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31 Les Furets
Mar 10, '12
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Chapter 31

Les

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The moment I set foot onto the ship I was transported in an instant back into the hustle and bustle of the medieval port of Rouen. We had been in the port a few days and it was the last week of May 1431. I was pleased that our plans were coming to fruition slowly but surely. Looking down at myself I saw that I was dressed as a sailor in very poor ill fitting garments. Feeling my face I tugged at an unfamiliar beard that was a foreign entity in my modern 21st century life. It felt however natural and I soon became accustomed to it. Curiously I could only see out of my right eye and on further examination I found that I was wearing a leather eye patch. My hair was long lank and greasy. The most distinctive thing about my person was that I smelt awful, a sort of body odour mixed with essence of ferret! It was a perfect disguise. I posed absolutely no threat what so ever to the Goddam soldiery that patrolled the wharves with their vicious halberds and a total contemptuous disrespect for the Normands around them. I was anonymous.

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I chuckled to myself and thought if only they knew what a surprise we had planned for them? Content with my observation I retrieved a couple of my ferrets from their basket and then sat on the deck cross legged to fuss with them. They were now use to me and with my free hand I fed them small pieces of freshly cut up meat. There were now my favourite familiars. Amusingly I called them Warwick and Bedford after the two most prominent Goddams in Rouen. It made me laugh and as such reduced my enemies to controllable puppets in my hands. Yet my ferrets like my real opponents were capable of a vicious bit should I be incautious and inattentive. The thoughts of all that I had heard and seen reiterated in my head as I compared my experiences with the intelligence gathered by my other human ferrets.

The English were losing patience with la Pucelle. They kept her locked up in the chateau donjon of which I was intimately familiar with, where she was cruelly chained day and night to a block of wood. I few days earlier I had witnessed them bring her to the old Market place and show her the stake in an effort to break her spirit and sign a document of abjuration. They were like cats toying with a captured mouse, she looked half starved, beaten and wore shackles; a small defenceless girl guarded and bullied by so many brutal thugs. It was a pathetic inhumane display that was as far from the code of chivalry as it was possible to be. It turned my stomach with revulsion. I would have intervened then but that would have been certain suicide, better to wait my time for the appointed hour when I would hold all the aces in my hand. Then I would strike.

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In truth Couchon aptly named the pig, a so called bishop of the holy church and chief English lackey wanted Jeanne dead and out of his hair. Ever the political puppet master it was easier for him to deal with a corpse, corpses can't answer back! That was one thing La Pucelle was certainly good at, answering back. His own ego was now clouding his judgement as he showed in an open display of anger in the square and he was becoming heedless of making her a martyr for the French Armagnac cause. That would be the fatal chink in his armour and I would exploit it fully when the time came.

La Hire and Dunois were at Louviers just 5 leagues from the city gates in a renewed second attempt to free 'our little girl' at this very moment. The English soldiery had refused to march against them whilst the witch still lived but were arrayed in preparation. This was yet another reason why Cauchon wanted rid of her and meant the chateau was minimally guarded from within, another factor that played straight into our hands. They were two of Jeanne’s most loyal adherents which spoke volumes for the fickle nature of the other aristocrats that only a year before had hailed her the saviour of France. To them she had become an embarrassment and an obstacle in their gaining favour with the Pope. Even the Dauphin in public if not in private had washed his hands of his now troublesome stepsister.

I would therefore dispatch two of my most trusted ferrets, Tomas and Thibauld to take word to them to renew their efforts as a distraction towards the end of the month when I sensed that the English would make their fatal mistake.

Ultimately we moved on the word of Yvette for she was our psychic navigator. For days now she and Claudine had been attempting to contact La Pucelle telepathically as only dragon princesses can do and they had had some success. The dim flickering spirit that was Jeanne could still be reached although she was a shadow of her former self. At least they hadn't taken her maidenhead which they surely would do just before they burned her, for a virgin cannot be executed. My stomach turned once again in revulsion at the twisted logic of the church and state. Any excuse to defile and degrade the victim was allowable under the law and pandered to the base carnal instincts of the masses. They must break the power of the virgin to avoid their wrath from beyond the grave or so they believed. I would show them what wrath meant when the time was right if I had to but most probably my alchemy would speak for me and like magic we would spirit her away. In that way we would play far more with their fears and suspicions. We would in short mess with their heads. The armies of France would do the rest.

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At this very minute the captain was ashore haggling with the Vintners guild over the price of our Bordeaux claret as the Goddams called it. Once the price was agreed and the guild had taken its pound of flesh from the transaction we would be allowed to deliver the barrels to the chateau. No doubt the guild would charge the English three times the price that they gave us but it mattered not as I had already covered the cost of the voyage handsomely with the captain. Such is the wicked world of business but it mattered not so long as we gained access to the kitchens of the chateau for that was were the secret tunnel that I had discovered as a boy came out. It would be the final piece of the puzzle and I would hold a full house in my game with the English Goddams after that it would be in God's hands.

Stroking the ferrets I carried on watching the quayside. I found myself singing quietly the old French nursery rhyme Il court Le Furet:

Il court le furet

Refrain:

Il court, il court, le furet

Le furet du bois, mesdames

Il court, il court, le furet

Le furet du bois joli

Il est passé par ici

Le furet du bois, mesdames

Il est passé par ici

Le furet du bois joli

Refrain

Il repassera par là

Le furet du bois, mesdames

Devinez s'il est ici

le furet du bois joli

Refrain

Le furet est bien caché

Le furet du bois, mesdames

Pourras-tu le retrouver?

Le furet du bois joli.

The ferret runs

Chorus

The ferret, it runs, it runs,

The ferret of the woods, my ladies.

It runs, it runs, the ferret,

The ferret of the pretty woods.

It passed by here

The ferret of the woods, my ladies.

It passed by here,

The ferret of the pretty woods.

Chorus

The ferret, it runs, it runs,

The ferret of the woods, my ladies.

It runs, it runs, the ferret,

The ferret of the pretty woods.

It'll pass by there again,

The ferret of the woods, my ladies.

Guess if it's here,

The ferret of the pretty woods.

Chorus

The ferret, it runs, it runs,

The ferret of the woods, my ladies.

It runs, it runs, the ferret,

The ferret of the pretty woods.

The ferret is well hidden,

The ferret of the woods, my ladies.

Will you be able to find it?

The ferret of the pretty woods.

After several minutes of singing and fussing which Warwick and Bedford I placed them lovingly back in their wicker basket. As I fiddled with the catch making sure it was secure I felt a gentle shaking.

'Yann, Oh Yann are you going to sit there all day singing? We've got things to do. Lilly and Jay want to see the Gros Horloge. I wouldn't mind seeing it either as I understand it is a miracle of renaissance technology.' I awoke to see DD standing over me with the sun behind her, her strong legs bracing the deck and her golden hair flowing in the gentle breeze.

'Why not my beautiful pirate princess of the high seas? I've seen what I wanted to see.' With that I slapped her thigh in a playful gesture of affection and she extended her hand to pull me to my feet. I ached considerably which indicated that I had been sat in the same position for quite some time. Still brushing my self down, she turned my head and kissed me fully on the lips. Her electricity and passion immediately ignited my soul with the equivalent of a lightning discharge. I leapt into the present.

'That should keep you focussed on the NOW! You can tell me what you saw later on. Meantime let's follow Lilly and Jay.' She said with a wicked smile.

I looked around for the ferrets but alas there were none due to health and safety no doubt! Fine rat catchers I thought to myself as I followed DD back down the gang plank. Absentmindedly I found myself whistling the nursery rhyme tune as it still kept going around in my head.

'Ah you have been playing with your ferrets again. You are in incorrigible Yann Baillieu!' Lilly said laughing as she recognised the tune and started to sing the words that she remembered from her childhood.

She then explained to Jay and DD the traditional game played with the song. “You slip a ring on a string and tie both loose ends together after measuring a length that will form a circle around the outside of the players, use about 50cm/20 inches of string per player as a rough guide. A child or adult is placed in the centre and the others maintain the circle around him or her. They hold the string with both hands behind their backs. The ring runs from hand to hand. As soon as the child of adult at the centre guesses correctly who has the ring, he or she says so and they switch their roles. The song was sung as the game was played. The game was very popular in the court of Louis XIV and the aristocracy.

As Lilly talked I had a sudden flash of inspiration, it really sums up the Rouen rescue. I now knew exactly why Robert des Armoises had had two ferrets carved onto the wooden door over his portrait! Of course that was it! Up to then I had been wondering why I had had visions of ferrets since Saumur, Robert regarded himself and his human compatriots as the living - Furets de Rouen.

I hurriedly explained to Jay and the girls but by the look on their faces I knew that I would have to elaborate over dinner. Lilly understood immediately I could tell that from the look she gave me as she turned to take the lead with Jay so I was content that it wasn’t just my fanciful imagination.

I took DD's hand and we wandered along the quay behind them for the now was just as important as the then. As we walked towards the Pont Jeanne d'Arc I tried to imagine the busy wharves now quiet and tree lined as they would have been covered in stores and cargo not that long ago. A light blue Metro tram rumbled over the bridge in front of us as we. We headed northward to the Theatre de Arts and paused for several minutes to admire the large bronze statue of Pierre Corneille the 17th century playwright and an illustrious son of Rouen.

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Another Metro tram emerged as if by magic from the ground in front of us. As it snaked its way out of the tunnel that marked the beginning of 1.7 kilometres of subterranean track under the centre of Rouen I couldn’t help comparing the old and the new Rouen separated only by time in my head.

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As ever Lilly noticed my interest and quoted from her research, that it was constructed in 1994 to link the two suburbs of the Rive gauche with the centre. As ever I was totally impressed me with the thoroughness of her research and the depth of her knowledge. She was a formidable ally and I was definitely glad she was on my side! If only La Hire and Dunois could have taken the Metro tram our mission would probably have been unnecessary!

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On our left were the remains of an ancient tower now with a curious octagonal collar fixed two thirds of the way up to stop falling masonry from causing damage stood to reinforce the point. It was almost a piece of art like some ancient radio telescope pointing heavenward. I used the tram and the tower to illustrate my Time, La Hire and Dunois point which amused Lilly, DD and Jay.

Just two more block and we reached the rue de Gros Horloge, turning right we headed towards the cathedral. It was obvious to see why this was a tourist Mecca as it's half timbered crowded walkways made it look so quaint. It connected in a direct line the old Market place and the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Rouen seat of the Archbishop. As the buildings began to swallow me up I squeezed DD's hand tighter for I could feel the spiritual presence of the buildings that had witness our adventure first hand 600 years previous.

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It was amazing to think that they still stood as silent sentinels to the atrocities that went on in that barbaric age, atrocities we had witnessed first hand. Suddenly the fantastic giant clock loomed over us with its associated tall bell tower, the single hand relentlessly telling out the time since 1529.

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Before that a simple clock had been present on the site since the 13th century, the business of the day being regulated by the striking of bells on the hour, half hour and quarter. Like Pavlov's dog the citizens of Rouen would regulate their daily lives whilst within the city's confines. The clock is a masterpiece of renaissance technology and ingenuity, its automatons indicate the day of the week in tableau and the phases of the Moon are shown by a rotating sphere set into the top of the clock face.

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Lilly and Jay explored the intricate bas relief carved stones, Lilly taking many photographs. As she did DD and I talked about the illusory nature of time, all the time I could hear the constant clicking of Lilly's camera reverberating from the ornate reflective surface of the Gros Horloge archways. Finally satiated Lilly indicated that it was time to move on towards the Cathedral.

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On moving through the archway I could immediately see the imposing cast iron steeple that for a time 1876-1880 was the tallest structure in the world at 151 metres. As a giant colossal steampunk icon it protruded above the two original lesser stone towers of the west facade. The very same facade made famous by Claude Monet's famous studies of light falling on the impossibly ornate stone work. He had spent the year 1892-93 continually painting the same scene at different times of the day and produced over 30 paintings. In 1894 he finally re-worked them in the studio and then placed the best 20 with his Paris dealer's where they were well received

Strangely I felt no urge to enter the cathedral as I had done in Reims and Orleans, maybe it was to do with my aversion to the evil perpetrated by Cauchon in order to secure his personal ambitions? Maybe it was to do with its turbulent history and the continuous natural destruction caused by many lightning strikes in its 700 year history? For me it was a sure sign that the powers above were displeased at mans' inhumanity to man. Whatever the reason for my phobia I still had to admire the tremendous workmanship and skill displayed by the countless generations of stone masons.

"You can tell the English were in control of Normandy there is a distinct lack of good restaurants in this part of the town!" Lilly said absentmindedly as I continued gazing at the west facade using Monet’s eye for colour and texture.

"Funny you should say that I'm getting a little peckish" DD responded as she stretched out her arms high into the air in an effort to shake off the cobwebs of the past.

"That works for me too, good idea." Jay joined in agreeing with the girls. "You may not like it but I think we will have to go back to the old Market place to find somewhere to eat."

"We must be brave the past has no hold on us only if we let it, we have to face our fear fears." Lilly commented laconically.

"Yes you are right, perhaps I need to put it all into perspective? This place has a habit of getting hold of you." I added as I pondered our next move. "OK, OK, I agree, so long as no-one orders steak!"

The audience groaned at my gallows humour but then relented with smiles all round, so we made our way once more westward to find a nice restaurant and have some well earned R and R.

Mar 10, '12
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