Having returned to Bast’s flat via Cat’s subterranean apartments to collect Sardine and clothing, and then Maude’s granny flat behind Death’s house, the girls finally flopped exhausted into the lounges in the upstairs of her home. Bast quickly scratched out a letter using a finger-bone quill, without managing to splash much ink in the process. In a single much performed flourish, she folded it into the perfect envelope, dripped sealing wax onto the back, and pressing the still wet wax with a ring on the little finger of her right hand. Standing, she strode to a large floor to ceiling window, opened it, and yelled “Jean! Jean d’arc, come to my door I have an errand and a sou for you if you can get to my doorstep in five minutes!” with that, she slammed the window shut, and walked down stairs to wait.
Jean arrived at the front door in the space of a minute, and was waiting for her when she opened the front door. She had forgotten just how horrifically he had been burnt at the point of his death some 500 years earlier. The fact that he still had on the remnants of dress he was forced to wear during his execution only added to the black and charred horror that stood facing her. Not a hair on his head had survived, and everytime he smiled, the creases in his charcoal face moved most hideously.
“Alright then Bast? Been a while.” said Jean d’arc in the clipped tones of the central Paris streets. “What ‘ave you got for me then?”
“Evening Jean, I need this letter delivered as per the address on the front. Next, I need to recall the staff if any are in the area. ‘Think you can handle it?”
“Merde! The whole staff?” said Jean with a start. “Even that vampiric shirt lifting butler? His cousin is a bloody vegan you know. A lot of strange folk come from Vega let me tell you. You want the stables reopened too? You do realise it has been about 500 an’ somethin’ years since any of us has laid an eye on you?! Merde!”
Over the space of a minute, Bast told Jean what she needed, handed him three sou, smiled, gave him a peck on the cheek, and returned upstairs.
“Right ladies, we should have staff arriving within the next twelve hours, although somewhat earlier would be my guess. So hopefully we will have the place clean, the beds made, and our stomachs full. As for refreshments, there should be a boy with a cart along directly, and that wee problem will vanish upon his arrival. Until then, we will just have to make do.”
An extremely dusty case containing green bottled red wine, 1789 the date on the label, Burgundy the place of origin, was located between a coffin and a stack of old newspapers in the cellar. Further examination unearthed another case, equally as dusty as the last. This was dateless with ‘Châteauneuf-du-Pape’ handpainted onto the side of the crate. Beneath the name was a small painted cross, with the name ‘Geoffroy’ scribed in a shaky hand beside it.
“Bugger me, how long have you had this lot?” said Maude with a start. “If that Châteauneuf-du-Pape is from Avignon, and I know that is the Bishop Geoffroy’s signature, I reckon that case must be about 800 years old! I picked him up with Death when he croaked in The Then, and I think that was sometime in the twelfth century!”
“You have hit the nail on the head there.” said Bast. “The randy old Bishop had a bit of a thing for me. I was on the run from a rabble with the stench of pitchfork and matches about it, and dropped into his vineyard. I hid in one of his sheds. Anyway, long story short, he went the grope on me while I was asleep in a pile of hay. What he didn’t expect was a face full of head, which he got in spades. It turned out his mother could actually stitch, anyway, by way of apology, and being a bit nervous that I might have burnt his house and vineyard to the ground, something I had hinted at” snigger “so he gave me a horse, a cart, a lad to drive it, and filled it with a dozen cases of the stuff. I believe the last thing he said to me was ‘bugger off and don’t come back!’ or words to that effect.” laughed Bast. “Anyway, I sold half of it to a witch in the neighbouring province, and was able to set myself up pretty well. There was good eating on the horse too.”
Giggling, the girls carried the lot up the plethora of stairs, and finally dumped it into an untidy heap in the ballroom. Tearing the boards from the top of the crate marked 1789, they seized a bottle each, and wandered back into the lounge. Sardine was curled and purring loudly amongst catty dreams in the middle of Bast’s couch, and was gently moved aside, for Bast to wedge herself between cat and arm rest. Glasses were filled, and the one hundred odd year old wine proved to be quite good.
“Well girl,” began Jean d’arc, “I’ve managed to find most of them, an’ those that I found jumped at the proposition. Them’s what I couldn’t find, I’ve put the feelers out on, an’ the lad who I give your letter too started packin’ the cart immediate like. Although I did ‘ave to ‘ave a bit of a ‘arder sort of a chat about the side of ‘is ‘ead with ‘im to get ‘im motivated like. Anyway, I’ll ‘ead up to me old room an’ get started like.” With that Jean pushed himself past Bast, carpet bag held over his shoulder by one hand, shotgun gripped in the other, and a bandolier of cartridges slung across his chest in the manner of a Mexican bandit. Two ferrets sidled along behind him, chasing him up the stairs.
As she was closing the front door, a large, rather plump hand grabbed the door and pushed it open again, shoving Bast back into the hallway entrance of her home.
“‘Ello Ma’am, got ‘ere as quick as I could.” said a woman’s voice a head above Bast’s own. “I’ve bought me three girls. They can serve as house maids, scullery maids, whatever. Now, is we back in me old rooms? If so, move aside so’s we can dump our kit, an’ I can get a start back in the kitchen.”
“Ah, lovely to see you again Madame Trollope, girls, and, ah, yes, your old rooms are yours once more.” said a slightly aghast Bast, taking in the mountainous woman with huge bust and equally massive girth. “And, ah, there is just myself and two other lasses in at the moment, so, ah, it might be best not to get in too much in the way of food at this stage.” The images the apron clad Madame Trollope lifting whole bodies of beef and venison one handed springing from memory to mind.
“An’ while I’ve got me girls under this roof I’ll hold with no young lads comin’ into employ ‘ere, an’ that’s final. I they’s does, me lasses are out the door quicker than look!” with that Madame Trollope and the lesser, yet equally large Trollope’s followed in her wake, leaving Bast without the opportunity to reply.
“Merde!” said Bast under her breath, shaking her head. What the bloody hell have I just started. And then the rest of the staff started to arrive, thankfully Jean d’arc had arrived back at the front door, sans shotgun and ferret, and started ordering people around.
“So ‘ow long’ve you been ‘ere in The Now then?” asked Jean in between yelling at staff and swearing.
“Not long my crispy friend, a few weeks at most. And might I say how much better you look since I dragged you from the ashes and buried you. Nice dress. The same one I take it?”
“Alright, lay off. You know I can’t change the way I look or am dressed. If I had ‘ave been burnt 9% more, as per Death’s protocol, I could have had my pre-burnt body back, but noooooo. Death and her poxy book of protocol’s! Who would have thought there would ‘ave been a bloody percentage cut off anyway?! If I ‘ad been 90% terminal deep burns, it would ‘ave the new body! And I was 81%. 81%! Plus, I’m wearin’ a bloody dress! When I caught up with my sister Joan, remember Joan?”
“Yes,” cut in Bast. “Jehanne was standing next to me in Rouen when Geoffroy Therage, your appointed executioner, lit bloody the pyre, I’ll have you know.”
“Ah, I didn’t realise.” said a slightly molified Jean d’Arc.
“What’s more you whinging bastard, I had paid him to push your body under coals off to the side once you had been burnt. After that he pretended to burn your body, which was a bloody big lump of wood, until there was nothing left. After that, he raked out the ashes for everyone to see. But by then, I had already dragged you off, and everyone else scattered the leftover ashes into the Seine so no bastard could pinch any bits of you, and try and either turn you into a Saint or sell them.”
“What I did was drag your crusty corpse into a handy pie cart, and made off with you. Once I had got away, I buried you out the back of this place. That’ll teach you for wearing women’s clothes, even if it was to get your stark raving mad sister off the hook.”
“You always was a good friend Bast.” said Jean d’arc, the glitter of a small tear trying to escape the cracks of his crusty burnt face.
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