Thursday, September 17, 2015

The duc de Bellegarde's Ball: Chaper I (revised version)

So even more editing was necessary. I neglected to check with the player who captures dialog. Once I she walked me through her notes, I got a lot more dialog, a different outcome to a couple of events, and a different timeline. Writing is a work in progress. So here is the revised version of Chapter I. Fortunately I got her notes for Chapter II at the same time, so I won't need to do that dance. As a bonus I added captions and included pictures of the three PCs.

Chapter I: Arrival at the Ball

Guy de Bourges

Lieutenant Gaston Thibeault

Father Gaétan Signoret SJ

The characters decided to seek the permission of the Provincial Governor of Burgundy, Roger de Saint-Lary de Termes, Duc de Bellegarde, to conduct their investigation inside his province. To this end, they enlisted the help of the Duc’s Chamberlain and Gaston’s friend, Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan. Racan, used his control of the guest list to add them to the ball, which was scheduled for the night of Saturday February 18, 1623 from 9PM until 3AM. Realizing they must quickly prepare, the friends hastened to obtain suitable attire. Guy, aided by his trusted valet Fabré, leisurely bathed then dressed in one of his impeccably fashionable suits. Meanwhile the others hurriedly pulled together something to wear: Signoret contented himself with the somber garb of a Jesuit Priest, his only accent, the rapier at his side; while Gaston was fortunate to still have the fashionable brown suit given to him by Maréchal Bassompierre.

As they arrived at the Hôtel Bellegarde, they entered a courtyard lit by giant torchiers. In the courtyard, they were greeted by house servants, one of whom inquired as to their names and titles so that a herald could announce each guest. Within the mansion, were side rooms with buffet tables heaped with mounds of food and flowing with rivers of wine and a series of salons, side doors open, where guests could eat, drink, or even find a quiet corner for conversation. Beyond, on one side was an ornately decorated ballroom lit by several large chandeliers and hundreds of genuine wax candles. One wall of the ballroom was adorned with mirrors that reflected the gorgeously attired dancers, while the other had a series of French doors that gave access to the garden. The three companions decided to first take a look at the food and drink tables and then to separate so they could locate the Duc de Bellegarde. 

The two side rooms were crowded with people queuing up to fill their bellies or their glasses. In each of the two rooms a group of foreigners and diplomats held court. In one room were the Spanish Ambassador and his entourage along with some French nobles who were well disposed to Spain and to the devôt cause. While in the other room was a cluster of diplomats from several other countries.

Gaston moved away from the Spanish entourage. In the other room he saw several familiar faces from the Valetelline treaty talks. For a time the soldier listened to the diplomats discuss current events. The Swiss Grisson envoy, von Razuns, mentioned that he had heard a rumor that many French regiments would be called up for this year’s campaign season and that it was said that there will be two fronts for the campaigns and the King himself will lead one the main force. But when they noticed Gaston, the envoys turned the discussion to the Battle on the Pont Neuf. The Venetian envoy made a point of thanking Gaston for his actions there and at the theatre, even going so far as to embrace Gaston. Then von Razuns mentioned his mysterious rescuer who had appeared from nowhere to deliver an antidote to the terrible poison known as The Burning. “I wish I knew who that man was so I could thank him.” Since one seemed to be able to shed any light on the mystery, von Razuns asked to hear the story of Gaston’s charge of the barricade. 

Meanwhile, the English ambassador, James Hay the Earl of Carlisle, introduced himself to Guy and mentioned that he had heard that the assassins who had attacked the envoys were sent by the Spanish. While Guy agreed with Carlisle that he too had heard rumors to that effect, Signoret, who had overheard the English Ambassador’s accusation, quickly made his way towards the Spanish delegation. “Rumors,” Guy said. “That might even be true.” 

Carlisle observed that Guy seemed to be singularly well informed, then suggested that he would be interested in any other information that Guy might know. He seems to be looking to add me to his network, Guy thought to himself.

Father Signoret made his way to the adjacent room where the Spanish were ensconced. In the same room, he noticed, a nobleman, who he later learned was the Baron de Foix-Gras, by the food tables. The Baron was engaged in a valiant effort to demolish the mounds of food singlehanded. Not far away, his pretty wife Hélène stood and gazed longingly towards the dance floor with an occasional backward glance towards her husband.

Standing by the Spanish Signoret noticed a thin man who moved with the grace of an accomplished swordsman and who wore a black tabard and a cape emblazoned with the crest of the Knights of Malta. A Knight of Malta, I must remember to speak with him tonight, Signoret thought as he stepped forward and introduced himself to the nearest member of the group, who he learned was Don Roderigo, the aide to the Spanish Ambassador. In an off-hand way, he told Don Roderigo that he had heard the English Ambassador suggesting that the Spanish were responsible for the recent assassination attempts on foreign diplomats. In contradiction, Don Roderigo said, “Those English heretics will say anything to blacken the good name of Spain.” Don Roderigo than asked if the Father was related to Guy de Bourges. Signoret said that Guy was his cousin. Don Roderigo said “Some time I would like to meet this cousin of yours. He seems like an interesting young man.”

“But I must beg your pardon, it is rude of me to go on about another when you are here. I was pleasantly surprised to see a priest of the Jesuit Order here. I did not know that the Duc de Bellegarde favored the Jesuits.”

“Our Order is in many places and we have many friends,” Signoret said noncommittally.

“I would be interested in learning anything you discover. We’ve had a difficult time advancing the agenda of King Phillipe and God here in France.” Just then, Gaston passed by and the Jesuit noticed that one of the Spaniards, Don Martin, stared at Gaston, then excused himself from a conversation with the Knight of Malta, to follow Gaston. Signoret in turn excused himself and headed out into the garden.

The garden was lit by torches and liveried servants wandered to and fro with trays of delicacies and goblets of fine wine. Going further into the garden, Signoret saw a beautiful woman who he recognized as the contessa di Montefusco in the arms of a man. He moved closer to get a better look, but was interrupted by the Contessa’s dwarf, L’Omino. “You are a crow spying on others! Go to another part of the garden.” Signoret left, at first retracing his steps, then circling back from another direction. From this vantage he was able to see that the man who was with the Contessa was the Duc de Bellegarde. As he watched, the two embraced and kissed. Signoret quietly slipped away and set out to find Guy to tell him what he had seen.
Giovanna di Montefusco, contessa di Montefusco

After taking leave from the Earl Carlisle, Guy headed towards the ballroom, but on the way he was intercepted by a beautiful noblewoman whose elegant black lace veil disguised her features. Which somehow reminded Guy of someone…a face that he couldn’t quite place. She told Guy that she was a recently widowed noblewoman and that she came here “Hoping to cheer myself up, but now it seems that no one wants to speak to or be seen with a widow.”
Mysterious Lady

Seeing she was in need of some assistance. Guy asked her to dance. As they danced, she indirectly questioned Guy, “Monsieur did not come alone? Ah I thought I saw you arrive with several others. It seems that Monsieur has such interesting friends.” Subtly she cajoled Guy into revealing that his friends: Chancie, Gaston, and Signoret were here. She seemed particularly interested in Gaston and before he realized it, Guy had agreed to introduce the lady to Gaston. 

Guy found Gaston and introduced him to the lady, who said that she was interested in hearing about the fighting on the Pont Neuf. In reply, Gaston said that the tale was one not suitable for a lady’s ears.

“Well, perhaps you will be more forthcoming on the dance floor?”

“I don’t dance,” said Gaston.

“You mean you don’t dance…yet,” she archly replied. “Certainly a graceful duelist like you only needs the right person to show him the steps.”

As the lady led Gaston onto the dance floor, Guy wondered how the lady knew that Gaston was a noted duelist. I didn’t mention that when I introduced them.

Guy went to find his acquaintance and occasional patron, Jean de la Tour Chevalier de Vezelay, the Provost of Paris. He must know Bellegarde, Guy thought. And he owes me, so it should not be too difficult to prevail upon him to provide an introduction to the Duke. As Guy walked up to the Provost, he was surprised to see the Vezaelay was not alone. Standing next to him was the Baron Villemorin.
Jean de la Tour Chevalier de Vezelay and Provost of Paris

The Provost said, “Ah, my dear de Bourges. You are looking exceptionally well this evening.” The  two next exchanged a series of increasingly florid and ingratiating compliments. Then the Provost said, “I believe you know the estimable Baron Villemorin. He is here at the request of the Duc de Bellegarde.”

“I hope there is no difficulty with the guest list. You are not here to escort someone to a pressing engagement elsewhere? Villemorin sensed the comment was pointedly directed at him, stared at Guy quietly, then said, “I must find my brother, Paulin.” He bowed to the Provost saying, “Your excellency,” then nodded to Guy, “de Bourges” and walked away. 

“Ah, it seemed the pressing appointment was his.,” Guy said cheerfully then explained to the Provost that he is investigating the rumors of mysterious Black Wagons on behalf of the Bishop de Lomenie of Marseille and asked Vezelay to provide an introduction so that he may obtain the consent of the Duc de Bellegarde. The Provost agreed on the condition that Guy not act against the Duke. “Not knowingly,” said Guy, which Vezelay took as acceptance and agreed to provide an introduction as a favor to Guy. 

Out on the dance floor, the veiled lady questioned Gaston. Though his soldierly responses were terse to the point of brusqueness, the lady continued to laugh charmingly as she showed him the courtly dance steps. As they circled, Gaston noticed Maréchal Bassompierre dancing with an elegantly dressed noblewoman. And as they passed the Maréchal said, “Lieutenant Thibeault” in recognition as he nodded approvingly towards Gaston.

“Ah,” said the lady, “The Maréchal is with his usual partner.”

“The lady?” Gaston asked. 

“Is Louise-Marguerite de Lorraine, princesse de Conti. They say that she still carries a torch for the handsome Maréchal…and he for her.” 

“That’s nice. I guess,” said Gaston. 

“Her husband may not agree,” said the lady and she and Gaston whirled away from the other pair.

At the end of that dance, the lady said she was becoming “Quite warm. Let’s go out in the garden where it may…less crowded.” As they headed for the garden, Gaston noticed that the Baron Villemorin and his brother Paulin were badgering some rabbit of a courtier. The courtier turned pale at some word from the Baron and quickly fled the ballroom as the laughter of the two Villemorins echoed behind him. Gaston stared coldly at the Villemorins. The lady watched with a thoughtful expression, then took Gaston’s arm and said, “Shall we go to the garden?”

As he passed from the garden to the ballroom, Signoret overheard a number of guests talking about a dangerous prisoner who was rumored to have escaped from the Bastille without a trace. The prisoner was said to be an assassin under sentence of death for the murder of the Marquis D’Angoumois. Good thing I have my sword, Signoret thought as he placed his hand on his hilt. 

Having obtained the promised introduction, Guy moved towards the ballroom to look for Bellegarde. In the antechamber, he spoke briefly to a sad looking Baronne de Foix-Gras then continued in to the ballroom where he saw, standing alone on the sidelines, his childhood friend, the widowed Madame de Combalet. She smiled sadly as she noticed Guy. “Ah my dear friend it is good to see a friendly face. So many here ignore me.” To cheer her up, Guy invited her to dance and congratulated her on her uncle’s elevation to Cardinal. “You are most kind. Yes, my uncle, he works so hard and always in the interest of France.”

Marie-Madeleine de Vignerod, Madame de Combalet

Guy asked her about the latest gossip at court, which she provided, then he told her about some of his recent activities. 

“My friend, you are too rash. I worry so about you.”

“I assure you I am most careful,” Guy said, “But some prayers would not be amiss, should you feel so inclined.” 

“I did not wait for you to ask,” she said quietly. “Now that you are back in Paris, my friend, you must beware of Perè Joseph, who I fear still bears a grudge for that matter of which you never speak.”

To change the subject, Guy gently squeezed Marie de Combalet’s hand and said, as he noticed his cousin Signoret’s approach, “My dear friend, let me introduce you to my dear cousin on my mother’s side, Father Gaétan Signoret of the Society of Jesus.” 

Signoret bowed towards Madame de Combalet as she said, “You wear a sword, Father.”

“Dueling is my passion,” Signoret replied.

“So you are a soldier of God in two senses?” Madame de Combalet eagerly began a discussion with the Jesuit on matters theological and philosophical. Their discourse began in French, switched to Latin, and would have continued in Greek had the Jesuit been able to continue. Instead he changed the subject and they discussed the rumor that a theologian from Grenoble was to be brought to Paris, where he was to be burned for his heretical writings. Madame de Combalet then pointed out their host, the Duc de Bellegarde, and his wife, Anne de Bueil-Fontaine, Duchess de Bellegarde. Signoret noticed that the Duc was dancing exclusively with the same beautiful Contessa di Montefusco who he had been with in the garden and Guy noticed that Bellegarde’s wife, the Duchess was watching as well, and with mounting annoyance, as her husband continued to dance with the much younger women. Seeing Bellegarde reminded Signoret that he had additional information about the Duc and the Contessa for Guy, which he quickly provided. 

Seeing that Bellegarde might be available, if not this moment, then perhaps soon, Guy graciously excused himself from Madam de Combalet and his cousin to look for the Provost and his promised introduction.
Roger de Saint-Lary de Termes, Duc de Bellegarde

As he combed the ballroom, he noticed that Bellegarde and the Contessa had stopped dancing. The Contessa returned to the side of the ballroom where her dwarf, L’Omino waited. She unobtrusively handed her familiar something and the dwarf left. Guy watched the dwarf as he took a circuitous route to reach the Duc de Bellegarde then passed him a note, which Bellegarde glanced at, then put in his pocket before he rapidly left the ballroom.

Seeing the Contessa di Montefusco walking towards the garden, Signoret abruptly left, not even pausing to bid Madame Combalet adieu, and walked towards the garden to look for the Italian countess. Outside, he noticed Gaston put his arms around an attractive and veiled noblewoman. At first she seemed to yield to the soldier’s embrace, then suddenly she cried out, pushed him away, and slapped him. The Jesuit nodded in approval of what he hoped was the lady’s chaste rejection of Gaston’s advance then continued his search for the Contessa. But when Signoret saw Bellegarde heading away from the ballroom, he changed direction and hurried to follow the Duc. By the refreshments, he caught up with the Duc, who was loitering in the courtyard. The Jesuit quickly returned to the ballroom, found Guy, and suggested they follow Bellegarde.

As the two walked towards the courtyard the fireworks started. The two cousins found it impossible to move against the flow of guests rushing outside to watch the fireworks. They took refuge behind a pillar as they watched for the Duc. Not seeing him, once the crowd had passed, they continued, but by the time they had reached the courtyard, the Duc de Bellegarde was gone. 

Gaston, his face stinging from the unexpected slap, muttered, “Damn nobles. They don’t know what they want.” He shook his head as he picked up a goblet of red wine and tossed it back. “What they all need is…” but his softly voiced thought was never completed as he spotted the brothers Villemorin cornering another victim. “And I’m just the man to give it to them,” he said as he hitched his sword belt a touch higher and checked that his blades were both free in their sheaths.

As he slowly paced forward, Gaston glanced from side to side noting which guests were armed and near enough to act. Baron Villemorin and his brother Paulin had cornered a new victim. A slightly pudgy, harmless looking minor noble who looked more like a clerk or a lawyer than a duelist. Unfortunately for the clerk, he had made the mistake of belting on a sword when he left his home that night. A mistake that the Baron intended to see was one mistake that the man would never have occasion to make again. 
Rémy le Dommarien Baron de Villemorin

Villemorin intentionally crowded his victim, insulted his dress, his morals, and his courage – anything to force the mouse to challenge the cat. And it worked. The would-be swordsman uttered three fatal words, “I demand satisfaction.” 

Though the brave words were foolishly said, the words made Gaston like the fat little clerk, just a little. And he already disliked the Baron. So he physically forced his way past the younger Villemorin so he could speak to their would-be victim. He suggested to the clerk that it “appears that Monsieur may be in need of a trusty second. Someone familiar with the code duello and who has a true sentiment du fer. Most necessary, especially in the event that Monsieur should find himself unwell.”

“A second? I don’t..I mean, yes. Thank you Monsiuer. I have never been in a duel and someone who knows the rules and protocols would be most welcome to me now. My name is Michaud.”

“Never been in a duel,” Gaston said to himself. “Who would have guessed?” It seemed that the underlying meaning of his suggestion was completely lost on the would-be duelist. Gaston shrugged in resignation as he thought; Well let us see what I can salvage. In a louder voice he said, “Monsieur Michaud, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Lieutenant Gaston Thibeault of the Picardy Musketeers and your second.”

Paulin, who was to act as his brother’s second, objected to a commoner like Gaston as a second, which caused Gaston to rudely insult Paulin. Who angrily replied that he would have his footman thrash Gaston. 
Paulin le Dommarien Siegneur de Villemorin

“They might try,” Gaston said coldly. “But they are not with you now, boy.”

“Of course if the Baron, your brother, is willing to apologize then seconds will be unnecessary and thus you will be…unnecessary.”

The elder Villemorin knew that Lieutenant Thibeault was a master of the Italian style and a well known duelist, and though most of those duels were against commoners, they were skilled commoners. He decided to end the bickering before young Paulin talked himself into a double duel with Thibeault as his opponent. 

Gaston explained to Michaud that the Baron Villemorin was an accomplished swordsman and tried to persuade Michaud to let him try to settle the duel with an apology. “They insulted me. I have nothing to apologize for.”

“Your bravery is admirable. But it may be fatal.” But Michaud remained determined not to back down no matter the cost. “As you wish, Monsieur. I will speak to the Baron’s second.”

Paulin stated that his brother, the Baron, wanted an immediate resolution of the matter and he suggested that they repair to the path by the Seine. “We won’t be interrupted there.” Gaston tried to arrange for a duel in pairs, but Paulin said that his brother had said not. 

At this, Gaston smiled coldly at Paulin and said, “How fraternal and how...practical.” In turn Gaston insisted that the duel should be fought, not to the death, and they agreed on a duel to the second blood. The four men repaired to the river walk. The Seine was dark, but beyond the vacant Isle Notre Dame, they could see a few lights from the Left Bank.

As Villemorin and Michaud raised their swords in salute, the night was lit by an explosion of fireworks from the garden of the Hôtel Bellegarde.

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