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Edwin has returned to the village, and has been rather busy hearing confessions, which is always the case after the sermon he gives at the first Sunday Mass following the mid-winter feast. I shall wait to make my confession during Lent as usual, so I was looking for a suitable excuse to give him when Edwin called to try and catch us all at dinner this evening. In fact, he had come for something quite unrelated. Naturally, we invited him to share our meal and as we ate he told us about a nun he met during his recent stay at the Hermitage. This Sister Agnes appears to belong to no particular convent, but, like Brother Joseph, wanders where the Spirit moves her. Her communication with the Spirit seems to be much more direct than for most Christians since she claims to hear voices and see true visions. When the little party from Caribet first arrived at the Hermitage, she stopped them and exclaimed that all but Edwin had spiders crawling over them. No-one else could see any sign of spiders, but she insisted they were there. She said "The Light of the Lord would burn them off". As the lay brother showed Edwin to his room, he had made it clear that Sr. Agnes was not popular, being a woman of strong opinions who was determined to share them, but that so far her visions had proved accurate. Indeed, she had accurately predicted the exact composition of the group of visitors from Caribet, providing recognisable descriptions of everyone though she had never met any of them. No doubt our sodalis Constantine would be very interested in this young nun and her visions, however I did not think that a woman so blessed by God was of much interest to the rest of us, but it was pleasing to know that Edwin felt he should keep us informed of anything unusual.
My work was interrupted mid-morning by an urgent message from Duncan, calling for Joach and myself to meet Iuris Perita at the glade boundary on the north side. It took me a short while to put my work into a state where I could safely leave it. Joach had also been detained a little and I met him leaving the tower. Neither of us had any idea what we had been summoned for, or why Iuris Perita had returned home during her vis hunt or why she did not come to talk to us at the tower. When we saw Iuris Perita, she was standing to one side of the path, close up against the thorn bushes with Duncan, Zane and Jimena. Jimena appeared to be examining Iuris's hand. When we were close enough, I heard Jimena say something to Iuris about coming to her if she felt any throbbing or saw any signs of inflammation or bruising. Jimena went just after Joach and I arrived, and Iuris Perita explained what had happened.
As she got to the aegis boundary, Zane had said the area was infested with spiders. Iuris Perita pointed some out to us and, indeed, there was an unusually large number, and it was obvious that they were trying to cross into the glade but were being held back by the aegis. I was glad to see the aegis doing its job, but the presence of the spiders was alarming, since they were clearly not natural. Iuris Perita went on to say that Zane assured her that there were a great many more that he could see but which were invisible to most people. Iuris Perita held out the hand that Jimena had been examining. It looked perfectly normal to me. She told us that she had picked up a spider to cast Intellego Animal on it, learnt that its driving aim was to 'restore contact', that it had then bitten her, and it seemed to think it had thereby made contact. Our princeps was more worried by Zane's report that he could see a small web on her hand where she had been bitten, which no-one else could see, which could not be removed by rubbing or washing, and which she had ascertained was nothing to do with faerie magic. Iuris Perita had put that particular spider in a pouch at her belt.
Joach cast a Rego Animal spell on one of the spiders and as long as he concentrated on it, it headed resolutely away from the aegis boundary, but turned around and came back as soon as he stopped concentrating on it. Remembering what Fr.Edwin had told us a couple of months ago about Sr.Agnes and her vision of spiders, we became convinced that they came from the infernal realm, which Iuris Perita's next spell confirmed. Iuris Perita then spent a long time looking at her hand in a quandary. She did not explain this but I am willing to bet that she was considering the risks of casting a spell on the invisible web on her own hand, possibly a Perdo Vim. Meanwhile, I sent Duncan off to the village to request the priest join us, bringing with him some holy water. Then I cast Perdo Vim on one of the spiders and it frizzled up. So, getting rid of one was easy ... Joach and Zane discussed trying to find out how extensive the swarm of spiders, both visible and invisible, was and wandered off together. I heard Zane say that he could see some spiders walking away from the glade towards the village along the main path and Joach reply that it would be a good idea to follow one of these. I was considering whether I could cast a Perdo Vim spell within a ring to destroy a larger number of spiders at once. I was still considering the details of how best to go about this, since the proximity of the thorn bushes made the scribing of any form of circle quite a problem, when Edwin arrived. He seemed puzzled when Iuris Perita asked him to wash her hand in holy water, but he did as requested once she briefly explained why and he blessed her, saying a few prayers invoking St.Michael to cast out demons and thrust them down to hell. Then they followed Joach towards the village and I had peace to try my spell. It was fortunate that there was no-one to witness how unsuccessful it was.
By the time I reached the village, Joach, Iuris Perita and her cousin were standing outside the manor house in conversation. They told me that Zane had been pointing out those villagers who were free of spiders and those with the greatest numbers on them, and that Zane had traced the source of the spiders to a dark corner in the cellar under the manor house. Edwin had looked thoughtful, said that he wanted to hold an exorcism and had then gone off to write a note to be carried to the prior at the Hermitage. Sir Achilles had sent a rider to carry it. Now the priest was in church hearing confessions.
We went into the cellar where Iuris Perita cast an Intellego Vim spell on a spider she found in the dark web-covered corner. The response to "How did you get here?" was "I was invited by a corrupted soul!". It seemed most likely to me that this corrupted soul was resident in the manor so it seemed obvious to me that Sir Achilles, his whole family and his staff should go and confess their sins immediately. Iuris Perita thought that the blame might lie elsewhere and questioned Achilles about recent visitors. Of course there had been any number of people coming to the village to trade or visit, particularly from Ploeuc and the area in the direction of Plaintel.
Late this afternoon, Fr.Albertus arrived on horseback. He had brought with him Sr.Agnes. I gather this was more at her insistence than his choice. I hear she was in quite a state about the huge number of spiders she could see crawling over many of the people. I had expected the priests to just get on with their exorcism but they had delayed, first to pour over some book Albertus had brought with him and then to hear confessions from everyone who was intending to hear Mass that evening. I decided that they could do without me. Ignatius wanted to go, so I let him and it was he who told me about it afterwards.
He had been approached by Sr.Agnes when he got to the church, who seemed pleased that he had hardly any spiders on him. Fr.Albertus had heard his confession. About an hour later, when all those who wished to confess had done so and performed their penance, which appeared in every case to involve praying in front of the perpetual rose, Mass had started. Edwin and Albertus concelebrated, then led a candle-lit procession of all present to bless every building in the village with incense, paying particular attention to the manor. Both priests had gone down into the cellar there.
I hear that both Sr.Agnes and our own Zane are satisfied that there are no unnatural spiders to be found in the manor, the village or around the aegis boundary now. Albertus and Agnes are still staying in the village but they should be no bother to me so I am pressing on with my distillation. Iuris Perita, I gather, is about to take Zane away again as she continues with her vis hunt.
The alarm bell rang an hour or so before noon and I made haste to respond. When I reached the village, I saw the pedlar Jourdain sitting alone on the ground beside his pack and looking highly displeased, a small crowd of villagers, mainly women, clustered together at a little distance, and Sir Achilles glaring at the pedlar. Achilles explained that Amele, the odd-looking girl who has been nursemaid to Rubea, had looked out at the fuss around the pedlar and declared that he was covered in spiders! These spiders, visible only to her, were jumping off Jourdain onto those who came to inspect his wares. I was all for having the man thrown out of the village immediately but Sir Achilles thought it better to imprison him in the church until the priest returned. For some reason, Edwin had not yet returned from Ploeuc, having gone there as usual after saying Mass in Caribet the previous day to celebrate in the church at Ploeuc. Normally he would have been back in Caribet before nightfall on the Sunday but something had obviously delayed him. Amele was reluctant to come outside, knowing that her odd appearance frightens many people, but I was able to go in and talk to her. She said that she could see that the spiders were jumping off the pedlar onto anyone he met, then from one villager to another, but that they jumped off Jourdain at the church door. The church had solved this last time, the problem seemed to be contained, and nothing more was going to happen until Edwin came back so I returned to the tower.
Fr.Edwin has once again performed a service of exorcism in the village. The infestation had been caught early on and he was able to deal with it himself but he is anxious to track it to the source. Jourdain had come here from Plaintel so that is the place to start, and he has suggested that someone should call on Lady Marta to explain what is happening, as far as we understand it. I would have thought this was something he could quite easily do himself, or ask Helissente to do, but Edwin claims he will be busy talking to the parish priest there, Fr.Athenasius, and "would I be so good as to etc ". I am certainly curious to learn more about the origins of these horrid spiders and to do anything I can to prevent a further infestation in our lands.
I think I have made it clear enough to Lady Marta and to her maids that I will tolerate no more chatter tonight! I virtually had to throw my hostess out of the room, and the temptation to use a spell on her was almost more than I could bear. I was torn between a Muto Mentem to try and make her think of something other than gossip, a Rego Corpus to get her to keep her mouth shut, an Imaginem spell to make her inaudible, and a Perdo Vim to try and cure her of the spiders. It was just as well that I had trouble deciding, distracted as I was by her constant prattle, or I would most certainly have broken the Code. I have had to put up with a continuous stream of utter trivia since I arrived soon after mid day. It is quite some time since I spent any time with her ladyship but I am sure she was never so talkative. I remember her as quite an intelligent and well-informed woman, for a mundane, not this gossip-obsessed creature. It is not only my hostess who can't keep her tongue still for a minute at a time - all her staff are so afflicted. Whilst we were being served refreshment, the parish priest joined us and he too was full of stories about local people and what they had been up to. Edwin whispered to me that he was certain that a great deal of what they were saying, especially the third-hand reports, were entirely fictitious.
Eventually the chattering died down sufficiently that Edwin was able to get a word in, suggesting that with so much apparently sinful activity going on (and it was true that much of the gossip did concern sin, at least the part I attended to until I just stopped listening), it would be a good idea if everyone was encouraged to go to confession. Eventually, the meal long over, Edwin was at last able to steer Athenasius out of the manor and in the direction of the church. I said I would accompany them, just to give myself an excuse to escape the women's gossip but Lady Marta still had so much to say that she came along too. Even inside the church I was not free of the prattling. I knelt to pray, thinking surely they would stop talking to me under such circumstances, but no luck. I don't know how long it was before Marta finally decided to go. Her parting words were to invite me to spend the night in the manor. I had a choice between sleeping in the church or in the manor, neither option promising peace, so I chose the manor, and might now catch a little sleep.
Fr. Albertus arrived soon after breakfast, and thankfully he did not appear to be infected by the gossip-demons. I joined him and Edwin for a swift conference in the church. Edwin was for conducting a service in Plaintel similar to that performed successfully at Caribet but Albertus did not want any further delay in tracking down the source of the problem. In the end we agreed to set out along the road to Quintin, and reconsider if we did not detect signs of excessive gossiping in anyone we passed. Edwin was of the opinion that it was important that all those involved were in a state of grace. We all had to wait while Albertus and Edwin heard each other's confessions, which took very little time. Then Julius and Ignatius made theirs, and then it was my turn. Once with Edwin, I reminded him that my last confession had been during Lent, then I pointed out that we were in haste, and would it not add greatly to the delay of I was to confess fully now. Accustomed as he is to the confessions of magi, he agreed that, desirable as it was for me to confess and be absolved, my own magic seemed to be protecting me from the plague so a postponement might be acceptable. I assured him that I would confess in Quintin if it became essential and we left it at that.
Sure enough, along the road to Quintin, everyone we met wanted to stop us and gossip. Fr.Albertus could see the spiders that crawled all over them, and span webs from one person to another. It was Ignatius who was most determined to avoid hearing any chatter and his determination kept us all moving at a good pace, leaving a number of men and women talking to thin air. It became far more difficult to escape the clutches of the gossip-mongers when we reached the town. One could sing to try and drown out their voices or cover ones ears, and try to walk away but they would clutch at us to make us stand and listen. The whole town was covered in a dense web of gossip through which we eventually fought our way to the house of an elderly, affluent widow. People were coming and going from her front door all the time, and a large group were gathered in front of and inside her house, mostly talking of how splendid she was, what a kind and sympathetic person, and so on. Working our way around the edge of the crowd, we managed to gain access to the yard behind her house. There was a well there, and on seeing it, Edwin and Albertus looked at each other as if it meant something to both of them. When pressed for an explanation, Edwin told me about Sr.Agnes' vision in the middle of the night following the first exorcism of spiders at Caribet, how she has spoken of the Queen of Spiders sitting on a cushion in a well of darkness, spinning her webs and sending strands throughout the world to ensnare corrupted souls.
It was clear to Albertus that we would get no help from the local clergy, who were almost certainly as affected as Fr.Athenasius of Plaintel. We needed men untouched by the infection, so he sent a message to the Hermitage. How he found anyone to take on the task who would not spread the infection, and how he got anyone to keep quiet long enough to be asked to take his note, I never did discover. We had a long wait, so stayed in hiding as far as possible until help could arrive.
Fr.Albertus' 'Holy Army' was quite a sight. They had followed his instructions carefully, the monks walking in procession behind an uplifted crucifix, reciting the psalms as they went and having no communication whatsoever with those they passed. Sr.Agnes was walking behind them. She came over to me and pressed a small dagger into my hand saying " You will need this". She went on to explain that it was holy, and had belonged to a martyr. She said it should be blessed, then plunged into the spider that was in the well. I rather hoped she would deal with this aspect of the business herself, and was quite sure that I did not wish to do it. Edwin blessed the dagger, and then Ignatius said that he would go down the well with it, if I wished him to. I was very anxious for the safety of my brave grog, but accepted his offer as he was certainly the one of us most well suited to such a task. I was able to cast a Rego Vim spell to give him a degree of protection, which I hope was not noticed by the crowd around the top of the well itself. While the monks chanted, Ignatius was slowly lowered down into the well on the end of a rope. Then the rope went slack and there was no-one on the end of it, and we feared greatly for Ignatius. I could see nothing down inside the depths of the well. A few moments later there was a splash and Ignatius' voice shouting to be pulled up. The rope was let right down, and very soon Ignatius was hauled back into the light. He looked quite shaken.
Not far down into the well, he said, he had found himself in utter darkness and silence, but in what seemed to be a much larger space than he expected to find in a well shaft. He could feel webs all around but as he moved forward, inch by inch, his hand had encountered something soft and pulpy. He had slashed fiercely with the dagger again and again, cutting at webs and whatever this soft substance was. Then suddenly he could hear the monk's chanting again, and felt himself falling.
Fr.Albertus drew my attention to some unpleasant-looking green sticky substance adhering to one of Ignatius' boots. I was able to determine that it was vis, but infernally-tainted so the first thing I had to do on my return to our tower was to inform Iuris Perita in the hope that her powerful friends will make haste to destroy any that remains in the well.
The comfortable ordered routine of day to day life is overturned by a dreadful illness which has struck our devoted Jehan. He has been unable to leave his bed for two days now, and Jimena says he must not think of trying to rise until at least a week has passed, She is giving him herbal drinks and says he will recover, but in the mean time, he must have peace. Another, younger man is supervising the servants; I think his name is John. It is a sure sign of a failure in the system if one notices the servants, I believe, and this just makes me realise how well Jehan does his job. I may have to try magic if he is not well by the full moon.
A fascinating correspondence has grown up over the past year or more between myself, Magus Buviniolus Bonisagi ad Petrusca, and Maga Letitia Bonisagi filia Praexti ad Montibus Planis of the Rhine Tribunal. I am so grateful to my parens for putting me in touch with these people, who share my fascination for trying to understand the ways of the fae. Maga Letitia is known within our House as the greatest expert on faerie magic, so I am honoured to be in such regular contact with her, and to have the benefit of her insights into some of the encounters I have had with the fae. She has been most helpful on the subject of Alacritas, warning me that I should not make any attempt to develop a closer relationship with the kitten until I have a far better grasp of her nature.
Magus Buviniolus did not appear at first to have a very extensive knowledge of the underlying theory of faerie magic, rather to my disappointment, but he has devoted several seasons' study to the matter now and has been entirely drawn into the subject, working his way rapidly through every book Petrusca has on this topic. Of course, I long to read those same books and so advance my own understanding. Maga Gwenole has always been very much more in favour of practical experience, whereas Magus Buviniolus seems more than content with books. Maga Letitia is more in agreement with my own view, that both are necessary. In her letters, she has written of a group of researchers within our House who call themselves The Last Commission and work towards the integration of faerie magic and Hermetic Magic Theory. It seems certain that I need to achieve a closer acquaintance with these magi if I am to advance in my personal experience of faerie magic in a way that books cannot offer.
Now, Maga Letitia has proposed through Buviniolus that I perform a small service for her, and he has identified a suitable task. It appears that not too far to the west of the Valley of the Mists there is the site of Covenant Haeconius. It was abandoned some decades ago. It is believed that the members of Haeconius somehow became too closely involved with the fae. I have been asked to investigate the current state of the site, the local aura, and fae population. I am delighted to take up this opportunity to make myself known to The Last Commission and prove my enthusiasm for the investigation of faerie ways. The next free season I have, I shall perform this quest.
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