Authors: John Lucarotti
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
Lerans shrugged. ‘What would you expect it to be, Simon?’ he replied. ‘He looks much like any other of that ilk.’
‘You surprise me,’ Duval said, ‘But I’m sure that on better acquaintance you’ll think differently.’ He turned to Muss. ‘And your impression, Herr Muss?’
‘That I’d seen him before,’ Muss replied.
‘Mine as well,’ Duval smirked, ‘and, no doubt, all three of us will see him again and again.’
A liveried lackey came to Lerans’s side and spoke quietly to him. Lerans nodded and turned back to Muss and Duval.
‘You must forgive me if I take leave of you, gentlemen,’
he said, smiling, ‘but, apparently, some friends of mine –
they’re apothecaries – need me.’ He bowed to a shaken Duval and winked at Muss before making his way out of the room.
For a moment Duval stared into Muss’s eyes which sparkled with amusement. ‘Walk softly, Herr Muss,’ he warned and moved away.
This was not the evening it should have been, Lerans reflected, as the Alsations raced unerringly through the dark underground ditches and catacombs until they ran into the well-lit cave and stopped. Lerans stepped out of the cart and grinned. ‘You must forgive me, ladies and gentlemen, for my appearance but I was at the royal reception.’
‘For this gentleman, sire?’ Charles asked, pointing at the Doctor amid general laughter.
For a moment Lerans looked bemused and then turned at the Doctor. ‘But we met, sir, did we not, this afternoon at the Roman Bridge Auberge which you quit to find an apothecary?’
‘That is so, Viscount Lerans,’ the Doctor replied as he stood up, indicating Preslin with his hand, ‘and, as you see, I found the gentleman.’
Lerans’s face became serious. ‘Where’s Steven Taylor, your companion?’ he asked.
The Doctor raised his arms and said, ‘I have no idea.’
Lerans turned to Charles. ‘Put out the word to find him at once,’ he ordered, ‘and bring him to safety.’ Charles saluted, jumped into the dog cart beside the driver and rode off. Lerans smiled at the Doctor. ‘An efficient means of transportation, don’t you think, there’s far less traffic down here than on the streets.’
‘Are there many of these tunnels?’ the Doctor asked.
‘Two hundred and eighty-seven kilometres of them, to be precise, spread out like a giant spider’s web under the city.’ Lerans clicked his fingers. ‘You can cross Paris like that and they are exclusively ours.’
‘You mean they belong to the Huguenots?’ the Doctor asked.
‘They are of Roman origin, a system of pagan burial grounds which, naturally, are of no interest to good Catholic souls so, day and night, we use them.’
‘Fascinating,’ the Doctor observed as the apothecaries muttered among themselves. ‘Quite remarkable.’
‘But, my Lord, doesn’t he remind you of someone?’
David exploded impatiently.
‘Absolutely,’ Lerans grinned. ‘The man in whose honour I was supposed to have dined tonight. They could be identical twins.’ He glanced at Preslin. ‘Which reminds me, I’ve missed my supper. Do you think I could have something to eat?’ Turning back to the Doctor he invited him to share a jug of wine.
Then, over the table and between mouthfuls, Lerans, with enormous charm and wit, put to the Doctor the most preposterous proposition he had ever heard.
When Simon Duval returned to his quarters after the banquet he was gratified that he had been recognised by the Abbot but irritated that Lerans had not only failed to identify the cleric but had also been implicated in the escape of the apothecaries. With the Duke de Guise and the Marshall Tavannes, he had noted the amount of time Admiral de Coligny spent in the Queen Mother’s company and they had agreed it was a matter of utmost urgency to draw the Abbot’s attention to the Huguenots’ influence over Catherine and, as a result, over her son, the King.
As he lay on his back between silken sheets, his head cradled in his hands, Duval mused on the new broom of Catholicism which had swept into power through the absence in Rome of the Most Illustrious Cardinal Lorraine.
The Abbot of Amboise would not mince words nor shy away from deeds. Heresy in the form of the Germanic and English denial of the Pope’s absolute supremacy, his infallibility in matters of faith, would be ruthlessly put down. The Queen Mother, quickly shown the error of her tolerant ways, would dismiss in disgrace de Coligny and those who served him. She would disperse the student community studying the precepts of the heretics, Luther and Calvin, in a district of Paris she had allowed to be known as ‘little Geneva’ near the Sorbonne. But most important of all, the marriage of Henry of Navarre to the Princess Marguerite annulled by a decree from Rome and France would once again sleep the sleep of the Catholic just which Simon Duval now did with vengeance in his heart.
Steven’s night began less comfortably. his bed was a sodden palliasse on the floor of a small, dank cell in the basement of the Cardinal’s palace and as he lay shivering in the dark he thought that although the climatic conditions may have been ideal for laying down bottles of wine they did nothing to help the human spirit. He felt he was justifiably angry with the Doctor about the secrecy and deception of their presence in Paris and he was determined to have it out with him when they met up again. To make matters worse, every hour a guard passed by his cell with a torch to make sure he was still there, which made sleeping, already difficult enough, almost impossible.
However, at two o’clock in the morning his circumstances changed when a resentful, recently demoted guard shone the torch brightly in his face and recognised him.
‘Ho, it’s you,’ he said aggressively. ‘Remember me?’
‘Unfortunately, yes,’ Steven replied and turned his face to the wall.
‘Monsieur Duval will learn of your presence here immediately.’ The ex-Captain of the Guard kicked Steven in the small of the back before racing off to Duval’s quarters.
’ Duval roared on hearing the news. ‘That man in a cell! Get him out of there at once.’ He scrambled out of his bed and threw on a brocaded dressing-gown. ‘Install him in one of the Most Illustrious Cardinal’s guest rooms.
I shall he there to receive him,’ he shouted as he waved the astonished guard from his room.
Steven recognised Duval but was taken aback by his effusive reception.
‘My dear sir, that such an error could occur is incomprehensible,’ Duval protested, ‘and I trust that when you see My Lord the Abbot in the morning you will remind him that I reacted with alacrity to a regrettable situation.’
‘Of course, I shall,’ Steven replied, looking around the magnificent room which had been given to him. ‘Very first thing.’
Duval bowed and backed his way out, leaving Steven to strip off and crawl between the silken sheets. Just before he fell luxuriously asleep he chuckled and thought what a sly old fox the Doctor was.
It was not a sentiment the Doctor would have shared.
Lerans had manoeuvred him into a difficult, dangerous corner, and cunning would not be enough to extricate himself but somehow he had to.
He looked at the earnest faces of the men who surrounded him, among them Preslin, David and Lerans, then slowly shook his head.
‘What you ask of me, gentlemen, is impossible,’ he stated, ‘and your destinies lie in your own hands, not in those of a stranger, which I am. The history of France is not mine but yours to write. Besides, I am a fatalist and my ethic is that what must happen will happen, regardless of all that I may try to do.’ But inwardly the Doctor felt ashamed. These were courageous men who deserved better from him. He wanted to change his mind and say, ‘Yes, I’ll play along with you,’ but he couldn’t. It was out of the question.
There was an awkward silence which Lerans finally broke. ‘Steven should be here soon,’ he said, ‘and when it’s daylight you can continue your journey.’
Then the dog cart came dashing in from the tunnel and Charles jumped out.
‘The Catholics have got him,’ he cried and explained how Steven had been taken by a night patrol. Lerans rubbed his chin thoughtfully and then turned to the Doctor.
‘Remain here, Doctor,’ he said, ‘we’ll arrange his rescue.’
‘Where is Steven being held?’ the Doctor asked.
‘In a cell at the Cardinal’s palace,’ Charles replied.
David grunted. ‘That won’t make it any easier,’ he confided to no one in particular.
‘Unless, of course, I order his release,’ the Doctor announced, emphasising the first person singular. There was silence as all eyes turned towards him. ‘But that would be mean-spirited in the extreme, gentlemen, to play the role you propose only because it suits my purpose. So, confronted as I am with
I shall play it for the common good. But let me remind you once again, Viscount Lerans, that I am a fatalist.’
‘My name is Gaston,’ Lerans replied and kissed the Doctor on both cheeks.
Disengaging himself as best he could the Doctor said that he would need to know everything about the Abbot, whom he saw, where he went, what appointments were arranged for him, and all of it to the last detail.
‘Our web of spies is like the tunnels, Doctor,’ Lerans said. ‘It reaches out everywhere.’
The Doctor cleared his throat. ‘And, of course, I’ll be driven around in that,’ he said, pointing to the dog cart.
Lerans nodded and smiled as he realised that the Doctor was about to enjoy himself thoroughly.
Steven woke up with hot sunlight cascading through the open casement windows. A servant was in the room who said that he had taken the liberty of having Steven’s unusual attire brushed, had drawn him a cooling bath and asked if he required some refreshment before his appointment with Simon Duval and the Abbot of Amboise.
Steven thanked him and suggested that a jug of milk with some biscuits would make a pleasant breakfast.
An hour later Duval knocked respectfully on the door and waited for Steven to invite him in.
‘I trust you slept well?’ Duval enquired.
Steven smiled. ‘The second part of the night was better than the first,’ he replied.
Duval looked uncomfortable and admitted that the incident was most unfortunate, then suggested that they should visit the Abbot in his office immediately.
‘With pleasure,’ Steven said and tried to keep a serious expression on his face as they left the room. The Cardinal’s palace was the epitome of luxury with high, vaulted corridors and priceless tapestries and paintings hanging on the walls. The floors were tiled in marble and along the centre was an exquisite red pile carpet. Here and there were satin-covered chairs and the white double doors which opened to the rooms beyond had superbly painted and delicately decorated panels. Steven thought that it was a far cry from the streets he and the Doctor had walked along the previous day. Then they came to a double door with two liveried halberdiers standing outside.
‘My Lord Abbot,’ Duval said to neither in particular and the doors were promptly opened. Duval waved Steven to lead the way in and the doors closed silently behind them. They stood in a small, carpeted reception room furnished with chairs, similar to the ones outside,and an ornate desk. The man seated behind it jumped to his feet as soon as he saw them. He had an harassed air to him but he was clearly relieved to see Duval.
‘My Lord Abbot awaits, sir,’ he said, scurrying over to a second double door to open one side of it. This time Duval went in first, the door closing discreetly behind them.
The Abbot of Amboise sat on a high-backed, gilt chair behind a huge, intricately carved, marble-topped desk. His cowl was thrown back off his head and his hands joined as if in prayer with the tips of his forefingers resting against his pursed lips. But the eyes above them were cold and hard. Steven decided that he had never seen the Doctor look so angry.
‘Who is this fellow?’ the Abbot asked in glacial tones as he swung his joined hands away from his lips to point them at Steven.
Both Steven and Duval were completely taken aback and, after a moment, a confused Duval looked from the Abbot to Steven and back to the Abbot again while Steven stood and stared.
‘What would the wretch with me?’ the Abbot demanded, while Duval stammered and stuttered. ‘Speak up, for mercy’s sake!’
‘I th – thought you kn – knew him, my Lo – ord,’ Duval finally managed to say.
‘I have never seen him before in my life,’ the Abbot snapped. ‘Put him back where he was found.’
‘Yes, my Lord, at once, my Lord,’ Duval replied and, grabbing Steven by the arm, ushered him out of the room.
Subtle old devil, Steven thought as he let Duval lead him away, realising that the Doctor had meant for him to be taken back to the auberge.
‘Clap this creature in the cells,’ Duval ordered the guards as soon as they reached the corridor.
‘That’s not what he meant,’ Steven protested as the halberdiers grabbed him by his arms. ‘He wanted me taken back to the auberge.’
For a fraction of a second Duval hesitated but then he remembered the Abbot had said that he had never seen Steven before. ‘The cells,’ Duval insisted and hurried back to the Abbot’s office where his second reception was even frostier than the first.
‘I ordered the arrest of some heretic apothecaries. Where are they?’ the Abbot demanded as the door closed behind Duval.
‘In hiding, my Lord,’ the luckless Duval replied. ‘They heard of the warrant.’
Duval shook his head. ‘I don’t know, my Lord, other than the fact that the Huguenot Viscount Lerans was involved.’
‘And who might he be?’
‘He was presented to you at the banquet last night.’
‘As were many others,’ the Abbot snapped. ‘Describe him.’
Duval looked around the room. They were alone, the Abbot and he, so he leant forward across the desk and lowered his voice. ‘The tall, blond-haired young man I challenged at the Roman Bridge Auberge,’ he murmured discreetly and then asked the Abbot if he remembered the incident.
The Abbot’s eyes became those of a cobra as he looked through hooded eyes at Duval. ‘Ah, that young man,’ he muttered and abruptly ended the interview by ordering Duval to bend every effort to find the apothecaries.