Friday, January 22, 2016

Adventure 09: The Road to Autun - Chapter II

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 II: Matt's Marauders

On the way to the inn they talked to the prisoners. They learned that the gentlewoman, Marie-Juliette Beaulieu, had been stranded when her carriage broke down. Her coachman and footmen were killed by the Black Riders and she was captured. The only other female prisoner was Jeanne Bellain, a young peasant woman from the countryside near Auxerre. There were five male peasants: Francois, Alphonse, Jean-Claude, Jean-Pierre, and Guillam. The last prisoner was a poor townsman named Barnabé. 

At the inn they arranged for the prisoners to clean up. While that occurred, they met a wealthy silk merchant from Lyon named EricComeaux. Comeaux was traveling to Troyes in Champagne. He had a fine coach, driver, and two servants as guards. He worriedly asked about any sign of bandits, mentioning that in Lyon there were many rumors about a bandit band known as Matt’s Marauders. The party told Comeaux of the large band of armed men that Father Signoret had seen camped by the side of the road south of Autun. This worried the merchant and he asked if the party would be willing to escort him to Autun or beyond. Initially they were reluctant, since traveling to Autun would mean reversing their course, but his offer of ten livres apiece to guard him safely to Autun was attractive. After a brief negotiation, the party agreed to escort Comeaux back to Autun in return for 80 livres, half in advance, and his promise to take Madame Beaulieu to her family. The party divided the advance among the prisoners as compensation and to help them return to their homes. 

After escorting Comeaux to Autun the party decided to continue south. Etienne and Genevive were still on their way to Rome; Guy wanted to see what he could learn about the Black Riders in Lyon; Signoret hoped to find a fencing master in Lyon who could teach him the secret of the Spanish style; and Lucien and Gaston were content to accompany the others. Since they suspected Autun’s town governor Baron Gorcy was somehow involved with the infamous Black Riders, they decided to camp outside the walls of Autun. That night around the campfire, Father Signoret asked the others, “Do you think those Black Riders near Auxerre were chasing us because they think you have the Da Vinci Codex?”

Guy asked, “Why would you think we have the Da Vinci Codex?”

“Well the Jesuit Order sent me after it and there was some suggestion that you had seen the Codex,” said Signoret.

“So dear cousin, your decision to join us was not entirely a coincidence?” Guy said. 

Any reply the Jesuit would have made was lost as the echoing howls of wolves in the night interrupted their conversation and everyone busied themselves building up the fire, stockpiling extra wood, securing the horses, and readying their weapons. But aside from the sound of distant howling, their sleep was undisturbed. 

In the morning they retraced their steps south along the road to Lyon. At Guy’s suggestion, Fabré purchased some root vegetables from a north bound peasant who carried a basket of turnips on his head. Guy asked the peasant how was the road to the south. The peasant’s only answer was “Muddy.” Guy warned the peasant about the Black Riders who captured solitary travelers. At the place along the road where they had ambushed the Black Wagon the previous day, they saw the wagon was still in the ditch where they left it, but someone had burned the wagon leaving only a blackened wood skeleton. The driver and guard who they had left shackled to a tree were both gone. Signoret found tracks that showed the two had been dragged away by men wearing boots. But he could not tell if the tracks were those of friends or foes of the Black Riders.

Near noon they met a Franciscan riding on a mule. Father Signoret spoke with him and Brother Aurelien warned the Jesuit that there was a band of brigands in the vicinity, “Dangerous heretics who avoid the works of the Lord and scorn the one true Church.” 

Signoret said, “I’m a fighting Jesuit. Who is this heretic?”

Brother Aurelian said “He’s not a proper son of France, but a foreigner of some kind—English or Lutheran or maybe from the southern provinces. He goes by the name of Mathew Ashe.”

“What kind of name is that?” asked the Jesuit.

“Foreign,” said the monk.

Brother Aurelian and Father Signoret wished each other Godspeed as they parted ways. Later that afternoon the party rounded a bend in the road to see half dozen men with halberds blocking their way with another half dozen on either side armed with matchlock muskets with matches lit. Behind the halberdiers stood a tall man in somber black clothing with a high, wide brimmed black hat. In heavily accented French he said, “Throw down your weapons and you won’t be killed!”

Guy said, “Captain Mathew Ashe, I presume?”

 “If you’ve heard of me then you know my reputation. Throw down your weapons,” Ashe repeated.
The party did not comply immediately as they whispered amongst themselves about what to do. Gaston pointed out the military precision of the ambush. Some were in favor of surrender and others were not. 

Knowing that the odds were against them in a straight up fight, Gaston decided to try to goad the leader into a one-to-one confrontation, maybe even a duel. He loudly said, “Pretty brave for a man with 4-1 odds. I wonder whether you would still sound as good in a man-to-man fight?”

Ashe calmly said, “Brave words but I am not so easily swayed.”

Eventually the party decided that in this instance discretion was the better part of valor and dropped their weapons. Gaston dropped his pistols and main gauche, but before dropping his sword he broke it over his knee and said, “Since Captain Ashe will not play a man’s part, he will not get my blade intact.”

The Marauders placed the party under guard. As they traveled, Ashe regaled them all with a diatribe about the corruption of the Church of Rome and the venality and debauchery of the Church hierarchy, especially the Pope. Signoret soon noticed one of the Marauders’ horses was injured. It had a stone in its heel which was bruised and would soon be lame. He removed the stone and told the rider to allow the horse to rest. The rider thanked Signoret, on behalf of his horse. 

Seeing that Captain Ashe had also witnessed his actions, Signoret addressed Ashe directly. He used his knowledge of the Bible and the debating skills he had honed in the Jesuit seminary to try and persuade Ashe to abandon his robbing ways and even to speak better of the Pope in future. Signoret was a skilled debater, but Ashe too was familiar with the Bible, moreover Ashe was stubborn and a Puritan, which is to say doubly obstinate. Signoret realized he would not win his argument today and seeing that they had reached their destination, the Jesuit suggested to Ashe “Why don’t we all eat together as fellows before you and I continue our discussion?”

Ashe said, “You speak well and you know your Bible. But Satan too can quote scripture.” He gestured at the empty scabbard by the Jesuit’s side and said, “You seem unusual for a dog of Rome. And I would speak with you more, anon.”

The Marauders led them into a clearing where there was a picket line of horses, a campfire, and a few more members of the band sitting near the fire. They also saw the driver and guard from the Black Wagon who they had left by the side of the road. Though their manacles had been removed, a Marauder stood guard over the two with a matchlock musket in hand.

Guy said, “Those are bad men. Slavers and murderers We left them fastened to a tree by the highway.”

“I leave no man in chains,” said Ashe abruptly.

Guy warned Ashe about the Black Riders and played them up as servants of Satan. He talked about how they killed and enslaved others for some unknown but undoubtedly nefarious and ungodly purpose. Then he said “I, Guy de Bourges, have personally pledged to stop them and to cut the head from this serpent of evil.”

Gaston stared into Ashe’s eyes as he said, “Name of the Devil man! Etienne and Genevive have no stake in this! They are mere bystanders. Chance met travelers along the way. Besides they are young and newlyweds to boot. Captain Ashe, if you have an ounce of decency and manly courage you will release them unharmed.” Gaston paused as his stare turned glacial. “And I have not forgotten, Captain, that you owe me a sword.”

Rather than becoming offended, Ashe seemed won over by Guy and Gaston’s statements. He agreed to free the party, “So that you may continue your journey and your quest.” He returned all of the party’s belongings, including their weapons. And though he chided Gaston for his blaspheming, he gave him a fine rapier in exchange for the sword he had broken. As they departed, Ashe said, “Go and do justice to these Black Riders.”

The party returned to the main road where they found an inn to stay for the night. 

The weather the next day was cooler and windy. They encountered a group of eight soldiers on horseback. Their leader, a Sergeant Coquard, said that he and his men were hunting the brigand Mathew Ashe and his men. The party stayed silent about their encounter with Ashe. Guy asked if the soldiers had news, but they did not. Then Guy mentioned the group that Signoret had seen camped beside the road south of Autun. “They were well armed and mounted. They may well have been the bandits you seek.” The sergeant thanked him then he and his men hurried north. 

The inn they found that night was mostly empty so for a change the party had their choice of more than one room and they were able to give the newlyweds the privacy afforded by a room of their own. They were not the only guests. In the common room a nobleman sat alone at a table surrounded by empty and broken wine bottles. Guy got a cup of wine and sat down to discretely question him. The first thing he learned was that the noble was mightily drunk. Next, that he was a minor noble by the name of Donatien Charbonnier the Signeur D’Allenc. Guy decided not use his real name, but when suddenly asked for a name he blanked. Desperate for some answer he blurted out, “Lucien. Lucien de Bourges and over there is my good friend Gaston Thibeault!” 

Hearing his name Gaston stepped behind Guy and clasped his shoulder—hard as he coldly said, “I believe I heard my name taken in vain.”

“Yes, I was just mentioning you to Seigneur D’Allenc here.” Thinking frantically, Guy continued. “Why don’t you join us for a drink. A toast to Seigneur D’Allenc!” Maybe if I can pour enough of this mediocre Burgundy down D’Allenc’s throat he will black out completely and forget our names, Guy thought. 

“And another toast. To the King’s Health!” The others happily joined in. Guy continued to make one toast after another. Rather than making him more pleasant, the additional wine caused D’Allenc to become an argumentative gadfly. He drunkenly tried to start a quarrel, first between Guy and Lucien and next between Guy and Gaston. Fortunately before anyone became too upset at his stinging comments, D’Allenc passed out. “Thanks be to God,” Guy said under his breath.

The next day was Sunday and warm with a feel of spring in the air. Therefore before they left the inn, Father Signoret celebrated the mass. He invited everyone at the inn to attend. D’Allenc was feeling the effects of last night’s drinking and could not be roused, but most of the other staff and guests attended. Later that morning, off to the side of the road Signoret spotted a grove of trees with a thread of smoke rising above it. He carefully made his way forward on foot. Cautiously he moved through the trees until he could see a fire where sat three men all dressed in leather pants and doublet. One of the men wore a fancy silk hat, though his clothes were plain, and another had a helmet and pistol. All three were armed with rough hanger swords like those used by simple hunters. Over the fire whole pig turned on a spit which one of the men tended. The Jesuit returned to the party and told them he thought the group was some noble who had killed a wild boar. The party decided to avoid the hunters and continued down the road.

Later in the day they encountered four horsemen riding towards them from the south. The four were in full armor and each was armed with a straight sword and a pair of horse pistols. The party questioned the soldiers who told them that they were in the service of the Lieutenant General of Lyon. In turn the soldiers asked if the party had seen any sign of Matt’s Marauders. As before Guy described the large group of men that Signoret had seen by the side of the road outside Autun, but one of the soldiers said “Those people are Burgundy’s problem not ours.” The soldiers told the party that Lyon was about an hour’s ride to the south and recommended that they stay at the Golden Cross Inn.

The party stopped briefly outside the walls of Lyon so that Fabré could give Guy’s cloak a good brushing he entered the city. While they were stopped, Guy took his cousin Signoret aside and told him that the Da Vinci Codex had been destroyed. “I saw it with my own eyes, cousin. But knowledge of the Codex is dangerous. You need to be discreet and, for your personal safety and mine, you can’t discuss the Codex where others may overhear.”

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