They passed similar scenes all along the way to Colchester; deserted villages, boarded-up houses. In one village they passed through, the people seemed to have gone mad. In the small market place they had found a group of young people naked, except for their shifts, their faces covered by goat masks, dancing drunkenly and coupling on the ground as if this pursuit of pleasure would drive the plague away. The squire and his group hastened on.
'I've seen the same thing happen in France,' Barleycorn muttered. He glanced at Gildas who had fallen strangely quiet since they'd entered this valley of death. 'I thought you were the great healer. Can't you do anything?'
'Not with the buboes or yellow puss,' the charlatan replied. 'Certain fevers and sickness, yes. I make a philtre out of the juice of crushed fern moss and mix it with stale milk. I learnt it from a Berber who comes from the land south of the pillars of Hercules. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.'
Colchester was no different; its stinking streets, the sky blocked out by high, leaning houses, were inhabited by ghosts. No church bells rang. No market or stalls stood open. Nothing, but an eerie silence broken, now and again, by the rattling of the death cart or the howl of some dog.
A TOURNAMENT OF MURDERS
The Franklin's tale of mystery and murder as he goes on pilgrimage from London to Canterbury.
England, 14th Century
Brother Germain made the sign of the cross again to eard off evil, then peered up at Thomas. 'Where did you get this?' He asked the question sharply, buit did not wait for an answer. 'You're him, aren't you?'
'The Vexille that Sir Guillaume brought to me,' Brother Germain said accusingly and made the sign of the cross again. 'You're English!' He made that sound even worse. 'Who will you take this book to?'
'I want to understand it first,' Thomas said, confused by the question.
'Understand it? You?' Brother Germain scoffed. 'No, no. You must leave it with me, young man, so I can make a copy of it and then the book itself must go to Paris, to the Dominicans there. They sent a man to ask about you.'
'About me?' Thomas was even more confused now.
'About the Vexille family. It seems one of your foul brood fought at the King's side this summer, and now he has submitted to the Church. The Inquisition have had ...' Brother Germain paused, evidently seeking the right word, '... conversations with him.'
'With Guy?' Thomas asked. He knew Guy was his cousin, knew Guy had fought on the French side in Picardy and he knew Guy had killed his father in search of the Grail, but he knew little more.
'Who else? And now they do say Guy Vexille is reconciled to the Church,' Brother Germain said as he turned the pages. 'Reconciled to the Church, indeed! Can a wolf lay down with lambs? Who wrote this?'
'So you are Hachaliah's grandson,' Brother Germain said with reverence, then he closed his thin hands over the book. 'Thank you for bringing it to me,' he said.
Thomas reached for the book. 'I can't leave it here,' he said.
The second book in the Grail Quest series
France and England, mid-14th Century
People have said that this place is a sign of both God's great wrath and his infinite mercy because when the fire raged, it lasted only as long as it was needed to purify the town's collective soul. The sinners died and the just survived.
I was across the river that day when I saw a vivid yellow sunburst and black clouds purling over Villeneuve. My twelve-year-old heart burst, too I knew these meant fire, and I was sure my mother was inside. My mother, who sent me into the country to play, though I was already too old for that.
We were in the midst of a season of peste. Already nine people had died, and twice as many lay in a makeshift hospital in Saint-Porchaire's atrium. The townsfolk feared a pandemic like the one so long ago. So in secret council the town fathers merchants, priests, citizens decided the city must be cleansed of sin and sinners. That afternoon the most prominent wrongdoers were herded inside the church that Blanche Mirabilis had dishonored. The doors swung shut on Jews, adulterers, and paople who'd congressed their own sex. Outside, the virtuous waited and watched; some even cheered as the council processed from the Palais de Justice, holding candles, and set fire to the straw before the great wooden doors.