The eleventh Asterix book opens with a scene last depicted in Asterix the Gaul: following the siege of Alesia, the defeated Gaulish chieftain Vercingetorix throws his arms down at (or rather, on) Caesar's feet, and Gaul is officially conquered. Caesar (hopping on one foot) sets off in search of other conquests, leaving Vercingetorix's arms lying where he threw them... until that evening, when a Roman archer steals the chieftain's shield - which he immediately loses to another legionary in a game of chance. The other legionary is caught by a centurion, and as he is out of his camp at night without a pass, the centurion confiscates the shield in return for his silence. As the pictures on the page grow smaller and smaller, we see the centurion swap the shield for an amphora of wine at an inn, and then the proprietor gives the shield to a warrior drowning his sorrows after the defeat at Alesia...
...Jump to the present, where Chief Vitalstatistix is suffering (and his wife, Impedimenta, is unsympathetic). Too much wine and fine food is giving him liver trouble. Getafix prescribes treatment from a Hydro (health spa) in Aqua Calidae (present day Vichy) in the region of Arvernia (today called Auvergne). With Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix accompanying, the Chief leaves, sampling fine food from various inns along the way and making his liver trouble worse. At the Hydro, Vitalstatistix begins his treatment (which includes drinking water from the spa at regular intervals, the "sophisticated" shower system - a man throwing a bucket of water - and a diet of boiled vegetables)... but as Asterix and Obelix are not at the spa for health reasons, they can eat and drink what they like, and when they have driven the other patients to the brink of insanity, they are firmly asked to leave. The chief promises to meet them at Gergovia, site of a Gaulish victory over Caesar's legions,note after he is cured.
In the forests near Gergovia, the Gauls bump into Roman tribune Noxius Vapus, and thump him accordingly. Arvernian wine and coal merchant Winesanspirix is on a walk in the forest at the time, and is happy to show Vapus' conquerors around Gergovia. In Rome, Vapus reports his thumping to Julius Caesar, who decides to put the Gauls in their place by holding a triumph in the city where he was previously defeated, standing on Vercingetorix's shield - but the shield is missing. Caesar puts Vapus on the trail, telling him to start his search in Gergovia, where many survivors from Alesia settled in. Upon his return, he receives another thumping from Asterix and Obelix, although Winesanspirix is concerned to hear that the tribune is back, as it means Caesar has plans in the region.
Vapus enlists the local legions, but their search of the local wine and coal merchants turns up empty, so the incredibly lazy legionary Caius Pusillanimus is selected to go undercover, as he's so foolish that no one will take him for a spy. Unfortunately, he's also overly fond of wine, and he goes straight to Winesanspirix's inn, gets blind drunk, and reveals both that Caesar wants to be carried on Vercingetorix's shield for a triumph in the city and that he knows what happened to the shield immediately after the battle (a fact he hasn't thought to share with his superiors) - it was stolen by the archer Lucius Circumbendibus, who now owns a wheel factory in Nemessos (Clermont-Ferrand today).
Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix go to Circumbendibus's factory, where the Roman tells them the name of the other legionary who won the shield from him in a game of chance: Marcus Carniverus, now working as an attendant in a Hydro at Borvo (called La Bourboule now). As the Gauls book into the Hydro (to Obelix's great reluctance), Circumbendibus sends an anonymous tip to Vapus that the Gauls are looking for the shield; as it turns out, Carniverus saved up his wages at the Hydro and opened his own inn, the Boar in Wine (a revelation that Obelix doesn't take well), and the delay means that the Romans get there ahead of the two Gauls and their dog. After they bash in the patrol sent to arrest them, Carniverus tells them what he has just told the patrol: the centurion who confiscated the shield from him for being out without a pass is named Titus Crapulus, who is still in the army.
Upon returning to Gergovia, Asterix and Obelix discover that Vapus's search has intensified, and, worse, Winesanspirix has disappeared, with his wife fearing the worst. The two Armoricans vow to break into the local garrison HQ to rescue him. Their arrival coincides with that of Titus Crapulus, whom Vapus has tracked down through the army lists; his alcoholism has stalled his military career, but Vapus offers to wipe the slate clean if he can tell him what he did with the shield. Unfortunately, Crapulus cannot remember the name of the merchant to whom he gave the shield in exchange for an amphora of wine... until Asterix and Obelix forcibly enter the room and announce they're looking for Winesanspirix. Crapulus is ecstatic: that was the name of the merchant! Vapus' reaction to this news - demanding that Winesanspirix be found - reveals to Asterix and Obelix that the Arvernian isn't a Roman prisoner after all, and they leave, but in so doing, they reveal their names to Vapus, who recognises them as the two men also trying to find Vercingetorix' shield. They simply punch him out of the way when he tries to stop them from leaving, and he rushes off with a patrol after Crapulus establishes which way the two Armoricans went, leaving the centurion on his own. The bewildered Crapulus asks the first legionary he sees, Pusillanimus, to lead him to the nearest inn, and they go off to get drunk together.
Asterix and Obelix return to Winesanspirix's inn to find that the proprietor has returned, although they must first hide from Vapus and his patrol as they search the coal cellar. After the Romans leave, Winesanspirix confesses that when he knew how important it was for the Gauls to find the shield, he ran away in shame, as after Crapulus gave him the shield, he gave it away to a warrior from another part of Gaul who was drowning his sorrows after the battle of Alesia, and he can't remember the warrior's name. All he remembers is that he was thin and miserable and...
The man entering the inn whom Winesanspirix has just recognised is none other than Vitalstatistix! The weight he has lost as part of his treatment means he is now about the same size (and in the same emotional state) as he was after Alesia, and he confirms that when he went to drown his sorrows after Alesia, he persuaded the innkeeper to give him the chieftain's shield... which he still has, as it's the shield on which he is carried around every day back home! This gives Asterix an idea, and he asks Winesanspirix to summon the people of Gergovia.
Meanwhile, Vapus and his legionaries prepare to sack Gergovia when they meet up with first Asterix, then Caesar, who wants to know how the search is going. Asterix is especially delighted to see the head Roman himself, as he can witness the triumph they have organised, with Obelix parading Vitalstatistix, the last Gaulish chief to stand against Caesar, on the shield of Vercingetorix. Knowing that he has to keep this humiliation secret, Caesar has Vapus and his troops sent to a garrison in Numidia, and when the thoroughly drunk - but clean from having not been searching coal cellars - Crapulus and Pusillanimus stagger past, Caesar promotes Pusillanimus to centurion and Crapulus to CO of the entire Gergovia garrison. Crapulus says it'll be easy for them to keep the peace, as they're already friends with all of the local wine merchants.
Our heroes return to their village in triumph, and Vitalstatistix samples fine food from the various inns along the way, restoring his original bulk by the end of their journey. On his return, the village holds another one of their feasts, but someone is missing. Cacofonix? No, he's enjoying this one. The missing person is Vitalstatistix, who's being shown the offensive qualities of the shield from Impedimenta...
Tropes present in this story:
- Agony of the Feet: Let's just say that Vercingetorix was not a completely graceful loser.
- All for Nothing: While looking for the next Roman in the Chain of Deals, Astérix and Obélix follow a weight-loss treatment with horrible health food where he was last known to work. Eventually it turns out he'd quit to run an inn specializing in boar. Astérix looks akward under Obelix's wilting Death Glare.
- Anachronism Stew: Lucius Circumbendius' business has a typing pool, only since it's about two thousand years out, it's a carving pool instead.
- Art Evolution: Albert Uderzo was experimenting with a new art style for this book, with less round character designs and less bright colours. He later admitted the experiment was not altogether successful in his eyes.
- Artistic License History: The historical battle of Alesia happened just two years before the story is set, but the characters talk as though it happened at least fifteen years earlier.
- Artistic License Medicine: Vitalstatistix' "liver" symptoms more closely match an inflamed gallbladder.
- Berserk Button:
- Don't mention Alesia to the Gauls.
- Subverted when the druid in the spa calls Obelix fat while asking about how his liver is doing; Asterix tries to shush him, but Obelix hadn't been paying attention so he doesn't catch on.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Obelix attempts to imitate the Arverne accent by saying "shome boarsh". Winesanspirix looks confused, Asterix clarifies he meant "some boars", and Winesanspirix says "Ah, shome boarsh". Obelix does his usual "These people are crazy" gesture.
- Cannot Talk to Women: When Winesanspirix's wife tells Obelix that "It's a real pleasure to cook for a man who enjoys his food", all Obelix can do in reply is blush and say "Oh, I say!".
- Cherry Tapping: Vitalstatistix is perfectly fine sampling the many (many) local foodstuffs on the way to the cure, until he lies down under a tree. A falling leaf drifts down and lands on his stomach...which makes him howl in horrifying pain. (He claims it hurts to have the doctor even look at him).
- Comically Missing the Point: When Asterix proclaims how amazing it is that Vitalstatistix had Vercingetorix's shield all this time. Obelix thinks Asterix is referring to how much weight their chief lost.
- Diet Episode: Vitalstatistix is forced to go on a severe diet to cure his liver trouble; when he arrives in Gergovia near the end of the book, he has slimmed down almost to Asterix's size. (Since he was similarly thin when he was younger, Winesanspirix, who has not seen him since he gave him Vercingetorix's shield, recognises him immediately.)
- Easily Forgiven: After finding out they didn't need to stay at the hydro, Obelix and Asterix refuse to speak to one another for roughly half a page.
- Every Episode Ending: The usual ending is subverted in this case. Cacofonix is happily devouring a leg of boar at the banquet... whereas Vitalstatistix is being forcibly kept at home by his irate wife.
- Food Porn: Both on the way to the spa and during, since Asterix and Obelix are under no obligation to follow the water and soup diet.
- Get Out!: Vitalstatistix screams this at Asterix and Obelix when they come to say goodbye as they leave the hydro to start their tour of Arvenia and start insensitively talking about all the fine food they're going to eat.
- Grail in the Garbage: Vercingetorix's shield ends up in the hands of Vitalstatistix, who uses it on his everyday business, including shopping.
- Innocently Insensitive: Asterix and Obelix fail to realize what poor manners it is to eat rich food around spa patients.
- In Vino Veritas: When Pusillanimus goes undercover to gather information about the whereabouts of Vercingetorix's shield, he immediately gets stinking drunk at Winesanspirix's inn, and reveals not only that the Romans are looking for the shield for a planned triumph for Caesar, but that he personally saw Lucius Circumbendibus make off with the shield after the Battle of Alesia, and that Circumbendibus now owns a wheel factory in Nemessos (facts he hasn't bothered to tell his superiors).
- Karma Houdini: Crapulus and Pusillanimus, who spend the whole story shirking off their duties to get drunk, end up being promoted to tribune and centurion respectively by Julius Caesar himself, because they were so busy drinking that they didn't get involved in Vapus's searches of Gergovian businesses.
- Lost in Translation: In the original French, the Arvernians speak with an exaggerated version of the modern Auvergne accent, replacing all "s" sounds with "sh". This sets up many puns and references (for example, a young Arvernian who doesn't speak with the accent: not because the Arvernian accent is fading among the young generation, but because "he lishpsh") which don't translate as well into other languages; in the English version, they were mostly replaced with meat-related puns.note
- "Oh, Crap!" Smile: Asterix has one when it's revealed that they could have saved themselves the stay at the Hydro, since Carniverus has long since left the place to open his own restaurant. Obelix is undestandably NOT happy, and Asterix knows it.
- Pain-Powered Leap: Repeatedly done by Vitalstatistix at the start of the book, since his liver makes him suffer so much and everyone keeps pressing on it, most often by accident. By the time the heroes reach the spa, Vitalstatistix has been stuffing himself on so much food (despite his wife's protests) that even a leaf slowly falling from a tree is enough to trigger the trope.
- Running Gag:
- Mentioning Alesia (the place where Caesar annexed Gaul into the Roman Empire) will cause Gauls to angrily deny knowing where Alesia is. The joke is that at the time of this story's printing, the location of Alesia really WAS unknown (and that the denial is how people lost track of it).note
- People getting dirty from close contact with coal cellars. The fact that Pusillanimus alone is clean after the first inspection of Winesanspirix's coal cellar alerts his commander to the fact that he skived off actually searching it.
- Asterix and Obelix beating the crap out of Vapus every time they encounter him, and the increasingly amused reactions of his Numidian litter-bearers.
- Schmuck Bait: Vitalstatistix leaves in a hurry when Impedimenta reacts badly to the suggestion that his departure should be accompanied by a banquet. Fulliautomatix, seeing the chief leave with Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix, is shocked that they're not telling anyone they're going, and bounds up the stairs to Cacofonix's house. He tells Cacofonix the chief is leaving... and, sure enough, the bard takes the bait and declares he will sing them a song of farewell, leading Fulliautomatix to start bashing him in while yelling, "OH NO YOU WON'T! OH NO YOU WON'T!" Bonus points when you see Fulliautomatix having a vicious smirk on his face the moment Cacofonix grabs for his harp.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Asterix and Obelix could have saved themselves a lot of trouble, considerint the shield they were looking for was already in the posession of Vitalstatistix all the time.
- Speech Impediment: Inverted in editions where the "'s' as 'sh'" facet of the Auvergne accent is preserved by the translation.note Obelix initially thinks this is a speech impediment, and has to be tactfully dissuaded from drawing attention to it by Asterix. Only one Arvernian boy can pronounce the letter S as it is pronounced in the rest of Gaul, and according to his elders, this is because "he lishpsh."
- Shocking Defeat Legacy: The reason you never mention Alesia to a Gaul.
- Status Quo Is God: Vitalstatistix regains all the weight he lost at the spa by the time he returns home, in the space of a single panel, no less.
- Tell Him I'm Not Speaking to Him: After an entirely unnecessary stay at a spa involving boiled vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Asterix and Obelix communicate by telling Dogmatix what they think of the other.
- Too Important to Walk: Caesar plans to humiliate the Gauls by parading on Vercingetorix's shield. Unfortunately, it seems to have been misplaced.Governor: No, Caesar, we don't seem to have any trophies from the Gallic Wars.
Caesar: No comment.
- Vacation Episode: Asterix, Obelix and Vitalstatistix travel to Arvernia, aka the French province Auvergne.