Saturday, February 6, 2016

Adventure 10: Side Missions and Intrigues - Chapter V

Chapter V: The Silver Hedgehog Tavern

In the morning the entire party gathered for a late breakfast at which Father Signoret announced that he had learned the final secret and was now a master of the Spanish style. The other’s congratulated him, during which Guy mentioned his mastery of the Guy style. To which the Jesuit replied that he had learned a new counter to the Guy style. Guy introduced Antonio Lucalla to his cousin, Father Signoret. After a good night’s rest and the beneficial effects of Fabré’s poultice, Lucalla felt much better and was in arrogantly cheerful good spirits. Which was a bit too cheerful and quite a bit too arrogant for Lucien’s comfort.

Gaston loudly told Father Signoret that, as a new fencing master, he had to buy a round of drinks for everyone. “It’s tradition,” the soldier said with dead pan intonation. Signoret apologized that, having taken a vow of poverty, he could not afford to buy drinks for everyone. Which started a bit of banter between Lucalla, who was offended at the notion of a priest who was also a fencing master, and Signoret.

Guy interrupted what looked like the start of a serious quarrel by regaling everyone with the events of last night, starting with the rescue of Lucalla and ending with the death of the Chevallier de Savelborn and Gaston’s capture of Le Serpent. Guy also explained that Savelborn’s last words could apply to the Comte d’Ehlerange whose first name was Richard, which Gaston pointed out was pronounced Ricard in German. And Lucalla added that the Masked Nobleman was not arranging for just one murder, so Savelborn’s death was only the first.

Guy, Lucien, and Gaston summarized the rumors they had heard in town. They had learned little about the Black Riders. It seemed their depredations had not reached Lyon nor had their wagons attracted attention. They had heard quite a few rumors about Mathieu Ashe and his Marauders. It was said that Ashe had fought in the Religious War of 1621-22. Opinion of him were mixed with some saying he was little more than a brigand and a murderer and others saying he was a man of his word and of honor. He was said to be foreigner, either English or Dutch. They had also learned that not everyone in Lyon was a loyal Catholic for quite a few heretics still lived in Lyon.

Father Signoret told them that he had learned that Lyon had been fought over in the Religious Wars of the last century and that the city had been badly damaged when it was stormed by the Huguenots under the command of the cruel Francois de Beaumont. Signoret had heard that in addition to the town and gown troubles between city and college, there was some concern about the young noblemen led by the Governor’s son Nicolas and whether they were justly enforcing the laws or were a bunch of noble and privileged troublemakers.

Guy announced his plan to dress as Le Serpent and to go to the spy’s rendezvous at Le Hérisson Argent Taverne (the Silver Hedgehog Tavern). The others agreed to accompany him though Gason suggested that Father Signoret should not go out dressed as a Jesuit nor should Lucien wear his Musketeer’s tabard. Signoret agreed to wear Claude’s cloths, but insisted that his servant’s soiled clothes first had to be washed. He summoned Claude and set him to the task. While Claude washed and dried his clothes, Lucalla told them that the Silver Hedgehog had a side entrance from one of Lyon’s many intricate traboule passages. The Italian swordsman offered to lead them there.

With Lucalla in the lead, Guy, Lucien, Signoret, and Gaston walked to the St. George Quarter. Lucalla led them on a winding traboule route that led through various stairs, passages, and courtyards. Along the way, Guy secretly used a piece of chalk to mark the twisting passages of the traboule. They reached a heavy wooden door with a metal slot just below at head height. Lucalla told them that there was some sort of password or knock to gain entrance, but that he did not know the secret. Guy decided the party should wait outside and observe how others gained entrance. To fit in and explain their presence the group acted drunk. Guy sang the Neapolitan song, “O sole mio” in a drunken and off-key voice. Gaston complained about his singing, which only made Guy sing louder. Signoret suggested that a large group by the door might intimidate others and prevent the door from opening. Therefore Guy and Lucien pretended to pass out by the door, while Gaston, Lucalla, and Signoret moved further away and continued to sing.

Lucalla said that he preferred Gaston’s rendition of “King Henri’s Men” to Guy’s off-key “O solo mio” and quickly picked up enough of the lyrics to sing along. After a time two men in patched clothing and wearing crude hunting swords approached. They hesitated when they noticed Guy and Lucien lying by the door. Guy started to sing a lullaby. The two men drew their swords, but still hesitated to approach the door. Behind them, Gaston, Signoret, and Lucalla prepared themselves to come to the aid of their friends.

“What are you doing?” Lucien whispered to Guy.

“Tell me a story,” Guy said in a drunken voice.

“This isn’t going to work,” Lucien said.

Guy said louder, “Tell me another story.”

The two men looked around nervously and then decided not to linger. They quickly walked away. As soon as they were out of sight, Lucien said to his cousin, “I told you this wasn’t going to work.”

“It was worth a try,” Guy replied airily. “Now we’ll try the front door.”

Le Hérisson Argent Taverne (the Silver Hedgehog Tavern) was located in an old, high ceilinged wine cellar in a run down area of the Saint Georges Quarter riddled with traboules. Its main entrance was at the bottom of a short stair located half way down a narrow, steeply slanting street. Above the door a carved wooden sign displayed the image of a hedgehog limned in white paint with the name of the tavern written beneath. The group decided not to enter together. Guy and Lucalla entered first. 

Double doors opened to an entry way half filled by two huge, muscular men armed with truncheons who acted as door wardens. The guards briefly barred their way as they glanced at the arrivals before nodding their heads and stepping aside to allow them to enter. To the left of the alcove was an opening to a dimly lit room from which the sound of voices and of men drinking could be heard. The way to the right was blocked by a heavy leather curtain, while directly ahead of them a wooden stair led up. Guy and Lucalla went upstairs as the Italian led him to where he had overheard the masked man’s plot. At the top of the stairs they found a balcony that gave them a view of a large, dining room lit by four oil burning chandeliers. The room below had twenty tables and a huge central open fire pit where an entire ox roasted on a spit along with rabbits and sundry fowl. A young boy dressed in rags turned the various spits and tended to skewers of roasting meats and fish, his efforts overseen by a fat cook. At the edge of the balcony idlers leaned on wooden counters alongside the railing or rested their drinks there while they conversed.

Along the back wall of the balcony, were six or seven openings closed by floor length curtains. At the far end of the balcony was a heavy wooden door with an armed guard. The door had a slot just below head height. Guy noticed the guard open the slot and look outside before unbarring the door. Several men entered. One of the men pulled aside one of the leather curtains behind which Guy could see a booth with benches and a table lit by a flickering tallow candle. The three men sat, then drew the curtain closed giving them privacy. Guy realized the booths were arranged to allow clandestine meetings. Guy located the second booth from the far end as the spot arranged for Le Serpent’s meeting.

After a short delay, the others entered. Gaston stared coldly at the two guards and said, “We’re here to spend some money. Let us through.” The two guards quickly stepped aside.

The three men passed through the opening. Tables and benches were scattered over half of the dimly lit room while the other half was taken up by a semi-circular bar over 35 feet in length. Small pools of light came from a few oil lamps and several tables had fat tallow candles that burned with a rank odor. Inside the semicircle, several bartenders busily filled drinks for patrons and rushing bar maids. The three passed one table where an old woman dealt out a hand of faded playing cards. “You!” she pointed at Gaston. “The cards speak of you.”

“What do the cards say old woman?” asked Gaston.

“Cross my palm with silver first and I will tell you.”

Gaston stared at the fortune teller. Then he placed a silver pistole on the table and sat across from the old woman. Lucien and Father Signoret stood nearby and leaned in closer to listen.

Slowly the fortune teller turned over one card after another as she read Gaston’s fortune piece by piece. She said, “Great danger threatens…Death hovers near…Maybe a change for the better?...War…smoke…guns…battle…a great battle…A chance for a prosperous change of fortune…Fortune may turn your way.”

Although Gaston remained outwardly impassive, Lucien’s eyes widened in wonder at the old woman’s knowledge. Father Signoret, was upset by this open display of witchcraft and fortunetelling. He said harshly, “Be careful witch lest your soul be wreathed in flames.”

The old woman’s eyes narrowed and she said, “You are not what you appear to be. You conceal your true identify.”

Signoret said, “Perhaps we all wear a mask.”

The fortuneteller replied, “The cards reveal what is hidden.”

“Then what is my real identity?” asked the Jesuit.

The old woman said, “Cross my palm with silver.”

Signoret said, “I have no coin.”

Lucien put down a coin and said, “I will hear what she has to say.”

Uncomfortably, Signoret sat down. The old woman reshuffled the cards and then again began to slowly turn over one card after another as she spoke. “Your outer self does not reflect your inner self. You appear slovenly…A drunkard…But the inner man is something quite different. Orderly…Discplined. A man of a strong religious bent…From a place of leadership.” Her words struck close to the mark which unsettled the disguised Jesuit priest to whom her powers seemed both real and threatening.

The fortune teller continued, “Devout, but not an ordinary man. One whose service is to a higher power.”

Signoret interrupted her reading, “Abandon your cards and your sinful life and follow the scripture! ‘God shall not suffer a witch to live!’ There must be some good in you or you’d already be dead.” The vehemence and fanaticism in the Jesuit’s voice frightened the old woman.

She spoke of the stars and how the stars rule our destiny. “Our fates our written in the stars and move in their patterns for thousands of years. And nothing you or I can do can threaten that.” She paused, then continued, “You are trying to hide why you are here. If you wish to learn the truth, you must reveal who you are! The stars know all. The cards tell all.”

A wild look came into her eye as she said, “Does not your book tell you a lie is a sin? You dress in false clothes to conceal who you are. Your spiritual side and your dark side that causes you to take the lives of others. The side that revels danger and balances on the blade on the edge of death.”

Undeterred, Signoret said, “Stars are made by the infinite and are subject to God himself not to the powers of witches or sorcerers.” Suddenly the old woman sprang to her feet and ran from the table leaving her cards behind.

Gaston put his hand firmly on Signoret's shoulder as he said, “Father, this is a rough place filled with theives, ruffians, pimps, and murderers. It would be better for all of us if you didn’t do anyting else to attract attention.”

Meanwhile, Lucien snatched up the fortune teller’s cards and ran after her. Before they reached the foyer, he caught her. He grabbed her arm to stop her so he could return her cards. Then he gave her another coin and tried to convince her to stay. “My friend is very sure of his beliefs. But I am not so sure. Please sit with me a moment. You notice much. Perhaps you can help me. I seek a man with dark curly hair. A noble who uses a cane but does not need it. One with a dark heart willing to do evil to others. No one will know what you have told me.” Lucien placed his hand over his heart, “I swear on my honor as a King’s Musketeer.”

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