Vox Populi Forum
My friend, I hope this missive reaches you post haste. For the moment, I believe it might be imperative for you to delay your ongoing searches for the missing Bourbon and evidence of foreign intrigues and return to Paris by the most expedient route. The unthinkable has occurred, and His Royal Highness, Maxime Capetian, has been slain by an assassin.
As you requested, I had travelled from my estates near Marseilles to Paris to further investigate into the identities of the Spanish and Carpathian agents suspected to have infiltrated the Court. I reached out to members of the Vert Valliant, and convened with Viceroy Moridin, Alain Gignot, Louis Brighteyes and Mathys Volette. Lord Bonadventure was to arrive later, but was represented by his agent, Birmingham Brown. The Viceroy had brought his young cousin, Le Meradin, as an aide, along with Rolfe D’Ambray and Manfridus Montague. D’Ambray is known to you, D’Ambray vouched for Montague.
Other members, “Sons” and “Friends” of the Valliant had kept their ears open for rumors and intelligence. First came the discovery of purchases of small arms, written in Latin under the seal of the Papacy? Who could the Church be arming? The question would have to wait.
For next we learned that the disruptive elements in France planned to slay the King at his Anniversary Ball. Ironically, the Queen, Herself, would not attend as she had retired to Château de Fontainebleau near Marseilles in the hopes the fresh sea air might alleviate the cough of the infant Princess Maria. To my surprise, it transpired that Chip, now Lord, Wildemoon was freshly betrothed to the Princess, and the feared Killer of Kit Marlowe had joined the Royal retinue at the Château!
Perhaps we should have attempted to warn the King directly, but we knew not which members of the Conseil d'en haut, Conseil des dépêches, or Conseil de Conscience could be trusted, and the King, Himself, was quite volatile. Thus, our assembly took it upon ourselves to safeguard the King.
Viceroy Moridin and D’Ambray went to scour the streets for for information, while the rest of us engaged in the first order of business - gain entrance to the Court and obtain invitations to the Ball. I purchased fine garments for the more disreputable-looking of our associates, and, together, we found ourselves shown into a meeting of the Conseil d'en haut.
Confessor Quinten, Clown Theo, Raphael Dowager, Anne’s Companion, Charles Queel, the deadliest man in France, Chancellor Charles, Chamberlain Antoine and Ecclesiastic Prince Clement attended King Maxime at lunch in the very ballroom the Ball would take place in that evening while they idly discussed the dull business of governance. Dowager and Queel were most at ease with His Highness, while the Chancellor and Prince Clement seemed in mild disfavor. The usual retinues of minor nobles, servants and sycophants dotted the room. We attempted to blend in, engage the Court in conversation and try to determine who could, or could not be trusted.
Our early efforts met with mixed successes. While Brighteyes did manage to impress the Conseil with his knowledge of events, the uncouth Birmingham Brown started moving the room’s furniture around to improve sight-lines. This was not appreciated by the Court, and I personally escorted him from the room (with a wink), and proceeded to “put everything back,” while, more subtly, finishing Brown’s work. Meradin found himself speechless before the august assembly. Montague, meantime, somehow managed to avoid expulsion, even after he engaged in a minor shoving match with an attendant. Mathys Violette, meanwhile, found himself recognized, and scorned, by Lord Queel. He was removed from the room to laughter and mocking: “Back to the stables with you! Your smell is familiar there!”
I found myself petitioning - bribing, even -the Court to allow my companions to return for the evening’s festivities. At least Alain Gignot made progress on our chosen task. Gignot spoke with one of the Fasci Friars. The young brother was able to confirm there was, indeed, a plot against King Maxime, although he was unable to provide particulars. The monk expressed regret over the foul collusion, and vowed to report any findings he might uncover.
We returned later for the banquet before the ball. The serious nature of the situation had gnawed upon me for hours, and I knew that, despite temptation to display better valor, no such recourse could be used. My duty was clear. I was seated near Chamberlain Antoine, who, of all things, reprimanded me over my famed performances of Marlowe’s infamous play, “Life of Samuel.” Our debate over humanist viewpoints began in heated words and ended in camaraderie. I was confident enough to bring the Chamberlain into confidence. The Chamberlain was most certainly not the assassin.
Others of our faction fared less well at the banquet. Brighteyes almost came to blows with his seatmate, with only the laughter when he slipped as he rose from his chair and thudded hard down gave him enough pause to rein in his temper. Birmingham actually chased the King’s Own Taster from the room - perhaps he feared poison? Meradin’s discussions grew so heated a large tapestry was pulled from the wall. By a stroke of fortune the King was more amused by the sight of diners yelping and extracting themselves from the clinging fabric than angered by the disruption and damaged.
The King was, after all, still a beardless boy.
As the banquet wound down and the assorted nobles and supplicants left for their final preparations for the ball we conspirators huddled together for one last strategy session. Brown, Montague and Meradin had assumed the ball would be much like any peasant celebration, and were taken aback to realize that the faces and figures of the attendees were to be concealed. None had attended a bal masqué before. The etiquette of the dance would require discrimination in efforts to successfully uncover the identities of the individual dancers, and to surreptitiously inspect for weapons or trickery.
The assembled aristocrats had gathered in their finery, and our half-motley crew was arrayed around the edge of the elegant circular main ballroom. The King smiled from where he sat, overlooking the revels, as the orchestra struck up a stately pavane. The patricians began their processionals, ladies wheeling, men advancing en se pavanant, while we would-be saviors ventured into the pattern.
Gignot had taken up station near the orchestra and had been tapping his cane to signify to the conductor that he should speed the tempo (perhaps to try to tire the assailant?). The conductor obliged and shifted into a sprightly haute danse.
While our lowborn peers were barely able to mimic the basse danse steps of the pavane, they were immediately and woefully out-of-place as the dancers shifted from elegant circling to energetic lifts and leaps. Le Meradin, Brown and Montague quickly found themselves ejected from the festivities.
It was then that Rolfe d’Ambray and Viceroy Moridin made their way into the ballroom. D’ambray proved irrepressible, and took to the stage, singing a sea shanty and dancing a sailor’s jig to the titters of the ladies of the Court. While all other eyes were on d’Ambray, the Viceroy shared what he had learned with the rest of us. The assassin was the disgraced and banished former Royal Apothecary, Thomas. It was unclear if Thomas was acting out his own vengeance, or if he had been corrupted by agents of Spain, Russia, England, Lichtenstein or Genoa. All five nations had quarrels, greater or lesser, with France, and several of those nations were crude to the point of near barbarism.
Armed with our new information it remained to properly socialize and unmask the varied attendees without committing an egregious enough breach of etiquette to offend the King (or noble) to be evicted from the ball. Time was of the essence. While the King remained upon his dais and outside the swirl of action he was reasonably safe, but, if the King were to become besotted, enraged, caught up in the dance, or even to flirt with ladies of the Court then the King would find himself more vulnerable.
D’ambray’s song finished, he attempted to mingle. His first attempts to socialize were rebuffed, his later efforts served to identify Raphael Dowager and companion.
Violette proved to be unfamiliar with the steps of the pavane, and kept finding himself outside the intricate patterns. At one point he attempted to directly warn the King of the imminent attempt on his life. The King believed Violette was merely joking. When the dance shifted to a Scots reel, his feet found the steps, but, by then, his presence was merely being tolerated by the assorted aristocrats.
Gignot’s strategy was unusual, to say the least. Twice he attempted to drug drinks and lead toasts to the King - to bring the Ball to an early end? His “courtly” bows were clumsy, and, at one point he nearly pulled down the dress of one particularly shapely Lady. Another was treated to a hearty smack on her posterior. Such boorishness might be common among the tavern wenches, but, in court, one is more likely merely to dislodge a Lady’s bustle.
Brighteyes had perhaps, spent too long at sea or on battlefields. His efforts included a display of marksmanship, shooting at a coat of arms (an effort that probably placed guard’s eyes on him, rather than the as-yet unrevealed threat), and, his social graces led him to compliment the attire of the dancing lords, not ladies. Flustered, he attempted to emulate D’ambray’s tactics, taking to the stage and interrupting the orchestra with his own warbled shanty. This merely served to irritate the conductor, who struck up the aforementioned sprightly reel. The folk dance brought the King bounding to the dance floor. Brighteyes tried using Gignot’s drugged wine to propose yet another toast and found himself ignored. His confidence must have been shattered, for, when given the opportunity to attempt an unmasking Brighteyes merely moved on.
Viceroy Moridin worked his way through the room with an aura of “devil may care” respectability. His manners delighted to King and Court, and surprised me! I was unaccustomed to seeing the gruff and fearsome “Pyrate Captain,” being so charming. He declined to dance. Instead he apologized, used his slight limp as his excuse and told the tale of how he was injured, alone, in Japan during the excursion where he earned his title. Moridin was able to identify Chamberlain Antione. Moridin was even able to charm his way out of spilling wine on the King himself during a ploy to get the King to retire from the dance floor.
I, of course, have often visited Court, and the mores of a Ball are second nature to me. I had been taught the steps of the pavane at an early age. I quickly unmasked the Clown Theo, and we had a short discussion of the circumstances that brought him from the Court of Patrick “The Kind” into the service of King Maxime.
Lord Major Bonadventure arrived late, and arrived loudly. He entered, boisterously announcing his presence to one and all, and kicking his feet in rustic steps. His entrance interrupted Brighteye’s shanty, and it’s likely his very steps were those that inspired the orchestra to strike up a reel! He danced and pranced across the ballroom, cheerfully greeting all and sundry until he collided with a manservant with a heaping tray of fine pastries. The tray dropped with a clang, and the desserts tumbled across the floor. There was a moment of silence before a single voice rang out, “In the name of DaVinci!”
And King Maxime of France fell to the floor with a shocked whimper and a thud, blood gushing from around the lethal dirk embedded in his ribs.
There were screams from the women, and shocked inaction from the men. Masks were doffed, and I noted Charles Queel glancing sidelong at Louis Brighteyes.
The guards, in their amazement, had yet to move from their posts by the ballroom’s doors. They would never leave their spots. Five more knives flashed in the candlelight and five French soldiers dropped, gurgling their last. Four burly men in the robes of the Fasci Friars and one gigantic Nigerian were revealed in the doorways while the Apothecary, Thomas, gloated over the dying boy-king.
Lord Major Bonadventure narrowed his eyes, unsheathed his knife and sent it spinning into the left eye of the assassin. The Apothecary didn’t even have time to finish his brag before his death. I watched the Viceroy spin, pull his broadsword free with a hiss, and mock the Apothecary’s henchmen as “traitorous dogs who served a man with an unsteady hand.” Gignot took up the japes, pointing out that, while the Apothecary lay dead the King yet lived.”
The henchmen charged in. D’ambray intercepted one Cutlass wielding Friar. Violette valiantly attempted to stave off the Nigerian. Violette didn’t notice the man’s hand weights, which crashed into his skull, dropping him to the floor. Brighteyes sprung forth, locked his sword with that of a Friar, then stabbed the Fasci with his knife in his off-hand.
I, a physician, was trying to make my way to where King Maxime still lay, gasping and sobbing on the tile. I assume it was another of the Fasci who struck me from behind. My head rang, but I did not slip into unconsciousness. I ran forward, slipped and stumbled on the King’s own blood and attempted to staunch the wound.
The Major grabbed Brighteyes and pulled him along to engage the Nigerian. Unfortunately, Brighteyes was squared off to a second Friar. The three men tangled together, but it was Brighteyes who slumped down, slashed across the belly.
Viceroy Moridin swung his mighty, two-handed broadsword. The Friar he faced blocked the blow but was knocked off balance by the sheer force of the strike. Moridin’s reverse slash cleaved the Fasci’s skull.
Gignot darted rushed in towards the Nigerian. He leapt into the air over the fallen Brighteyes, caught the African in the chest with a sure, two-footed kick, landed lightly on his feet, and, in the same motion, unsheathed his dagger from his belt and re-sheathed it in the Nigerian’s heart.
D’Ambray’s duel has whirled around the room, but d’ambray finally found his opening. He blocked the Friar’s overhead swing, redirected the blow into a wide arc, and thrust out. His hilt crunched into the Spaniard’s jaw and the false Friar crumpled.
Lord Major Bonadventure grabbed up a pistol from the slain Nigerian before him and started to raise it towards the final Friar. The pistol dropped from his hand, and the Friar quipped, “I hear they call you ‘William Tell.’ The pistol is not your weapon, is it?”
The Major scooped the pistol from the floor while replying, “A pistol is clumsy,” then fired. The shot caught the Friar in the throat, and, as the final assassin bled out, the Major continued, “but t’will serve well enough tonight.”
The attackers had all been dispatched, and the assembled courtiers remained safe, yet the violence had shocked all, and at least one Lady had swooned. Five French guards, four Fasci Friars, one Nigerian and the Apothecary, Thomas lay dead and alone on the floor. Mathys Violette and Louis Brighteyes both bled, but lived. Yet all eyes turned towards where the King lay in front of me.
Thomas the Apothecary’s dagger thrust angled upwards, from under the sternum, and has sliced the King’s left lung and punctured his heart. There was nothing more I, or anyone else could do to aid him. As the Court gathered close, stunned and amazed, the boy-King, Maxime, was wracked by a fit of coughing. He wheezed, murmured “Isabella, Maria, I see you again,” and lay still.
King Maxime was dead.
Leon, my friend, as I write you, all France is in turmoil. Lord Wildemoon returned the next morning, and it was from him I learned Queen Isabella and Princess Maria themselves had died - the day before the Anniversary Ball! The news had been kept secret lest the “gaiety of the Court should be offended.”
Thus, the Capetian dynasty has no clear-cut heir. The Kingdom is fragmenting as varied minor and major Nobles plot and plan to seize power in some sick “Game of Thrones.” I do not even know if your position as Admiral is any longer formally recognized! Worst of all, the nuisance Grognards have emerged as a palpable threat. They speak lies and spread rumors among the people, but too many believe the falsehoods. The Grognards name the Vert Valliant as traitors to the people, and our brothers-in-arms who wear the green find themselves the targets of mobs.
Yet the best hope for a unified France still comes from the Valliant. The soldiers of the Valliant number in the thousands, and, among them are notables such as yourself, the Admiral, Duclos, the Marshal. Our ranks include Viceroy Moridin, His Excellency, Archbishop Percy, and Governors, current and former, like Bartolomeu Diaz, and Harmon. Our brothers, Lords Bonadventure and Wildemoon are, themselves, in the line of succession. We are heroes and saviors known to the peoples of Salerno, Nantes, Maintz, Marseilles, and Montpelier. We have friendships among the Moors, the Incago, the Cantonese, the Japanese, and even the English.
If any men can restore peace and order to the Realm, and restore a Just and Rightful King to France, surely the task falls upon us, the Vert Valliant! The sooner you return, the sooner we can place plan into action.
Yours in need,
Lord Bailey Baylee Bayleigh
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