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Covenant of La Roche Caribet

Seeking Mithras: Part I

Alencon

After leaving Caribet on 3rd July, Abel guided Floristan and the grogs to St. Brieuc where they took a boat to Caen. There Abel negotiated for a barge to carry them up river to Sées. Floristan is very expert in the Art of Rego, so would have had no difficulty, I am sure, in using magical means to speed the boat along a little without attracting suspicion. Even so, it took them a few days to complete this part of the journey. They then walked to the city of Alencon. The place was busy but the peasants looked less prosperous than those in St.Brieuc and they were rather surly with the foreign visitors. Abel took rooms for them at Le Coq Rouge. The need now was for local information, so they split up. William was to find out about the churches, convents and monasteries, and try to make contact with clerics. Abel was to mingle with the peasants to see what he could learn from them. Floristan was to call at the castle to make himself known to the nobility. Floristan decided that he would tell anyone who needed to know that he had come to seek an ancient shrine where miracles had taken place, possibly associated with St. Luke and/or fire, because he, or someone he knew, had had a vision of St. Luke that suggested all these ideas. St. Luke was chosen because his symbol, the bull, was so close to the Mithraic bull that we really sought.

William's information

William first went to the largest church in the city. It was dedicated to St Leonard. There were several other churches in the vicinity but he was most interested to visit one of the other places he heard about there, the Chapel of St. Luke. He reached there in time to join the congregation for morning Mass and afterwards lingered to look around. His attempts to engage the monks there in conversation were successful, although they were rather pressing and repetitive on the matter of donations. His coins earned the information that this chapel is attached to a few monastic buildings which are an offshoot of the main monastery some way out of the city. The three monks who live there are occupied in the wool trade on behalf of their community. They were happy to show William around everywhere except inside their warehouse but he saw enough to be fairly sure that there was no cellar or crypt that might lead to the remains of a Roman temple.

Abel's information

Not far from Le Coq Rouge was an alehouse called 'The Ox's Cave'. Abel went there and shared a few jugs of ale with the landlord. He heard about a local feast that was due to take place soon and in which the main feature was an ox roast. According to ancient tradition, going back to before the landlord's father's time at least, an ox is brought into the city and is blessed by the priest from St. Luke's chapel and it is then wrestled by any of the young men who want to show off, then the ox is slaughtered and roasted. Over the second jug, Abel heard the story behind the alehouse's name. It concerned a cave in the forest far from there where a great horned bull carved into the wall would come to life and leap off the wall, and how St. Gatien of Tours pacified the bull so it could be killed and roasted. St. Gatien was also well known there abouts for the great work he did converting the pagans, the landlord said. Apparently the telling of this tale was rather interrupted by the landlord's wife who seemed to think he was not being much use, just talking to the visitor and had all sorts of suggestions of things he ought to be doing. The husband's response to this was to take another drink, so by the time Abel's third jug of ale was empty, his informant was drifting towards incoherency.

Floristan's information

Taking Stephan and Caspar with him as his retinue, Floristan presented himself at the castle as Floristan of Ravenna, a nobleman on pilgrimage who wished to pay his respects to the Duke. The chamberlain granted Floristan an audience, and told him that the Duke was not in residence but was expected in a day or two. Floristan spoke of his 'vision' of a man and a bull, saying he assumed it was St. Luke. The chamberlain told him of the Chapel of St. Luke and the bull-roast and tried to direct him to the local clergy. I imagine that this was as much on account of the difficulty of finding a mutually comprehensible language at the castle than any belief that they would be interested in his story. Not to be put off, Floristan pressed his questions and the chamberlain elaborated on the local ox festival, talking of the slaughter and roasting, but saying nothing of the wrestling that Abel heard about. Apparently, the festival takes place periodically but on no obvious fixed date. Floristan was then offered a room in the castle, which he felt obliged to accept in order to maintain his claim to rank, but knowing some sort of expensive gift would be expected in return.

Caspar was sent to pay for the room at the inn and to find both William and Abel and tell them about the new accommodation. Once together again, the group exchanged information and there was some enthusiasm for making an expedition out into the surrounding forest to seek any trace of the cave Abel had heard about where there was reputed to be a carving of a bull, since this seemed to be the most likely location of the hidden remains of the Roman temple.

They dined in the castle that evening. Floristan was seated in a place of relative honour, and was now keeping William close at hand to translate. His stories of the crusades were very well-received. The grogs mingled with the lower orders. I gather that, after a few drinks, Stephan insisted on telling stories of his experiences in battle despite no-one understanding a word he said. Fortunately he did not appear to mind that no-one paid him much attention. They were still alert for any clues to their quest and so asked a few questions. Where Abel was sitting, it became clear that telling someone there to "'Go to Hell" was a cause for much amusement and apparently caused no offence. Abel was curious and was told that, near Alencon, it was perfectly possible to literally 'go to hell' because there was a place nearby, in the Forest of Percain, known as Hell Valley. They said it was a place where devils offered up burnt sacrifices, preferably human but that stolen cattle were acceptable. During the evening they also discovered that, by an amazing lucky coincidence, the ox festival was due to be held the following evening.

Ox wrestling

The intention had been to find Hell Valley but since any visit to the forest would risk missing the potentially important ox roast, they spent most of the day relaxing after a visit to St. Luke's chapel to hear Mass and allow Floristan to examine the place. Caspar and Abel disappeared during the morning. William knew that Caspar was curious about the ox wrestling and was thinking of taking part if it was permissible for visitors to do so. Abel was interested in placing a bet on the event. Mindful of Caspar's importance as the grogs' principle trainer, William hinted to Floristan that it might be a good idea to forbid the man to risk himself in the contest, but Floristan did not seem to think it important. What carelessness with covenant property! Even if Floristan were a full member of the covenant, I think he would have been at fault for letting a valuable grog put himself in danger in that way, and for an applicant for membership, it was inexcusable.

A rowdy crowd gathered in the city centre that evening. Floristan used a Muto Corpus spell to change his appearance to that of a common peasant to avoid attracting attention. An ox was brought along and was blessed by the priest, who left after he had done his duty. In the crowd Abel noticed two unlikely-looking townsfolk who were accompanied by two men who carried themselves like soldiers. They did not look like the two magi, Robusta and Laureus, but their behaviour towards each other was just like them and they were occupied in taking notes in between arguments. Caspar survived unharmed and acquitted himself rather well, though not well enough to win Abel his bet; the wrestling was more ceremonial than serious, as it turned out, but that does not excuse Floristan. It took a long time for the ox to be ready to eat, and drink flowed while the crowd waited. William heard singing and went closer but it was rough and rowdy drinking songs only. At no time was there any hint from anything our people saw or heard to suggest any pagan aspect to the festivities. An eye was kept on the two that were suspected of being Robusta and Laureus and their shield grogs. They continued with the note-taking, and some pushing and shoving, giving no sign that they had noticed the party from Caribet. Floristan was keen to make an early start the next day for the Forest of Percain so warned his companions not to drink too much and insisted they returned to the castle before it got late.

Into Hell

It was not hard to find someone who was able to point them in the right direction for the forest and the valley. It was a deep, winding, steep-sided cleft. They walked along the bottom of the valley for a while before a tower became visible above the trees. They went closer and clambered up the side of the valley not far from the tower, It looked more like a church tower than a covenant. Near the top of the slope they lost sight of the building behind the trees but found a faint trail. Caspar climbed a tree so he was able to see the tower and make sure they headed towards it. The tower was attached to a chapel, both long abandoned and overgrown. They circled the mass of brambles and bushes that surrounded the remains, and found no sign of a way in, nor any indication that anyone had been there recently. Floristan cast a spell. He did not tell anyone what spell it was or what the outcome was, and there was nothing to show for it but a slight frown on his face. Then he instructed Caspar and Stephan to cut a way through the undergrowth to the chapel.

Inside the chapel

It was cold and damp inside the church. There was sufficient light inside to show some carvings which suggested that this, too, was dedicated to St. Luke. There were some steps leading down into darkness. Floristan went back outside and a little while later he returned with a lit torch which allowed them all to see that the steps went down into a small bare cellar. They went into the base of the tower. It too contained a carving of a winged bull. There was the rotting remains of what might have been a wooden ladder going up inside the tower. Then they all went back outside and started to hunt for the entrance to the reported cave, thinking it might be hidden somewhere in the side of the slope. While exploring the top of the ridge, they again picked up the faint trail and found that it soon grew more clearly defined.

Unexpected meeting

As they followed the path along the ridge, they smelt wood smoke. It was possible that Robusta and Laureus were there, or even the devils spoken of in the city. Caspar climbed a tree but could not see anything but trees. Floristan took out a device and rose vertically above the trees but could see nothing other than a plume of smoke ahead. They moved cautiously forwards and stopped when the sounds of children and hens could be heard. Stephan crept forward stealthily and returned to report that he could see three cottages, dogs, hens and children. William suggested that it might scare the peasants if Floristan and the armed grogs strode into their settlement, and that it might be better to just send Abel ahead with the 'vision' story to see what he could find out.

There was the expected chorus of barking when Abel reached the cottages. It was not long before Abel was back, saying that he had been greeted by several woodsmen who rejected his story of the vision, saying that they knew it was not him who had experienced the vision and it was some other fellow. It seemed that they had probably overheard some of the recent conversation! Assuming that they had been watching and listening, there seemed no point in continuing to hang back, so the others accompanied Abel to the cottages. Floristan addressed them in his own native tongue, which only Stephan could make anything of but was stopped by a small boy tugging at his sleeve, trying to pull him in the direction of one of the huts.

Stephan entered the hut. It was very dark and very smokey inside. Floristan followed him and Caspar kept close behind the magus. Stephan felt something brushing his face and felt a curtain of some animal skin which he tried to push aside but his foot kicked against a metal pot of some sort as he stumbled in the darkness. His eyes smarted badly and he felt dizzy with the smoke but there was no room to turn around. He said something to Floristan, blundered into the wall of the hut and then into Floristan as all three of them left the hut, coughing and blinking. Floristan cast a spell, clearly a Creo Ignem since he made soft light but it was very short-lived for some reason. One of the woodsmen said "Go in, you are expected.". William translated this for Floristan, hoping to inspire caution, but, urging Stephan to precede him, Floristan went back inside the hut.

A hoarse, rasping voice from somewhere down in the darkness spoke. Caspar stepped back from the hut doorway and gestured William to enter. It was very crowded inside. The voice said "Sit!". When they did so, they found that it was much less smokey at floor level. Their eyes began to adjust and they could make out a pile of skins or cloth where the voice was coming from. The crone was indeed expecting them, and knew that they had come a long way. She spoke of "A dark labyrinth, flickering flames, dripping water; something very large, breathing heavily; a thunder of hooves. Beware of the hooves! Elsewhere, an eagle flies high to the top of the tallest tree. The key to the labyrinth is inside yourself. You have been there. You have the key; you must open the way."

It is possible that by 'the key' she meant one of the Intellego vis-rich metal shapes which form the keys to the magical regio at Caribet. Floristan had been entrusted with a set of these for this expedition, since he would likely need at least one of them if he was able to discover the other way into the glade of fire. However, this did not fit with the idea that the key was inside anyone. They left the old woman without learning anything more from her. Once back in the open air, quite regardless for who was observing, Floristan cast another spell. This had no observable effect other than to attract attention.

Back at the chapel

The group returned along the path to the ruined chapel, now accompanied by several of the children, and doubtless a mongrel or two. How I wish Iuris Perita had gone along to make sure this sort of thing did not happen! Floristan again cast a spell, which was probably to detect something and must have been one requiring concentration to judge by the way he walked around the chapel, inside and out. He seemed excited by something he perceived at the entrance to the cellar. His companions expected that they would be going down into the cellar again but for some reason Floristan decided against this.

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