Thursday, July 2, 2015

Adventure 03: The Man Behind the Mask (Chapters V-VII)

Chapter V: Coach Chase

On the road back to France they stop in Genoa for Christmas. After mass they encounter Bishop Adolpho and his aide Fra Donatello. The Bishop invites them to Christmas dinner. Bishop Adolpho seems a pleasant host and his table contains a bountiful Christmas feast. The Bishop seems delighted with Guy who is both devout and clever conversationalist. The Bishop asks Guy to maintain their friendship via correspondence and to do him a favor once he is back in Paris; in return, Adolpho provides the companions with a pass to help them throughout the territory controlled by Genoa.[1]
Upon leaving the city of Genoa, they notice that their carriage is closely tailed by a large gilded carriage driven by a six horse team; the carriage has a coat of arms that they do not recognize. As they get farther from the city, the carriage pulls close to them and they observe that there are a number of well-armed men inside. One, apparently an Italian gentleman of high rank, leans out and requests a conference with the party. The man introduces himself as Nicolo Brandi, ambassador from Savoy to Florence. Brandi seems to already know Guy’s name and that he carries a book that Brandi wants. The Ambassador offers 1000L for the book and volunteers that the book is called the DaVinci Codex, but Guy and the others refuse to sell. Not wanting to start a diplomatic incident they are careful not to kill the ambassador, but Guy and Lucien kill his driver and coach guard and when a fortunate shot shatters the yoke pin releasing the coach horses who gallop off. As drive off leaving Ambassador Brandi in his horseless carriage he can be heard to cry, “Curse you Guy de Bourges!”
Bishop Aldolpho’s pass speeds them way past the Genoese border guards and on into Savoy. Their travel through Savoy is short but uneventful until just before they reach the French border. Just before the border, a troop of eight or ten horsemen charge down the hill after them while on the road behind they can see the familiar carriage of Ambassador Brandi . Despite the friends’ musket fire, the horsemen close to pistol range and Pendu, who is driving, is wounded. But the chase continues.
Through a winding stretch of road, a hay wagon suddenly pulls into the path and, as coach and wagon wildly swerve to avoid a collision, the back of the wagon falls open spilling out piles of hay along with two lovers who were using the hay as a mattress. Faced with these sudden and surprising obstacles, the horsemen rein in, falling behind their coach. But no sooner have they pulled ahead, then their coach hits a rock causing Pendu to lose his grip on the reins and the coach to careen out of control. Trying to regain control, Gaston climbs out of the coach, leaps onto the horses, and recovers the reins. [2] But up ahead is a narrow bridge followed by a curve in the road. The hurtling carriage sideswipes the bridge shattering bridge railings and scraping paint and decorations from the Duke’s carriage. After the curve, the coach heads into a forest and Gaston gives the reins back to the dependable Pendu, who is tended by Fabre.
As the riders close, Guy and Lucien fire their muskets, Guy knocks one rider from the saddle, but Lucien’s matchlock misfires. The riders draw abreast of the coach. Guy fires out his window with one pistol, dropping the rider on that side, then calmly levels his other pistol out the other window past Lucien to drop the rider on the other side. Using Gaston’s unfired musket, he drops a third rider. More riders try to climb aboard the coach and Lucien fires, he misses his target, but the close shot startles the rider and his jump lands him in a bush rather than onto the coach.
On the roof of the coach Gaston duels first one then a second opponent. Gaston quickly kills the first, but the second opponent is the officer in command and a skilled swordsman. He wounds Gaston as they continue to duel. The road through the woods becomes broad and level and the other coach draws even with the party; Guy finds that he is staring down the barrels of four muskets. He ducks but has Fabre put a hat on the end of a rifle to draw their fire. After they shoot, Guy pops up with two reloaded pistols. Blam! Blam! Two of the coach gunners are down.
As Guy, Lucien, and Fabre reload, Ambassador Brandi i tosses a lit grenade in their path. Pendu swerves to avoid the explosion. Gaston barely has time to finish his second opponent and take hold of the roof rail. Guy quick loads his pistol and spots a gunner in the other coach aiming at Pendu; but Guy’s shot is faster and the gunner drops. Another grenade narrowly misses their coach. “Blast!” cries Ambassador Brandi. 
“Pistol!” yells Guy, Fabre slaps a loaded gun in his master’s hand and Guy shoots at the driver of the Ambassador’s coach; who jumps from the coach to avoid the gunfire. Brandi’s coach, now driverless, rumbles off to the side until it gets stuck in a field. Brandi cries, “Curse you Guy de Bourges!” as he shakes his fist. In response, Guy flourishes his bullet-riddled hat at Brandi in farewell.

Chapter VI: The Baron Saint Giron

While they rest their horses at the Inn of the Two Doves in Nice, Gaston and Lucien take on a well-paying side job: earning 25 pistoles each from their innkeeper, Renaut Largeasse, for resolving his debt with Noel Beaumont, a gambler who hangs out at the Baited Hook gambling den. The gambler is under the protection of his brother Christian Beaumont, a magistrate in Nice. Guy, in disguise as a sailor, goes to the Baited Hook to reconnoiter. He spots Noel Beaumont there and notices that Beaumont is accompanied by two large thugs with cutlasses. Fabre takes advantage of his master’s absence to go to a haberdashery where he finds not one, but two identical replacement hats for Guy’s hat that was riddled by Brandi’s coach gunners.

Meanwhile, Guy is invited to visit the Mayor of Nice; Lucien accompanies him. But the meeting with the Mayor is only a pretense for a meeting with a soldier, the Baron Quennel Saint Giron, St. Giron is the Captain of the Prince of Condé’s cuirassiers of the Maison du Roi and the Colonel of the Prince’s private regiment of horse. And, as it turns out, St. Giron is also first cousin to the Mayor of Nice. It seems that St. Giron wants the DaVinci ‘weapon.’ Guy explains that what the Baron calls a ‘weapon’ is actually a book. Nevertheless St. Giron offers to buy the Codex from Guy in exchange for three letters of appointment as captains in the Prince of Condé’s private regiment and 450L in cash. Realizing that refusal is hardly an option Guy stalls for time. He tells St. Giron that it will take some time to persuade his other companion and he agrees to hand over the Codex the following night. Returning to the Two Doves, the group frantically works to create a copy of the codex written in a disappearing ink of Fabre’s invention.

On close inspection of the codex with a mirror they see that it is written in a Italian using mirror writing, so they use a mirror to duplicate the feat. The codex contains plans for Da Vinci's greatest invention, an 'ordinator' or giant mechanical engine designed to calculate and perform all mathematical functions. The inside is planned as a great interlocking series of watch-gears, each representing a small piece of information. The outside bears turning numeral gears and a vast array of buttons and levers.

As Guy continues the copying, Lucien and Gaston head for the Baited Hook. They realize that they are being followed by two men in armor. They grab the two men and, after a protracted struggle, manage to knock them both unconscious. Freed from their tail, they reach the Baited Hook. Gaston challenges Beaumont to a game, not of cards but of pistoles/pistols. As he spreads his cloak to display two loaded horse pistols, Gaston’s play on words becomes clear – as does the nature and stakes of the wager. Beauchamp quickly decides that taking 50 pistoles from Gaston is a much better choice than trying to take two pistols from the cold-eyed soldier. Having little choice Beauchamp reluctantly signs the release of the innkeeper’s debt
St. Giron welcomes Guy back to the Mayor’s house. The Baron is overflowing with happiness at the prospect that the DaVinci ‘weapon’ will soon be his. He says that it is all he needs, to finally get the recognition and rank he has so long deserved. “With the DaVinci weapon in my hands, a Lieutant General’s rank is assured! Why even a Maréchal’s baton is not out of reach. I tell you Monsieur de Bourges, you will not regret this exchange.”
“Yes, I think that you are right my lord Baron. I anticipate that I will be most pleased with the exchange.”
Guy takes advantage of the Baron’s good mood to learn what he knows of the Prince of Condé’s views on the Valtelline. The Baron tells Guy that Condé is opposed to the Spanish holding the pass, but he doubts that the Prince would ever act alone in this matter. “I don’t think he has the stomach for it,” says the Baron. After drawing their small talk to a close, the two make the exchange. Guy hands over the Codex and St. Giron gives him the Captaincy letters and 45 pistoles. St. Giron tells Guy, “You will need to present the Captaincy letters in Paris.”
Guy calmly replies, “That is acceptable. I trust you as much as you can trust that I will always complete my mission and keep my word.” The double meaning of Guy’s phrase is lost on the Baron who is engrossed in examining his new prize.
“I don’t recognize this language.”
Guy says, “I understand that DaVinci frequently wrote in reverse and also in Italian.” Guy hands St. Giron a small toiletry mirror so that he can read the mirror writing.
“Ah yes, I see. A very clever code.”
“My lord, or should I say, my lord Maréchal, I will need a pass so that I may leave for Paris at once.”
“Of couse, of course.” St. Giron hurriedly scrawls a pass on a piece of paper then rushes off to another room to view the codex in a larger mirror. But it is only after Guy has left and the ink in the replica book starts to fade, that Saint Giron realizes that he has been tricked. He is outraged at the deception, exclaiming angrily, “Curse you Guy de Bourges!” He immediately sends a troop of cuirassier cavalry after the companions. Meanwhile, with the pass from St. Giron, the companions easily depart Nice on the road to Paris.
Cavalry travels faster than a heavy coach and eventually St. Giron’s men are able to catch up to them. Spotting their pursuers, whose armor is concealed beneath brown hooded cloaks, the companions see that they are outnumbered seven to one. Gaston as the experienced soldier advises that “Open battle at those odds is out of the question. And we can’t outrun cavalry in an armored coach. Our only chance is to maneuver for position. Let Pendu whip up the horses and let us travel as fast as we can for that ruined chateau up ahead.”
Once at the chateau, they first try to parley with the troopers, but their lieutenant in charge refuses to discuss any terms except their immediate and unconditional surrender. He tells them that he has orders from his Colonel to bring them and their coach back to Nice. The companions tell him that “Your Colonel acts without authorization and your order is unlawful. We will resist you with every means at our disposal.”
The Lieutenant returns to his troop and personally leads his men in a charge against the ruin. True to the Gaston’s advice, the ruin provides cover and the advantage of height and Guy’s superior marksmanship allows him to shoot down the lieutenant and his under officer as well as several troopers. As the cuirassiers close on the open gateway, Gaston pushes a section of the wall on top of them, killing several more men and horses. The troopers have taken heavy casualties and both of their officers are dead or dying. They retreat to regroup, but they have lost most of their enthusiasm. Lucien, puts on the tabard of the King’s Musketeers and makes an impassioned speech telling the troopers that there is more to this than they understand and that their orders are not those of the King. He convinces them to attempt a parley. Guy and Lucien persuade the troopers to take the coach, but to leave five horses for the companions telling them that “We will leave the field with only our arms and the horses you give us.” The troopers agree. Before they depart, Guy says a few prayers over the dead and tells the troopers that their lieutenant “was brave and honorable.”
Of course the companions have an ace up their sleeve as Guy had already had Fabre hide the Codex and artwork in the ruins before the cavalry were able to reach the chateau. The companions feign a departure then circle back and recover the precious artwork and the DaVinci Codex. The companions continue on to Lyon where they use 80 pistoles to buy five riding horses as remounts so they can quickly reach Paris. In Lyon they hear rumors of Black Riders who capture victims for some sort of unholy sacrifice. Watch out for them, thinks Guy.
North of Lyon, they hear gunshots ahead of them. It looks like a coach has been stopped by robbers. The companions leave Fabre and the spare horses in the care of Pendu and his rifle, while they ride forward. The coach is stopped in a defile. Bandits armed with matchlocks line the slopes above and more highwaymen below hold the coach and surviving guards at gunpoint. Gaston advises a flanking maneuver to come up on one side of the defile. Guy, armed with a musket and four pistols, stops his horse to fire on the bandits, while Lucien and Gaston fire then charge home. They defeat the bandits on one side of the defile and while Guy shoots down those on the other side, Gaston leaps from his horse onto one of the mounted leaders. Lucien proceeds more deliberately on foot. The sudden attack demoralizes the bandits and the surviving coach guards attack their captors as well. One mounted highwayman flees and Lucien is felled by a musket shot. Fortunately Gaston on the horse appropriated from other highwayman is able to kill or frighten the rest of the bandits. Guy notices that the surviving highwayman is galloping in the direction of Pendu, Fabre, and the spare horses. Guy gives chase, to prevent any attack on the two servants, but the highwayman’s horse is the faster. However, Pendu’s rifle shot warns him away from the servants and he instead escapes across the fields.
The other bandits having been killed or captured, Gaston addresses the coach’s passenger, one Julien du Montchanin, to assure him he is now safe. Then he moves to Lucien to see if he is still alive. Fortunately with the aide of Fabre’s poultices, Lucien soon recovers enough to continue. Montchanin tells them that he is an Officer of the Realm, a tax officer/intendant based in Lyon. He is grateful to be rescued from this notorious band of highwaymen and brigands. Du Monchanin gives the friends his thanks and an official note for 230L, 150L for the reward on the slain leader and his 80L reward for his eight followers.

Meanwhile, St. Giron’s troopers bring the Duke DeMainz’s coach back to Nice. One of the senior troopers tell the Baron, “My lord Baron, we won the battle! We incurred heavy casualties, but we recovered the carriage. Our surviving opponents left the field carrying nothing but their arms.”
“You have the carriage? Good! Take me to it.” The Baron searches the carriage finding that it is filled with bologna, wine, sausages, sweets, and a large assortment tawdry souvenirs, but no sign of the DaVinci weapon. “Curse you Guy de Bourges!”

Chapter VII: The Lady

At an inn in Auxerre, the companions hear more rumors of Black Riders and they encounter an attractive young noblewoman, the Lady de Fleur, and her two pretty maids. All are attractively dressed in the height of risqué Parisian fashion. She tells Lucien that she and her maids were robbed and stranded by highwaymen and that she is very frightened. She throws herself on the mercy of the Musketeer. Lucien’s presence seems to comfort her, but she finds the common room too raucous and crowded. She says that she will take her meal in her room, but she is still very frightened and taking Lucien’s hand she timidly asks if he would see her safely to her room and stay with her while she sups. Lucien agrees. Once she is safely in her room with Lucien, her two maids, Kitty and Bernadette approach Guy and Gaston. The maids say that their lady has sent them “to see to the friends of the brave Musketeer.” They suggest that the two travelers would find a hot bath “most refreshing…as would we.” Guy thinks that a hot bath is exactly what he needs. Gaston thinks that one of the maids is exactly what he wants. They follow the maids upstairs as they prepare the baths. But it seems that both meal and baths are distractions which end in attempts, fortunately unsuccessful, to assassinate Lucien, Gaston, and Guy. Meanwhile a bearded nobleman and his men gravely wound Pendu and steal the Da Vinci Codex. While Fabre saves Pendu, the companions quickly give chase and recover the Codex from the Baron, whose name they never learn. They leave the nameless Baron tied to a tree on the road to Paris while they ride off in his red carriage, drawn by a fine team of eight white horses.

Arriving at last at DeMainz’s estate outside of Paris the party is again greeted by Jonny Coppers. He is accompanied by several burly tough-looking footmen in livery. The footman carry in the items that the PCs have brought. In badly accented French, Coppers says, “The Gov’nor said you may be wantin’ some refreshment after your travels. He ax’ed me to gather up the booty, then show you to the feast. No doubt, he’ll be wantin’ to speak with you, individual like, afterwards.”
Coppers sends the footman off with the “booty.” Turning to Pendu he says, “Pendu! Well don’t you look worse for the wear. But that’s no never-mind, now. The Gov’nor wants to see you as well.”
While they wait to see DeMainz they are ushered into an elegantly appointed dining room where a feast of various cold meats, cheeses, and breads along with two kinds of hot soup, and bottles of Spanish, Italian, and French wine is laid out for their refreshment. There are also several upholstered chairs and settees for those who wish to take a brief nap. After an hour or so, Coppers returns to fetch the PCs. He brings them to the Duke’s study.
The study is warmed by a roaring fire in a large marble mantled fireplace. Seated at the desk is the Duke, again garbed in his severe black and white and wearing his emotionless golden mask. Coppers remains standing beside the desk. The friends recall the room’s four items of interest: the desk, a large chess set, a bookcase, and a pedestal next to the bookcase topped with an old book. The desk, which was previously barren, now displays seven of the eight items that they brought from Florence, while the pedestal, displays the eighth item – the Da Vinci Codex. DeMainz signals Coppers to leave. The Duke will receive the party politely, as before, with a manner as if nothing has happened since the last interview. “These items,” he gestures towards the seven objects on his desk, “will remain in my private collection.” He steps over to the pedestal and picks up the Da Vinci Codex. “While this…” He flips through several pages of the Codex, staring silently and intently at each page in turn. He then ever so casually throws the Codex into the roaring fireplace saying, “…this is an idea whose time has not yet come…an idea that humanity is not prepared for…yet.”
The Archduke agrees to reimburses all expenses that were incurred on his behalf. As a reward, he will offer each either money, position, or a favor. Lucien graciously declines the other offers and chooses money; he is given a purse with 100 pistoles. Gaston, who wants to be an officer, chooses promotion and DeMainz gives him a letter of reference signed by his own hand. Guy chooses a favor and is given one of the Duke's gold coins, with his crossed swords insignia on both sides.

[1]     Bishop Adolpho wants to know how the negotiations regarding the Valtelline may effect Genoa.
[2]     Kay uses one of Lucien’s Fortune Points to create the hay wagon obstacle; however Pendu’s next drive carriage roll is a Calamitous Failure. Gaston’s roll to recover the reins is a Mighty Success.

Chapters I-III                                            Next Adventure

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