Friday, March 31, 2017

Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance, Bk VI: Witchcraft, Ch 3-4

Chapter 3: Eyes of Esus

In the morning after mass Father Signoret and the Seigneur de Chambré met at the fashionable Place Royale apartments of Guy de Bourges. Tonight was the night for the next ritual killing, but this time they planned to be there ahead of the murderers. Bondy was on a main road to and from Paris and it was near the location that would complete the pentagram so they decided to use the Red Fox Inn in Bondy as a base. It was next to the highway which made it convenient for travel. The three traveled there in de Chambré’s coach. They were accompanied by their servants, Signoret by Claude, an old family retainer; Guy by his valet and apothecary Fabré; and de Chambré by his coachman Jean-Claude.  

On the way, Father Signoret shared with them the information he had obtained from his studies on witchcraft and ritual. He had consulted a number of Classical authorities. In the Pharsalia, Book I, the Roman poet Lucan mentioned the god Esus along with two other gods – Taranis and Teutates. Blood sacrifices were made to all three of these gods among the Ligurian and Treveri tribes of the Gauls. And there were indications in the areas around Paris of influence by the Treveri. The Jesuit told them that Esus was the god most associated with blood-sacrifice and hanging. In carvings Esus was usually depicted with three birds and a bull and once, in the crypts below the cathedral of Notre Dame, Signoret had even viewed a piece of old pagan statuary that depicted Esus.  
They ate lunch at the Red Fox. Afterwards they questioned the locals about any news in the area. The main topic of gossip was a recent murder. The previous day the body of a murdered gentleman had been found beside his broken-down carriage. He was found by his driver who had returned after walking to Bondy to get help to repair the coach. The driver said that they had been traveling late at night down farm lanes when the coach had broken down. They were met by an attractive dark haired woman who had flirted with his master and had pointed out the way to Bondy to the driver. She had stayed with the master while the driver went for assistance. The gentleman’s body was found at the foot of a post, the sort of post often used to hold a scarecrow. The victim’s heart had been torn out. It seemed to the heroes that the witch had claimed another victim.

Based on the association of several of the previous murders with standing stones and old pagan sites they asked whether there were any in the area, especially in the woods to the northeast. From a garrulous old man they learned that there was an old pagan site in the woods southeast of Nonneville known as the Eyes of Esus that consisted of an usual stone formation in the shape of a huge face. This was near the location the mathematician had predicted for the last point on the pentacle. 

The name of the sight made the connection to the beliefs of the ancient Gauls clear. Signoret quietly told the others some additional information about Esus. In pagan myth, Esus was the husband of Rosmerta and was identified with the Roman god Mercury (Hermes). Also in the ancient Gallic tongue Esus meant Lord or Master. Witches were known to worship Satan and to call him master which further confirmed a Satanic association to the murders.

They waited another hour for Gaston to arrive, they had asked him to meet them here in Bondy and he had said he would come as soon as his duties allowed. They decided to leave word for him at the inn and to spend the rest of the afternoon searching for the Eyes of Esus. They took de Chambré’s coach east along the highway. On either side they saw that the fields were recently planted with crops. Peasants still worked some of the fields. Scattered about were planted the still forms of scarecrows in an attempt to keep the scavengers away from the freshly planted seeds. Here and there trickles of smoke rose from isolated farmhouses and in the distance the smoke was visible from the villages of Bondy and Nonneville.

About a mile from Bondy they found the path that the old man had told them about. It led north to the Forest of Bondy. The path was narrow and rutted and not suitable for de Chambré’s fine carriage. He instructed his driver to park the coach beside the road near the path and to set up the colorful pavilion he had brought as well and to set out the cold supper for their return. The others ordered their servants to assist the driver and then to await their return. The three heroes proceeded on foot up the path to search for the pagan site.

They followed the path north. Once they entered the woods their pace slowed as they took time to follow every game trail or promising detour as they searched for the Eyes of Esus. Extensive logging had reduced the Forest of Bondy to barely a shadow of its former self, but as the heroes went deeper into the woods they could no longer see the fields outside. It became impossible to tell where the woods ended. They reached a place where the path sunk into a small bog. As they circled around the depression they found a clearing with an unusual rock formation shaped like a face half buried in the earth. The stones were unsettling and it was easy to imagine the thousand years of pagan ceremonies that must have taken place here. They had found the Eyes of Esus.
Since it was still light, they decided to explore the path to the north and they followed it to the other side of the wood. Exiting they could see Nonneville to the west. Tired from walking they decided to head for the village to see if they could hire horses to ride back to the coach or if not so they could get a bit of liquid refreshment. They were less than half way to the village when Guy noticed an odd looking small, black cloud. The black cloud moved faster than any other cloud and eerily it seemed to be heading straight for them.

Fabré did not normally lose his temper but trying to erect the Seigneur de Chambré’s outlandishly large, brightly colored pavilion would have been difficult for only three men under normal circumstances, but when one of the three men was Claude it was an unpleasant and severe form of penance. Just as they got the last ropes tied down, he noticed a strange looking black cloud approaching from the south. But when the cloud suddenly changed direction and dove straight for them he realized two things. First it was not a cloud but the largest swarm of birds he had ever seen and second he did not want to trust the hastily erected pavilion as refuge. He started to run for the coach when he noticed Claude standing still staring at the birds. Now that they were closer their noise was overwhelming. Not trusting that Claude would hear him over the noise, nor that if he did he would understand and act, Fabré grabbled him by the arm pulled him towards the coach. They just made it inside before the storm hit. 

The black birds were crows. Vicious, angry crows. They pecked at the horses until the tormented beasts broke their tethers and ran off. The torey holes in the pavilion and they scratched and clawed at the coach. The loud clamor of cawing was enough to drive one made. At first the heavy leather privacy curtains were thick enough to withstand the beaks and claws though it required at least two hands to hold down each curtain to keep it in place. But soon holes appeared where beaks had poked through and then claws tore at the holes to make rents. In another moment the crows would be at them. 

Over the crows’ cacophony they heard the sound of gunfire. As if the sound was a signal the crows ceased their attack though their noise increased. But another volley of gunfire sounded and the sound of the crows receded. Still no one was willing to look or go outside. It was not until Fabré heard a familiar voice ask, “Is there anyone alive in there?” that he opened the curtain.

Late that afternoon Gaston left Paris by the Porte Neuve to rendezvous with the others at the Red Fox Inn. His friends had asked for his assistance and he was determined they should have it. He didn’t not know what they would face, but his friends said previous attacks showed that the witch had allies powerful enough to smash doors and furniture into splinters and to bludgeon men to death. Gaston brought two of his Red Guards, Duval Delsarte and Francis Fontang. Each had been with Gaston on the hunt for the Wolf of Soissons. None were in uniform. Gaston wore his old buffcoat. All three were armed with pistol and sword, including a few silver bullets, and tucked in one saddle bag and wrapped in oilcloth Gaston carried a single grenade, just in case.

At the Red Fox he found that he had missed his friends by several hours, but they had left word that their destination was a place in the forest called the Eyes of Esus which he could reach by following the path that went north from the main road. As he trotted along the highroad, Gaston noticed that the farmland gradually sloped down to the north towards the wetland pastures west of Nonneville. To the south the road to Meux marked the northern boundary of the lands of the Abbey de Livry. To the east and west he saw the remains of the old forest of Bondy in which woodcutters still collected fallen branches in bundles to send to Paris to feed its hungry fireplaces. Tree branches were still half bare after the long winter. They showed only the first few bright green leaves of spring. There was gap between the east and west woods which, at its narrowest, was some two hundred yards in breadth. 

He could see the path a few hundred yards ahead. Parked beside it was a coach and past the coach stood a colorful pavilion. He thought it looked like something out of the tales of Orlando Furioso. Then his attention was attracted to an enormous swarm of crows that dove towards the pavilion. Even from several hundred yards away he could hear the raucous sound of the flock. He noticed several figures running towards the coach. They dove inside just as the flock struck. He didn’t think the coach would be any more shelter than the pavilion. I’ve heard crows are smart enough to avoid hunters with guns. Let’s hope that’s true. “Ready your pistols,” he said calmly. “We’re going to ride down there and scare away a lot of birds. Nothing to it lads. Together at a canter…forward!”

Signoret was the first to realize that the black cloud heading towards them was a huge swarm of crows. The swarm dove on them cawing, clawing, and pecking. Mobbed by dozens of the birds it was impossible even for skilled swordsmen to defend themselves so the heroes ran towards the path and back into the woods in hopes of leaving the crows behind. Their plan succeeded as the crows didn’t follow far beneath the branches. They traveled farther into the woods before they stopped so that Signoret could dress their wounds. Signoret crossed himself and said, “Thank the Lord that none of us lost an eye.”

“And thank the Lord my face was spared too,” de Chambré said. “But I’m afraid I need a new hat and suit. I suggest we all return to my coach for some refreshments.”

The sun began to set as they followed the forest path back south past the clearing. They reached the edge of the forest. Daylight was fading and the smoke from the farmhouses and villages was accompanied by lights twinkling in the gathering dusk. In vain they looked for the Seigneur’s brightly colored pavilion. It was with both confusion and relief that they saw Gaston and two others walking towards them. Guy and Signoret recognized Delsarte and Fontang as two of the survivors of past encounters with the supernatural. Gaston explained that after rescuing their servants from a swarm of attacking crows he had sent the frightened men back to Bondy for safety. Unfortunately the crows had destroyed the feast that de Chambré had ordered his servants to prepare, but Gaston told them that he had saved most of the wine as he pulled several bottles out of a large sack. 

Signoret led them back towards the clearing. The moon was not yet up and beneath the trees it was dark as pitch. They had to use the lanterns they had brought to see the path. Their lanterns were hooded so that they could either hide their light so as not to give their position away or uncover them to see in the darkness. At the Eyes of Esus they spread out in ambush to wait for the witch. 

Beneath the dark branches it was impossible to tell the passage of time with certainty but it seemed like hours before they noticed several figures appear. In front two large figures moved in an awkward, jerky fashion as they led a young girl towards the stone. They were followed by a woman in a dark cloak. Seeing that the young girl, who could have been no more than 12 or 13 years old was bound, de Chambré didn’t wait to act. He leapt out of the bushes to rescue her. As he did the large figures moved to attack. By the light of their lanterns the heroes saw that the large figures were scarecrows whose wooden limbs flexed and creaked to their jerky movements. Their unnatural motion was unsettling and in the darkness, frightening. More scarecrows creaked forward from among the trees. In the darkness it was difficult for the heroes to see their foes. On the other hand the scarecrows seemed to have no such difficulty as they unerringly headed to attack. Worse still the heroes soon found that their pistols and rapiers did little if any damage to their unnatural foes. 

Thinking quickly Guy fashioned a torch from a fallen branch. He yelled at Duval Delsarte who held a lantern to light it, then watched in horror as the brave guard coolly stood his ground as a scarecrow closed on him to light the torch. The torch lit just as Delsarte was crushed by a tremendous blow from one of the scarecrows wooden arms. Guy used his torch to burn the creature. After several strikes he was able to set its head on fire. Blinded or panicked by the flames the ungainly creature blindly lurched across the clearing and crashed into a tree.

Signoret also fashioned a torch which he used to set on fire a second scarecrow while de Chambré was kept busy defending the young girl from the scarecrows’ attacks. Gaston used the grenade he had brought to blow one scarecrow into splinters. Then he switched from his rapier to a large tree branch which he used to batter a scarecrow into wreckage. After igniting the one scarecrow Guy saw a human figure heading deeper into the woods. He followed. He thought it might be the witch and he was determined not to let her escape. Momentarily he saw a shadow of something that looked like a small animal, possibly a cat, but in the darkness he soon lost the figure in the woods.

After the battle the heroes found that they had destroyed five scarecrows. Neither rapiers nor pistols had much effect. Gaston’s improvised club had more effect and fire definitely harmed them, but the most effective weapon had been the grenade. Afterwards Gaston said, “Next time, grenades. And a bigger sword…or maybe even an axe.”

It was well after midnight when they returned to the Red Fox Inn where de Chambré arranged for a room for the rescued farm girl until her family came to fetch her. They brought the body of Gaston’s dead man with them so that he could have a proper burial. Then exhausted by the day’s events they went to sleep.

Chapter 4: Trail of the Witch

The next morning was April the 15th. Gaston rose early. He left Françis Fontang with the body of the dead guard, Duval Delsarte, at the inn in Bondy while he rode alone past Paris to Saint Cloud. He wanted to scout the woods where the Red Brotherhood had set their meeting with the Baron-Saint Giron. He wanted to carefully prepare his apprehension of the Baron. He did not just want to catch Saint-Giron, he wanted to catch the murderer of Monsieur LeDroit and he wanted to destroy the Red Brotherhood. But the first step was to capture Saint-Giron red-handed. Then he could be kept under wraps and questioned while they watched the other members of the Red Brotherhood. Gaston had far to travel that day so he rode Delsarte’s horse while leading his own to keep it fresh. It was over twenty miles to Saint Cloud but he made the journey in just a few hours. 

As he rode he considered how he might discover if Don Martine’s newest second Alvarro Pietro de Santos was the Spanish sword master of the same name. To learn that he decided that he would visit the Scuola d’Agrippa. Named for the Milanese fencing master Camillo Agrippa, author of the 1553 fencing manual Trattato di Scientia d’Arme con un Dialogo di Filosofia, the salle d’armes of the Scuola d’Agrippa was located in the northern part of Paris on the Rue de Saint Martin, opposite the Priory of Saint Martin des Champs. The school was popular among devotees of the Spanish fencing style inspired by Agrippa and many Spanish students at the Université of Paris made the trip across town to study at the scuola. It seemed likely that de Santos would be known to the masters at that school.

Once Gaston reached the forest of Saint Cloud he carefully followed the directions that Guy had obtained from the deciphered note on the Spanish Ambassador’s desk. He reconnoitered the area around the site for the Red Brotherhood’s meeting with the Baron. He checked the sight lines, examined lines of retreat, and noted the presence and density of underbrush and other hiding places as he planned the best locations for his men both to observe the exchange and to effect an arrest. After this he entered Paris from the southwest and returned to the Louvre. 

Gaston ordered his lunch to be sent to his office in the Tour du Bois but before he had a chance to eat, one of his men arrived to tell him that he had visitors. Downstairs Gaston saw that his visitors consisted of Norbert’s servant Mel with a young girl and two children in tow. Mel’s explanations were often confusing and this time was no exception. However he was loyal to Gaston’s cousin so he held his impatience in check as he listened to a confused tale of long travel by public coach. When at last Gaston impatiently demanded to know why Mel was here, the oldest child a girl of about 14 or so stepped forward and held out a letter. It was addressed to him. He opened it and read.[i]

Most esteemed cousin,

I commend Mlle. Lisette and her brother and sister to your protection!

We found them safe at Valence. However, the Mlle. is no longer a child and her beauty and money makes it unsafe for her to stay alone in Valence without a male protector. I am sure you would want to see she was well cared for in Paris. Mlle. is especially concerned that her brother receive some kind of training for a profession. I am sure Mssr. Guy or the Father can help. My greetings to all our dear friends!

By the way, cousin, the evil landlord has not returned and the tavern is abandoned. The gypsies like the spot, though I don’t think they’ll be coming back soon.

By the way, cousin, please see that Mel is taken care of until my return, God willing. He is an excellent servant and bootblack. I’m sure he will be useful to you.

May God bless us all until we are reunited!

Your humble cousin,

Norbert (Thibeault)

By the way, Jacques and Cobweb still live.

By the way, everybody else too.


Gaston shook his head at the unique way his cousin had of expressing himself. He thought, That’s all I need. Three new problems. He glanced at Mel. Make that four problems. If they were soldiers they could stay in the barracks. But that won’t work for Mel much less three kids and two of them girls. To gain some time Gaston told Mel to take the children to his apartments in the Fauxbourg Sainte-Honoré. He gave Mel a note to show to his landlord should any questions be asked as well as a couple of livres to buy lunch and dinner for himself and the three children. He ordered the four of them to wait for him in the apartment. “I will probably be back very late. We will talk later and then I will decide what to do with all of you.”

Later that morning Signoret, Guy, and de Chambré returned to the Eyes of Esus on foot. Signoret circled the clearing and examined the many tracks. He found one set of footprints that he decided corresponded to the cloaked woman. On their arrival to the clearing her tracks were accompanied by several sets of the blocky inhuman prints he had found at several of the murder sites and which he now realized were made by the scarecrows. Then the woman’s tracks headed away from the clearing. He saw where her tracks stopped and where Guy’s tracks showed that he had walked right past her. He also saw a small set of feline footprints. He followed the woman’s tracks. They led in an arc through the woods to a game trail north of the clearing that eventually led back to the main path.

They followed her footprints north out of the woods to where the footprints left the path and entered the stream. On the other side footprints led south back towards the woods but these soon ended at a small patch of rocky ground. No other prints led away from that point. Signoret concluded the trail leading back south was a false one and that the witch had used the stream to conceal her true route. Since she had tried to lead them south, they followed the stream north. Just outside of the village of Coudray the Jesuit found new tracks leading from the stream to a riverside shed where it appeared the witch had rested for the night. Beyond Coudray her trail again disappeared on a country lane heading west towards the Paris-Chantilly highway. Since west was also in the direction of Dugny where they knew the witch had previously stayed at the Wild Grasses Inn, they went to Dugny and asked questions. At the inn they found a carter who told them that a woman matching the witch’s description had hitched a ride outside the village of Blancmesnil. He had dropped her off on the Paris-Chantilly highway where she had said she was heading for Paris. Guy was suspicious of this obvious clue. He decided that most probably she had gone north in the opposite direction. However with no more trail to follow the heroes returned to Paris.

Once he returned to the Jesuit House Father Signoret learned that Brother Philippe had tried to reach him and had left a message that he needed to speak to Signoret immediately. Before going to see Brother Phillipe, Signoret briefed the Provincial Father and Père Noir, his superiors in the Jesuit Order. As the source for much of his information, especially the information given to him by his cousin Guy, he cited an unnamed “trusted spy.” This anonymity was not satisfactory to Père Noir who insisted that he must know the name of the spy to properly assess his information. The Jesuit master of espionage requested that the Provincial Father order Signoret to divulge the identity of his spy. Compelled by his Jesuit oath of obedience, he revealed that the spy was actually his cousin Guy de Bourges. Père Noir, in his role as the Jesuit Spy Master for France, instructed Signoret to infiltrate the Red Brotherhood and to get either the original Step Rocket Plans or a copy for the Jesuit Order. And the Provincial Father heard Signoret’s confession and formally relieved him of the oath he had given to the Red Brotherhood.

Signoret went to see Brother Phillipe. He found the Knight of Malta at the Black Cross Club. Brother Phillipe told Signoret that his participation as a second in a duel against a Spanish noble like Don Martine would cause embarrassment to the Red Brotherhood and in the event that the duel caused the death or injury of Don Martine that could disturb the Brotherhood’s efforts to foster peace between France and Spain. Signoret told Brother Phillipe that he and Gaston Thibeault had fought several duels together. Then he thanked the knight for bringing these complications to his attention. He said that he now understood the issues and would act so as to satisfy his oaths. This left Brother Phillipe with the impression that Signoret intended to withdraw as a second even though the famous dueling Jesuit had no intention of missing a chance for a duel.

After he left the Black Cross Club, Signoret went to see Père Joseph. As he had agreed he briefed the Capuchin on his progress investigating the murders. Then he spent the rest of the day copying notes and performing other clerical tasks. It was late when he returned to the Jesuit Professed House. There he learned of the discovery of new murder. This one also seemed to be connected to the ritual killings. That morning, the body of a farmer and his hired hand were discovered at a farm near the Abbey de Livry. The farmer’s arms had been broken and his skull smashed. The hired hand had died from a massive wound that had torn open his entire chest.

[i] The events leading up to Mel’s arrival are described in the not yet published Volume 10: Swords in Exile: Book I: The Journey South, Chapter 6: “A Pox Upon You.” Previously, Norbert, Jacques, and Cobweb had sent Lisette and her siblings to Paris by public coach. The four departed Valence around April 4. Norbert assigned Mel to accompany them and see that they arrived safely and he wrote a letter of introduction to his cousin, Captain Gaston Thibeault, which he gave to Lisette, commending her to the Captain’s protection. It took them about a week and a half to reach Paris. So they arrived on Monday April 15. Mel has no money. He spent it all along the way. Lisette has 180L, which is what is left of her ‘dowry,’ the money she was given by Gaston, Guy, and Lucien.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Magical Investigations by Martin del Rio

I've introduced witchcraft into my campaign. This has caused the scholarly PCs to consult experts and to want to do some research of their own about witchcraft. One of the aspects of Call of Cthulhu that I like is the occult tomes. So I wanted to replicate a bit of that. I'm also aware that the period in which my campaign is set saw the publication of more than a few books about magic and witchcraft and I wanted to include some of the real books in response to these requests by the players. In a previous post I highlighted Discours des Sorceirs. In this post I highlight Magical Investigations.

Magical Investigations (Latin: Disquisitiones Magicae) by the Jesuit Martin del Rio, a six book work on magic, superstition, and witchcraft which first appeared in three volumes published in Leuven in 1599 and 1600 by Gerard Rivius. In 1624 version in six volumes was published under the name Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex. The work contains many ideas of the Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of the Female Witches", 1486) as well as de Rio’s experience as a young magistrate and colleague of Nicolas Remy, the famous magistrate and hunter of witches. Delrio also drew on histories of other countries and continents, as well as Jesuit reports from the New World. Delrio also drew on histories of other countries and continents, as well as Jesuit reports from the New World. The work associates witchcraft with both heresy and the Devil. A French translation was published in 1611. Among other things the text explains that Witches can render themselves invisible with the help of the Devil. 

The French National Library hosts an online version of Disquisitiones Magicae.

Here are a couple of previous postings for books on witchcraft: Discours des Sorceirs and the Malleus Mallificarum. And for the book collectors, here's a posting on the cost of books in the period.