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Chapter 4

The pilgrims were awake before first light. As the morning sun came filtering through the leaves, they packed, made a hasty breakfast, and were under way. All day they journeyed through the forest, keeping close watch for signs of trouble, but not encountering anything fiercer than mosquitoes.

By early evening Sir Oliver and Mother Joanna were peering anxiously ahead through the trees, searching for the first sign of the inn that Azzie had promised.

They were afraid he had deceived them. But he was as good as his word, and suddenly the inn lay dead ahead, a good-sized two-story building built of stone, with a supply of firewood stacked to one side and a yard for the animals and a shed for the retainers.

They were greeted at the door by Brother Francois, a large, burly, bearded man. He shook their hands as they trooped in one by one.

Azzie was the last to enter, and he gave Brother Francois a bag of silver coins, "To pay for our stay." He laughed and gave Francois a peculiar look; Francois staggered back as though struck by some unpleasant thought.

"Sir," the Dominican asked, "have I not made your acquaintance before?"

"You might have seen me in Venice," Azzie said.

"No, it was not Venice. It was in France, and it had something to do with bringing a man back to life."

Azzie remembered the incident, but he saw no reason to enlighten the monk about it. He shook his head politely.

After that, Brother Francois seemed upset and absent- minded. He explained about rooms and victuals to the pilgrims, but seemed scarcely able to keep his attention on his own words. He kept glancing at

"Not long at all," Oliver said. "Has he shortchanged you?"

"No, no. To the contrary."

"What do you mean?"

"He agreed to pay six centimes for use of the room, and he put the copper coins in my hand. Then he said, 'What the Hell, I might as well be generous." and he pointed his finger at the coins. And the coins changed to silver."

"Silver!" cried Mother Joanna. "Are you sure?"

"Of course! Look for yourself." He held out a silver centime bit. All three of them stared at it as if it were the Devil himself.

Later Oliver and Mother Joanna went looking for Fran9ois, to arrange their morning meal, but they couldn't find him. They finally found a note tacked to the pantry door. "Gentlefolks," it read, "please forgive me, but I remembered an urgent appointment I must keep with the abbot at the St. Bernard House. I pray that God will watch out for your souls."

"How very curious!" Oliver said. "Why, do you sup-o »

pose: Mother Joanna's lips tightened. "The man was frightened out of his wits, that's why he ran away."

"But if he thinks Antonio is a demon, why did he not at least tell us?"

"I think he was afraid to say a word," Mother Joanna said, "since this demon has chosen to travel in our company." She thought for a moment. "We might well be apprehensive, too."

The soldier and the nun sat silently for a long time, staring gloomily into the flames. Sir Oliver poked at the coals, but he didn't like the faces he could see in the flames. Mother Joanna shuddered for no apparent reason, since no breeze had passed her by.

After a while she said, "We can't just let this situation continue."

"No, certainly not," Sir Oliver said.

"If he's a demon, we must take steps to protect ourselves."

"Ah! But how to find out?"

"We'll come right out and ask him," Mother Joanna said.

"Do so. I would be most grateful," said Sir Oliver.

"I mean, I think you should come right out with it. You are a soldier, after all. Address him to his lace!"

"I wouldn't want to insult him," Sir Oliver said, after giving the matter some thought.

"This Antonio is not a human."

"Whatever he is, he might object to our knowing it, though," Sir Oliver said.

"Somebody has to speak to him."

"I suppose so."

"And if you're any sort of man…"

"Oh, I'll speak to him, all right."

"He is definitely a demon," Mother Joanna said firmly. "Those little red lights dancing in his eyes are a dead giveaway. And did you notice his rump? It had more than the suggestion of a tail."

"A demon! Right here among us!" said Sir Oliver. "If that's the way it is, I suppose we should kill him. Or it."

"But could we kill a demon?" asked Mother Joanna. "It's supposed to be very difficult."

"Is it? I have no experience in these matters."

"I have but a little," Mother Joanna said. "It is not the duty of my branch of the Church to be engaged in turning away evil spirits. We usually leave that sort of thing to other orders. But one does hear stories."

"Which tell you…" the knight prompted.

"That killing a demon is apt to be difficult, nay, impossible," Mother Joanna said. "With the added embarrassment that, if you are able to kill it, it probably wasn't a demon at all, but some poor human with the bad luck to have red lights in his eyes."

"It seems to be a damned tricky position," Sir Oliver said. "What shall we do?"

"I suggest we warn the others, and then put together what religious relics we have among us and seek to exorcise the foul spirit."

"I don't suppose he'll like that," the knight said thoughtfully.

"It doesn't matter. It's our duty to try to exorcise demons."

"Yes, of course," said the knight. But he was ill at ease with the idea.

The other members of the party weren't surprised to hear that Mother Joanna suspected a demon was traveling among them. It was the sort of thing one had to suspect in these unsettled times. There were reports of weeping statues, talking clouds, and more. It was well known that there were a Hellish great number of evil spirits, and that most of them spent most of their time on Earth, trying to tempt people. It was a wonder one didn't see demons a lot more often.



Chapter 3 | A Farce To Be Reckoned With | Chapter 5







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