As September of 1220 drew to a close, Master Matteus announced that the grape harvest needed to start and called for assistance from the peasants in the villages nearby. As a result, hundreds of people made their way to the villages south of the keep. Among them were many who were not there to work the harvest, but to make a living amongst the crowds: jugglers, wenches, thieves, and so on. Their numbers also included a group of Englishmen ‘scholars’ and a young girl, led by Loefwen. The Englishmen turned out to be Zacchaeus of Verditius, the failed apprentice David, and the latter’s daughter Mary.
The next day, two brothers arrived at the keep and asked to meet with Lord Commarque. Brother Clotaire was of noble origin and prior of Tamnies. In his twenties, he probably owed his rank to his noble origins more than his piety. He wore expensive clothes and a few pieces of jewelry. He obviously loved comfort and was in charge of the group. Brother Thomas appeared to be in his late thirties and had lost most of his strength. Nevertheless, it was obvious by the way he walked and comported himself that he used to be a Hospitaller. The brothers explained to Lord Roger that they had come to Commarque at this time to make the best estimate possible of the various taxes owed to the Abbey. As the harvest was Commarque’s main source of income, it was therefore the perfect time to make a correct assesment. The magi were uneasy at this claim to “their” wealth.
Brother Thomas mentioned various rumors that he had heard regarding the castle and its inhabitants. He expressed regret that the castle was no longer in possession of his order and seemed to take offense at any number of “unorthodox” features of Commarque: the number of unmarried women, changes to the keep, the primacy of Jews in the construction, etc. Meanwhile, Loefwen journeyed to Sarlat and confirmed the identity of the two visitors. Brother Clotaire seemed apologetic for his zealous comrade, and helpfully suggested to Fortis that a donation to the church as a proof of their faith might allow them to mitigate any comments to the abbot that Brother Thomas might make. Soon thereafter, Lord Commarque proudly announces that he has decided to make a significant donation to the church (about 20% of the current Tithe). The magi are not pleased, but the brothers leave soon thereafter.
A week later, William de Bonville returned to Crypta Venatus. Conferring with his sodales, the magi hatched a plan to discredit Brother Thomas. Fortis assumed the appearance of Thomas by means of Disguise of the New Visage and went to the nearby inn. There, he espoused many views consonant with those of the heretic Cathars. William used further magic to get the innkeeper to spread news of these deeds.
By mid-October, Brother Clotaire had returned to announce that the abbot had been so impressed by the work performed at the castle that he himself would come at the end of the month for a visit. Brother Clotaire remained to help Lady Agatha to prepare the keep. During his time there, he went to considerable lengths to impress upon William the Abbot’s various predilections: good wine, good food, and “feminine beauty”. Meanwhile, the magi sent the more unusual denizens of the castle to stay with Gaidon d’Aubec, cleared the library of all suspicious-looking books, and camoflaged their labs to look like storage areas.
The Abbot arrived with his guards and entourage at the end of the month. William tried to cast a spell on him, but some force resisted his magic. The abbot congratulated Lord Commarque and the other nobles on their work but expressed concern regarding the presence of Jews in position of authority, the fact the chapel was not as developped as the rest of the keep, and the large number of Englishmen in the keep. The magi countered that the presence of the Jews should not concern him, and that they would probably soon convert anyway. After seeing a trophy wolf pelt (see the story The Devil’s Wolves), the Abbot decides they should go on a hunt the next day. The residents then scrambled to make preparations for this.
During dinner that night, he invited Melissandre des Escars to come to Sarlat to learn how to become “a real lady”. He also recommended Commarque send his son off to become a squire, and that the children of the Jews be sent to one of the monasteries nearby to get “a proper religious education”. William managed to change the topic and to keep him happy and entertained during dinner; Lady Agatha and Melissandre were asked to sing.
At this point, the Abbot mentioned the unusual taste of the wine. Fearing that the Abbot was being poisoned, Lady Agatha went to the cellar below and discovered a beheaded corpse in the wine barrel. Surreptitiously alerting Fortis, the magus handed the head to an aghast Agatha and then destroyed the body with the spell Dust to Dust. Agatha barely had time to recognize the head of Francois the innkeeper before hiding it behind some crates just as Brother Thomas descended the stairs.
David is sent to investigate but noticed that the inquisitive Brother Andri was following him. Recruiting Mary to distract the monk, he noticed scratch marks on the cellar wall indicating that the door was “opened” from the outside. Brother Andri, sensing nervousness on the part of the magi, asked many questions. Meanwhile, concerned that the wine might be poisoned, Brother Thomas asked Brother Frederic to check it. This old monk is an apothecary and recognized the presence of blood in the wine, as well as parsley. The magi were able to convince them that the blood came from rats that had been trapped above the barrel. Still, an uneasy Brother Thomas positioned guards in the main keep to protect the Abbot. Fortis was suspicious of a large number of armed outsiders being thus placed and ordered Ivor to post as many guards as possible to counter any attempts at treachery. Confronting Thomas, the magi use spells to interrogate him. He seems to know nothing, but calls for help. The magi are forced to put him and a guard to sleep, and to use Mentem magic to remove their memory of these events.
The next day, the 20th of October, the shocking news of the discovery of the head of a billy goat on the chapel altar, surrounded by a circle of blood, set the castle abuzz. Moreover, suspicious marks are found on stones in the chapel. The magi immediately suggested a frame up, determining that the head of the goat was not used in a satanic ritual. Magic located the goat’s headless body hidden in the woods north of the keep, and determined that a man dressed as a monk had killed it the previous night.
Uncomfortable by these many strange events, the Abbot decided to leave the keep early. Lord Commarque proudly announced that he had found a solution to restore the reputation of the keep: he would pay the monks to bring the statue of Saint Peter to the keep to rededicate the place to Christ in a pious procession. This was, of course, helpfully suggested by his wife Lady Maria.
On the 15th of November, no less than 30 monks, led by Brothers Thomas and Clotaire, arrived from Sarlat. Brother Clotaire asked for volunteers to carry the holy statue and described the order of events to the participants. That night, as the monks and volunteers prayed, the magi were on the lookout for suspicious activity, fearing the spectacle was just another opportunity for their unknown enemy to cast further suspicion on them. Indeed, the next day, when the expensive wax candles adorning the statue failed to light, it was seen as a sign. Even Fortis’ magic failed to light them for more than a few seconds. Zacchaeus was able to determine that the wicks are not made of wool, but leather, and thus designed not to burn. The magi cried foul, confronting the monks and claiming that someone is trying to tarnish their reputation. For their part, the monks are greatly offended, as Brother Clotaire explains that the candles were provided by the Abbot himself. After consultation with Sir Gaidon, it is determined that while suspicious, all parties concerned should return to the Abbey to investigate further. Arriving that night, the suspicious candles are placed in the main chapel to be watched, while a meeting with the Abbot is arranged for the next day.
While David and William were in the chapel to prevent any further legerdemain with the candles, Fortis, Jehan des Escars and Roger de Commarque were put up in small rooms in the guest wing. In the middle of the night, Fortis awoke to a slight noise at the door. After a few more seconds in which he convinced himself that no one was entering, he arose and checked the room. The Flambeau quickly realized that someone had added a few incriminating items to his pack: a purse filled with coins marked with demonic symbols, a small book with drawings of the Devil, and a half empty vial. Checking with his companions, the group soon realized that similar items were introduced into their possessions, while Lord Roger’s dagger was missing.
Deciding immediate action was needed to prevent an attempt on the Abbot’s life (for which they would doubtless be implicated) Fortis assumed the appearance of a monk by means of Disguise of the New Visage and quickly left the abbey to hide the false evidence. He then moved to check on the Abbot with the help of Sir Jehans. At the Abbot’s door, the pair discovered a dead monk, and could hear whispers coming from the room. Bursting into the chamber, they found Brother Clotaire and two burly monks in the process of torturing the abbot.
A brief standoff ensued as the monks threatened to kill the Abbot and Fortis spoke something of his true power…but then battle was joined. Fortis used his Circling Winds of Protection to thwart the actions of the evil brothers, but Jehans was seriously wounded, and he retreated to bring William to their aid. However, the Jerbiton’s spell backfired, and he entered a brief Twilight. Still, the noise brought other monks to the scene, who were stunned to see an Abbot threatened by his prior and Fortis hurling flame at his opponents. In the end, the Abbot was saved and the magi victorious, but the men of Commarque were held while their role in the affair was sorted out and the nature of their strange powers investigated.
Five days later, the Abbot had recovered enough to question the magi. He had already gotten some information about the “scholars’” activities from Lord Commarque but wanted to hear what the magi had to say for themselves in their defense. The magi made the case that while they did have supernatural powers, they were not granted by Satan, and tools which could be used for good or ill. Obviously, they had chosen to use their abilities for good, as they had saved his life and vanquished the treacherous monks. Furthermore, they recognized the Abbot’s authority, and were able to kiss the cross in the chapel. Therefore, he sent to his superiors for guidance and the magi stayed as his “guests” as the investigation continued.
Melissandre des Escars arrived at the Abbey to take care of her father as he recovered from his wounds. The Abbot did meet her, but he apparently does not act inappropriately. Investigating brethren returned from interviews with the locals which acknowledged strange abilities by the magi, but seemingly no evidence of diabolism. At this point the magi were guests at the Abbot’s table and afforded access to his library for study, but still prisoners, as the Bishop decided to himself turn to Rome for guidance. The magi are also frequently quizzed on matters of faith.
Brother Thomas’ questioning of Brother Clotaire revealed that the latter intended to murder the Abbot, pin the murder on Lord Commarque, and then become Abbot himself. In this way, he might assume the office, remove one of the more powerful nobles of the area, and then presumably bestow Commarque upon one of the members of his noble family. Still, there was no proof of the family’s complicity in this plan.
For the Winter Solstice, the magi snuck out of the Abbey to join in the casting of Aegis of the Hearth, and returned to their confinement with apparently no one the wiser. They spent Christmas at the Abbey, although the noble visitors saw them as guests, not prisoners.
Finally, on the 12th day of January, Anno Domini 1221, word came from Rome that the magi should be released, but provided with guidance to ensure that they not walk a crooked path and instead remained good Christians. Therefore, a Father Godefroi was dispatched to minister to the Chapel of St-Jean, who was to regularly report to Brother Thomas on the magi’s spiritual health. Brother Andri was chosen to regularly bring correspondence between castle and abbey.
Cast: William of Jerbiton (Bob); Fortis of Flambeau (Patrick); Zacchaeus of Verditius and David (Dwight); Melita of Bonisagus (Val).
Epsilon Storyguide: Guillaume.
Source Quality: 8.