Foam flecks the corners of his mouth, and the presence of his golden cross only highlights the contrast with the demeanor of the holy man. Andre cowers on the ground before him, slowly crawling backward on his elbows.
Pierre steps up between Conrad and the prisoner, lantern held high, sword across his shoulder. “In the name of the Archbishop and the Holy Church, surrender thyself now! There has been enough blood shed these last few days. To continue is madness. Thou imperilest thy very soul. Confess thy sins that thou mayst be absolved, and we will aid thee to escape this horrible curse! There are none so evil that they cannot be saved! Surrender!”
In the house, Julien mutters an oath as Pierre blocks his shot. He fumbles for the whistle.
Conrad giggles. “Evil?” He turns his gaze upon Pierre, while inching forward. “Good sir, I am hardly evil. Indeed, are not we of the black robes known as the hounds of God? Have I not fulfilled that duty as none other has?”
“Thy actions are not those of the Church.” Bruyant stands in the doorway. “We seek to convert, to win the hearts of the unbelievers, to teach our flock when it goeth astray, to be living examples of Our Savior. All thou hast created is fear.”
Julien blows the whistle. Immediately windows and doors fly open, and the clicks of cocking arbalests resonate through the passage. Andre crawls backward, and, without realizing it, toward the side of the alley, out from behind the merchant.
“And thou –“ says the archbishop, “- thou wert – doing what again?”
“Holding the staff and putting on the ointment,” says Marcel, looking dismally at the mud ground into his habit. “I did not realize that it took two more arms than the Almighty granted me to do both at once.”
“Very well. Thou needest not demonstrate, Abel.”
The guard, who has been looking back at forth at the two objects in his hand, looks relieved.
The archbishop nods. “What next?”
“Fear, yes!” The inquisitor stands tall, his eyes gleaming, a dark figure against the glowing mist. “Should these people not fear the Lord and all His works? Is he not like a great wind, like the earthquake, like the ravaging lion? Did He not strike Sodom and Gomorrah, Chorazin and Bethsaida? Is not the fear of Him the beginning of wisdom? Nay, the powers and principalities of darkness hath provided me with the tools to further His will, to bring the lost sheep back to the flock, and to punish the wicked! Now, behold the instrument of His wrath!”
He roars, standing upright and throwing off the blanket to reveal a tattered robe and the emaciated body, covered with scratches, beneath.
Marcel tosses the pot to Andre, who falls backward and catches it. Pierre’s gaze is caught by the motion, and he realizes that he no longer stands between Conrad and his prey. In that instant, Bruyant’s eyes widen as he sees the lantern light glint off steel in the inquisitor’s hand.
“Pierre!” he cries. “Ware the -“
The merchant leaps to one side, blocking the way once again, as Conrad lunges. Pierre shouts and moves the enchanted blade, pointing it at the charging shape…
Breschau looks downward, where the sword is directed squarely at his chest. He stares at it for a long moment. “That -“ he says, pushing it aside gingerly with two fingers “- is not where it was.”
Pierre grunts as the inquisitor strikes him. His clumsy stroke slides wildly, cutting through a fold in Conrad’s robes. As the two men topple over, the inquisitor on top, Pierre feels a sharp pain in his breast. He hears a crash, and realizes it is his lantern shattering on a doorstep. Five deniers, he thinks, before recognizing the absurdity of the tally. The darkness overtakes him…
…and it clears.
Conrad lies on top of him, moaning softly. Pierre pushes him off and looks down at his wound. He sees a jagged wooden point and bloody feathers. Conrad lies on the ground, the other end of the crossbow bolt lodged in his chest.
From inside the house, Julien, his face pale, raises the crossbow. He holds it upright, as if it were a crucifix and he were a priest leading a procession.
“’Twas truly but a scratch,” says Pierre, getting up out of the mud. He extends a hand to Marcel, who quickly takes it. “The good Nathaire hath bandaged it, and I barely feel it now.” He stares at the body, covered in a sheet, next to him. “This one received much worse.”
The priest runs to Pierre from the doorway, catching his friend. The merchant smiles at Bruyant.
“I am fine. Attend to that one.”
Bruyant gives his wound a quick look, to be sure, then rushes to Conrad. Marcel, more pragmatic than his fellow cleric, seeks the inquisitor’s dagger and kicks it into a corner before joining the priest. Pierre pulls himself upright, and Breschau quickly joins them, grabbing his master’s hand. Julien sits inside, numb, watching the tableau unfold.
The priest shakes his head. “’Tis too deep,” he says.
Conrad’s eyes move over them. He tries to speak, but instead he coughs up blood.
Pierre reaches to his belt and pulls out his wineskin. He extends it to Marcel, who holds it over the inquisitor’s mouth as Bruyant props him up. Conrad moves his head away.
“Fear not,” says Bruyant. The inquisitor opens his mouth and drinks a few drops.
“’Tis… good wine,” he says, smiling at Breschau. “I hath denied… myself… in vain…”
His eyes roll back. His slight body shudders, and is still.
Pierre wipes off his sword with the only clean spot on his tunic. “He fully intended to kill that man. I could see it in his eyes.”
Marcel leans on his staff. “How the mighty hath fallen.”
The archbishop sighs. “Thus passes Conrad of Nurnburg, inquisitor of our faith.” He motions them indoors. “His powers of Satanic metamorphosis deserted him in the end. I must decide how to present this to Rome. As for thee, gentlemen, I have sent a servant to purchase clean raiment. We shall discuss this further at dinner tonight.” He walks toward the alley entrance, followed by his entourage. “In the meantime, I have a funeral to plan.”