Demons of Paris – Snippet 08
Red Ox Inn, Rue Vernet
February 25, 1372
The drunk staggered to the bar and demanded a beer. It was not a good inn. The walls were whitewashed daub, but the whitewashing was long past and they were covered in soot, dirt, and other less wholesome things. The beer was in barrels behind the bar and served by dipping a ladle in the top of the barrel. There were, no doubt, dead rats in the brew. But there was enough alcohol in the flattening beer to kill the germs. Probably. Besides, no one in the inn had ever heard of germs. That piece of knowledge had not left the university as yet.
What everyone did know about was the murders, and the feeling of dread that had stalked the streets of Paris like an icy wind for most of February. You would walk home from your work and feel it on the back of your neck, a pin-pricking touch.
The drunk had been feeling it for two days now. That was why he was drunk, and that was why he was here, not at home with his wife and children. When it happened, he wanted to be as far from them as he could get.
The innkeeper didn’t give him the beer. Instead, he held out a hand. The drunk reached into his pouch and found nothing there. He started to bluster but stopped at the look on the innkeeper’s face. Then he started to beg, but that too was stopped by the cold eyes of the innkeeper.
Instead, he turned away and started for the door. He stopped halfway there. He couldn’t bring himself to go out into the dark street. So he just stood, one hand on a beam, and felt that coldness getting closer and closer.
Outside in the darkness leathery wings flapped and a being out of nightmare settled to the ground. It was eighteen feet tall and had feathers from its waist to its mid-calf. Below the feathers were the clawed feet of a tyrannosaurus or a raptor. Its face was sharp, almost humanoid, with a pointed jaw that might be confused with a pointed beard because of variation in coloration. It had horns that swept up and forward. It now waited, standing in a shadow that was not penetrated by the light from the inn. Gradually, more figures arrived. They were human, the new figures, though little of their humanity was apparent at the moment.
Only desire. The desire to rend, to terrify, to control. For that was what had called them to the beast.
Once they had gathered, the demon lord spread its wings and flapped them. Not to lift itself into the sky, but to waft a frozen foulness into the inn. It had enjoyed the chase, but was unwilling to let the terrified prey escape.
In the inn, the tapers and lamps flickered. It was suddenly cold, with the smell of rotting flesh. People looked around and felt a strong desire to be elsewhere.
Some stood. Others huddled down on the wooden bench they sat upon. The innkeeper was a hard man, and his response was the response of a hard man. He pulled a length of polished wood from beneath the bar and went to see what was at his door.
Seeing this, several of the patrons — footpads and cutpurses, muggers and murderers — joined him. Hard men who survived in a hard world by an easy willingness to deal death to any who got in their way.
The innkeeper had just reached the door when it blew open. The beast entered the inn, cloaked in shadow. Still eighteen feet tall, but somehow fitting beneath the inn’s less than seven foot ceiling. It didn’t crouch or bend, no more than its misshapen legs required, but where it stepped the ceiling shied away as if the wood and soot was afraid to be touched by it.
The hard men stopped and stared. Other shadows entered behind the beast. These shadows hid the shapes of men, and they were just as hard to see as the beast. Their features flickered, but the eyes . . . the eyes were red.
A woman, an old washerwoman who had sopped up blood and gore without even a thought, screamed.
Then everyone in the inn was screaming.
Everyone except the terrified man. He had no eyes for anything other than the shape and form of his nightmares.
Red Ox Inn, Rue Vernet
February 26, 1372
Commissaire Pierre Dubois of the Grand Chatelet looked down at the body. It was — or had been — a big man. Now it was a torso, opened, with the bones of the ribcage spread out to form wings. The bones were not broken. The breastbone was slit, but the ribs were now flat, not curved, still covered in flesh. The lungs were gone, as was the heart.
The blood . . . It was impossible to tell. The inn was painted in blood. But not just this man’s blood. The inn was full of bodies. Well, parts of bodies. What attracted this one to the commissaire’s attention was the fact that the others had been dismembered with normal implements of destruction, swords and axes.
This one had that smooth precision that was the hallmark of the previous bodies. And this one had the bones of the chest reshaped into flat struts connecting backbone to each side of the breastbone.
And they were clean. Clean, dry, and parchment white, lying in that bed of blood and gore. Pierre looked up, away from the body.
The inn was in a shambles. Broken crockery, the ale barrels shattered and ale mixed in with the blood on the floor.
“Stop that,” said a voice. Pierre looked over at AndrÃ© Hebert. “Don’t touch anything.”
AndrÃ© looked at Pierre with a sickly smile. “First rule of crime scene investigation,” he quoted, “preserve the crime scene.”
Pierre nodded grim agreement. “Send for that stranger, the one who saw the first crime scene. And have him brought here with his enchanted iPod.”
Two Hours Later
Bill took one look at the scene inside the door, put his hand over his mouth, ran across the street and threw up. He kept throwing up for several minutes, long after the last of the contents of his stomach were deposited on the street.
In spite of that, the members of the Grand Chatelet did not condemn the boy. Many of them had done the same, and few had managed to get as far from the scene. Several hadn’t even tried.
After Bill was done and been handed a skin of wine by a guardsman, he went back to the inn’s door and looked in. He pulled out Ishmael and moved the iPod around so that Ishmael could see the crime scene. Ishmael didn’t throw up or anything, and from its voice Bill didn’t think it was because of the demon’s lack of a stomach.
“Well,” Ishmael said, musingly, “this is unexpected.”
“What is unexpected?” Commissaire Pierre Dubois asked in a harsh voice.
“I cannot tell you who did this. But I can tell you what did it,” Ishmael said. “This was one of the elder –” He paused, then continued. “– you do not have a word that quite fits. Titans or giants might be fairly close. Before the gods, they wandered the netherworld. But I am not at all sure they have ever been called to the mortal realms. If so, it was entirely by accident.”
“But you don’t know who it was?”
“No, I don’t. There were hundreds of them, or more.”
“How can it be sent back?” Bill asked.
“Point me at the body, the one with the spread-out ribs,” Ishmael asked and Bill did.
“I don’t think it can be sent back,” Ishmael said. “I think it’s actually physically here, not inhabiting a statue or a creature. Somehow the gates have been opened so far that actual physical transfers are possible. . . . Bill, I’m scared. I don’t know how it happened, but this could rip reality apart. Both our realities.”
Royal Palace, HÃ´tel Saint-Pol
“Only God can unmake the world,” Cardinal Jean de Dormans insisted. “It is beyond the power of demons.”
Commissaire Pierre Dubois kept his mouth closed. He had reported, and Bill Howe was waiting in the hall outside the throne room. Even a Commissaire of the Grand Chatelet was wise to keep quiet in such company as this. A cardinal and the king of France, his constable, and his chief lawyer were arguing the plausibility of the comments of a demon.
“Would you mind explaining what has happened to our world?” asked Nicolas du Bosc. “In the past few weeks, we have reports of fairies from England to the Germanies, tree sprites in Italy, and stranger things in North Africa. Creatures of legend walk abroad in the world, and at night the foul dreams of the demented walk the streets of Paris.”
“Put your faith in God, Nicolas du Bosc, not the mouthings of demons.”
It was, Pierre Dubois thought, advice he would very much like to take. But God was being silent at the moment. What Cardinal de Dormans was actually saying was to put their faith in Cardinal de Dormans. There had been no comment from Avignon, where Pope Gregory resided. At least none that Pierre was privy to. The papal nuncio had arrived just as the demon was destroying the Red Ox Inn, but he was just here to examine what was going on. Papal nuncio or not, Monsignor Savona was only a priest, not a cardinal or a bishop, so hadn’t been invited to this meeting.
The discussion continued but the king didn’t bring Bill Howe into the throne room. The ultimate decision was that they would not permit any more demons to be summoned.
After Cardinal de Dormans left, King Charles explained. “We dare not act in defiance of the church at this time. When people are frightened, especially frightened of mystical or magical things, they cleave more strongly to the church. And Jean is restricted too. He must present a confident mien, lest the church lose its authority through indecision. I’m sorry, Commissaire. No more demons may be summoned.”
Chateau du Guesclin, Paris
February 27, 1372
Tiphaine de Raguenel, Viscountess de la BelliÃ¨re, Countess de Longueville, Duchess de Molina, wife of the High Constable de Castille, waved the maid to take her bags upstairs. The chateau was, in fact, a townhouse that Bertrand had acquired when he was made constable of France two years earlier. This was only her second visit to the place. It was near the Left Bank, the same as the universities, because the blooded nobility didn’t want Bertrand on the island at the center of government. On the other hand, it was a large place with its own curtain wall, a courtyard and several buildings aside from the main house which was a large three-story building located directly across the courtyard from the main gate.
Bertrand had sent word that she should come to Paris when the murders started. Bertrand trusted her advice on this sort of thing. Lutins and lutines, the female equivalent, had started showing up in Brittany and the peasants had come to her for advice. Looking them up in some of her books on folklore, she discovered that the Scots called them brownies, the Germans kobolds. She had suggested that they offer them small gifts and be courteous.
Tiphaine considered suggesting that they sow salt around their homes, as lutins were said to avoid it, but she was not by nature contentious. She left that to Bertrand.
Tiphaine removed her gloves and looked at Onfroi, the majordomo. “Where is Bertrand?”
“He is at the palace, my lady,” Onfroi said. “He should be back soon.”
“Sooner even than that,” said her husband, as he came through the door. “When word you had reached Paris came to the HÃ´tel Saint-Pol, the queen insisted I be sent on my way.”
He smiled a crooked little half smile, and Tiphaine couldn’t help but smile back. The constable of France was not a handsome man, but he had a presence, and they were friends from their youth. In spite of how tired she was, she was warmed by his regard.
“What has been happening, husband? The world seems half undone.”
“More than half, if the demons are to be believed,” Bertrand said, striding over to her. He didn’t grab her, though. He stopped a foot away and leaned forward to give her a chaste kiss on the cheek. Bertrand was always careful of her, as though she were a porcelain vase from China that he might break if he touched her. It was endearing, even as it sometimes frustrated her.
“And why would you believe demons about anything, husband?”
“Come sit and I will tell you all about it. Onfroi, fetch bread and cheese to the salon. Some wine as well, and raisins.”
Bertrand took her arm, seated her on the couch in the salon, and then took a chair himself. For the next hour or so Bertrand told her of events in Paris, events that had delayed his return to the coast and thereby endangered the progress of the war with England.
He told her about the strangers from a possible future, a future that was without demons, a future in which demon murders in Paris had not happened. He told her about Pucorl, Ishmael, Merlin and Catvia. He told her of the devices that seemed magical even when not enchanted. How they were locked away. About the politics and the church’s position.
“I think I would like to speak to these strangers,” said Tiphaine. “Learn what they know of astrology and natural philosophy. They must know a great deal indeed to be able to make the things you speak of.”
“Their people know a great deal,” he warned. “But how much do you know of the techniques of a coppersmith or a cobbler? They are students, true enough, and all of them literate, but they are not skilled craftsmen.”
Strangers’ Quarters, University of Paris
March 1, 1372
Ishmael lay in Bill’s breast pocket, paying only partial attention to the conversation around him. Part of his attention was on Batter Up, a video game he was playing in the background of his new vessel. He could see through his screen camera, but his “body” — Bill’s iPod — was pointing wherever Bill’s chest was pointing, so he had no control over where he looked without asking Bill.
Over the past two and a half weeks, the refugees from the twenty-first century had lived in medieval Paris. They saw their clothing washed by women who used wooden pots of warm water and lye soap to wash clothing by hand. Which was still a great improvement over how the peasants of Paris washed their own clothing, which was by pounding it on rocks in the Seine. When they washed it at all. That didn’t shock Ishmael, but did shock the twenty-firsters.
It was fun to watch as they learned the hard way just how much was known in their time and how little of that knowledge resided in their heads. They knew the vague shape of the twenty-first century, but not its content. They didn’t know how to make soap, or paper, certainly not plastic or cellophane. There was no chemistry teacher with them, and Mrs. Grady’s knowledge of dramatic forms over the centuries was less than useful when it came to designing a drill or a wire making machine.
There were a few saved wiki articles residing on their individual computers, but those were mostly about who was sleeping with whom in Hollywood or Paris in the first half of the twenty-first century. Annabelle had some knowledge of fuel injection of automobile engines, and Wilber had quite a bit on programing simulations. He even had a program which would translate a virtual image into the code necessary for the 3D printer back at the school to print it out in plastic. Of course, the 3D printer was back at the school, more than six hundred years away.
Roger McLean had quite a bit on the history of warfare, a subject he’d been interested in since he’d visited the Gettysburg battlefield when he was six years old. Perhaps oddly, he also had a keen interest in the history of Japan and China and — this was definitely odd for a teenage boy who’d just turned eighteen — a connoisseur’s appreciation for sushi.
Lakshmi Rawal had the complete works of William Shakespeare, Neil Simon, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Tyler Perry, and more. Lakshmi had been born in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the Indian province of Gujarat. But her father was a diplomat, and she’d moved with her family to Washington, D.C. when she was two years old. She spoke fluent, colloquial American-accented English — much better than she did French, a language she’d only started to study when her father had been transferred to Paris. Culturally, too, she was a lot more like an American teenager than one who’d spent her whole life in South Asia.
Her presence in the group was not considered unusual by the other students. The majority of the kids attending the American School in Paris were American, not surprisingly. But the school had an excellent reputation and attracted people from many backgrounds whose native — or at least second — language was English rather than French and whose families lived in France’s capital city. And had plenty of money — the ASP was a private school and charged a lot for its services.
She seemed quite a bit more exotic to fourteenth century Parisians, of course, with her dark skin and somewhat distinctive features. But they just assumed she was a Moor of some sort, who were fairly rare but not unheard-of in France. Besides, given the extreme exotic-ness of all the twenty-firsters, whatever their complexion and appearance, she didn’t really stand out all that much from the others.
Jeff Martin’s computer had a large collection of comic books, mostly but not exclusively anime and manga.
They were all missing their magic, the magic of the twenty-first century, and by now they were ready to accept any sort of magic they could get, even the demonic sort residing in Ishmael, Pucorl and the other enchanted computers. Monsignor Savona didn’t seem all that opposed to the idea of enchanting a doll. He had spent the time since his arrival interviewing everyone, including Pucorl, Merlin, Ishmael and Catvia.
They were discussing what the effect of enchanting a Barbie doll or a GI Joe with articulated arms and legs might be when Bertrand du Guesclin came in leading an older woman, thin, with just a bit of gray in her auburn hair. There were lines around her eyes and mouth, but she was smiling as she held on to Bertrand’s arm.
Ignoring the new arrivals, Ishmael said, “It would depend a great deal on the demon, of course. From what Pucorl seems able to do, I think that a powerful demon could move such a body, but it would be clumsy.”
“But if . . .” Annabelle shut herself off when she saw the guests.
They stood. First Mrs. Grady, then the rest as Mrs. Grady motioned them up. “Lord Constable?” Mrs. Grady’s tone made the greeting a question.
“May I present my wife, the lady Tiphaine de Raguenel. She wanted to meet you.”
Full immersion is a good way to learn a language, and Langue d’oil wasn’t quite a different language. By now some — most — of them could follow what he said. But Ishmael translated anyway.
The first question that Tiphaine asked was “What have you learned of astrology in your time?”
“You mean like horoscopes?” Jennifer Fairbanks asked in confusion.
“No one believes in that anymore,” Roger McLean scoffed and Ishmael translated it.
“Don’t be snide, Roger,” Mrs. Grady said. Ishmael translated in a good imitation of Mrs. Grady’s voice, and Roger reddened under the rebuke. “In the fourteenth century almost everyone believed in it. Certainly everyone who was educated.” She looked at Tiphaine. “I’m sorry for any insult you may take about this, but in our world, astrology was not considered accurate or effective.”
Tiphaine was standing stiffly, so Ishmael decided to explain. “We demons never believed astrology worked in the mortal realms. For astrology to work, you would have to abandon the whole notion of free will.”
“I don’t agree,” Tiphaine said. “The stars may guide our steps, but it is we who choose.”
“Chaos theory doesn’t allow for such a distinction to be valid.” Ishmael was almost, but not quite, making that up. Like Pucorl, he was a demon of knowledge — what was more commonly called a familiar. His function was to teach magical arts. That required the ability to know things, and there was information on chaos theory in the books. It was mentioned in connection with meteorology and environmental issues. By his nature, Ishmael was good at filling in the blanks, so to him it was blindingly obvious that chaos theory eliminated the possibility of a world that was both predestined and had free will, because every tiny pebble affected the avalanche. It might not prevent the avalanche, but it would certainly change where the rocks fell. That was truly different from what happened in an avalanche in the netherworld. Back in Ishmael’s home, the rocks had control over where — or even whether — they fell. And while they might be affected by the falling of other rocks a bit, mostly it was their own will and nature that controlled, so things were much more likely to balance out in the end.
“Chaos theory? Is that some demonic art?” Tiphaine asked.
“No, it’s one of theirs,” Ishmael said. “The twenty-firsters.”
“The people from the twenty-first century. Like you are a fourteenther.”
“Wait a minute,” Jennifer Fairbanks said. “What does a demon from the netherworld know about chaos theory?”
Ishmael wasn’t sure how to explain. He knew, but didn’t really know how he knew. So he said nothing.
“That’s a good question, Ish,” Bill said. “How do you know about chaos theory?”
“Just my luck to have my vessel owned by a lawyer’s son,” Ishmael muttered. Then, at a greater volume, “I don’t know. How do you digest a chicken dinner? It’s just something that happens. I’m a familiar spirit. My function is to fill in the gaps in your magical education. And chaos theory fits, that’s all. Besides, it’s mentioned in some of your text books.”
“And how is it you’ve got access to our text books?”
“Well, Cat has them and we talk. You know, Bluetooth connection.”
“Would someone explain to me what you are talking about?” Lady Tiphaine asked plaintively.
Monsignor Savona, who had been sitting quietly in the background, spoke up then. “I have been here almost a week now, and there are two quite distinct sets of knowledge involved. That of the demons and that of the strangers whom Ishmael calls the twenty-firsters. In some ways, what the demons tell us is closer to what we have thought of as the way the world works than what the twenty-firsters say. What I think, and please understand, Madame de Raguenel, this is still a very tentative guess — what I think is that our world is very much like the twenty-firsters see it, and much of what we thought we knew of our world was based on the demons’ knowledge of their world. Knowledge that they thought applied to our world, as well.”
“You don’t think they were lying, Monsignor?” Tiphaine asked.
The left side of Monsignor Savona’s mouth lifted in a half-smile, then he said, “I prefer to assume honest ignorance in preference to willful falsehood. I am often wrong in that, but I like it better than erring in the other direction.”
The discussion continued, in bits and pieces. Even quite a bit about chaos theory, which Tiphaine considered as ridiculous as the twenty-firsters considered astrology. What was established, though, was that Tiphaine had a very good and surprisingly open mind. They didn’t manage to convince her that astrology wouldn’t work, but a discussion of magic and the transmutation of elements brought better results.
It was Tiphaine, some hours later, who suggested that if they were to install things analogous to nerves and muscles in a sculpture or doll, the animating demon might be better able to use it.
“You think that would work with Pucorl?” Annabelle asked. “If we were to run wires to his wheel hubs and maybe stick in bent steel springs to act as muscles? Would Pucorl be able to lift a wheel to step over a boulder?”
Tiphaine shrugged. “I have no idea. Pucorl is the familiar, not me.”
“Well, Pucorl?” Annabelle asked.
“Maybe,” Pucorl said, not sounding all that thrilled with the notion. “It sounds like major surgery, though. What if it doesn’t work? I have some connection with my wheels now. I wouldn’t want that to be disrupted.”
Throughout the conversation, Bertrand du Guesclin had been in the background, not saying much, just making sure nothing threatened his wife. When Commissaire Pierre Dubois arrived, that changed. The guard knocked, and then with no noticeable delay, the door opened. Commissaire Dubois came in.
“Commissaire, have you met my wife?” Bertrand asked, gesturing to Tiphaine.
“Honored, Lady de Raguenel.” The commissaire gave a sort of half bow, an abbreviated gesture, before he turned to Bill. “How sure are you of fingerprints?”
“Why?” asked Bertrand. “What have you found?”
“I’ve had a small squad of the guard practicing finding fingerprints using the kit Bill here made.” He held up a thick sheet of pale brown paper. “And we had drawn copies of the prints Bill and Ishmael took at the Red Ox. Gerard says that he thinks that this is a match for one of the prints we found at the inn.”
“Whose fingerprint is it?”
“We don’t know. It was found in a room at the church of Saint Sebastian.”
“What was he doing taking fingerprints in a church?” asked Mrs. Grady.
“Practicing, that’s all. He had his kit with him when he went to church yesterday and he got to talking with Father Josef Cabrini. Father Josef wanted to see how it worked, so they went back to one of the side shrines and took prints off a group of candles.”
The fingerprint kit that Bill came up with was not a twenty-first century kit. There was no transparent tape to use. Instead they dusted the area, then used a sheet of paper with a thin layer of glue on one side. When they found a print with the powder, they very carefully laid the paper over the dusted print and lifted it up. The drawback was that what they got was a mirror print. The swirls and ridges were on the wrong side. It was also subject to smudging, but that was minor compared to the added difficulty in identifying fingerprints.
Ishmael could mirror image the prints, but he had no printing capacity, so the only way to get the print from his screen to a sheet of paper was to draw it by hand. That effectively meant that Ishmael was the only one who could make a proper comparison of fingerprints. He had the prints in his memory, in two color image format. Even so, with the number of prints collected, Ishmael was starting to get concerned about memory usage.
Pierre held out the card to Bill, who pulled Ishmael out of his pocket. Ishmael took a picture of the print and converted it to the format needed, mirrored it, then ran a comparison. It didn’t take long, not with a computer that could program itself. “Yes, that is a match to one from the Red Ox,” Ishmael confirmed.
“Fine,” Jennifer said with derision. “All that proves is that at some point in the past someone was at the Red Ox and at the church too. But it could have been months ago in both cases. I watched cop shows too, you know.”
Bill had to struggle for a moment not to blurt out something like Really? You watched something on TV besides QVC and the Home Shopping Channel? Jennifer wasn’t dim-witted, by any means, but the seventeen-year-old girl did have an acquisitive streak and was more impressed by appearances than Bill thought she should be.
The problem wasâ€¦
Being honest, Bill suspected he was being more impressed by appearances than he ought to be, too. Jennifer Fairbanks was far and away — this was his opinion, at least — the best-looking girl among the twenty-firsters. And while she might not be the best-looking girl in all of Paris, she was probably the only one who also had excellent teeth and an odor that wasn’t shaky.
Bill was only a few months older than she was — like Roger, he’d just turned eighteen recently. Being in possession of any healthy teenage boy’s full complement of hormones — that was to say, an oil tanker cargo hold’s worth — he’d been having plenty of fantasies about Jennifer lately. Fantasies which he’d be quite happy to turn into realities, and never mind the awkward issues involving birth control. What the hell, he still had two condoms hidden away in his wallet which he’d secreted there a few months ago just in caseâ€¦
What eighteen-year-boy ever thought beyond two condoms?
“No,” Ishmael said. “The print in the Ox was a smudged blood stain. And it wasn’t from one of the bodies found at the crime scene. This is very probably a print of someone involved in the murders. It’s possible that between the murders and the report of the crime scene someone went to the Ox and got a finger in the blood. A right index finger, in this case. At least it’s probably a right index finger, because we found two more next to it, probably from the same hand. Also a bit of a palm. It was located on a section of whitewashed daub on the north wall.”
“And the nave where the other was found is cleaned weekly. The most recent cleaning was two days ago,” Dubois said.
Church of Saint Sebastian
March 2, 1372
“No!” The priest didn’t shout, not quite. But Father Damien stood in the center of the large arched double doors of the church of Saint Sebastian and proclaimed, “You cannot bring a denizen of the nether reaches into God’s house!” Had he been standing at the altar, his pronouncement would have reached the back pews with clarity and vigor. The formidable police presence came to a halt.
And Wilber quietly thanked Merlin for his quick and precise volume control.
“If they were truly of the dark one’s forces, would not this holy place prevent them?” asked Bertrand du Guesclin, his mouth set.
“Do not bandy words with God, Constable of France.”
“He’s not,” Merlin whispered to Wilber. “He’s bandying words with a priest. Not the same thing at all.”
“So, can you enter a house of God without an invite?” Wilber asked.
“I’m not a vampire,” Merlin complained. “What does invitation have to do with it? I’ve never had any trouble getting into a temple, not of any god.”
“But this is supposed to be the one true God,” Wilber offered under his breath, but he was grinning as he said it.
“You couldn’t prove it by me,” Merlin muttered darkly.
Meanwhile the conflict between church and state had reached an impasse, and Wilber wished they had Monsignor Savona with them. That led him to wonder if Giuseppe Savona would support them. He seemed a reasonable enough sort, but Wilber wasn’t sure. In any case, this priest was not going to yield to civil authority, and the king’s relations with the church were tense enough at the moment that Bertrand wasn’t willing to use force to override the priest.
He turned back to the party. “Commissaire, what will the lack of Ishmael do to your investigation?”
“It will slow things down. We were planning to have each parishioner have his fingertips photographed by Ishmael. I suppose we can stand out front and fingerprint them as they go in.”
“What’s to prevent people from simply not coming through the door?”
“Nothing, but it’s the best idea we could come up with.”
“You shouldn’t trust that thing. He will lie and the holy will be condemned while the demon-possessed murderer goes free,” said Father Damien.
Wilber looked around. This was a large church, not quite a cathedral, but a big church with lots of parishioners. Fingerprinting that many people wasn’t going to be fast anyway, and with the noise this was making, rumors would be flying and whoever had left the print would avoid being identified. It was effectively a dead end, even if they were let into the church. They might find a few more prints in the nave where they found the first print, but even that wouldn’t tell them much. “Merlin, could you spot a demon if you got close?”
“It depends on the demon,” Merlin said. “Besides, I doubt if the human who left that print was the vessel of a demon. At least, not when he was in church. Not because the demon couldn’t enter the church, but because the demon isn’t occupying him or her most of the time. What is probably happening is when the demon lord feeds, he calls his human followers and some demonic followers. The demons share the feast and reward their temporary human hosts with power, health, or knowledge. Sometimes by doing them favors.”
“What sort of favors?” Wilber shifted a bit farther from the church doors, where the police and the priest were still arguing.
“Making enemies sick, turning lead into gold, blighting crops. All the usual stuff.”
“What about killing their enemies?”
“Perhaps, but not all that likely. A sick enemy can be allowed to get well if the demon isn’t called back, but a dead one gives no more reason to feed the demon again.”
“Practical folk, you demons,” Wilber muttered. “Almost like doctors.”
March 2, 1372
“No, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have overridden Father Damien,” Monsignor Savona said. “First, because I couldn’t. I have a limited range of authority. I’m stretching it in dealing with the demons, but Pope Gregory did want me to talk with Pucorl as well as with the people that arrived in the van. Second, because were I to override him, I would be degrading the right of clergy and the church cannot allow that.”
“Right of clergy? asked Paul Grady.
Most of the twenty-firsters were looking almost as confused, but all the fourteenthers were nodding their understanding.
Merlin spoke in Wilber’s implant, explaining that the right of clergy and the right — even obligation — of churches to give sanctuary were recognized legal precedents in the fourteenth century, and that it would take centuries for them to be whittled away. At the same time, Monsignor Savona was explaining it to the rest.
“It sounds to me like priests get a bunch of special privileges just because they’re priests,” said Jennifer. “I think it’s an invitation to abuse.”
The discussion after that got a bit acrimonious and pretty wide-ranging. Wilber left them to it and went back to his bunk to discuss magic with Merlin.