The following passage of “Mistakes by Moonlight” comes at the very end of Chapter One, following this piece originally posted and proceeding this post, the start of Chapter Two. As I had indicated in my notes to myself (of which you got to see a glimpse here), this element corresponds with last weekʼs addition to add the complication of Sørenʼs new red cape and the Ducal Guardʼs involvement in the attack on Judah that begins the story.
As both drank deeply, the door flew suddenly open and a group of men, uniformed, entered. Duke’s Guard, thought each man differently, Judah casually recognizing the uniforms he had seen in the streets and at parade rest in the halls around the Great Library, where he had once briefly worked for the duke, Søren envious of the elite corps which he had recently aspired without success to join.
The sergeant of the guard halted his group and scan the complex interior of the tavern, examining the motley gathering of sullen drinkers. Hidden in their alcove, Søren and Judah at first escaped notice, but as the crew moved into the center, one of the men caught his leader’s arm and pointed directly at Judah. The half dozen guardsmen swarmed directly to their table. The sergeant stepped nearest.
“Jew. Are you Judah ibn Efrayim, also known as Gershom, the Kabbalist, once in the dukeʼs employ?”
Judah nodded uneasily. He had other cognomens and identities as well.
“You are to come with us. Immediately.” The other guards closed in around Judahʼs seat. “The Duke has ordered your arrest.”
Two laid heavy hands on each of Judahʼs shoulders. He felt outraged and confused. He hadnʼt done anything — not yet. Heʼd had no dealings with the duke nor with any noblemen. Now soldiers were laying rough hands upon him, perhaps to drag him off to the ducal dungeons, and he had no idea why.
The soldiers jerked him brutally to his feet.
Now Søren also stood, and the guardsmen observed him for the first time. Quite a striking figure he made, towering over them all, his newly acquired red cloak swirling off his right shoulder about him, the golden brooch glittering handsomely in the torchlight, hilt of his great sword thrust upward from behind the other shoulder. The scowling face, expressing his surprised disapproval at this turn of events, may have seemed threatening, but the soldiers’ reactions dumbfounded both Judah and Søren.
The two soldiers not holding their prisoner kneeled, bowing their heads toward the blond giant, while the sergeant made a formal gesture of obescience, saying, “Commander! Our apologies. We did not realize you had… — apprehended… this one yourself.”
Behind him, Judah herd one of his captors whisper to the other, “Commander? Who is he?”
“See the cloak, dummy?” the other responded, also sotte voce. “Itʼs the new Captain, the one come in from over the mountains, the one who knows about… you-know-who…”
Søren, not privy to this revelation, had the presence of mind or wine-inspired confidence, to act intrepidly authoritative. “Thank you, sergeant,” he responded breezily. “I, uh, have the situation, uh, in… hand. As you see.”
“Of course, sir. We didnʼt see, ah,that is — realize… ah… what I mean to say is… that… you — both — here in this place, ah, together…” His nervous statement ended in a tone of interrogative wonder.
Søren looked confused, as he felt.
Judah interposed quickly, “The Captain discovered me. Here.” His mind raced. This new captain had been one of the alleyway assailants. Clearly. The others must have been his squadron, sent from the ducal palace to find and arrest him. And although it had been deep dark, those men had not been in uniform. Why not? He tackled the issue of them being alone first, “He sent his men… away, being new in our city, so as…” Invention faltered. Arrested. What happened to arrested men? Besides imprisonment. “ — So he could speak with me informally…” It sounded weak.
Søren picked up the cue. “I have experience with interrogation and have found…” he trailed off himself.
“…That one gathers more with honey than a stick?” the sergeant hazarded helpfully.
“Exactly,” Søren agreed lordly, not sure if he had understood the sergeantʼs Aragon accurately, but a swift answer felt best. “Besides, I had not eaten, uh, recently… and thought to combine two activities in one.”
“And wine,” snickered on of Judahʼs guards, “can free a tongue quicker than torture.”“Costs more, though,” agreed the other.
The sergeant turned to glare at his two men, the obsequiously returned his attention to the supposed New Captain. “Our apologies — again — Commander. Congratulations on your success in tonightʼs mission. The duke will be pleased. Shall we report, upon our return to quarters, that youʼll bring in this man later?”
Judah felt the imprisoning grips lighten on his shoulders. Their halfwitted ruse seemed to be working. But he worried it would be unwise for these men to return too quickly with reports of his — perhaps irregular — capture and questioning. Desperately, he sought inspiration to stall or prevent their arrival at headquarters, where contrary news might already be waiting.
At the same moment Søren, also concerned how to maintain this fortuitous misunderstanding, reached without thought for his wine mug and quaffed a huge swallow. Judah found his idea in that action and using his eyes to catch the Northmanʼs attention, shifted his gaze elaborately between the wine on the table and the soldiers around them. Drink, he though, willing the notion impossibly into his companionʼs mind. Get them drunk.
Søren looked, a little startled, at the mug in his hand, then back at the Jew he had so recently rescued from death. His initial reaction had been to be rid of these intruders as quickly as possible, but problems arising around their return to the palace put doubts in his head. Perhaps they would insist on taking their prisoner back with them for incarceration. He wasnʼt going to permit that to happen, of course. He too had figured out that the dispatched assailants must themselves be the Commander and his troopers, and they had left at least one of them alive. These guardsʼ misunderstanding could be dramatically and quickly rectified if they went back to their barracks. He had to stop them from heading for home…
And then the meaning of Judahʼs nearly comical, desperate grimaces penetrated: the wine…
“More wine!” he roared with a truly heartstopping bellow. And invited the sergeant and his men to join him, and his prisoner, would would pay, for a drink or two. Before their return to the palace.
To everyoneʼs relief, the soldiersʼ as well as the two new friendsʼ, the sergeant accepted. Jaime arrived with three pitchers, much more rapidly and serviceably than when it had just been Judah calling for drink, and the Kabbalist with a sidelong glare at his companion forked over more of his recently acquired coins. The troopers found stools and a bench to drag to the table and sat, and the carousing persisted long through the night, the happy guardsmen swilling themselves unconscious, as both new friends intended — they themselves sipping at their drinks while appearing to guzzle as mightily as their unwanted companions.
Dawn wished to pink out the buildings of the city in silhouette against the eastern sky as Judah led Søren away from the snoring soldiers at the Golden Bull, toward his shabby rooms elsewhere in the Blue Quarter.