Vox Populi Forum
Star Horizon had just completed a delivery to Paris, and I was enjoying a chance to catch up with and share a drink with my comrade, Nemo Moridin. Nemo had traveled for a time with members of the storied “Vert Valliant,” and proudly displayed the green sash he had been awarded by that august company. The years had been rougher on my friend than to myself. The fresh-faced lad I had met years before had aged into a grizzled, scarred veteran, with a peg-leg. Nemo had lost his leg during the invasion of Nantes by the Russian Army. Our compatriot, Enzo Gabin, lost his life in that same battle. We had just toasted Gabin when we were joined by two more of Nemo’s associates, Jasc Bonadventure (who also wore the green) and Timeo Lylou, a Serbian sailor.
Jasc and Timeo were discussing a recent Royal Proclamation. I mistakenly thought the discussion centered on the recent escape of the infamous Marco DaVinchy from the Bastille. In truth, they were interested in the two thousand gold florin reward for the capture of the notorious Reformist, Ben Jonson for the murder of Lady Giselle David. They seemed amused and, when made aware of the decree, Nemo snorted into his ale. The three stepped aside for a short discussion, then returned. Quietly I was informed that the criminal, Jonson, had been taken into exile in the far-off land of Burma by these very three on a mission with the Valliant! Pretenders and false witnesses had already spoken with the authorities but Nemo, Jasc and Timeo knew Jonson’s current appearance and whereabouts, had and decided to try for the reward themselves. While the job was distasteful, TImeo and Jasc knew that the true reward for Jonson was more than the already substantial sum listed! I was offered a full share of the reward for my aid and the use of my speedy caravel. I agreed, with the naive assumption we would procure the real Ben Jonson from Burma then hand him over to the French Courts. Timeo laughed and noted that in the months the journey would take, surely one of the false Jonsons would have been hung, and even that assumed we would be able to retrieve Jonson from his current situation. Nemo and Jasc assured me that, given the circumstances, Jonson might actually welcome an honest hanging, but refused to elaborate on what horrors the three assumed Jonson faced.
I agreed to join the trio. Our goal was to deliver a speaker of French, who would confess to Reformist views. The false Jonson would also need to be green-eyed, of Scots heritage, and his back needed to be free of lash scars.
I left orders with Star Horizon’s mate, and the four of us set out over-land to Nice. The first day’s travel was routine, if not quiet. Jasc had discovered a book about the adventures of a masked prisoner. Jasc regaled us on the road with long passages from the text, which described in rather gruesome detail methods of escaping from one’s enemies.
Perhaps the lessons to be found in Jasc’s book were imparted at the right time! That evening, as we supped and drank in a fine Inn, we found ourselves attacked by the Grognard followers of the heretical Reformists. I can only assumed the Grognard recognized my companions, but Nemo barely escaped being knocked out when the butt of a pistol was suddenly swung into the back of his head. I pushed back from the table just in time to block an incoming cutlass swing while Jasc parried a different attack. Timeo drew his blade and cut down three of the attackers with a burst of Heroic Swordplay while Nemo found his blade locked with that of the final assailant. Nemo kicked free and slashed the Grognard down.
It seemed as if TImeo were the target of the Grognards. We removed ourselves to another inn where Timeo, Nemo and Jasc retired to their rooms. I was still wide awake and continued drinking and flirting deep into the night. Ale flowed and the inn;s patrons talked at length about the rumors that the Serbs were recruiting soldiers to battle in the Infidel Fatimah. Others claimed said invasion had already occurred and that a full third of the Serbian Army had fallen in battle. Other rumors swirled that the Fatimah planned to invade Serbia. I filed away these unimportant speculations as of interest to Timeo. The wenches I sat on my knees had vastly more interesting gossip - for the ladies had heard that Ben Jonson had stowed away on a ship and run off to Burma!
I reluctantly disengaged myself from the charms of the ladies and woke my companions. If it were generally believed that Jonson had escaped to Burma, what might this do to the offered reward? The debate had barely begun when the doors crashed open, and a party of musket-armed Grognards poured into the bar. The locals must have been sympathetic to the Grognard cause, for the patrons flowed away like mist in sunlight. Timeo and I split one way, Jasc and Nemo the other. Unfortunately our actions were not coordinated well. TImeo found himself fighting the Grognard leader’s firearms with pewter mugs, as Nemo found himself alone, wildly ducking and dodging to avoid injury. Jasc threw a smoke grenade. As the smoke filled the bar I cried out, “They’re running out the back!” The clumsy diversion worked well enough for me to knock out the confused Grognard leader.
The four of us decided to return to Paris to asses the situation. Word on the street revealed the rumors of Jonson’s escape to Burma, while widely spread, were not widely believed. None of the false Jonsons had been accepted as the true criminal, and so, we decided to return to Nice. Updated orders were delivered to Star Horizon (This time, we had her meet us in Nice rather than remain in Paris), and, once more, we set forth.
Our second excursion managed to avoid further incident along the rod to or in the town of Nice. We spoke with local authorities, and were informed by the Warden that there had been a prisoner who matched the description of Ben Jonson well enough - but the unfortunate had been burned at the stake for heresy the prior week.
Our next attempt was made in the Montpelier Valley. We rode in, and encountered a hunting party led by a local Baron. The party had a disagreement among themselves, and Jasc was the one to settle the bet. The contest was over the ability of a man to his a target a hand’s breath across with an arrow from fifty paces while standing atop the saddle of a walking horse. Jasc immediately stood tall atop his mount and put not one, but three arrows into the target. The Baron and his men must have been quite impressed, for, in the Village of Montpelier, Jasc was greeted with shouts of “William Tell! William Tell!”
At a local tavern, Nemo and Timeo dined while jasc enjoyed the drinks purchased for him by the locals as I stepped out back with one of the bar wenches to thoroughly inspect her ample storehouse. Satisfied with the available morsels, I rejoined the group at dinner. We five were laughing, the lady on my knee, when I found myself confronted by an angry, even jealous man. The wench was pleading with with “Rodian” to calm down, when the man drew his sword and threatened to break my nose with his hand-guard. I smiled at the greedy Rodian while cocking a pistol. I fired into the man’s knee from under the table, dragged the screaming lout unceremoniously to the gutter and gave the bar manager a gold for the trouble and well as a gold to the wench for her time and in apology the fight.
I can only assume the jealous suitor had friends among the local troublemakers. Again our evening was disturbed by an assault by Grognards. Again, Grognards with guns entered. This time their aim was effective. The first shot was towards the ceiling to attract our attention. Nemo barely managed to avoid the lantern that fell from the rope severed by the bullet. Timeo fell with shot in his shoulder. Jasc dropped low and managed to slip, unnoticed, out the back. Yet my earlier dealings with the lovely waitress proved time better spent than I had initially assumed. The inn’s wenches interposed themselves between us and the Grognards, and scolded the heretics. This provided the time for Nemo to revive Timeo and for the two to make their escape. One kiss later, I joined my compatriots on the road.
Again, we found ourselves in alternate lodgings. We had previously chosen inns located in seedier sections of the city under the assumption we would be harder to find surrounded by ruffians. This time we relocated to a nicer part of the city. We took rooms in an inn frequented by merchants, bankers and even minor local Nobility. We, in our ruder garments and jangling weapons, certainly stood out amid moderate finery. Yet those with money and power are far less likely to use their fists and blades to repay every real or imagined slight. When Nemo accidentally jogged another man’s arm and spilled his drink the issue was settled with a mere apology, not an exchange of blows. When Timeo thought another man called him a “slob,” the other man corrected Timeo, saying he was (correctly) referring to him as a “Slav.” In a truly strange turn of events, it turned out the man Timeo was drinking with was one of his cousins! I left Nemo and TImeo drinking with their new friends, Jasc with his nose in his book, and engaged in a spirited polemic and rebuttal on the relative virtues of the ladies working in a fine inn against a low tavern.
I returned to find friends, old and new, drunkenly celebrating the “adoption of the prodigal.” Timeo’s drinking companion turned out to be one of the local Lords, out on a “lad’s night.” Events had moved beyond mere co-incidence and into providence - for Nemo’s new partner was a local Justice! I missed whatever discussion and celebration had occurred and arrived mere moments after the papers had been drawn and signed. Timeo was now the adopted son of the Lord! “Lord Slob?” Timeo joked, “Better than Lord Fop the Chronicler!”
We then found ourselves as guests in the Lord’s Manor. Events moved quickly, and Timeo found himself engaged to the daughter of a Parisian Lord in short order. From there we found ourselves in Paris attending Lord Timeo’s wedding! Timeo suffered the ceremony with a smile on his face, but it was debatable if his pale aspect was due to joy, shock, or related to his wounds.
While Timeo took a couple of days on honey-moon with the woman he had just met and married, Jasc, Nemo and myself discussed our plans. The Assize reward had yet to be claimed, and so, we decided we would once again return to Montpelier as soon as Timeo returned from wherever he and his bride had gone to acquaint themselves.
Given the repeated difficulties we had encountered on the highways, I proposed we use my speedy Star Horizon. It was agreed on, and so we set sail around the coast and up river in the sleekest caravel in all France.
Despite our hopes to travel un-noticed, we found ourselves attacked on the water! The growing influence of these Grognards is becoming a danger to all Godly folk, and an increasing danger to the land! On open ocean, Star Horizon would have left the attackers behind. Confined by the river’s banks the best move was to meet the assault head on! Star Caravel dodged fire and drew alongside the Grognard barge. Jasc was first across, Nemo found himself pinned by a body falling from the rigging. The same body almost struck me as well, and I stopped to help disentangle Nemo from the unconscious sailor. Meanwhile, Lord Timeo swung across to the Grognard Barge with a ululating battle cry and sharp cracks from his hand-guard breaking nose and skull of our foe. Jasc quickly cut down the opponent’s flag and tossed their colors to the deck. The demoralized barge’s crew and troops surrendered. We informed the barge’s crew that their boat wasn’t worth either keeping, sinking or burning, and they could consider themselves lucky we had not time nor inclination to see themselves slain or imprisoned. They were warned that the next time we would most likely show less mercy, the, contemptuously, returned to Star Horizon and continued to Montpelier.
In Montpelier we discovered the prisoners had been transferring from the local jail to Noire. Vichy was closer so it was agreed that we’d try our luck in Vichy before Noire. The river route to Vichy was calm and uneventful, with the most excitement being Jasc deciding to swim in the river! All good sailors, of necessity, can swim, but Jasc Bonadventure is the first man I’ve met who claims swimming as recreation.
The prisons in Vichy had one man who fit our requirements: over 50, green eyed, Scots, and free of lash scars. The elderly man claimed to have been an actor, forced from his craft by a jealous Rival, recently convicted of false charges, now doomed to live his twilight years in solitude. As the man was an actor we, perhaps rashly, told him our intentions. The actor laughed and called our deception the “role of a lifetime,” and decreed he would be “proud to die as ‘Ben Jonson!’ Better to die, renowned, quickly in the hangman’s noose than to rot, alone, in obscurity.”
The actor returned with us to Star Horizon, and we set our bow down-river to return to Paris. It was already questionable of us to attempt to defraud the Courts, but, if we provided them a false Jonson who was a condemned prisoner, then we at least would have handed over a guilty man. To have an actor volunteer for death for false fame seemed wrong to me, but I forged the papers we would need to present out false Jonson as a transferred man from the jails of Vichy.
Our return to Paris was unremarkable except for the sheer amount of food consumed by the actor. The man was a glutton who consumed enough stores Star Horizon’s crew claimed they were starving from being forced to eat nothing by the glutton’s pitiful leftovers.
On out arrival in Paris the status of Lord Timeo made it easier for us to present our “Jonson” to the Assize, which had been dealing with a constant stream of pretenders and false leads. At first it seemed we, too, would simply be turned away, yet TImeo was minor Nobility and the master-of-arms for the Assize Court recognized the sashes of the the Vert Valliant worn by Jasc and Nemo. We were ushered into closed session where we were informed that the Assize did not truly want to hang Ben Jonson. His execution would be seen as a means to either thwart or encourage the heretic Grognards, and the Assize would rather ignore the issue than acknowledge the existence of the heretics.
Lord Timeo sought an audience with the local Priests. They stated “Jonson” would have to be tried in full, open court for any justice to be done and any reward acknowledged. The trial was being arranged, when Jasc almost found himself arrested for expressing his righteous views on the situation (telling the upper classes the truth, when the truth isn’t what they wish to hear is a poor choice). Nemo Moridin, to my surprise, has been a Lord this entire time! He was known to the court and warned that if he didn’t let the matter drop he would be stripped of his title and Estate. I was informed that I could demand “Trial by Combat” as “Champion for the Accused.” I was reluctant to begin this mission, more uncomfortable at the thought of an innocent being executed, and unwilling to fight under false circumstances for a stranger. I withdrew myself from the proceedings.
Lord Timeo brought the actor in to be turned over to the Assize before we finally washed our hands of the entire ordeal. Yet the actor was a face known to the Justice. The actor was revealed to be the scandalous fugitive, Marco DaVincy! DaVinch had somehow picked the locks of his shackles, saw an opportunity for escape and took it! DaVincy moved like a Swashbuckling pyrate of half his years!
The court irrupted into chaos. Lawyers and judges were removed to safety by bailiffs, while constables quartered the courthouse seeking the fugitive. Some of the officers must have had ties to or allegiance to the notorious criminal. Fighting broke out in the building. Jasc and I, with Lords Timeo and Nemo, were merely attempting to escape the running gun battle. We were nearing the main entrance when Lord Timeo wheeled. Something had caught his attention from the wrong location at the wrong time, for the dastardly DaVincy swung from on high on a chandelier rope. As he passed nearby his Cutlass flashed out and sliced through Lord Timeo’s throat. The man died, gurgling….
And now, as I look down on the body of Lord Timeo Lylou I feel the bloodlust and anger welling up. What could possess a man like DaVincy to escape from the most secure prison in France to deliberately place himself into the hands of the authorities? DaVincy was already free. Why place himself in a position to have to escape from a captivity he didn’t have to be in? Is it pride? Hubris? Ego? A desire for fame? A desire to discredit the King? Why in the name of all that is unholy did DaVincy need to murder a man like Lord Timeo? All this and more flashes through my mind in a mere instant as I raise my eyes to meet those of the smirking DaVincy. I dodge his slashing blade as his other hand opens. DaVincy sneers, “don’t think I’ve forgotten you men,” then a crash as the chandelier falls, shattering over Lord Timeo’s body. The smell of blood fills the room and the final scream of Lord Timeo echoes in the air. DaVincy vanishes in the cloud of dust and glass.
Jasc, Lord Nemo and I must do the same. There are cries of “DaVincy!,” “For Jonson!” and “For the King!” interspersed with the roars of gunfire and the clashing of blades. The three of us will have to cross this riotous gun battle and, somehow, exploit our way back to Star Horizon. Assuming we survive the riot and whatever evil DaVincy’s sick mind has devised, then, instead of a split of two-thousand gold florins, our final reward for this mistake of a mission will be to venture to the Estate where Lord Timeo’s new young wife awaits and tell he that her husband will never return home.
Today is a tragedy.
Hugo Marque Lamarr (Mike)