Monday, July 27, 2015

Adventure 04: On Guard, Chapter VI

Chapter VI: A Thibeault Family Dinner

Gaston invites his friends Lucien and Guy to a delayed homecoming celebration. The occasion is the eve and day of Candlemas, February 1st and 2nd, at the home of Gaston’s sister Marie and her husband Claude de Fleury. Candlemas occurs on February 2nd – 40 days after Christmas. The festivities start on Candlemas Eve when the family takes down the Christmas decorations and greenery.

In addition to Guy and Lucien the celebration includes Gaston, referred to as Uncle Tonton by his young niece Margeurite, Gaston’s Father, Hubert Thibeault – granpere to the girls, Gaston’s sister Marie and her husband Claude de Fleury and their two girls Jeannette: age 11 and Marguerite: age 8. Gaston’s brother-in-law Claude is studying to be a lawyer. Marie is both proud and worried to have a Musketeer and a noble to her home for dinner. Claude is especially pleased to meet Guy de Bourges. At the first opportunity he takes the noble Guy aside to discuss a “very interesting investment opportunity and a sure-fire scheme. Seriously, my lord, it cannot fail.” The opportunity is a gambling syndicate that Claude is pulling together. Guy would provide the face and capital, while Claude would provide the organization and the gambling expertise. “My lord, with your assistance we can access the lucrative market of the nobility and royal courtiers. Of course all profits are to be shared 50-50.” Guy declines the offer. Jeannette, the older girl, is also pleased to meet Guy, asking him many questions about the court, his position therein, and of course his family situation. Learning that Guy is the only child and is unmarried only brightens her interest in the stylish young courtier. Marguerite seems more interested in the dashing Lucien and eagerly asks for stories about war and battles –especially battles involving ‘Tonton.’ She seems particularly interested in counting up the number of foemen killed.

After a time, Marie de Fleury shoos the girls away from the guests and tells her father, husband, and brother that it is time to remove the old decorations. Little Marguerite relates with ghoulish relish the old superstition that any traces of berries, holly, and so forth will bring a death to the inhabitants of the home before another year is out.

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall.

After the old decorations are removed, the men leave the house – usually to a tavern – while the women of the house finish cleaning up and begin preparing food for the next day’s feast. To help them, the men are supposed to return with something for that night’s dinner – usually some kind of cold supper.

The neighborhood tavern is one that Claude and Hubert sometimes frequent; they encounter gang of men in black tabards – the garb of the students of a rival school, the Fratellanza di Giganti. Gaston does not want to start a battle or kill someone in front of his disapproving father so he tries to avoid trouble. However the Gigantis are not interested in peace. They try to bully the group and one of them even strikes Gaston’s elderly father in the face, a brief brawl ensues resulting in the ejection of the Black Tabards from the tavern. Gaston determines to settle with Cassanha, the man who struck his father, at a later date. Satisfied that they have done the manly thing by brawling and fortified by additional drinks, the men return to the house with sausages, bread, cheese, and more wine.

The next morning, everyone goes to Mass together to get the New Year’s candles blessed. Then they return home for a big feast after Mass at which they use the blessed wax candles. The family stays together playing games and telling stories until evening when Candlemas (French: La Chandeleur) is celebrated with crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m. If the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year. Everyone is encouraged and teased into trying to flip a crêpe. Lucien is the champion crêpe flipper. Marie says that means he will have good fortune for the rest of the year. The tradition is for adults to give the girls the coin that they hold. Gaston has one gold pistole for Jeannette and Marguerite. Elsewhere that night around Paris young people light bonfires over which people jump or between which they drive their flocks, in a continuation of Imbolc, the ancient pagan fertility right.

After Candelmas night dinner with the Thibeaults, Guy puts on a disguise to follow the Spanish Ambassador, Don Antonio de Zúñiga y Dávila, marqués de Mirabel. He sees Don Antonio meet a man in a dark cloak and hat. They exchange a few words, but Guy is too far to hear what is said. When the two separate, Guy follows the cloaked man to a rough tavern, Le Brevage Noir.[i] The flickering light of the dimly lit tavern is enough for Guy to see that the cloaked man has a scarf or mask over his face. Another man comes up to the masked man and briefly shows him a red sash beneath his cloack. The two sit talking in low voices. Guy overhears, “It will be Thursday. All is ready.” When the masked man leaves, Guy attempts to follow him and the masked man leads Guy into an dark alley – It’s a trap! Guy leaps to the side narrowly avoiding a pair of thrown daggers. From the darkness the voice of the masked man asks Guy if he is a good Catholic. Guy says, “Yes. I serve God and attend Mass regularly.”

The masked man replies, “In that case, know that I am the Left Hand of God. Prepare your soul Frenchman, for the next time we meet, one of us shall see God.”

[i]     (T3) Le Brevage Noir located on the Rue de la Babette, roughly midway between the Temple and Place Royale, the Brevage Noir (the Black Brew or Black Drink) caters to a rough clientele of rogues and ruffians interspersed with slumming gentlemen and nobles, attracted by the tavern’s reputation as a gambler’s den (cock fights, cards, and dice).

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