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I cannot guess what Iuris Perita said to the visitor when they were alone, but it seems he has gone towards Ploeuc, unconvinced.
Johan Stän, the Germanic grower of vines, has returned from a lengthy expedition to obtain suitable roots to plant and will soon be starting up our own vineyard. I feel confident that the covenant will earn good income from this in years to come. I was much less pleased to discover that our percemanarius is gone with Constantine to St.Brieuc. We can hardly do without his services for long, even if one of those who are meant to be writing is not so doing!
Magus Joachus has returned, empty-handed, from his vis hunt. I very much hope he will have more success when he sets off again, which ought to be soon.
I observed from my window during the early part of the day that our lord of the manor, Achilles de Azé, passed by leading several horses. I did not realise we possessed so many. Not many minutes later, my studies were disturbed by a request to join Iuris Perita in the council chamber below. I felt sure she would not send for me if it was not an urgent matter.
Expedition to Ploeuc
I found our Princeps in conversation with her cousin, Achilles. Both looked worried. It seems that Achilles had met Georges the tanner at the Hermitage and heard some garbled account from him of troubles in Ploeuc involving Jean de Ploeuc, his priest and demons. Iuris Perita's report had convinced him that there was something in what Georges had said and he intended to ride out to confront Jean de Ploeuc at once. I applauded this proposal and was about to return to my book, glad to have been invited to approve the plan and delighted that Achilles was taking on the burden of dealing with our neighbours. It was not so easy, however, since it seemed prudent for one of the magi to go with Achilles and it seemed that, with Constantine away, I was the most suitable.
We took with us Ignatius, Julius and Caspar. I refused to consider mounting a horse while Achilles insisted that he must ride, so we travelled at my pace with three horses ambling some way ahead of myself and my guard.
Late afternoon in Ploeuc
Our intention was to approach the manor house directly but a surly man carrying a short spear stopped us on the road as we ascended the hill to the village. Achilles ordered him to stand aside but the insolent wretch stood his ground and said we should wait where we were. I was very satisfied to see Achilles ignore the fellow. No other insult was offered to us before we reached our goal. There were guards moving between the church and the manor house and other people rushing hither and thither but I could not make out what their business was. As we reached the edge of the village square, one of them looked at us and darted back inside, I hoped to announce our arrival and bring Jean de Ploeuc to welcome us.
Martin, seneschal to Jean, came to speak to us. He made excuses for his master and said they were very busy at present. Achilles politely offered if he could help in any way but his offer was rejected, the seneschal saying that everything was under control when it could clearly be seen that this was far from the case. We led our horses around to the back of the manor. I heard Achilles order Caspar to mingle with the guards and appear to make himself helpful, whilst trying to find out what they were doing and why. Since the seneschal was being uncooperative, I decided that our lord de Azé might need a little assistance so, with Julius and Ignatius providing a screen and a distraction, as I have trained them to do, I cast 'Aura of Rightful Authority' on Achilles, lending him my small amethyst ring.
Achilles was just sending Galliene off to pick up any gossip she could from the servants when Caspar trotted into view. He had quickly learned that the fuss was all to do with the search for "a pesky cleric" who had been " poking his nose in" - I hoped they meant Fr.Albertus. Caspar was congratulated on the rapidity with which he had gathered this information and was sent off again for any more. We waited a little while during which I told Achilles what we had gathered from the previous night's raid about the cellars and cells beneath the manor. Galliene came back to us a few minutes later, bringing wine and the news that the kitchen staff knew there was a big fuss going on but not what it was for. Achilles told her to find an excuse to try and get into the cellars - the enthusiasm she showed for carrying out this tricky instruction was commendable. We were kept waiting for quite a while before she returned from the kitchen with some dried fruit and told us that she had not been allowed to go to the storeroom herself.
While we were eating, Martin came round the corner. Achilles called out to him, insisting that Jean see us at once. The seneschal's excuse this time was that the master was not at home - he was out somewhere with his soldiers. Achilles looked rather pleased at this, saying quietly to me that it was the excuse he needed to wander around the village.
Exploring Ploeuc by day
Taking Julius and Ignatius, we went first to the church. The door was shut but not barred so we slipped inside. I examined the aura, in case it was tainted with the infernal, but it was the expected low Dominion aura of a small parish church. This was a little disappointing. Achilles drew my attention to a trap door in the floor so, while Julius stood guard, leaning against the inside of the church doors, we opened it. Achilles said something about a light. I was a little irritated at his tone, as it seemed to me as if he might be forgetting to whom he was speaking, and suggested that surely there were candles to be had in a church. He did light a candle without any help from me, but the darkness in the crypt was such that I cast a spell to create light there. We saw a number of coffins but nothing unexpected or disturbed.
Having failed to find anything significant in the church, we next approached the barn. I was surprised to find a guard posted at the door. Achilles ordered him to stand aside but the guard refused, saying he had orders from the lord not to let anyone in. Julius was ordered to go round the other side of the barn to see if there was another way in while Achilles kept the first guard's attention. Julius returned almost at once to report that there were more guards on the other side. The raised voices, as the guard told Julius to go back to the square and Achilles ordered the guard to get out of his way, gave me a chance to confuse the mind of the guard so that Achilles was able to push him aside and enter the barn. Ignatius stayed with me while Julius accompanied Achilles. I must make sure that, if ever such an expedition occurs again, our man takes his own guards along instead of taking advantage of mine, for I felt quite vulnerable as I had to concentrate on maintaining confusion in the mind of the guard.
Before Achilles came back, Galliene and Caspar rejoined me. Galliene had been to the stables but had only discovered that several of the horses were in use, though not the lord's war horse, which seemed to have made some impression on her. Next thing I knew, Achilles and Julius had emerged from the barn, bringing with them two men in dark clothing. Achilles ordered the confused guard to go back to the manor, and he left, so I was free to look at the strangers. Both were bound at the wrist but they looked somewhat excited and pleased. Achilles told me that the pair had been found in the hay loft, their feet bound too, and that they claimed to be Jews from Granada. Julius was nodding vigorously; apparently the younger one speaks some Castilian so Julius had acted as interpreter. Achilles wished me to use magic to find out if the pair were speaking the truth. I am pleased that our tame nobleman is not averse to the use of magic but he will have to learn to phrase his requests for its use more suitably; I cannot have the grogs thinking that he can give me orders!
In this case, I was as anxious as anyone to confirm the strangers' story and cast 'Seeker after Truth' to learn that they were indeed en route from Granada to Rennes, where they lay claim to friends and relations, when they lost their way and were taken captive by Jean de Ploeuc's rabble. They had been tied up and held prisoner - I do not know for how long but they claimed 'days'. Whilst being held, they had maintained a constant chant of psalms, which they claim had helped them endure the torture inflicted upon them by the guards. Achilles had Julius untie the strangers' wrists. They seem to think that we are the answer to their prayers. They told us that not long ago, while they were in the hay loft, they heard a commotion from below, in the barn, and a loud bang. Achilles nodded as if this made sense then answered my questioning look by explaining that there was a big hole in the barn wall on the other side, as if someone or something had burst out that way. Achilles asked me to convey to the Jews apologies for the way they had been treated by his fellow noble. I felt this to be unnecessary but did as I was asked, making it clear that the apology was from him and not from myself.
There was a brief exchange between the pair in a guttural language unknown to me and then the younger said that I am 'the one' (I am not sure I like the sound of that) and asked that they be taken to our tower. This alarmed me greatly. How could they know of Saxum Caribetum? Could one or both be members of the Order? I cannot believe they are or they would have let me know more clearly and sooner, and would probably not have allowed themselves to be taken prisoner in the first place.
Achilles was angry at the way these travellers had been treated and was even more insistent than before that Jean de Ploeuc must answer for his crimes of kidnap, torture and more. We went back to the manor to collect our horses, and Achilles shouted at the seneschal that his lord would be hearing from him. He sounded as haughty as a member of the Aragonese nobility, which I approve of, in the right circumstances.
Escape from Ploeuc
To make best speed, Achilles desired the older Jew to ride, which he did, after speaking something to the horse, despite his lameness and other recent injuries. We set off along the track towards Caribet, leaving some commotion in the village square behind us. We had not left the village far behind when it became apparent that the younger Jew was tiring so he was mounted also. While arranging this, one of our men noticed that riders were on the road from Ploeuc, heading rapidly towards us. At Achilles' request, I asked the old man if he felt confident about staying in the saddle if the horse was to gallop. He said yes, and Achilles rode off with the two Jews, leaving myself and the grogs on the road to delay the pursuit.
My first instinct was to leave the path and make for the brush at the edge of the forest for concealment. There were clouds in the sky. I decided the easiest thing to do whilst staying well away from the track, was to cast 'Jupiter's Resounding Blow' over the pursuing riders to scare them and their horses. It was not impossible that they might mistake it for natural thunder. I cast as soon as they were close enough and was satisfied to see one unseated and two struggling to regain control of their mounts. I repeated the spell to deal with the last rider. Three more riders were approaching by this time. They slowed as they reached the advance party and I gave them another thunderclap which caused sufficient confusion amongst men and horses that I felt sure Achilles would be well ahead. I had the grogs guide me through the edge of the forest back the Saxum Caribetum, thinking it worth the extra time and effort to stay clear of the road.
Meanwhile back at the Covenant
I shall record here what I only learnt of following my return home some time after these events had taken place.
At some time during the late afternoon, a strong wind had blown up the south road just as far as our south gate where a disheveled Fr.Albertus had materialised from a cloud of swirling dust. Although somewhat surprised, our grogs had recognised him and let him in, sending one of their number with a message to the tower of his unusual mode of arrival and his request for an audience with Magus Speculor. Speculor was delighted to see him, and, indeed, now we know a little more of his skills, I imagine any or all of us might wish to talk to him more closely.
Fr. Albertus told Speculor how he had gone to Ploeuc to call on Pere Vidal, who was evasive and showed every sign of poor moral character. He had not been made welcome. He had wandered around the village, seeking any evidence of the story he had heard from Iuris Perita and our grogs. He had entered a barn where he had encountered my lord de Ploeuc and some of his men. They had with them dark candles and chalk and he believed they were making preparations for a satanic ritual of some sort. He had observed a winged serpent coiled around the shoulders of his lordship, which he felt sure was invisible to most eyes, and he supposed it to be a demon. Observing the serpent about to move against him, he had used some ability of his own to escape the barn and leave in haste. If only Speculor had found out just what this involved! We must follow it up when time allows.
Speculor had requested Joachus and Iuris Perita to join them and had cast 'Summoning the Distant Image' to see where Galliene was. He was satisfied that the party from Caribet was safe, from what he saw of Achilles and the grogs in the village square. Fr.Albertus was now convinced that our report of diabolism in Ploeuc was true, but he was afraid that the Church would take too long to act and hoped that "his cousins in magic" (the cheek!) would be able to act at once to prevent the ritual which was probably due to take place that night or on the next day.
Safe from pursuit because of my success with the thunder, Achilles and the Jews had arrived without mishap at the south gate. Achilles had immediately sent word to his cousin that he had with him a pair of Jews who knew about our tower, and had had the guard at the south gate strengthened. Jimena was called upon to interpret and she found that Arabic was more satisfactory than Castilian, the older man being a fluent speaker. She was more concerned about treating their serious injuries, being astonished to find them still conscious and on their feet, than she was about interrogation. The old man was Isaac. He had come from Granada to Brittany where he had called on the Circle of Mystics in the marshlands of Guerande then they had become lost in the forests while heading for Rennes. They must surely be referring to Mummolides! They claimed that it was the will of the Lord that they became lost and that they have been sustained throughout their capture and imprisonment by prayer and the constant recitation of the psalms. I cannot believe that they have no knowledge of magic of some sort other than the usual power of prayer. Prompted by Speculor, Jimena asked the Jews if they had seen a serpent with their captors. Isaac said he had not but that he had heard of such things. They said they had had a vision of their rescue and that someone would come for them who lived in a tower. I would like to know who sent such a vision. They seemed to know us as Wizards of the Order of Hermes. Jimena had not responded to this directly but had looked to Iuris Perita for guidance. They described themselves as scholars of the Torah.
Ploeuc by night
When I arrived at the south gate, it seemed that I was expected. The guard told me that Magus Speculor had seen us on the road. When I got to the tower, I found Jimena treating the Jews, and the rest of the magi in consultation. Fr.Albertus was hovering somewhere behind Speculor, apparently trying to catch every word. I was about to go up to my sanctum to rest when the others called me over and told me about the demons now believed to be controlling Jean de Ploeuc and his priest, and the need to stop them at once from doing whatever it was they were about to do.
I was permitted a brief rest and some refreshment while a band of grogs, including my shield grogs and those belonging to Iuris Perita and Speculor, was assembled outside the tower. Speculor decided to cast 'Eyes of the Cat' on them all, and on Achilles. I realised that I was going to have to admit to a weakness and lower my Parma, be an encumbrance to the party, or try to cast the spell on myself. I chose the third option but retreated to my sanctum before making the attempt. I need not have bothered as I had no difficulty, much to my relief.
Before setting off, I offered to renew the 'Aura of Rightful Authority' on Achilles but he had decided that this would be a mission based on stealth so it was not needed, and I retrieved my ring. Then we walked back along the track to Ploeuc. The party included Garth, Caspar, Zane and Galliene as well as the shield grogs so we were fourteen in number. Before reaching the village, Speculor cast a spell to muffle any sounds made by the grogs, or rather, the non-magi in the party.
As expected, there was a guard wielding a spear in the road on the outskirts of Ploeuc. Huon crept ahead to deal with him but Huon was hurt and Garth and Caspar had to go and help him. This was not an auspicious start. Speculor cast an Imaginem spell and the guard fell underneath Garth. Achilles sauntered forward now the road was clear and the rest of us followed. While Huon and Zane scouted ahead, Speculor cast 'Bind Wound' to help Huon.
Some while later, we all reached the edge of the square. There was no light showing from the church or the barn, nor from the presbytery but there was light in the manor house. Our scouts, Zane and Huon, looked in the church and found it empty, similarly the barn. They went into the priest's house through a window and found his housekeeper, asleep on a pallet in the kitchen, but the priest himself was absent.
We were able then to walk around to the rear of the manor house without anyone noticing us. Speculor leaned against the wall there and cast a spell to see and hear what was going on within the Great Hall. There were a lot of people in there, including Lord de Ploeuc himself, who was playing at dice with Pere Vidal. From close to the back door, Iuris Perita then cast a spell, one intended to cause all within to fall asleep, but Speculor could see that the pair gaming started as her spell was completed and called out for aid. This was unfortunate, as we had hoped they would have succumbed to the spell, but it was not all bad because everyone who entered the room in response to their cries and the barking of the dogs was immediately drawn under the influence of the magic and slumped to the floor. Achilles, Garth and Caspar went to catch anyone emerging through the front door. Jean was heard to call out forbidding anyone else to enter the room then he and the priest went towards the front door. Jean flung it open and cried out for his guards. Speculor could not see clearly what was happening outside the door and ceased concentrating on the spell but Iuris Perita maintained hers.
Speculor and I, with our shield grogs close by, started to make our way around to the front of the house, where it seemed all the action was. I could hear Achilles voice from near the front door, shouting something about having come to arrest de Ploeuc for diabolism and abuse of his authority. It soon became apparent that we were wrong as we heard Achilles order Garth to go round the back so, while Speculor continued to the front, I turned round and went towards the back door. By the time I got there, Achilles and Caspar were approaching, carrying the prostrate priest. I grabbed Zane and asked him if he could see a serpent or demon on the priest, and he said he could not. I heard that Garth had been able to knock down the priest but that Lord Jean had ascended to the solar. Through the open door, we saw Speculor and Joach enter the hall via the front door and head towards the narrow stair. I saw Speculor cast two spells, one to view an image (presumably of what was above) and another which created a phantom of Achilles, which he guided up the stair. I am not sure what this was meant to accomplish. I could see Joach getting out a puppet, as if preparing to cast a spell, but he did not do so. A little while afterwards, Speculor went up the stair himself and then he ran rapidly down and to us at the back door, saying that Jean had climbed out a window and was getting away. Joach shouted out that he was in the square.
Apart from Fr.Albertus, who remained watching over the injured priest, and Iuris Perita, who remained behind to maintain the sleep effect, under Duncan's guard, we all rushed to the front, magi going through the hall and others going around, because of the sleep spell. Joach and Speculor cast spells without obvious effect. Achilles called out a challenge to de Ploeuc, who ignored him. By now there was a line of Ploeuc guards in the square between us and their master. As our grogs went forward to engage them, Speculor guided the phantom of Achilles into the fray. The real Achilles, Huon, Julius and I began to make our way as fast as we could around the edge of the square, in pursuit. I was intent on dealing with that demon that was possessing Jean. Achilles went towards where we had left Galliene with our horses. Huon was much faster than I. Julius quickly realised that I could not keep up and waited with me; my enthusiasm had outstripped my athleticism. I was as fatigued as if I had cast several spells at once so I paused to catch my breath and re-consider my strategy.
I had recovered sufficiently to continue by the time our grogs arrived, having had no difficulty on subduing their few, ill-armed opponents. Galliene arrived, leading all but Achilles' horse, at about the same time, and we all set off along the road. We soon came upon Huon and Achilles standing over the prone Jean. I heard later that Huon had thrown several knives into de Ploeuc from behind while Achilles had circled in front of him, on horse-back, and attacked with his sword.
Again, my first thought was to find Zane and discover if he could see a serpent or demon with Jean. He could so I attempted to attack it using Perdo Vim magic. Sadly, I was unable to affect the creature. The dispelling of demons is not something I have had much experience with and I must seek out some suitable books so as to be better prepared should need arise again. This was not the first time during the course of the day that I had wished Magus Constantine with us.
It was the suggestion of Fr.Albertus that the prisoners be taken to the Hermitage. I was delighted that they were not to be held at Caribet. Not only was it undesirable to have a demon-ridden villain in our covenant, his status would certainly have drawn unwanted attention our way. Caspar and Garth were sent to accompany Fr.Albertus and the prisoners, while the rest of us returned directly home.
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