Being Terce, Monday, the sixteenth day of February, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, in the palace of the Archbishop of Vyones…
The bleary-eyed companions are ushered quickly into the presence of the archbishop. Julien looks glad yet shaken. Bruyant tells his beads as he enters. Pierre quickly leaves a pitcher by the door, wiping his lips and straightening his tunic. Marcel carefully balances an urn containing the sword’s remnants between his hands.
Archbishop Honore waves them in. “Leave, the rest of thee. No, not thou, sir,” he says to a clerk looking over a large ledger.
The archbishop sits by the window, staring outside for a moment. The dark clouds have dispersed, and beams of sunlight highlight the crags and furrows of his face.
At length, he speaks.
“Marcel l’Hyers and Julien le Grand, thou shalt not leave on thy pilgrimage.”
Julien looks confused. “Your Excellency, I thought – “
“Yes, yes. I have changed my mind.” The archbishop looks out the window, his face inscrutable. “’Twould be unseemly if two of the chief participants in these curious affairs vanished unexpectedly before the inquiry.”
Marcel is glum. “What dost thou think will happen?”
“I know the church well, good friar. The envoys will come for the enquiry. I will send them witness after witness who beheld Conrad attack an innocent man like a wild beast. I shall tell them of the death of his notary, which could only be carried out by such a monster. I will then display epistles from other nearby burgs, showing that a monstrosity was in town at the same time as the inquisitor, who we now know to have been quite mad. It shall become immediately clear to them that putting men on trial for such an action would be an ever-unfolding embarrassment to the Church. At that point, we shall reach an amicable agreement, and the wine cellars will be opened.” A bird twitters outside, and he gives a quick smile. “Besides, thou surely cannot leave us while the roads are quagmires.”
Pierre steps forward. “And what of Breschau, Thy Excellency?”
“Yes, the death of a factotum of the Inquisition under unclear circumstances is hardly a bright spot on one’s record.” He waves to the clerk. “Thou hast the ledger of Obert the notary, sir?”
“Yes, Thy Excellency.”
“Tell me, sir, how many employees were employed by Conrad of Nurnburg upon his arrival in Vyones?”
The clerk flips through a few pages and runs his figure down a column. “The notary himself, and three of his soldiers and bodyguards. There is no mention of a Breschau or any other personnel, though there is a great amount of unaccounted-for administrative overhead -“
“That is enough, sir,” says the Archbishop. “It is clear the man was an impostor. As we know not what exactly fell from the belfry, I order it to be burnt, as the friar has advised.”
He regards the four companions. “Thou hast served the Church valiantly and with honor, keeping the people of Vyones safe as best thou wert able. As thy spiritual counselor, I hereby free all of thee from any penance or recompense to be made from thy actions during this time. What thy consciences demand of thee might be another matter. Good day, gentlemen, and go with God. I shall remember thy deeds.”
The men pause in the courtyard and take in the air. A shout goes up, and a line of people, squinting in the sun, unsteady on legs that have circuited a cell’s walls too long, stumbles through the door leading from the dungeon. Eve is there, and so is the taverner of Deux Diables, and other prisoners of the Inquisition, now freed by the Archbishop’s order. They move toward the gate, where they are greeted with cheers, laughter, and weeping. After the dark days they have passed through, it is a welcome moment.
Back behind the door, over the grumbling of a guard, Andre can be heard. “No, really, sir, I am to be released also. No, no, I assure thee – what art thou -“
The companions stand silent and beaming for a moment.
“Didst we truly circumvent a murder tribunal via creative accounting?” asks Pierre uncertainly.
“The Lord does work in mysterious ways,” answers Bruyant.
“We may have avoided judicial sanction,” says Julien grimly, “yet I hath slain two men, even in the service of the Archbishop. I wish I had not been denied the pilgrimage, even for a few months. I will not feel a right man until I hath done penance for my deeds.”
The door to the prison opens one more time, and Orianne exits uncertainly. On her way across the courtyard, she gives Julien a smile. Then she is out the gate and gone.
“But nonetheless,” says the clerk, “I will accept what God hath granted unto me. Perhaps I might begin my penance while in Averoigne… Excuse me, gentlemen.” He walks toward the gate.
Marcel quickly follows, brandishing a slate. “Yes, there will be penance! Weighty penance indeed! As thy confessor, I shall outline a theologically appropriate schedule for thee, filled with seclusion and quiet prayer, adhering to the principles of canon law and…”
The clacking of chalk can be heard as they round the gate.
“Wouldst it be possible, good friar, to leave this schedule open in the evenings?” says Julien.
They are gone.
Pierre grins. “I should be back with mine family. They have missed me, and the noontide meal draws close. Wilt thou join us, Father?”
“I will, sir, but only as a friend visiting informally.” The two men leave the doorway.
“Why? ‘Tis a time of celebration! Dost thou fear to impose upon my hospitality?”
“Well, that. In addition, thy last guest of honor was torn to shreds.”
“Fear not. I shall open another cask of the wine I sent to the archbishop’s house scarce six days ago.”
The men stand outside the gates. Light glints from the stained glass of the cathedral. Below are the dark-stoned houses of Vyones, the busy streets with hoofbeats and the cries of merchants, the town’s low wall, and beyond, the rolling plains and imposing hills, shrouded in forest. Averoigne is a land of both darkness and light, thinks the priest, and one can only hope to hold the former whilst nurturing the latter in the short years of one’s life. Yet is that not a worthy goal in the eyes of the Almighty?
“’Twas good wine…” muses Bruyant, and they are off.
Meanwhile, in the belfry of the cathedral of Vyones…
Forgotten on a sill sits a chalice, still half-filled with ruby liquid. Light falls on it through the slats of the window.
A swish of cloth and a clank of metal are heard nearby. A gauntleted hand carefully removes the cup from the sill.
Footfalls die away, and the spiders, no longer discomfited, go back to spinning the patterns more ancient than man or wolf…