The Bartender of Paris

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is my first short story - about a bartender in Medieval France.

Submitted: January 04, 2009

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Submitted: January 04, 2009

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The Bartender of Paris:

A Story by Ed Monton

“At night was come into that hostelry - Well nine and twenty in a company” Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales

There was a little tavern in the city of Paris that had been frequently visited by the knights who sought their nightly releases from the horrors of the conflict that had been waging for over seventy years. The conflict had gone on for such a long time that no one could have told you how many men were slain on the plains of Champagne and the Norman shores and how many cities were still loyal to the Dauphin, no, King Charles. His secret betrayal of Jeanne the Maid had occurred without a hitch, that is to say, that she got burned and no one even thought of connecting her capture to the man she carried off to Rheims. Why would they? Wouldn’t he have been grateful to the Maid for what she did? Yet, it is not the desire of the person behind the feathered pen to write a scathing criticism of what can be called a true Dolchstoegendebut rather of the person who staffed the tavern, controlling its many wenches, and orchestrating the fine and drunken pleasures of those who ventured within. His name was Raymond Lemieux and if one were to describe him, I am sure that words like rugged and optimistic would certainly be attached to the description. He was one of those people in whom you could find hardly a fault, perhaps fitting the words of Our Lord to the masses, and one of those men which women would consider to be quite the rarity in the world. Women often complain that there aren’t any good men around but it is because either they have been with anything but good men or because they are possibly just too damn lazy to look. Once the war with England had finally faded into the history books as the bloodiest conflict to grace God’s Green Earth (until two greater conflicts arose out of the pits of Hell), in the minds of the people who lived through it in its final phases, Raymond Lemieux discovered that his tavern was becoming quite the hotspot. He would get all sorts of people from harlots to knights visiting his tavern. The harlots, he thought, spiced it up and he didn’t do anything to chase those ladies of easy virtue out. One night, Raymond was wiping down the counter while listening to the drunken muttering of the few vagabonds resting at the tables and while a bunch of servant wenches relaxed by the stairway that led to where Raymond stored his barrels of alcoholic drinks in the hopes he wouldn’t have to worry about them. On that seemingly typical night, a night in which business was alright but not great, a group of knights had walked into the tavern with smug looks and swords attached to their belts. They looked as if they felt they were the greatest knights not only to grace France but also all of Christendom but didn’t act like you would expect of people with such a look. The leader of the knights lifted up the visor on his helm and smiled. “This looks like a fine establishment – hopefully they’ll have enough grog to serve us fine knights of France.”

Raymond looked up to see the knights looking around before they had walked to one of the tables that had just been vacated by a bunch of drunken bums who struggled to get outside the door for a moment – it had never been uncommon to see people who drunk too much at the tavern struggle to take their leave of it. No one had paid them any attention, though, since the knights were the belles of the ball. “Knights of France,” Raymond called from the counter as if he were a minister at his pulpit, “I do hope you’ll find my tavern’s grog to be of good quality and, as well, I hope you won’t get yourselves to be too drunk. Just because the conflict has ended, it does not mean that you ought to just let yourselves go all haywire for, indeed, you may be needed again.”

The leading knight gave off a sly smile as he tapped his fingers along the table while the others calmly watched their leader work his magic with the keeper of the tavern. “One would hope that we aren’t needed to irrigate the soil with the blood of enemies but it’s probably going to happen sometime down the road. The problem with us humans is that we’re always prone to gutting our fellow men like fish in the name of God or some man we call our liege lord. I remember when I served with Jeanne the Maid before she got burned. You remember her, right? The woman who called herself the agent of God’s will?”

Whenever people mentioned Jeanne the Maid in the atmosphere following her fiery death, it was usually followed by concerned mutterings and prayers to invoke God’s mercy upon her soul or her entrance into the highest heights of Heaven (if such a place wasn’t just the wishful thinking of a suffering peasant or the dark delusion of a power hungry priest). Raymond, having been in Rouen when Jeanne was cruelly killed by “emissaries” of the Church Militant, took a mug from the rack behind him and sighed. “I remember her well, having seen her death in front of my own two eyes, remembering that she had been charged with heresy when we all knew that it was all a political maneuver designed to turn the tide of the conflict. They didn’t know that Jeanne’s spirit guided the French to victory and, thus, the English sit on their island with tears in their eyes and blood flowing down their own streets.” The French knew of the Wars of the Roses – the conflict between York and Lancaster – the conflict that would forevermore change the history of England. One of the knights banged his hand on the table and boisterously laughed. “Serves them right! Let those dogs suffer!” A group of vagabonds hooted in the air with gallant chuckles and Raymond noticed the wenches were devoid of emotion – as if they were not inclined to remember the horrors of the conflict. The murdering and the raping, decapitations and burnings, it was all nothing short of hell on earth for those lucky to have survived. Raymond had been able to avoid the conscription, the regular calls for more souls to head out all across France, but he had no problem serving the often armed knights who came to him for nourishment. When the English occupied Paris, he served them as well, but he avoided punishment, for they all felt it was only to save his skin. One of the wenches suddenly shouted a God-Save-Jeanne’s-Soul and the knight smiled. “We lost a mighty fine woman back then. She did much more than even the Dauphin and all of his generals combined. What a shame, eh, that we lost not only the humiliator of England but of our own generals as well?” The rowdy knight spoke up again. “She did better than even the finest generals. She died a true Frenchwoman.”

The whole tavern had erupted into a chorus of support with cries of Vive le Jeanne being sung over and over again until they quieted themselves when the wenches brought out the trays with the mugs of grog and ale, the knights were anxious to get their nightly nourishment, and Raymond simply bade them all to enjoy themselves as they were served. Once they had their mugs, shouting that it was of great quality after gulping down a share of it, the leading knight began to tell a little tale about the Maid. “Back when she was fighting on the fields of our beloved motherland, Jeanne encouraged us all to pray to God for our souls and those of the English. It wasn’t the fault of English soldiers, she would tell us, that their generals were refusing to heed the call of the King of Heaven. The King of Heaven, she had never ceased to tell us this, would orchestrate the complete liberation of France. Interestingly, England still holds Calais! Yet, I won’t go into that interesting fact. Let’s stick on Jeanne - Joan as the English will label the daughter of the soil. When she was at Orleans, attacking that fort along the Loire, she had been struck by an arrow, see, and we all thought she would descend into death. Had this happen, we’d all be English subjects by now since the Dauphin wasn’t going to be her replacement. It’s not like he’d charge into the foray as her substitute. As we watched the poor girl with the arrow lodged in her flesh, the blood staining the chain mail she had worn, we saw that Jeanne pulled it out and, despite the blood that flowed forth, she seemed like nothing had even happened. Glorious God, we thought, Glorious God!”

Raymond smiled. “Then she goes back into the foray of battle and takes control of the fort and eventually kicks the English out of the area as the historians recorded for all us common folk to read. Leading the way to Reims, one must wonder how it must have made the English feel when they saw their armies being cast asunder by a seventeen year old girl. They say she couldn’t even read or write! How humiliating for those English dogs! Perhaps she was truly called by God, then, if we look at what she had done in her short existence in this world. God calls forth people from all over the world to serve him and, even if we view them to be merely insignificant, His glory may shine from them more so than it would from, say, the Pope of Rome.” One of the wenches made the sign of the cross and looked upon Raymond with a look that suggested interest. “Only a few people can truly become a saint. You’ve got to earn sainthood, you know, as it won’t just be thrown upon you.”

The leading knight concurred. “God alone knows whether or not the Maid of Lorraine will ever become a saint officially rather than in the minds of her many admirers from Champagne all the way to where she had originally hailed. I haven’t seen any reason to hate that girl and though I may be just a tad skeptical when it comes to her visions, I would not dare say anything against the known truth of the fact that she was a true patriot, the savior of France, bastion of the idea that we must have our freedom and our liberty under a government led by Frenchmen. So what if she deceived us all, my dear friends, for even if she had lied to us in the end, she was still the best French soldier to grace our land since Martel. I think we ought to toast to the memory of Jeanne D’Arc before I delve into a war story from the years following the tragic loss of our beloved Maid.”

Those men who had a drink stood from their seats and raised their drinks above their heads while those who had no drink would raise their fists into the air in unison. The leading knight began to acquire a boisterous tone of voice that would remind one of a general who gave his men an inspiring speech before they charged at the enemies of their homeland. “We, honest Frenchmen and women, do testify that we are fully thankful for all the work of Jeanne D’Arc, the late Maid of Lorraine, and that her spirit shall live on in our hearts and in our minds. To Jeanne, dear friends, to Jeanne!” Vive le Jeanne, Vive le France, Vive le Jeanne! The whole tavern erupted for a brief moment into a passionate period of jubilation. Vive le Jeanne! Vive le France! Raymond poured out some mugs of grog to serve on the house and, taking one for himself, he gulped it down without ceasing before he flipped it around with a small check to get it back on the rack. “Jeanne was a mighty fine woman but let us cease our remembrances. Tell us, knight of France, of the story you mentioned that you’d tell.”

The leading knight rose from his seat and began to pace around the room with his sword pulled out of its sheath. “Being christened with the name of Arthur de Roquefort by my loving parents, I had always sought to become one of the knights who served the royal courts of Christendom and achieved many a mighty deed of valor in battle and goodwill towards the fairer sex. When I had finally taken up the banner of a knight, the sword and the lance, my superiors had me fighting in plenty of places until I reached a small town in Champagne known as Le Haute, if my memory still serves me right, where we were met with stiff English resistance. This town was a vital point for both our nations. The English used it as a resupply depot and, therefore, we Frenchmen wanted to ruin their supply route that went through Le Haute, stabbing the English through an artery or two of their cold hearts, and pushing forward to take back the soil we had once utilized. Now, when we tried to attack it, I remember that Guillemot, a close friend of mine who hailed from the de Lyon household, joined me as we fought side by side against squad after squad of English soldiers armed with poleaxes. Those poleaxes were quite a bloody nuisance and we had to struggle much just to keep them from pushing us back. We didn’t have many men during the initial assault. Guillemot and I witnessed many a friend get slain in the attack from dear Jean-Claude who had a sword strike him through the back to sturdy Guillemin who was torn down by a billhook. Through unknown factors at work, I ended up battling against a group of six poleaxes at once and I did my best to keep them from injuring me severely or from (especially) delivering the coup de grace which would send me straight to my death. I swung my sword at them, digging it deep within their flesh, pulling out and spraying them with their comrades’ blood, but they kept coming and coming for more of my sharpened steel…..” One of the knights rose from his seat and cut off Roquefort’s story as he began to speak. “Where had Guillemot been during all of this?”

“If you would let me finish then you shall learn about his whereabouts during this moment. As the battle continued with grey clouds eventually shedding rain to comingle with the blood soaking the soil of the earth, I could see that Guillemot had led a charge into the ranks of the longbowmen with a fury that made him resemble a Norse berserker more than a chivalrous knight. His eyes were lit up with the fury of a man given to a lust for blood, his hands tightly gripped the hilt of his sword, and the sword went through about three men’s chests all at once before he had firmly pulled it out with a smile. He had never seemed so brutal before then, in my opinion, but I wasn’t given much time to give it any contemplation. As the battle wore on, I cut down more and more of the soldiers in front of me before I was thrown down, unexpectedly, by one of those billhooks. A billman popped up from behind, swiping me down from the legs, and I was looking up to see men hounding around me, looking upon me with their hands gripping their sharpened instruments of death. When one of them was raising his sword in a suspenseful fashion, as if he wanted to make his killing of me something more than a generic stab through the heart, Guillemot rushed to the scene and charged his sword through the man’s back, the steel point poking out of the flesh, the man soon fell to his death with blood spewing from both mouth and wound.”

Raymond poured a glass of ale for one of the vagabonds who had been asking for a refill (he was drunk but he claimed he could take another hit – and it wasn’t like he’d be driving some non-existent metallic gasoline powered transportation device) as he spoke to Roquefort. “I assume that Guillemot saved you from death, cutting down the enemy Englishmen like they were almond paste, and showing that he was truly a brave man who would never let a friend die when he could do something to save him from death. Death’s sting did not reach you, Roquefort, because your friend had been there to block it, right? That’s what I think this story is getting to but, out of respect, I shall let you finish.” Roquefort began to wave his sword around as if trying to reenact the whole event with invisible participants representing the English. He threw his sword around at the air as if there were really people there. “Guillemot had slain the whole lot of them, cutting off limbs and heads, soaking his steel in the blood of Man, but he had not expected to see a man hit him from behind. He had left his back open, left himself fall into Death, as a billhook was jammed in him. It must have gone through the heart or some vital part of him. I can remember that he was vomiting blood as I rushed to deliver a quick end to the billman’s life. I’d tell you what happened next, friends, but it’s really just some typical emotional moment. Nothing much there to tell you about.”

The whole tavern erupted into applause and appreciation and Raymond began to analyze what he had heard. “Emotions will abound during a story such as yours for the mere reason that a man can only expect to feel horrified at the loss of a friend. Centuries will pass with the truth of the notion that circumstances ruling men as Herodotus mentioned being realized with the utter destruction of lives attached to it but, then again, life is but the ultimate game of risk. You walk out of your hovel or your mansion and try to live your life without knowing if you’ll go home in the end of it all. That’s the problem with existence. You never know when it’s going to end.”

A wench then spoke next. “We can say that we ought to just live life to the fullest without thinking about when it will end. Be grateful, though, that you are living for many people never had the chance to live their lives to the fullest like many of us had done. The soldiers that fought alongside Roquefort, those soldiers who fell to their deaths for the sake of our motherland, look down from Heaven to see that their loved ones inherit the peace and prosperity soaked in their blood. It is through them that we enjoy the benefits of life.”

Raymond fully agreed as did the others around him. “Who would have thought that we would end up discussing such philosophies after listening to a story of courage in the face of bloodshed? I do not mind discussing any of this at all, though, so do not look upon me as a man not willing to broaden his mind. A man ought to learn about the world around him for experience is what leads to knowledge about anything in this world from seeing that your wife has turned you into a cuckold to seeing that the Church has stained itself with the blood of an innocent child. The world is rotten, we all know it truly is rotten, but it’s worth living in for many of us.”

Roquefort took his sword and waved it around to make the sign of the Cross. “One can never be truly out of this world for he is always prone to being drowned in the wickedness that abounds within its confines and even the most pious Christian will struggle with the inherent flaws found within all men and women around the world. We are all imperfect, the priests will say we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, and it’s true for them as much as it is for all of us here present. No one, though, will ever be perfect. We’ll all die as sinners. Returning, though, to Le Haute out of this philosophical escapade of ours, it’s right to tell you all that we took Le Haute and paralyzed the English around the area. Of course, keep in mind, we were pushed back from other areas too so it wasn’t all a joyful event for us who survived. We lost plenty of land while gaining only that bit.”

“Such is the risk of conflict,” Raymond illustrated. “There are ways to minimize the risk, though not completely destroying it, but many people don’t comprehend it. They rush into battle without applying Reason but how can you apply something to life that you don’t even know exists? That’s something I’ve thought about. Anyways, does anyone else here have a story to tell? I’m sure that the other knights have their own stories to tell us.” A knight rose from his seat as soon as Raymond had finished. “I’ve got a story to tell about the march to Rheims if anyone would be interested. For, indeed, among the Maid’s army was I. When we had marched to Rheims, dispelling the English at every parcel of land that had laid in our midst, we were soon at the cathedral. Now, dear friends, I remember that the whole city erupted into mass jubilation when we had arrived. The Maid, at the forefront of our assemblage, led the King into the cathedral. The banners of our armies, with the angels and the fleur-de-lis, were thrown upon the walls of the church but the Maid had held hers tightly to her body as if not wanting to let it go. She stood there, calmly, as the King walked towards the altar to be anointed with the oil. She watched, as her mission was fulfilled, as we all cheered within our hearts for the King’s rightful ascension. We spat, metaphorically speaking, into the face of England. God knows that they would have heard about our little affair in that sacred city.” A wench threw a full mug of ale to a vagabond and then smiled at the knight. “I assume that the Maid was trying not to let people honor her over His Christian Majesty?”

The knight laughed. “I, Bertrand de Lyon, observed that the Maid received plenty of acclimation from everyone present for it was through her intercession in the King’s affairs that we even reached Rheims or that we even went on the move as we had. She never claimed to be deserving of the praise she received but always would tell us to remember that it was merely the will of her counsel, the will of the King of Heaven, and that we must do nothing more but follow the course of His will. It lead us from Rheims to plenty of other places in our nation while leading her, in my opinion, to her martyrdom in Rouen. I’ll always remember that lovely lass.”

The night went on and on with discussions of the Maid, the telling of stories of courage on the battlefield, and treatment of the wenches which could be classified as sexual harassment, but generally everyone in the tavern had a jolly good time amidst the closing phases of the bloodiest conflict ever to grace Christendom. When all was said and done – and everyone began to take their leave of the tavern – Raymond cleaned off the tables and then locked the door of his tavern before walking up the staircase to the room in which he made his household. A lone candle had lit up the entire room, it was covered in notes and a banner of the Maid he smuggled out of Rouen, and he sat on his bed while looking out the window – looking to see the moon illuminating the streets of Paris while some houses were slowly turning out their lights. He laughed, said a quick prayer for the continued freedom of France, and then fell asleep with the candle blown out. Would the candle of France, one day, blow out as well?

FINIS.


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