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The secret familiar, p.1
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       The Secret Familiar, p.1

           Catherine Jinks
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The Secret Familiar


  ‘Jinks spins a feasible and fun story of a rational man in an irrational time, with a little unresolved sexual tension thrown in for good measure. Those rascally monks. The murder mystery is convincingly clever.’ —The Age

  ‘The most engaging Australian novel I have picked up this year . . . Jinks effectively creates a quite believable historical world which does not impede the wham-bam action and at the same time manages not to insult the intelligence . . . this book is a page-turner.’ —Sydney Morning Herald

  ‘Every bit as engrossing as Eco’s ecclesiastical crime-adventure . . . It is a splendid display of insights into motives, grasp of historical forces, and the meticulous recording of social minutiae.’ —Australian Book Review


  ‘An astute eye for detail, both physical and emotional, and wry ear for conversational nuance . . . she peoples her tale with credible characters, stirring in just enough action, mystery, mischief and intellectual argument.’ —Weekend Australian

  ‘This splendidly subversive novel vividly imagines medieval ignorance, debauchery and prejudice in a world entirely in the grip of an implacable Church . . . Jinks combines bawdy Chaucerian humour with impressive religious learning and considerable knowledge of the period, all worn lightly: it’s a popular and intelligent mystery to wallow in with complete abandon.’ —Sydney Morning Herald

  CATHERINE JINKS has won critical acclaim and a growing international audience for her literary talent, her versatility, and her compelling storytelling. Her medieval thrillers The Inquisitor (1999) and The Notary (2000) have earned favourable comparisons with The Name of the Rose and The Da Vinci Code. She has published more than thirty books across a wide range of genres; The Secret Familiar is her eighth novel for adults. Catherine lives in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales with her husband and daughter.




  (Confessions of an Inquisitor’s Spy)


  First published in 2006

  Copyright © Catherine Jinks 2006

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

  Allen & Unwin

  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065


  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

  Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218

  Email: [email protected]


  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

  Jinks, Catherine, 1963- .

  The secret familiar.

  ISBN 9781741750508.

  ISBN 1 74175 050 4.

  I. Title.


  Set in 12.25/18pt Requiem Text by Bookhouse, Sydney

  Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To Sebastian Ritscher

  without whom this book would not exist



  I. Thursday after the Feast of the Epiphany

  II. Friday before Septuagesima

  III. Shrove Tuesday

  IV. First day of Lent

  V. Last day of the first week of Lent

  VI. Monday, anniversary of the death of Pierre Olivi

  VII. Monday, Feast of St Benedict

  VIII. Tuesday before Holy Week

  IX. Wednesday before Holy Week

  X. Thursday before Holy Week

  XI. Friday before Holy Week

  XII. Palm Sunday

  XIII. Monday of Holy Week

  XIV. Tuesday of Holy Week

  XV. Day before Maundy Thursday

  XVI. Maundy Thursday (morning)

  XVII. Maundy Thursday (evening)

  XVIII. Good Friday

  XIX. Good Friday (continued)

  XX. Easter Saturday (early morning)

  XXI. Easter Saturday (noon)

  XXII. Easter Saturday (afternoon)

  Author’s note


  With thanks to John O. Ward, Trish Graham, Andrew Hellen and Margaret Connolly.

  Extracts from the journal of

  Helié Bernier of Verdun-en-Lauragais

  (alias Helié Seguier of Carcassonne)



  Thursday after the Feast of the Epiphany

  I am well placed, here. The site was carefully chosen. As long as I sit at this window, no one can approach my house unseen.

  On each side I share a wall in common with my neighbours. At the rear, my courtyard abuts the wall of the Cité. And the western face of my house looks straight down a thoroughfare known as ‘Stump Way’, because it is cut off short like an amputated limb.

  From my seat at this window I can see all of Stump Way, as well as a portion of the Rue de Sabatayre, which lies beyond. These streets are not much frequented by strangers. Pilgrims rarely pass through, for there are no hospices nearby. Sailors and fishermen favour the suburb of Villeneuve. The Old Market is not too close.

  So I can recognise most of the faces that catch my eye throughout the day.

  That face over there, for instance, belongs to my tenant, Hugues Moresi. He is heading off to buy wine; when he returns he will be drunk, and will beat his wife, and I shall have to pretend that I heard nothing. The woman by the well is my southern neighbour. Though I cannot see her face, I recognise her Genoa-red gown and the green trimming on her cloak. She is talking to her husband, who has just returned from a mill or a baker’s shop. (There is flour on his boots.) The only stranger in sight is walking away, towards the Rue de Sabatayre. He walks like a man unaccustomed to crowds, his long peasant’s stride breaking up into stuttering little steps as he tries to dodge the more nimble pedestrians. His undershirt is of Barchinone work, having one scarlet thread crossing one of rich cherry. So he must be from the west.

  But he is a stranger. He is not Armand Sanche. I would recognise Armand Sanche even from behind. When I saw him today I knew him instantly, for all that his hair is now grey, and his nose is broken.

  He knew me too. He started, and his eyes widened, and he turned his head away. Then he bolted like a hare down the nearest side street. I could not tell if he was merely a visitor to Narbonne or if he now resides here. Though his surcoat was made of the brown cloth for which this city is famous, it is easy enough to buy Narbonnaise cloth all over the world. You could be living in Sicily and still be dressing like a burgher of Narbonne.

  What is he doing here? Hiding, no doubt. He was afraid of me, so he must be a fugitive. Perhaps he escaped from prison. Perhaps he was sentenced to wear a yellow cross, and has torn it off his clothes. Perhaps, in exchange for his freedom, he promised to track down and arrest some of his fellow heretics. If so, he has failed to keep his promise. That much was written on his face.

  Perhaps he was able to avoid the inquisitors altogether.

  I doubt it, though; he was always a fool. I remember the last time we met, twelve years ago. It was at Prunet, around Candlemas, and we were sleeping in a stable with the sheep and the oxen. This was partly for warmth, and partly because we were both in hiding. Armand was one of many g
ullible souls who had abandoned all reason to follow Pierre Autier, the famous priest of the heretical Cathars. And I was aping him as best I could.

  ‘Helié,’ he said, as we lay there in the straw, attempting to share a single threadbare blanket, ‘have you heard the Good Men talk about evil spirits?’

  ‘Many times,’ I replied. And indeed, evil spirits are a favourite topic of the Cathar priests, who are also known as Good Men, or perfecti, because they eat no meat, and wear poor clothes, and live a chaste life that they describe as ‘perfected’.

  ‘Pierre Autier says that the air is full of evil spirits, which burn the good spirits,’ Armand continued, in his plodding way. ‘And that is why, when a good spirit leaves a dead body, it is anxious to find another body of flesh to dwell in. Because the evil spirits cannot burn or torment it there.’

  ‘Yes, yes,’ I said, yawning. ‘What’s your point?’

  ‘Well—what if the weather is very cold, as it is today? If the good spirits can burn, can they freeze also?’

  I was accustomed to such questions from Armand. I knew better than to laugh or to scoff. I refrained from pointing out that the lies of the Good Men would get him killed one day. All I said was: ‘Next time you see Pierre Autier, you must ask him about the good spirits.’ And I blew on my fingers, which were like ten icicles, without colour or feeling.

  I do not think that Armand ever did see Pierre Autier again. The next morning he set off for Villemur, to find his cousin (who was also a fugitive perfectus), and I headed south, in search of Pierre Autier. He was my quarry that year; I was far less interested in humble believers like Armand Sanche. Armand was a minnow to Pierre’s whale—and like a minnow, he may have slipped through the net. I do not know. Although I pursued the wily Pierre all the way to Belpech, and practically delivered him into the hands of my master, I was travelling towards the mountains that summer when he finally met his end. Pierre was burned, I know. But as to the fates of his many protectors and followers—that I was not told.

  All I do know for certain is that Armand Sanche has come to Narbonne. He has come here, and he does not want to be found. That is well and good, for I do not want to be found either; he must think me a fugitive, much like himself. He would no more submit my name to the Archbishop than I would submit his. So I have nothing to fear from his intentions.

  Alas, however, I have everything to fear from his lack of wit. Whatever he might have done to regain (or retain) his freedom, it will not be his for much longer, I feel sure. One day he will be caught, and then he will confess, and my own name is bound to surface during his interrogation. How not? Then my careful disguise may be stripped away, and if the hands that do it are clumsy enough, my plans might be overturned. I might have to move on, before I attract unwanted attention.

  That is why I shall take note of every stranger in the street, and every odd request or unusual event that I might encounter henceforth. For my memory is not what it was, and I may need to refer back to the past some time in the future.

  I must begin once again to plot the slow, small patterns that unfold before me.


  Friday before Septuagesima

  I have just returned from the Capitol Tower, where I spent last night in the archiepiscopal prison.

  It seems that my worst fears have been realised. That fool Armand Sanche has been spilling his guts to the Inquisitor of Carcassonne. And now I must pay for his stupidity.

  When the summons arrived I was downstairs, lifting wet goat hides out of the biggest vat with a stick. So I heard my apprentice answer the front door, and knew at once that I was in trouble. Never before had I received a visit from any priest of St-Sebastien, for all that I make my confession there three times a year. My alms-giving is not generous enough to merit such condescension.

  Yet I recognised instantly the voice of Anselm Guiraud, one of the canons, asking for me. And when my apprentice replied that I would have to be fetched, another voice broke in: a voice with a Catalan accent. ‘Tell your master that he must come at once, on pain of excommunication,’ it declared.

  I am pleased to say that my skills have not entirely deserted me. My limbs moved even more quickly than my thoughts, and I made haste to bar the door separating my cellar from my shop. ‘One moment, if you please!’ I declared loudly, as I retrieved my master’s letter. By a lucky chance, I was in the very room where it is normally concealed, and needed only to move the barrel, and lift the flagstone. ‘Just let me hang this hide!’ I said.

  To look at that barrel, you might wonder that I could lift it at all. But it was constructed with a false bottom, high up near its mouth; though it seems to be full of lime water, it contains a mere bucketful. Therefore to move it is the work of a moment, even though I am a small man, and not in the first flush of my youth. The Catalan had barely uttered his protest before I was unbarring the door, my letter tucked safely into my clothes, my barrel returned to its customary position.

  ‘Oh,’ said the Catalan, when I appeared before him. ‘Are you Helié Seguier, the parchment-maker?’

  ‘I am,’ was my response.

  ‘Then you are wanted at the Capitol Tower,’ declared the Catalan—who had once been a chandler, or perhaps a cooper, to judge from the little burn marks all over his face and hands. There were other scars too, one on each wrist: the scars of iron shackles. I am familiar with the marks. As clearly as any inscription within a register of sentences, they told me that the Catalan was a nuncio, or messenger, employed by his former gaoler. He was a reformed heretic turned inquisitorial lackey.

  But I was a stranger to him. And for that I was grateful.

  ‘This is a letter of peremptory summons from Brother Jean de Beaune, the Inquisitor of Carcassonne,’ explained the canon, offering up a document composed in Latin. Since I cannot read Latin, I gave it straight back. ‘As you see, it bears his seal.’

  ‘You should tell your wife, and come directly,’ said the Catalan, glancing at my apprentice, who is only a boy.

  ‘I have no wife. Or children,’ I countered, and turned to young Martin. It must be confessed that he looked as frightened as any son might have, on seeing his father arrested. For I had won his true allegiance by a very simple expedient.

  Martin’s father, you see, is Hugues Moresi. Hugues is a good tenant, being a skilled shoemaker, honest in his dealings. But he has a heavy hand within the confines of his own domain. And while the punishment that he metes out to his wife and his other children is no concern of mine, I will not tolerate any damage to my own apprentice, whom I have paid for. Generously.

  I said as much three weeks ago. Whereupon Martin ceased to appear in my shop with split lips and blackened eyes, and my customers stopped looking at me askance—or making jocular remarks about sparing the rod to spoil the child.

  The depth of Martin’s gratitude for my intervention was evident in his sudden pallor, as the Catalan conducted me from my house.

  ‘You must hang the other hides,’ I said to Martin. ‘And bar the door, and fasten the shutters.’

  ‘Yes, Master.’

  ‘Then you can go upstairs, and scrape that skin some more. But when the light fades, you should go home. Do you understand?’

  ‘Yes, Master.’

  ‘I shall return. Have no fear.’

  Fruitless directive! Though I was confident in my own safety, I conveyed none of my assurance to Martin, who watched me leave as if he never expected to see me again.

  It is not such a very great distance from my house to the Capitol Tower. On our way we passed St-Sebastien, where the canon bade me a muted farewell. The blessing that he bestowed on me was flustered, as if he knew not what to think. Once he had gone, the nuncio took my elbow. He was armed with a big knife, prominently displayed, and was blessed with a stronger grip than I would have anticipated.

  But I had no thoughts of fleeing. I knew that I was safe enough—provided that Jean de Beaune did not keep me waiting for too long.

  I had never met the ma
n. He was appointed around the time that I left Toulouse, so our paths had not crossed. Nevertheless, I was aware of his presence in Narbonne— for it does not pay to lose sight of inquisitors. Even in my quiet corner of town, I had heard about the heresy trial taking place. It had caused some offence, because it should, by rights, have been convened and presided over by our Archbishop. Instead Jean de Beaune was in charge; he had come all the way from Carcassonne to trample upon the prerogatives of Narbonne’s citizens, and offend the assembly of learned men who were summoned to help him pass judgement.

  Knowing this, I was concerned that he might be too busy to question me in the immediate future.

  ‘Where is Jean de Beaune today?’ I asked. ‘Is he at the Archbishop’s palace? Or the Dominican priory?’

  ‘How should I know?’ the Catalan replied, and I saw at once that he was not clever. A clever turnkey is friendly with his charges, and learns much as a result. This Catalan was concerned about nothing but his own self-consequence.

  So I abandoned all expectation of dialogue, and surrendered myself meekly to imprisonment.

  The archiepiscopal mur was new to me. I suppose that I would describe the tower as a murus largus; being small and overcrowded, it offers few facilities for solitary confinement. Most prisoners wander about at will, sleeping where they can find an empty corner and receiving visitors at all hours. In Toulouse and Carcassonne, the inquisitorial prisons are different. They contain at least a few small cells in which certain prisoners are locked up and chained to the walls. In the Capitol Tower there are no cells of this description, and those inmates who are shackled can still shuffle about—albeit slowly and awkwardly. The gaoler and sergeants also strike me as being highly corruptible. While I was in their charge, I saw them take money not only for food and wine but for the admittance of women. Moreover, I had to pay for the privilege of avoiding heavy manacles.

  Needless to say, I had come well furnished with coin, which I surrendered to the gaoler immediately. It is pointless trying to retain your money in prison. If the gaoler does not deprive you of it forcibly, the other prisoners will take it from you while you sleep. Understanding this, I provided the archbishop’s gaoler with a handsome sum upon the very threshold of the mur, and was thenceforth treated with a precisely calibrated generosity.

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