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Book Two: A Pelican in the Wilderness



February 1327

Meg’s legs wobbled as she stepped onto dry land after five weeks aboard the Godisgrace. Their flight from England had been smooth for two weeks until an intolerable winter storm forced them below decks for three days.  When the storm ended Meg vowed never to leave the upper deck and enter the rolling, dark, stifling hell below, even if they had to lash her to the mast to do so. Just when she thought she could endure not a single day more at sea, the little merchant vessel passed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the calmer Inland Sea and a few days later sailed through a dawn mist to the busy docks of Marseilles. 

Meg wanted to prostrate herself and give thanks for a voyage that ended on hard earth and not in the depths of the sea.  Instead she had to fight to steady herself as she, William and Gerard worked their way along the busy waterfront. Despite the early hour, foreign merchant ships, tied bow to stern at the wharf, were offloading bales of African furs, leather from Cordova, and from the Godisgrace, English wool. Sailors and traders, shouting in strange languages, jostled for room on the quayside. 

 “Sea legs, it’s called,” William chuckled when she grabbed his arm.  “You’ll be fine in a few days.”  He glanced at Gerard who was standing steady but staring at the earth as if he could command it to stop moving.  “What about you?  Legs all right?”

Gerard nodded, but grabbed his stomach and placed a hand over his mouth.

William gave him a ginger confit to suck on.  The three of them threaded their way through bales of cloth and wool, barrels of wine, and baskets of spices that tickled Meg’s nose. Suddenly Robertus Medicamus, with the little creature Pettipaw perched on his shoulder, stepped in front of them and blocked their path. Meg’s stomach lurched as she came to an unexpected halt.

“Ah, good morning, Robertus,” William said.  “We cannot thank you enough for your help in England.  Were it not for you, we would be sitting in the Tower now or worse—our heads would be rotting on London Bridge.  Alas, we’ll say good-bye then for we leave today for Montpellier.”

During the voyage, Robertus decided he and his troupe of players would stay in cheap lodgings near the waterfront while they replenished their elixirs and made new costumes.  Afterward, they would travel to Paris to hawk their wares.  Meg sighed. It would be a sad leavetaking as Robertus could always be counted on for merriment.  And Pettipaw was beginning to accept treats from Meg’s outstretched fingers. Her plan was to beguile him with treats until he trusted her and would sit in her arms. But that would not happen now.

“I thank you, William,” Robertus said, “but no need to say farewell yet.  I have decided not to stay in Marseilles but to guide you to your destination.”

“Oh, there’s no need to put yourself out.  I plan to hire a local guide.”

“You forget that I’ve traveled to these parts many times.  I know the roads.  I know the rivers where we can drink safe water.  And most importantly, I know the inns where you can sleep without getting your throats cut.”

“And why would you go out of your way when you could be fleecing the gullible in Paris?”

Robertus pressed a hand to his parti-colored surcoat.   “I am hurt by the insult, sir.  Even after saving your pompous skin in London, you still doubt me.”

“I don’t doubt you, I know you.  There’s a difference.”

“All right, then.  You force me to admit to an ulterior motive.”

“I’m shocked.”

Robertus ignored the jibe.  “The truth is Montpellier is a lucrative city for my profession.  People travel there for their health because the weather is warm and pleasant.  It is also a stopping point for pilgrims who walk the Way of St. James to the shrine at Santiago de Compostella.  Those who see the grace of St. James are often infirmed and looking for a cure. They are more than willing to part with their money . . .”

“Aha!” William snorted. “The motive.” “Why not help them? Why cheat them when they are desperate?” 

“Listen, my old friend, there is one immutable fact in this world:  no matter how much we argue, we will never agree. I say we call a truce.  You practice your brand of medicine and I will practice mine.” 

William’s back stiffened as Medicamus gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder. Gerard leaned over to Meg and whispered, “Hmmm.  Perhaps the journey to Montpellier will be interesting after all.”

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