The taxi arrived at five. All four of us stood bleary eyed in the reception waiting by the main door of the HÃ´tel de Londres.
"Taxi for Mademoiselle Chevalier and party!" The short rotund man was far too cheerful for the unearthly hour that we now found ourselves catapulted into.
"Over here, Monsieur!" Lilly sounded equally cheerful which spoke volumes for her youth and the rampant enthusiasm that she had for our adventure. "Lovely day!" She continued unabated without pausing for breath.
I stood there silently with a gut wrenching tightness in my stomach much as the gladiator in me had stood in the tunnel of the Coliseum in ancient Rome. There I had waited sweating silently for the bright light to blind me as the doors opened to reveal the arena of death and the noise of the crowd baying for blood. My senses were now poised ready to strike once again. I was reliving the exact same feelings of that fateful journey into the jaws of death that I had taken in April 1431.
Being hypersensitive Jay was silent too as he could feel the tension that I radiated. DD put her arm around me and her head on my shoulder. Her mere touch provided me with a solid tangible comfort that reassured me that I was not alone.
Lilly shot me a painful sideways glance and I realised in an instant that she too was putting a brave face on it by masking her true feelings with an artificial cheerfulness.
â€œAve, Imperator, morituri te salutant.â€ The words just slipped out under my breath â€“ Hail Emperor we who are about to die salute you. The others in our team needed no translation.
Then we quietly helped the taxi driver load our bags into the cab and all squeezed into the large Renault people mover. The sun was just up and shining on the river as we said goodbye to the Pont Cessart. We crossed over to the central midstream island and then over the Pont des Cadets de Saumur. At the roundabout we turned right onto the Route de Tours the E60 and I allowed myself one last glance up at the imposing chateau. With the Loire on our right and the railway line on our left we made our way swiftly up river towards our destiny. The roads were quiet and there was very little traffic this early in the morning.
We passed Villbernier, several small villages with no name and rolled into Chouze-sur-Loire. All the while the bright orange summer sun rose steadily into the sky turning the mighty Loire Into a river of shining fire. It was all so beautiful that my soul wept.
In no time at all we were over half way and speeding through St. Michel-sur-Loire, Langeais and Cinqt Mars-la-Pile. Nearing Tours we continued through St Etienne-de-Chigny and skirted Luynes and Fondettes all the time hugging the ever flowing river.
Reaching the city we were met with the modern functional urban architecture of the Pont Napoleon which contrasted starkly with the much older many arched Pont Wilson that we came to next. Another two bridges came and went. Then a spaghetti junction of main roads before finally we turned off to the right down the Boulevard Jean Jaures and finally to Avenue Fabienne Landy which took us to the station entrance. The whole journey had taken no more than 40 minutes door to door which left us plenty of time to buy our tickets for the 6:19 TGV to Rouen.
Lilly thanked the taxi driver with courtesy for being so prompt and gave him a generous tip. His mood lightened considerably and he wished us well on the next leg of our journey.
DD and I went to purchase the tickets whilst Lilly and Jay hunted down some coffee and croissants. Within 15 minutes we had both and made our way to the platform to await the arrival of the silver serpent. The sense of adventure was back upon us as the coffee revived our flagging early morning spirits. Bang on time the sleek beast slid silently into the station and greeted us with its shining presence.
The train was reasonably busy but we were able to find four seats together after some searching. Stowing our luggage we all sat back to relax and let the train take the strain. The journey was direct and would take three and a half hours so there would be plenty of time to catch up on sleep. In my head I contrasted this with our epic journey of 1431.
Having found our way to the mouth of the Loire via Angers and Nantes we took ship at Saint Nazaire. The neutral Breton crew were wary of us at first but soon became more enthusiastic when they could see that we would pay them in gold. The April weather was passable and the journey around the northern tip of Brittany was interesting to say the least! So much so that the captain decided to put into Brest to ride out a particularly nasty three day storm that was passing through. As the seas calmed and with a fair westerly we continued our journey hugging the coast putting onto Cherbourg to off load some cargo and then sailing to the north of Guernsey.
The Breton cog from Bordeaux was carrying wine bound for Normandie. This was a normal occurrence and very low profile as it was a regular trading route. In port we kept ourselves to ourselves hidden in the hold. Our cover story of being that we were German knights returning to our homeland via the Rhine and Mosel en route from the Holy land after a pilgrimage. The story worked well as we were deemed politically neutral by all we met and thus no threat. In port our men dressed as crew and touted the wharves for gossip; anything that would help.
I was acutely aware that there were two ways of completing this mission just as Roselinde had mentioned in our game of chess back in Lille in what seemed another lifetime and place. The knight can attempt impossible manoeuvres and jump over obstacles which other pieces can not do.
Her words now guided my strategy. As Robert des Armoises I would use a two pronged approach there by not showing all of my cards on the table for when we reached Rouen a small party of German knights would pose no threat to the ever vigilant English Goddams and we could easily explain our presence as we had been doing. Whilst our men including our two ladies dressed as men would disguise themselves as common seamen and busy themselves in delivering the prize cargo of Bordeaux claret to the chateau. Once inside they could mingle with the kitchen staff and prepare the ground for our stealth night attack when the time and opportunity presented itself.
Confidence was the key, blending in and remaining anonymous until the appointed hour when we would unfetter the prisoner and spirit her away in the blink of an eye. The wind was fair and the captain had no reservations after some gentle persuading about releasing his crew so that our men could take their place. I sped them happily on their way with a pocketful of coins and tales of the Dunkerque pirates that would slit their throats as soon as look at them as we journeyed north after Rouen. The money would suffice their needs until God willing the ship returned. The captain likewise was bought with gold and the promise of more on the successful completion of our journey. We would have one passenger extra no questions asked and sail for Zeeland and the Flemish islands at the mouth of the Rhine. From there we would take a barge to Burg Eltz on the Mosel the home of Johannes. Thus we would keep to our story of returning from the Holy land but with one extra very special passenger that we would deliver to the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.
My mind made up we set sail for Le Havre and the Crique de Rouen at the mouth of the Seine
"Yann, oh Yann, we are nearly there, time to wake up!" Lilly's gentle voice and a nudge returned me smoothly to our current reality although I wasn't too sure now which reality was real anymore as they were all equally as vivid. DD yawned, stretched and poked me in the eye which stung. I knew instantly that my pain sensors were telling me in no uncertain terms that this was the present physical reality.
"Oh sorry, I nodded off!" She said apologetically.
"You and me both my love, we are just so the same." I kissed her gently on the cheek and brushed her shoulder length blonde hair away from her sparkling blue eyes.
Jay was busy on his laptop and so completely oblivious to our exchange of banter.
"Did I miss something? We here yet?" He said in a laconic voice after removing one ear piece.
"We sure are." Lilly replied as she started to retrieve her bag from the storage compartment.
"I'd better save my blog." He swiftly pressed send and then shut down all his programmes and the mobile Internet connection he had been using. He then started to focus on our joint physical reality which required some effort as he was always elsewhere in his head. I knew how he felt.
"I've decided to blog this adventure as it looks to be outstanding! It's live as of a couple of seconds ago." He smiled and I realised that he was just reliving the same pattern as when he was Claudine of Anger in keeping a record of the Rouen Rescue. I duly noted my thoughts and was pleased with the alliteration as it had a nice ring to it. I would use that in my story when I came to write it up for the paper.
Silently the silver serpent applied its brakes and we slowed our forward motion. Effortlessly it came out of the tunnel and in to the shadowy sun light. Finally coming to a standstill the intercom announced that we were now at Gare de Rouen Rive Droite. I looked out of the window at the overhead car park that sat like a huge grey asphalt crÃªpe on top of the old art noveau decorated platforms. Gathering my belongings I caught up with the others as they detrained and the fresh salt laden air immediately blew away the cobwebs lingering in my head. I could instantly tell that I was near the Norman coast as the air tasted different and the temperature was noticeably lower.
Climbing the stairs we entered the lofty booking hall which was full of character from a bygone age now a hundred years previous before World War 1. People sat at the cafe tables of the Rue de Station restaurant beneath two large frieze wall paintings depicting a bustling city and riverscape dominated by the architecture of the CathÃ©drale Notre-Dame de Rouen and the lâ€™Ã©glise de Saint Ouen. Whilst the others looked around and availed themselves of the convenience I took the time to text Roselinde in England on my iPhone:
We are in Rouen and about to rescue you!!! We have just arrived from Saumur a few minutes ago. You are welcome to join us for the finale?
Un pour tous! Robert Xxx
I pressed the send button and the text flew off into the ether. It was only then that I realised I had signed it Robert not Yann! This demonstrated to me just how blurred the boundaries had become between then and now. I gave myself the luxury of a wry smile before the others rejoined me.
"I've just text Roselinde. I'm not sure she will want to be in on our little adventure it might be a bit much for her after the Reims episode?"
DD and Jay looked quizzical so Lilly briefly filled them in on the World War 2 details from just a few days previous. As she talked I thought silently that it seemed a lot longer back. It was amazing how time appeared like a piece of elastic when we were discovering so much in such a short space of time.
Leaving the art noveau booking hall we went out into the bright morning sunlight of the forecourt. Looking back at the building I noticed the time on the tall decorative clock that adjoined the right side of the building, it read ten past ten.
"Time to get going, on ya va! Allez mes enfants!" I said with gusto as I clapped my hands theatrically; for the game was at last afoot,
We headed south across the Place Bernard Tissot and over the subterranean rue de la Rochefoucauld. We then entered the rue Jeanne d'Arc which was straight ahead and I knew that our hotel was only a short walk along its length. Avoiding the busy traffic we crossed over the Boulevard de l'Yser via the many pedestrian crossings that seem to haphazardly litter the road junction like so many horizontal ladders.
Calm returned as we started to stroll more casually and take in the scenery. "To our left is the rue du Donjon. You can see the tower a paltry reminder of the once great chateau that we shall visit in our quest. Even so it is worth looking at and we shall of course return as and when to confront its secrets but on our own terms." I sounded just like a commercial tour guide as I pointed out the tall black witchâ€™s hat slate roof of the donjon that dominated the immediate skyline.
I felt strangely in control as if Rouen belonged to me. I didn't belong to Rouen. I was its master. The feeling gave me renewed confidence. I wasn't afraid anymore, the vibes were good and that reassured me that we had been successful in our expedition of 1431.
"Who's afraid of the Goddam wolf, the Goddam wolf, the Goddam wolf." Strangely I found myself singing the children's nursery rhyme, well a politically incorrect variation of it which drew smiles from DD and Jay. Lilly just replied nonchalantly "Not I." under her breath.
Further on we passed Square Verdrel with its leafy green trees, pond and waterfall. Beyond it lay the MusÃ©e des Beaux-Arts de Rouen with its impressive grand facade. We walked another couple of blocks and crossed over the rue Guillaume Le Conquerant. "Not far now!" I confided to the troops. At the next junction I turned right into rue Rollon and the. After two short blocks left into Place de Pucelle d'Orleans. On the corner we were suddenly confronted head on with the infamous Place de Vieux Marche.
The hackles on my neck stood on end. I didn't need a guide book to tell me where I was and what I was looking at. The old timber framed buildings still looked the same only their colours had changed and now a modern looking church with its strange weird hat like roof stood in atonement for the sins of Cauchon and his evil Catholic inquisitors. I spat on the floor in disgust! I could feel the hatred so long repressed rising to the surface of my mind like so much bile.
My whole body started to warm up as the hormones pumped adrenaline into my circulatory system. All this caught me totally off guard and I had to use my conscious mind to regain control of my rampant emotions.
My blood was boiling and my passions ready to explode as I resisted the urge to shout several expletives out loud. DD and Jay stood there in shocked silence, totally amazed at the sudden transformation that had come over me. The look of horror on their faces said it all. Lilly stood silent with an icy vacant stare like a cobra waiting to strike. She had obviously had a similar reaction but it had manifested itself in a different way. I could see the uncharacteristic cold dragon hatred in her eyes and I knew exactly what she was thinking.
It was up to DD to break the spell and snap us back to the here and now for she had not been with us on that fateful quest in 1431 and so was emotionally unattached to the horrors we had seen. As such she was the only one able to think logically.
She kissed me on the on the cheek and her electric touch snapped me back to the now just as a needle ★★★★★★ a soap bubble.
"God that was intense!" I said as I leant forward with my hands on my knees in order to gather my breath.
DD shook Lilly with a gentle but firm clasp of her shoulders and likewise she came to. Jay was the least affected perhaps because of his limited involvement in the whole affair Rouen being his only mission with us as far as we knew. For him it was not the culmination of several previous adventures as he had followed his own timeline without Lilly and I back then. No doubt we would discover more in due course as there was certainly much more to Jay than met the eye.
"Right let's move on. This place is decidedly unhealthy. I think it's this way!" DD picked up her bag and started walking towards the HÃ´tel de Bourgtheroulde which was just along the road.
Moments later we entered through an ornate renaissance carved archway surrounded by two supporting rampant lions and an achievement of Three Lion's heads Or, divided by a chevron Argent on a field Azure above which rested a golden helm with coronet. It was the grandest entrance to a hotel that I had ever seen and dated to between 1486 - 1531. On the ground a red carpet beckoned us in. Stepping through the archway we entered a world of bygone enchantment. The courtyard was an intimate human space with ornately carved heraldry in beautiful buff coloured stone. To our immediate left in the corner stood a quirky first floor reddish brown timber framed room supported quaintly on two wooden pillars of the same colour. Our mood immediately began to soften for we had found our sanctuary.
Without further ado we headed for our rooms after booking in. Three nights seemed a reasonable length of time in order to see the mission through. The hotel was a fascinating blend of the old merged with the ultra chic modern. The large bar area built as an extension onto the back was breath taking with a suspended glass floor mid section running the length of the cavernous space and affording vertigo inducing views of the swimming pool below which was just so cool!
To one side was a swish bar in white running the whole length of the wall which contrasted perfectly with the black cubic style leather chairs and sofas that lined the central glass floor walk way and the alcoves underneath the balcony on the side opposite. The walls decorated all in red gave it a warm welcoming feeling that enveloped the body in a cocoon of luxury unknown by our previous time travelling selves.
At one end there was a grand double staircase the ascended to the vault like roof and balcony. A modern abstract statue of a walking man adorned the mezzanine landing as it attempted to walk up the left stairs in frozen perpetual motion. Above the sunlight cleverly shone bright yet diffused through the over arching glass tiled roof and gave the whole space a Roman villa feel. Like so many well designed spaces that play with the mind it was a complete surprise. Being nothing like one imagined from the classic late medieval exterior of the building outside. It was in short a veritable Tardis! Yes that's it! It was a set straight out of the long running English science fiction series Dr Who. I smiled to myself as only I being a fan of that show understood the cosmic joke that the universe had played. We were indeed time travellers and we had landed in the middle of Rouen in this fantastic ship that had taken the form of a hotel instead of a blue Police Public phone box. It was perfect!
I didn't waste time trying to explain my impressions and inferences so I tucked it away in my mind for a later time and place when I could entertain the team with this story over a late night drink or two.
Ascending the staircase we headed for our rooms which were tucked away in the roof space of the old building. The wooden beams and angled ceiling of my room gave me a cosy feeling which again made me feel very comfortable.
The pale biscuit coloured tiled bathroom had a medieval feel to it which was further enhanced by the massive roof beams that were of castle like proportion. Three turret like windows completed the old yet new illusion. Again it was the perfect fusion of the ancient with the modern. As I cleaned my teeth and freshened up I admired the sense of history that the space communicated.
Just then my iPhone buzzed which indicated an incoming text.
See you in five we are raring to go!!! Lilly XXX
I read the message and returned my phone into its protective black leather case that shielded it from harm. That's quick I thought to myself Lilly's got her fight back. I changed into my grey travel trek cotton jacket, grabbed my battered grey Indiana Jones fedora and headed for the bar area. Within a couple of minutes Lilly, DD and Jay arrived suitably attired and ready to go.
"Let's kick some ★★★!" Lilly said in a very unladylike voice that showed her resolve in no uncertain terms. Turning on her heels she strode towards the main door and the bright sunlight beyond. Her backpack brimming with who knows what and her camera shouldered like a carbine.
"I think she means business!" DD quipped and smiled.
"I think lady does." Jay replied with a stunned bemused look.
"Watch out Rouen Lilly's back in town! I'm starting to enjoy this - after you." I said in a mock American accent as I touched the brim of my hat and gestured the way forward a slight theatrical bow.
Jay led the way following in Lilly's wake, then DD and finally I. I guessed, well I knew that Lilly would head for the quayside as it was the logical starting place for our Rouen Rescue. We had worked together now for several weeks and I had tuned into her mind with infallible accuracy.
Once through the small arched gate that ejected us back into the Place de la Pucelle we turned right into the Rue Saint Eloi and headed south towards the river. Immediately we found ourselves in front of L'Ã©glise Saint Eloi. The magnificent flying buttresses towered above us but what caught my eye were the many dragon gargoyles jutting from the roof with necks extended and wings folded. Thatâ€™s a bit of a coincidence I thought to my self?
I then pointed this out to the team. "Home from home eh? It feels like we are on the right track?"
Lilly laughed, "We sure are. What better sign that we are in the right place!"
"And right next door to our hotel, how fascinating. It's against all probability!" DD joined in the conversation as she marvelled at the many dragons that seemed to be everywhere we looked.
"It says Temple of Saint Eloi on the sign that's very non-catholic! Curiouser and curiouser - Alice said..." Jay added a spooky voice to his quote. "It's going to be fun running around in the dark. I like!" He was definitely getting into Gothic mode as the architecture simulated his memory.
We continued walking towards the Quai du Havre between the modern apartment blocks and offices that rose all around us as we neared the river. Breaking out into open space we crossed the busy main road using the painted ladder pedestrian crossings that afforded scant protection against the four lanes of traffic. Having negotiated that successfully we then crossed over the minor tree lined road that skirted the banks of the river. Finally we emerged unscathed onto the Promenade de la France Libre and could view the mighty Seine in all its glory. The sight of its waters flowing unvexed to the sea gave me goosebumps as I immersed myself in the eternal moment of time and place that I had arrived at.
Thoughts of 1431 dominated my head as I scanned the opposite bank for the river was our escaped route out of here, a silver ribbon lifeline that would spirit us and our prisoner away from under the very noses of the English Goddams. I sensed the deliciousness of that audacious thought and smiled to myself.
In the distance I could see tall yellow cranes demonstrating that Rouen was still a commercial port of some importance. How different they were to the archaic enclosed wooden cranes that we had used to unload our wine barrels from Bordeaux all those years ago. I could still see the large hamster wheel that contained several sweating stevedores as they operated the treadmill to raise the hogâ€™s heads from the hold of our Breton cog.
My silence was disturbed by DD's voice that penetrated my thoughts like the mewing of the seagulls above calling me to pay attention to the now.
"Look at this! It's one of those old wooden ships you described to me." She was gesticulating wildly and pointing to the far side of the bridge in front of us. Lilly and Jay were already running to see what she had discovered. Without further loss of precious time I jogged to join them under the Pont Guillaume Le ConquÃ©rant road bridge.
I could see immediately the unmistakable silhouette of a fat wooden cog with its distinctive single mast and barrel like crows nest. I was definitely tangible and not a mirage as it sat silently fastened to the Quai.
In the distance the yellow cranes and the distinctive Y topped columns of the new Le Pont Gustave-Flaubert vertical lifting road bridge reminded me that I was very much in the present.
I had read of this remarkable bridge when it was built in 2008. In order to solve the problem of admitting the famous tall ships armada and the larger cargo ships to Rouen port it was necessary to construct a road bridge that could lift the two carriage ways high into the air. But it was not that which caught full attention as I rushed into the sunlight from beneath the Pont Guillaume Le ConquÃ©rant.
I could hardly believe my eyes for there was the wooden ship of my dreams still tied neatly alongside the Quai de Boisguilbert. It was indeed a full sized working reproduction medieval cog of the exact same dimensions that I remembered! I marvelled at the coincidence and had to pinch myself to confirm my senses.
"It's definitely real. We are not dreaming!" Jay's voice came floating back on the breeze as he arrived at the gangplank leading up and onto the main deck amidships.
"Look at the flags and shield on the aftcastle!" Lilly shouted as she joined him. I looked again and got yet more goosebumps for there flying proudly from the stern deck were two large white over red banners bearing German crosses of the opposite contrasting colour.
"Hey, Yann look at the main mast flag!" Lilly shouted as she disappeared up the gangplank without ceremony or pause for reflection.
DD came over to my side and gave me a big hug. "It is exactly like the cross you wear on that black hoodie you showed me. The one Lilly bought. It is the Phi proportioned cross of enlightenment. What's the probability of that?" With her last comment she tugged at my t shirt beneath my open grey cotton jacket and gave me a big kiss.
Jay and Lilly had disappeared and were nowhere to be seen. DD and I strolled arm in arm the final few metres in order to view the colourful information board that was on display more closely. Together we read the fascinating Gothic German script:
"Ubena von Bremen"
Hanse Koggewerft e.V. Bremerhaven.
Underneath the proud heading were placed several large photographs of the many voyages it had been on. The distinctive red and White striped sail with its black key emblem reminded me of its Viking heritage. The only difference being that it was carvel built by nailing the planks directly to the ribs of the ship as opposed to the lighter clinker construction of Viking vessels which nail the planks to each other and then lashed them to the ribs and keel. The cog was literally a tub compared to the sleek wave horse that was the feared Drakkar of Viking fame. I mused over the dragon name connection of that type of vessel as I read the details. Another innovative feature was the barrel like crowâ€™s nest at the top of the 30 metre mast just below the large triple tailed red flag bearing a quintessentially white Germanic cross.
On further translation I grasped that the Ubena was only in Rouen for two weeks as part of a tour of coastal ports. Remarkably it was due to leave in three days time which coincided with our expected departure exactly and return northward to Germany! For me this was the ultimate perfect cosmic coincidence!
"Have you seen the shields hanging from the aftcastle?" DD said as she pointed upwards drawing my attention away from the information board.
"Oh my goodness you're right, will you look at that it is the Flemish rampant lion!" I exclaimed as I recognised its distinctive form amongst the highly decorative heraldic shields that denoted the ports that it had visited whilst on its travels. It was the same rampant lion form as used on the Luxembourg coat of arms and so familiar to my memory. For me that was the final sign connecting all points of the eternal now perfectly into one gigantic web of universal quantum coincidence.
DD took my hand and led me up the wooden gangplank to join the others. As I ascended I stepped across time and the now familiar rose coloured archway beckoned me onward.