Friday, March 24, 2017

Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance, Bk VI: Witchcraft, Ch 1-2

Book VI: Witchcraft

Chapter 1: The Mysterious Madame Corbeau

On April 12, while Guy returned to Paris, Father Signoret and the Seigneur de Chambré continued their investigation. They went to the site of the fourth murder. They learned that the victim was a 19-year old farm girl named Jeannette. She had been ritually murdered on a cliff above an island in the Little Rhone River near Ermenouville. Once they had scaled the cliff they saw that the rocky ground at the top still showed signs of a pentacle drawn in blood. When Signoret had investigated the body he had found bruises on herwrists where she had been cuffed or held along with several wooden splinters in her wrists at the site of the bruises. When the body had been found her feet had been secured with rope to a pair of unusual stones each with a single, smooth hole through it so that the stone could act as a ring bolt. The holes were smooth either from polishing or years of use. Clearly before she was killed her feet had been tied to the stones with rope while her hands had been held or bound with wood in some fashion.

Then they went to the cottage in the valley where Jeannette had lived to look for additional clues. It was clear someone or something had attacked the cottage. The front door was smashed, the inside was wrecked, and all other family members had been bludgeoned to death by unknown persons of great strength wielding what seemed to be branches or wooden clubs. The Jesuit was an experienced hunter and tracker. Outside the cottage he found three sets of blockish, inhuman footprints and one set of smaller footprints of a woman or youth. The inhuman footprints looked like those strange blockish footprints without heel or toe that he had found at the first murder site. Marks between two of the pairs of inhuman footprints showed where someone, probably Jeannette, had been dragged towards the cliff and her death. The Jesuit prayed that the young girl had been unconscious during the trip and afterward.

Another trail made by three sets of inhuman prints and the one set of the smaller footprints led away from the murder site. They followed those tracks south and east until they reached the toll bridge over the Rouillon River at Dugny. The bridge was stone which showed no tracks. Signoret and de Chambré asked about any unusual events or strangers both at the church in Dugny and at the local inn. At the inn they discovered that one stranger, a dark haired woman ho had stayed at the Auberge Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grasses Inn). The inn keeper told them that she had given the name Mme Corbeau. They returned to the bridge and questioned the toll keeper who remembered that a woman matching the description of Madame Corbeau had crossed the bridge and entered the village sometime after midnight. 

They returned to the inn where they ate a late lunch. While they were dining they noticed a noble house guard seated in the common room of the inn. De Chambré asked the innkeeper about the man and learned that he worked for a local noble. He and his companion accompanied their master who had stopped at the inn some five hours earlier. He had rented a room for his private amusements. De Chambré adopted a man of the world attitude as he continued his questions. He learned that the noble was named Charles de Machault and that he was the son and heir of the Seigneur of Ermenouville a château not far from the scene of the most recent murder. Machault had arrived that morning. He had spotted Mme Corbeau in the inn’s common room. The two had flirted for a while and then they retired to a room that Machault had rented on the spot. While de Chambré was speaking with the innkeeper a second house guard came down the stairs. He walked over to his companion, mentioned something about the insatiability of the woman, and told his fellow that the master wanted both of them back upstairs right away. 

While Mme Corbeau and the others were disporting themselves in the noble’s rented inn room, Signoret let himself into Corbeau’s room where he found a satchel filled with herbs. He took samples of the various herbs. From the innkeeper he learned that the village of Dugny had its own apothecary. He left de Chambré to keep an eye on things at the inn while he took the samples to be analyzed. The apothecary told him that most of the samples were herbs commonly used for headache remedies, simples, and treating wounds. However two of the samples were from plants that were unknown to him. Signoret thought he would ask Guy to have his man Fabré try to identify the two unknown herbs.

While Signoret was with the apothecary, de Chambré kept watch for Mme Corbeau. It was not long before the noble and his two guards came back downstairs and de Chambré introduced himself. His good manners and looks allowed him to easily ingratiate himself with Charles de Machault. Machault was a successful robe noble in his mid thirties. He held several offices and would, in time, inherit his father’s titles as well. Although married, he was quite open about being at the inn for amorous pursuits outside of wedlock. He mentioned an especially diverting and exhausting encounter he had already had that very day. From Machault, de Chambré obtained a more detailed description of Madame Corbeau. She was in her twenties, pretty with dark curly hair, and a single earring shaped like a claw in her right ear. She wore a green cloak accented with a feather and a ribbon fascinator on the left side of her head. While the two noblemen were talking a black cat ran down the stairs and out the inn’s open door.

When Signoret returned he and de Chambré went upstairs to question Mme Corbeau. They were surprised to find her room empty and her belongings gone. Somehow even though she was cornered in the inn she had escaped from right under de Chambré’s nose.[i] Signoret was perplexed at how de Chambré could have allowed the witch to escape and he berated him for his failure. Since Mme Corbeau was gone, the Jesuit tried but couldn’t find a new trail leaving the village. So he decided to stay overnight in hopes that he might find another clue in the morning. He located a Jesuit sympathizer in the village who allowed him to stay for the night for free while de Chambré, discouraged by his failure to spot the witch, returned to Paris.

Chapter 2: Return of the Left Hand of God

By the twelfth of April the Red Brotherhood had noticed that the Brothers Vitoria Bank was under observation. They sent men to follow the watchers and learned they were members of the Cardinal’s Red Guards. In response they shifted the focus of their operations away from the bank. That night the Spanish Ambassador was informed of the spying by the Red Guards. He decided that a response was necessary. He ordered his assassin, the Left Hand of God, to personally see to the elimination of the Captain of the Red Guards, “as a message not to interfere in our holy business.”

Late that night Guy received a report from his best agent. He had assigned Le Serpent to watch the Baron Saint-Giron and the little spy reported that earlier that evening Saint-Giron had visited the Seigneur le Renault at the latter’s home. Renault held a grudge against Guy for the conviction and execution of his only child on charges of poisoning. The little spy was able to overhear the words “Curse you Guy de Bourges!” repeated several times by the two men. It seemed likely to Le Serpent that the two nobles were forming an alliance against his Chief. 

After he left le Renault’s house, Saint-Giron went to the Black Cross Club. He was not a member of that club as he, like Guy, belonged to the Bishop’s Club. Le Serpent, not being a member, was unable to enter. He remained outside. Shortly after Saint-Giron's arrival the spy saw Brother Philippe enter the club. The little spy was unable to observe them inside so he could not conclusively report that the two had actually met, but the timing seemed suspicious. 

The next day was Saturday and Guy, Signoret, and de Chambré rode through the morning fog to the Sorbonne. They bribed the porter to let them onto the university grounds so that they could consult Master Dubert, a mathematician who Guy hoped could provide an analysis of any pattern to the previous murder sites so that they could predict the location of the next ritual murder and stop it. Based on the intervals between the ritual killings they expected that the next murder would occur Sunday night. Dubert was a slow, and painstaking scholar. Guy thought that the sites might form a pentagram and he guessed that the next spot was the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Livry. Dubert told Guy that he was off. He used various arcane looking measuring instruments, wrote down figures on a separate piece of paper, consulted the maps that Guy had provided, and pronounced that “if this followed a pentagrammical pattern then the next point would be in the woods near Nonneville northwest of the Abbey you have mentioned.”

Cardinal Richelieu traveled by coach through a dense morning fog to the Louvre. Today would be his first council meeting since his reappointment. As was often the case, Gaston led his escort. Neither Gaston nor the other guards in the escort were allowed in the council chambers so they waited for Richelieu in the Great Hall of the Louvre. There Gaston was accosted by a Spanish nobleman. The nobleman said, “Buenos dias, my name is Don Martin Santiago de Rodriguez y Alta-Marino. You killed my father.” Then he struck Gaston in the face with his glove and challenged him to a duel. 

Enraged at the assault, Gaston nearly struck the Spaniard in the face. He just managed to restrain his impulse since he was both on duty and in the Great Hall of the Louvre. Instead he said, “Monsieur your behavior surprises me, as does the fact that you actually knew who your father was. Still, I will be more than happy to have my seconds call on your seconds to arrange a time so that I may kill you.” Don Martin told him that his seconds could be found at the Spanish Embassy by asking for Don Roderigo Diego de Salamanca y Ribera. After this the Spaniard left the Great Hall.

By early afternoon the King and his Royal Council had finished their deliberations. They had come to a decision regarding the Flanders Frontier. Richelieu departed the Louvre to return to his apartments in the Place Royale. Gaston again led the escort. As the Cardinal’s coach slowly wended its way north towards the Rue de Saint Honoré, a quarrel flew towards the coach hitting Gaston and piercing his buffcoat.[ii]

The wound was agonizing and Gaston swayed in the saddle but despite the burning pain, he ordered the Cardinal’s coachman to drive at top speed for the Place Royal and ordered his men to surround the coach rather than chasing after the assassin. They escorted Richlieu directly to his hôtel. Once there, Gaston sent one of his men to Guy’s apartments for Fabré who soon arrived with the antidote that he had previously developed for the Spanish poison known as The Burning. Then he cleaned the wound and applied a healing poultice for the puncture. Gaston recalled all the Red Guards to duty and trebled the security around the Cardinal in case assassins should strike again.

Afterwards Guy, who had been informed by Fabré of Gaston’s wounding, arrived at the Cardinal’s residence. He updated Gaston on Baron Saint-Giron’s recent meetings with M. Renault and Brother Phillipe. In turn Gaston told Guy about his upcoming duel with Don Martine and asked him to act as one of his seconds. Gaston sent a letter to Father Signoret asking him to also act as his second.

That evening Father Signoret and Guy went as Gaston’s seconds to the Spanish Embassy to speak to Don Martine’s second, Don Roderigo. They were accompanied by the Seigneur de Chambré. Guy had an ulterior motive in the visit which was why he had asked de Chambré to accompany them. While Signoret and de Chambré sipped Spanish wine and chatted with Don Roderigo, Guy excused himself for what he said was an urgent call of nature. While he was out of the room Guy found and broke into the Ambassador’s study. On the desk he found an enciphered message along with a deciphered version. He quickly read and memorized the message.

This Monday night at ten PM, travel by coach along the road from St. Cloud to the King’s hunting lodge at Versailles. Take the second path to the right after you enter the woods outside of Saint Cloud. Continue to the second crossing of the paths. Stop there and wait. You will be met.

Signoret found making small talk with the Ambassador’s aide difficult because the aide, Don Roderigo Diego de Salamanca y Ribera, was the brother of Colonel Don Alvaro Francisco de Salamanca y Ribera. The Colonel was known to Father Signoret and to several of his friends. Before the Siege of Bergen op Zoom Don Alvaro’s men had captured Signoret, Gaston, Guy, and the other members of the diplomatic mission to the Netherlands. They had escaped captivity but had been caught inside the town during the siege. Signoret had accompanied the envoy when he escaped the town. Gaston and the others had several additional encounters with the Spaniard. Don Alvaro’s men were several times defeated by men under the leadership of Gaston and the two had fought hand-to-hand twice—once during Don Alvaro’s assault on a redoubt that Gaston and his men were defending and once on the stairs to the town’s fortress wall. Don Alvaro had been forced to retreat at the redoubt. Gaston had kicked him off the redoubt wall into the ditch. On the stair Don Alvaro had been surrounded and forced to surrender to Gaston.

Fortunately the exquisite manners of the Seigneur de Chambré came to Signoret’s rescue as de Chambré engaged in a series of meaningless pleasantries with the Ambassador’s aide. This was just as Guy had anticipated. He soon returned from his necessary visit. Next Guy engaged in some verbal legerdemain with Don Roderigo. Delivered in perfect Castillian Guy initiated a confusing conversation about who’s the first second and who’s the second second. This had the effect of making Don Roderigo forget Guy’s absence. It also ended up dragging the Seigneur de Chambré into the mix of second seconds as a third second. Don Roderigo became flustered as he realized he needed to find at least one additional second for Don Martine. He excused himself.

After a time Don Roderigo returned with the other seconds. Señor Guzman was always intended to be one of Don Martine’s seconds. Now that there was a third second on Gaston’s side the Spaniards brought in a minor nobleman named Alvarro Pietro de Santos. De Santo was tall, with a weathered face scarred over the right eye and his long graying hair pulled back in a pony tail. He spoke not at all, but he moved with the feline grace of a master swordsman.

Now Guzman did the talking. He spoke at some length about the righteousness of Don Martine’s cause and how God would determine the victor. Meanwhile de Santos said nothing. Father Signoret suspected that de Santos didn’t even speak French. Guy was interested in Guzman. He suspected that the noble was actually the Spanish Assassin known as the Left Hand of God who, like Guy, was a master of disguise. But Guy knew he would recognize the eyes of the fanatic. He tried to get a good look at Guzman’s eyes, but the Spaniard seemed aware of his efforts. Throughout his speech Guzman kept his eyes either downcast or lifted up to heaven thus preventing Guy from getting a direct look. 

Because of their commitments to stop the ritual murders Gaston’s seconds were not available until the following Tuesday evening. Therefore after some discussion it was agreed that the duel would take place on Tuesday outside the city at Mont Parnasse at one hour after sundown. The principals and their seconds were to equip themselves with bull’s-eye lanterns.

The second report was from Guy’s network of spies. In the morning, Brother Philippe left a letter on the steps in front of the Spanish Embassy. The message briefly sat there before it was picked up. After this Brother Phillipe went to the Temple. At noon he met Benedict LeVan the bank clerk and Spanish agent just outside the Temple. He passed LeVan a letter. Which LeVan took to the Brothers Vitoria Bank where he immediately went into the bank manager’s office undoubtedly to deliver the message.

The second report was from his network of spies. In the morning, Brother Philippe left a letter on the steps in front of the Spanish Embassy. The message briefly sat there before it was picked up. After this he went to the Temple. At noon he met Benedict LeVan the bank clerk and Spanish agent just outside the Temple. He passed LeVan a letter. Which LeVan took to the Brothers Vitoria Bank where he immediately went into the bank manager’s office.

Before he went to bed Guy wrote down a to-do list for himself.

1.  Sunday stop ritual sacrifice.
2.  Monday catch St Giron red handed in treason.
3.  Tuesday duel at Mont Parnasse as a second.

Yes, he thought. The next few days certainly are going to be busy.

[i] Mme Corbeau used Walk Unseen to avoid de Chambre’s notice.
[ii] Crossbow bolt damage -2LB past buffcoat armor, -2LB for the poison, plus the pain of the Burning.

No comments:

Post a Comment