Catalyst [Part 14]

By M. Greene -
published August 28, 2017

A strange mystical stone changes lives in Renaissance Europe

Paris, Kingdom of France: 1575.

At least the Queen’s guards had allowed them to change into warmer clothes before they were arrested, Selim thought, as they trudged along the cobblestoned street towards the Royal Palace. There was no doubt in his mind that they had been arrested; they were surrounded on all sides by heavily armed soldiers, all of whose expressions were grim in the extreme. The tone of the Guard Captain at their inn had been brusque almost to the point of rudeness. When Selim had tried to argue that they were all very tired from their long journey and suggested that they wait upon Her Majesty the following morning, his reply had been a firm negative. “No - you come now,” he had ordered, in halting and broken Italian.

Eventually, after much walking, they finally reached ‘The Tuileries’, Queen Catherine’s brand new palace on the banks of the River Seine. It was as yet unfinished, with scaffolding still covering the whole of the west wing. Stumbling with exhaustion, they were marched through massive and ornate wrought-iron gates, across a wide courtyard to an unobtrusive side entrance which led into what looked like the servants’ quarters. The room was plain and bare, with whitewashed walls and the only furniture inside it was a long oak bench.

“You sit there,” the Captain said, pointing to the bench. “You wait…” He saluted his guards and disappeared through an interior door.

“What now?” Nazir asked, adjusting his codpiece and pulling down the tight-fitting leather doublet he was wearing. To avoid undue comment, they had all adopted European dress now and he was finding his new clothes terribly constricting and uncomfortable. Whenever he sat down his testicles seemed to get chewed up by the material…

“You heard the man… We wait,” Selim said, rather more curtly than he intended. In truth, he felt very anxious about this latest development. His mind was racing, imagining a hundred possible reasons why the Queen-Mother wished to see them. He feared that it might be something to do with his mission for the Valide Sultan. Catherine might have heard that they intended to do business with Elizabeth of England, her sworn enemy… He swore under his breath. Why on earth had they come overland through France? They should have chartered a ship in Genoa and sailed directly to London!

“I’m so very tired,” Livia moaned, resting her head on her brother’s shoulder. “I just want to lie down and go to sleep…”

Jamal nodded. “We all do, Livia. Don’t worry, I’m sure we will be allowed to return to our inn soon…”

“I wish I shared your confidence, my love,” Selim said. “I really do…”

After a wait of over twenty minutes, the Captain of the Guard returned and stood to attention by the door. The other soldiers, who had been amusing themselves by crouching on the flagstones playing cards and dice, leapt to their feet and saluted. A dumpy old woman dressed entirely in black emerged through the doorway. She was quite short and stout, with a round, rather plump face and extremely protuberant, brown eyes. Accompanying her was a very elderly cardinal who hobbled along slowly with the aid of a stick. He had thinning white hair, a wispy beard and was dressed in the bright crimson robes of his office. Behind them sauntered an extraordinarily handsome young man. He was slight and elfin in appearance and wore a stylish pointed goatee beard. He was dressed in the latest and most exquisite fashions, with a huge starched ruff, pointed shoes and a blue silk doublet and hose which were so tight they looked as though they had been painted onto his body.

As this ill-matched trio approached the bench on which the five of them sat, Selim stood up and bowed as low as he could, motioning the others to do the same. “Felicitations, Your Royal Highnesses; Your Eminence…”

The Queen-Mother ignored his polite greeting and studied all of their faces intently for a few moments. Then she pointed towards Livia and Fabio. “Well, Eminence, are these the servants you saw at your late colleague’s house in Rome?”

The old cardinal shuffled closer to the twins and peered at them with his rheumy eyes. “Yes, Your Majesty, these are the youths that I saw there during the Feast of the Epiphany. They were living with poor Abramo at his house.” He shook his scrawny fist at Fabio. “You will surely burn in Hell for what you did to my friend!”

Fabio glowered back at him and slowly shook his head from side to side. “Why don’t you just fuck off and die, old man?”

The handsome young man with the goatee beard giggled at this. “Oh, that one’s so sulky and gorgeous, mother,” he said, clapping his heavily ringed hands together enthusiastically. “And his sister’s quite pretty, too. Do they really have to die straight away? Please let me keep them for just a little while…” He smiled winningly at the Queen. “I promise to look after them. I could even kill them very slowly and painfully for you after I’m completely finished with them…”

“Silence, Henri!” Catherine clicked her fingers impatiently at the Captain of the Guard. “Take this unholy pair to prison to await trial!”

Selim stepped forwards, but was immediately surrounded by soldiers. “Wait a moment,” he cried through the ring of armed men now encircling him. “These are my servants, in my employ! They are not French subjects and you have no right to arrest them!”

The Queen-Mother wrinkled her nose with distaste and subjected Selim to a withering glance. “Do not presume to tell me what I can and cannot do in my own realm, heathen foreigner. As I suspect you know very well, your ‘employees’ are wanted in Venice for the brutal murder of Cardinal Adamoli last September. Very detailed descriptions of them have been circulated throughout the courts of Europe. You also just heard His Eminence here give a positive identification.” Angrily, she shook raised her arms and looked up the ceiling as though calling upon Almighty God. “By all the saints in heaven I swear that I will see them broken on the wheel for what they have dared to do to a prince of the Holy Church!” She turned to the Captain. “Lock up these others as well and have all five of them put to the question tomorrow morning. We will see if some time being stretched on the rack will bring to mind other crimes and blasphemies that they may have committed!” With this, she swept from the room with the ancient cardinal tottering after in her wake.

“Nice diplomacy…” Nazir murmured. “You’re such a smooth-talking bastard…”

“I did my best,” Selim whispered. “It’s obvious the woman’s completely crazed…”

King Henri had remained behind. He walked up to Fabio, stroked his long black hair and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m extremely sorry you’ve got to be executed; you’re so very beautiful. There are such a lot of wonderful, dark things we could have experienced together…” He gave both the twins a sorrowful smile. “It seems a terrible waste for you to die so quickly…” He sighed. “Mother is such an awful spoilsport; she’s impossibly religious and never lets me have any fun at all…” He turned to the Captain of the Guard. “Very well, officer; you may take them away, now…”

“Judging by ‘His Majesty’, torture and execution is probably the lesser of two evils,” Nazir remarked to the twins as they were marched back out into the palace courtyard.

They were taken to a fortified building somewhere close by in central Paris and thrown together into the same dark, damp dungeon. At least they were finally able to sleep for a while, although their only bed was a pile of filthy straw scatted over freezing cold flagstones.

“We need to get out of here,” Nazir said, once they had rested for a couple of hours. “You heard what they said; they’re going to torture and then kill us.”

Selim nodded. “Indeed.” He turned to Jamal. “Listen, my love. We need to get to England as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. You are the only one of us not likely to arouse too much interest and suspicion, so you’re going to have to take charge until we are across the Channel. Do you think you can do this?”

“Yes, Master,” Jamal replied.

“You must be ‘Jack’ again for a while,” Selim said, “a travelling Englishman heading back home. Once back at the inn, you will take all our baggage to Calais and hire passage to Dover. Do you understand, my heart?”

“Yes, Master.”

Jamal stripped completely naked and pushed his clothes and shoes out between the bars of their cell’s tiny window, high up near the ceiling. Then, all five of them amalgamated their bodies and poured through the narrow aperture as liquid metal. Once outside, Jamal returned to his human form and dressed back into his leather doublet and hose. It was quite dark, but there was a little moonlight and he could see that they were right next to the river. There were no guards in sight; they obviously considered escape from the cell to be impossible.

“I’m fairly certain our inn is somewhere to the west of here,” Selim said inside his head. “Unfortunately, you will have to swim across the Seine as it’s on the opposite bank…”

Jamal nodded. “Do not worry, Master,” he said. Without any hesitation, he dived headlong into the freezing cold water and headed for the other side.

Jamal reached their inn just before dawn and quickly stuffed their clothes and effects into the panniers. After paying and tipping the innkeeper, he loaded their things onto two of their horses and mounted one of them. It was a criminal waste just to leave the other three animals behind, but there was no time to sell them, so it could not be avoided. Leading the loaded down second animal behind him, he headed out along the Calais road towards the north-western outskirts of Paris.

The French authorities were looking for five people, four of whom really stood out as being very unusual; a Blackamoor, a Turk and a pair of twins, a brother and sister with long black hair and olive coloured eyes. By travelling alone, blond-haired, blue-eyed Jamal, the least extraordinary of them all in their present context, escaped detection and arranged passage to England on the Calais to Dover packet.

“You have done very well, my handsome slave,” Selim said once they were aboard the ship. “We will remain within you until we reach Dover. Only once it is safe can we separate…”

Dover, Kingdom of England: 1575.

The crossing was uneventful, the sea being remarkably calm for December, and they made it to Dover by the fourteenth of the month. The town’s best inn was quite simple and basic, but comfortable in its own homely way. The five of them shared one large bed in the most expensive chamber the place had to offer. Their four-poster was nearly twelve feet wide, which meant that they all had enough room, even with Selim giving Jamal an anal ‘reward’ several times during their first night.

“Don’t they ever stop?” Fabio wondered aloud as he tucked into his breakfast the next morning. The loud moans of pleasure still coming from the bed were beginning to put him off his bread and roast pork. “They were at it all night…”

“They’re very much in love,” Nazir replied, pouring himself a flask of weak beer from the large jug the innkeeper’s wife had provided. He had never drunk so much alcohol before in his life as he had since he reached Venice. It was such a nuisance that the water in Europe was so unsafe.

Livia helped herself to some more blood sausage. “I think it’s sweet,” she said. “Jamal is totally devoted to Selim and you can tell that the feeling is mutual.”

“Definitely,” Nazir agreed, sipping his ‘small ale’. He shivered despite the log fire burning in the nearby grate. “I must say that this country feels too damp and cold for my liking. It’s at times like this that I wish we were back home in Istanbul.”

Livia nodded. “Even Venice in the winter was a paradise compared to this.”

“When are we setting off for London?” Fabio enquired. “This town looks like a total shithole and I’m bored here already…”

“We will depart when I say we should,” Selim called from behind the thick curtains of the bed. “Remember who’s in charge here…”

“Yes, oh mighty Ottoman Ambassador,” Fabio said, sticking his bottom lip out petulently.

Selim emerged from inside the enormous bed and shrugged his muscular body into a loose robe. “What’s for breakfast, anyway?” he enquired, coming to join them at the table.

Nazir stared critically at the repast spread out in front of them. “We have pork, bacon, ham, alcohol and some more pork, by the looks of things,” he said. “From a Muslim perspective they should just call it the ‘Haraam Special’, really…”

Selim laughed. He picked up a rasher of crispy bacon, bit off half of it and chewed it thoughtfully. “Not that bad…” Seeing Nazir’s critical glance, he shrugged. “Well… You know… When in Rome…”

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