Thursday, January 14, 2016

Adventure 08: Auxerre and the Black Riders: Chapter IX

Chapter IX: Riders in the Mist

The Player Characters

  • Guy de Bourges - a very intelligent and most polite courtier with a desire to travel.
  • Lucien de Bourges - Guy's cousin, Lucien is a King's Musketeer and duelist.
  • Father Gaétan Signoret - another of Guy's cousins, Father Signoret is a Jesuit priest and swordsman and an exceptional horseman.
  • Gaston Thibeualt - a friend of Lucien's from the army, although a commoner, Gaston is a soldier, duelist, and poet.

The NPCs

  • Fabré - Guy's valet and trusted companion, his impeccable service includes being a master apothecary.
  • Bertin - a street urchin from Paris, mostly reformed he acts as Lucien's page.
  • Claude - an old family retainer entrusted to Gaétan Signoret by his father on his death bed. Claude was recently kidnapped by the Black Riders.
  • Seigneur Edmonde de Trebouchard - lord of Trebouchard Manor.
  • Madame Katherine le Blondet - the Seigneur's wife.
  • Edmonde de Trebouchard - the younger - eldest son and heir of the Seigneur.
  • Constance de Trebouchard - Edmonde's sister.
  • Genevive Benoit - the orphaned niece of Auxerre's town governor.
  • Etienne Deveraux - a scholar from Paris.
  • François Depardieu - an agent of the Bishop of Marseille
  • Captain Maubrant - a captain of infantry, commander of the garrison of Auxerre
  • Rector Duquesne - head of the Jesuit College in Auxerre
Dawn’s gray light illuminated the morning mist that enveloped the manor. In the kitchen, the cook checked the bread loaves baking in the oven. Inside the main hall the maids were quietly setting out the decorations for the wedding which would soon begin. Upstairs, Constance brushed then tied white ribbons in Genevive’s hair. The morning’s quiet was shattered by the blat, of Bertin’s hunting horn and then by bullets hitting the shutters on the back side of the house. Everyone ran to their stations.

The sharp crack of gunshots from the rear of the house was soon echoed from the main gate where a dozen Black Riders led by their captain advanced at a trot. The first rank paused just before the gate as they angled their horses to the right and fired their left pistols, then angled left to fire their right pistols. Afterwards, they kneed their horses into a trot and curved back to the rear of the formation where they reloaded as the succeeding ranks fired in their turn to create the rolling wave of point-blank gunfire known as the caracole.

Lucien spurred forward to return fire from behind the front wall. But the combination of powder smoke and mist made it almost impossible for him to see his targets. Under cover from the caracole, other riders tossed ropes with grapnels over the top of the wrought iron gates then hauled to try to pull down the gates. To counter their action, Lucien leapt off his horse onto the side of the overturned wagon next to the gate. He drew his rapier and ran along the top of wagon cutting the grapnels from the ropes. Surprised by his action one rider was unseated when his rope suddenly gave way. When Lucien reached the end of the gate, he turned and retraced his steps then leapt back into his saddle. With their grapnels lost, the Black Angel abandanoned the attack on the main gate. He left half his men to continue firing at the defenders while he led the others around to the barn.

From the upper floor at the rear of the manor house, Guy exchanged fire with half a dozen or more dismounted riders. His fire was slower, but more accurate than that of the Black Riders who hurriedly snapped off their shots before quickly ducking back behind cover. Guy’s accurate shots kept the riders pinned in the ditch at the edge of the back garden where the mist helped to conceal them from his deadly fire.

Sitting on his horse in the courtyard, Father Signoret heard the sound of axes coming from inside the barn. He turned his mount, ducked under the lintel, and rode inside. Within, he heard and saw the axes chopping through the barn door. He waited until the attackers broke through then engaged them. His greater height gave him the advantage so that though outnumbered he was able to cut down one axmen after another. Finally a pair of attacers used their axes to push and pull Signoret from his saddle. Now on foot, the Jesuit was forced back. Beyond these foes, he saw the winged form of the Black Angel leading more dismounted riders into the barn. Signoret shouted for help against the Black Angel and his men. 

The winged Angel ducked through the low doorway. Signoret drew his pistol and fired as he came through the door, but the priest’s shot glanced off the warrior’s breastplate leaving a shiny streak of lead on the blackened armor. The Angel and one of his lieutenants teamed up against the Jesuit. Young Edmonde, who was still mounted, quickly came to the priest’s aid and engaged the Black Angel’s man. From his greater height, Edmonde forced back the lieutenant, but the Black Rider stepped to the side, drew his pistol, and fired it pointblank into the head of Edmonde’s horse. Horse and rider crashed to the stable floor.

Despite Edmonde’s brief assistance, Signoret was forced back from the barn door. The Jesuit’s rapier just couldn’t pierce the Black Angel’s armor. Signoret said, “Five souls sent to hell! You’ll be next.”

The Angel’s voice echoed from inside his helm, “You’ll be there first.” He advanced and behind him another handful of dismounted Black Riders followed him into the barn. Now Signoret and Edmonde were outnumbered and about to be overwhelmed. Even worse, the Black Angel caught Signoret’s rapier and, with a twist of his saber, he disarmed the Jesuit. The priest frantically backpedaled and grabbed up a blade from one of the fallen riders, but the Angel’s whirlwind of steel forced Signoret back. He stumbled out of the barn into midst of a melee in the courtyard. 

Depardieu and his men stood behind the barricade by the wine room gate and watched as a group of Black Riders led by a lieutenant trotted close and fired their pistols in volleys. As the defenders ducked to avoid the shots, the riders wheeled away and then galloped towards the gateway. Some horses shied and refused the jump on their first try while others leapt the barrier only to be impaled on the rows of concealed stakes. One rider also fell and was pierced by a stake; his cries mingled with the screams of the stricken horses. Only the lieutenant and one rider made the jump safely. They drove the defenders back as the unhorsed riders rose from their dying mounts and advanced on foot. The riders’ armor made them almost impervious to the defenders attacks and their greater skill with the blade allowed them to drive Depardieu and his men backwards. Before the rag-tag infantry broke, Gaston rode forward and personally engaged the lieutenant. The two briefly dueled back and forth until the Black Rider took a deep thrust in his side between a gap in his armor. He tried to fight his way to the barn where he could see his leader with a group of dismounted Black Riders, but Gaston cut him down and wheeled to engage the next rider.

The Black Riders had given up their attempt to storm the main gate. As he looked about the manor, Lucien saw Gaston assisting Depardieu and his men. The barricade seemed to be holding. Gaston won’t need my help, he thought. Then he saw Father Signoret stumble out of the barn on foot pursued by the Black Angel and a handful of dismounted Black Riders. Seeing that the Jesuit was in trouble, Lucien quickly moved to help his friend. He leapt off his horse, onto a rope and pulley, swinging into the barn and knocking over two of the Black Riders chasing Signoret. But in the collision, Lucien lost his grip on the rope and landed flat on his back and half stunned on the stable floor.

Dismounted Black Riders turned from the Jesuit and stabbed at him as he frantically rolled to avoid their lunges. Unfortunately for his dignity, he realized that he had just rolled through a pile of manure. Lucien frantically rolled and parried, then swept his blade at his opponents’ ankles forcing them back so he could regain his feet. Beside him Edmonde bled from a wound beneath his armor as he tried to hold off one of the Black Rider lieutenants.

Lucien’s intervention saved Signoret and gave him a chance to recover. He parried with redoubled intensity holding off the Black Angel who soon abandoned his attack as he saw Gaston cut down the last of his men in the courtyard and turn towards the barn. The Winged Warrior retreated. Relieved, Signoret let him go and drew his second pistol. As the warrior backed through the barn door, the Jesuit dropped the hammer and fired. The shot clipped several feathers from the Angel’s wing. He paused in the doorway and drew his pistol in turn. He pointed the pistol at the Jesuit as he said, “We’ll meet again priest!” Then the Angle deliberately turned and fired at Lucien.

Signoret said, “I’ll see you in hell first!”

Lucien dove aside as he saw the muzzle of the pistol swing his way, but that allowed the remaining Black Riders to disengage and follow their captain out of the barn. 

The sunrise cleared away the mist which allowed the defenders to see that the Black Riders had departed. The peasants put out the remaining fires as Fabré administered more of his foul smelling poultices and the women bandaged up the defenders’ wounds. Father Signoret administered the last rites and said a brief prayer over the dead.

Gaston found Lucien in the barn. The Musketeer’s clothes were liberally stained with mud and manure from rolling across the stable floor. Gaston shook his head and dryly said, “You should stay with the black. That color doesn't suit you.”

Lucien laughed as he headed for the horse trough to clean up, but his cousin Guy, who had come downstairs, snapped his fingers and called, “Fabre!” Fabre quickly saw to a proper cleaning of Lucien's clothes and tabard.

Meanwhile Gaston selected one of the Black Riders’ mounts to replace his slain horse. Then he had the weapons and armor from the fallen riders collected and put the wounded prisoners under guard. Eventually they too would be patched up. Then Gaston ordered all the openings blocked in case the riders decided to return. Having seen to that he sought out Father Signoret and thanked him for his help. He offered the priest his hand. The Jesuit took it and said, “We are all brothers in arms.”

Gaston smiled approvingly and said, “Harrumph! One of God’s soldiers indeed.”

Casualties among the defenders were light being restricted to a few deaths and although there were many wounds, most of them were minor. However, casualties among the Black Riders were heavy. At least 19 of the riders were captured or killed. Gaston estimated that the riders lost over half their force killed, captured, or rendered incapable of combat. Gaston had the banner brought down so he could update the score of fallen Black Riders to nineteen before having it re-hung. The defenders quickly cleaned up and posted new guards. Then Father Signoret married Etienne and Genevieve. The morning wedding provided a happy beginning to the new day. There would be time later for Signoret to say a mass for the dead.

After the wedding, Father Signoret stealthily made his way back to Auxerre. With him he took one of the Black Rider’s helms as proof of their existence. He visited Captain Maubrant and showed him the black helm. Maubrant had been unusually reluctant to pursue the Black Riders at night or to leave the town unguarded, but with this evidence of their tangibility and corporeal nature, the Captain said he would come out to the manor to take the surviving Black Riders into custody.

While in Auxerre, Signoret visited the Jesuit College and spoke to the Rector, Father Duquesne. Duquesne showed his fellow Jesuit the list of rumors and sightings collected at the college along with the careful tabulation and analysis that accompanied it. The analysis showed that the disappearances in the countryside were greatest near the Brookwater Inn, which might bear further investigation. Signoret included a copy of the tabulation and analysis with the other information he had collected as well as a report on the battle in a long letter that he asked the Rector to send to the Jesuit House in Paris. 

While he was in town, Signoret heard that the niece of the Town Governor was known to be missing. But since there had been no report of her leaving the town, the search had been limited to inside the walls. The Jesuit decided not to clear up the Governor’s confusion at this time.

That afternoon, Maubrant led a platoon of infantry out to the Trebouchard Manor and took the surviving Black Riders into custody. Maubrant and Gaston disagreed about the disposition of the armor and weapons of the Black Riders. Gaston said that the manor was entitled to the spoils by right of conquest and to pay for the damages caused by the Black Riders. Maubrant insisted that he had standing orders to confiscate military armor and weapons. Since he had the troops to back up his authority, he and his men took all the armor and weapons they could find. But Young Edmonde had already hidden the armor and pistols he had used in the battle and all money and other items were retained as spoils by the defenders.

Maubrant along with Gaston and Guy questioned the captured Black Riders. They learned that the riders were mercenaries and that their captain, the Black Angel was not French, Spanish, English, Dutch, or German. His men thought he was probably from somewhere to the east. What they did know was that he rode like the devil and fought like a demon, an observation that Father Signoret echoed after his return.

After resting and a final meal, the party decided to go after Claude rather than to investigate the Brookwater Inn which was in the opposite direction of the Black Wagon’s path to the south. Depardieu decided to stay behind to work with Captain Maubrant and he said he would check out the inn. Etienne and Genevieve decided there was safety in numbers so they would continue to travel with the party since their road to Rome and the road to the south were one and the same.

As they left they waved farewell to the family Trebouchard. Lucien said, “I wonder if the Black Riders were trying to eliminate us because of our investigations?”

Father Signoret suggested, “Perhaps they were after the Da Vinci Codex?” Everyone else stared at the Jesuit in surprise.

Guy wondered what does my cousin Gaétan know about the Da Vinci Codex? And more importantly, what does he know about what we know about the Codex?

EDIT: I made a few changes based on additional notes from a player.

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