Excerpt – By the Sword and by the Aspergillum

By the Sword and by the AspergillumChapter 7: Gaston, page 114

He crossed the Lot on the Pont Valentré, the finest medieval fortified bridge in France, with three machicolated towers, one on each bank and one on the center, defending its access, and decided to change his initial itinerary. Instead of taking the main road to Agen and from there follow the Garonne till Toulouse, he decided to cut straight through the hills and forests lying between Cahors and Toulouse, traveling roads less frequented. This night, he slept under a tree, wrapped in his cape, his head on his saddle, after having dined on some ham and garlic-spiced smoked sausages he had bought in Cahors, and dreamt about his ancestor Gombard.

The next morning, he bathed, naked and happy, in the icy waters of a clear and small stream. At the end of the day, he reached the edge of the woods. There, he stopped his horse, overwhelmed by the magnificent and eerie beauty of the famous Capitole of Toulouse, its white dome scintillating a symphony of different shades of melting gold, orchestrated by the oblique beams of a glorious autumnal sunset. From the top of the hill where he was standing, overlooking the city laying about one-half league away, he comprehended how much she deserved her name: Toulouse the Beautiful!

“Good afternoon, my Lord,” greeted a deep voice, with an exaggerated politeness.

Gaston had been so absorbed by the magnificent scenery that he had not perceived the presence of the man. A colossus was standing in the side of the path, leaning against a tree, nonchalant, seemingly absorbed in cleaning his nails with the point of his dagger.

“Good afternoon, my Lord,” repeated the man, putting the blade back in its sheath and plunging into a deep bow, the meager plummet of the flat cap he had on his hand sweeping the dust.

Before answering, Gaston, turning on his saddle, took a glance behind him. Coming out of the bushes, five other men were encircling him. Great, he thought, almost amused, for its third day out of the family nest, the little bird has found company. He returned his eyes to the big man who was now holding his reins.

“And a very good day to you to, milord brigand,” he replied, quite civil. “And what can I do for you?” he graciously inquired.

The man burst into an enormous laugh that made fly away all birds from their trees in a five hundred feet radius.

“My young Lord,” he said, wiping with the back of his enormous hand the tears the joy had brought to his eyes, “Either you are a fool for crossing the forest alone, or you are a very courageous man; but nonetheless a fool!”

Gaston looked at him with curiosity, noticing the good language used. No doubt he was a learned man who had known better days. His ascendancy over the other men did not come only from his physical strength.

“Do you realize that you could make bad encounters, even bump into brigands?” reprimanded the man. “We wouldn’t want to see anything wrong happen to you,” he continued, “So, we will help you, and carry your gold for you.”

“How considerate of you,” bowed Gaston, smiling. For some strange reason, he had no fears. Against all logic, he was confident that he could manage to escape. But perhaps the big man was right, and he was just a fool?

“I’m afraid I will also have to ask you to dismount, as my old legs are more in need of your horse than yours, won’t you agree?”

“You are wrong, messire brigand, you are wrong,” replied Gaston, while slowly dismounting, “With the paunch you have, let me assure you that walking would be an excellent exercise for your health.”

“Paunch? I have no paunch!” grumbled the giant, looking at Gaston now standing in front of him.

The other brigands were watching the scene, uncomfortable, not understanding why La Basoche did not just take the money, and leave.

“Maybe a little…But what am I saying!” exclaimed the man. “There I am, stupidly arguing about my belly with a young fool oblivious to real life! Now!” he thundered, “Your sword and your purse! Now!”

“With the scabbard?” inquired Gaston, urbane.

“What?” asked the man, disconcerted.

“With the scabbard?” repeated the young man, with the patient tone of voice used to talk to children. Or to simpletons.

“Now, that just does it!” jumped the bandit, exasperated. “We could simply kill you, and leave your body to the crows and vultures, and take everything. So, don’t abuse my patience any longer; just hand over your sword and your purse, and go!”

Without any further comment, Gaston, handed the arm to the colossus with his left hand, while taking his purse from his belt with the right one. But, instead of giving it to the big man, he threw it to the men. Instinctively, all eyes followed the little bag. The next second, the giant had the sharp point of a Spanish dagger under his chin.

For a few seconds everybody stood still, stunned.

“Well done, my young lord, very well done,” appreciated the big man with sheer admiration, yet a little vexed, Gaston’s sword in his hands preventing him from any fast move. “I was watching the dagger in your right boot. Your forearm?” he inquired with professional interest.

Gaston nodded.

“Young man, you are a damn cold blooded fighter,” complimented the man. “But what’s next? You kill me, they kill you.”

“I know,” sighed Gaston.

“So?”

“So,” replied the young man, “You give me your word of honor that we start from the beginning, my purse, my sword and my horse back, and you don’t try any dirty tricks on me.”

“Like what, would you say?” asked the man, amused.

“Like a dagger between my shoulder blades, I would say.”

The man stared at him, intrigued. “What you are telling me is, if I give you my word, you will believe me?”

“Shouldn’t I?”

“You are insane,” asserted the big man, calmly enouncing an obvious fact, “Totally insane, but yes, you can believe me. Take it straight from Justin Pastourel, alias: La Basoche, I give you my word.”

“Good,” said Gaston, sheathing his dagger without any hesitation. Taking his belt back from La Basoche’s hands, he buckled it around his waist, instinctively checking the easiness of the sword in its sheath.


[1] – The John Adams building, built in the late 1980s behind the historical 19th century Thomas Jefferson domed edifice facing the Congress and the James Madison building, is an extension of the Library of Congress. There, one can find work and biographies of modern creators, composers as well as writers, as George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.

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