The Inn at Plessy.
I was not sure they would come.
From London, I flew to Marseilles and then made my way by bus, to Plessy. It was an unusual mode of transportation for me, but one that I enjoyed. It allowed me to relax, if I could, and to see the countryside.
While I waited at that Inn, I went over in my mind what I would tell them to persuade them to help me. The truth was out of the question, but then I would not choose to lie, either... that, would be a sure fire way to lose their trust. As would the truth.
They would think me mad, of course, anyway.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a LandRover, hauling a loaded trailer, drive into the courtyard of the old Inn. There were three men inside. Unsmiling, matter of fact. Everything was battered but serviceable; the men too. They’d all been knocked around a bit. Like me. Except I’d been knocked around a lot, over the years.
I met them at the door. They were ready for me, and knew who I was from my face and that scar. No helping that.
I was the only one in the Inn at that time in the early afternoon and nursing a glass of wine. I missed the heavy red wine of my family’s vineyard, I could still taste it.
“Vaillancourt?” As the others brought their overnight bags in, he introduced himself, thrusting his hand out. I took it.
“I’m Burgess.” He had no use for formality and used the way of the better schools, calling pupils only by their surnames.
We shook hands as we assessed each other. What he thought about meeting me, a man much younger than him, I don’t know. We’d find out all of that, later.
“You appear to need our help.”
“I do, but I fear you will not believe most of what I will say, and will think I am mad.”
“Don’t worry about that, dear fellah. People generally don’t believe much of what I say either, and I am, definitely mad. It’s those kinds of challenges that make the world an interesting place and build character.
“What’s the food like here?”
“There are few better establishments in France. I buy my wine from him... his family, and have done for many years.”
“Good. You should meet Monty, and David.”
I shook their hands too, before they went back to what they had been doing.
“My daughter phoned me and told me a little. She said... effectively, that if I didn’t help you, she’d cut all ties with me. So, you might just be stuck with us. You had a big effect on her.”
I hoped she hadn't told him too much.
“As she did on me.” That was the understatement of the year.
“You said that you feared I might not believe you. After what she told me, I more fear, that I think I will have to believe you.
“If you don’t mind, we’ll register, get ourselves washed up and join you in the dining area, or the bar. I see he advertises English beer.”
“I’ll be somewhere close.”
“By the way... thank you for intervening for my daughter the other evening. I think you quite shocked her... in a good way, despite the violence. I hope you were not too badly injured.”
“They paid for it.”
They had indeed, from what his daughter had said.
We sat down again in the bar, after we’d dined together, avoiding all questions until then. I recommended the fish, which was brought up fresh each day on the bus from Marseilles, and a white wine, but had the red, myself, as did the others. They did not adhere to the usual mush about ‘white wine with fish’ and ‘red wine with meat.’
He brought out maps of the area I’d described in my letter.
“Any other clues you can give us?”
I laughed nervously. I had a lot riding on this.
“Not really. Not unless you believe in demons.”
I waited for the laughter. It didn’t come.
“Can’t live without ’em, dear fellah. We all have ’em if we’ve lived a life worth living. You can tell us all of that as we go forward.”
What had Rossignol told him? Had she mentioned the pain of those voices in her head, trying to keep us apart?
“We’ll iron out the main details tonight and get an early start tomorrow. You can tell us what to watch for as we drive.
“We can head for St. Denis, first. Now, Where’s that English beer.”
He’d better phone his wife and daughter too, and bring them both up to speed and stop them worrying.
Over beer, they gradually unwound sitting in front of a fire, not so much for the warmth, as for the atmosphere.
Burgess turned to Guillaume.
“I’m not exactly working in the dark with you, so I should tell you what I already know.”
He gulped a little beer, wondering where to begin.
“First. My daughter believes you. She described some of what she knew, and was convinced of. She also sent me a photograph of that front page of the book she’d found in St. Denis, that she was convinced had not seen the light of day for several hundreds of years, with some recently uncovered archives deep in the bowels of that place.
“The layers of dust and mess, to get at those archives could not have been put together with the help of any member of that Order, so any suggestion of a scheme, long in the making, holds no water.
“Second. From the point of view of persuading me... that what she said could be believed, she became a forensic scientist. She sent me another photograph... a recent photograph... of a bloody thumbprint, to compare with the one in the front of that St. Denis book.
“I did compare them.” He took another drink.
“Conundrum. They were as near as mattered, identical.
“Third. I overlaid the various signatures, St. Denis... Letter... That book you left with me. Similar.
“Four. Your ability to open up and reveal that entire story in such detail to my daughter. She is a scholar on these matters, and yet she had struggled to understand those few pages until you'd come along. She managed to photograph so few before they booted her out. You impressed her. She’s not easily impressed.
“Ergo. I should give you the benefit of the doubt. My daughter is already convinced in you, and I love my daughter, which is why I am here.”
I said nothing.
“I have only one question for you... maybe two.” He nodded at the barman to provide more beers for us.
I waited for it... about his daughter and me.
“What year were you born?
“And another... what was your first childhood memory.”
Direct questions needed direct answers.
I did not hesitate. “1202, June second. I was told later, that it was the time of the fourth crusade with Christian soldiers streaming to the east, to Jerusalem..”
I waited, looking at them. No one laughed.
“My first clear childhood memory was when I was about four years old...maybe five... I can’t be sure. I was playing with a wooden sword my father had made me and I was beheading some of my mother’s flowers.
“I remember hearing my mother screaming, and her running to me, skirts flying, her hands and arms reaching out to me. I remember wondering, why? ... they were only flowers.
“She threw herself onto a wild pig that had seen me and decided it did not like me. It was charging at me.
I remember the noise of a pig screaming, her shouting, and then I saw my father kill it, before it did any real damage to either of us. He picked us both up and took us back to the house.
He gave me a proper iron sword after that, a small one that he forged for me; told me to be more careful next time, and presented me with the tusks of that pig. I still have them. And I know exactly where they are. They are where I have been trying to get to, for such a very long time.”
They sat in further silence for a few minutes.
“Thank you. We’ll get an early start in the morning then.”