Saturday, December 31, 2016

Requiem for a Villain: Frederick Bolmer

Frederick Bolmer

Frederick Bolmer was first encountered during the diplomatic mission to the Netherlands where he was a rival for the affections the beautiful Beatrijs van Tilborgh. Bolmer felt that, as the richest man in the town of Tilborgh, Beatrijs was his due. Guy de Bourges had been asked by Baron Henri de la Ferte-Senneterre to arrange for Beatrijs to leave Tilborgh for France. Guy's attempt to fetch Beatrijs' drew the attention of Frederick Bolmer to them. Bolmer  warned Guy off by telling him that "no one else will have the fair Beatrijs." When Guy ignored his warning, Bolmer attacked Guy by surprise using his hidden sword cane. Guy held his own and more against the skilled Bolmer and, with the intervention of Father Signoret, the odds tipped against Bolmer. Wounded, the Dutchman retreated around the corner of a building, then ducked back to fire a parting shot with his pistol that barely missed Guy. Bolmer was encountered again in Amsterdam where he tried to find Beatrijs and to kill Guy.

More recently, some of the other characters ran into Bolmer near Orleans where he and his men tried several times to kidnap Beatrijs and where Bolmer himself nearly killed his rival, Baron Henri. But this time there was no escape for Bolmer. The player characters set a clever trap for Bolmer and they had not intention of letting him escape again and Gaston made certain that Bolmer's next meal would be served in hell.

Note that Bolmer was designed to be better than a starting hero or villain. He possesses qualities of Daring, Savvy, and Flair that are at least the equal of any PC, which made him a significant challenge to the heroes. His picture is from a painting by Frans Hals circa 1616. Here's the full painting.

Banquet of the Officers of the Saint George Civic Guard

At some point I accidentally deleted the electronic version of Bolmer's character sheet. Here is a scan of my only paper copy. The scan includes a number of my handwritten notes showing both my marginal penmanship and how I use the NPC sheets in practice. The back of Bolmer's character sheet depicts an early version of Beatrijs' character sheet.

In a follow up post, I'll list some of Bolmer's henchmen, many of whom have been added to the list of the dead.

Also, Happy New Year Everyone!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance | Book I: Winter of the Wolf, Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5: Metamorphosis

The Woodsman completed his metamorphosis into a giant, fearsome beast—the loup garou! As the Town Guards shook with fear, the watching Yvette screamed and fainted. The Beast pulled at its chains, but the sturdy iron rings held. The Beast howled again in pain and rage and pulled harder. With a screech of tortured metal and a crack of stone the iron ring bolts tore loose from the wall. The Beast was free! 

The panicked Town Guards fired but their shots were wild. The Beast hurled one guard’s lifeless body crashing into the alchemical equipment which exploded in a wave of boiling liquids and a cloud of noxious gas. With its other paw, it dragged Odo to its chest and bit him. Odo fell, his throat half torn out by its fangs. The Governor ran for the exit as the Town Guard fled as well. Signoret hit the Beast with a pistol shot. Gaston lunged, impaling the creature through the chest, but the Beast tore the blade free. Norbert swung his sword, but the beast ignored the cuts and pistol shots that flecked its hide with blood as it leapt over Gaston’s head and tore through a pair of guards too slow to escape the path of its single-minded pursuit of the Governor. But Armand Labrousse stepped into in the Beast’s path, sword in hand to protect his brother. The creature batted the sword aside and fastened its jaws in Armand’s arm nearly tearing it from his body. 

Though his hands shook in fear of the fearsome creature, Jacques leaned over Armand’s body and fired his pistol pointblank in the Beast’s face felling it. He prodded it with his rapier then kicked it. “I killed it,” he said in relief. Armand staggered to his feet and holding his wounded arm to his chest, he followed after his brother and the others. 

Suddenly the four comrades were the only people still standing. Mel and Yvette must have fled in the confusion. Norbert and Jacques decided to return to the courtyard to recover the cage so they could place the dead beast inside. Meanwhile, Signoret decided to explore the other exit from the torture chamber. He opened the door and saw a long, straight corridor. Somewhere in the distance he could hear water dripping. Calling to Gaston, the two followed the corridor. 

Norbert and Jacques dragged the heavy iron cage from the courtyard down to the dungeon. On the way, they were joined by Governor Labrousse with several of his guards. As they neared the alchemical torture chamber, they heard a snarling sound coming from the room. Labrousse said, “The creature is still alive. Quickly we must capture it before it regains its full strength.” Reluctantly Jacques and Norbert led the guards forward. 

As they step into the room they saw a body lying spread eagled on the alchemist table and crouched over the body was the Beast. It had savaged Odo whose chest was torn open, ribs splayed apart like the reeds of a broken basket. As they watched in horror, the Beast pulled Odo’s bleeding heart from his chest and ate it. “Oh, that’s just wrong!” cried Jacques.

The beast raised its head and its blood curdling howl echoed from the dungeon walls. Then it sprang towards them. Jacques and Norbert stood aside to allow the Beast a clear path. The creature tore its way through the guards. Presumably it was in pursuit of its final victim—the Governor. But once again, Labrousse had already fled. Norbert and Jacques looked about the room in confusion as they wondered where Gaston and Signoret had gone, and then they turned back in pursuit of the Beast and of Governor Labrousse.  

Ahead they heard the screams and sounds of the beast rending all who stood in its path as it tore its way past guards and smashed through locked doors in its haste to reach the Governor. They reached one of the chateau’s towers and took a direct stair to a room at the tower’s top. Ahead of them, they saw the Governor dart into a room. Quickly they followed him inside. They saw that they were in some private room of the Governor’s and somehow they had gotten ahead of the Beast. They barred the door at the Governor’s command. Not an instant too soon as they heard the sound of claws dragging slowly across the wood of the door. “You must protect me!” the Governor cried. 

“Well, I’m not so sure we must,” said Norbert. Further conversation was interrupted as they heard a tremendous crash against the door that cracked the bar and sprung it from its hinges. Standing in the doorway was the huge, hairy figure of the Loup Garou!

“Jacques,” Norbert said. “Why don’t we let it have the Governor?” As he said this, Norbert stepped to one side. Labrousse’s eyes widened in surprise as he slowly backed away from the beast. The Governor seemed completely unaware that behind him gaped an open window.

“But what about when he’s done with the Governor?” Jacques asked. The Loup Garou’s spring made Jacques question moot.

Gaston and Signoret raced towards the sounds of conflict and the repeated howls of the wolf. Their path through the chateau was littered with the remains of doors burst asunder and the bodies of those who had stood in the path of the beast. “Hurry,” Gaston said. “That damn monster is alive…again! Gods Blood! I don’t know what it takes to kill this fiend, but I swear to God the next time I kill it I will cut its cursed head off. Let’s see it get up from that!”

At the end of a narrow, winding stair they reached an inner chamber at the top of the tower. Inside they saw the Beast slowly stalking towards the Governor. Without a word, Gaston lunged at the beast. The point of his rapier drew a shallow gash across the Beast’s side distracting it. Taking advantage of its distraction, the Governor glanced once meaningfully at Norbert and Jacques, then turned and leapt through the window. 

With a snarl of rage, the wolf turned on Gaston fastening its immense jaws around his shoulder and neck. Gaston twisted loose, and before the Beast could attack him a second time, he too sprang through the window. 

Its prey fled, the Beast turned to leave the tower room. Jacques, Norbert, and Signoret stood aside then as the creature passed, Jacques and Signoret attacked its flanks. But their attacks did not even slow the Beast. It raced down the stairs and into the courtyard where it killed any who stood in its path. Tremendous muscles bunched in the Beast’s arms as it lifted the heavy portcullis and escaped into the night.

Dripping wet from the moat, Gaston and the Governor make their way back into the Chateau. Signoret used the brazier of hot coals in the dungeon to heat the sliver Key of St. Hubertus. Gaston gritted his teeth as the Jesuit repeatedly applied the red hot nail head to his flesh to cauterize the wounds with appropriate prayer and ceremony to complete the ritual of St. Hubertus’ Key. The smell of Gaston’s burning flesh caused Yvette to faint once again.

Meanwhile, at Gaston’s orders, Norbert, Jacques, and the Red Guards scavenge silver from the Chateau, coming up with a pair of table knives, a fish fork, and a candlestick. Then the party returned to the town of Soissons. 

Chapter 6: In the Lair of the Werewolf

Once they were back inside Soissons, Gaston took command of the remaining town guards and ordered them to prepare to hunt down the wolves. Norbert found an arbalest in the town armory and persuaded the smith to use one of the table knives to hammer out a silver point for an arbalest bolt. Signoret had Claude chop up the silver candlesticks into bits to use as ammunition for a blunderbuss that the Red Guards had found somewhere in town. Gaston’s men had also found something for Gaston. In the back of the armory was a two-handed sword. The blade was at least a century old, but it seemed sound. “Well done mes amis, that is just the thing to remove the head from this devil spawned Loup Garou!” Gaston said.

Norbert asked Father Signoret to see that Yvette was safe in the Cathedral, after arranging that with Brother Crispin, Signoret obtained crosses for the soldiers and tried to persuade them to each carry a cross as protection against the evil of the werewolf. Unfortunately his speech prompted a debate about whether or not it was sacrilegious for Jacques to hang a cross around the neck of his horse which involved citations from all five crusades as well as a discussion of patron saints. No sooner had that been resolved by Signoret agreeing to let Jacques purchase extra crosses with his own money, then someone else pointed out that all the Loup Garou’s victims so far had been wearing a cross of some kind. This caused many to conclude that wearing a cross was the equivalent of painting a target on one’s chest. That idea caught on with the crowd with the result that very few soldiers other than Jacques took a cross. However Jacques and his horse were liberally festooned with crosses. 

Gaston gave a speech to inspire the mixed force telling them that the Loup Garou could be killed. “It bleeds and if it bleeds it can be killed. We have downed it twice already and this time I’m going to make sure it stays dead. I’m going to personally cut off its Satan spawned head and stick it on a spike.” The men seemed reassured by Gaston’s speech and by the fact that he would be personally leading the force from the front. The party lit torches and set out for the entrance to the lair of the Loup Garou. In addition to Father Signoret, Norbert, Mel, and Jacques, Gaston brought the five surviving Red Guards: Albert, Clovis, Duval, Eugène, and Francis as well as thirty of the Soissons town guard. While the town guards walked, the others were mounted, and the party brought the wolf cage on a wagon. They made camp outside the cave mouth to wait for daylight.

A chorus of wolf howls was heard all night long and their camp was disturbed by numerous attacks aimed at their horses. Gaston remained awake all night, pacing the perimeter of the camp. The picket line remained secure and the large number of soldiers allowed a strong guard so that each attack was driven off as Gaston ordered massed musket fire and a defense with polearms. The result was that although no one got any sleep, there were no casualties of men or horses. 

After sunrise, Gaston split his command in two, leaving half the town guard under the command of Eugène and the already wounded Albert to guard the camp and horses and to serve as a reserve. They divided the silver weapons. Norbert had the arbalest and its silver tipped quarrel, Signoret had the blunderbuss loaded with chunks of silver candlestick and slung across his back, Jacques had the two-tined silver fish fork, and Gaston had a silver table knife, the tip of which he had ground to a wicked point. As he had promised, Gaston personally led the soldiers into the cave mouth.[i] The cave was low and narrow with room for only two to pass and it sloped steeply downwards. Crouched low to avoid the roof, Gaston had his rapier in one hand and his Spanish vizcaina in the other. Jacques crouched next to his captain carrying a rapier and a torch to light their way.

A few yards into the cave, Gaston slipped down the slope and was suddenly attacked by a pair of wolves who leapt out of an alcove on the left.[ii] In one of the alcoves to the right, came the snarl of still more wolves. Jacques and Signoret moved to block the wolves on the right. Jacques swung his torch to bar the wolves, the glove of the torch showed many eyes glowing back amidst the darkness. Gaston rolled to avoid the spring of the first wolf, leaving it with a gash along its flank. He then fended off a second wolf with his sword hilt, then plunged his Spanish blade into the wolf’s chest, feeling for its heart. Norbert moved up to a small cliff[iii] beyond which the cave opened up into a larger chamber with a higher roof. Past him, the wounded wolf ran howling into the dark.

Jacques called, “Musketeers here!” The town guards blazed away at the glow of eyes, killing some of the wolves. The survivors attacked and were impaled on the points of the men’s half pikes and swords. While the musketeers reloaded, Signoret and Jacques ascertained that the passages on the right were dead ends.[iv]

Gaston reformed his men. Inside the larger room[v] they formed into a square. Here he divided his men yet again leaving the town guards in line facing the opening to the right. These men were under the command of Clovis while the captain led Jacques, Norbert, Mel, Signoret, and two of the Red Guards: Duval who carried the two handed sword and Francis who carried a torch and pistol. Gaston led the other six along a wide passage bisected by a shallow pool of water into a second large chamber with a high ceiling and a boulder strewn floor.[vi] Father Signoret noticed a lot of wolf tracks and some of the strange prints of the Loup Garou, but there were so many tracks going backwards and forwards that he could not determine where the tracks would end.

Figuring that the boulders might hide an ambush, Gaston led the group to the right.[vii] Here Mel said that he could smell wolves off to their left. Norbert quietly suggested that they talk to the Beast so that it might reveal its position. Gaston waved assent, so Norbert loudly called out telling the Beast that he should surrender and repent to save his soul. In a deep, gravelly voice the Woodsman said that he had sold his soul to Satan to obtain his revenge. “And once I tear the still beating heart from the chest of that foul fiend Labrousse and devour it before his own dying eyes I shall call the deal a fair one.”

“Then you are truly damned,” Signoret said regretfully.

The only answer was a cry. A cry that started as a howl then a scream of a human in agony which changed to the eerie, spine tingling cry of the Loup Garou! The howling echoed back and forth among the rocks as if there were a dozen monsters surrounding them. “Steady.” Gaston said. “Form circle! Back to back men and ready your weapons.” The eerie cry of the Loup Garou sounded once more then from out of the darkness, a pair of wolves leapt at Norbert and Mel. After them surged a flood of fur clad bodies with flashing teeth. Distantly they heard gunshots in a rippling volley that echoed through the cave. 

Norbert avoided the first wolf’s spring then drew his broadsword which he swung in great arcs driving back the tide of wolves. Mel fought with a wolf that had grasped his arm in its teeth. Jacques and Signoret strode forward firing their pistols pointblank into the bodies of the wolves. Gaston, Duval, and Francis had just finished off the wolf that had sprung past Norbert when they heard the eerie howl of the Loup Garou as it leapt at Francis. Gaston thrust, but the Beast twisted in mid-air to avoid his blade. This gave Francis time to stumble away from the terrifying beast. The creature landed in the middle of the party’s circle. The Beast swiped at Gaston with its claws which he fended off with his rapier as he stabbed the creature with his vizcaina. Beyond, Father Signoret readied his blunderbuss. 

Gaston’s foot rolled on a rock and the Loup Garou sprang, fangs bared, knocking him to the ground. The shock drove the breath from his lungs and caused him to lose his grip on his blades. Somehow he got his arm up before the Beast’s jaws could close on his throat. The Beast bit down, but Gaston’s air starved lungs didn’t allow him to cry out despite the agony. The Loup Garu had him pinned to the ground, nearly helpless. Signoret reasoned that Gaston would be dead in seconds unless he could stop the Beast so he fired his blunderbuss. Shrapnel sprayed the Beast and Gaston. The Beast lifted its head up and howled in agony. Gaston drew the silver knife and plunged it to the hilt in the creature’s neck. Seeing his captain down with the Beast on top of him, Jacques dropped his pistols and drew the fish fork stabbing wildly at the unmoving creature. Gaston slowly rolled the Loup Garou over then took a deep breath. 

“Mildeux! The Beast is heavy. Another moment and he’d have torn out my throat.” Gaston started to get up, then fell back. “Parbleu, I’ve been shot. Somebody help me up.”

Jacques and Signoret helped Gaston up. Around the party were the bodies of half a dozen wolves. As they looked, the Loup Garou slowly changed, turning back into the form of the Woodsman. Signoret offered to see to Gaston’s wounds immediately, but Gaston declined. “Not yet. I’ve something else to do first. Duval, give me that zweihander you’ve been hauling about.” Gaston took the two-handed blade, he swayed slightly and had to pause a moment to steady himself. He carefully lifted the blade, checking to see that there was room to swing. Then he brought it down in a huge arc that clashed against the rocks as it took off the Woodsman’s head in one blow. “There! That’s done.” He grounded the blade and leaned on the crosspiece of the giant zwiehander. “Someone stick that thing on the end of this blade. Well Father, I think you might look to some of these wounds now. Damme, I’m not sure who came closer to killing me. You or the Loup Garou. Still I thank you. Better a quick death than being eaten alive by that cursed fiend.

Retracing their steps, they carried the body and head of the Woodsman. They found that Clovis’ men had been attacked by a large pack of wolves. [viii] Clovis himself was wounded. The wolves had broken past his line and fled to the exit where they ran into Eugène, Albert, and the rear guard. Only two wolves out of the entire pack escaped the musket fire and steel of the rear guard.

Father Signoret placed Saint Hubertus’s Key in the campfire to heat while he said a brief mass of thanksgiving. Then he used the Key to ritually cauterize the wounds of the Loup Garou and of any of the normal wolves in his pack. Then he bandaged the wounds as well. The soldiers put the Woodsman’s headless corpse into the iron cage. Once all this was done, it was nearly time for lunch. They returned to Soissons.

Gaston used his authority from the Governor to requisition a barrel of gunpowder which he used to seal the cave. The Woodsman’s head was placed on a spike in front of the Cathedral. The body was hung in the cage from the gibbet by the Town Hall. They left the dead Red Guard, Bellamy’s body to be buried in the cathedral cemetery. Gaston commissioned a set of cloaks to be made of the pelts of the wolves killed by himself and his men. Before turning over the pelts, he selected the best one as a gift for Cardinal Richelieu.

Nobert took a large wolf fang and had it made into a necklace. He tried to give the necklace to Yvette, but she dropped the huge yellow tooth in horror. Norbert picked up the wolf tooth. Apparently the wedding was off. Sadly, he left Yvette. The necklace he had remade into a wolf’s tooth earring which he thought gave him an exotic look.

Gaston wrote a letter to Governor de Labrousse with a copy for Cardinal Richelieu detailing the brave actions of himself and his men and informing the governor that they had killed the majority of the wolves and dispersed the few pitiful, wounded survivors; that Gaston had killed the Loup Garou before it could claim his vengeance by killing the Governor, and that this time it would stay dead. The Beast had returned to human form and he could find its head on a spike next to the Soissons Cathedral. Thus the terror of the wolves was ended thanks to the foresight and actions of the Cardinal and his Red Guards.

Gaston ordered the town guards to deliver the letter and he and the other heroes returned to Paris.

[i] See map WolfLair_1.
[ii] See map WolfLair_2A.
[iii] See map WolfLair_2B.
[iv] See maps WolfLair_2C and WolfLair_2D.
[v] See map WolfLair_3.
[vi] See map WolfLair_3A.
[vii] See map WolfLair_6.
[viii] See map WolfLair_3B.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance, Book I: Winter of the Wolf, Chapters 3 & 4

Chapter 3: A Wolf in the Fold

Once they were back inside Soissons, Jacques suggested a drink to celebrate their second victory over the wolves and the group returned to the Two Saints Tavern for drinks and a hot meal. While Jacques oversaw ordering a flock of chickens for roasting, Norbert and Mel went to the Market to meet Yvette. After the drinks and snacks at the tavern, Norbert was late and he had become concerned that the daylight wolf attacks would make the trip too dangerous for Yvette. In turn, Yvette was worried that the people at the farm where she lived would worry if she didn’t return and she was concerned that they may even go out looking for her in the dark. Norbert persuaded Yvette to stay in town, telling her that he would go to the farm to tell the family that she was staying in town. But once they returned to the tavern and Norbert had arranged for a private room for Yvette, the sun was beginning to set. Jacques warned Norbert that his horse was not yet recovered from its wounds. So Norbert told Yvette that he wouldn’t be going to bring word to the farm tonight. Upset, she began crying and went to her room without eating. Norbert ordered Mel to stay outside her room as a guard. Claude asked “Who’s gonna get the girl’s meal?” He then volunteered to eat Yvette’s chicken so that it would not go to waste.

After dinner, Father Signoret returned to the Cathedral Rectory. Brother Crispin told him that the townspeople believed that Soissons had been cursed and that they blamed Governor Labrousse. Signoret asked why. The monk told the Jesuit that the governor was infamous for his cruelty, rapaciousness, and lust. He frequently has had his way with attractive young local women. Last year, the beautiful daughter of a woodsman was coveted by the Governor but she resisted his advances and badly scratched his face. In revenge he had her put out of the town on a cold night shoeless and naked – “since she has the manners of a wild beast, she should run with the beasts.” When her father protested, he was struck down by the Governor’s guards then shackled and publicly whipped in the town square. The Governor instructed that the town walls be locked and that none should aid the maiden on penalty of death. And so she disappeared into the night. Her father was imprisoned in the dungeon beneath the Chateau. The townspeople never saw the woodsman again and believe that both he and his daughter are dead. 

In the middle of the night, Father Signoret was awakened by shouts and pounding at the rectory door. He hurriedly dressed and went to the door where he learned that Lieutenant Trudeau, the commander of the Governor’s guards, had been attacked in his bedroom and that he needed a priest and a healer. Father Signoret and Brother Crispin hurried to the guard barracks. There they found Trudeau murdered, the room sprayed with blood and his throat torn away as if by the huge claws of a bear. Examining the scene, Signoret learned that the heavy bar to the outside door had been snapped in two and the door to the bedroom had been shattered into a hundred of pieces. Trudeau had fired both his pistols before his throat was torn out. Signoret found a bloody claw print on the door jamb at the height of a tall man’s hand, and a strange clawed footprint in blood in the hall and again on the ground outside, but the frozen ground did not easily show prints and he could not follow the beast any farther. 

Gaston and the Red Guards arrived. They had been informed of the attack on Lieutenant Trudeau. Gaston took charge of the Town Guards ordering them armed and patrols, led by his Red Guards, to check the walls and gates. One of the patrols returned with news that a wall sentry had been murdered. They went to the site where they found the guard had been decapitated and eviscerated. Outside the wall, near where the guard was killed, Father Signoret found the same strange clawed footprints in the snow both coming and going. Gaston led a patrol so the Jesuit could follow the tracks. Signoret found that after about a hundred yards the strange prints joined a group of half a dozen wolf tracks and both sets of tracks continued towards the hills southwest of Soissons.

The next day, Father Signoret suggested that they try to follow the beast tracks to its lair before it snowed. Gaston informed him that although he had given the Town Guards orders last night in an emergency, he did not have the authority to command them and that he would need Governor Labrousse’s permission and authorization. Therefore Gaston gathered his force, had them brush off their red tabards, mount their horses, and ride to the Governor’s Chateau. With a squad of the Cardinal’s elegantly dressed Red Guards at his back and a Jesuit Priest next to him, his threat to have the guards arrested and hung for treason unless they immediately admitted the party resulted in prompt action—the gates were opened. 

Inside, Gaston, Signoret, Norbert, and Jacques were admitted to the Governor’s hall. Labrousse was seated on a throne-like chair. Along the sides of the hall stood eight guards armed with musket and halberd. Standing on either side of the Governor were his brother Armand, a noted duelist, and his silent, hulking servitor, Odo. As they had agreed, Father Signoret did most of the talking while Gaston, flanked by Norbert and Jacques, added a mixture of gravitas and menace. 

Signoret told Governor de Labrousse of the recent wolf activities, including the death of Lieutenant Trudeau. Then the Jesuit suggested that Gaston be placed in command of the Town Guard to combat the menace of the creature and its wolves. In response, Armand de Labrousse glanced meaningfully at Gaston as he whispered something to his brother the Governor, who agreed to appoint Gaston to a temporary command, but he vehemently insisted that the unusual wolf creature be captured alive so that he could determine the source of its vital energy. 

Signoret warned Labrousse that the wolf creature had already killed several people, but the Governor airily replied that “The lives of peasants and commoners are of little matter compared to the chance of increasing human knowledge.” His words and manner led the Jesuit to conclude that the Governor was some sort of demented alchemist in search of the vital essence and possibly the elixir of life itself. 

Gaston said “Their lives matter to the dead…excellency.” But even this did not dissuade Labrousse from his desire and in the end Gaston accepted the appointment and agreed he would do his best to capture the creature alive.

With the Governor’s authorization in hand, Gaston ordered both the Red Guards and the Soissons Town Guards to prepare for a wolf hunt at first light. He ordered the town blacksmith to construct a stout iron cage to hold the beast. Jacques offered to help the blacksmith. With orders given and preparations begun, Gaston and Father Signoret mounted their horses and used the remaining daylight to follow the tracks from the previous night to a cave in the hills southwest of Soissons. They returned to town well before sunset and finished making their plans for the next day’s hunt which would begin after Sunday mass.

Chapter 4: Trail of the Wolf

While Jacques and the blacksmith worked throughout the night to forge a stout cage for the beast, others slept. But Mel got little sleep. At Norbert’s orders he was once again bedding down in the hall outside the door to Yvette’s inn room. The cold drafts from the windows at either end of the hall made it difficult for him to stay warm. He was awakened from a half doze by the sound of breaking glass from the window by the stair. By the light of the single sconce he could see a shambling, hulking bipedal figure, its breath rumbling like the low growl of some savage beast as it slowly moved towards him.

Suddenly, the Beast attacked. As it leapt towards him, Mel saw that the creature was a combination of man and beast. Although it walked on two legs, it was covered in fur and had huge clawed hands, pointed ears, and a great gaping maw filled with fangs. An icy thrill of terror ran down Mel’s spine. The Beast swiped at him and its claws drew a bloody line across his chest as its powerful arm smashed him into the outside wall of Gaston’s room. The Beast howled as it smashed open the door to Yvette’s room[i] and leapt inside. From within, Mel heard the young woman’s piercing scream. 

Mel dragged himself to his feet and raced to the door, pistol in hand. He saw Yvette lying in bed, the blanket clutched in her hands as some futile shield. The wolf crouched over her and she fainted. Sensing Mel’s presence behind it, the Beast turned. Mel’s knees shook, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” he said as he leveled the pistol and pulled the trigger. His shot hit the creature in the heart catapulting the Beast through the window. Gaston and Norbert raced into the room weapons in hand. Mel muytely pointed in fear towards the window. Below the two cousins saw the dark outline of the shattered window frame and the sparkle of broken glass in the moonlight…but no body.

Norbert ordered Mel to see to Yvette then jumped out the window to the ground below. The snow was cold on his bare feet. He shouted up at the window, “Mel, bring me my boots.” But Mel ignored the second command and stayed with Yvette who had woken and clutched his arms tightly in fear. Mel tried to comfort her. Meanwhile, Gaston shouted at his men to arm and dress. He quickly returned to his room to retrieve his boots, a pair of pistols, and his cloak. He hurried downstairs ordering one of his men to stay with Mel and guard the girl. Then he joined Norbert outside. 

Norbert had found blood sign amidst the broken glass and a pair of clawed footprints. Gaston sent one of his men to fetch Father Signoret as he and Norbert, accompanied by the remaining three Red Guards, tracked the Beast through town to the market. There Norbert lost the trail. But they were soon joined by Signoret and a fourth Red Guard. The Jesuit called for a lantern and then examined the location where the clawed footprints mysteriously stopped. Gaston suspected an ambush. He drew his weapons as he realized there was only one possible location for the creature to hide. He looked up just as the beast leapt out of the rafters at him fangs bared. The split second of warning was all Gaston needed to use his rapier to parry its fangs but the force of the creature’s strike knocked the soldier off his feet and sent him rolling across the hard packed earth of the market until he crashed into a support post.

Norbert spotted a fish net stowed in the rafters and grabbed it, and executed a perfect throw. The creature slashed at Norbert, but entangled in the net its claws missed the giant. Signoret slashed at the creature’s leg trying to hamstring it. Gaston got back up, but Norbert was between him and the creature so he circled and looked for an opening. The beast grabbed Norbert with its other arm. First it pulled the giant closer, then it hurled him at Gaston, but Norbert used a wrestling hold hanging onto the beast’s huge arm to break the force of the throw so that he ended up free and standing next to the Beast. Signoret and Gaston circled in opposite directions. Both slashed at the Beast, Signoret again struck at the creature’s hamstring, but it was like hitting the solid wood of a tree. The Beast was bloodied but still standing. Hoping the net would hold it, Gaston ordered his men to get Jacques and the cage. All four of the terrified Red Guards raced away from the hideous creature to find Jacques or the iron cage. 

The battle continued. The beast tore itself free from the net, but before it could attack or escape the three companions stabbed and clubbed it to death. Jacques and the others returned and they placed the creature’s body into the newly completed iron cage. They took cage and body to the blacksmith’s barn and took it in turns to watch the beast while waiting for daylight. 

On his watch, Norbert kept seeing what he thought was the Beast stealthily breathing as if it were secretly still alive. But every time he took a closer look, the beast still lay dead and unmoving. Jacques had the last watch. He alternated watching the dead creature and poking it with a stick with drinking and refilling his mug from the blacksmith’s wineskin. At one point, just after sunrise he noticed the beast was gone from the cage. Startled he moved cautiously closer, pouch of wolve’s bane in hand. Inside the cage he saw a naked man sleeping. The cage was still securely bolted closed. Unnerved, he woke the others and they all pondered the odd situation. They questioned the man. And the man asked them where he was and why they had stolen his clothes and placed him in a cage. They didn’t answer his questions and he didn’t provide any useful answers to their interrogation.

Soon after, Brother Crispin arrived out of breath. He told Signoret that he had heard that they had captured the wolf. The man in the cage recognized the monk and asked him who these people were and why they had imprisoned him. Brother Crispin told the group that the man was none other than the Woodsman who had been imprisoned by the Governor several months before. 

“I told you the story of how Governor Labrousse tried to have his way with the young daughter of a Woodsman. She resisted Labrousse’s advances and even scarred the Governor’s face with her nails. In revenge Labrousse ordered her put out in the cold and had her father whipped and then imprisoned in the dungeon of the Chateau.

What I did not tell you was that the Woodsman’s daughter took refuge in her father’s cottage. I saw her there the next day and brought her food and some clothing. But somehow the Governor must have gotten wind that the girl was sheltering there. He ordered Lieutenant Trudeau to burn down the cottage. And after complaints by the Governor, Bishop Hecqueville ordered me confined to the Cathedral grounds leaving that poor girl without anyone to aid her. Later, when I was allowed to leave the grounds, I found what I think is her grave. A simple cairn of stones erected in the woods near the ruined cottage.

About a week after the girl’s exile, I was working in my garden on the Cathedral grounds when I was visited by the Woodsman who had somehow escaped from the dungeons of the Chateau. From his wounds it was clear that he had been the subject of the most awful tortures. I tended his wounds with healing herbs, but when I mentioned that I had seen his daughter and that I was now forbidden to help her, the Woodsman refused to stay. I never saw him again. I can only assume that his daughter had died and he built the cairn over her body. One thing I do remember was that the night after I saw him was November 7—the night of the full moon. The farmers say that they heard a terrible, mournful howling that night. And it was at the end of November that the wolf attacks began.”

The Woodsman told them that after he found his daughter’s dead body, he swore a hideous oath to gain his revenge on those who had harmed him and caused the death of his daughter. He admitted that he had not yet killed the hulking Odo who was responsible for whipping him in the square and for brutalizing him while he was imprisoned. But the main object of his vengeance was still Governor Labrousse who he accused of being a worse monster than the Beast could ever be.

The friends pondered what to do with the Woodsman and how they could safely fulfill their original mission to end the wolves’ menace while satisfying the governor’s desire to examine a captive monster. They decided that the governor would need to see the monster change to believe them and some of them were worried that the Governor might himself be a werewolf. Therefore they decide it would be best for them to be with the Governor and the Woodsman when the full moon rose tonight.

To buy time, Gaston sent a message to the Governor that they had captured the beast and would bring it to the chateau after they had finished the cage to hold the beast. As Signoret headed towards the Cathedral to pray he ran into an angry mob of townspeople who wanted to kill the beast. The Jesuit reminded the crowd that the woodsman would find his punishment one day in hell, but the crowd was not inclined to wait. The mob shouted that they would light the barn on fire and send the monster to hell straight away. Gaston and the Red Guards stepped outside. The Guards flanked the crowd while Gaston faced the mob which he dispersed by threating to “put a bullet through the head of the first person to light a torch.” Faced with the cold eyed soldier, the front ranks of the mob backed up astop. Gaston leveled his pistol and pulled the dog down with an audible snap indicating the gun was ready to fire. Then he coldly pointed the pistol at various people in the crowd in turn as he stepped forward saying,  “Who wants to be the first to die? How about you? Or you…or you? What about you?…” The mob quickly decided that they wanted to be elsewhere. 

At the cathedral, Father Signoret celebrated the Sunday Mass. Afterwards he prayed to Saint Hubertus and looked up information about the Saint and his cure for wolf and dog bites. Amongst the Cathedral relics he found a Key of Saint Hubertus—a six inch long silver spike with a wide flat head engraved with an odd symbol. According to his reading, the cure was affected by heating and blessing the Key and then cauterizing the bite with the red hot head of the spike while praying for the intercession of Saint Hubertus.

That afternoon they loaded the cage with the Woodsman inside onto a wagon and took it to the Chateau. The Woodsman now wore a pair of pants that Jacques had provided. Claude drove the wagon, while Gaston, Signoret, Norbert, Jacques, and the other Red Guards rode, pistols in hand, flanking the wagon. Mel and Yvette walked behind. The party entered the courtyard just as the sun began to set. The interior walls were lined with musketeers as the Governor came out to greet them. He was pleased to see that they had captured the Woodsman and gloated at having him back as a “guest of the Chateau.” The Woodsman cursed the governor. In response the Governor instructed his servant Odo to bring “the special bracelets” which turned out to be a set of silver manacles and chains. Apparently the Governor was prepared for his guest. He demanded the key to the cage. Jacques tried to stall him, but his effort did not deceive the Governor for even a moment. At a signal from the Governor, several muskets pointed at Jacques as the Governor gave a one word command, “Key.” Jacques surrendered the key and Odo manacled the Woodsman. Then the Governor invited the others to join him for the metamorphosis. Odo and Norbert each took one of the Woodsman’s arms as they half carried, half dragged him to the dungeon. Behind those three went the Governor and his brother Armand, and six of the Governor’s guards, followed by Gaston, Signoret, Jacques, with Mel and Yvette trailing behind. As they paused while each door was unlocked, Norbert noticed that the Governor’s brother Armand seemed to pay particular attention to Yvette, who kept a continual grip on Mel’s arm.

Inside the dungeon they saw a large chamber lit by torches and the red glow from a large brazier full of hot coals. Various instruments of torture, both familiar and esoteric were scattered about the room and iron ring bolts were affixed to the walls. One side of the room was filled with an assortment of glass alembics and flasks filled with oddly colored fluids bubbling and steaming over small braziers and oil lamps. The room had a second heavy door and a single barred window through which they could see the light of the rising moon. 

Labrousse instructed Odo and Norbert to manacle the Woodsman to the wall facing the barred window. The Woodsman’s silver cuffs were chained to a pair of iron ringbolts imbedded in the wall. Governor Labrousse perched on a stool at an enormous table covered with alchemical paraphernalia. By the Governor’s side stood his brother Armand, the duelist, and between the Governor and the prisoner the hulking Odo stood guard. Behind Labrousse were a pair of town guards armed with halberds who separated the Governor from Jacques and Norbert. Father Signoret stood on the halberdiers’ flank beneath the large chandelier and Gaston stood next to the Jesuit. On the level above a pair of musketeers with lit matches pointed their pieces at the Woodsman while two more of their fellows guarded the door out of the dungeon. Yvette and Mel stood near the exit and watched.

The group waited as a beam of pale silver moonlight crept slowly closer to the Woodsman. As the moonlight touched his body, he began to writhe as if in pain and to change…then he tipped back his head and howled.

[i] The wolf’s goal is to kill Gaston, but he runs into Mel and mistakenly goes into Yvette’s room.