Demons of Paris – Snippet 07
Royal Palace, HÃ´tel Saint-Pol
February 12, 1372
“You may not!” Cardinal Jean de Dormans slashed the air with his beringed hand. “You have exceeded the authority of any mortal prince in treating with demons at all. Bishop de Sarcenas exceeded his authority when he gave permission.”
“And yet he did give that permission and the rite was performed,” said Nicolas du Bosc. “The permission cannot be retracted.”
“Do not tell me what the church can do!” De Dormans’ eyes were slitted with fury. “The pope is the bishop of Christ. He can do whatever needs to be done to protect his flock. If it is necessary to excommunicate you all to restore the balance that you have disrupted, then you will be divorced from Holy Church and all who follow you condemned to purgatory or hell itself unless they renounce their allegiance.”
The cardinal was not frothing at the mouth. Not quite. But considerable spittle was following the words into the room.
Charles V saw the widened eyes and the bright red face and knew they were moments from a breach with the church. Pope Gregory was not thrilled with Charles and was making noises about returning the papacy to Rome, but Charles suspected that was more posturing than real. Still, the murders were hardly the only strange thing going on and everyone was on edge. It would be easy enough to claim that the reason this was happening was because the pope had moved to France, even if that had happened sixty odd years ago.
“Everyone, be calm. We will not act without consulting with His Holiness. I will send documents at once, requesting his views on the matter. We will not act without his consent.” Charles gave Bertrand a look and the constable subsided.
Strangers’ Quarters, University of Paris
February 16, 1372
The chair was not very comfortable, Amelia felt. It was wood and had a pad, but the pad was flat and what padding it had was hay in a flattened sack. She and Bill were seated across from Nicolas du Bosc. There was wine on the table and some quite good bread beside it. “I don’t remember the details of this period, I’m sorry to say. French history as taught in our time focuses on the post-revolutionary period. The republic, Napoleon, the second republic, the third . . . all five of them.”
“When is this revolution supposed to take place?”
“It started in 1789, with the storming of the Bastille,” Bill offered. “We do have more –” Bill paused a moment then continued. “– ah, timely information in the computers, but after we were told that we couldn’t summon any more demons, Mrs. Grady made us turn off all the computers to keep from getting a computer haunted by a wandering spirit.”
“Will that make any difference?” Nicolas asked. “After all, a butter churn is a butter churn, whether it is in use or not.”
“We don’t know, but we aren’t taking the chance,” Amelia said.
Ishmael translated in an excellent imitation of Amelia’s voice, but then added a comment in his own. “We demons think that whether the computer is turned on or not will make very little difference. But the computers are new to us.”
“And this knowledge is not recorded in any less dangerous a container? Say, an ordinary book or scroll?”
“No,” Amelia said. “It’s less expensive to put all the books on computer, and it’s less for the kids to carry around. It also means they have all their books when there is free time, so studying is made more convenient.” She took a sip of the wine. It was passable, but not good.
“In that case, I’m going to have to insist that you turn one of them on so that I can read one of the text books.”
“I doubt you would be able to read it anyway,” Bill suggested. “It’s in twenty-first century French, and if the spelling changes aren’t as severe as the pronunciation changes, they are still pretty major. What we’re going to want to do is transfer the file to Ish here and let him read it to you. Which I am willing to do, for a reasonable fee.”
“Or we could just seize the device,” Nicolas said harshly. “I don’t care for your manner, young man. Your very life continues only on the king’s sufferance.”
“And thereby you would justify the revolution that you’re worried about. But Ishmael is my iPod, and just taking him won’t make him yours. He could lie to you. And he would, wouldn’t you, Ish?”
“Of course I would,” the iPod said.
“And are you lying to me now?” Nicolas asked.
“How can you know?” Bill said. “Isn’t it safer just to pay my fee?”
Amelia had started to interrupt a couple of times while this was going on, but the two belligerents hadn’t given her the chance. Now she was glad she’d kept quiet.
Nicolas was looking back and forth between them and Amelia decided that a united front was what was called for here. The liberty of her little group of refugees was dependent on the way they were perceived by the medieval nobility of France. Appearing as fawning sycophants wasn’t going to do them any good in the long run. “We are not peasants, my lord. We may be unintentional guests in this time and place, but I and all my charges are people of quality. For your own sake and the sake of your country, you should remember that.”
“What, then, if I were to buy the iPod?”
Bill leaned back in his chair, then he spoke in English. “What do you think, Ishmael? Would you like to be sold to this guy?”
“If you sell me to him, he will own me. The same rules that prevent me from lying to you would then apply to him. You might not like that. For myself, I wouldn’t care. Sorry if that seems harsh, but it’s true. Long as I have my games to play on my time off, I’m fine either way.”
“Okay, Ish. I want you to know, though, that I wouldn’t sell you without checking with you first. If you wanted me to, I might have gone ahead and done it, but as it stands now I don’t think I want to sell you at any price. Not until –” Bill stopped before saying not until I have a demon in some of my other stuff.
All that had been in English. Now Bill switched back to French. “I am not prepared to part with Ishmael at any price. He is my only means of communicating with you and all the people of this time.”
There was more negotiation, but what they finally did was turn on one of the computers — Bill’s, as it happened — and transferred the text file of the Medieval French history to Bill’s iPod, then Ishmael read the pertinent sections to Nicolas. Including the role he would play in Charles VI’s court, how and when King Charles V would die. That brought up the notion of antibiotics and modern medicine in general. The conversation then segued into sanitary conditions, plumbing, prevention of plague, nutrition, and went on for several hours.
By the time it was over, Amelia was exhausted and Bill wasn’t much better.
That sort of conversation was going on between Wilber and locals with the help of Merlin, and to an extent the other kids and the locals with the help of Pucorl. Those conversations were limited to the guards, the doctors and bachelors of the university. At this time there were but two degrees and either made you a qualified lecturer at the University of Paris.
The time-travelers also talked to the servants, from the woman who did the laundry to the blacksmith who was helping Annabelle with the van.
La Petite Courtyard, University of Paris
February 17, 1372
“Hand me the twenty-four millimeter,” Annabelle called from under the van’s front right bumper.
Henri the blacksmith looked at Wilber. Henri was a big Frenchman no taller than five eight but who must have weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds. Wilber reached into the socket set and found the appropriate socket. He passed it to Henri, who gave it a quick examination, then passed it to Annabelle’s hand. Annabelle was wearing blue jeans and a white blouse covered with a leather blacksmith’s apron that was a loan from Henri. No sewing machines in the fourteenth century, which meant no overalls. Not even the farmer’s overalls from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Too much sewing for people to afford. At least for the sort of folks who might find overalls useful.
They were finding a lot of stuff like that. Henri had shears, but a socket wrench was beyond his skill. Even if he’d been able to make it, it would have cost too much for any smith in France to afford. Even a goldsmith. Not that Henri wasn’t interested in the socket wrench. He was the next best thing to madly in love with it, and was trying to figure out how he could make something like it for his smithy. Not the multitude of sockets, but the ratchet that could be flipped from tighten to loosen with the flip of a switch.
“Hey, careful there,” Pucorl said and Henri crossed himself.
“Stop with the phony whining, will you, Pucorl,” Annabelle said. “It’s getting old.”
“It’s not phony, Annabelle,” Pucorl said. “I don’t know how, but I can feel that nut twisting and it doesn’t feel good.”
“Well, I have to get the casing off if I am going to figure out a way for you to lift a wheel.”
“Can she really do that?” Henri asked in Langue d’oil, but a more understandable version of it than the nobles spoke. The Latin influence was stronger in the upper classes. The common tongue was closer to what would be spoken in France in the twenty-first century. Still not close, but close enough so that Henri, knowing the context, could follow Annabelle’s comment.
Wilber shrugged and said in Langue d’oil, “Maybe. Annabelle is good with machines. I’m pretty sure that getting the van to lift a wheel would be impossible without Pucorl, but what we may be able to do is through some sort of combination of Annabelle setting up a pulley system and using Pucorl to run it, or at least power it. That’s what she’s looking at. The wheels move up and down already. That’s what the suspension does. But they just do it in response to the road. What Annabelle is checking on now is if there is something she could have built locally and install that would let Pucorl lift a wheel at will. That way, if they ever take down a wall and let Pucorl out of the courtyard, he’ll be able to lift a wheel to do things like clear a tree stump or take a step up a rocky hill.” Wilber and Annabelle had been talking about this almost since the moment they realized that Pucorl was inhabiting the van. They were both interested in robotics, Wilber in the software, and Annabelle in the mechanics. “Annabelle figures getting the wheels to lift and lower under Pucorl’s control will be easier than making the rear wheels steerable.”
“Give me the two-pound hammer,” Annabelle said, and Pucorl started to whimper.
Not everyone was adapting so well. Partly that was just the difference in character between the kids, but a part of it was because most of the kids didn’t have any means of communication with the locals except to go out to Pucorl and talk next to the van.
There was little for most of them to do but sit and worry. They were lost, more lost than anyone had ever been. Lost in time as well as space, and by now they understood that the possibility that they came from was moving farther and farther away with every passing moment as this new history shifted direction and sped off into a future as far from theirs as Middle Earth or the weyrs of Pern.
Strangers’ Quarters, University of Paris
February 21, 1372
Jeff Martin lay on his bunk and moped. Everyone else was asleep. No one had time for him and there was nothing to do. He knew he wasn’t supposed to do what he was thinking about, but he was bored.
So he went to the chest where all the electronics were stored, and got out his computer. It was a laptop with a good gaming system. He tried to turn it on and discovered that it wouldn’t. He checked and the battery was missing. That sucked. Probably Mrs. Grady took it.
Then Jeff had an idea. There was the pentagram that the French guys had used to call up Pucorl. It was still out there in the courtyard and Wilber said that the demons were easy to call now. If he called a demon to his computer, he could play his games. And he had some porn on his computer in a secret file.
He slipped the computer under his shirt and went out to the outhouse. There were guards in the courtyard, but they were at the other end of it, talking to Pucorl. By now, enough of the new had worn off so that the guards weren’t that afraid of the van anymore, and Pucorl liked to talk to them. After Jeff got done in the jakes, he walked back across the courtyard and over to the pentagram.
They hadn’t called any more demons, Jeff knew, but — just in case — Doctor Delaflote and Wilber had been redoing the pentagram to correct the mistakes that the doctor had made when he called Pucorl.
Jeff stopped and looked at the pentagram. Then he walked into it, being careful not to step on the lines. He looked around the courtyard and none of the guards seemed to be looking at him. He pulled his computer from under his shirt and set it in the center of the pentagram. Then he stood up and walked over to the circle that Doctor Delaflote had been standing in when they arrived.
Jeff wasn’t sure what to say once he got there. He knew he wanted a demon to make his computer work, and as he stood there he decided he wanted a sexy girl demon that would be his, ’cause she was in his computer. So he just said that, quietly, under his breath like.
Sir Pucorl was having a chat with Sir Sebastien de Luc on the use of terrain in combat. “No, Bastien. I was a war ax for the Neandertal tribe that lived right here in France fifty thousand years ago and they thought the same thing. Waiting with your bow or throwing spears just behind the ridge of a hill is not a new concept that you just thought of.”
Behind Sir Sebastien, Pucorl could see Jeff Martin set the computer down. He turned up the gain on his external mic, but still couldn’t hear what the boy was saying. However, he could make a very good guess.
Pucorl’s conversation with Sir Sebastien got a little distracted just then, as he warned a couple of his acquaintances that a device might be available.
Jeff’s summoning was poorly done but heartfelt, and with the clue Pucorl was providing, the demon that would be known to the group as Catvia found itself sucked into the computer.
Catvia was a succubus or incubus, depending on who called it. Jeff was seventeen, male, straight, and into anime, so Catvia’s form within the computer was a very female anime cat in a very low-cut French peasant blouse and a very short, frilly skirt. She rather liked it. She recognized herself from some of the erotic comics stored in Jeff’s computer.
“Pick me up quick,” said Jeff’s computer in Japanese-accented English.
Jeff was surprised. He hadn’t actually expected it to work. But Jeff was good at following instructions, so he hurried over and picked up his computer, tucked it into his shirt, and went back to the room they all shared.
Morning of February 22, 1372
He was playing Grand Theft Auto the next morning when he was discovered.
“How did you get the battery, Jeff?” Mrs. Grady asked.
Before Jeff could answer, his computer spoke. “He didn’t. I occupied his computer and am providing power. I would like my battery returned to me. Doing it this way is very tiring.”
“Jeff, how did you get your computer haunted?” Mrs. Grady didn’t sound happy and Jeff was still trying to come up with an excuse when Catvia spoke again.
“It was just lying there in the chest. And I liked the anime.”
“Let Jeff answer,” Mrs. Grady said.
“I don’t answer to you, Amelia,” said Catvia. “I have some loyalty to Jeff because it’s his computer, but since I wasn’t called I’m not even fully in his thrall.”
Jeff was almost sure Catvia was lying. He had called her. But, on the other hand, he didn’t see any reason to call Mrs. Grady’s attention to that fact.
One of the guards left then, and Mrs. Grady watched him go. Then she looked at Jeff and said quietly, “You stick to that story, Jeff. Stick to it like glue.”
Two Hours Later
“And none of our guests invited you?” Bertrand asked the computer. More precisely, he asked the vaguely catlike, seminude woman displaying herself provocatively on the computer screen.
“No, of course not. It was simply that the software was so enticing.” The demon on the screen stretched sensuously beneath diaphanous cloth and added, “I like soft wear.”
“What –” Bertrand started to ask about soft wear, but stopped himself. He knew the demon might be lying. He would put her on the rack, but he couldn’t. All he could do was smash the device, sending her back to the netherworld. Bertrand seriously considered doing just that. He didn’t, because the device was utterly irreplaceable. There were a total of thirty-three computation devices in the entire world. They came in several forms, but each and every one was irreplaceable.
They were, Bertrand had realized, more wealth than there was in the entire treasury of France. Bertrand hadn’t made a point of that with the king, and he knew that Nicolas hadn’t either. There might come a time to do so, but not yet. Not until they knew a great deal more.
For one thing, as valuable as a working computer was, a broken one was no more than a curiosity, and Bertrand didn’t know how to avoid breaking them. They apparently needed something that Pucorl could provide to operate. Something the strangers called electricity, that was supposedly tiny bits of lightning.
“I will report this to the king,” Bertrand said instead. Then he looked over at Mrs. Amelia Grady. “Understand me, Madame. The king is not free to act on his own on this matter. We may not further enrage the church without risking a breach between church and state. No more enchantments!”
February 22, 1372
Amelia Grady took the computer containing Catvia out of Jeff’s hands.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Jeff said. “That’s mine.”
“I know it is, Jeff, and you’re probably going to get it back after Catvia and I have a little chat. Now tell her not to lie or try to mislead me.”
“She’s not called . . .”
Jeff pouted, but finally said, “Tell her the truth, Catvia.”
Taking the computer, Amelia Grady turned and headed for the curtained off section of the quarters where she had her cot. She sent Paul to Liane. What she needed to talk to Catvia about was definitely not for eight-year-old ears. Paul was getting quite enough early exposure to nudity and sex without listening in on her discussion with a succubus. In the fourteenth century there was less room, less privacy, and more openness about sex and other bodily functions than in the twenty-first. They saw people urinating and defecating into chamber pots right out in the open every day. Guards, maids, and students, all nekkid. They even had sex with little regard for privacy.
Carefully, she set the laptop on her cot and opened it, only to be met with a pointy-eared and tailed Tom Cruise. How does it know I have a thing for old movies? What she said was “Drop it, Catvia. You’re not helping your case by trying to seduce me.”
Tom morphed back into the 3D cartoon cat girl. “It’s not hurting anything.” Catvia pouted on the screen.
“My understanding was that succubi sucked the vital essence from their victims. How is that not hurting?”
“That’s in the netherworld. According to the latest studies . . .” Catvia paused and Amelia knew approximately where she was going.
Masturbation and sex were both considered normal and natural by the medical community. Jeff had taken health last semester, so it was likely his health textbook was on the computer. The school laptops had a terabyte hard drive. No reason to delete last year’s textbook. “So where did the notion come from? I mean, I’m not from the netherworld, and neither are our legends of succubi and incubi.”
“Mostly because that is how it works in the netherworld and you got it from us.” Catvia shrugged again. “Well, that’s how it works in this part of the netherworld. The rules are different in other places. I guess it’s possible that some succubus got hold of a sick guy and wore him out. But more likely it’s because your priests don’t like sex and they lied about it.” She did that tit jiggling shrug again. It was getting old. “Blamed us for stuff we didn’t do.”
“You’re saying you won’t hurt Jeff. Physically, I can buy that, but emotionally . . . He is very young and . . .”
“And not the sharpest tool in the toolbox.” Catvia shrugged again. Amelia was starting to think she was doing it just to be irritating. “Honestly, I don’t think I could hurt him physically. Emotionally . . . Remember, in the netherworld it’s how I feed. I don’t get attached. I make sure they enjoy it because that’s how I get to feed again. And I rarely kill even there. Still, getting attached to your meals isn’t a good idea. But Jeff is different. He could feed me for a very long time and not be hurt by it at all.”
“That’s not good enough. I am –”
Catvia turned around, lifted her skirt and tail, and farted at Amelia loudly. The disgusting noise could probably be heard on the other side of their quarters. She turned back around and resumed her seat.
“You’re not his lover or his mommy. He’s a legal adult, even in your time. So, frankly, it’s none of your business. And if you try to keep me away from him, it won’t work. Remember I operate through dreams. I don’t have to be next to him.”
That was true and Amelia knew it. As a teacher she had learned there were some things you could control and others you couldn’t. “Just try not to hurt him, Catvia. He’s a good kid and has never done you any harm.”
“I’ll be as careful as I can be.” That damn shrug again.
Amelia rolled her eyes.
February 24, 1372
The man at the gate was covered to the waist in mud. “I am Monsignor Giuseppe Savona. I am the papal nuncio to the strangers.”
“To the strangers?” the guard asked. “Not to the king?”
Monsignor Savona smiled a tired smile. “No. The king of France has a surfeit of priests and representatives of Pope Gregory XI. I am here to examine the strangers and report to His Holiness. To facilitate that, I was given full authority to deal with them.”
The guard shrugged and quoted Lakshmi Rawal. “That’s above my pay grade.” He turned away, gesturing for Monsignor Savona to follow him.
Annabelle was washing the van with a rag and soapy water.
“Ahhhhh. Yesss . . . right there, behind the mirrors,” said Pucorl.
Annabelle stepped back from the van. “Stop that, Pucorl, or I’ll just let you rust.”
“But it feels so good, Annabelle, sweetie,” said the van, sounding even more lascivious.
There was a cough from behind. Annabelle turned to see a man in a black cassock with purple trim on the collar and a silver crucifix around his neck. He was smiling and she felt herself blush. By this time she was quite familiar with the fourteenth-century version of the turned around collar. “Father?” She looked daggers at the guard. He knew that priests weren’t allowed to come wandering in. No one was allowed to rubberneck at the twenty-firsters, especially not priests, who might take it into their heads to call up a mob.
“This is Monsignor Savona,” the guard said quickly. “Papal nuncio to the strangers.” Then he turned to the priest and said. “This is Annabelle Cooper-Smith, one of the strangers who arrived in the van.” He pointed at Pucorl. “And that’s the van.”
“Oh, drat!” said Pucorl, sounding about ten. “Paris is too full of priests anyway. What are they doing importing them from Avignon? Better watch out, Annabelle. He’ll probably try to exorcise you, make you do push ups and stuff.”
“Shut up, Pucorl,” Annabelle said, but without much heat. “He does have a point, though,” she continued to the newly arrived prelate. “What brings you here, Monsignor?”
“I’m here to examine, not to condemn. From the reports we’re getting, Paris isn’t the only place that this sort of thing is happening. But the enchanted van appears to be unique. Pope Gregory wishes to know what’s going on, and I am here to try to understand.”