Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Fiction: Vol 6: City Tales, Book IV: The Case of the Curia Crimes - Ch 3 & 4

Chapter 3: Dead Drop

Gaston tells Norbert of his new position as Captain of Cardinal Richelieu’s Guards. “The King has granted the Cardinal permission to form his own company of Guards. They will be part of the Maison du Roi. Chevaux Legeres like the King’s Musketeers. And my first task is to find suitable recruits to form this company. These will be the the best blades in France, Norbert. And I want my first recruit to be you cousin.” Norbert is surprised and concerned how his duties as a Guard will affect his career in the theatre. Gaston talks about the good pay and the prestige, eventually succeeding in persuading Norbert to advance himself in society by joining the newly formed Cardinal’s Guards. But Norbert stipulates that he cannot immediately abandon his duties to Binet’s Grand Troupe of Players. 

“I must see the play through to the finish. It is a commitment. As the Impresarios says, the show must go on.”

Reluctantly, Gaston agrees. Norbert then says, “That reminds me cousin, about the play. I have heard something surprising and…disturbing” Norbert tells his cousin Gaston about the changes to the play that his troupe is preparing and how those changes have, no doubt coincidentally, created a seeming parody of Gaston. Gaston does not find a seeming parody either funny or coincidental.

Norbert takes Gaston to speak to the writer, Salvatore Machiavelli. Gaston steps forward and says, “I am Gaston Thibault, soldier and poet” as he flourishes his large, battered hat in a commanding gesture. Threateningly he asks Salvatore whether the Italian intended to make fun of Gaston or whether he meant to mock Gaston’s new patron, the Cardinal Richelieu. 

Salvatore is terrified and quickly disavows any intention of mocking either Gaston or his Eminence the Cardinal. He claims he was forced by the Impresario to make the changes to the play to accommodate one of the backers. He, Salvatore, resisted these grotesque changes to his utmost, but his protests were ignored and he was overruled by the others. Gaston grabs Salvatore by his shirt front and pushes his face next to the Italian’s as he demands the backer’s name. Salvatore does not know the name of the backer, “no doubt the Impresario must know.” The writer only knows that the Impresario referred to the backer as “the Baron.” He then tells Gaston where he might be able to find the Impresario now. While Gaston heads for the Impresario’s office, Norbert remains behind to try and calm the shaken Salvatore.

At the theatre office, Gaston slams open the door. Pointing his finger at the Impresario as if it were a dagger, he strides straight for the man as if he would impale him to the wall. The Impresario quickly scrambles to put a sofa between himself and this large and threatening man and begins talking…a lot.

Gaston is nearly overwhelmed by the flood of words. He decides to try a different approach. “I am sorry Monsieur. I failed to properly introduce myself. I am Gaston Thibeault. Captain of the personal guard of Armand du Plessis Cardinal Richelieu. I must ask whether you know me monsieur.” The Impresario loudly and volubly denies that he knows Gaston or has ever met him. “Then, Monsieur you would have no reason to ridicule me in front of all of Paris in this play of yours would you?” The Impresario denies any such intent insisting that he is a dramatist of the purist sort a man who lives for the theater. Gaston then says, “So then, it must be the Cardinal you wish to ridicule. You are a brave man Monsieur Impresario to so uphold the spirit of the theatre that you would willing suffer in the Bastille for your artistic statement against the Cardinal and the Bastille is very cold this time of year. Though, in the end, not so cold as the Place de Greve.” Gaston emphasizes his statement with a chop of his hand. 

For several seconds the Impresario is struck dumb. He runs a finger around his throat and swallows audibly. Then he volubly and vociferously denies any such intent or any desire for such an outcome. The Impresario says, “Perhaps you should speak to the writer.”

“I assure you I have already done so, Monsieur. And he told me the mockery was at your insistence. So I came here, directly.”

“Not mine. Not mine. A minor change, merely to gratify a patron of the arts. At his insistence I assure you.”

“That would be the Baron. And this, Baron’s name?”

“Villemorin, Monsieur. Baron Remy de Villmorin.”

“Well Monsieur unless you wish to either end your days in the Bastille or …” Gaston again makes a chopping gesture. 

“No. No, Monseiur. The Impresario has no desire for either ignoble fate.”

“Then you cannot put on this play” says Gaston. The Impresario objects. Vociferously. 

Meanwhile Norbert, who has entered the office sometime during the discussion, takes his cousin aside and whispers to him. “We could use the play to trap the Baron.” 

Gaston stops and thinks then says quietly to himself, “Yes the plays the thing in which we catch the conscience of…a rat.”

“You are right, Impresario. The show must go on.”

“Ah Monsieur Gaston, I can see that you are a man of letters. A poet at heart. A true patron of the… ”

Gaston, interrupts the Impresario yet again, “In fact I am a poet. I mentioned it earlier and the Archduchess herself has praised my poetry.”

“Archduchess? Archduchess?

“But that matters not. Here is what you and your writer will do Impresario. You will change the play to remove the offensive sections and to make the insertions I will specify. I assure you it will be a masterpiece of the dramatic arts. All Paris will marvel at your brilliance and your play’s success!” 

“But my backers what will they think, and these changes the scripts have been printed and they will need to be redone, and the costume and set changes, who is to pay for all these things Monsieur Gaston? And what will the Baron Villemorin say and what will he do? ...He will be enraged. I fear for my safety at his hands, for my very life…”

“As for the costs, you have already been paid by the Baron and your other backers, have you not?”

“Yes, but…”

“And I will give you an additional 200 livres which will more than cover the cost of any new printing or incidentals. And as for the Baron, why after this play, Monsieur Impresario, he shall not trouble you further. I, Gaston Thibeault, give you my word.”

Gaston then takes the Impresario to Salvatore’s rooms to make sure both parties are clear on the next steps. Over the upcoming days, Salvatore alters the script to make Gaston the Soldier the hero and the cowardly and villainous Baron V. the buffoonish antagonist of the play. Gaston reviews and adds to Salvatore’s work, creating a veritable fountain of words, lines of masterful bravura poetry[i] for Gaston the Soldier in contrast to the sneering and sniveling dialogue of the cowardly and cruel Baron V. The fountain of words to be punctuated by a fountain of water from the statue of Poseidon…now directed at Baron V. 

Meanwhile, over the past few weeks, Guy’s agents have continued to keep the principals in the case of the missing funds under observation. Based on this they learn that none of the principals have excessive outside spending habits or vices that would account for a need for extra cash and that Father Labarre seems to be a creature of habit with extremely regular and predictable movements. Deciding to focus efforts for a time on the Chastels, Guy assigns Father Basil Chastel to his ordinary agents while Le Serpent investigates the priest’s brother, Brian Chastel.

Father Basil Chastel holds the office of Pastor of Mouton, a rural parish outside of Paris. Pastor Basil is an ordinary member of the Curia of the Archbishop of Paris. Father Signoret has already met Pastor Basil Chastel. Signoret owes Chastel a Favor for providing Signoret with an introduction during a court function to Archbishop Gondi (Adventure 18: The Poison Ring).

Previously in Adventure 18: The Poison Ring
Father Signoret talks to Father Chastel, an ordinary member of Archbishop Gondi’s Curia. In return for a future favor, Father Chastel agrees to introduce the Jesuit to the Archbishop de Gondi, though he warns Signoret that the Archbishop, as a supporter of the Oratorians, who are rivals to the Jesuits, is unlikely to help Signoret. During his introduction, Chastel makes a particular point of mentioning to the Archbishop that Signoret is a Jesuit and that “they” are interested in the missing diocesan funds. Gondi first looks embarrassed then angry. But Chastel suggests “perhaps a private meeting” and the Archbishop worriedly agrees telling Chastel to conduct Signoret “to the Green Room at Midnight.”

His brother Brian Chastel, one of the two Treasurers of the nearly bankrupt Bishop’s Club, is a widower. He had one son, who was deformed with a hunchback, one short leg, and a speech impediment. Several years ago Brian, his wife, and son went on a pilgrimage to try to heal their crippled child. But no miracle was granted. If anything, the boy became worse. While they were returning home, the three were attacked by brigands and Chastel’s wife and son were killed. Brian survived and returned to Paris. Neither he, nor his brother Basil have any extra or unusual outside expenses. In fact, Brian’s noble attire is slightly worn and years out of date.

After being briefed by Guy, Father Signoret decides to speak to several of the Curia members in person. He first checks to make sure that Father Delage will not object. The Vicar General tells him that, “While the Archbishop’s decision to close the investigation prevents me from personally pursuing this matter or questioning my fellow Curia members, you are a Jesuit. And the Jesuits have a separate chain of command that ultimately reports directly to Rome. Thus you don’t fall under the authority of the Archbishop and so neither he nor I can order you not to talk to the members of the Archbishop’s Curia should you choose to do so in an unofficial capacity.”

“I understand completely,” Signoret says. 

He first speaks to Father Charles de Landry. De Landry is a devout man, an Oratorian and a follower of Monsieur Vincent de Paul. De Landry asks Signoret “Has the Archbishop decided to reopen the investigation at last?” Signoret tells him that the Archbishop has not. De Landry then asks “What interest can the Society of Jesus have in this matter?” 

Father Signoret saysthat “There is no official interest…as yet. I am here as part of an unofficial inquiry by several members of my Order.” [ii]

“Well I hope you can find the missing funds,” says de Landry. “The loss has caused great distress. The Poor Fund was emptied, the northwest side of the cathedral roof still needs maintenance, and we had to ask for a special donation even to provide for the Sunday soup line. Fortunately, Monsieur Vincent persuaded several nobles to subscribe to the special donation.”

Signoret asks Father de Landry if he suspects anyone or if he knows anything that may help in his investigation. De Landry hesitates and then says that there is something that has been troubling him. He frowns in thought as if he is trying to come to some decision. Then his face clears as he says, “Father please hear my confession. Forgive me father for I have sinned…” During his confession de Landry tells Signoret that he “has harbored unkind thoughts about a fellow Curia member and of my own ecclesiastical superior, the Archbishop, in regards to the abrupt closure of the inquiry.” He says that “shortly after the funds were discovered to be missing it also came to light that several pages had been torn out of the Curia’s financial ledgers. The pages may have been removed to conceal the theft by disguising the extent and total of the incoming Curia funds so as to hide any shortfall. Later that day, Father de Landry entered Father de Vassé’s room to speak to him on a separate matter and saw several ledger pages on his desk with ragged edges – as if they had been torn from a ledger. 

“While I didn’t have a chance to examine them in detail, the columns of figures certainly seemed like financial records. This matter is doubly concerning because, so far as has been reported to the Curia, the missing pages have never come to light. Yet shortly after I saw the pages, the Archbishop took control of the investigation. And I personally saw him enter his nephew’s rooms. He must have found the pages. I know that I owe obedience to my religious superior and that there must be a proper explanation of events, but I confess that despite praying on this matter I still have grave doubts and uncertainties about the conduct of the Archbishop and his nephew.”

After hearing Father de Landry’s confession, Father Signoret gives de Landry absolution. 

De Landry thanks him and then gives Signoret his blessing. “May the lord God guide your steps and may the Holy Spirit inspire your thoughts and aid you in solving this mystery and in recovering the Curia funds for the poor.” 

Sigrnoret decides to speak next to Pastor Basil. But for some reason, almost as if someone had guided his footsteps there, he found that the room he had entered was that of Father de Vassé and not Pastor Chastel. Although initially surprised to see de Vassé instead of Chastel, Signoret quickly recovers from his mistake. He reassures[iii] the ex-Chancellor that he is there “not as part of some Jesuit scheme against the Gondi family, but simply to uncover the truth in this matter.”

“Good. Then perhaps you will find out who framed me.” 

Father Signoret asks de Vassé why he thinks he was framed and who he thinks may be responsible. De Vassé says that on the night before the funds were discovered to be missing, he received a note, unsigned, asking him to visit an invalid member of the parish in which he is a Curate and to administer the Last Rites to the invalid. The night was dark and rainy and it took de Vassé some time to reach the home of the invalid. But once inside, no one in the house admitted to sending the note or to summoning him and in fact, the invalid himself was no worse than usual. Staying a while to pray with the family, de Vassé then trudged back to the rectory where he promptly fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, he was awoken by Father Labarre who had a request to withdraw funds for the purchase of new mass books. However when de Vassé opened the treasury, they both saw that all the funds were missing. He and Father Labarre informed the Vicar General and the Archbishop and the Vicar General promptly began an investigation during which he discovered the financial ledger was missing several pages of donation and offering receipts.

De Vassé’s uncle, the Archbishop then personally took over the case and found the missing papers on de Vassé’s desk in his sleeping chambers. “But Father, I assure you that I did not take those pages. Why should I? If would hide nothing, the sum stolen well exceeded the donations recorded there. Moreover if I had wanted to disguise donations I could have just failed to record them in the first place. I swear to you, Father. I did not take those pages or steal the Curia’s funds.”

“My uncle knows I could not be guilty. I have always been loyal to the family and would not bring disgrace on my uncles or my mother. My uncle the Archbishop thinks this is all a plot by the enemies of the Gondi to discredit our family and to ruin his reputation. That is why he said I must step down as Chancellor to forestall our enemies until we can learn who did this and how. This is a chance to discover who our hidden enemies are and who are our true friends are as well.”

“And who do you suspect?” Signoret asked.

“As to who else might have done it, well any of the Curia members have access to the treasury office, but only my uncle and I had keys to the treasury. Of course there is no reason for my uncle to take the money. The Gondi family is quite wealthy and he and my uncle Jean-Francois[iv] control that wealth. And as the Archbishop he can authorize expenditures of the funds legally.” 

“Of the other Curia members, Labarre is certainly intelligent enough – why he is only a shade less perspicacious as am I – so he is certainly capable of conceiving such a scheme. Delage…well Delage is ruthless enough to have done as much and more. The man is obsessed with his personal notion of discipline and is absolutely ruthless in executing his vision. And as for Chaste,, why Chastel is neither as intelligent as Lebarre nor as ruthless as Delage. All he has going for him as a suspect is his long standing jealousy of me. He thought that since his brother Brian is a Treasurer in the Bishop’s Club that somehow that made Basil the most suitable candidate for Chancellor of the Curia. I bet that now that I have been removed, he is using his every waking hour scheming for the Chancellor’s spot. I’d love to get my position back to spite him if for no other reason.”

Signoret asked, “What about de Landry?”

“De Landry? No…no…it couldn’t be de Landry. He seems a devout man but more importantly he just cannot lie well or convincingly. Not to save his own life. He just can’t seem to say anything that isn’t true without turning the oddest color and stumbling all over his words. No it couldn’t be de Landry.”  

Signoret thanked de Vassé. As he left, he thought to himself, That was a most fortunate accident that caused me to speak to Father de Vassé before speaking to Fathers Lebarre or Chastel.

Since Norbert has agreed to join the newly formed Cardinal’s Guards – “the Cardinals Blades”[v] – as Gaston names them. “You will need a blade of your own.” Norbert decides that he wants a big sword…a greatsword. So he and Gaston go shopping. After examining the blades in several shops, Gaston finds and points out what he quietly says is “a particularly blade, a master craft blade.” The shop keeper, who is not himself a swordsmith, says that he is willing to part with the sword for only 100L. “A very fair price,,” says Gaston. Yet Norbert is reluctant to spend the money, finding the sword very expensive, but Gaston says “Cousin, a good blade can save your life” and eventually Norbert pays for the sword.

As a routine part of his espionage activities, Guy regularly stopped by a series of dead drops used by his agents. One dead drop consisted of a loose flagstone in an alley off a main street. Chalk marks were left on a nearby wall to note when a message is waiting and are erased after pickup. A piece of chalk is left in the compartment beneath the flagstone to facilitate this process. Guy noticed the chalk mark, so he scanned the nearby street for watchers or other suspicious activity. In the crowd he spotted a large, broad-shouldered, muscular man with a hawk-like nose and a graying full beard that had been out of fashion for over twenty years. Now there’s a man who’s easy to recognize. Baron Simon d’Ile-de-Batz, Peré Joseph’s favorite agent. And a man who I suspect has no love for me. Not after leaving him tied to a tree at night by the side of the highway. The Baron ducked into the crowd and Guy followed. Although he was careful, the hour was early and there were few other pedestrians about. Guy noticed a brief hesitation by his quarry as Ile-de-Batz suddenly turned around. Although Guy turned as well it was too late. He’s made me. But he doesn’t know that I know that he knows. That being the case, I’d like to see what he does next.

Ile-de-Batz continued on then suddenly ducked down an alley, which Guy recognized. A dead end. Either this is his destination or it is a trap….Only one way to find out which it is. Guy followed down the alley and though prepared for an ambush, he was still startled as he turned the corner and found himself confronted by the Baron, who was pointing what looked like an enormous wheelock pistol right at Guy’s face. “My that is alarming, would you mind pointing that elsewhere?”

“Why are you following me?” the Baron asked.

“Following you? No, no, no. This is just a simple misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstanding? No, I recognize you…Guy de Bourges. Well here’s something I trust you will understand Monsieur de Bourges.” The Baron said taking a step closer so that the pistol was mere inches from Guy’s nose. “At this range, if I pull the trigger even your own mother won’t recognize your face.”

“Ah, well. No need to be hasty. You see I was actually on the way to a friend’s celebration. Surely you’ve heard the news. My dear friend, Gaston Thibeault was just appointed the chief of Cardinal Richelieu’s personal guards. Quite the plum assignment, wouldn’t you say? And I was on my way to join him to celebrate when I happened to accidentally see you and thought I should invite old Ile-de-Batz to the celebration. Sort of let bygones be bygones. Turn over a new leaf as it were. Let you know there is no animosity etcetera, etcetera.” Guy was reassured to see first surprise and then a certain wariness come over Ile-de-Batz’s face. 

Ile-de-Batz said, “I never take things personally. I’m a professional and when I act, I act for professional reasons…So you were on your way to see your friend Monsieur Thibeault? Professionally, though that is a nice promotion for your friend, that is of no interest to me. But speaking personally, I suggest that you go to see your friend Thibeault and celebrate…in fact you should go…immediately.” Ile-de-Batz gestured slightly with his pistol for Guy to leave.

Guy left and then quickly circled around checking for a tail. No tail. Good, first a quick stop at the drop, then on to see Gaston and the others. At the drop Guy quickly checked for watchers and this time, seeing it was clear, he headed down the alley. But as he lifted the flagstone, he heard the whirring grinding sound of a wheellock mechanism from just beneath the stone. “Sacrebleu!” He said as he quickly pushed the stone back into place and dove away from the sound. Behind him, an explosion erupted from the dead drop and pelted him with broken stones and flaming debris.[vi] At the alley mouth, he quickly scanned the street. Again he spotted Ile-de-Batz who looked at him impassively, neither pleased nor surprised. He gazed silently at Guy and then nodded his head slowly from side-to-side twice before quickly moving off through the gathering crowd. Guy left as well. Quickly losing himself in the crowd, he wrapped his charred cloak around the first street person his own size that he saw and swapped his hat for the battered chapeau on the other’s head. Now what was that supposed to mean? I’m guessing he booby trapped the drop himself then thought better of it after I told him about Gaston. Well, if there was a message, he has it. Nothing for it but to contact the agent directly to see what was missed and to tell them to use a different drop from now on.

Aloud Guy said, “I hope this doesn’t mean Peré Joseph is involved in this case. That could make things…more complicated.”

Chapter 4: To Catch a Thief

As the cold winds of December descend on Paris, Norbert continues rehearsals and Gaston struggles to build an elite Guard Company for Richelieu. Meanwhile, Guy uses his contacts at court to search for any connection between the Curia membership and the Club suspects to either the Gondi family or to Cardinal Richelieu. But aside from the obvious connections of the Curia membership to the Archbishop, he uncovers nothing.

Signoret obtains the false note that requested Father de Vassé to visit an invalid to administer the Last Rites. From Father Delage he obtains samples of the writing of the members of the Curia. Signoret compares the two, but does not find a match. If I can obtain the membership roster for the Bishop’s Club, I can also compare the note to signatures of the members that are linked to the Curia. Perhaps that will reveal the thief.

Guy and Signoret ask Guy’s friend Chancie to give them access to the membership roster or other documents that have examples of the members’ handwriting or their signature. Chancie tells them that only a secretary or higher officer of the club can authorize their access. Realizing that Labarre is a club secretary, Signoret decides to question Father Labarre next. However Labarre is uncooperative. He asks what Signoret is doing here and on being told that the Jesuits are looking into the matter of the missing Curia funds, Labarre states that, “The Jesuit Order has no authority to investigate the Curia of Paris. Do you see me entering your Professed House to investigate its operations? No you do not. This Curia is under the authority of the Archbishop of Paris and until he decides to ask questions, I have nothing to say. Now I have legitimate business of the archdiocese to attend to and I must insist that you leave. “He was uncooperative,” Signoret said said to himself as he left. “And he is hiding something.”

Guy’s agent, Le Serpent, reports that he followed Brian Chastel to an unusual rendezvous. “The man he met with had a heavy brow, a beak-like nose, beady eyes, and a perpetual scowl,” Le Serpent said. “Frankly Chief, the whole time I watched him he always looked like he was ready to stab somebody. A most unsavory character. And a man either dangerous or in some danger for he had with him four large men. And they weren’t gentlemen, for they didn’t look gentle in either birth or temperament. The Scowler’s Brutes and bodyguards, I reckon.” 

“Well Chief as this was the most interesting thing I had seen Chastel do, despite the peril to my personal safety, I moved closer to see if I could overhear their conversation because I knew you’d be interested. And I was able to hear the Scowler demand money of Chastel else he would reveal some ‘terrible secret.’ Them’s the Scowler’s exact words Chief, ‘terrible secret.’ Well then this here Chastel claims he didn’t have the money, but that given a week or so he could get it. The Scowler was having none of that and gave him only two days, telling Chastel to bring the money to the Brevage Noir two nights hence…or else. So there we have it Chief. That Chastel he’s hiding something. And now, because of my efforts we know it.”

The name Brevage Noir (Black Brew) recalls to Father Signoret that he knows a man named Rouleau who frequents that tavern. Signoret says, “Brevage Noir is an unsavory tavern. I know a man who knows it well. Perhaps he can put a name to this Scowler.” So Signoret, in the plain clothes of a gentleman, goes to the Tavern Brevage Noir accompanied by Norbert, who is swathed in a huge cloak that conceals a pair of pistols and his massive two-handed sword.

At the Brevage Noir, Signoret takes a seat at a table, not far from the entrance, where a lone man is sitting. The man fingers the hilt of his dagger as he calls Signoret a toff and objects to his presence at the table. To try to placate the man, Norbert sits between the two blocking the man’s view of Signoret. This doesn’t satisfy the man who startles them by suddenly drawing the well-used dagger from his belt and plunging it into the tabletop between them. Seeking to avoid violence, Signoret signals for a server and a squat, surly waitress with a deep, gravelly voice comes to their table and asks “Waddaya want?"

“We would like drinks for myself and my two friends,” Signoret says gesturing to include both Norbert and the man at their table. The waitress leaves before he can tell her what drinks to bring. Signoret notices their fellow carefully watching the squat waitress as she pours a dark liquid from a pewter pitcher into three much-used, leather jacks. He too watches, but fails to discern what attracted his fellow’s eye, but he does notice that as she returns, their tablemate sits back as if satisfied. 

The waitress plonks down the mugs saying curtly, “Black Brew.” Norbert, who pays, is surprised at how expensive the mystery round turns out to be. 

As all three lift their mugs to sample the brew, their tablemate proposes an unusual toast. “To crime!” Norbert and then Signoret each echo the toast. Signoret finds the brew is sweet but with a very earthy, peaty undertone which is much to his liking. Norbert, on the other hand, cannot stomach the concoction and he spits his drink out onto the table top.[vii]

“What the hell!?” complains their tablemate. 

“I don’t like the taste,” says Norbert. Their tablemate plucks his dagger from the table then gets up in disgust and leaves, with his unfinished mug in hand.

While Signoret continues to savor his drink, Norbert orders a beer to wash away the taste of his. Shortly after the beer arrives, Rouleau appears at their table. He has a large nose, a bowl-cut haircut, mustache, and beard. He is a double amputee, missing both legs. He moves about on a low wheeled platform – hence his knickname, “Rouleau” or roller. Rouleau offers to blacken Signoret’s boots. While he does so, Signoret quietly questions him about the Scowler. Rouleau tells them that the man they describe, the Scowler, “sounds like Jean Orande who always travels with four large brutes as his bodyguards and personal enforcers.”

“Orande is called La Buse (the Buzzard) because of the speed and ruthlessness with which he attacks his enemies and he is one of the major crime lords in Paris. A year ago, La Buse was the sole survivor of a street fight between two rival gangsters. They killed each other, and he took over both their organizations.” 

Signoret asks whether La Buse is known as a blackmailer. Rouleau says “La Buse is not a blackmailer, but he will try anything that promises a chance for a good return.” Signoret thanks Rouleau and gives him some coins for the service.

Guy and Signoret decide to set a trap for the thief. But to set the trap, they will need the cooperation of Archbishop Gondi. They first explain their plan to Father de Vassé, emphasizing that it provides the best opportunity to capture the real culprit and to clear de Vassé’s name. De Vasse is hesitant to speak to his uncle, the Archbishop alone. Father Signoret volunteers to accompany him, but de Vassé says that his uncle doesn’t trust the Jesuits. Instead he takes Guy with him. During the meeting, de Vassé makes an introduction then quickly turns all of the explanation over to Guy. Guy explains that the Archbishop should openly tell his Curia that a highly placed, devout noble has made a large cash donation to be placed in the Curia funds. That this noble wishes to remain anonymous for now, but that the funds soon will be used to address several pressing matters. This will cause the thief to want to act quickly while the funds are still in the Curia treasury. To simulate the funds, Guy suggests that the Archbishop transfer some of the archdiocese’s other funds into the Curia treasury. Guy and Signoret will hide in the Chancellor’s office and catch the thief red-handed and clear his nephew and the Gondi name. After consideration, the Archbishop agrees to the plan. 

The armoire in the Chancellor’s office is emptied so that Guy and Signoret can conceal themselves inside and there they lie in wait for the thief to arrive.

Outside Notre Dame, Norbert and Gaston take up separate positions to cut off the most likely escape routes in case the thief eludes both Guy and Signoret. While Norbert is waiting at a shadowy corner, he hears a woman loudly calling “Pierre! Pierre!” The woman gets closer and then shies back as she spots Norbert’s huge figure in the shadows. Hesitantly she steps forward and entreats Norbert to return her son Pierre to her. Uncharacteristically, Norbert curtly tells her to leave. This elicits a louder and more frantic appeal from the mother. Norbert tells her to “Go home. You will find your son at home in his own bed.” 

The woman says, “Oh Dark One, I do not know why you or your Dark Master took my child, but whether you be demon or warlock I thank you for returning my little Pierre to his bed. Merci! Merci!” The woman then returns the way she came. 

Meanwhile, inside the Chancellor’s office, Guy and Signoret hear the door to the office open. Guy opens the armoire door a crack and sees a figure veiled in a monk’s hooded cloak holding a candle in one hand. The monk stealthily approaches the chest that holds the Curia funds. Taking a key from under his robe, the monk unlocks the chest and removes a sack of coins. Guy and Signoret leap out of the armoire and unsheathe their swords. As Signoret rushes to block the door, Guy commands the monk to surrender. The monk freezes in surprise, then dashes out his candle plunging the room into darkness. As the three blunder about in the dark, Signoret reaches the door and shortly afterwards someone lurches into him and, in the dark, Signoret stabs the blunderer. Guy finds a light and they see the monk motionless and bleeding on the floor. Surprised, Signoret says, “I think I’ve killed him…Oh, well.” Now Guy too is surprised. 

Signoret uses his training as a physician to stop the bleeding and stabilize the monk. They recognize the monk as Brian Chastel. They search him, but other than a dagger he is unarmed and the only incriminating item is the key he used to unlock the treasury and that is still in the lock. Chastel remains unconscious. He has lost a lot of blood and his wound is serious. Father Signoret suggests that Chastel be manacled in a cell, but he is overruled on medical and compassionate grounds and Chastel is taken to the nearby Hôtel-Dieu for care. However the Archbishop does assign a pair of his guards to watch Chastel. Guy summons Fabré to help Chastel’s recovery by applying healing poultices to his wound and Norbert volunteers to help the guards keep an eye on Chastel.

Having caught Brian Chastel red-handed, Guy and Signoret leave the Hôtel-Dieu and cross town to break into Chastel’s house and search it. They don’t find any large sums of money inside and they find nothing incriminating. Frustrated at the lack of other evidence, they decide to keep Chastel’s rendezvous at the Tavern Brevage Noir to see if they can learn anything from a meeting with the blackmailer. It is already late and nearly time for the rendezvous with La Buse, the Paris crime lord who is blackmailing Chastel, so Guy uses some of the clothes in the house to disguise himself as Brian Chastel and then he and Signoret proceed directly to the Tavern Brevage Noir.

[i] Salvatore has writes a successful set of changes (8+3=11) while Gaston spends a FP to get a Mighty Success (11+FP+4=16MS) the brave lines of Gaston the Soldier will ring out throughout Paris.
[ii] In essence, Father Signoret lies to Father de Landry.
[iii] Signoret uses a FP to turn his roll into a Mighty Success.
[iv] Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi, comte de Joigny, is the Lieutenant-general of the galleys of France (SR 13).
[v] Les Lames du Cardinal, see also the book of the same name by Pierre Pevel.
[vi] Guy takes -2 Lifeblood damage from the explosion.
[vii] Signoret gets a 9 on 2d6 and likes Black Brew while Norbert gets a 3 on 2d6 and dislikes it intensely.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What I am Reading: Instrumentalities of the Night series by Glen Cook

I decided to read Working God's Mischief. It's the 4th book in Glen Cook's fascinating Instrumentalities of the Night series. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. But it's been a while since I read the first three books. So I decided to read all the books in the series. Instrumentalities has a lot of familiar aspects from other Cook series. It feels closest to the Dread Empire series and the protagonist reminds me a lot of Bragi Ragnarson from Dread Empire. Which for me is not a bad thing at all. 

Some readers complain that the setting is hard to understand with one of the key reasons being that there is no map or appendix and Cook drops us right in the middle of the setting and is extremely chary of adding in the sort of exposition that many authors use to introduce or explain unique setting elements to the readers. As a reader, you have to put some pieces together if you want a good sense of the geography or a better sense of the sources and inspirations for cultural details. That's not really new for Cook. He does the same thing in both the Dread Empire and the Black Company series. But the setting is initially smaller in the Black Company with detail on regions being added incrementally while in the Dread Empire several maps are provided that help orient the reader both geographically and politically. 

I confess to being lazy enough as a reader that I often prefer not to have to work quite so hard and on my first reading I'd have liked a map. On the other hand, putting the pieces together does add a level of intellectual challenge and as I've been doing that this time I thought I would share some of the work I've done. 

The setting is essentially an alternate earth with a few changes to the geology, physics, and metaphysics. The novels, at least so far, are concentrated in the areas around the Mediterranean Sea. The time period is similar to early 13th century Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The biggest departure from our earth is the existence of magical wells of power and the fact that gods and demons are real. The use of earthly geography, with some notable changes, is one reason the author may feel a map isn't really necessary. If you need a map, just Google "Mediterranean Sea" and your there...more or less.

There are some spoilers that follow, though I don't think most are too extreme nor are the geographical elements intended to be surprises to the reader. I've just about finished the second book in the series, Lord of the Silent Kingdom, so nothing in this post will be a spoiler for the 3rd or 4th novels. 


The first spoiler is that in the world of the Instrumentalities the  Straight of Gibraltar is closed making the sea level of the Mediterranean or Mother Sea hundreds of feet lower and the Black Sea basin with a lake a hundred feet below that. Note that the Mediterranean was actually landlocked multiple times in the distant past. If you want more details, read up on the Messinian salinity crisis.

In my list I tried to group countries that were adjacent or culturally or politically connected near each other. I'll probably do a follow up post after I finish the series listing the countries in alphabetical order.

Political and Geographical Equivalents

Andoray – Scandinavia: probably Norway, Sweden, Finland
Friesland – Denmark         
Iceland – Iceland
Grail Empire – also called the New Brothan Empire, analog to the Holy Roman Empire.
Duarnenia – possibly Poland, Lithuania, and/or Prussia, the Great Marshes are part of Duarnenia and it is the site of warfare between an the Order of the Grail Knights and pagans.
Shallow Sea – located in the north just south of the advancing ice this is probably the Baltic, by Book 2 it is frozen with only scattered pools of open water suggesting leaks of power from underwater wells.
  • Ormo Straight a site of vicious tidal bores is now an icy bridge; presumably this is the Kattegat.
Ocean - the Atlantic Ocean
  • Escarp Gib al Tar – straights of Gibralter, 1,000 years before the time of the novels (circa 300 AD) “the Old Brothan Empire had a hundred thousand slaves permanently raising and reinforcing the Escarp Gibr al-Tar" to keep out the Ocean from the Mother Sea.
Santerin – England including continental possessions, probably Normandy and Aquitaine
Arnhand – Northern France
  • Salpeno – seat of the Arnhander kings; Paris?
  • Themes – city in or near Tramaine, Arnhanders defeated by 
  • Tramaine – territory in dispute between Santerin and Arhand
Direcia – Iberian peninsula
  • Navaya - Aragon there were a number of Aragonese kings named Peter, Aragon borders Languedoc and Catalonia, and the crown controlled parts of southern and western Languedoc in the time before the Albigensian Crusade.
  • Platadura – Catalonia & Barcelona, King Peter of Navaya is probably the Count of Platadura.
The Connec - The Languedoc region of Southern France possibly including parts of Provence or Dauphine
  • Khaurene – Toulouse
  • Viscesment – Avignon
  • Antieaux – Lyon (probably not Antieaux, possibly Nimes, Montaubon, Valence)
  • Castreresone - Carcassone
  • Vierses River – cities along it include Parliers and Khaurene so this is probably the Garonne River.
  • Dechear River – probably the Rhone since it is between Connec and Ormienden
Ormienden – a confusion of principalities and feudalities some with obligations to the Grail Emperor; possibly Provence or medieval Dauphine
Dromedan – “a tiny Episcopal state tucked into a corner where the Connec, Grohlsach, the Firaldian dependency Seliné, and the Sorvine Principiate snuggled up to one another” possibly Comtat Venaissan
Grolsach – Switzerland
Seliné – possibly the Piedmont
Sorvine Principate – possibly Savoy
Plemenza – Duchy of Milan, the city of Plemenza is analogous to the city of Milan
Firaldia – Italy
  • Aparion – possibly Genoa
  • Dateon – an Italian maritime city state
  • Alicia – town near
  • Brothe – Rome
    • Castellas dollas Pontellas – headquarters in the city of Brothe of the Brotherhood of War
    • Teragi – river through Brothe, analogous to the Tiber
    • Remale-on-Teragi - Ostia
  • Sonsa – a naval power, probably Pisa since it can be reached by taking ship from Brothe downriver then north by sea to the Sawn River and then to Sonsa and by Book 2 is in decline much like Pisa in 13th century.
  • Sawn River – leads to the port city of Sonsa; probably analogous to the River Arno.
  • Calzir – Praman portion of Southern Firaldia (Italy, Apulia region) in Muslim hands, the area includes Sicily this is similar to the status of Italy prior to the establishment of the Norman kingdoms in the 10th century.
  • Alameddine - ? part of, a city of, or adjacent to the Calzir
  • Al-Khazen – major Praman city in the Calzier; stormed by the Crusade in Book 1.
Shippen – Sicily captured by Navayan forces in Book 1 as a prelude to the invasion of Calzir.
Artecipia – Corsica and Sardinia connected by a land bridge caused by the lower sea levels
  • Arn Bedu – stronghold in the western mountains of the southern (Sardinia) lobe of Artecipia.
Dreanger -The Caliphate centered on Egypt
  • Sha-lug are based on the Mamluks with some resemblance to the later Janissaries. 
Lucidia - The Caliphate centered on Damascus
Eastern Empire - Byzantine Empire
  • Hypraxium - capital of the Eastern Empire; Constantinople/Byzantium.
  • Crevaldia – a province of the empire the resembles Firaldia in culture and religion i.e. Episcopal; possible analog to Rumania.
  • Antal Land Bridges - separate the Negrine Basin from the Mother Sea, analog to the Dardanelles or Hellespont.
Negrine Basin - the Black Sea’s surface level is a hundred feet below that of the Mother Sea.
Rhun might be Russia
Staklirhod the main headquarters of the Brotherhood of War is island in the eastern Mother Sea, headquarters of the Brotherhood of War, probably Cyprus (1291–1310) or possibly Rhodes (1310–1523); Malta is later and not in the eastern Mediterranean or Malta (1530–1798), over which it is sovereign
  • Castella Anjela dolla Picolena – Brotherhood castle on the island of Staklirhod
Mother Sea – Mediterranean Sea this is actually much shallower than the earthly Mediterranean since the straights of Gibralter are closed off from the Atlantic Ocean which makes the Mother Sea hundreds of feet below the sea level of Ocean (Atlantic Ocean).


Great Sky Fortress - Asgard
Gray Walker - Odin
Trickster – Loki
Arsenul – Brunnhilde

Chaldereans – Christians
  • Episcopal – Catholic Church
  • Eastern Schism – Eastern or Greek Orthodox
Pramans - Muslims
Devedians - Jews
Dainshaukin - Orthodox Jews
Maysaleans – Cathars; the Cathar religion included the Consolamentum ritual, by which Cathar individuals were baptized and raised to the status of ‘perfect’ which is also a Maysalean title.
Brotherhood of War – Hospitallers or possibly an amalgam of the Hospitallers and the Templars.
  • The Special Office – a sub-cult inside the warrior order made up of sorcerers sworn to destroy the Instrumentalities of the Night. Using the Instrumentalities as their principal tool.
  • For generations most Brotherhood recruits come from Episcopal Chaldarean enclaves inside the Eastern Empire.


  • The Patriarchs Sublime and Immaculate are analogs to the Avignon schism where rival popes existed in Rome and Avignon, France. 
  • Indala al-Sul al-Halaladin is presumably Saladin. 
  • Tormond may be based on Raymond VI of Toulouse.
  • King Peter of Navaya is probably based on Peter II King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona.

Once source I initially used was this thread. The first post was helpful in adding some possible solutions, though I think the writer is wrong about the analog for Sonsa being Venice.