Friday, March 17, 2017

Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance, Bk V: Spycraft, Ch 4-6

Chapter 4: Le Table du Morte

In response to Father Signoret’s request to see him, Brother Philippe invited Signoret to lunch on Thursday April 4th at the Black Cross Club.[i] Signoret brought his cousin Guy and Brother Phillipe had both of them admitted as his guests. Over a fine lunch, Signoret asked Brother Phillipe about his health, which the Knight said was excellent and about his meeting with Monsieur LeDroit. Brother Phillipe admitted to meeting with LeVan though he didn’t consider the meeting particularly important and he professed ignorance of how poison could have been found in both LeDroit’s and his glasses. Father Signoret tried to persuade him to allow the learned Jesuit to examine him, but Brother Phillipe declined saying that he “felt fine today and God willing he would feel fine tomorrow.” While he was at the Black Cross Guy overheard several club members discussing what they seemed to think was a promising investment, the newly formed Société de Transport et de Stockage de Grain de Paris. 

On the evening of the fourth of April the Provincial Father called Father Gaétan Signoret into his office and ordered him to investigate and solve a ritual murder that had occurred recently in the countryside outside Paris. The victim appeared to have been killed on April 2nd with the body being found early the next morning. To assist him, Father Signoret asked his cousin Guy to help with the investigation and de Chambré, who was with Guy when Signoret approached him, offered the use of his coach and agreed to accompany them. “That sounds like it might be diverting. I have never investigated a murder before.”

The murder had occurred outside Maury, a farming village northeast of Paris. At the village Father Signoret sought out the local priest. Father Denis had an unpleasantly distracting lazy eye, but Signoret found him to be very helpful. He confirmed that the victim was a middle-aged local woman. Her body had been found in the middle of a wheat field and it been viciously savaged by crows. Father Denis told them that the woman was found first thing in the morning and that she had been seen by her family just after dinner the previous evening so whatever had happened must have occurred in the night. The woman had not yet been buried. Father Signoret asked to see the body so that he could pray for the woman’s soul. He did that, but using his knowledge of medicine, he also made a thorough examination. Due to the action of the crows he could not determine a cause of death, but he made a hideous discovery. The victim’s heart was missing.

At the murder scene the Jesuit used his hunting skills to examine the site and to look for tracks. The ground in a circle around the body had been disturbed. The dirt had been scuffed over.[ii] In the field nearby he found strange blockish footprints without heel or toe. The footprints ran either to or from a pole in the field, the murder site, and a farm road. Other than the odd prints and scuff marks there was nothing to see except fields filled with green shoots and a few guardian scarecrows.

They returned to the village to look for other clues. In the tavern they asked the locals about any strangers in the area or unusual happenings. They learned that the only stranger seen in the area had been a pretty, colorfully dressed woman with dark curly hair. At the local tavern she spent some time talking to a farmhand. That was not unusual, however the very next day the same farmhand broke his arm by falling in a well. On their return to Paris they passed an ornate coach. Guy recognized the coat of arms as that of Nicolas Potier de Gesvres the cousin of Louis Potier de Gesvres Count de Tresmes the Secretary of State responsible for last year’s Valetelline Treaty. While in disguise, Guy had helped to safeguard the treaty negotiations. Nicolas was a robe noble and de Chambré said his family manor—Novion—was somewhere nearby. 

On Friday April 5, Gaston ordered that a pair of Red Guards dressed in civilian clothing would keep a continuous watch on the Brothers Vitoria Bank. The Guards would use the Inn of the Bear and the Lion as a location from which to keep the bank under observation. Later that day they observed four men[iii] gather behind the bank and then enter through the rear door. All four wore red handkerchiefs. The first to arrive was a thin, sinister looking young man who wore a sword and a black cloak. His face was not wholly visible—since a thin veil hung from his hat to keep the dust out of his eyes. The second was a prim and neat elderly gentleman. He was stout, did not wear a sword, and his wide ruffled collar and dark clothing gave him an air of bourgeoisie wealth. His description matched that of the Bank Manager Bettremieu Moulin. The third man was dressed like a Spanish Grandee, wore a sword, and concealed his face with a travel mask. The last man was incredibly fat. He wore a sword and was dressed in expensive looking fashionable clothing but his clothing had a disordered or slovenly appearance. The observers noted that each of the men  prominently displayed red handkerchiefs and all but the first man were accompanied by guards dressed in bright red livery.

Gaston was slightly acquainted with the Bank Manager. He had seen him at the Vicomte de Bouvard’s garden party and Gaston’s giant cousin Norbert had briefly worked for Moulin as a debt collector. Moulin was a financier to the crown and many nobles. One of Moulin’s head clerks was Benedict LeVan. Gaston knew LeVan from last year’s diplomatic mission to the Netherlands. In Brussels LeVan had been suspected of being involved in the attempt to murder the Prince de Cröy and he appeared to have set up Norbert for an ambush by the minions of a Spanish Inquisitor. In Amsterdam he was linked to a pro-Spanish spy ring, the Red Carnation. Gaston requested additional information about the Brothers Vitoria Bank and the next day he was provided with a short file.

The Vitoria family of bankers originated with Baltasar de Vitoria, a draper and moneylender in the city of Barcelona. Baltasar was a founder of the Table of Exchange, Spain’s first public bank, established in 1401, and his descendants continued the family business in lending and investment.

By the sixteenth century, the Vitoria family was one of the Spanish crown’s leading financiers, making loans to the king and purchasing juros (crown securities). However, the family fortune was greatly impacted by the crown’s default on its loans in 1557, and an attempt to diversify its investments in the New World ended disastrously ten years later when six ships from the Spanish treasure fleet wrecked in a storm on the coast of Dominica; efforts to salvage the treasure came to naught, and the Vitoria family faced ruin. Santiago de Vitoria married the daughter of a Genoese merchant family in Seville in 1569, recapitalizing the family banking interests and diversifying its investments. His sons, Alvaro and Gaspar, continue to operate the banking house, with branches in Madrid, Seville, Genoa, Naples, Paris, and Marseille.

Guy contributed additional information. One year ago, he and Father Signoret had discovered that a bank draft on the Brothers Vitoria Bank had been used to buy stolen documents. The draft was sealed with the arms of Don Antonio de Zúñiga y Dávila, marqués de Mirabel, the Spanish Ambassador to France. 

On Saturday, based on his suspicion that Moulin or the Bank was involved Gaston made a long term assignment to have pairs of dependable Red Guards watch the bank and he had them write up their observations. He collected the two glasses with the poison traces from Fabré along with a signed statement of his analysis of the poison. He obtained a sworn statement from Michaud, the bartender at the Black Cross Club, that on the night of M. LeDroit’s death the deceased was drinking with Brother Philippe and that he, Michaud, had served them and had afterwards saved the glasses that they used and turned them over to Father Signoret. Finally he had Father Signoret write and sign a brief statement confirming that he had given the glasses from Michaud to Fabré for analysis.

Saturday afternoon Father Signoret learned that there had been a second murder. His cousin Guy and the Seigneur de Chambré accompanied him to Mont-Meillan a dying village some twenty miles and more from Paris. At the village Father Signoret consulted the local priest. Father Pierre told them the body of a middle-aged woman had been found at some place called Le Table which was some distance outside the village of Mont-Meillan. Reluctantly Father Pierre admitted to the Jesuit that La Table was once an old pagan site. He seemed upset about that and about the terrible violence of the murder—the poor woman’s heart had been torn from her chest.

Even with Father Pierre’s help they were unable to find a local guide willing to lead them to La Table. But after a long day of coach riding and hiking they managed to find it on their own. La Table was a large flat stone in the center of the remains of a small stone circle. Half the ring stones were gone. The remaining stones were broken and misshapen things that reminded one of rotted and broken teeth. The flat stone was encrusted with dried blood. Other bits of dried blood were scattered around the stone in what might have been a star or a circle inscribed around the body, but the ground had been disturbed and only faint traces remained. Father Signoret concluded that the killings were part of some ritual sacrifice. He also noted that both victims were middle aged women. He hoped that might provide a clue to the ritual and the damned souls behind it.

They returned to Mont-Meillan. It was late and they were tired, but the village had no inn so they had to make other arrangements to stay the night. Father Signoret stayed at the rectory with Father Pierre while Guy and de Chambré managed to persuade the owner of the local tavern to make his room available for the night. Since the next day was Easter Sunday and Paris was still 20 miles away they agreed to Father Pierre’s invitation to attend Easter mass at his church. Their agreement greatly pleased Father Pierre. The source of his pleasure was the chance to put one over on Father Giles the pastor of the neighboring church of Saint Vic. It seemed the two priests were rivals and enemies and Father Pierre saw this as his big chance to laud the greater pageantry and majesty of his Easter Mass celebration, which had attracted the attendance of two noblemen and a Jesuit all the way from Paris, over the paltry Easter celebration of his rival Father Giles.

The local tavern was named the Sign of the Hanged Man. It was a bleak place with a cheerless view of the gallows atop the hill to the west. The view was not improved by the constant sight of its latest victim twisting and turning in the wind as a warning to others. The tavern patrons were sullen and refused to answer questions. Unaccountably it seemed that they blamed their visitors for the recent murder. Their unhappiness with the visitors was manifested during the night by a stone tossed through their window. The crash woke up both Guy and de Chambré and caused the rest of their night to be sleepless. 

Chapter 5: Bad Wine

Father Signoret, Guy, and de Chambré attended Mass with Father Pierre. Questioning the locals at the tavern last night had been unsuccessful, so after mass Father Signoret asked the priest for his help. Through Father Pierre they learned that no other strangers had been to the village but that several people had mentioned seeing a lone figure walking the fields at night. Before returning to Paris they decided to return to the scene of the first murder to make additional inquiries. 

Like the village of Maury, Mitry bordered the fields where the first murder had occurred. They visited the local tavern, the Lord of the Green, bought drinks, and asked questions. Guy and de Chambré were happy to find that the Lord of the Green’s cellar contained passable and even good wines. After a few drinks several patrons echoed Father Pierre’s story of a lone figure seen walking across the fields at night.

Once he was back in Paris, Father Signoret arranged to meet Gaston that afternoon at the Fraternité Sainct-Didier fencing school. Both duelists used the school’s sallé to practice though they tended to train in different styles. Signoret used the Fraternité to hone his skills in the deceptive French style. He found it a useful adjunct or contrast to the rational and intellectual precision of the Spanish style that he favored. His friend Gaston, on the other hand, tended neither towards precision nor deception when he fought. The soldier favored straightforward, even headlong, aggression in combat. With Gaston even a practice session was a fight where one always risked bruises or worse.

Afterwards the two men walked together towards a tavern where Gaston had offered to buy them both a drink after their practice. On the way they met Brother Phillipe de Didonne. Neither Gaston nor Didonne seemed to know each other. Since Signoret didn’t want to accentuate his friendship with the Captain of the Cardinal’s Guard to Didonne, he used a fake name when he introduced Gaston. The ruse seemed to have deceived the knight as Brother Phillipe then said that he was glad to have seen Signoret and he invited the Jesuit for dinner at his club that Wednesday night at 9 o’clock. Signoret said he would see Phillipe then.

After their drink the two returned to the Cardinal’s offices where Gaston resumed his post. Signoret, who had neglected his secretarial duties during his recent investigations, went to Père Joseph to explain that his absence was due to an assignment from his Order to look into two unusual rural killings. He reported his conclusion that the killings were both ritual murders of some sort. Père Joseph told him that he was sure that the Cardinal would be interested in the murders, especially if heresy or devil worship turned out to be involved. He excused him from his ordinary duties but he insisted that Father Signoret keep him appraised of developments so that Joseph could advise the Cardinal appropriately. 

When he returned to the city Guy called for a report from his agents. He learned that it was rumored a major decision had been reached by the King concerning the situation on the Flanders frontier. He had decided to build and fully arm a number of new fortresses to defend against the Spanish. Monsieur Moulin the Bank Manager had been named as the senior arms investor for the weaponry for the new forts and the Baron De Gras had been chosen to supervise the construction of the fortresses. Which meant that Frances defense against the Spanish was in the hands of men who may be involved in the murder of a French agent.

The next night Guy received new reports from his agents. Le Serpent told him that so far Condé had not met with the Duke de Sully, but that on Monday the Duke was planning to visit the Louvre to speak before the King’s Council. The Duke was Master General of the Royal Artillery so it was possible his report had something to do with cannon for the new forts that rumor said the King planned to build. 

Collette du Pré, Guy’s agent in the Prince de Condé’s household reported two matters. First she had observed one of the Prince’s clients, the Baron Saint-Giron, surreptitiously board a red coach with no coat of arms.[iv] She could not see whether anyone else was inside nor was she able to follow the coach. In addition to being a client of the Prince, Saint-Giron was currently the Duke de Sully’s aide. He was also Guy’s enemy. Second, she reported that she had overheard the Prince tell his wife that he would attend the King’s Council on Tuesday morning. The agenda included the admission of a new member. The Prince was already a member of the King’s Council.

The next day was Tuesday the 9th of April. Guy went to the Louvre in his role as a courtier to keep an eye on the Duke de Sully and the Prince de Condé. While he waited in the Great Hall outside where the Royal Council met he noticed and avoided the Baron Saint-Giron who had entered as the Duke’s aide. The Baron waited among the various petitioners and courtiers who also waited in the Great Hall. Guy also noticed Gaston and a squad of the Cardinal’s Guards arrive with Richelieu. The Guards were not allowed into the council chambers nor were armed men not of the King’s own guards generally allowed in his presence. I suspect the Cardinal is about to become a member of the King’s Council, Guy thought as he absently accepted a glass of wine from one of the ubiquitous palace servants. 

Inside the council chamber, Cardinal Richelieu was presented for consideration as a new member of the King’s Council. He had the sponsorship of the Queen Mother and the approval of the King and his membership was quickly approved. Afterwards the Duke de Sully delivered a report on the status of the Royal Artillery and the Arsenal’s ability to provide new weapons for the proposed Flanders forts. 

Guy smiled as he saw Baron St-Giron sneer at him from across the room. I guess he finally noticed me. Then he looked speculatively at his glass. This wine is off. He took another sip. This time beneath the flavor of a robust red he noticed the hint of a metallic taste to the wine.[v] A sudden pain hit him in the stomach and he heard Fabré’s voice in his head ‘a fast-acting metal poison. It has a bitter taste so it was probably administered in something with a strong flavor that he drank. Perhaps a full-bodied red wine.’

“Damn! I’ve been poisoned.” His first thought was to find the servant responsible but a second stabbing pain was followed by graying vision as he almost passed out. He stumbled towards Gaston and gasped, “I’ve been poisoned…LeDroit…Get…” He was wracked by a third even greater pain and he lost consciousness.

Gaston swore than said, “My friend has been poisoned.” He ordered two of his guards to Guy’s hôtel in the Place Royal to fetch Fabré. “Bring him to the east gate and tell him to bring his antidotes.  And hurry! Stop for nothing and no one!”

Gaston knew it would take too long to get permission to admit Fabré to the Louvre. Instead he would bring Guy outside. He ordered the rest of his men to remain and guard the Cardinal. “Tell him what has happened and that I said he should remain here and be on guard.” Then he picked Guy up and carried him to the east gate and out of the Louvre. 

Guy was in considerable pain and the wait for Fabré seemed interminable. Worse for him I expect, Gaston thought. The longer he waited the worse Gaston’s mood became. His temper must have been visible as his guards each took an involuntary step backwards when he looked up at them. But his look did not deter Fabré who immediately checked his master’s vital signs and asked Gaston a series of questions about timing, symptoms observed, and how the poison had been administered. Gaston said, “I think he was trying to say it was the same poison that got LeDroit. I hope you finished the antidote.”

“I hope so too,” Fabré said with some asperity. “I haven’t had time to test it fully.” 

“No time like the present,” Gaston said drily. 

Fabré carefully poured the antidote between Guy's lips. Seeing that Guy was being cared for by Fabré, Gaston determined to return to the Great Hall. He ordered the two guards to stay. “Guard them both...and do whatever Fabré says. He knows best.” Then he reentered the Louvre to find the Cardinal and make certain he was safe. 

Gaston was surprised that the Great Hall seemed so calm. No one was under attack. The King’s Council was still in session. His men were waiting on alert. He thought to find the wine cup that Guy had dropped but some servant had already picked it up. He glared with suspicion at each of the courtiers in the room looking for some telltale sign of guilt or satisfaction. Because of this he noticed Brother Phillipe enter the Great Hall and cross over to the Baron Saint-Giron and pass him what looked like a red handkerchief. Interesting. It seems Saint-Giron is up to something and it involves Brother Phillipe.

The untested antidote acted quickly and Guy was soon in command of his faculties once again. The first thing he did was to send one of the two Cardinal’s Guards standing over him to deliver a note of warning to his cousin Father Signoret. Although it would be more accurate to say that his valet Fabré sent the Guard. For some reason the two Guards refused his suggestions and commands but willingly did what Fabré told them. The second thing was to have the other Guard and Fabré help him back into the Louvre. It took some persuasion before the Swiss Guards at the gate allowed all three of them to enter. Guy remained just outside the Great Hall as he had Fabré send the guard to fetch Gaston. Gaston ordered a search to be made for the servant that gave Guy the wine but he could not be found nor did anyone seem to remember seeing him before today.

The next day, Wednesday, Gaston learned that the men watching the Brothers Vitoria Bank had recognized the coat of arms on two of the coaches that carried people who entered the bank through the rear entrance. One was a Spanish coat of arms and the other was the coat of arms of the Baron de Foix-Gras. Père Joseph gave him new information. He told Gaston that a diagram of the Step-Rocket had recently been traced to make a copy. The book was still locked in the Arsenal. An Arsenal guard who had been questioned by Monsieur LeDroit before his death was missing. The guard was suspected of involvement in accessing the book. Gaston relayed the information to his friends.

Wednesday evening, Father Signoret had drinks with Brother Philippe at the Black Cross Club. They spent all evening talking. They discussed Spanish-French relations, their loyalty to the True Faith, and their devôt sympathies. Philippe asked if Father Signoret would be willing to do more than talk? Would he be willing to act to foster better Spanish French relations and devôt aims? Signoret eagerly said that he would and that he was willing to take the next step. Brother Phillipe told him that he would arrange for a secret meeting to determine if Signoret would be allowed to join their organization. He told Signoret to be in the confessional of the Church of Saint Gervais on Thursday morning at nine o’clock where he would receive further instructions. When he returned to the Jesuit Professed House Signoret learned that a third murder had occurred late Monday night near the village of Jagny. He sent notes to his friends to arrange to investigate that death the next morning. 

It was nearly midnight when the two men looked up at the light at the top of the Tour du Bois. They had arrived from the river side to avoid the guards on the landward sides of the Louvre. To avoid notice in general the two men were dressed completely in black and black masks covered their faces. The door to the tower stair was guarded. Rather than risk an alarm the men decided to climb the outside of the tower and gain entry through the window. The tower was old and there were sufficient hand and foot holds for men as well trained as these two and they had a rope with a padded grapnel. 

The first man paused as he reached the window and looked inside. He stared at the big man sitting at the desk to make sure it was the right target then he quietly opened the window and readied his balestrin, the one handed crossbow favored by some assassins. He took careful aim and fired. The snap of the string was quiet enough that it would not be heard by the guards below. Once he fired, the assassin immediately climbed through the window and into the room to make way for his companion. He knew he had hit his target and he looked over in anticipation of seeing him incapacitated, racked with pain. His anticipation was premature, the man at the desk was bleeding, but he wasn’t down and he wasn’t crying out in agony. The first assassin hurriedly reloaded his crossbow. Meanwhile his companion reached the now open window and readied his weapon, aimed, and fired. 

But now the man behind the desk was aware. He stood and spun his highbacked chair so that the bolt impaled the chair instead of his chest. He darted around the desk as he drew the sword from the sheath hanging from the chair-back and lunged at the first assassin. The assassin leapt sideways to avoid the thrust, but the big man lunged again catching the assassin in the throat with the point and then nearly beheading him with a powerful sideways slash of the blade. He raced towards the second man and shoved him out the window. 

Gaston forced himself to take a breath. The searing pain that radiated from the dart that had slashed across his shoulder made his muscles cramp and it was difficult to control the spasms. He picked up the first assassins balestrin to use in case there were any more assassins. The idea of shooting them with their own weapon appealed to him as poetic justice. Then he went to the window to look for the body of the second assassin. He didn’t see a body below, but out of the corner of his eye he saw a rope snake around the side of the tower. “Sangdieu, the bastard has a rope.” Switching the balestrin to his left hand, he used his rapier to cut through the rope as he said, “Let’s see how well you fly.” Gaston didn’t hear a scream or a thud. He decided that if he was going to risk his head by sticking it out the window a second time he first wanted to have a familiar weapon in hand. He set the balestrin on his desk and armed a pistol. He looked out the window but saw no one. Armed with pistol and sword he went downstairs. 

The assassin couldn’t fly, but he could and did catch a projection from the old medieval tower to arrest his fall. He moved sideways to get out of sight from the window then he climbed back down. His mission wasn’t finished, but he decided that he needed a different approach. He kept to the shadows as he circled the tower looking for a lone Red Guard. Seeing one he stealthily approached and then attacked from behind with a dagger. He did not use a poisoned blade because he wanted a silent kill not an opponent shrieking in agony as he died. A stab in the back dropped Guard. Then the assassin put on the Guard’s hat and tabard. The front at least was free of bloodstains. Poisoned dagger in one hand he openly ran up the tower stairs as if he were a soldier rallying to his commander.

In the dark, the hat and tabard were enough to fool Gaston and give the assassin the first move, but Gaston was no longer lost in thought at his desk. He had been attacked and he was ready for battle. The point of the assassins blade missed as its point sparked against the wall. Gaston decided that he wanted someone to question not another corpse so he used a twisting move to disarm his opponent then placed the edge of his rapier against his foe’s throat. In a cold voice he said, “You’re mine now.”

Gaston realized from the tabard the assassin wore that one of his men might be hurt so he looked for and found the badly wounded Remy Janvier then he loudly shouted for more men and a surgeon. Once his men arrived he gave them strict instructions to bind the prisoner, to watch him most carefully, and to keep him alive for questioning. Then he went to check on Cardinal Richelieu and he doubled the number of men guarding the Cardinal and put them on alert.

Meanwhile he sent four Guards to go to the Place Royale. Two men were to bring Fabré and his antidotes, especially the antidote for the Spanish poison called The Burning. The other two were to warn Guy of the attack on Gaston and then stay and protect him. Two other Guards went to the Jesuit Professed House to warn Signoret. Gaston assumed a master duelist like Signoret could look after himself outside the Professed House and inside he should be safe from assassins so those Guards were to return once they had warned the Jesuit. A fourth pair of Guards went to warn the Seigneur de Chambré. Gaston knew he owed de Chambré for his help rescuing his niece Jeannette and he didn’t know how skilled the handome man really was with a blade. Since the Seigneur seemed like the sort of effete court fop that Gaston despised and whose skill with a blade he sneered at, he decided better to be safe than sorry and ordered the two Guards to stay and protect de Chambré.

Guy decided to accompany Fabré to the Louvre to check on Gaston. At the Tour du Bois, Fabré gave Gaston the antidote to The Burning and Guy identified the dead assassin as the Louvre servant who had given him the poisoned wine. Both Guy and Gaston had been attacked by the same source. Gaston checked the Guards one final time then decided to finally get some rest. Questioning the assassin could be left to tomorrow or to the professionals. In anticipation of the need for an interrogation, Guy ordered Fabré to see if he could create some potion that would make the prisoner tell the truth.

Chapter 6: Spy Games

By Thursday April 11 three mysterious deaths had been reported in the farmlands northeast of Paris. Assassins had tried to poison both Guy and Gaston. One of the assassins had been captured. The assassins used two different poisons. The poison placed in Guy’s wine was identical to that used to kill Monsieur LeDroit. That same assassin and a confederate had attacked Gaston using hand crossbows with poisoned bolts. That poison was known as The Burning. Its use was a signature of the Left Hand of God, an infamous Spanish assassin, and his minions. Monsieur LeDroit appeared to have been investigating espionage by Spain and the sympathetic Red Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was connected to the Paris branch of the Brothers Vitoria Bank. The Brotherhood’s sign was a red handkerchief. The death of Monsieur LeDroit was still open and a knight of Malta named Brother Phillipe was the main suspect. The captured assassin was being questioned and despite the failure of Fabré’s attempt to create a truth potion, the captive had revealed that he worked for the Left Hand of God and something called the Red Brotherhood.

As instructed by Brother Phillipe, Father Signoret went to the church of Saint Gervais before 9:00AM to hear confessions. From the confessional booth, Brother Phillipe told him his next instructions. “Go for a walk in the Jardin de Tuileries today at 4:00PM. Carry a single red rose. Someone carrying a red bible will approach you. Follow the instructions that they give you.” Signoret finished hearing confessions then he left the church. 

Brother Phillipe walked from Saint Gervais to the Spanish Embassy. He was followed by Guy de Bourges who, dressed as an ordinary Paris townsman, easily avoided the notice of the sinister looking Knight of Malta. Just before 10:00AM Brother Phillipe reached the embassy. He left a note on the front steps then hurried down the street. Once he was out of sight, Guy bribed a street urchin to bring him the note. He quickly opened it and saw that it was in code. 


Guy returned to his hôtel in the Place Royale and consulted the key that Monsieur LeDroit had started. With the text from this message he was able to complete LeDroit’s key.



After a little trial and error he soon realized that LeDroit’s key was for encrypting a message. While it could be use for decryption it would be faster to transpose the letters to make a new table. 



He used this table to decrypt Brother Phillipe’s note. 

Send contact with red bible 
to meet prospective member 
at the Tuileries Garden today 
at four PM Member has one red 
rose Use Red Coach pickup 
Switch at Rue Quincampoix Arch 
Six PM interview in third mill 
past Faubourg St Michel 
Wear a mask

After decrypting the note, he refolded it, returned to the Spanish Embasssy and used another street urchin to return the note to the Embassy steps. 

Before he met with Father Signoret Guy changed into a different disguise. He told his cousin that he had followed Brother Phillipe after he left the confessional booth in St Gervais to where he dropped off a note at the Spanish Embassy. Guy intercepted the note which was in code. He used that message to complete Monsieur LeDroit’s key and then used the key to decrypt Brother Phillipe’s message which contained the location for Signoret’s meeting with the Red Brotherhood that evening. Guy told his cousin that he would be nearby when he met with the Brother Phillipe and his friends.

That afternoon, Signoret purchased a red rose and, as instructed he walked in the Tuileries Garden. Shortly after 4:00PM he was approached by a Spanish nun carrying a red bible. She told him to walk with her. She led him to the edge of the garden where a red coach with red clad guard and driver pulled up. The nun told him to get in. Inside were two more guards in red who blindfold him. Then the coach drove through city streets by on a route with many turns that he supposed were taken mostly to confuse him. Eventually they stopped in a narrow alley or tunnel that echoed with nearby street noise. The Jesuit was hustled down a passage to a second coach[vi] where he was handed up to another pair of guards. 

The coach took a circuitous path though Signoret thought he could tell when they crossed the Pont Neuf to the Left Bank and then left Paris. They drove over country lanes for a time then stopped just after sunset. Signoret heard the wooden creaking and susurration sounds from one of the many windmills that encircled Paris. The guards led him inside the mill. He stood waiting until a voice told him to remove his blindfold. Seated opposite him were three men wearing red masks.[vii] The man on the left questioned him in Spanish about his beliefs about Spain, France, the Church, and what was best for the Church. 

They seemed satisfied with the Jesuit’s responses and invited him to join their Red Brotherhood, an organization that worked for harmony and unity between Catholic Spain and Catholic France. After he agreed they had him swear an oath on the Bible to be true to the Red Brotherhood and to his fellow members, to work for its aims, and to keep its secrets. They had a document with the same pledge which they had him sign. As his first assignment they ordered him to spy on Cardinal Richelieu. He was told to devout and vigilant at all times and to keep the Brotherhood informed of all that he learned about Richelieu and his plans. Then Signoret was blindfolded returned to Paris by coach. 

The three masked men sat quietly until the sound of Signoret’s coach had faded. Guy couldn’t see them but he could hear them. One man said, “I told you he’d join.” His Spanish was tinged with a noticeable French accent.

A second voice said, “I don’t know if I trust this Jesuit. He is much too close to his cousin de Bourges.” This was the same man who had led Signoret’s questioning. His Spanish had a slight accent, one that reminded Guy of his good friend the Belgian Spanish nobleman, Jan Gabriel Vizconde de Cervantes-Esparanza.

A third voice said, “He should be watched until we are certain of his loyalty.”

The other two replied in unison, “Yes Excellency.” Their use of this title when combined with the third speaker’s Castilian-accented Spanish meant that the man in the center could be none other than the Spanish Ambassador, Don Antonio de Zúñiga y Dávila, marqués de Mirabel. He suggested that they should discuss the Baron Saint-Giron’s offer. 

The Frenchman said, “The Baron showed me a diagram of some sort of weapon—a rocket I think. It was only one page, but that one page proved that he has access to the Arsenal and that he can get the book we want. However he said he wants a letter of safe conduct personally signed by the Ambassador before he provides any additional documents.”

Don Antonio asked, “Is that all?”

“He also wants to be made a major general, a French majore general, and he wants 10,000 livres.”

Don Antonio said, “That shouldn’t be a problem should it?”

The second man answered, “No, your Excellency. The bank’s resources can easily cover much more than that sum. The money is not a problem. But how does the Baron expect us to arrange for him to become a French general?”

The Frenchman said, “Either through the actions of the devôt faction or our other supporters. It is also possible that we could purchase a commission for him should one become open.”

“How much would that cost us?”

“Another 10,000 livres for the purchase. To ensure that a position is available? That would be harder to say Excellency.”

Don Antonio paused, perhaps to see if the second man would balk at the additional cost. But when no objection occurred he said, “Arrange a meeting.”

The Frenchman said, “I will do so and will leave a message with the details in the usual manner.”

“Then we are done,” Don Antonio said with finality.

All three joined in a brief prayer and then went their separate ways.

Guy observed them and mentally counted them down as they left. The first to depart was dressed like a Spanish Grandee. He wore a sword, and concealed his face with a travel mask. The Ambassador. The Grandee was accompanied by a secretary. The two men entered an unmarked coach driven and guarded by red clad retainers. I didn’t realize the Ambassador had brought his aide. I don’t recall hearing a fourth man’s voice.

The next to leave was a prim and neat elderly gentleman. He was stout, did not wear a sword, and his wide ruffled collar and dark clothing gave him an air of bourgeoisie wealth. The Banker. His coach was also unmarked and it had the same red clad driver and guards. The last to depart was a thin, sinister looking young man who wore a long rapier and a black cloak. His face was obscured by the thin veil that hung from his hat to keep the dust out of his eyes. The Frenchman or should I say the Knight of Malta? The young man rode off on horseback accompanied by two more of the red clad guards.

After he returned to Paris Guy visited Father Signoret. He shared a heavily edit version of what he learned with his cousin, in part so as not to add to the number of lies that Signoret would have to tell the Brotherhood. Guy met separately with Gaston who told him that his watchers had saw Brother Phillipe enter the Brothers Vitoria Bank between 10:00 and 11:00 that morning. He was only there for a few moments before he left. This would have been after he stopped by the Spanish Embassy. Guy thought he had probably delivered a message with the time and location for the meeting with Signoret to the Banker. Guy gave Gaston a full recounting of Saint-Giron’s treachery, his price, and the next steps. Gaston thanked his friend and said that this was the evidence they needed. 

When he returned to the Professed House Father Signoret was summoned into the Provincial Father’s office. His meetings with the Red Brotherhood had prevented Signoret from leaving Paris to investigate the third murder so he had nothing new to report. But the Provincial Father did. He told Signoret that the Jesuit Order had learned that there had been a massacre in the hamlet of Grange au Bois which, like the other three murders, was northeast of Paris. A family of seven or eight people had been killed. Signoret told the Provincial Father that he would leave immediately to investigate. He contacted his friends, but only Guy was available. The two cousins went north. They stayed at an inn north of Paris so they could begin their investigations first thing in the morning. 

First they went to Grange au Bois, the site of the massacre. The hamlet was located near Herivaux Abbey in the Forest of Clichy. They found a large farm house where the entire family of seven had been killed. The front door and the most of the furniture were smashed to kindling. The hearts of three victims were missing: the father, grandfather, and a 12-year old son. The father had bruises on his hands and feet and his heart was cut out. The grandfather and a 12-year old son had been bludgeoned to death before their hearts were removed. Four of the victims: the mother, teenage son, 2 young girls, and a baby had been bludgeoned to death but their hearts were not removed.

Next they went to the location of the third murder. They learned that the third victim was an 18 year old farm boy. He was found on the ridge overlooking the village of Jagny. Father Signoret’s examination of the body revealed that he had a broken neck and both his forearms were fractured in what might have been defensive wounds. As with the previous two victims his heart had been  removed. This body had not be savaged by scavengers so Signoret was able to determine that the heart had been removed post mortem. Consistent with the two previous murders there were signs that there had been some sort of circle or symbol around the body that had been rubbed out afterwards so that only traces remained. 

Guy summarized the evidence, “So we have one victim killed late each night on Tuesday April 2, Friday April 5, and Monday April 8. In each case the victim was murdered away from home and while alone. Each victim had his or her heart removed. Then sometime after the third murder and before sunrise of the next day an entire family was massacred together in or just outside of their own home. Three of the seven victims had their hearts removed, but why? This makes a total of 10 victims with 6 hearts taken. Guy turned and asked his cousin, “In the name of God why does the murderer want their hearts?”

Father Signoret had no answer, but he said that he was afraid this involved witchcraft or worse. He said that he would do some reading to see if he could find a connection or a pattern. 

EDIT (28-MAR-2016): Added a few paragraphs to Chapter 5 for events after the PCs returned to Paris.

[i] Chapter 4 occurred April 4-6, 1624 (07NOV2015).
[ii] Local villagers wiped out the Hedge Witch’s bloody pentagram.
[iii] The four men were Brother Philippe, Monsieur Moulin, Don Antonio the Spanish Ambassador, and Baron de Gras.
[iv] The red coach belongs to the Red Brotherhood. Brother Philippe is inside. The two discussed Saint-Giron selling armaments secrets (the stage-rockets) which may be used to arm the new forts on the Flanders border. Previously Brother Phillppe met Baron Saint-Giron at the Bishop’s Club. Saint-Giron showed Phillipe a copy of the diagram for the Step-Rocket as proof that he can obtain more secret information.
[v] Martin Pedrosa, the Left hand of God, recognized Guy from descriptions of agents of the Red Brotherhood. He knew Guy from previous encounters. He warned the Ambassador that “Guy de Bourges has thwarted the Lord’s plans before. He must not be allowed to do so again.” The Ambassador agreed and ordered Guy killed. A Masked Assassin disguised as a court servant was sent to poison Guy’s wine.
[vi] A black unmarked coach with a driver not dressed in red.
[vii] Brother Philippe, B. Moulin, and the Spanish Ambassador, hidden in the shadows above was the Left Hand of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment