The Illustrated GEOFF. CHAUCER, MEDIEVAL DICK!
by Tom Luthman and John Reddick. 1989, 2006 (Now, with tapestries!)
Read the following in a Humphrey Bogart voice!
London — a cold, cruel town, where the fog doesn't creep in on little cat's feet. Private investigation isn't steady work, even when you're England's most renowned lyric poet, and I hadn't seen a case since the affair of the Mutilated Merchant. I was sitting in my office, thinking I might have to write another Treatise on the Astrolabe to pay the rent, when the door was suddenly flung open, blowing out my taper. God's Toe, I muttered, as I fumbled with the tinderbox. In the unsteady flicker of the now re-lit taper, I looked — and there she was. She had a body like Canterbury cathedral, and I knew I wanted to make another pilgrimage. She could make Dionysus the Areopagite write a whole new book about angels.
"Mr. Chaucer?" she purred, in a voice that stirred my loins in a most unangelic fashion. "I am Lady Eglantyne — Prioress of the Abbey of St. Loy. We met last April, on the trip to Canterbury...but maybe you wouldn't remember me...?"
"I couldn't forget a face like yours, Sister," I said, looking her over, two or three times, slowly, "...or the stories you tell."
"I have another story to tell you today," she said, her voice sinking to a low, throaty whisper. "You must help me. They—"
"They - they..." She trembled like a rose in a high wind, and boy, did I want to pluck her.
"Slow down," I said, pouring her a goblet of aqua vitae. "Start from the beginning." I looked out at the Thames... then noticed the two goons watching my window from across the alley, their hands restless near the sheaths of their falchions. Their jerkins were dagged and embroidered with black birds on a purple background. The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the pattern. Of livery, I mean.
"Friends of yours?" I said, gesturing at Punch and Judy.
"They're Lord Gutman's men!" she cried. Lord Gutman. The Fat Man, I thought. Rich, decadent, secular. And, I'd heard, he had a thing for nuns.
"What do they want?"
"They want...The Black Bird!"
I looked out the window and noticed the goons were gone. Uh oh. The door burst open, and there they were — two hoods bigger than Kent and Middlesex put together. I reached for my short sword, but they were quicker, knocking it out of my hand.
"Give us the bird!" said the uglier one. So I did.
"Kiss steel, blackguard!" cried the Uglier Thug, lunging at me with his blade. I sidestepped. "You want birds? Here!" I yelled, hurling the manuscript of A PARLEMENT OF FOULES. He staggered back with a shriek and dozens of paper cuts. I regained my sword. The goons fled.
"Well, now that we're through with Troylus and Criseyde," I said, "tell me about the Black Bird."
"But, Geoff," she murmured, caressing my cod-piece, "I thought you might want to talk about... us. I've got a nice little cell in the convent where we could discuss things more... comfortably. Maybe we could have a goblet of hot wine, or hot... something."
Suddenly something told me I couldn't trust her. Maybe it was just something in her eyes, or her voice; or maybe it was the way she always ended sentences with an ellipsis before the last word. I had learned the same trick from an old rhetoric teacher, and I thought of his other lessons: hendyadis, syncope, asyndeton, apolocyntesis. And dames.
"I'm wise to you, Sister," I growled. "Right now you need me to protect you from the Fat Man, but when you've gotten what you wanted, it'll be Geoff. Chaucer served up on a stake, medium rare."
The Prioress bit her lip. "Ok, I'll level with you. The Black Bird is a piece of sculpture. It was the centerpiece on the table at The Last Supper. Supposedly, whoever has the Bird receives Eternal Life. Oh, and they can rain fire down on their enemies, reducing them to cinders. Also, they get good service at restaurants."
"I don't work with cases involving Holy Relics, Sister."
"But Geoffrey...if the Bird falls into the wrong hands...Lord Gutman's hands..." she shuddered.
That Bird would be worth a lot to the Church, I thought. But I was hesitant. The last time I got involved with a relic, it was the Holy Grail. I nearly got sliced into shish kabob by a bunch of Whirling Dervishes in the Holy Land. Then, when I got it, my clients —— these three knights —— took it and vanished into the desert. They even stiffed me on my fee. Never again, I swore.
"Ok, I'll do it. But it's going to cost you. I charge 40 pounds a day, plus expenses. Plus, a bonus if I get it back."
"Oh, I assure you," she smiled, "you'll be...rewarded."
Getting involved with her was dangerous. But for a girl like her, I was willing to risk getting burned. But not racked.
The Prioress told me that the Black Bird had been brought to the Abbey for safekeeping. It was entrusted to the Nun's Priest. He had vanished. The last person seen with him was the Pardoner. He hadn't been seen since either. I needed answers. I went to see the Wife of Bath.
"Jeffrey, you don't come 'round anymore," she said slyly as she answered the door dressed in a gaudy nightgown.
"I been busy, doll. And that's 'Geoffrey!'"
"Is this a 'social' visit?" she winked.
"Business. I need to find the Pardoner. Know where he is?"
She looked miffed. "What's in it for me, Je...er, Geoff?"
"Well, maybe the King's Justice would like to know what's buried under the third apple tree in your orchard...and how he got there."
She flushed. "That was an accident! Besides, it wasn't my doing."
"I know. But others might not be so charitable."
"You play dirty, Geoff. Ok. You can find him at the Tabard. You know, Harry Baily's joint down by the docks. He hangs out there a lot with the Miller."
"Thanks, doll." She invited me in, but I had work to do — and miles to go before I slept.
I found Harry Bailey's place in a seedy section of London, just across the alley from the Inn of the Holy Day. There was no sign of the Pardoner, but the Miller was at the end of the bar — a half dozen tankards of ale ahead of me.
"Who wants to know?" he growled when I asked him about the Pardoner. I bought a fresh round, but that just made him more surly. "I haven't seen that bum since Tuesday. And he owes me money."
The more I questioned him, the more unresponsive he got. I put a guilder on the table. He stood up, shattering a mug. Things were about to get ugly, but at that moment the door flew open.
In staggered the Nun's Priest. "Ack... urmmmph... blarg." he stammered.
"What? Where's the Black Bird?" I demanded.
"Gllurch... ungle... phssphipqssssss." he gasped.
"Get a hold of yourself, man!" I shook him.
"I blame society... I coulda been a contendah... rosebud." He fell face down onto the bar. Three knives, two crossbow bolts, and a cannonball were sticking out of his back. He clutched a note. I wondered if it was suicide.
[TO BE CONTINUED!]
Thanks to the Historic Tale Construction Kit for the tools to make the graphics!