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 rocky ground at the site still showed signs of a pentacle drawn in blood. Signoret investigated the body and found bruises on the wrists where she had been cuffed or held along with several wooden splinters in her wrists at the site of the bruises. When the body was found her feet had been secured 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. 

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 several 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 blobbish, inhuman footprints and one set of smaller footprints of a woman or youth. The inhuman footprints looked like those 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. 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 the tracks south and east until they reached the toll bridge over the Rouillon River at Dugny. The bridge was stone and left no tracks. Signoret and de Chambre asked questions at the church in Dugny and at the local inn. They discovered that the witch might be the dark haired woman named who 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 innkeeper’s 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 was a house guard for a local noble. He and his companion accompanied the noble 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 upstairs, 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 inn 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 an apothecary. He left de Chambré to keep an eye on things at the inn while he took to herbs to be analyzed. The apothecary told him the most of herbs were commonly used for headache remedies, simples, and healing herbs. However two of the herbs 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. But though he had her cornered in the inn somehow she escaped from right under his nose.[i] Soon after 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 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 see find another clue in the morning. He located a Jesuit sympathizer in the village who allowed him to stay for the night 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 12 Red Brotherhood had noticed that the Brothers Vitoria Bank was observation. They sent me 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 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 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. Then they would be able to intervene. Based on the intervals between the ritual killings they expected that the next murder would occur on Sunday. 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 Abbé d’Ivry. 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 near Nonneville northwest of the Abbey.



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, but 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 happy to have my seconds call on your seconds.” 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 Palais Royale. Gaston again led his 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 provided 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 wound. Gaston recalled all the Red Guards to duty and trebled the security around the Cardinal.

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 the others. 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 Thibeault 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 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 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. Guy returned after seeing the note. He next 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 an additional second for Don Martine. He excused himself.

After a time he returned with the other seconds. Señor Guzman was always intended to be one 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 Sunday evening. Therefore after some discussion the seconds agreed that the duel would take place on Sunday outside the city at Mont Parnasse at one hour after sundown. The principals and their seconds were to equip themselves with bullseye lanterns.


That night Guy received two reports. The first, from Fabré confirmed that the Dugny apothecary’s identification of the ordinary herbs was correct. Fabré was also able to identify the herbs from Mme Corbeau’s satchel that the other apothecary had not recognized. The two other herbs could be combined and brewed as a tisane to make a drink that was a powerful hallucinogen. 

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.
Sunday stop ritual sacrifice.
Monday catch St Giron red handed in treason.
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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jousting on the Seine

While I was looking for pictures of the Tour du Bois I came across this illustration by Jacques Callot. It does depict the Tour du Bois. No it's not the lonely looking tower just left of the center of the picture. That's the Tour de Nesle and its on the Left Bank. The Tour du Bois is hard to see, but it is over on the Right Bank. It too is towards the center of the picture but it is much smaller. More about the Tour du Bois later. Also on the right side of the engraving is the Louvre both what was left of the medieval castle at the right edge of the image and running past it (up and to the left in the engraving) is the Louvre Gallery.


The above engraving by Callot is called "Annual jousting contest on river Seine in Paris" by Jacques Callot in 1630. So here's something I didn't know. They joust on the River Seine in Paris. I had to look at that twice, so I'll repeat that.

They joust on the River Seine in Paris!

How frickin' cool is that? I must know more and I must stick some characters in boats in a chase scene in the middle of the annual joust. It's like some crazy 1630 version of the big budget, special effects chase scene in every single James Bond movie ever! Like I said, how frickin' cool is that?

For the more academically or pedantically inclined I will now continue identifying the Tour du Bois. Here's a detail view from the center area of the engraving with the Tour du Bois circled in yellow.


It's easier to see the Tour du Bois in this illustration by Silvestre. The Tour de Nesle is on the left and the Tour du Bois is on the right. That's the Gallery of the Louvre behind the Tour du Bois.

There used to be another tower called the Tour du Coin. The Tour du Coin and the Tour de Nesle were on opposite sides of the Seine and back around the time of Joan of Arc they had a big chain they could stretch between the two towers to stop boats from passing. 

Now back to the jousting. Here's a painting from 1756 called La joute de mariniers entre le pont Notre-Dame et le Pont-au-Change, by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet. So those boatmen were not just jousting west of the Pont Neuf they seem to be jousting all along the Seine in Paris.



Another thing to notice are all the houses and shops built on top of the bridge. Talk about your crowded real estate market. Eventually the Parisians tore the buildings down. They were a fire hazard. Now I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, Gaston, what about the jousting?

OK. OK. Here's an advertising poster from before World War I which was sometimes called the Great War. But really for the guys in the trenches or the men and women in the field hospitals it really wasn't so great.

Below are several photographs that show guys actually jousting. So you can see how it works. Here's what winning (and losing) looks like.

In this photo I can't tell who is winning and who is losing.

It looks like these guys are using a seat cushion for a shield. You can see the shield clearly in this photo.

I bet I could work this into a Call of Cthulhu scenario too. Watching the boat jousting seems perfect for your visiting dilettante characters from England or for an American tourist wanting to experience some of the quaint customs of the old country. Happening to be in the audience also seems like just the thing to connect a bunch of otherwise unconnected characters.
There are a bunch more boat jousting photos here.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tercios - a new historical wargame


 Cover to Liber Militum



Tercios is an interesting set of miniatures rules for recreating battles set during the Thirty Years War. The game was developed by El Kraken Released, team, and is edited by Design & Edits WxW Co. There are 2 different versions of Tercios:

Liber Militum: The full version
Brevis Editio: Short Version, synthesized and free.

On the plus side, the developers have included a free brief edition of their game. On the minus side for we monolingual anglophones, the game is in Spanish. To be fair Spanish is kind of appropriate for a game about tercios. I downloaded the Brevis Edition and with the help of the Bing Translator here is my translation of the Introduction to the Brevis Edition.
 


Introduction

Welcome. These lines begin Tercios, the great battles with miniatures game set during the Thirty Years War (1608-1648). You are enjoying the Brevis Edition of Tercios. This is a summarized, simplified version of Liber Militum: Tercios. The Brevis Edition is an ideal way to start if you have no experience in wargames, or if you want to try a rules light version of the game without adding too much complexity.

The game

As game developers, we believe that it is our responsibility to design rules that encourage the player to recreate the intended epic battles, historical or fictional and allow pleasant experience and the satisfaction of the unmistakable flavor of the period. The game table must be visually attractive. The game is reminiscent of those old paintings that recall the famous battles. For this we do not believe that it is necessary to add overly complex rules, because we consider game fluency more essential than over exaggerated realism. However, Tercios provides enough complexity so that victory is always a challenge.
Tercios is a game of battles on a large scale; each game represents the enormous formations that often comprised more than one thousand men. Which is why it is a game with more abstraction than some others, because this military recreation is indifferent to the action of individual soldiers, what matters is the whole.

Brevis Edition vs Liber Militum

All rules that you learn in this Brevis Edition also apply in Liber Militum. Which simply be expands the options and enriches the rules with specifics and additional background. The collected armies will be perfectly compatible.
We list the main differences:
Expanded texts: the Brevis Edition includes only what is necessary to play; it omits much of the text relating to the historical background.
Control units: the Brevis Edition does not include rules for the control panels. The Liber Militum controls are not limited only to providing moral to nearby troops. Control units have a selection of virtues and qualities that allow them to perform special tactics or tricks or provide a bonus to certain values in certain circumstances. These units add strategic depth to the game and army charisma.
Special rules: Liber Militum provides additional rules to represent different qualities for troop types that are not included in the Brevis version.

 
The game sounds interesting and the period is right on target for my setting. I haven't done a rough translation of the entire rule set yet (nor have I played the game) so I can't comment on the rules, but the comment the designers made that their artwork is supposed to be reminiscent of period art is most definitely truth in advertising. There is some very nice artwork included in the brief version so I can only imagine how much more art will be included in the full version. It definitely helps set the right mood. Here's an example:

Tercios is a rule set for use with miniatures. The brief rules provide what several examples or options both for basing and for creating period appropriate formations. Here's the depiction of a squadron of tercio in the classic infantry formation of a block of pike with sleeves of musketeers.

And they are planning on releasing a line of 28mm figures. These look good.


And here is the Count-Duke Olivares. For those of you not in the know, he was to Philip IV and Spain as Richelieu was to Louis XIII and France.

These pikes remind me of the movie Alatriste. I'm sure that's no accident. 


And in the pike and shot period you can't have pikes without musketeers. 

This group seems especially useful for RPGs.






If you are interested in miniatures battles or the Thirty Years War period check out Tercios or the free brief edition.


Thanks to the Wars of Louis Quatorze blog for bringing Tercios to my attention.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Strange Stones at North Texas RPG Con


Over on his Strange Stones blog the venomous pao announced that he is running two games of Barbarians of Lemuria (Mythic Edition, with a chunk of love from Honor + Intrigue) for this year’s North Texas RPG Con. I've never been to the Con but the mention of Honor+Intrigue peaked my interest. But then tvp goes on to say that the setting is "my Clark Ashton Smith inspired, not-quite-Averoigne, medieval-ish, France-esque setting known as Plonesse" so not only H+I but France (well almost France). The two adventures sound interesting. The first sounds like it may be a bit of a dungeon crawl in the sewers beneath the city of Yllons, but with an interesting frame story. The frame sounds like a great set up for a 1-shot adventure for a con. The second has the PCs reacting to some suitably vague and ambiguous prophecy of doom provided by a dark and spooky forest dwelling Sybil. 

And there is an attractive hex map for the local region. It seems to have just about the right level of detail to allow orientation without exhaustive detail.

A few minor mapping quibbles: I'd have preferred names for the castle, 2 villages, and 4 bridges shown on the map and the main road between the two cities should possibly be marked so that, among other things, it is clear which river bank the road is on in each hex. Though that might be something PCs who haven't traveled the road before would be expected to discover during play.

Sadly, I doubt that I will have the opportunity to attend the Con, but I eagerly await what else tvp will post about the adventures and setting. For more about Plonesse, blurbs for the two adventures, and con information check out the venomous pao's Strange Stones BoL at NTRPGCon 2017 post.


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Historical D'Artagnan



Over on the Osprey Publishing Forum I came across a post that mentioned this nice video (translated from French into English) about Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan the historical inspiration for Dumas' D'Artagnan. It features a lot of great art as well as actual period music by Lully.


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.




Back in Paris they heard rumors that a major decision has 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 has been chosen to supervise the construction of the fortresses.




The next night Guy received 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. 

VHOE FROUDFU ZLUI SHE CLCMH 
UR PHHU QSRVQHFULWH PHPCHS 
DU UIH UXLMHSLHV JDSEHO UREDB 
DU GRXS QP PHPCHS IDV ROH SHE 
SRVH XVH SHE FRDFI QLFNXQ 
VZLUFI DU SXH TXLOFDPQRLY DSFI 
VLY QP LOUHSWLHZ LO UILSE PLMM 
QDVU GDXCRXSJ VU PLFIHM 
ZHDS D PDVN

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.

A=D
E=H
I=L
M=P
Q=T
U=X
Y=B
B=C
F=G
J=K
N=O
R=S
V=W
Z=A
C=F
G=J
K=N
O=R
S=V
W=Z

D=E
H=I
L=M
P=Q
T=U
X=Y


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. 

A=Z
E=D
I=H
M=L
Q=P
U=T
Y=B
B=Y
F=C
J=G
N=K
R=O
V=S
Z=W
C=B
G=F
K=J
O=N
S=R
W=V

D=A
H=E
L=I
P=M
T=Q
X=U


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. 



[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.