Vox Populi Forum
My friend, I hope you remain safe in these dangerous weeks following the shocking assassination of His Royal Majesty, Maxime Capetian. The Realm has been carved into gobbets by the varied pretend heirs, would-be regents, and foreign conspirators. I know not which is the most disturbing, the fragmentation of French loyalties (with different regions of the land now allying themselves with Russia, Scotland or the Netherlands, among others), a “DaVinci” as Prime Minister, or the thrice-traitorous criminal, Ben Jonson, being declared “Lord Protector of the Realm (in absentia). OF immediate concern is the resurgent Grognards, and their vile campaign against the soldiers and heroes of the Vert Valliant! Where once the green sash or heart was seen as an honor, now the adornment makes the wearer a target of brutes.
As for myself, I had remained in Paris with our compatriot Louis Brighteyes as well as Mathys Violette, Birmingham Brown, Manfridus Montague and Le Meradin. Viceroy Moridin had set sail back to Japan, while Major Bonadventure had left with Rolphe d’Ambray and Alain Gignot to pursue their own lines of inquiry.
I was preparing to make my own return home when we were contacted by an “anonymous Soldier-of-Fortune” (Lord Wildemoon, in disguise, I believe), and his agent, Thomas de Marchand of the Vert Valliant, to conduct a fact-finding mission. In principle, would the High Lords of France support a Capetain blindly, or support one of the other numerous claimants to the throne? In particular, we were asked to contact Marshall Duclos, His Excellency, Wischard Percy, and Viceroy Moridin to ascertain their loyalties to Crown, Country and Brothers-in-Arms. Despite my desire to return to my beloved Caterina and the children, I realized that my long association with the Marshal, Archbishop and Viceroy might make the difference between success and failure - for all three would surely listen to a long-time friend more carefully than a contingent of strangers. My duty was clear, my resolve set.
All were given a purse of coins, as well as a “coin” minted in some base metal with Lord Chip Wildemoon’s profile stamped. These token would function as an identity token of sorts. Birmingham Brown was given an ornamental set of knife and pistol, both with finely engraved whale-bone handles. These implements identified the holder at agents of the Capetains. Finally, I was given a warrant, signed by the late King. The warrant alleged (without evidence) that the accused had been indicted by a secret tribunal of being an agent of the Spanish and a sympathizer of the Fasci Friars. The name of the accused was illegible, but had the same length and letter-count as “Marshal Francois Duclos.” I must admit, I was shocked to read the unfounded accusations, and my upset led me to sloppiness in action, for I almost misplaced the document, and would have remained ignorant of the loss had not Mathys Violette returned it to me!
If the “un-named” soldier had been only a few days earlier, Moridin would have been easy to speak with. Instead, the Viceroy was asea, and none of us knew if he intended to sail directly to Damiyo, or if stops were intended at Alexandria, New France, or New Vale. We decided to first visit His Excellency in Marseilles. After our discussions with the Archbishop, we would decide whether to venture to Japan or Tours.
Thus, we rode for Marseilles. The road between Paris and Marseilles was blissfully peaceful in a way that served to underscore the wider turmoils in France. We arrived in the city without incident. Marseilles, itself, was crowded, filthy and short of food. By law, in tumultuous times the city functioned as a free-port. The Archbishop had opened up the city as a haven to all true French Loyalists. Due to the increase in activity from the increase in population it took time to arrange an audience with the Archbishop - even for an old friend such as I!
While our efforts proceeded, we came across a new option in the debate over the future of France… “Republic.” Brighteyes, Meradin, Brown and myself all understood the import to the realm and the strength to her people inherent in having a Godly King in charge of governance, whilst Violette, Montague and Marchand seemed willing to entertain thoughts of letting the rabble run the land. The flawed logic that could let otherwise rational men entertain such radical notions is underscored thus: Ben Jonson is hailed by the rabble as “First Citizen” of the “Republic.” Elevating such vermin to such an elevated position demonstrates quite clearly why, for the good of all, men of breeding must take the reins of power for the good of all.
We debated this very matter in a pub. While Brighteyes told tales of the heroism of the Vert Valliant, it was Brown who correctly noted, “…Cartels will do naught but carve up the country! People will not run this ‘Republic,’ which is why we need men of action to be leaders of the people!” Le Meradin, demonstrated a ruthless pragmatism similar to that of his cousins. He merely bribed men in the pub to follow the banner of Bonadventure, and promised them loot. From this we added some twenty peasant men to our retinue.
The following morning we took our audience with the Archbishop. Despite the turmoil in the city, “One Punch” Percy remained his usual, genial self. Birmingham Brown had heard of His Excellence’s legendary might and amused the Bishop with two rounds of arm wrestling. Brown won both rounds. Brown later argued that the wrong leader for France would fly against God’s own law, and lead to an apocryphal outcome.
Montague also won a bout of arm wrestling against the indulgent Archbishop while his excellence joked that wrestling with questions of doctrine left one softer than wrestling with heathens. Montague pressed the point, noting the implements of torture often used by those who claim most fealty to God.
De Marchand first attempted to debate the Archbishop on humanistic grounds, then pivoted to a view that none but God could be trusted at the helm. Marchand seemed to confuse himself with these diametrically opposed arguments, and withdrew from the proceedings.
Violette attempted to clarify Marchand’s points with a rambling parable. He went on at some length describing how a chariot was like the Throne of God and how the positions of the reins, tack and horses represented the earthly estates. Violette abandoned his reasoning without making a clearly defined point before he also withdrew from the debate.
Brighteyes might have been the only one who understood the points Violette had attempted to make. Brighteyes pontificated on the grander nature of the Universe and discoursed, at length, on how the orbs in their celestial spheres orbit over the stationary Earth. His voice and gestures grew overly expansive - so vehement that His Excellency’s own guard drew close to keep watch on the soldier! Brighteyes next tried flattering the Archbishop with the analogy of lambs needing a shepard. I thought Brighteyes knew Percy better than that, for His Excellency has always counted himself as among the sheep. To the Archbishop, the clergy themselves are merely rams among the flock, with the Savior being the only true shepard.
Le Meradin first echoed Brown’s arguments on how an ill-chosen ruler would lead to apocryphal results, and managed to connect them with Montague’s expostulations regarding forced questioning. Next, Meradin opened a surprising line of inquiry. He disputed the Classical view of the world as being composed of four “elements” or “humors,” and raised up the ancient Greek concept of the “atom.” Meradin was unable to recall the exact philosopher he cited, but I believe the Archbishop was impressed Meradin was able to guide the debate as far as he did. I certainly was surprised at the depth of Meradin’s erudition!
I found myself discombobulated and unsteady at the beginning of the debate, but, soon enough the dizziness passed. I first interjected amid Meradin’s exhortations against unsavory methods of information gathering - here noting while I knew the Archbishop had been trained in the use of those very tools, I could not recall seeing the “Gentle Confessor” ever reach to such lengths. This led, briefly, into a discussion on the role of the Almighty over a monarchy, and how even the foundations of the Church itself could be shaken if a corrupt man could inveigle himself into a position of sufficient power. Finally, I was able to leap onto Meradin’s contentions as to the nature of the world. I was correctly able to cite Leucippus of Miletus’s remonstrations of the atom as indivisible.
Overall, we partook in a spirited exchange. As the proceedings came to a close, His Excellency, at least for now, seemed amenable to the concept of “King Bonadventure.” The Archbishop vowed he would not, in any way, hinder our efforts to recruit Marshal Duclos or Viceroy Moridin.
The party took a vote and we decided we would travel to Japan next. If the Viceroy were to be brought into the fold, that would give him time to prepare and return to France while we ventured to persuade the Marshal. All that remained was to procure a vessel. We headed for the docks with the men we’d hired at the tavern in tow. A vessel was selected. All that remained was to take her.
We managed to board without being seen, an Le Meradin and Violette initiated the true assault. Their drum rhythms thundered in the fading light of dusk, likely confusing the sailors aboard the target. Certainly our own hirelings were flustered! Montague tried to organize our faltering forces. Brighteyes ensured the rabble stayed in the fight, but even Montague was uncertain as to who swung the club that cracked his - Montague’s - skull.
De Marchand intended on holding the rail and cutting the lines. Alas, Marchand’s instincts and reflexes were off-balance. Marchand skills with the blade had not yet adapted to the stout peg where his left calf once was, and, in this battle, he found himself completely ineffective.
I also took no true part in the battle. Rather, I had caught Montague as he fell, and dragged him aside and out of danger.
Birmingham Brown and Le Meradin were the two who won the day. Brown spotted where enemy musketeers might emerge or fire from and directed our henchmen appropriately. Brown also detonated a powder keg on deck, which served to make many of the crew dive overboard in a panic. The explosion did crack spars on the fore-mast (which nearly fell on Mathys Violette), but it un-nerved the remaining crew enough for Le Meradin to organize them against their own fled colleagues! As the sailor’s mustered to repel, Meradin cut the lines mooring us to the dock, and we quickly set sail.
In the light of the following morning the remaining crew, after they realized their error, meekly submitted to their new masters. We christened the prize “Percy’s Will,” and set to Japan. Despite my own dire warnings about the difficulty of crossing the Becalm Divine, an unseasonable wind sprung up, and stayed with us across the entire ocean. I believe we crossed to Japan in record time!
None of our party had visited far-off Japan before. I believe we were all rather bedazzled by the strange architecture of Damiyo. Leon, your letters, written during the invasion, concentrated on military matters, and so I certainly was unprepared for the sprawling, airy architecture of wooden frames, tiered and tilted roofs, and the plethora of sweeping gardens. To our surprise, Viceroy Moridin had not set up residence in the port city of Daimyo, but in the Heijo Fortress, high in the mountains. I believe, as you speculated, this was the very fortress Admiral Louis and Lady Margrete used as their headquarters.
We arrived at Heijo Fortress late in the night, but were shown to the Viceroy by an obsequious servant. Our plan was simple: drink with the Viceroy and make our arguments. Brighteyes and Montague mistakenly felt that the “aristocratic” Moridin would easily be drunk “under the table” by a band of sailors. Le Meradin scoffed at this. I, of course, knew better from experience, and fortified myself beforehand with the last drams I had of your bracing Incago concoction. It was a waste of the energetic brew, for the Viceroy greeted us, noted the lateness of the hour, informed us that he had matters of governance to attend to in the morning. Then invited us to join him the following for dinner. Until then we were to have free run of the grounds and gardens. With a leer he informed us we were welcome to avail ourselves of the geisha.
The next day was one of leisure, and each man chose his own activities to fill the idle hours until each was summoned to the palace by a kowtowing attendant. Heijo Fortress was an unusual building. It’s walls and ramparts were thick, solid stone, it’s framework, strong hardwoods, but the interior was a twisting labyrinth of partitions - mere paper over light lattices - defining hallways and rooms. These partitions could be moved at will to resize and relocate “rooms” within the fortress.
We were shown into the “Viceroy’s Study.” We were all taken aback by what we found. The room bore no furniture. A mat in the center of the floor held goblets, bottles and ewers, bowls of rice and platters of sliced meats and steamed vegetables. More mats and thin cushions were arranged around the meal. Moridin himself was clad, not in his usual boots, braces, vest and long-coat, but, rather, in the loose-fitting robe, or “kimono” of the Japanese. Instead of a powdered wig or “pony-tail,” his hair was bound up in an elaborate top-knot. To borrow a turn of phrase from Bartolomeu Diaz, it seemed the Viceroy had “gone native.”
We all lowered ourselves to sit. The one-legged Thomas de Marchand flopped gracelessly, and passed his clumsy maneuver off as intoxication. “Y”need t’ catch up with us!” he fake-slurred. Moridin, looking more relaxed and at ease than I had ever seen him, actually chuckled and poured all a cup of hot “sake,” a local brew. We toasted the Valliant, drank, poured, toasted His Highness Maxime, drank and poured again.
Moridin and I were one cup ahead of the rest - for we had toasted Major Bonadventure as a veteran of the invasion of Japan - when Montague grew unaccountably irked by the strange Japanese customs, and the Viceroy’s adoption thereof. He complained “only children sit on the floor, and only tea should be served hot!”
I’m afraid I was unaccustomed to the sake and was more tipsy than I intended. My own temper flared as I replied, “Only children disparage their host!” and downed my own newly-filled cup.
Moridin teased us both. “Only children quarrel in their cups when there’s drinking to be done!”
Brighteyes joined in , taunting the Viceroy, “Only children drink from dainty cups and not stout mugs!”
Moridin observed the weaving Brighteyes and quipped, “Cups will serve a man who could not handle the contents of his mug!”
Birmingham Brown chose that moment to burst into song. The raspy-voiced Brown had a surprisingly clear voice, and displayed a quick wit as he composed, on the spot, a shanty about a cabin boy with his cup and a Captain with his mug. The Viceroy, Le Meradin and Mathys Violette burst into laughter, and Meradin and Moridin clinked cups and downed another round. The Viceroy failed to notice how Brown’s drink sloshed over the rim on the rollicking refrains.
The bottles were empty by then, and Moridin sent servants for more. The servants were somewhat discombobulated when Violette sprung to, and Marchand clambered to, their feet and took the bottles. Brighteyes was engaging a somewhat bored-looking Moridin in a recitation of Archbishop Percy’s views on Church Reformation, thus the Viceroy never noticed Mathys and Marchand watering down the bottles that were placed before us. Moridin’s was, of course, undiluted. The Viceroy also failed to notice the medicinal powder Montague administered to himself, and Brighteyes siphoning his shots down his sleeve.
To most men, the Viceroy would have appeared stone-sober. Only through our years of friendship could I tell the man was starting to feel his liquor.
Brown suddenly howled loudly and declared that this sake might be better than rum. Moridin countered this called for a comparison. Rum was poured for all, and each man downed first his sake, then his rum. The combination proved too much for young Meradin, who stumbled out of the room, almost walking through the paper partition! There was a commotion from the hallway - Meradin being sick, the servants being disgusted.
I had poured Moridin another rum. He and I bantered, gossiping about the ladies of the French Court while I adulterated the remaining rum with water. Trust Marchand to chose that inopportune moment to call for a sweeter liquor! Trust Violette to ask for something “fruity!”
Moridin actually grinned and called for two new beverages. One was a “plum wine” which had a sweeter, more cloying bouquet than a French wine. The other was called shochu. Shochu was a new spirit, created by fermenting the same rice used in the creation of sake in a solution including Alexandrian sugar cane. Both were poured, both were quaffed. Montague leaned back, opened his jaw, and belched a hearty cloud of mingled saki, rum, plum wine and shochu. The combination of liquors and stomach acid reeked like rot-gut, but Moridin actually applauded and said the noxious cloud reminded him of a place he knew in Mainz!
I believed I knew the tavern Moridin referenced and launched into a ditty popular in Mainz. The refrain was an obscene play on words, and the Viceroy joined in on the chorus. Brighteyes also attempted to join in, but, in his drunken state he was bellowing a totally different song.
Brown was managing to match Moridin, drink for drink. Marchand was attempting to keep up, but was obviously nearing his limit. Meradin staggered back to the table, sank unsteadily to his cushion, and, in the loud whisper of the drunk who mistakenly thinks he is being discreet, asked Montague for a dose of his tincture.
Montague unleashed a quick tirade of profanity across an astonishing array of alien tongues, elbowed Le Meradin, and finished with, “Almighty God as my witness, I shan’t ever touch alcohol again!”
The oddly jovial Viceroy chuckled at this, leaned over, and took the bottles from in front of Montague and Meradin. He eyed the weaving Brighteyes, and observed we should turn out talk to business while we were still capable of conducting the same. And so we discussed the dire situation in France. Moridin listened gravely, informed us we would have his reply in the morning, and bid all adieu.
The following morning the Viceroy had but one question: “Who sent you to seek my aid?” We told him Chip Wildemoon. Moridin paused, deep in thought then rumbled, “Tell the Killer of Kit Marlowe that Major Bonadventure has the support of his brother in the Valliant.” And with that we made arrangements and plans, made our way back to Daimyo, boarded “Percy’s Will,” and set course for Tours.
Again, the sea crossing was uneventful. It seemed the normal flow of merchantmen to and from the Olde World had been grossly affected by the turmoil in France. Even the threat of pyracy seemed reduced. We sailed into Nantes, then continued up river and canal before we disembarked near Tours and had “Percy’s Will” stand fast for our return. From Tours we started the overland leg to Noire.
The mood along the trip was subdued. What should have been a simple few days riding the King’s Highway felt more like crossing a war-zone. The farmers, peasants and merchants one would normally expect to cross at regular intervals were sparse. Those we encountered, quiet and withdrawn. With the ever-present threat of assault from any or all of the varied gangs of thugs pretending to be political activists, keeping to one’s-self was the rule.
Gangs? Thugs? Political activists? We were beset multiple times along the way. The first brawl ended quickly. Violette sounded the warning. We beat the attackers off in but a minute, but some eight of the henchmen who had been with us since Marseilles deserted or fled. The second fray was bloodier - Birmingham Brown was the first to draw a blade. Our own henchmen were proving to be worth less than they had been paid, for several of them attempted to prevent Meradin and I from assisting our allies, and had to be knocked aside. Others were slain by the attackers. Some even fled when Montague broke through the foe and held their very leader at knife point! By the end of the battle, only five of our original twenty remained. Those five immediately ran off.
We took the perfidious flight with wry resignation. “No loot for you!” Brown shouted towards their heels. Our sufferance of their desertion proved to be an error.
As we trudged down the highway we had idly watched the coward’s retreat and so we saw them captured by armored figures. We saw from afar the discussion and we saw the captured men turn and point at us. We had plenty of time to prepare as the riders - revealed as Spanish horsemen when they approached - shouted for us to surrender in the name of the non-existent “King of Tours!” We formed up in two ranks - myself in the front, flanked by Meradin and Brown, with the others behind. We all carried clubs, truncheons or branches in each hand to parry the sword-strokes of the riders, and to attempt to knock them off their horses. There was no desire to injure or kill fine horses, after all. Especially not when we could then ride them!
It was late in the afternoon, the sun was low in the sky and the Spanish rode in twin columns from the west. I must assume it was sun-glare in the eyes of Birmingham Brown and Le Meradin that threw off their timing, for Meradin suffered a glancing blow as he was nearly ridden down, and Brown was trampled by hooves as the horse thundered past. Fortunately both luck and skill were with me that day.
I know there are those who disparage me as a “soft Lord,” or “mere fop,” and there are times I encourage such false views. It is better to be underestimated by one’s enemies, thus I am content that my renown is more more my skills with words than in battle. I believe my companions were as surprised as my challengers when my clubs flashed out seven times and seven Spaniards fell senseless from the saddles. Certainly I didn’t expect all my strokes to land so effectively!
We bound up the Spanish soldiers and Brown’s cracked ribs, mounted our new stallions and made for Noire. As we rode we further discussed our arguments for Marshal Duclos. Manfridus Montague, who earlier had been receptive to the thought of a rabble-led “Republic,” in particular was incensed as the attitudes of the French folk, and the indignity of being attacked on French lands by Spanish soldiers invoking a false king. He renounced his foolish thoughts and vehemently pledged anew to help place a proper King back on the throne to restore order to the land!
As we neared Noire, we dismounted, tied the horses up and spread through the woods to observe the city from afar. We encountered a “Republican Patrol” or rude Grognards. The red, white and blue striped banner they held identified them as part of the faction known as the “Tri-colors.” The ease with which we took them - for the “patrol” meekly surrendered at the mere sight of a drawn blade - illustrated the cowardly character of those that rejected the return of Monarchy.
We interrogated the herd and learned the Tri-colors had aligned with the vile Fasci Friars! The Republicans wished to destroy Noire in the hopes of killing Marshal Duclos. “Everyone knows Duclos is loyal only to a King!” the Tri-colors spat.
One carried a battle-plan to undermine Noire. The plan was written on the back side of an invitation to the lamentable Anniversary Ball where King Maxime was foully murdered. Was the use of this invitation as a receptacle for a murderous plot someone’s idea of humor, or an indicator of conspiracy still at play? Meradin believed it an admission of guilt. Brown found it mere practicality as “paper is expensive.”
We debated what to do with our captives. Meradin noted our hatred of the Grognards and voted to hang them immediately. Brighteyes voted to hang them by the road and leave the bodies as an example. De Marchand and Montague voted to let the men live to spread the word of our mercy, and Brown concurred that “no more French blood need be spilled this day.” Violette argued to spare the men but take their boots.
I had purchased Mathys Violette fine boots with my own funds just before the ill-fated Anniversary Ball. How the man constantly wore through or lost boots was beyond me, but the others in the party had noticed as well, and Brown began mocking “shrinking, shoe-less Violette.” Tempers were beginning to flare when we had more important matters to handle. I directed my words at both the party and the captured Tri-Colors as I stepped in between the quarreling men and informed all and sundry that, if we were to be Monarchists, then we needed to function as a party with an undisputed leader. As a Lord in France with much time in Court, as a Hero of the Vert Valliant, and has a man who helped install Prince Michael as Tsar of Russia, one of the founders of the colonies of Alexandria, New France and New Vale, and as a personal Friend of nobles and officials of multiple courts, I was to be that leader. I offered food and friendship to the Tri-Colors if they were to join us, or to - this time only - let them leave in peace if they clung to their misguided ways (“Unless he bores you to death!” Brown muttered).
The Tri-color deigned to disavow their flawed cause. Yet, true to my word, we let them loose and told them to head west and keep going past Tours.
The captured battle plan had been badly creased and partially smeared. We didn’t have the exact timetable and location, but we did know that several wagons of explosives were to be brought inside Noire’s walls.
We knew the plan was to be enacted this very day.
And so, Admiral, we delay out meeting with the Marshal. Instead, we must now act to save the city from the treachery of the Fasci Friars. One of the released Tri-Colors has shown remorse, and it is to him I entrust this letter. If it reaches you then he who delivered it has proven himself a man of his word and one you can trust. We are almost ready to begin the search for the bombs. Despite the severity of the situation, the party jests among themselves as blades are hones and pistols loaded. Indeed, as I finish this letter to you, I hear Tomas de Marchand declaiming that he has read now read the Republican propaganda pamphlets and that their “stupid ideas about equality could undermine all of commerce itself!” And that “a good King is needed to ensure rum and timber keep crossing from the New World!”
It seems Marchand objects to the Republican platform of the abolition of slavery. Ironic, as it is the one area on which these Republicans and I agree.
I shall write you again after we speak with Marshal Duclos.
Lord Bailey Baylee Bayleigh
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