The climax to our quest was taking shape and a sense of urgency busied us along. As we left the mighty fortress of Saumur high on its plinth of rock over shadowing the town and the mighty river Loire, Jayâ€™s presence amongst us suddenly assumed a new stature and importance. I hurriedly filled in Lilly and DD on my discovery and Jay seemed to naturally accept the role that he had now assumed. It made perfect sense to him and he wore the feminine part well. For many lives he explained that he had sought patronage and that he always worked best when under direction and given a purpose. My description of his association with Yolande and the task she had allotted to him fitted perfectly his core raison dâ€™etre. It seemed that our meeting was far from random and that the universe was speeding up the frequency of coincidence as we neared the conclusion of our odyssey.
Retracing our steps we descended the slope of the Rue des Remparts to the restaurant Le Richelieu that we had spied earlier. It was an impressive old timber framed building set in the place St Pierre with a distinctive Cardinal Richelieu sign of a red cardinalâ€™s hat that hung high above the square. It was time to plan and digest the enormity of the task that we were being asked to perform. The boundaries of time were merging and I felt an enormous burden of pressure building on my shoulders. It amused me that it was all so tangible and real. Talking helped as I began to share my self imposed yet obligatory task with Lilly, DD and Jay. One question remained; how did we get to Rouen back then?
By water seemed the natural option for Yolande would be able to supply a vessel fit for purpose and with that we would be able to slip into the enemy port relatively undetected. Breton crews regularly conducted commerce along the coast between Bordeaux and Normandy. Our disguise and cover story of travelling from the Holy land having been on pilgrimage would fit well with the profile of the many travellers that commuted these parts. We decided to walk the quays for inspiration and to see if our intuition was correct. Lilly felt sure that she would be able to use her dragon senses to check the validity of our supposition.
Our plans made we paid the bill for our light lunch and left. It was now late afternoon as we emerged onto the water front. It all seemed so familiar. Minus the modern trappings of mechanical traffic we were swiftly back in medieval times. We decided to walk westward along the Quai Mayaud towards the Quai Lucien Gautier in the direction of the Pont Cessart.
As we walked I noticed a small landing stage made of stone that gently sloped down towards the water's edge. I was immediately drawn to the water and fascinated by the way that the slope merged land and water together. We continued walking and reached the Pont Cessart with its many stone arches that elegantly span the Loire at this point. We stood near a small roundabout with a rich display of summer flowers marked the town end of the bridge. Then just along the river bank I spied a couple of tall wooden masts rising into the sky. The name Gabarre leapt into my mind and I knew in an instant that I was on the right track.
"Hey look I think we have just found our next clue!" I called excitedly to the others. Carefully avoiding the traffic we made our way to the other side of the bridge to get a better look. The river level was low which was normal for this time of the year and the sand bars could clearly be seen above the meandering flow of the river current.
We then continued on along the quay side and came to a gap in the bank. I followed the gentle slope of the slip way down to where the two flat bottomed craft were moored. A seasoned river worker busied himself tidying the various ropes that rigged the bigger of the two craft. The large square sail reminded me of a Viking ship. It was an elegant age old solution to the problem of getting along on the water. The only variation in technology was the pronounced horizontal windlass that was mounted the cabin aft of the mast. This clearly assisted the raising and lowering of the mainsail and enabled two able bodied people to easily adjust the sail as required. A large steering oar mounted on a long pole completed the rig. As I sat observing the tranquil scene in silence all sorts of memories flooded my head.
I was so absorbed by my thoughts that I failed to notice that Lilly and DD had engaged the man in conversation whilst Jay was busy looking at the second smaller craft.
"Pierre says he will give us a ride as the wind is good at the moment." Lilly called out to me in a loud voice that meant hurry up you'll miss the fun. DD was already aboard and chatting away with her new found friend Pierre. Jay and I started towards the boat. "This is a bonus." He said cheerily. "I wonder what we shall find out, hey ho, here we go."
"Some answers I hope? I have a hundred unanswered questions in my head." I replied. "This is the universe at work, seek and it shall be found."
Jay stepped onto the deck of the large craft which was a good thirty metres long and took a position up near the small rudimentary shed like cabin aft of the main mast. On the roof of this was fixed the A frames supporting the windlass. Pierre asked him if he could help to hoist the sail. Looking aft I noticed that the smaller craft had no cabin. My memory distinctly remembered the boat we sailed on as having a cabin. DD busied herself untying the mooring rope that held our craft to the smaller one and the quayside. Lilly held the bow line tight and awaited the orders of Pierre - to cast off.
Still observing the scene I stepped onto the deck from the slip way, as I did so the familiar rose arch appeared and I was transported instantly back to a busy medieval river scene bustling with craft and life some 600 years ago.
Totally un-phased I found myself checking cargo which was being loaded carefully from the quayside under my supervision. I noticed that my attention was being drawn constantly to several studded iron bound strong boxes which had extremely secure hinges and large padlocks. My eyes never left them.
They were obviously of the utmost importance to my mission yet I knew that they were not of monetary value per se. The money was being handled by Claudine the dragon princess protÃ©gÃ© of Yolande of Aragon. I could see her busy with the task of securing that valuable part of the cargo. I knew that she had a tight hold on the purse strings of our expedition and I was not in the least concerned with that aspect of our mission. My cargo was of far more strategic importance. In fact it was absolutely essential and also deadly dangerous; the last two words flowed through my mind and lingered there hovering.
As I contemplated my charges I noticed that Johannes and Matthias were busy stowing their kit and directing their men accordingly. My men were nowhere to be seen but I trusted them implicitly and knew that they were usefully employed somewhere in the town. I had sent them to purchase some more crossbow quarrels as I was not happy with the quantity that we had for our weapons. One could never have enough ammunition and I knew that we would have plenty of opportunity to use our long range weaponry before too long. It was always better to neutralise the enemy at a distance rather than coming to close quarters and cutting blows. We were small in number and I didn't want us losing any more men than necessary. Yolande's words echoed in my head as she felt that our mission was suicidal but there is more than one way of skinning a cat and so I had used my alchemical knowledge to even things up a bit.
The boxes kept drawing my attention. What did they contain? What had I thought of that was so important? I knew that they were the ace up my sleeve in this deadly enterprise. Just then Yvette came to me and dropped her black cowl. She was the image of Lilly and of course I knew in my own mind that she was Lilly beyond doubt in my present future reality time stream. Yet I could never get over the shock of seeing her as she was and it was an effort not to call her Lilly in front of the others. I decided to attempt an experiment in order to resolve my curiosity.
"Ah Yvette how goes it fair lady?"
"I am well sir knight. I see you have your several boxes of tricks safely stowed. We shall be in need of those before long." Her reference confirmed my feelings of excitement and unease with regard to the iron bound boxes.
"Yes, all are safely aboard, shall we check that our precious cargo has not been broken in transit?" I knew this would be an opportunity for my future self to observe the contents of the chests. With that I hitched up a large ring of keys from my waist belt and moved towards the iron bound strong boxes stacked within the confined of the rudimentary shelter on the deck of the boat. Yvette followed and knelt beside me as I selected the correct key for the first box.
"Does the name Lilly mean anything to you?" I deliberately selected that moment to casually slip in my question as I hoped to catch her ever watchful conscious mind off guard and thus allow her subconscious to answer the question directly without interference.
Yvette looked at me with a quizzical piercing stare. "How do you know that name?" her reaction told me all that I wanted to know for it had struck and obvious nerve.
"It just came to me. Does the name mean anything to you?"
Yvette thought for a moment and then replied, "Yes of course that is one of the names that the dream people call me." She looked at me as though this was common knowledge and continued nonchalantly. "Ever since I was a small girl I have had visions of other worlds. I dream constantly even when I am awake yet my mind is always alert. I remember all of my dreams. You are in my dreams too you always have been, even before I knew you in this life."
A tingle ran down my spine as I realised that consciousness was timeless and operated both ways into the material future as well as the past. This was quite a discovery but I kept my emotions under check and responded with an even tone, "It is good to know that we are always together. I will always protect you."
"Yes Robert you are always there in some capacity and I always recognise you. You always protect me."
I returned my attention to selecting the correct key and inserted it into the padlock. With an loud audible click it turned easily as the well oiled mechanism worked flawlessly. With a creak I lifted the hasp and raised the heavy lid. A red velvet cloth greeted my eyes which I duly removed carefully to reveal a dozen or so blown glass wine bottles, deep azure blue in colour. They were neatly stacked top to toe on each other six abreast. I checked that the wax sealed stoppers were still intact and read the labels carefully. The Latin inscription told me all that I needed to know â€“ Conium maculatum - Hemlock, Hyoscyamus niger - Henbane, Atropa belladonna - Belladonna, Digitalis purpurea â€“ common foxglove and extract of Amantia muscaria - Fly agaric mushroom. I handled each bottle with all due respect and every care aware that I had enough narcotics to wipe out a small town. I knew that each box contained the same deadly cargo or a more potent variation. So this was my secret weapon, very smart, don't get mad get even. I knew that I had decided to even the odds in our favour somewhat and I smiled at my decision to use alchemy.
In my head I knew that the hidden power of plants would be a useful ally in my mission to free La Pucelle. We would not kill the Goddams but merely neutralise them just long enough to steal their prize prisoner from right under their very noses! I planned that they would be blissfully unaware of our covert action until it was way too late. Then they would awake with an almighty hangover and a lot of explaining to do. Cauchon would have their heads not me! I smiled to myself at the thought of this as I replaced the precious deadly bottles one by one, much as a loving father puts his children to bed, tucking them in carefully.
"So that is what you have been up to Robert! Very clever I was wondering how we were going to pull this off now I know for certain. I had thought you were bringing wine to the party but this is much more interesting."
As I clicked the padlock shut with a swift turn of the key. I heard a commotion outside. Rushing on deck I spied Tomas, Thibauld and Enfant Guillaume hurriedly jumping onto the boat as it cast off. "That's good timing boys!" I shouted, "I thought I had lost you to those serving women we met in the tavern last night."
The boys laughed at my levity and swept back their cloaks to reveal four dozen new crossbow quarrels. "These do you Sir Robert!" Tomas quipped as he laid them on deck. "Exactly as you ordered with the recesses behind the head to take the liquid potion as you said, anyone copping one of these won't know what hit them even if it is only a scratch!" Tomas grinned as he wrapped them carefully back up in batches of six.
"Good work boys, we will need every advantage we can muster, remember sneaky is best!" I patted him on the back and took my place on deck next to Yvette to watch the town of Saumur slip away from view. "Oh when you have a minute boys check the crossbows. We might be in need of them before long."
"Now what have I done with those ferrets?" I said out aloud to myself as if to make a mental note. I had lots of plans for my ferrets very useful they are too at rooting out things, ideal for rabbit burrows, secret passages and the like. I had brought a half dozen aboard in baskets of twos. I now went to find them.
After several minutes I located the baskets which were at the rear of the vessel. I had started to handle them back in Saumur just after I had purchased them in order to get them used to my scent. They seemed pretty friendly and just like horses they responded to a confident person's energy. Also they couldn't really escape from the confines of the boat so one at a time I stroked, played with them and fed them tit bits of raw meat. I had also a small harness made for each so that I could attach a length of line. I was certain that they would earn their keep come our nocturnal activities in the Chateau Rouen.
My solitude was disturbed by an annoying buzzing sound and the rose archway appeared just as I was starting to relax. The now appeared and I found myself sat on the deck with my back to the mast. The river view was identical to my time slip so I effortlessly slid back into the present. I discovered that the noise was the outboard motor which was pushing the Gabarre back up stream towards Saumur. We had obviously travelled several kilometres and an hour had elapsed since I boarded.
I didn't think anyone had noticed me slip off mentally so I just seamlessly inserted myself back into the proceedings. DD was still chatting to Pierre whilst Jay and Lilly we swapping stories of their experiences of travelling by water in France. All was well.
Returning to the quayside from whence we had departed I thanked Pierre for his kindness as did Lilly, DD and Jay. As I left the vessel for the solidity of terra firma Lilly whispered, "How are the ferrets?"
"They are fine." I whispered back and smiled. This was getting spooky. Her powers were obviously increasing exponentially with time and now she was tuning in to what I was seeing and experiencing mentally. "Not much point in telling you what I discovered I suppose as you probably already know but I will have to fill DD and Jay in on the details over dinner."
"Absolutely, I know all your secrets Yann Baillieu but they don't. Donâ€™t worry I won't spoil it. Also we will have to have an early night as we need to be in Rouen by the morning. If we can get to St. Pierre des Corps by 6:15 am there is a direct TGV at 6:19 that will take us straight there. It gets to Rouen Rive Droite at 9:50 precisely. That means we can have the whole day to get set up. I took the liberty of booking us in to the HÃ´tel de Bourgtheroulde in the middle of the old town just off of the rue Jeanne d'Arc; what else! It looks contemporary to our medieval time period so it should set us up well for our final series of time slips. Part of me doesn't want it to end but we need to solve the puzzle once and for all." Lilly stood thoughtfully quiet after her outburst of information and especially the last comment. Jay and DD were still talking to Pierre and saying their goodbyes so our discussion went unnoticed.
Waving a final farewell to Pierre we headed up to the roundabout and the Place de la Bilange opposite the bridge, then straight through to the rue Franklin Roosevelt, joining the rue d'Orleans and our hotel. It was fast approaching eight so we decided to go straight to dinner without bothering to freshen up. The concierge recommended Restaurant le Gambetta which was just a short walk of 300 metres west of the hotel so we made tracks for there.
The ambience was perfect intimate and romantic just what we need after a busy day. The food was exceptional and we were not surprised to notice that it had recently been awarded a Michelin star. I told DD and Jay of my discoveries and insights into the nature of our secret weapons which went down well whilst eating the main course! "I'm not surprised you did confide in me once that you had wanted to be a pharmacist before you ended up as a journalist." DD added as she finished her last mouthful of her smoked eel and cod.
Jay was positively enthusiastic about the revelation of our narcotic secret weapon and added a whole lot more detail to the conversation which obviously came from his deep memory as he could not recall studying it. He seemed to know all about the effects of ancient poisons which gave me confidence that I was definitely correct in my observation and description. Claudine of Anger obviously been an adept at poisons and potions and had studied under none other than Yolande of Aragon herself but Jay's knowledge seemed also to go back to ancient Greece and he enjoyed relating the tale of the death of Socrates from hemlock poisoning. It was so clear and precise it was almost as though he had witnessed it first hand.
After coffee and a deadly night cap, as I joked, we made our way to the HÃ´tel des Londres. Lilly had ordered a taxi for 5 am so we all agreed to set our alarms for 4:30. It only remained for us to settle the accommodation bill before turning in for what would in all certainty be a very short night.