Friday, January 6, 2017

Friday Fiction: Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance, Book II: Mayhem Ch 1 & 2 | An alternate version of events...

EDIT: This version was done from memory almost 2 years after we played it. My memory was pretty close, but I got a few things not quite right. Two weeks after I posted this, I found an earlier draft that included some after action information. Rather than delete this I thought I'd leave it, but change the title while posting a new, revised version with the new information.

The corrected version is here.

Book II: Mayhem

Chapter 1: A Brief Interlude at Zaton’s

The evening of February 12, 1624 found Jacques, Norbert, and the other five surviving Red Guards in Zaton’s celebrating their recent victory over the Wolf of Soissons and toasting the memory of their dead comrade Bellamy. Zaton’s was an eating house best known for gambling, that stood scarcely a hundred paces from the church of St Jacques la Boucherie. Their host, Gaston Thibeault the Captain of the Cardinal’s Red Guards was late. But that had not stopped the others from beginning the drinking. In fact Jacques generously offered to drink for both himself and the captain until Gaston should arrive and then he loudly called for Lily, the pretty barmaid at Zaton’s, to bring them another round. 

Gaston was late because he was still waiting to deliver his report to the Cardinal. One of the hazards of having the Cardinal as an employer and patron was that Richelieu was always busy which meant that Gaston was often waiting. Father Signoret was also missing, for similar reasons. After being away from Paris for nearly two weeks, he had his religious duties to attend to for the Society of Jesus.

To pass the time until his cousin Gaston arrived, Norbert opened the letter he had received just before he set out for Zaton’s. According to the outer wrapping, the letter had been sent from Marseille about 2 weeks ago. 

Ahoy Squire
Great Success!!! After sailing for several days, we spotted a galley. It was filled with a bunch of filthy moors that we promptly chained below decks. Thought it’d give them a taste of what they’d been doing to decent god fearing men!   HAHAHA.  

Now my fleet consists of two ships -- Yvette’s Revenge and the Black Eel. Soon I’ll be a commodore.  YOHOHO.

It won’t be long before more bilge rats that oppose me wind up in davy jones locker.

Landing soon to get more crew and refurbish.

By Blackbeards damn eyes,

I am

Capt. Debouchard

The Foul Corsair

Norbert contemplated the letter with some dissatisfaction. So I finally get a response from the Corsair. A response, but no coin. Where is the money he promised me? His angry musing was interrupted as one of the other Red Guards announced that the Captain had just arrived. 

Gaston entered Zaton’s and quickly spotted the proprietor. Kazimir Zaton was a balding man with a wide waxed mustache. He was dressed in a fancy coat decorated with elaborate gold braid of an eastern design that hinted at his origins and his French was heavily accented. Gaston asked where his men were seated, and Zaton directed him towards the large dining room in back. 

As he hurried to join the others he nearly collided with a tall, man in the darkly colored but faded attire of a nobleman. The two men paused as they stared at each other. Their looks were not precisely friendly, but they were respectful. Each was aware of the other’s reputation. Berault bore the sobriquet of the Black Death and Gaston had killed more than one master of the blade in duels. “Monsieur de Berault” Gaston said quietly. 

“Monsieur le Capitain,” de Berault said as they each nodded slightly to the other. “Were you perhaps looking for me? 

“No Monsieur, I am here to play host to some of my men.”

“Ah, in that case…bon appetite!”

Gaston smiled slightly, but did not reply. He moved past de Berault and soon found the table where the others were sitting. His men stood as he arrived. Jacques handed Gaston a full mug as he proposed the first of many toasts. 

Gaston and the Cardinal’s Guards were not the only soldiers in the backroom of Zaton’s. Also present were the King’s Musketeers known as the Three Inseparables: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. In fact Porthos was gambling against Gaston’s brother-in-law, Claude de Fleury. Gaston could see his brother-in-law in the large mirror on the wall behind Porthos. By the stack of coins on his side of the table it seemed Claude was doing well when suddenly Porthos stood up and roared that his opponent must be cheating. 

Quickly Gaston headed over to the table. While he didn’t especially like his brother-in-law, he knew Claude was unskilled with a blade and he couldn’t very well see him killed by a swordsman like Porthos. Besides which, Gaston still had a score he’d like to settle with Porthos who had previously beaten him in a duel. Jacques, Norbert, and the other five Red Guards followed their Captain. Seeing a wave of red sweeping towards their friend Porthos, Athos and Aramis stepped over to stand by their friend.

Gaston interrupted Porthos’ shouts to say that he could see everything in the mirror behind Porthos and that Claude did not need to cheat against such a feeble hand as Porthos had been holding. Porthos demanded to know if Gaston was calling him a liar.

“I do not say that you are a liar Monsieur Porthos, but I do say that you are a poor card player, while my brother-in-law here is not.”

This only angered Porthos further and he promptly insisted on a duel, which the supporters on each side promptly seconded. Gaston suggested that they repair to a more suitable location not far from here. Zaton’s eating house stood scarcely a hundred paces from the church of Saint Jacques la Boucherie, and half the company went along to watch an encounter between the King’s Musketeers and the new Cardinal’s Guards. The evening was wet, the light in the streets was waning, and the streets themselves were dirty and slippery. There were few passers-by in the Rue St Antoine; and the large party, which earlier in the day must have attracted notice and a crowd, crossed unmarked, and entered without interruption the paved triangle which lies immediately behind the church.

As they walked towards the churchyard, Gaston quietly spoke to his friends. “I will arrange matters so that I face Athos. He is the most skilled of the three. Norbert you should face Porthos. He is the nearest your size and your strength will be useful against him. And that leaves Aramis for you Jacques. Don’t underestimate him. He has the face of a handsome cleric, but he is said to be a very skilled duelist.”

Norbert, who was by far the largest man present stood opposite Porthos the next largest. Gaston indicated that he would face Athos, which left Jacques to face the mild looking Aramis. The six men engaged. Norbert quickly found that he was no match with the blade against Porthos. So he decided to change weapons and picked up one of the enormous urns that decorated the edges of the triangle. He hurled one urn and then a second at Porthos. The Musketeer managed to avoid the first urn, but the second struck him squarely dropping him to the pavement in a rubble of shattered pottery. But Porthos shook off the shock of the blow then slowly rose, his sword still in hand.

Meanwhile Gaston and Athos traded blows. First one advanced while the other retreated then the momentum would switch. But slowly Gaston drove Athos back as he dealt out more wounds to the Musketeer than he took in return. Finally Athos was near feinting from loss of blood and he was forced to yield. 

Jacques fought cautiously against his more skilled opponent. He retreated slowly as he played for time in the hope that one of his friends would be able to come to his aid after defeating their opponent. Jacques had nearly run out of room to retreat from his foeman’s blade. But Aramis was tiring and behind Jacques he could see that Norbert, who was even bigger and stronger than Porthos, was holding his own or better and that Gaston had defeated Athos and was moving to support Jacques. I could take this one, but hey la Thibeault has defeated Athos, who is the best swordsman among us and Thibeault looks ready, even eager for more. Two to one is not appealing, thus I reason, Jesuitically, that a truce is better than a defeat. Jacques, who was near collapse, was happy to accept a draw from the Musketeer.

Chapter 2: A New Assignment

The pair of guards in the lead paused as they saw that road construction had blocked the way ahead. One rider waved to the coach driver signaling him to make a detour down the side street to avoid the construction. As followed the two riders into the turn, the coach’s coat of arms winked in the torchlight from a nearby tavern door and the two footmen gripped the back rails firmly to avoid being thrown clear. The side street was barely wide enough for the coach to pass without scraping the buildings on either side so the driver had already started to slow when he saw something ahead.

Standing in the middle of the alley was a tall, balding man. One horseman walked his horse forward and told the man to move. Suddenly the man lifted a large spiked club from behind his back and smashed the rider’s horse in the face which caused it to rear and fall. The rider fell and was pinned beneath his mount. At the same moment another man with a pair of pistols stepped out of a doorway and fired his pistols point blank at the second rider blasting him from the saddle. The dead rider’s horse trotted past the balding man and out of the alley.

A third man in a plain black frock coat leapt from a balcony onto the coach seat. As he did, he swung the butcher knife it his hand and slashed the driver’s throat while his other hand shoved the dying man out of the seat. 

The man with the spiked club walked over to the pinned rider who asked, “Who are you?” The man grinned and said, “The last person you’ll ever see,” as he brought his club down in a vicious arc to bash in the fallen rider’s face. Then he stepped over put the dying horse out of its misery. 

Meanwhile the frock coated man jumped down from the coach seat. He opened the door wide, grabbed the sill, and swung himself into the coach startling the woman inside who screamed as she saw his face. She frantically backed away and fumbled with the door handle behind her, but the coach was too close to the building wall to for the door to open. “Now there milady, we haven’t been properly introduced. It’s much too soon for me to make you scream.” The man leered as he said this then gestured with a butcher knife that dripped red with the blood of the driver. “Now let’s have a better look at you.” His knife moved towards the noblewoman as she screamed again and again.

His majesty, Louis XIII and his Queen, Anne of Austria, sat upon a pair of informal thrones. Around them stood a group of their closest advisors and members of their court. In front of them stood a gentleman whose erect posture and forthright bearing showed that he spent more time in the camp than in the court. Jean Caylar d'Anduze de Saint-Bonnet, Seigneur de Toiras had campaigned with his majesty in both the War of the Mother and Son and for two years after against his co-religionists in the latest round of in a series of Religious Wars that had watered the fields of France with the blood of her best and bravest for three generations. The Seigneur de Toiras spoke hesitantly, not because he was hesitant, nor because he was afraid, but because Toiras was hesitant in his speech. And at times he stuttered. But today, he felt forced to speak.

“Your Majesties, I come on behalf of a…noblewoman who has been…wronged. Whose person…has been assaulted and who has been subjected to …iniqui…iniqui…to insult. I refer to my cousin…th…th…the Comtesse de la Peray. This fair lady was attacked here within the French..c…capital. Her coach was attacked…her person was assaulted, her servants…killed, and her driverless coach set loose with the Comtesse inside to …race down the streets until it crashed into a cr…cr…crowded marketplace further injuring the Comtesse and a number of…bystanders. Your Majesties in the name of my cousin and in the na…name of chivalry. I…ask for justice.”

The King turned to the Provost of Paris, the Chevalier de Vezalay. “Monsieur le Provost, what do you have to say about these terrible acts?”

“Your majesty, this is not the only coach that has been robbed, though previous robberies included sedan chairs as well as coaches and were directed against merchants and other commoners. But I have barely 300 Archers to police a city of over 300,000 people. Majesty, I do not make excuses but with so few men and with the responsibility for guarding and policing all of Paris even if I knew where these villains were I should barely have the men to apprehend them. And with their whereabouts being unknown, I just do not have enough men to catch the perpetrators and stop the recent rash of robberies.”

“Your Majesty,” said Cardinal Richelieu. “The people must see that their King cares for them and your nobles must see that the crown is strong. Perhaps if the Provost were to be given assistance from the King’s own Household?” 

Monsieur de Treville, the Captain of the King’s Musketeers quickly said, “You Majesty, your Musketeers are brave and loyal but they already have an important duty to guard your Majesty’s person.”

Richelieu immediately said, “Monsieur de Treville is right as usual you Majesty. His men have many other duties and your person must not be left unprotected. Then might I suggest that Your Majesty allows my Red Guards to help the Provost?”

“Excellent idea Cardinal,” the King said.

“But of course,” the Cardinal smoothly added. “They will need Your Majesty’s authorization to arrest criminals on behalf of the State and Your Majesty.” 

“How might that be done Cardinal?”

Richelieu walked towards the large desk at the side of the room and pulled a rolled up parchment from his sleeve. “Your humble servant has endeavored to anticipate Your Majesty’s, wisdom and foresight this matter.” Richelieu removed a folded letter from his sleeve, opened it, and placed it on the desk next to a pen and ink stand. “I have a document here, which if Your Majesty would only sign and affix his seal, would arrange the matter to everyone’s satisfaction.”

The King stepped over to the desk and raised the pen. Behind him, Richelieu smiled.

As Gaston walked from Cardinal Richelieu’s busy office towards his own more modest office in Le Tour Dubois the old tower along the gallery west of the Louvre proper, he considered the Cardinal’s words. A new assignment, and with it an opportunity to impress the King. And the power of arrest, which his Eminence says ‘may be useful in the future.’ Something is in the wind for sure. Well, Gaston, here’s where your ambition has brought you. After all, you never thought the Cardinal hired you for your good looks or your high birth. Forward or die. Unconsciously Gaston’s pace quickened and he began to whistle the tune to “Vive le roi Henri.”

Gaston and his men were briefed about the robberies by one of the Provost’s Archers, Sergeant César-Auguste sieur de Boisrenard. Boisrenard told them that the crime spree had started with attacks on sedan chairs which then spread to attacks on coaches. The victims of the attacks were wealthy townsmen, travelers, and recently, nobles. The usual tactic was for the gang to detour the victims off the main road into side roads or allies using a variety of tactics which included stalled carts or wagons and fake road construction. The cart or wagon drivers and construction crews were often members of the gang and the carts and wagons were either left behind or sent galloping away after the robbery. Most of the victims had been killed and no witnesses had yet come forward. Gaston, who had some experience with the underworld of Paris, concluded that this meant that any witnesses were afraid of the gang and therefore were afraid to come forward. Boisrenard told them that the carts and wagons used had been stolen, usually from farmers who were in the habit of bringing their produce to Paris to sell.

After the briefing, Gaston sent Jacques and Norbert to Les Halles, Paris’ largest produce market, to talk to the farmers who brought their produce there to market to learn about the thefts of farm carts by the bandits. After questioning many of farmers, they obtained a description of one of those involved in stealing carts and wagons two of whom distinctive appearances. One was said to be a tall, balding man armed with a giant spiked club and the other was a dark haired man dressed in a black frock coat and armed with a hatchet. Norbert remembered that he had previously fought with a club wielding man who matched the first man’s description. The club wielder had been one of a group of brigands who had attacked two gentlemen, one of whom wore the tabard of a King's Musketeer. Norbert had helped drive off the attackers and he had taken away the tall man’s spiked club which he had kept as a trophy.

After receiving his men’s report, Gaston decided to consult Father Signoret whose charity work kept him in contact with both the honest poor as well as many members of the lower criminal classes. The Jesuit agreed to help and suggested he should contact Rolleau, a cripple who knew most of what went on in the dark underbelly of Paris. They met Rolleau at the cripple’s usual hangout, a seedy tavern known as Le Brevage Noir or the Black Brew. 

Rolleau was a legless man who moved about on a low wheeled platform which he propelled with the wooden blocks he held in each hand. He rolled up to their table and accepted a tall mug of the darkly potent brew that was the tavern’s specialty. Rolleau told them that the tall balding man with the spiked club sounded like Mainard the Nailer a thug and enforcer who was the lieutenant for a new gang leader in Paris who went by the name Durgo the Lucky. Durgo had dark hair, beady eyes, and an athletic build. He usually wore a black frock coat and was said to favor close work with a large knife or hatchet. The description fit that of the second man that the farmers had described. 

Rolleau said that Durgo was taciturn and very violent. He preferred to kill his victims either before or after robbing them. Durgo’s gang were known to frequent three places: their usual hangout was here in Le Brevage Noir, but they have not been seen at the Black Brew lately; they also were known to frequent the venerable Le Pomme de Pin on the Ile-de-la-Cite; and they could sometimes be found in a gambling hell on the Left Bank, known as Le Trou Perrecte. Gaston and Signoret thanked Rolleau for the information and the Captain discretely passed him several coins in recompense.

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