Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Adventure 03: The Man Behind the Mask (Chapters I-IV)

Chapter I: Interview with a Duke

Guy’s patron, the Chevalier De La Tour De Vezelay, the Provost of Paris asks Guy, “If you and those gentlemen who assisted you on your recent travels south might be available for another journey?” The Chevalier waits for Guy’s assent before continuing. “Please be so kind as to take this envelope for yourself and see that these other two are delivered to the gentlemen who have assisted you in the past.” He hands Guy three envelopes made of expensive, heavy parchment. Each envelope is sealed with a stamp picturing two crossed swords, either sabers or cutlasses. Inside Guy’s envelope is a note, at the top of which is the Coat-of-Arms of a Duke. The note reads as follows:

I have the pleasure of desiring your assistance in a certain matter. It would please me for you to await my carriage at the Pont du Louvre at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. I anticipate in advance the pleasure of our meeting.
Destroy this note after you have read it.

By my own hand,

Duke DeMainz D'Einartzhausen

The next morning, at precisely 10 o'clock, a fancy carriage bearing the Duke's Coat-of-Arms, and his curious crossed swords device, stops at the Pont Neuf, the carriage waits until the three friends have all arrived. Once they are aboard, the carriage drives out of Paris and on to the nearby country estate of the Duke. The ride takes nearly half an hour. The Duke's estate near Paris, a hunting lodge, is centered around a massive stone villa. The party is shown in by Johnny Coppers, an aging, rough-looking fellow with a blue and white striped kerchief round his head and several gold earrings in his ears. He is missing several teeth and wears a large cutlass as his sword. He doesn’t appear to speak French as his introduction consisted of a dirty thumb pointed at himself and the words “Johnny Coppers” and his only reply to questions in French is “No speakie, no Frenchie, matey.” He leads them through a series of dazzling and luxurious rooms to a rather Spartan study. Coppers takes his leave leaving the characters alone in the study.

In the study are three items of interest: the desk, a large chess set, and a bookcase. The desk top is bare. The chess set, sitting on a marble tabletop, is hand carved from wood. The white pieces are in the form of European soldiery and the black pieces are detailed like Moors or Turks. There appears to be a game in progress and both players are apparently quite good. The bookcase is filled with volumes on every imaginable subject, including texts on military and naval strategy, theology, law, fencing, and history. The most interesting of all the books is on a pedestal next to the bookcase. The pages are quite old and yellowed, but the binding appears new.

After fifteen minutes DeMainz enters. He presents an outré figure, dressed in severe garments of white and black surmounted by an emotionless golden face-mask.[i] He courteously greets the characters and thanks them for coming. His voice echoes hollowly and his French is polished and unaccented. Politely, he requests that the party do him a service, for which he feels they are well prepared due to their unique set of talents. However, his politeness is underlain by a subtle hint of menace in his hollow sounding voice. He waits patiently for their assent before continuing.

First Guy and then Lucien and Gaston agree to assist the Duke. He tells them that they will be traveling to Marseille on an errand for him and he provides them with a purse of coin to defray their expenses on the road and a sealed red envelope that they are to open once they reach Marseille. He also lends them his personal coach and a team of good horses along with his faithful servant Pendu, a mute, as their driver. Pendu is very tall, but lean and thin, clean-shaven, and dressed as a gentleman, though somehow he looks sinister, an appearance that is only reinforced by the fact that he never opens his mouth nor speaks.

Chapter II: The King of Thieves

As they travel south, they realize that the Duke's carriage is fancy, but well-made and reinforced with bands of steel to make it fairly bullet-proof. Guy discovers that it contains three secret compartments, one under each of the two bench seats and one behind a panel at the back of the passenger section. There is room for two people on the driver's bench, one behind, and six inside the coach. The compartments under the bench seats are filled with food and wine for their journey. Along the way, they occasionally spot a red carriage, drawn by a team of eight white horses, behind them, as if following. On the second night, when entering an inn, they are informed that two people, a Lord and Lady from Paris, arrived several hours before them. The two asked about the Duke's carriage, then left. They decide to that from now on, they will keep an eye out for the red carriage.

At an inn outside of Valence, they are warned of danger by a young barmaid named Amy. Her warning allows them to defeat Black Robert’s gang. Black Robert himself barely escapes Gaston’s sword by jumping out a window; his accomplice, the innkeeper, is interrogated by the friends and then run off with a warning never to return. The companions take Amy and her little brother and sister to Valence. There they report Black Robert and the innkeeper to the authorities as criminals and fugitives. Using the innkeeper’s gold, they find a nice boarding house for the Amy and her little brother and sister to live.

Once they arrive in Marseille, they open the sealed red envelope; inside is a gold coin, stamped on both sides with the Archduke's crossed swords insignia and a note which reads:

Take this coin to the King of Thieves You may find him at the Tavern Trencavel on Rue Ste Marie You will receive further instructions from him.

- DeMainz

As they ask for directions, they learn that their destination has a very bad reputation and they are warned that “The Tavern Trencavel not a safe place for a gentlemen to go, Monsieur. Even the City Guards are afraid of it.” Their path leads down many winding alleys and soon they must leave the carriage and Pendu behind. Pendu seems upset at this, but the neighborhood is not one where they can leave the carriage unattended. Once they reach it, they find the Trencavel is large, dirty, and practically unlit. The sign above the tavern bears the symbol of a skull, wearing a crown, above a pair of crossed bones. Inside is the largest assortment of rogues, pirates, smugglers, thieves, beggars, bandits, and cutthroats that any of them have ever seen assembled in one place. The cutthroats stare silently, but menacingly as Guy, Lucien, and Gaston enter. The biggest three rogues, led by Hook-Hand Wally (who has a hook instead of a left hand), slowly approach the characters. Anxious to avoid trouble here, Guy tells them they wish to see the King of Thieves and shows them the Duke’s coin. The emblem of DeMainz works as a magic token here. The crowd’s menace immediately changes to fear as the cutthroats back off and the bartender respectfully motions the characters to follow him and leads them down a hidden flight of steps behind the bar to a the cellar.

The cellar is a huge chamber, decorated with stolen and faded finery as a royal courtroom, and dominated by a large table, at which sit more than a hundred motley rogues and villains. At the head of the table, sitting half asleep on a throne with a crown on his head, is the King of Thieves an obese giant of a man with an eye-patch. Entertainment here in this 'royal court' consists mainly of boxing matches on the tabletop, arm wrestling, and knife-throwing at various targets on the walls. There are also numerous dice and card games going on, and a few dirty brawls. On the floor, by the foot of the stairs, lies a dead man. All around, are rats, dogs, ravens, and even a couple of parrots.

The bartender points the way to the throne. He then hurries back upstairs. The three friends must make their way through the rogues, brigands, and pirates to the King. As they make their way, they refuse the various offers of dice, cards, feats of strength, and brawling, but find that to reach the King they must walk through the area where the knives are being thrown. Since the contestants show no signs of stopping their game, this requires daring and careful timing to avoid being hit by a thrown knife. The friends pass successfully, though as he passes, Gaston notices that the target for one of the knife throwers is a portrait of King Louis XIII. Loyal to his King, Gaston cannot just pass by. He turns back, quickly walking up to the knife-thrower and without a word Gaston breaks his nose with one blow. Gaston takes his mug, and loudly proclaims a toast “to the King’s health!” a number of the rogues join him in the toast, though they stare towards their King, while Gaston stares directly at Louis’ portrait to make clear which King he intends.

The 'King' is nearly insensate with drink and barely able to drunkenly welcome the characters with what royal grace he can muster. He gestures to them, wildly sloshing liquid from his huge mug as he invites them to sit at his table and the nearest rogues make space for the three friends while other minions set full mugs before them. There is one final test. They must endure the King’s hospitality and his hospitality consists of a mug of a vile concoction of cheap red wine seasoned with chewing tobacco and spit. Somehow, the companions manage to drink this foul brew.

The final test passed, they give the Duke’s coin to the King. He smiles and suddenly his gaze seems keen and alert. He hands them a red envelope sealed with the same crossed swords emblem, saying “I believe this is for you.” He invites them to stay at his court for a few days and join his royal festivities, but the companions politely decline “Our errand is urgent and I don’t think that he would want us to dally,” says Guy. As they leave the court, they notice a peculiar man with a tattoo on his arm of the Duke's insignia (the crossed swords). They question him and learn that he is a Spaniard who knows no French. However, from his demeanor it is apparent that he recognizes the name 'DeMainz' and fears it.

The three wait until they are safely back in their coach before opening the envelope. Inside is another gold coin, bearing the Duke's insignia, and a note, which reads:

Travel to the city of Florence and present this coin to Count Del Ferro, of the Court of the Medicis. Take the items he will give you, and hide them in the carriage, then return as quickly as possible to Paris.

- DeMainz

Chapter III: The Road to Florence

On the road to Florence, the characters meet a young Italian noble from Lucca who claims the name Nicalao Conami. They agree to take Conami with them to Florence. Along the way Gaston gets in a quarrel with the youth. They fight a duel during which it is revealed that the youth is actually a young lady in disguise – Julietta Conami. Julietta has run away from home to meet her lover, Mercutio de’Medici, in Florence. Guy, the master of disguise, is embarrassed at being fooled by Julietta – he never wants to talk about this again…ever. Gaston is equally mortified at striking a young girl by mistake. His thoughts are similar to Guys as he forcefully tells his two friends “None of us will speak of this ever again.”

The companions are unsure what to do about Julietta. Lucien is concerned for Julietta’s safety. He thinks she should return home to Lucca rather than take the risk of traveling in disguise as a boy or going to a hostile city without the support or approval or her family. He asks angrily, “Do you know what could happen to her, alone and dressed like that?” Guy is annoyed at being tricked and concerned that her presence will complicate their mission. It could well make problems with the Medicis who rule Florence or the Conamis who are an important family in the Republic of Lucca. Tired and cross, the companions decide to put off any decision until the morning. They give Julietta the coach as her bedchamber for the night.

The mournful howling of the wolves throughout the night makes sleep difficult and their horses become more and more restless. On his watch, Guy goes to investigate with a branch from the fire as a torch and two loaded pistols in his belt. He sees two pairs of glowing eyes by the horses. He fires and hits one. Thinking the other wolf has run, he is surprised when it leaps on him. He slips in the muddy ground and his second pistol goes off as he falls. The wolf worries at him; trying to reach his throat as he frantically parries it with the burning branch. The others wake up; Gaston gives Julietta a loaded pistol to use while he attacks the wolves with cold steel. Before they are driven off, six of the pack are killed and one of the coach horses is injured. Although frightened, Julietta bravely faces the wolves. Afterwards, Gaston thinks and writes rather than sleeping.

In the morning, at breakfast, Gaston recites what he has written, a bit of free verse entitled, Concerning the Children of Conami.

Before the world I avow that young Nicolao here is as brave a youth as I am like to see and inasmuch as the lad is as brave as his sister is beautiful, I find that I owe a debt of honor to this same lad’s sister for a blow too hastily struck – about which I will say no more, ever. In consequence, as that lady is not here, but her brother, who is as close to her as any twin, is present, I hold myself in his debt as well and as he has stated that it is his sure and certain intent to go to city of Firenza to pursue the course of true love, an enterprise that all worthy poets support, then by my oath and by my name I shall see that this youth reaches Firenza in despite of any and all who would oppose him!

Clearly Gaston has made his decision – to help Julietta – and by implication he is forcing the others to either agree with him or to travel separately to Florence. Guy replies to Gaston’s declaration by reminding him that, “The Medici are powerful and they have a long arm.”

Gaston tersely replies, “Mine is longer, by three feet of steel.”

That afternoon they encounter a coach with Julietta’s father, Arturo Conami, inside. He says he is searching for his kidnapped daughter and he wants to search their coach, but Guy manages to conceal Julietta while preventing Conami from performing a thorough search.

Chapter IV: City of the Medici

In Florence, the companions check into the Black Boar Inn where they make a point of obtaining a separate room for Julietta. The next morning, Guy sends Fabre out to buy him a new hat and to obtain a dress for Julietta so she can greet her lover in women’s clothes. Meanwhile the three friends separate. Guy enters the Medici palace in disguise, finds Mercutio de’Medici and tells him about Julietta’s arrival. Mercutio leads Guy out a side exit of the palace and Guy conducts Mercutio to the Black Boar Inn to see Julietta. Outside the entrance to the inn Guy spots a band of six idle gentlemen of the city. He avoids them by leading Mercutio into the inn via the back kitchen door.

Lucien waits outside the palace for Guy, but when Guy still has not emerged after an hour or more, Lucien returns to their hotel to get help. Outside the entrance, he encounters the same band of six idle Florentine gentlemen looking for trouble. These are the Six Friends (i Sei Amici) who are Cavaliere Francesco Alberti, Signiori Antonio Albereti, Signiori Tomas Buonarrota, Sacerdote Giuseppi Buonorrota, Signiori Venerio Caponi, and Nobile Christoforo Rudolfi. The gentlemen are standing such that they block the door of the inn. Lucien finds them annoying; he calls Antonio an “idiot” in French which the Chevalier, who speaks French, soon translates for his brother and he bumps into Nobile Rudolfo while trying to pass him in the doorway. Antonio and Rudolfo take offense at these actions and each challenges Lucien to a duel. Lucien sends for Guy to translate and to act as his second in at least one of the duels. The first duel, with Antonio, is set for that same night at one hour past Vespers (7PM Saturday December 17, 1622) in the Cloister of the Convent of San Marco. Since the gentlemen are good Catholics they do not think of dueling on Sunday, so the second duel is set for dawn on December 19th at the Cascine Park.

Gaston seeks out his first sword master, Maestro Giovanni Cantiglieare. He finds Cantigieare has fallen on hard times. His drinking seems to be getting the better of him and he has few paying students. When Gaston finds him, he is not at the salle, he is at the Inn of the Black Cat which lies nearby, and he is too drunk to give a lesson to a waiting student. Gaston gives a lesson in the Maestro’s stead, telling the student that the Maestro was delayed by other business. Gaston wonders, What could have brought Maestro Giovanni to this sad state?

The companions reunite at the inn. They set out for the Count Del Ferro’s townhouse. On the way, they stop at the Convent of San Marco for Lucien’s duel with Antonio Albereti. Alberti is a practiced duelist, but no match for a King’s Musketeer. Lucien easily wins the duel, wounding Alberti in the process. One duel finished, the three continue on to visit the Count Del Ferro.

The characters have no trouble finding the red-tiled villa of the Count Del Ferro. They present themselves at his door and are shown in by a French speaking servant who seems to have expected them. He leads them to an inner courtyard with a fountain, where the Count is sitting on a comfortable couch; he invites them to join him for wine. They accept and Guy gives him the Duke’s coin. For a few moments the Count sits silently turning the coin over and over in his hand, then suddenly he stirs calling for his servants to bring in the items for the Duke DeMainz. The items include: a marble bust of some mythical character, by Michelangelo, a group of historic documents from old Florence, three small portraits by an unknown artist, and an untitled scrolled codex. As his servants carefully lay out the items, Del Ferro says, ‘You realize, Signores, that these objects do not come with title or provenance. In fact they have not, in the strictest sense of the word, been acquired in what some would consider a fully legal manner. Thus any mention of my name in this business would be most embarrassing to me, and embarrassment to me, may inconvenience the Duke DeMainz. And an inconvenience to the Duke…well I hope you all grasp my meaning, Signores.”

“To be sure,” Guy says drily in his flawless Italian. “None of us wishes to inconvenience the Duke.”

In preparation for Lucien’s second duel, Gaston brings Lucien to Maestro Giovanni Cantiglieare so Lucien can master a new move. Afterwards, Lucien, deciding he will emphasize the “merry” aspect of the “east, drink, and be merry” aphorism, arranges a romantic assignation with Ioanna Claverezza Duchessa di San Lorenzo, a widowed and somewhat older Florentine Duchessa, for the night before his duel.

Mercutio de’Medici and Julietta Conami ask the party to escort Julietta to a small church in Firenza the Medici Chapel at Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, where a friendly priest can marry them that very night. Guy presents Julietta with the dress that he has obtained and she changes in the coach on the way to the church. The three friends are witnesses to the wedding and give three gifts, Lucien gives them a gold coin “for luck”, Gaston gives them a poem, and Guy a wooden box “for memories” with fabric from her dress. The happy couple swears friendship with Guy, Lucien, and Gaston. After the wedding, Lucien heads off to his ducal rendezvous. With the help of Francois d’Artiste, an expatriate artist from Normandy, Gaston manages to find the Duchessa’s townhouse before the night is over; he then scales the ivy to get to her bedroom.

The next morning at dawn, the Duchessa brings Lucien in her carriage to the Cascine Park; he arrives barely on time. The secluded meadows of the Cascine Park are a popular site for duels in Florence. Lucien also wins this duel, though not nearly so easily as the first one. Nobile Rudolfi is a much more skilled duelist. To memorialize the duel, Gaston writes a poem: Epigram on a Duel.

He spoke, he walked by, he looked,
rash, unguarded words resound,
once spoken, too late, in a trice
the meadow is a dueling ground.

Their business in Florence complete, the only remaining task is for Guy to send Fabre out to purchase a stock of souvenirs: embroidered pillows, gloves, boots, chianti, and salamis. He places the box of souvenirs on top of the secret compartment containing the hidden artwork from the Count del Ferro.

[i]     Image of DeMainz: PC20130628C-374.

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