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Jimena is much occupied with tending her herb garden and preparing the produce to use in the months ahead. She has some assistance from our perfumier, which ought to be a help, though I understand the girl is capable but lazy. So, I am to travel with Julius and Ignatius for my personal protection, plus Huon who has some knowledge of the Loire valley and Yves who knows how to arrange for our food and accommodation. I will be carrying the statue myself; I do not hear its voice but I gather some of the grogs find it unsettling so will try to keep it away from them. We will carry some red wine, that we may continue to make the regular offerings. I have fifteen shillings for this journey which should be ample to keep us comfortable as long as no other unexpected demands be made for money.
Our first destination is St.Brieuc, as we retrace the route I have but recently come home by.
Huon has gone out to try to find us a place on a boat going to travel up the Loire tomorrow. I am hoping that will be a faster and more comfortable way to travel.
The boat we travelled on was in convoy with several others. Ours carried grain and it was not too uncomfortable to be seated on the sacks in the sunshine. The wind was with us at first and we set off promptly but pulled over to the bank not long after we left the city behind. The boatmen gathered round and I noticed Huon and Yves join them. There was laughter and loud voices. It seemed very irritating that the men had stopped our journey so soon just to amuse themselves with dice. I became impatient and then realised that the breeze was now coming from in front of the boat and wondered if that might be why we had stopped.
Taking advantage of the noise from the men and the fact that their attention was taken up with their gaming, I ordered Julius and Ignatius to come between me and the boatman's wife while I used ReAu, softly, to command the breeze to change direction. This was entirely satisfactory as the boatmen set off again almost at once, so I settled myself to concentrate on keeping the wind behind us. As we sailed along, we began to pass other boats pulled over to the bank, and some moving downstream. It was only after we had left the boat that I was told by Julius that the boatmen had become suspicious of our favourable wind. I gather that Huon had told our boatman that I was a pilgrim, praying as we went, and that I was often blessed with an answer to my prayers in this fashion. It is annoying that any excuse must be made for my use of my skill and knowledge to my own advantage, but the faith of the common people does have its uses.
Our next stop was at Gennes. I took the opportunity to speak to my grogs and all said that they had noticed significant headlands and promontories as we travelled. Apparently, they had even fallen to making bets on how many they would spot; Julius had won but Huon had won the money back from him, and more. What foolishness!
Today was much better. Though I had to be both quiet and subtle about the casting, ReAu worked perfectly and we made excellent progress to Saumur and beyond. By now we had passed so many promontories that I had decided the only thing to do was to find the man in Chinon who sold me the statue and make him tell me where he got it. Our boat was heading east, on up the Loire, while we needed to go towards the south to reach Chinon so we had the boatman drop us at a convenient point where two rivers met.
By marching at a good pace, we reached Chinon not very long after dark. The grogs had rested well over the past couple of days so I am sure they did not mind making haste. Huon persuaded the gate guard to admit us and we have found a place to stay.
It was clear to me that we must follow this trail. It was still early in the day so, anxious to make progress, I sent Huon off to obtain places for us in a boat to Saumur. The boatmen of Chinon charge more than those on the Loire.
We arrived in Saumur around the middle of the day and went at once to the market place. I found a shaded place to wait and sent Yves off to locate the cloth-seller and obtain any information he might have concerning the statue. Yves returned after a short while to ask for money, saying he needed a few pence to buy the man a drink and a meal as a price for the information. He told me that Naimes had not sold the statue to Ernaut but had lost it in a wager. I handed over two pence, hoping Yves would have the sense not to gamble it away for nothing. Do these grogs never think of anything else but gambling?
Yves returned much sooner than I had expected. It seems that Naimes could not or would not leave his shop so Yves had not taken him for refreshments but had simply given him the coins in return for information. Naimes had obtained the statue from a pilgrim in exchange for a warm cloak. The pilgrim had claimed that it was a statue of Our Lady and that he had had it from a farmer. How anyone could take that unclothed nymph for Mary I have no idea! This farmer was from Gennes, was dark skinned, had such a squint that he looked at people sideways, and he had told the pilgrim that the statue would bring him luck.
So, Huon has once again gone out to drink with the boatmen and arrange our transport for tomorrow, back the way we came.
After a while I began to wonder where Huon had got to and sent Ignatius to the other ale-house to find out if he had discovered anything. It was not long before Ignatius was back to tell me that Huon had left the place some time ago and, since Huon had been asking the proprietor about a dark man with a squint, and had been directed to the farm called La Louche, it was possible that Huon had gone there. I sent Yves to seek Huon and the squinting man there.
Yves returned to me around mid day. He had found the farm but the locals had been hostile towards him, possibly because he looked more like a soldier than a pilgrim or a casual labourer. Since it looked probable that the dark man with the squint was associated with this farm, I was disinclined to give up so I used MuIm to disguise Yves so he looked less like a shield grog and more like a common peasant. Then I sent him back to the farm, with a warning to be away from there by sunset. Still this second ale-house stayed shut.
It was well towards evening before Yves returned, by which time the ale house had opened and Ignatius had arranged for us to stay overnight as if we were pilgrims. Yves explained that he had found Huon in the orchard harvesting apples. It took me a while to comprehend the reasons Yves gave for why Huon might be doing this and even now I am not sure it makes sense. The important thing was that Yves had seen the man with the squint in the farm house. I decided to send Yves back again the next day, probably disguised as Brother Joseph, to question the man, as well as to retrieve Huon.
As it happened, the dark man came to us later in the evening, when we were taking a meal in the common room. He had been told something by Huon about a woman who would pay money for information about a statue. I told him that it was unwise to believe everything Huon said, which statement drew out much enthusiastic support from the grogs. Eventually the dark man admitted that he might have known something about a statue once. I tried to get him to say more, but perhaps it is my lack of familiarity with the local language. Whatever the reason, I was not getting through to him and was quite grateful when Yves took over the questioning. After much evasion, we learnt that a statue similar to the one I carried had been found on this man's brother's farm and that, for six pence each, he and the brother would take us the next morning to where it was found.
I began to think we were on the wrong track since the farm was nowhere near the river. There were wooded hills about but nothing that could possibly be the headland by the river where the Roman temple had stood. At the farm, which too grew apples, a boy was called out and it was he who guided us through the orchards to a bank of earth. Here he pointed and said that was where he found the statue. Then he ran off.
I called for shovels, which the brothers were willing to lend, though they would not dig. Yves and Julius dug for a while until some pipe was unearthed. I knelt down and placed my hand on it, silently using InTe to determine its nature. I was surprised and delighted to learn that it was, as I hoped, Roman. I felt certain this pipe was part of the system that took water to or from the nympheum. Convinced that we were close to our goal, I paid the two brothers what had been agreed and asked them to leave us, but they would not go and seemed unhappy that we dig further.
I touched the pipe again and used InTe to determine the length of the pipe. I was very surprised to discover that it was very long, running from a spring near the top of the slope and extending down beyond the next terrace to somewhere underground where it ended at what appeared to be an altar. This needed thinking about, and an absence of observers. I offered the farmer some coins, which I believed to be somewhat over the usual rate for drink based on what we had paid in the alehouse, and said we would be glad to sample his own cider. He looked very pleased with the coins and offered to fetch us a small cask which I accepted, I had hoped it would require the two of them to carry it but only the one went. While we waited, I instructed Yves, Julius and Ignatius to fill in the hole they had dug.
The grogs had certainly earned a drink by the time the cask arrived. I began by filling three mugs and handing these to my people. Dispensing cider from a cask is not quite like handling liquids in laboratory glassware, I found, and I split some but not enough to matter. I had a plan and was impatient to put it into action. Since I was confident that it would work, I did not bother to restrain voice and gestures but, because I did not want to arouse suspicion in the minds of these farmers, I did not pause to meditate before casting my spell. They did look bothered when I had cast MuAq on the cask to make all the remaining cider considerably stronger, but they did nothing annoying and accepted the mugs I filled for them unquestioningly. They drank appreciatively. It was irritating that it took a mug or two more before they slumped into drunken stupor. I warned my men not to touch what was left in the cask and bid them follow me down the terraces.
The place where I believe the pipe ended was just grass between a few trees. I instructed the grogs to help me search and they located a number of pot shards which I found to be from Roman amphorae. I then set the men to digging into the terrace, as they had done higher up. Before long, their trench reached an open area, perhaps an underground cave. I hesitated about lying down in the trench for a moment but there seemed no alternative. I used CrIg to make a little light but the underground cave or room was larger than I could see clearly. More CrIg ignited several brands so we had makeshift torches. I ordered Yves to go through the hole first, and bade Ignatius and Julius follow close behind me.
We were in a stone-lined tunnel some two paces wide and tall enough to stand up in. We followed the tunnel a little way and found the end of the pipe. It protruded from the stone wall and dripped water onto the top of a small stone altar. The tunnel went to left and right. I decided to go to the right. After about fifty paces there was an opening in the wall on the left and some steps going down about ten feet to a landing. This did not look to me anything like the Nymphaeum I sought and I was getting concerned about how long it would take us to fully explore this place. I could not risk being still down here when the brothers recovered enough to wake up. I knew the drink had been strong but did not know how strong their heads were and whether they were the sort of men who would drink another mug full rather than ask questions. I preferred not to have to use PeMe on them if it could be avoided. Instead, I tried InTe with my hand on the wall to try and learn something of the layout of this structure we were in. It comprised a set of curving passageways connected by stairs and all led down to a central open area.
I wished to get to that open area, thinking it might be where the fountains and statues were. I followed a number of the curving passageways but every time we came up against a wall of earth and I was not for more digging unless there was no alternative. We had descended two levels when I tried InTe on the structure again to discover that its purpose was as an amphitheatre. This explained the passages and stairs and the open area. It did not explain why it was now all buried and had no link that I could discern with the statue I carried.
The only clue I had seen that might connect this place with the statue was that water dripping onto the altar so we climbed back up to that. I unwrapped the statue and stood it in the slight depression on top of the altar. It did not fit well but stood up fairly straight. I filled its pitcher and cupped hands with water coming from the pipe outlet and used InVi to test its magical aura under these conditions. It was no surprise though a slight disappointment to find it was still the same as usual. I tried InAq to communicate with the statue, in hopes it would tell me that it was now 'home'. I saw images of flowing water, as before, and then the same view of the nympheum that Speculor had seen, and heard the statue begging to be taken home.
I was a little annoyed at our lack of progress and very much inclined to just take the statue back to my home. After all, it was a portable magical aura of the second level and thus very interesting and useful. All I needed to do was keep it away from the grogs, so its voice did not disturb them, and that could be achieved by keeping it in the library or my sanctum. However, I was under orders from council and did not want to fail in carrying out the assigned service, so I asked the grogs if they could see anything new about the statue and if it was speaking to them still. I have no idea how it happened but Julius had what I can only describe as a flash of inspiration or insight. I have never known him do this before but hope he makes a habit of it for he put us on the right path. He announced that he remembered the tableau that Speculor had shown us illustrating the place the statue called home and had suddenly realised that it looked very much like one of the headlands we had passed a little way downstream except that there was now a large abbey there.
Julius seemed so very sure of himself that I decided to act at once on this. We all crawled out of the tunnel and I used ReTe to move the earth back into the trench all in one go. It worked very well. It was a bit of a pity I could do nothing so effective about the vegetation but that will soon restore itself. We went swiftly back through the village, myself making careful mental note of the location of the farm in case there is ever an opportunity to return and examine the amphitheatre fully. We collected Huon and set off on foot along the river bank.
I managed to shake off the monk and entered the chapel. My grogs were praying there. I walked slowly round and observed that a lot of the stone used in its construction showed signs of having been cut and carved for some other purpose as the patterns did not fit. I hoped this meant they had reused stone from an earlier Roman building on this site but would not risk any use of magic to confirm this. One of the grogs saw me and took this as a signal to nudge the others and they all rejoined me.
I took them all out into the courtyard and asked Julius to fill a bottle with water from the fountain. He had hardly begun when he disappeared. This made me think of a regio and so I went quickly to the fountain, wishing to catch up with Julius before he got lost. I went to take some water into my cupped hands and as the first drops touched my palm I too was in the regio, beside Julius.
I was inside the Nymphaeum that the statue had shown us, exact in every detail, the pool, the mosaics, the fountains, except that there were no statues in niches around the walls. I reached for my statue and was disturbed to find I no longer had it. Before I had a chance to think how or where I might have lost it, a voice from behind me spoke, bidding us welcome. It was a nymph, or I should say 'our' nymph. Before I could think of anything to say, she thanked me for freeing her from the statue, where she had been trapped for long ages. This alarmed me for one does not trap a being in a statue without reason and I feared the nymph might mean us harm. She went on to say that she was happy to be home with her sisters and, as she said this, many other nymphs entered the room. As I looked round, I observed that Julius was standing with his mouth open and his eyes staring. The nymphs were wearing nothing other than a bit of gauze in the same way that the statue had been draped and this was obviously having some effect on my shield grog. I nudged him and suggested he close his eyes, or at least close his mouth.
The nymphs were happy to show us around their home. It consisted of the central room we had seen in the vision and a few smaller rooms connected to it, all beautifully decorated with frescos and mosaics. There were doors which, we were told, led back into the other world. It was a bit unclear quite where they did go so I made sure I knew which one the rescued nymph said went to the abbey. Although this was a fascinating and probably magical place, I did not want to linger long as I had left two grogs in the courtyard. It was possible they might follow us into the regio, in which case I would have three gawping grogs to deal with. Or they might have tried to follow and ended up elsewhere.
I was finding the gratitude of the nymph a bit tiresome because although she was delighted to be home, I had lost that magical statue and I was going to have to account to council how I had not only spent the money on the statue but had subsequently lost the statue with a magic aura. The only virtue I could see in this was that, in future, they might send others off on expeditions and let me get on with my work. This might be a good thing for me except that sometimes, such as when attending tribunal, I want to leave the covenant as part of my service.
I mentioned something of my problem to the nymph and she understood at once that some tangible reward for helping her might be a good idea. She told me how refreshing the waters from her fountain were and I guessed they were a source of Aquam vis. I was just pondering the popularity amongst the rest of my sodales of Aquam and the risks to a bottle of water on a long journey when she offered an alternative. She showed me a freshwater pearl which, she claimed, would allow a human to breath under water if they held the pearl in their mouth. She showed no sign of taking offence when I asked if she would permit me to try it.
I think Julius might have been a little reluctant to disrobe in front of the nymphs but they did not show any sign of caring. He needed a little encouragement but took the pearl and entered one of the larger pools. I had assured him that I'd pull him out if there was any sign that the pearl did not perform as we had been told, but it did work. As soon as this was confirmed, I tugged at Julius and he came up dripping. I held out my hand for the pearl and he gave it to me. I had decided that this pearl was probably the more sensible choice as it would be easy to carry.
While Julius was sorting himself out, I chatted to the nymphs. They told me that they really wanted a new home where large numbers of people would worship them in the old way. Here they received a kind of worship even if the people who came were praying under the wrong name and were not making offerings. I told them that we had a suitable spring close to where I lived, hoping that they might come and bring their Aquam vis source with them. I told them we hoped to have larger numbers of people in future though we were currently a small community. I did not have time to think how we might disguise a pagan Nymphaeum or how the nymphs might react when they discovered that with us, most of the worshipers would be praying to Our Lady of the Waters as here. It is probably just as well that they said they would not come now but would consider coming to us once we had built them a home as beautiful as the one they had here.
Julius and I left the regio and emerged inside the Chapel of Our Lady of the Waters. It was fortunate that there was no service in progress at the time, and the fewpilgrims present had their heads bowed in prayer. I was too anxious about my grogs to notice if anyone was watching but I expect there would have been an immediate fuss and talk of 'visions' if anyone had noticed and there was neither. Curious as to what might happen, I went to fill that empty bottle with water from the spring. This time I did not find myself transported and I did get a bottle of water. One of the monks observed what I was doing and offered to bless it, then looked highly put out when I said there was no need. Once we were far enough away from the abbey, I examined the water but, as expected, it was just plain ordinary water so I drank it.
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