Volume 7: Tales of Vengeance
Book V: Spycraft
Chapter 2: The White Stallion
On the first of April, Father Signoret visited his friend the Vicomte de Bouvard.[i] The Vicomte told him that one of his finest stallions, a white Andalusian, had been stolen out of his own barn. The Jesuit offered to try to track down the missing stallion. He followed the thief’s tracks which led him from Bouvard’s pasture to a country inn where he learned that a strongly-built, elegant white horse had been taken away by four men. The description fit the Andalusian. The four men included two local country nobles: the Seigneur de Trevaux and his friend Monsieur Lejeune, both of whom were known to the priest from previous encounters With them were two other country gentlemen with whom he was not familiar.[ii] The thief was a stranger who was said not to be from this neighborhood.
Father Signoret returned and reported what he had learned to the Vicomte. Bouvard desperately wanted his stallion back, but he wanted to avoid starting a feud. He asked Signoret to attempt the recovery without involving the Vicomte in a dispute with his neighbors. He said that if the Jesuit succeeded he would find the Vicomte’s thanks to be most substantial. Signoret agreed to help his friend and promised to return the next evening to attempt the recovery of the white stallion. Once he was back in Paris, the Jesuit told his friends about Bouvard’s problem and his promise to aid the Vicomte. However, while his friends wished him well, their own affairs in Paris did not allow them the time or opportunity to leave the city nor to involve themselves with the Vicomte’s problem.
The next evening, Tuesday April 2, Father Signoret returned to the Château de Bouvard. He was accompanied only by his servant Claude. At the château the Jesuit borrowed a horse from the VicomteVicomte and rode out to Trevaux’s manor. Signoret was dressed in plain dark clothes and he wore a black mask to conceal his face. He left Claude on the edge of the wood and traveled across the pasture towards the manor. He heard a horse whicker and his horse responded. In the pasture he saw three horses, but by the light of the nearly full moon, he could see that none of them were white. He continued towards the stable, where he saw several figures. He waited while they closed the door to the stable and then rode closer. He saw one of them run for the house, so he turned back and returned to Claude, who he found asleep and snoring. When awoken, Claude loudly pleaded, “Don’t hurt me! I don’t have any money!” Eventually Signoret calmed Claude who told him that he had been having a nightmare about being robbed by bandits who were beating him because he didn’t have any money.
“Master, please may I have some money so that I will have something to give to any bandits?”
“We don’t have any money, Claude.” The Jesuit replied.
Claude sighed sadly, then asked hopefully, “Where is the horse, Master?”
“I didn’t find him. And there is too much commotion now. We’ll wait here awhile until it’s quieter.”
They waited and watched. The wind brought the sound of slow hoof beats passingdown the narrow farm lane that led towards the main road from Paris. He moved closer, then paused in the trees. He saw a strangely dressed man who rode one dark horse while leading a second. “No white stallion,” he said to himself. He moved back to watch the manor where he observed several men with lanterns and torches walking about the manor and calling to the horses in the fields. They herded the horses into the stable and closed the door. While most of the men went back to the house one man with a lantern remained on watch.
The Jesuit left his horse with Claude, who had once again fallen asleep, this time while standing against a tree. Signoret selected a large branch as a club and headed towards the manor on foot, the sound of his approach masked by the sound of the wind. Crawling the last part of the way to avoid being seen, he circled the manor and stealthily approached the watcher from behind the stable. He listened, but he heard nothing but the wind. Looking around the stable, he saw a figure seated next to the lantern with his back against the stable door. Signoret moved closer and struck the figure on the top of the head with the branch. There was the sound of a dull thud. The man toppled over. Signoret dragged him so he was beside of the door and propped him up against the stable wall. Entering he looked for but did not see any white horses. As he moved about he tripped over a bucket, which he found contained charcoal. A strange thing to leave on a mild night amongst all this straw, he thought. He rechecked the horses to make sure none of them were a white stallion covered in charcoal. None were, nor did any of them display the distinctive lines of an Andalusian.
Returning to Claude, the Jesuit pondered the situation. He thought that perhaps the stranger he had seen on the road had taken the stallion and determined that he would follow him. He woke Claude; this time he first covered Claude’s mouth to muffle any shouting. Claude asked if there was any chance of breakfast. “Perhaps we’ll pass an inn,” Signoret said absently. The two mounted their horse and headed towards the Paris road at a brisk walk. The Jesuit noticed fresh dung leading away from Paris, so he headed in that direction.
An hour passed before Signoret saw a pair of horses with a single rider ahead. Telling Claude to dismount he kneed his horse into a gallop. The rider dismounted and moved to the side of the road to allow Signoret to pass. He could see that the rider was the strangely dressed man, who wore a funny brimless cap with some sort of weed or flower pinned to it, a blanket over one shoulder, and a knee length skirt. The man was wearing no sword. As he came near, Signoret suddenly swerved towards the man and struck with his club, but the stranger ducked beneath the swing and and shoved Signoret hard so that he fell off his horse and dropped he branch.
Signoret stood up and drew his rapier. Meanwhile the man pulled an enormous two-headed sword from the bundle on the back of his horse. Signoret tried to intimidate the man with some fancy swordplay. But the stranger’s only response was to spit, grumble some words in a foreign tongue, and come on guard. Signoret moved to attack in earnest wounding the man in the leg and weaving aside from a return blow from the stranger. Too fast for his foe, the Jesuit circled and thrust, soon the man was bleeding from a wound to the arm as well. He swore at Signoret in strongly accented French, calling him a thief and a blackguard and several other phrases that were probably curses or insults in the man’s native tongue.
Finally the foreigner swung his huge blade above his head and charged at the Jesuit, but his foot turned on a rock. He fell face first in the road. Signoret put his blade to the man’s throat and called on him to surrender. “Weel, I seem to have little choice as ye have me at a disadvantage ye damned, thieving sassanach!”
Signoret tossed the man’s sword away then made the man swear on his word of honor to give him no trouble and to sit in the road. The stranger complained about having to “give me word of honor to a damned thieving, masked scoundrel,” but he did as he was told.
The Jesuit kept his rapier pointed towards the stranger as he checked the two horses. The saddled horse was an ordinary brown gelding. The one on the lead was a stallion with the distinctive lines of a pure Andalusian. And beneath a coating of dark charcoal, the horse was white. As I suspected, Signoret thought in triumph. He mounted the Andalusian bareback, and he and Claude rode away.
Back at the Chateau Bouvard, Signoret knocked at the front door and then hurriedly took off his mask as a view port opened so that the porter could see who was there so late at night. The Jesuit gave his name and asked to see the VicomteVicomte. Whether it was due to the late hour or to the lack of priestly garments, the porter declined to unbar the door, but he did go to deliver the message.
After some time, Bouvard arrived in a dressing gown, with a sheathed sword in his left hand. He was accompanied by several armed servants. Recognizing Signoret, the VicomteVicomte welcomed him and on learning that Signoret had recovered his prized stallion, he handed his sword to a servant and embraced the Jesuit as he practically bubbled with delight. He ordered his servants to see to the stallion and at Signoret’s suggestion he ordered the horse washed, “and see that you warm the water first, I won’t have him catching a cold now that I have him back.” Signoret mentioned that he had a bit of difficulty and told the VVicomte about his encounter with the stranger. “Ah, but I thought you said the horse was with...?” The VVicomte halted, then said, “But let us not stand here in the cold of the doorway discussing matters. Come in. Come in.” Turning to a servant he said, “Have some brandy brought to the library and see to the good Father’s man there.”
In the library the Bouvard waited until the brandy was poured, then he dismissed his servant before continuing his question. “My good, my most helpful Father Signoret, I thought you said that my neighbor had my stallion.” The Jesuit told him that he had searched M. de Trevaux’s stable and that the horse was not there. “So then there was no need to trouble my neighbors and no need to involve the courts. Father I am most pleased. Delighted even! And grateful. We should celebrate.”
But Signoret declined reminding the Vicomte that the hour was late and that he needed to return to Paris. “Ah well, another time perhaps. Well you will find me most grateful. Why I would not be surprised if before the week is out the Provincial Father finds that a substantial donation has been made for the renovation and furnishing of your Order’s chapel. An elaborate altar piece of silver I think. Engraved with my sincerest thanks.”
Chapter 3: Marriage Contract
Guy researched the lineage for current and recent heirs to the throne of France and created a simple chart.[iii] Once he looked at it on paper it was easy to see who would benefit if it was determined that Henri IV had legally married Catherine Henriette de Balzac and not Marie de Medici. It was ironic that Catherine Henriette and her mother Marie Touchet had each been the mistress of a French King. And Marie Touchet was still alive—though she must be ancient by now. When he was a child, Guy’s grandfather had told him stories about the War of the Three Henri’s. DeMainz was right, he thought. Condé must not be allowed to use that old marriage document to start another civil war.
The Hôtel de Sully was a hôtel particulier, or private mansion, built in the modern style. It was located in the fashionable Marais district along the rue Saint-Antoine not far from Guy’s apartments in the Place Royale.
With the Duke de Sully under observation, Guy was aware well ahead of time when the Duke decided to move his furnishings from his country estate to his new residence in Paris. During the move Guy disguised himself as one of the movers and entered the town mansion. He broke into the Duke’s study then found and stole the original marriage contract between Henri IV and the daughter of François de Balzac d’Entragues. The contract gave Balzac’s daughter the Demoiselle Catherine Henriette de Balzac d’Entragues as companion to Henri IV. Before Guy turned the contract over to the Duke DeMainz for safekeeping he read it and wrote down what it said.
We, Henri Fourth, by the grace of God, King of France and Navarre, promise and swear before God, in faith and by the Word of the King, to Messire François de Balzac sieur D'entragues, Knight of Our Orders, giving us to companion the Demoiselle Catherine Henriette de Balzac, his daughter, in the case than in six months starting from the first day of the present, should she become big with child and she gives birth to a son, then and at that moment, we take the woman as legitimate wife, with whom we shall solemnize the marriage publicly and in front of our Holy Church with all solemnities in such cases required and accustomed (...). Immediately after we have obtained from our Holy Father the Pope a dissolution of the marriage between Us and Madame Marguerite de France and permission to marry where We see fit.
Signed this first day of October in the Year of the Lord 1599.
Maximilien de Béthune
Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne
Historical Note: The text above the phrase “Signed this first day…” is accurate and historical. The signatures of the witnesses are fictional. The signature of Henri is a copy of his actual signature.
[i] Chapter 2 was a filler adventure because only Father Signoret’s player was available.
[ii] Meanwhile, Trevaux was passing the stallion on to a foreign buyer, an agent of James Hay, Earl of Carlisle. The agent had a ship waiting at Le Havre to take the stallion back to England. The agent was a highland swordsman who spoke only passable French. He was a pointy nosed man with a strong streak of curiosity and a canny head for bargaining. He didn’t know that the stallion was stolen, but he was suspicious of Trevaux. As a result he had prepared a spot nearby where he used his campfire to burn wood to create soot. He planned to disguise the white stallion by giving him a good coating of soot. At Trevaux’s manor Trevaux, Lejuene, and at least 2 of their friends, plus one valet per gentleman and 2 valets for Trevaux may be encountered by the PCs. In this case, McTavish will have already left with the stallion. He rides a brown horse and leads a gray.
The stallion is valuable for breeding purposes, and the Viscount is offering 600 Livres to anyone who can find and return it. He is also offering 400 Livres for the head of the thief. (This rumor could lead the party off in search of the stolen horse; remember, the horse could've been taken anywhere - Germany, Italy, England, or even the New World - for breeding).
[iii] Chapter 3 occurred on April 3, 1624 (01NOV2015). Notes for this session are virtually non-existent.