Demons of Paris – Snippet 09

Demons of Paris – Snippet 09

Chapter 9

Strangers’ Quarters

March 4, 1372

Lakshmi Rawal plopped down beside Wilber. “So what are you learning from Merlin?”

“Not as much as I would like,” Wilber admitted. He had a pen, a real old-fashioned quill pen with an ink pot, and paper out on the table, and he was laboriously drawing weird symbols on the sheet.

There was a short pause, then Wilber said, “Right, Merlin. Sorry. What I should have said is ‘not that much that’s all that useful given the circumstances.’ It turns out that most magic is about inviting and controlling demons, spirits, whatever you call them. There’s not much you can do without summoning demons. Merlin has shown me how to make a containment circle and how to select the type of demon that is best suited for a particular tool, but the problem is that magic doesn’t work well with mechanics. Each demon is an individual, not part of a system like a gear is part of a gear train. Not even part of an ecology, or if they are, it’s a weird sort of static ecology.”

“So what does all you just said mean?”

“Mostly that I can’t do much until I can summon a demon. And even once I can do that, I won’t be able to summon a demon to manage one of Pucorl’s wheels and another to manage another wheel. You can’t combine them. They won’t cooperate. I can’t make a machine out of a dozen parts, each with its own demon. To make it work, I have to make the whole machine and call a single demon to animate it. That’s why the demons are so interested in our computers. They are the most complex and flexible devices that most of the demons have ever seen. And the power of the demon is a mix of the innate abilities of the demon and of the container. According to Merlin, that’s an extension of the laws of physics of the netherworld. Take Merlin, for instance. He’s a pretty powerful demon, but he’s basically limited to talking to me and letting me understand what I hear through the implant. Well, now that he’s mine, he’s sort of migrated into my communications centers, so I can speak as well as hear.”

Wilber turned his head and squeaked. A mouse stuck its head out of a crack in the wall. Wilber squeaked again and broke off a piece of cheese. The mouse ran to the table, ran up the table leg and ran across it. Wilber handed it the cheese and it squeaked at Wilber. Wilber said, “You’re welcome,” and the mouse, cheese held in its jaws, ran off back to its hole in the wall.

Lakshmi watched the mouse go. She wasn’t fond of mice, and that looked more like a rat to her than a cute little white mouse anyway. At the same time, what Wilber had just done was impressive. “How much did that mouse understand?” she asked. “I mean, mazes aside, a mouse doesn’t have the world’s biggest brain.”

Wilber got that listening look again, then spoke. “Merlin says that part of what was going on was the communication magic that he can do. The mouse couldn’t understand another mouse offering it cheese as well as it understood me. The magic allows me to pull a real Dr. Doolittle. Horses, cats, mice, I make their sounds and they understand as though I were talking their language, even though they really don’t have a language.” He shrugged. “This is magic. It doesn’t follow the same rules as science.”

“So you couldn’t teach me to talk horse?”

“No, sorry,” Wilber said. “I could explain your riding style to a horse and it might remember it. I could probably explain what you mean when you say go left or go right, and it might remember that or it might not. Horses aren’t that bright and it takes quite a bit of repetition for them to remember stuff. And they are more physically than vocally oriented.”

The guard knocked on the door, and it opened to admit Bertrand and Tiphaine.

“We’d better go see what’s up,” Wilber said, and Lakshmi nodded.

When they got to the other end of the room, Bertrand was telling Mrs. Grady that he was going to have to go back to the coast to prepare for the siege of La Rochelle. “We won it in your history, but that is not a guarantee that we will win it this time. I need to be there to aid in the preparations.”

Mrs. Grady was looking about as pale as Lakshmi felt. Bertrand had been their protector from the moment of their arrival, and there were whole bunches of people in the church, in the university, even among the common people of Paris, who wanted all of them shoved into Pucorl and put to the torch.

“As surety of my continued regard, my lady has decided to invite you to stay in our townhouse.”

“What about Pucorl?” Mrs. Grady asked. “That van is school property and under my care and authority. I don’t see how we could possibly leave it here.”

Bertrand grimaced, but Tiphaine smiled an “I told you so” smile.

“I have spoken with the queen,” Tiphaine said. “She is in seclusion, of course, until the baby comes. But we discussed the effects of sterilizing water to wash the child and I repeated to her what you told me about the antibodies in breast milk that help the child fight off early childhood disease. She was most impressed and has pled your case to the king. The wall about the courtyard will be opened to allow your van to leave, but only to the stable behind our house. And any future trips must be approved by the crown.”

Bertrand spoke then. “I argued your case about enchanting your other gear with the king, but he is required to keep peace with the church. I fear that you are still officially not granted permission to enchant any more of your other computers.”

The emphasis was there. Lakshmi heard it, and so apparently did Mrs. Grady. But it was nothing you could prove.

Rue Charpentier

March 4, 1372

Gabriel Delaflote looked at the wooden ball joint Paul de Fraine had made and sighed. He could afford one, perhaps two, such joints. The dozens needed to articulate a statue with moving hands, arms, feet, legs, body, and head were well beyond his means. “It is excellent, Paul, but far beyond what I can pay. A knuckle bone?”

“Yes.” Paul displayed the carved wooden shell that would fit over the ball. It was carved in the form of a human fingertip, even had a fingernail. “Is it true that the form the demon is placed in controls what it does?”

“It’s true, my friend, but more complicated than that. And the notion that an articulated doll would be more capable than a statue is just that, a notion. Depending on the strength of a demon, a statue can speak or even move. From what Merlin has said, the level of artistic talent and detail of the container also has an effect. But while I have learned a great deal, that knowledge is almost entirely untested.”

Paul nodded wisely. “Do you think you could show me how to summon a demon?” He laid a finger against the side of his nose in a gesture that went back to the Roman republic. “Not that I would ever attempt such a thing, of course.”

“And you’re wise not to. I have priests and deacons circling like vultures,” Gabriel said. “And it’s not something you want to try on your own. Pucorl, Ishmael, and Merlin all confirm that a demon is generally not happy to be summoned, and without the proper bounds is likely to invade the summoner rather than the container. And you don’t want a demon contesting you for your body.”

“Do they really do that?”

Gabriel looked uncertain. “Pucorl and the others say they do. When they are called to an animal vessel, they are constantly contesting with the animal, but are in control most of the time.”

“So you think you will try and enchant a crow?” Again the touch on the nose. “After you get permission, of course.”

“It may be my only choice,” Gabriel agreed. “Though Pucorl says that demons really prefer to avoid animal hosts.”

Paul shrugged as though to say why should we care how the demons feel about it?

“Demons can be subtle, Paul. I suspect that having an unhappy demon in your service is a dangerous thing.”

They talked some more and Paul suggested a puppet.

“Pucorl says they work, but tend to be clumsy like puppets are in a puppet show, with the limbs flapping around and their knees going the wrong way sometimes. He says they are hard to control, though he has never himself been in a puppet. In fact, that is my greatest concern about the ball joint dolls that Jennifer suggested. They are poseable but do not act on their own any more than a puppet does.”

The talk continued. It wasn’t the first such conversation, and more people than Paul and Gabriel were having similar discussions.

Rue Lavaud

March 4, 1372

Georges du Pont hit Antoine across the mouth and the boy fell. Antoine was sixteen and a student at the University of Paris, one of the poor students who was there on scholarship. He was, however, from Paris. He’d been born just down the block from the inn, with a surviving mother and younger brother still living there. He made extra money keeping Georges du Pont informed of things going on in the university, and for the past weeks he’d been focusing on learning how to summon a demon.

“I am just telling you what they said,” Antoine said, holding his hand over his bloody mouth. Georges was a big man and didn’t pull his punches. “Demons don’t like living vessels and a demon placed in a human vessel almost always escapes control.”

“Why?” Georges cocked his fist and Antoine scuttled back.

“No one knows.” That was true, but Antoine knew that the prevailing theory in the Sorbonne college was that human minds were so large and complex as to provide the demon too much scope. The demon’s will could not usually override the human’s will, but it could use the subtlety of the human’s mind to find justifications for distorting — or flat out disobeying — the orders of the owner. At least that was what Father Martin said Plebie’s admonition against using slaves in demon summoning meant.

Antoine was glad of that, because if it weren’t the case, he would likely find himself chained in the center of a demon-summoning pentagram.

Small village five miles from Paris

The milk smelled glorious. The two foot tall fairy twitched its nose and sniffed. Pookasaladriscase hadn’t been called, but it smelled the milk and slipped from its world to the mortal realm with no difficulty. A pooka was a slightly different sort of netherworld spirit than a puck, not that a human was likely to know the difference. This one, at the moment, had a basically human form, with short, black fur, but with a large rat-like snout and whiskers that stuck out a foot and a half to either side of its face. The milk smelled just too good not to taste. It extended a long tongue into the pot and began to lap. In just a very few minutes, the milk pot was empty and the pooka was full. With a satisfied burp, it started to explore.

With no difficulty at all, it slipped through a crack between door and frame that was less than an inch wide, then looked around in the dark. Its eyes grew as it moved from moonlight to the darker interior of the room. It looked at the large pile of sewing in Madame de Avire’s hamper, and innately knowing that cloth should not be ripped or torn and that a sleeve should be shaped like a sleeve, began to mend. It was rather fun for Pookasaladriscase. Interesting and intricate and about as instinctive as a spider spinning its web.

For most of the night it mended and swept and cleaned. Just before dawn it quietly slipped back into the netherworld and found itself a long way from its burrow. On the other hand, there was a friendly brook burbling happily over a series of rocks that yawned lazily as Pookasaladriscase arrived. There was a depression in a hillside that would make a good burrow. Perhaps tomorrow night it would visit the farm again.

****

Madame de Avire was a woman of forty, a widow whose husband had died two years earlier. She had two nanny goats and five chickens and she paid her rent on the small cottage by taking in mending and washing from the other villagers.

After waking, she looked around to see a spotless cottage. The fireplace was as clean as if it had been washed with a scrub brush, and the cast iron grating that held the wood was clean and full of wood and kindling. She stared at that and slowly rose. She walked over to the hamper that held the mending, only to find it empty and the clothing neatly folded, and clean besides.

She was breathing hard. Someone had been in her cottage. She could have been murdered in her bed and never known a thing. She could have . . .

She didn’t know what she could have, but she lived a life that was full of fears and disappointments. A dead husband and three children, all dead before they reached their second year of life, had not left her with any faith at all in the glories of the world. New and different was dangerous. What if the other villagers had such a visitor in the night? How would she feed herself without the sewing and the mending? The spinning wasn’t enough. She looked over at the pile of wool, but there was no pile of wool. There were neatly spun skeins of wool thread stacked in her basket.

She went out the door and saw the milk pot she had forgotten to bring in last night. The lid was off and the pot was empty.

It took Madame half the morning to calm down and remember the legends and the more recent stories out of Paris. She didn’t want to offend whatever it was, so she took the wool thread to the factor and got more wool, took the sewing and the laundry around to the other villagers and everyone was pleased. Then she went to the parish priest and asked him what she should do.

Father Carolas went with her to look at her cottage and he was concerned. But he was a countryman who had grown up in a village just like this before he went to seminary. He sprinkled holy water here and there, but he didn’t want to wish any more evil on Madame de Avire. She was a good woman, if timid. She shared what little she had with those less fortunate. So he told her she should leave another pot of milk out, and then he did one better. He put a bottle of sacramental wine out beside the pot of milk after blessing it. “There, now. If he can drink blessed wine, he can’t be hellspawn.”

It was a guess, but guesses were all he had.

 

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