Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Adventure 04: On Guard, Chapter VIII and Epilogue

Chapter VIII: Ambush on the Pont Neuf

To sign the treaty, the Ambassadors must cross the north half of the Pont Neuf[i] to reach the offices in the Place Dauphine where the negotiations have taken place and where the final signing will occur. The treaty will be signed just before sundown on Thursday, February 9th. Spanish agents plan to forestall the treaty by killing at least one of the Ambassadors.[ii] They calculate that at worst this will delay the treaty until a new envoy with authority to sign can be sent from the home country and at best the murder of an Ambassador in Paris while under the protection of the French Royal Household troops may cause a diplomatic incident that will ruin any chance for an alliance.

Wednesday night Guy attempts to see Marshall Bassompierre to warn him of the danger the next day. To gain access to the famous Marshall, he uses the last of his funds to bribe Bassompierre’s majordomo. But the majordomo plays him false, taking the bribe but not agreeing to arrange a meeting for at least a week. Useless, thinks Guy. When Guy objects to the delay, the majordomo has him thrown out by the footmen – but does not return the bribe.

On Thursday, Guy uses his authorization from the Provost to call out the mounted platoon of reserve Archers and he warns the Archers that are on duty to be on the alert, to watch out for agitators in red sashes, and to watch out for the Left Hand of God or other masked assassins using poison crossbow bolts or poison on their blades. He gives the same information to Lucien to warn the King’s Musketeers. Lucien passes this on to Sergeant Ferusac and Ensign Châteaupers. The Ensign is skeptical, but Ferusac is willing to give Lucien the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that Lucien phrases the warning as an odd hunch rather than revealing the source of his information.

Because of the previous attack at the Theatre, each of the Ambassador’s guards have been increased to a Guard Captain and 4 Ambassadorial Guards, all of whom are in heavy armor, while the King’s Musketeers have assigned three elite members of their company to guard each of the Ambassadors. The Musketeers have also stationed squads of ten Musketeers at either end of the bridge and in the center of the Pont Neuf. Other squads are stationed on the Ile de City to guard the other entrances to the Place Dauphine.[iii] The Provost has stationed Paris Archers with muskets and lit matches on the roof of the Place Dauphine and more Archers at the ramps and stairs down to the Seine. In addition, Marshal Bassompierre has ordered a full company of Swiss Guards to be stationed inside the courtyard of the Place Dauphine to serve as reinforcements.

Led by pro-Spanish agitators, an angry mob[iv] of tax protestors forms along the Left Bank, just to the south of the Pont Neuf. Scattered throughout the mob are a dozen hired swords, their job: to stiffen the mob and ensure it moves and attacks the right target. The mob advances on the bridge, but the Musketeers at the south end of the bridge have been reinforced by extra Paris Archers and together they are able to hold off the mob until the platoon of mounted Archers ordered to the Place Dauphine by Guy in his role as the Lieutenant of the Archers can circle around, cross over to the Left Bank by the Pont St. Michel, and get behind the mob and disperse them.

Lucien, under the command of Sergeant Ferusac, is with the squad of ten Musketeers providing security at the north end of the Pont Neuf. They wave the first diplomatic carriage through and salute the lead French diplomat, Abbé Charles de l'Aubespine the Marquis de Châteauneuf. After a delay, his coach is followed first by Abbé Scaglia of Savoy then by von Rhäzüns of the Grey League. As they Musketeers wait for Contarini of Venice to arrive, a disguised band[v] of fifteen hired-swords and ex-soldiers approach with their pushcarts. The Musketeers stop them for inspection and Lucien notices a pile of muskets concealed inside one of the carts. Although the odds are against them, the Musketeers engage the swordsmen. Their skirmish traps Contarini’s coach north of the Pont Neuf.

The coaches of the other two foreign Ambassadors continue south, but as they draw abreast of La Samaritaine, they are stopped by a troupe of a dozen street performers including jugglers, fire-eaters, and stilt walkers who begin an impromptu performance in the middle of the Pont Neuf just south of La Samaritaine. Their performance blocks the street and traps the Savoyard and Swiss Ambassadors in their coaches right next to La Samaritaine. Their escorting Musketeers move ahead to clear the performers from their path, but as they do assassins hidden in the booths and stalls nearby use the delay and the confusion created by the performance to attack, first firing their crossbows at and then engaging the Ambassadorial Guards and Musketeer escorts. As crossbow bolts hit home, screams of agony from the victims of The Burning adds a greater note of panic to the melee. While the Savoyan Ambassador prudently takes cover inside his carriage, the Envoy from the Grey League, Freiherrn von Rhäzüns, charges out of his coach to personally lead his guards against the assassins. Rhäzüns is an experience soldier and has come prepared – he is wearing the same heavy armor as his guards and is armed with a broadsword and two loaded pistols.

Gaston has been loitering about the center of the bridge bundled in his cloak, beneath which he wears his buffcoat armor, a pair of loaded horse pistols, and a white scarf – the color of the Bourbons. He sees some commotion on the bridge to the north and then a band of fifteen determined looking mercenaries who use their pushcarts to form a barricade across the Pont Neuf cutting off the route to the Place Daupine and preventing reinforcements from reaching the Ambassadors. As the mercenaries arm themselves with muskets, swords, and half pikes from the pushcarts, Gaston races to the Musketeers led by Corporal Courtivron who are on guard next to the bronze statue of Le Grand Henri. He orders them to “sweep away the barricade and rescue the Ambassadors,” but one of the Musketeers derisively asks, “Who is this ragamuffin to give orders to the King’s Musketeers?”[vi] and Courtivron and his men decline to obey a figure in worn armor and a battered hat and cloak. When no support from the Musketeers is forthcoming, Gaston turns to rally the closest detachment of Swiss Royal Guards. In heavily accented German, he orders them to “Follow me!” as he turns and charges the barricade. Whether inspired by his courage or just to show up the King’s Musketeers, the Swiss begin to move, slowly at first then faster as a Lieutenant of the Paris Archers and then as Jussac, their own officer, order them to attack the barricade; they rush after Gaston and past the Musketeers. Spearheading the charge, Gaston’s lone attack surprises the swordsmen, although the ready a volley. Their leader raises his sword in preparation for the command to fire, but an instant before the order is spoken Gaston falls prone, musket balls whizzing above him. He leaps up and his two blades carve a bloody path through the musketeers. Behind him the Swiss raise their war cry as they engage the mercenaries at the barricade.

At the north end of the Pont Neuf, the Musketeers defeat their opponents who, without the twin advantages of surprise and loaded muskets, are unprepared for combat with the daring King’s Musketeers. The Musketeers take the survivors prisoner and move aside the pushcarts, preparing to advance. Ahead the screams of pain and clash of battle continues. The Abbé Scaglia of Savoy’s driver tries to force a path through the performers and audience on the bridge, but he is either too kindhearted or he is too fearful to let his horses trample them. Sergeant Ferusac leaves several of his men, including all the wounded, to guard the captured hired-swords and protect the Venetian Ambassador, while he leads the rest of his Musketeers forward to rescue the other foreign Ambassadors. However, Lucien can see that to the south, two of the Ambassadors’ carriages are stopped and from there he can hear the tell-tale screams of the victims of The Burning. He looks about, feeling like he is missing some key part of the enemies’ plan. He remembers his friend Rouvroy saying “When the assassins struck at the Comédie-Française the ambassadors were only saved because their guards were in the way and the assassins couldn’t get a clear shot, even from the rooftops.” The rooftops! Lucien notices the tower of La Samaritaine overlooking the Pont Neuf. If there is one thing he has learned as a soldier under Gaston’s tutelage it’s the importance of the high ground. All this chaos and fighting is just a means to separate the Ambassadors from their guards so that the real assassins can get a clear shot. He races to climb the tower stairs towards the roof and the assassins. I hope I can get there in time.

Further south on the Pont Neuf, Gaston vaults onto one end of a pushcart causing the other end to fly up knocking back several defenders. Past their defensive line at last, he races towards the fighting by La Samaritaine. The Swiss won’t need me to clean up this rabble, but in their heavy armor, they’ll never get to the Ambassadors in time. Unnoticed, by those around him, the Lieutenant of the Archers slips through the gap behind Gaston.

Many of the Ambassadors’ Guards and escorting Musketeers have fallen to the poison of The Burning on the assassins’ blades and bolts, but the stalwart guardians have taken a toll of the black-clad assassins. The arrival of Ferusac and the other Musketeers tips the odds against the assassins. The troupe of performers, deciding that performance in a pitched battle was not included in the price of their contract, melt away into the confusion of the crowd. With the tide of battle turning and the performers and crowed dispersing, the Abbé Scaglia’s driver is at last able to break free of the press and race towards the Place Dauphin. But just as the Abbé’s coach reaches full speed, a crossbow bolt strikes the driver between the shoulder blades. He screams in agony and, as The Burning claims yet another victim, the hurtling coach swerves out of control and races headlong towards the remains of the south barricade and beyond it, the giant bronze statue of Le Grand Henri.

Heart pounding and lungs on fire, Lucien reaches the last flight of La Samaratine’s stairs, but no sooner does he reach it, then his sweat-damp hair is clipped by a crossbow bolt which imbeds itself in the railing spattering a trace of venomous green poison. At the top of the stairs are two black clad assassins. The one with the crossbow retreats while his companion draws a pair of daggers – one shaped like a main gauche, the other like a stiletto with a spiked guard; both blades gleam wetly. Lucien and the assassin duel up and down the stair – for Lucien this is like the mock battles of King of the Stair at the Hôtel de Tréville and he rises to the challenge forcing his opponent up the stair. They reach the top floor which is roofed with rafters, where the battle becomes one of position and footing as much as cut and thrust, but again the brave Musketeer rises to the challenge. With a daring leap, he gets behind the assassin and lunges, the assassin parries the Musketeer’s rapier, but misses his second blow with the main gauche – straight through the heart!

Across the Pont Neuf, the driverless coach of the Abbé Scaglia hurtles straight towards Gaston who stands motionless in the center of the bridge. It looks as if he is frozen in fear, but just before the charging horses can crush and trample him, he pivots like a Spanish matador the charging horses main just brushing him as he leaps grabbing the harness and swinging himself up onto the lead horse. The Swiss Guard scatters from the coach’s path as, through main strength and determination, Gaston saws heavily on the reins to bring the coach to a juddering halt just before the barricade.

The Lieutenant of the Archers runs up to the coach and tells the Abbé, “Remain inside your coach, Excellency.” As Gaston climbs up to the driver’s box of the coach, the Swiss Guards return and, under the direction of Jussac, their officer, they clear a path through the barricade. A heavily bearded Swiss Guard comes up to tell the Lieutenant of Archers that the way is clear. But as he does the Lieutenant notices, His eyes…his eyes are wrong! The Swiss draws a throwing knife but the Lieutenant slaps it aside as both say in recognition, “YOU!” The Swiss hammers a blow at the Lieutenant’s head knocking off his helmet and revealing the face of Guy de Bourges. Guy shouts at Gaston, “You must finish the mission! Get the Ambassador to safety.” Gaston cracks the whip and the coach starts to move.

Both combatants are in unfamiliar heavy armor so they cannot easily retreat or advance. Guy draws both his pistols at once, saying “You may be God’s Left Hand, but I have both a left and a right hand.” Both his pistols fire almost as one, but the assassin known as the Left Hand of God moves like a blur despite his armor. One shot goes wide and the other screeches off his breastplate gouging a furrow in the steel. The assassin smiles as he spreads his arms; then with a quick snap of his wrists he has a blade in each hand. Still smiling, he slowly walks towards Guy.

Gaston shouts, “Guy!” as he rapidly cocks then tosses a horse pistol to his friend. Guy snatches it from the air, turns, and fires. The point-blank shot catches the assassin by surprise, piercing his breastplate and hurling him over the edge of the Pont Neuf. As the sound of the racing coach recedes, Guy runs over to the bridge rail. On the rail is a spot of blood and below he sees the quiet circle of ripples where the body fell. He watches, but no one surfaces. “Well Señor, it seems you spoke truly, but what you didn’t realize was that you would be the one to first see God.” Guy crosses himself as he says a silent prayer of thanksgiving for his deliverance.

Atop the tower of La Samaritaine, Lucien runs out onto the parapet, desperately searching for the second assassin, but he seems nowhere to be found. Damn! Where could he have gone? He couldn’t have jumped into the river, could he? Behind and above him, in the ironwork steeple containing the chimes that ring on the hour, the second assassin takes careful aim.

Thanks and prayers said, Guy stoops and rises, in one hand a loaded matchlock musket abandoned by the mercenaries and in the other, a burning match. As he stands, he sees a glint of sun on metal from the ironwork steeple on top of La Samaritaine. He looks closer and sees a black clad figure and below it, his cousin. Lucien! He stands and levels the musket. Steady. Just one shot. Have to make it count. The hiss of the match is followed by the boom of the gun.

Lucien spots the assassin just as he is about to fire. This is it, he thinks. But the assassin doesn’t fire. He seems still for an instant, than the distant sound of a shot is heard and the assassin tumbles backwards into the chimes then off the tower. The ringing of the chimes drowns out the sound of his body hitting the stones of the bridge below. Lucien looks out onto the bridge and sees a figure, foreshortened by distance, waving his helmet in an oddly familiar look-at-me gesture. Lucien says to himself, “Guy...of course who else could it be but my cousin?” Then he smiles contentedly.

Ferusac and von Rhäzüns lead their remaining men in a joint attack against the last few assassins. But just as victory seems certain, the valiant von Rhäzüns falls to the treacherous bolt of an assassin; his cry of anguish echoes as the poison of The Burning courses through his body. But Fabre is nearby and he is prepared. Working night and day for nine nights and eight days, he has labored to crack the secret of the terrible poison known as, The Burning, and at last, on the ninth night he finally penetrated its secret and was able to concoct an antidote. There was not time enough nor ingredients enough to prepare more than one or two doses, but that should be enough to save the brave von Rhäzüns if only his heart is strong enough to endure the pain until the antidote can take effect. As Fabre wonders if von Rhäzüns will survive or if there is someone with a greater claim on his skill, a familiar voice calmly says, “Fabre. The antidote…Take this your Excellency, it may help.” It had better help, Guy thought wryly. We need all four of you to sign this treaty.


He woke to a sensation of falling; a fall that seemed to last forever, but ended suddenly, with a crash and a feeling of cold prickling his skin as if he were being drenched in an icy rain. The cold seemed to soak into his bones stiffening his muscles and the light faded as everything grew dark and cloudy. But he was not afraid. He felt at peace, weightless as if cradled in the arms of the mother he never knew. He thought that now he could rest.

“Martin…Martin, it is not your time.” The voice was deep and low, so low that it made his entire chest vibrate in rhythm with the voice. “It is not your time, my son. The Wicked still walk the earth and your task still remains.” He could see a light through his closed eyelids. He opened his eyes; in front of him he saw a figure silhouetted against a very, bright light. “You must head to the light. Swim to the light, my son.”

He dragged himself a few more feet up the cold mud of the bank, then paused coughing and spitting the cold river water from his mouth. His limbs felt cold and heavy, even without the armor he’d shed. Behind him sunset turned the River Seine the color of blood. The ungodly never rest. And neither can I. Time to be moving. [vii]

[i]     Le Pont Neuf (the New Bridge) is the newest bridge in Paris. It was commissioned by Henry IV; construction of the “New Bridge” began in 1578 but due to design changes and the cost and disruption of the Wars of Religion, it was not completed until 1607. Unlike the Pont Notre-Dame, the Pont Neuf does not include houses along its span, though it was designed with structures in mind; instead it has a raised area with bastions for pedestrians. Many people congregate there, drawn by various stands and street performers (acrobats, fire-eaters, musicians, etc.) Charlatans and quacks of various sorts are common, as well as the hustlers (shell-game hucksters, etc.) and pickpockets often found in crowds – not to mention a lively trade in prostitution. Among the many businesses which, however unofficially, set up there are several famous tooth pullers. A bronze statue of King Henri IV “Le Grande Henri” sits at the center of the span where it crosses the Île de la Cité.
[ii]     The Spanish Plan
Pro-Spanish agitators plan to rouse an angry mob of tax protestors on the Left Bank and lead them over the Pont Neuf to storm the Palace Dauphine. The mob will be stiffened by a dozen swordsmen to ensure it moves towards and attacks the right target. But the mob is only intended as a distraction to pull away the guards on the bridge, block reinforcements from the Left Bank, and clear the way for assassins to strike once the Ambassadors who are traveling from the Right Bank are on the Bridge.
At the same time a dozen street performers, including jugglers, fire-eaters, and stilt walkers, will block traffic by performing a show in the middle of the Pont Neuf just south of La Samaritaine. The performers have been hired by pro-Spanish agitators; their performance will block the street past La Samaritaine which will trap the Ambassadors in their coaches right next to La Samaritaine. Behind the ambassadorial coaches, a group of fifteen hired-swords and ex-soldiers in disguise will use pushcarts to barricade the Pont Neuf to block the Ambassador’s retreat; a dozen loaded muskets are concealed inside the carts. At the same time another group of fifteen will create a similar barricade south of the coaches to block the route to the Place Dauphine and to prevent reinforcements from the south from reaching the Ambassadors. The swordsmen will then defend their barricades with musket and sword. 
Taking advantage of the confusion, a band of masked assassins armed with crossbows and hidden inside the shop stalls and the will emerge and attack the Ambassadors in their isolated coaches. As a backup, additional assassins will make their way to the tower of La Samaratine. Meanwhile, The Left Hand of God, will be operating along and in disguise; he will provide a last strike option in case the other efforts fail.
[iii]    The King’s Musketeers consist of 1 Musketeer retainer and 4 Elite Guards.
[iv]    The mob consists of 60 Pawns (Competence 0 Rabble); they are stiffened with 2 Swordsmen leaders and 10 Hired Sword Pawns.
[v]     A two groups of swordsmen each consist of 15 men: 12 Hired Sword Pawns commanded by 3 Swordsmen Retainers organized into 3 groups of 1 Swordsman & 4 Hired Swords.
[vi]    The one asking the question is Léonide de Termopillae.
[vii]   The Left Hand of God is a Villain and he used Fortune Points to survive his battle with Guy and his fall from the Pont Neuf into the River Seine.

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