Friday, January 6, 2017

Vol 7 Tales of Vengeance, Book II: Mayhem, Ch 1+2 (the real version)

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 found the table where the others were sitting. His men stood as Gaston tossed the large bundle which he had been carrying onto the tabletop. Jacques hailed him and called for a toast. “Business first. Open it.”

Jacques tore open the brown paper wrapping. Inside was a bundle of wolf skin cloaks with one for each of the Guards. “I had these made from the beasts we killed. They are for you, my wolves. A mark of your bravery and your loyalty.”

“Now that definitely calls for a toast,” Jacques said. He handed Gaston a full mug as he proposed the first of what would be many toasts that evening. 

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. Porthos was gambling. In the large mirror behind Porthos, Gaston could see the Musketeeer’s opponent was Claude de Fleury, Gaston’s brother-in-law. And that was not all that Gaston saw in the mirror. He stood and quickly walked towards the table. I hope I can stop this in time. 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. And if I’m not in time? Well I still have a score to settle with Porthos and now may be the time.

As he arrived, Porthos laughed heartily and announced, “Ha! The hand is mine. I win!”

“That’s impossible you couldn’t have had three Queens, because…”

“You little worm, are you claiming I cheated?” Porthos roared. “Why I’ll cut you into gobbets!”

Gaston stepped closer to Porthos and quietly said, “You have another card up your sleeve.”

Porthos automatically replied, “No I don’t.”

Gaston intentionally raised his voice as he asked, “Are you calling me a liar?” Suddenly the room was silent. Porthos sat at a loss for words. His friends Athos and Aramis were suddenly alert. Behind Gaston first Norbert, then Jacques, then all the other Guards with the exception of Clovis, who was nearly insensible from all the toasts he had drunk, swept forward in a red wave.

Athos and Aramis stepped closer as Athos said, “It is easy to be brave when the numbers are so much on your side.” 

Without even looking behind him, Gaston said to his men, “Six of you sit back down.” This left Norbert, Jacques, and Gaston. Claude had gotten behind Norbert, whose great bulk completely hid the much smaller man.

Norbert said he wanted Porthos to prove he wasn’t cheating. Porthos is at a loss how to do that which only angers him further and he ends up switching his quarrel from Gaston to Norbert. Athos, recognized Gaston as the most dangerous of the three so he stepped forward and said, “That leaves you for me, Monsieur.” Gaston nodded in acknowledgement as Jacques and Aramis stared at each other.

“Not here,” Gaston said, “I suggest we 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 immediately behind the church.

As they walked towards the churchyard, Gaston quietly spoke to his friends. “This is good. I will face Athos. He is the most skilled of the three. Norbert, Porthos 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 pretty cleric, but he is said to be a very skilled duelist.”

The six men engaged. Gaston’s drove Athos back then used his Spanish vizcaina to catch the Musketeer’s blade, but the older man’s rallied as he used a circular, sliding move to free his trapped blade, slashing Gaston slightly in the process. But the soldier ignored the wound and continued to drive Athos backwards. Then Gaston’s rapier snapped, but he used his vizcaina to disarm Athos and exchange the Musketeer’s intact sword for his own broken blade. Now armed only with a cloak and dagger, Athos was driven backwards to fall against the church steps. Gaston ended the duel with a stop-thrust which badly wounded Athos, who nearly feinted from lack of blood.

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 was wounded and he had nearly run out of room to retreat from his foeman’s blade. With little hope that Aramis would accept, in desperation Jacques proposed they should both agree to a draw. Aramis was not tired, but behind Jacques he could see that the giant Norbert seemed to be holding his own against Porthos and that Gaston had already downed Athos and was heading their way. 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 agree to a draw with the Musketeer.

Norbert used great sweeping blows which kept Porthos back at first, but then one of his blows inadvertently smashed against a church buttress shattering his sword blade. Weaponless, he picked up a huge flower urn and tried to crush Porthos with it. He failed and the urn shattered on the cobbles of the church square. Porthos jumped backwards to avoid the cascade of dirt and pottery landing on his new boots. Before the Musketeer could step forward Norbert had grabbed up a second urn which he used like a battering ram to shove Porthos backwards. The Musketeer was not used to fighting someone even stronger than he was and he was disconcerted with being attacked with huge urns. Therefore he was unprepared when Norbert hefted the huge weight over his head then brained Porthos with the enormous flowerpot. The Musketeer dropped to the pavement amidst the rubble of the urn. Norbert looked around and saw that the duel was over.

The Cardinal’s Guards returned to Zaton’s to collect the Clovis, who was still passed out. As Jacques helped himself to Clovis’ half full mug, he asked if anyone else had remembered seeing Armand de Labrousse bitten on the upper arm by the Loup Garou.

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 speak. 

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.

The heroes decided to ask questions at Les Halles, Paris’ largest produce market. They talked to the farmers who typically brought their produce there to market. They asked whether anyone was missing carts and they learned several of those they spoke to had been the victims of the theft of there cart or wagons. One of the victims was able to describe two of the most memorable of the criminals. One was a tall, bald man who carried a huge spiked club. The other was a dark haired man who carried a hatchet and wore a long, dark coat. 

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.

Now that they had a couple of descriptions, Gaston chose to consult Father Signoret whose charity work kept him in contact with the honest poor as well as members of the lower criminal classes. The Jesuit agreed to help and suggested they should speak to 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, a description that 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. Signoret thanked Rolleau for the information and Gaston passed him several coins in recompense.

This is the revised version that incorporated notes I made after the session rather than relying on my memory 2 years after play.

The version I wrote from memory is here.

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