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I have assembled a team to track down the dastard who stole “Bourbon,” the Royal Pay-box, and several batteries of your finest cannon. The stealth of the taciturn Mal-de-Merd-a-din, the might of the “Killer of Kit Marlowe,” Major Chip Wildemoon, and the tactical mind of the valorous Major Jasc Bonadventure should be of great help on this quest to avenge the slight to my own honor and the insult to France. Gaspard Oceane has volunteered to assist, as well. While (from Lord Baileigh’s accounts) he is sullen and inconstant in battle, it is my hope that young “One Shoe,” will find a sense of camaraderie and grow into the potential Lord Baileigh feels he has.
Initial reports indicated that Bourbon had been sailed to Noire, and so we set out overland in a fine coach. Early in the voyage we found ourselves accosted by a Highwayman. Wildemoon was driving and the scalawag tried to pull Wildemoon down and use him as a shield or hostage. Wildemoon spun free and Bonadventure brought the encounter to a close by shooting into the dirt by the villain’s feet, then shooting his pistol from his hand.
I interrogated the scalawag. He claimed to be working for the Fasci Friars and…Marco DaVinci! There was a time, years ago, when you had DaVinci captured (during the quest for the “Pineapple People”). Would that you had slain the man rather than kept him captive! As Lord Baileigh incorrectly wrote at the time, “Leaving DaVinci alive can surely, never, in any way, come back to haunt us.”
We continued on to Noire. As we travelled it became clear we were being followed by several masked riders. Their mounts were fine Lippizano stallions - the finest war-horses of Ansbach - while our carriage horses were sturdy beasts bred for endurance, not speed. It was clear we would never catch the men, but, if they were to attack, we were ready to make them pay for their temerity.
In Noire we found neither Bourbon, nor her cannon. We did meet Thomas, the Apothecary of the Court of France. Thomas indicated that the craftsmen of you factories had developed an enhanced gunpowder mixture, but that the completed stores had been stolen. Thomas shared other rumors: The English might have been involved in the theft, and the Spanish had unloaded a shipment of new cannon in Turin which were being moved to “Gemini East,” Merida Castle. Ill news, indeed, for the Merida and Westshire, the “Gemini Fortresses,” have never been breached or sacked since they were constructed during the Roman times. At least the Spanish commander is rumored to oft be in his cups. If his lack of discipline trickles down to his troops it can but help us.
We decided to cross the forest south and east to the Spanish border and try to intercept the cannon before they reached Merida. We came into possession of some priestly robes. Wildemoon’s was riddled with bullet holes and all our robes had bloodstains, yet, few dare to look too closely at men of the Church, and so, the disguises should be adequate.
Yet we shortly found ourselves engaged by the fortress on the border between France and Spain. The would-be battle was over in mere seconds.
Francois, you often scoff at the archaic longbow and question the need for outdated weapons in this age of flintlock and lead. If you had witnessed the speed and ease with which Bonadventure rose in his saddle and placed an arrow in the eye of the attacking commander, perhaps you would be less scornful. I now see why some call the Major “William Tell!”
We continued towards Merida. The weather turned foul and once our coach was mired in mud. Fortunately my command of the Spanish tongue was sufficient to convince a local Spanish Lord to send a retinue to unmire us. Next, we found ourselves accosted by a band of thieves. They were miserable in the wet and demanded food and supplies. We had decided to release the coach and continue via barge when we came to the river, and so, we gave the thieves the food and sundries they demanded…. The rabble weren’t worth the effort it would take to fight them.
When we reached the river’s banks an encampment of bedraggled Spanish constables warned us about the very thieves we had recently paid off. Timing is everything.
Aboard the barge was another grouping of monks from the Fasci order. This group were those assigned by their Church to this area of Spain, and they demanded to know why we were “off our route.” We informed them we were running messages from Tours to Merida on behalf of the Bishop still in conclave in Tours. When His Excellence, good old “One Punch” Percy set that conclave in motion so long before, do you think he understood exactly how long it would take for bureaucrats of the Churches to come to agreement? I am a Godly man but have seen to many within the Church who are but pretenders.…
Still, there are pretenders to the Faith who are more Christian than the most outwardly pious priest or monk. Our barge had stopped for the night and, while the true Fasci Friars immediately checked into an Inn, nevermore to be seen (for they rode off the next morning while we re-boarded the barge), “Brother Bonaventura” openly prayed in the village square and even took Confession from the Gypsies. A local Constable objected to sharing the Holy Rite with the “dirty Romanii.” Bonadventure objected to the Constable’s poor manners and knocked the man out. The Gypsy Prince lauded Bonadventure for his actions, while Gaspard dubbed the man “Brother Buccaneer.” Bonadventure is normally one for celebration, but that night he just quietly said “God’s Love reaches all,” and returned to prayer.
Aboard the barge the following day we encountered chains laid across the river at one of the fords. It seemed the local authorities were unhappy with the Fasci Friars as members of the order had been seen to strike down a Constable after consorting with Romanii, and we were those Friars. Attacked unawares by some twenty soldiers, our first actions were scattered and ineffective. We rallied quickly and shot the men down. Each of us shot three of the foe except for Merd-a-Din and Bonadventure. Bonadventure slew four, Merd-a-din, seven. While the rest of us removed the chains from the waters, Bonadventure searched the soldiers. The papers he found indicated wagons of cloth-wrapped unlimbered cannon pulled by Lippezano stallions had passed through. It seems a shame to reduce the swift warhorses to mere cart drays. The Spanish were in a hurry. Bonadventure was certain he’d figured out a way to get ahead of our quarry.
Farther down the river we came across a French Garrison. Those good men took our disguises in stride and, when they discovered we were Vert Valliant (I did not disclose myself as Admiral) disclosed to us that they had recently taken a captive. The prisoner had been driving a cart filled with paper-machie casts of pottery and mortars. Fake artillery? Unknown. The soldiers had “made a broth” from the materiel.
The prisoner, Hom Données, showed us a pea-green felt heart sewn inside his sleeve and claimed to be a Vert Valliant veteran of Gardener’s Field. I did not recognize the man, but, we went into battle with fifteen companies that day in Salerno, and there are hundreds of true Vert Valliant I do not know. Données told us the cannon we sought would not be found in Merida Castle. We could not take the man’s word at face value, and so, we chose to infiltrate Merida as planned.
We swore the garrison to secrecy regarding our identities and went on our way. The soldiers of the river garrison, ironically, were too effective in hiding our secret. Those men spread rumors about Spanish Fasci Friars causing trouble in the river-lands, and the stories were so effective French forces were seeking us with the intent to arrest as Spanish spies or collaborators!
Fortunately, since we were along the south-eastern border where France, Spain and England meet, no French troops crossed our path.
We entered Merida through the sewers (“At least it’s dry!” Merd-a-din observed) and came up in the dungeons near the foundation wall. Of the first two guards we encountered, Merd-a-din rendered one unconscious with a wrestling hold while Gaspard knocked the other into oblivion with a single hilt-punch.
We crossed through catacombs and a basement-level gun-port when we glimpsed a cowled dark figure. A spy? Unknown. And observer who could sound an alarm? Assuredly. Bonadventure and Wildemoon were our hunters and trackers. We followed the figure’s trail through a maze of secret passages past vast halls, more empty gun-ports and into the office of the Spanish Colonel! Within we found papers detailing the sale of a few dozen cannon to the English, sealed with the crest of the Admiral of France, but signed “Jaques DaVinci!” The Spanish are either fools or complicit in some larger scheme to accept the papers. The bold DaVinci didn’t even bother to forge my signature!
Jaques DaVinci? Marshal Duclos, it is likely that this is a relative - even the son - of Marco DaVinci. That hoary old rogue Marco…his loins are fruitful, indeed. His spawn seem to be scattered across the seven seas.
The mysterious figure or spy had surely gotten away while we searched the office. It mattered little. We had verified Données’ information. The cannon were not in Merida, and so, we skulked out via the same secret passages we had entered.
To cross into England we needed to swim the deep river. Bonadventure led us in prayer before the crossing. Did we tarry too long? Perhaps. We found ourselves spotted by English, Spanish and French patrols along the banks. I quickly crossed and hid myself. Wildemoon was pushed by the current to the location of the French troops. He identified himself and his mission and was aided across the river by one of the French soldiers, Antoinne le Poète. Antoinne stayed with Wildemoon thereafter. Gaspard crossed the river, but had been washed up next to the English troops and was apprehended. All three groups of soldiers began shouting threats and imprecations at one another across the river, and Bonadventure and Merd-a-din took advantage of the distraction to cross unhindered. Merd-a-din even managed to swash-buckle along a ridge-line and free Gaspard while the soldiers of different nations wasted their breath in vain posturing.
“Gemini East,” Westshire Castle should have had the same interior layout as Merida, and so, should have been easy to infiltrate. Bonadventure used his sapper’s skills to bring us under the foundation wall into a twin of the same basement gun-port where we’d found the first secret passage in Merida. The passage could not be found. Whether the interior layouts of the twin fortresses were not quite identical, or whether the Westshire passage had been blocked over the centuries was of no import. We were going to have to venture through the main passages of the castle.
In the Lower Main Hall the first fortress guards were knocked unconscious with little effort. In the adjoining gun-port we found what we thought might have been our quarry. The mounted cannon were of French make. Alas, the engravings showed the cannon to be quite old, and not one from your factories, Francois. Wildemoon still spiked the cannon so it would misfire in battle.
We continued through the halls to the north and discovered the powder magazine with some forty guards! Eagerly, Gaspard Oceane charged forth. Just as eagerly, Gaspard Oceane retreated. One could laugh, but Gaspard’s hasty attack and panicked fire in his blind retreat slew some fifteen of the English. Wildemoon charged around the opposite side of the magazine and, like Gaspard, decided to engage in Better Valor. While Gaspard seems lucky in his rash actions, the Killer of Kit Marlowe requires focus to effectively use his skills. Wildemoon slew a “mere” three. Still, nearly half of the guards had been dispatched and the guards were still in disarray. Bonadventure strode in, giving and English call-sign he knew. The disorganized guards were just starting to form up on Bonadventure when he proved his marksmanship as sound with a pistol as with a bow. He shot the English Major in the face. The remaining guards panicked and routed.
The powder magazine was nearly depleted. Had stores been moved elsewhere, or was the fortress low on supplies? It would seem unlikely one would purchase new French cannon and place them in a depleted fortress. There was little time for debate, for the routed guards would have to eventually sound an alarm. We replenished our personal stocks from the scant powder magazine, debated and discarded the idea of detonating the meager store and continued on.
My mental map of Merida was detailed enough where I was confident we could quickly find the English Colonel’s office. We crossed though Hall and hallway, working west, then south towards where the office should have been. A barracks disgorged seven English as we traversed a cramped hallway. We were caught by surprise by the attack and, in close quarters, our pistols would be difficult to bring to bear. The first moments were spent avoiding baneful attacks: Merd-a-din was almost tackled about the legs, Gaspard was tackled about the legs, but managed to kick himself free in his fear. I grabbed an unlit torch from a sconce and laid about, keeping foes at bay. Bonadventure tried to draw his sword but was slowed by an English soldier who grabbed his sword-arm. Bonadventure was the stronger and the Englishman dodged back as Bonadventure’s sword rang clear of its scabbard. One of the English dropped from a balcony above. Wildemoon redirected the man’s flight with a peculiar throw similar to one I’d seen in far-off Japan. Merd-a-din tripped up one soldier with his belt. The man crashed to the floor and stayed down. Wildemoon recklessly leapt over the fallen foe, arms swinging with blows that would have made His Excellency, “One Punch” Percy proud! Wildemoon’s fists struck six times, and six English fell on their faces.
We pressed on towards our quarry. Cavalry guards lounged in an antechamber. Cavalry without horse? Bonadventure mocked them. His jibes inspired us all, and the horseless cavalry were quickly trampled. Bonadventure intended one final taunt - to toss a doubloon on the Cavalry leader with a quip about buying a horse - when he discovered to his chagrin that his purse had been lost somewhere in the castle. Money comes and goes, and I suspect Bonadventure was more annoyed as the loss of a good quip than the loss of coinage.
Before us was the door to what should have been the Colonel’s office. We entered. Our instincts were sound, for, indeed, it was the room we sought. The three armed Fasci Friars within were an unpleasant surprise.
For the third time in this letter I invoke His Excellence, “One-Punch” Percy. The Ambassador serves as a reminder that a man of God is not always a man of peace and that the most devout man might still be a killer. Three monks against five soldiers? We were overconfident. Merd-a-din’s initial hilt punch was blocked with an open hand. I was almost taken down with a swift leg lock! Gaspard charged like a battering ram. He barged through the Fasci and out the other door! Bonadventure collided with a cutlass wielding monk and came within a hair’s breadth of being skewered!
Wildemoon’s voice thundered out, announcing himself as the Killer of Kit Marlowe, and one of the Fasci threw down his sword. Merd-a-din surged forward. One of the two remaining monks cried “Focus on their leader!” and Merd-a-din was beaten back. I lunged in with a series of quick blows, but was off-centered. My blade twisted in my grasp and I backed up to re-set my grip, and stumbled over the dropped sword of the surrendered monk. One of the remaining monks thrust at me. Wildemoon caught the incoming blade with his hand-guard and twisted. The blade snapped, it’s wielder sank to his knees in surrender. Bonadventure had clambered back into the hallway where he stayed - “…to not get in anyone’s way…,” he said later - and so he perhaps had the best view of the strangest thing that has occurred in years….
Merd-a-din, a terse man at the best of times, downright grim at others attempted to distract the final Friar with japes and jests while backing away. The action was so unexpected from the brooding and antisocial warrior that Bonadventure and I were as taken aback as the Fasci. Only Wildemoon (a man almost as humorless as Merd-a-din) was unaffected. He lunged forth and slew the final Fasci where he stood. The two who had surrendered previously rather meekly allowed themselves to be bound and gagged.
We ransacked the English Colonel’s office and retreated from Westshire before our wellspring of luck ran dry and a full alert was called. We crossed back into France to peruse our takings. Amongst the routine papers we found an item of particular interest: A report signed by the notorious Olaf Porse of Kleef.
The report seemed to have been intercepted (the address was smudged) Porse theorized that the English and Spanish were victims of varied ruses. England may be trying to coerce Spain into declaring War of France. The theft of Bourbon might be a small part of an elaborate ruse. Were the Fasci Friars involved? Could those behind the scheme be from Ansbach? Certainly whoever is behind the deception has fine Lippizano stallions! The Genoans have a dislike for France and for myself in particular. The foul DaVinci family could be manipulating events. Perhaps it’s Prince Mikel of Russia?
There are two more points I wish to address with you. Firstly, can you verify if Thomas the Apothecary is still in Court? Antoinne le Poète claimed to have only just arrived at the border from Paris and that the Apothecary was in Court upon his departure, yet we travelled with someone claiming to be the Apothecary! Finally, are you aware of any work being done in your own factories with new mixtures of gunpowder? We tested the stores we took from Westshire and they seem to be the standard mixture.
Mysteries abound. There are many factions which stand to gain if Spain went to war with France. We must be vigilant, my friend, and work to discover the unseen puppet masters.
Leon Leonard L'eonce
Great write up. -- Bruce Van Buskirk (posted: 12/27/2018)
Rusty's Rolls were amazing ... a thing to behold .... -- Iron Bonadventure (posted: 12/27/2018)
Vagaries of Fate -- Mike Myke Mique (posted: 12/29/2018)
Thomas has an Alibi, not a double -- red (posted: 12/29/2018)
What Mission Number was this? -- Iron Bonadventure (posted: 12/30/2018)
Twas Mission 27 -- red (posted: 12/30/2018)