Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Adventure 09: The Road to Autun - Chapter I

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.
  • Genevive Benoit - the orphaned niece of Auxerre's town governor, now married to Etienne.
  • Etienne Deveraux - a scholar from Paris now on his way to Rome with a new wife.

Chapter I: Pursuit and Rescue

With the Black Riders defeated the party decided to return to their search for the missing Claude. They left Maison de Trebouchard late on the afternoon of Sunday February 26, 1623. The trail led south along the main road to Autun. The weather was cool and cloudy with an occasional shower. Signoret rode down one side of the road and up the other as he watched for sign of wagon tracks departing the highway or something left by Claude. They paused briefly at a roadside village where a group of performers had set up a small stage for a Punch and Judy skit. Unimpressed by the entertainment, the party continued down the road.

Shortly before sunset Guy estimated that there was an inn about an hour ahead. As the sun was setting they heard the howl of wolves. The creatures’ mournful cries echoed all around the party making it seem as if they were surrounded by wolves. Despite the noise, they reached the inn without difficulty. But once there, they learned that a nobleman and his servant had taken the last private room and the party would have to sleep in the common room with two other travelers, a merchant and a pilgrim. Father Signoret blessed the pilgrim. Gaston stared coldly at the pilgrim and the merchant as he warned them, “I sometimes wake…violently.” Frightened, the merchant and the pilgrim each edged further away from where Gaston had placed his blanket.

The next day was colder and windy, but at least there was no rain. By late in the afternoon it was clear that they wouldn’t reach Autun until well past nightfall. As the sun headed for the horizon they again heard wolves howling in the distance around them. They set up a camp by the side of the road and double checked that the horses were securely picketed. Once the sun set, they soon saw shadows moving at the edge of their camp and eye shine in the darkness. The wolves had arrived.

The men quickly grabbed their weapons and formed a circle as several wolves leapt forward. Genevive screamed as two of the wolves charged towards the horses from Gaston’s side of the circle. He placed himself directly in their path and quickly slashed one wolf across the shoulder which caused it to swerve aside. The second wolf leapt at his throat, but Gaston’s stop thrust went in the beast’s mouth, the point pierced its neck and pinned it to the ground.

Lucien headed towards the sound of more wolves as Father Signoret fired at the shadows then handed his musket to Etienne and said, “Take this my son and reload it.” Guy fired and was answered by a cry of pain. Lucien fired towards the sound but the howling continued undiminished. The horses began to panic. While Lucien ran forward yelling and waving his arms in an attempt to frighten the wolves, the priest moved towards the horses to calm them. His steady voice reassured the horses and the noise and gun shots caused the wolves to retreat. But the wolves remained nearby and the party was forced to stay awake all night to protect their horses.

After sunrise, Father Signoret examined the tracks around their camp. He learned that several wolves had been wounded, but that only the one wolf that Gaston had pinned to the ground had died. After a restless night, both people and horses were exhausted and the trip to Autun was slow and cold. By twilight, Guy reckoned they had almost reached Autun as they debated whether to stop by the road or continue on. The decision was made for them as they heard the sound of wolves howling and growling nearby. With no time to stop and dismount, they headed for Autun and tried to outrun the wolves. Frightened by the wolves, Gaston’s mount panicked, but he twisted the reins around one fist and pulled back hard to keep the horse in check.

Genevive’s horse bolted. Etienne’s mount shied and he barely remained in the saddle, Father Signoret gave chase and slowly he gained ground on Genevive. As the road neared Autun it gradually sank between two high banks. In front of Signoret, wolves attacked Genevive’s horse. Without pausing, he fired one pistol dropping a wolf then rode over the second beast and trampled it beneath the hooves of his horse. Signoret grabbed the bridle of Genevive’s panicked mount and brought it to a halt. As the rest of the party entered the sunken road five wolves leapt out from the banks above and tried to drag down their horses. Guy shot two of the wolves dead. Two others tried to pull down Etienne’s horse which was badly mauled before the others drove off the wolves.

Her horse stopped, Genevive cried in fear and relief as Father Signoret said, “The lord is with you my child.” Then he saw her eyes widen in fear. He turned and saw a huge, black shape pad into the middle of the road. Its eyes glowed red like fire. Signoret moved between Genevive and the red-eyed beast. He deliberately fired the second pistol but his shot left the huge wolf unharmed. It neither howled nor ran, but slowly it paced towards the priest and the girl. Frightened by the wolf’s uncanny look and behavior, Signoret got off his horse and drew his sword. He told Genevive to take the reins of his horse, but instead her eyes rolled up and she fainted and slid out of the saddle onto the road. Relieved of its rider, Genevive’s horse bolted away from the wolf. Signoret dropped the reins of his horse and stood with that hand behind his back in the Spanish style. Lucien galloped forward to join the Jesuit. The wolf stared directly at the priest, then silently stalked up the bank into the shadows of the trees and disappeared. Signoret woke Genevive and the frightened girl cried on his shoulder.

Signoret, Lucien, and Genevive returned to the others. After a quick examination Signoret said that Etienne’s horse was badly wounded and not fit to carry a rider. So Lucien took Bertin up behind him on his horse so Etienne could ride Bertin’s mount and Signoret led the wounded horse. The party continued at a fast walk until they reached an inn just outside of the walls of Autun.

Once inside the inn Etienne sat down and played cards to win enough money to buy a horse to replace his wounded mount. Signoret warned him not to gamble and quoted a Bible verse in Latin to discourage the scholar. Etienne countered that Caesar was a gambler and quoted Caesar’s words before crossing the Rubicon The famous phrase “ālea iacta est” ("the die has been cast".) Signoret responded with another Bible quotation and a literary duel of quotations both Biblical and classical ensued. Although Etienne got the best of the duel, he was less successful winning at the table. He lost all his money. Then he was joined by Lucien who lost 40L of his own. Etienne won some of his money then betting heavily, he lost his horse. Then he lost his saddle, and then his sword. He concluded “tonight the odds are just not in our favor.”

The next day was the first day of March. As they entered Autun’s north gate, they could see the cathedral spire towering over the town. Signoret and Guy had heard of the ornate cathedral of Saint-Lazare d'Autun. They insisted on stopping to pray next to the bones of Saint Lazarus, a famous holy relic contained in Autun’s cathedral. Meanwhile the others waited outside in the town square. Afterwards, Signoret looked for but failed to find any tracks or traces of Claude outside of Autun. He asked the guards at Autun’s two main gates if they had seen any Black Wagons or Black Riders, but they said they had not. Guy believed one of the guards at the north gate was lying.

Sergeant Marceaux of the Autun guard heard that the party was asking questions so he came to them and asked who they were and by what right they had interrogated his men. Signoret, annoyed at the Sergeant, insisted on seeing the sergeant’s commander. Sergeant Marceaux led the party to the Town Hall where they were brought before Baron de Gorcy the Governor of Autun. Signoret explained his actions and his search for Claude. In return the Governor gave a long winded response which said, in essence, that whatever happens outside Autun stays outside Autun while inside Autun the governor didn’t want any trouble especially from strangers.

Signoret petitioned the governor saying, “My lord, will you help us stamp out a small fire before it becomes a large one?”

“What is it you wish?” Gorcy asked.

Guy said that one of the guards was evasive and the Governor agreed to have that guard brought in and questioned. Once he arrived, the guard again swore he saw nothing. In response Signoret held out his cross and asked “Would you swear it on the cross?” The guard looked nervous at the request, but the governor interrupted.

“That’s not necessary. None of my men would lie to me.”

Guy saw that a confrontation with the Baron was unlikely to end in their favor so he said, “That’s not necessary. Surely none of us are questioning your authority, are we Father?” This seemed to mollify the Baron and when Gaston started to ask about the wolves, Guy quickly cut him off as well.

Once outside the Town Hall, Signoret suggested Guy put on a disguise to question the guards a third time. Guy dressed as a one-eyed sailor and went from tavern to tavern until he found the nervous gate guard. He bought the guard several rounds of drinks before he talked. Drunkenly he told his host, the sailor, “We don’t pay any attention to the Black Wagons. Our orders are clear. Those wagons are not to be stopped or inspected. They just roll right through town and continue south on the highway.”

In the morning, Guy and Signoret went to mass before the party left Autun for Lyon. On the road south, Father Signoret noticed a large set of horse tracks, possibly as many as 15 horses traveling together. The tracks led from the highway cross country. The Jesuit dismounted and cautiously followed the tracks on foot. Through some bushes he spotted six or ten people sitting around a campfire with a picket line for as many mounts. Although armed with swords and pistols they were unarmored. Signoret returned to the party who after some discussion decided that these weren’t Black Riders and thus were not, as Guy put it, “Part of our mission.”

That afternoon, on the road ahead they saw a single boxy, closed black wagon. While the rest of the party lagged behind so as not to startle the wagoneers or to put Genevive at risk, Father Signoret and Gaston trotted ahead. Soon they could see that the back of the wagon had a heavy door at the rear and several small grates near the top edge on each side. This looked like the description of a Black Wagon. The soldier and the Jesuit looked at each other and nodded. As the wagon went round a curve they could see that there was a driver and a guard armed with a blunderbuss. Signoret said, “I’ll get their attention.”

“I’ll see to the guard,” Gaston finished.

The Jesuit tucked the hilt of his sword under his cloak and adjusted his priestly collar to ensure it was visible. He rode up to the front of the wagon on the driver’s side and loudly asked “How far is it to Lyon?” At the same time, Gaston rode up on the other side and leapt onto the wagon. He quickly climbed atop the roof then delivered a heavy blow to the head of the guard with the blunderbuss. As the guard slumped over, Signoret threw back his cloak, drew his rapier, pointed it at the driver and said “Stop the wagon!” As if to punctuate the Jesuit’s demand, the driver heard an ominous metallic click behind him then felt something cold as Gaston pressed the wide mouth of the blunderbuss against the back of his head.

“Carefully,” Gaston added.

Signoret took the keys from the driver and unlocked the door of the wagon. Inside he saw a group of prisoners: manacled, gagged, and filthy and one of them was the Claude. “Thank you Lord for returning my servant,” he said.

The rest of their party arrived and helped to free the prisoners who were eight in number plus Claude: one gentlewoman, a townsman, and six peasants. All of the prisoners looked frightened and several seemed to still be in shock. Lucien spoke calmly to them, told them he was a King’s Musketeer, and that they were safe and free. Lucien offered his horse to the lady and the party decided to conduct the former prisoners to the nearest inn so they could bathe or at least clean up. Before they left, the party disarmed the driver and guard then used their own manacles to chain them to a tree by the side of the road, turned the draft horses loose, and pushed the wagon off the road and down an embankment.

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