'"have a little more wine in your glass, my dear abbe," urged mademoiselle cecilie, as she and the abbe and slugg the groom made themselves comfortable at a table in a corner of pere pierre's inn. "you will need to fortify yourself for the difficult decision we face here. pere pierre, a little more wine for the abbe, if you please."
"yes, mademoiselle." pere pierre obliged by filling the abbe's glass to the brim with the dark red liquid, then shuffled back to his post by the door.
"now then," the fair governess continued in a lower voice. "we are agreed, are we not, that something must be done about this little wretch, before he overturns all the good work of heaven upon earth, going back to the time of good king augustus, at least."
"agreed," slugg answered without hesitation.
the abbe picked up his glass with a trembling hand, spilling a few drops on the scarred wooden table. "but so young, so young."
"we have been over this before," replied cecilie. "you were given time to take what steps you could, were you not?"
"i was," replied the abbe unhappily, after tasting his wine.
"and we assume," slugg asked the abbe kindly, "that you have completed the novena you contemplated?"
'two novenas," the abbe replied. "one to the queen of heaven, and one to the queen of the sea."
mademoiselle cecilie laughed. "two, no less! and we saw, this morning, what effect they have had, did we not?"
"i am afraid we did," the abbe agreed.
"and we agreed," slug said, "that if no progress was made, we would take action."
"yes. but still - he is so young! only seven years old."
"quite old enough according to the church fathers," retorted cecilie. "and as we previously agreed. and in any case, hell, whose spawn he is, is no respecter of age."
the abbe shook his head. "you, yourself, mademoiselle, so young and yet so hard."
"it is all settled then," said slugg. "pending your approval, i had already made the arrangements. i will take him in the dogcart as soon as he awakes tomorrow, as far as the village of c----------, where i will meet the slaver's man, who will convey him from there to the port."
"excellent," mademoiselle congratulated him. "well done,"
"ah me," said the abbe. "i can't help but feel a touch of sadness at how the whole affair has turned out. how disappointed the old comte would be!""
"let's eat," said slugg. "with some of mere marie's fine boars tongue and lentil pie in you, you will not be so melancholy."
"a little more wine, abbe?" asked mademoiselle cecilie.
the sun was high in the sky in the morning as slugg led the young comte to the dogcart. two huge mastiffs, growling even through their muzzles, were hitched to the cart and slugg gave them a preliminary taste of the whip, just to announce his presence.
"what is this all about, eh?" the young comte asked suspiciously. he looked up at the sky.
"where are we going?"
"on a long journey," slugg told him. "this is the only beginning."
"where is my umbrella?"
slugg handed the young comte the black umbrella.
"and who is to hold it, eh? can you drive the cart and hold it over me at the same time?"
"no. young master, you may hold it over yourself if you please."
"i see," the comte replied in a subdued voice. "and my baggage for this long journey?"
slugg reached into the cart and held up a small bundle tied up in a handkerchief.
"ah." said the little comte. "so that's the way of it, eh?"
"yes, this is the way of it. get in the cart."
the comte nodded and climbed up into the cart as the dogs increased their growling. slugg slashed at them again, and got into the drivers seat.
"i had a premonition about this," the comte told slugg . "in fact, st bonaventure and st bartholomew appeared to me in a dream. their messages were cryptic, but pointing unmistakably in one direction."
"hey up! hey up!" slugg cried to the dogs and they started off. "i am surprised to find you on such good terms with the saints," he told the comte. "i would never have thought it."
"you don't know as much as you think," the comte answered. he unfurled the umbrella and held it over himself.
the dogs settled into a brisk pace. as they neared the high road, the door to pere pierre's inn and wineshop opened and the abbe rushed out.
"ah, my poor child!" he cried, "my poor child, this is a sad day. believe me i did all i could for you, but heaven in its wisdom has seen best to not acknowledge my prayers. will you at least allow you to give you my blessing?" the abbe blinked in the sunlight, a little unsteady on his feet.
"no, monsieur l'abbe, i don't care a straw for your blathering blessing. in fact, be damned to you, and may all your heavens with all your saints fall down on your red nosed head and be washed away down the river into the sea! good day to you, sir!"
the abbe turned without a word and went back into the wineshop. slugg, suppressing a smile, started the dogs up again and they went down an incline to the high road.
"you were a little harsh on the poor abbe, " he told the comte, "the time may come soon when the friendly face of a simple soul would be welcome. you will soon find yourself among those who will not suffer abuse so meekly."
"bah! i was only having a little fun with the old fool."
it was well past noon and the sun was beginning to decline when they reached the village of c---------- and its unsightly little inn.
a surly fellow holding a wineskin between his knees was perched on the drivers seat of a one-horse cart in the inn's shadow. the horse looked ready to collapse of starvation. two young fellows sat in the straw-littered back of the cart, one stout and wart-faced with a challenging expression, the other smaller and simple looking and clutching a ragged prayer book.
slugg addressed the man in the drivers seat. "would you be mahmoud ali's man?"
"that i would, squire. and this is the bundle i am taking off your guilty hands?" he looked the comte over. "not much to look at, is he? come on, give us a smile."
the comte gave him his most baleful stare instead.
'he just wants to see your teeth," slugg told him. 'i think you had best oblige him."
the comte gave the man a tigerish smile.
"not bad," said the man. "not bad. surprisingly white teeth for the situation he finds himself in, don't he? coming down a bit in the world, is he?"
"you might say so," slugg agreed,
but," the man went on, "not a lot of different uses for him, is there now? not like this wretch here," - he indicated the wart-faced boy - "not much to look at, but you could put him to a variety of uses, indoor and out. but this fellow - the sheikh might be fair perplexed to find him a useful berth." he shook his head. "now i know it was agreed that i would just take him off your hands, but considering the potential difficulties, and the cost of feeding him, perhaps you could see your way to defraying those costs - just a token, squire, just a token of good will."
"he is yours," slugg answered. "you can do with him what you will. but - since this is the feast of st matthias, and he is the patron saint of fair dealing - " he reached into his pocket for a single coin - "take this for luck."
the coin was in the slaver's pocket before the sun could shine a ray on it. "you came recommended as a fair man. sir. i see my source was worthy."
"this establishment here," slugg looked at the sign of the inn. "how is the fare?"
"to be avoided at all cost. at all cost. if you want to go a few miles out of your way, sir, you should try old mother jackson's. she'll set you up with the best sheeps heart stew south of paris."
"i thank you. good day."
"good day to you."
slugg got into the dog cart and drove off without any more words and without looking back. but the comte wasn't looking at him, either.
"when do we eat?" he asked the slaver's man.