Vox Populi Forum
Wischard Percy, Archbishop of Marseilles,
Your Eminence, we have retrieved the required document, and have acquired the most important pieces of the press. I anticipate complete success of our tasks, shortly, yet there are unforeseen circumstances you should be aware of. I shall start at the beginning:
Following your suggestions, Mathys Violette, Louis Brighteyes, Alain Gignot and I travelled to the docks of Marseilles to procure a vessel. We quickly assailed the chosen Galleass, and it was Gignot who led the boarding party. Violette had been throwing smoke bombs and grenades from the dock, and an errant toss must have landed near a powder store. The ship was rocked by an explosion and Violette was nearly injured by flying debris. In the confusion Brighteyes was knocked unconscious while Gignot and I found ourselves fighting back-to-back, covering the blind sides of members of the crew of the vessel we were trying to take! Another of Violette’s grenades must have found an open hatch and bounced below decks, for a second explosion rocked the ship and smoke billowed from her waterline.
I bellowed orders at all and sundry to stow grenades, put swords up and get those fires under control. Perhaps it was my Lordly bearing, perhaps the crew was surprised to see an “invader” call a halt to an attack to help his “victims.” The battle stopped, and, together, our party and the crew doused the flames, tarred the cracks in the hull and, peacefully, set to sea.
We were debating re-christening the prize vessel when we were hailed by the Galleon, Alida with Nemo McMoridin at the wheel. McMoridin apologized for his tardiness, yet, in our haste, none of us recalled that you had dispatched Alida for our use! We transferred our Galleass’ crew to Alida, scuttled the damaged vessel and turned our prow towards the Netherlands. The coastline during these troubled days was a hazardous run of shoals, cross currents and wrecked or scuttled hulls, but Brighteyes skill as Master of Sails saw us safely to Ghent.
In Ghent we stopped for provisions and for local news. We were trying to keep a low profile, but Alain Gignot took me aside and quietly informed me it was Mathys Violette’s birthday. Violette was sullen, often angry, and did not usually fit well with the casual camaraderie shared by men of arms and honor working towards a common goal. I thought, perhaps, if we held a surprise celebration for the man his disposition would lighten. Alas, the plan backfired. Gignot fancies himself a prankster, but his humor is often cruel. Both Violette and I shared being the butt of the jape. When I led Violette into the party he stopped, gazed around at the food, drinks, assembled sailors and small banner in stony silence. “It is not my birthday,” he intoned flatly.
“Well, it should be, “ Gignot quipped, “so you can grow up and stop complaining like a toddler!” The crew burst into laughter. Violette gave no response beyond a glare before he wheeled and stalked off into the night. “He’ll get over it,” Gignot declared from a mouth stuffed with ale and meat, “It’s not like he’s suddenly going to put a dagger in all our backs!”
The following morning we boarded Alida and guided her up-river. The galleon was not suited for river-travel, but she was able to take us roughly half of the remaining distance to Bruges. From rumors gleaned in Ghent this placed us near the last reported location of one Olaf Porse. I would not have minded running into the assassin again. I owe the man for many deep scars left upon my frame by his tortures. Yet the man tried and failed, long ago, to break me. I suspect, despite his reputation, that the feared Porse would rather avoid my wrath.
We debarked along with such crew of the Alida as chose to join us (for, with the additional sailors from our Galleass, Alida had men to spare) and made ready to continue along the main highways to Ghent when we found ourselves accosted by Tri-Colors a-horseback. A unit of the French Republicans operating in the Netherlands? The presence of these traitors might have explained some of the deterioration of the relationship between France and the Netherlands.
The Tricolor’s uniforms were garish - bright colors, ostentatiously plumed hats, and shirts, slashed in a fashion centuries out of date to display even more garishly colored layers below. As a man of birth and breeding, I understand the appeal and power to be found in a fine suit of clothing, yet the uniforms of the Tri-Colors was more suited to a drunken university fop, looking for his first fumble under the skirts of a serving wench than that of a disciplined military unit.
Worst of all, their banner bore the sigil of the long-dead Lennart Tortennson. The cavalry bade us stand fast in the name of Tortennson, “Hero of the Republic,” and surrender to the “Guard Horsemen of Tortennson.”
As insults and imprecations were hurled, Gignot managed to slip, unseen around the foe, while McMoridin calmly walked straight through their lines! McMoridin later stated that he had bluffed. He had given secret hand signs indicating that he was a spy for the Guard - signs he had learned from observation during the fall of Nantes to Tortennson so long ago. Gignot leapt from the bushes while McMoridin drew his own blade. The attempted ambush of the Guard’s Commandant failed.
Violette and Brighteyes had been attempting to rotate and re-organize our men, while I… Failed in my duty as leader.
I was taken aback at the sight of a sigil I thought long-buried, and so shocked that the Republicans would venerate a proven traitor - a murderer and coward, and one who led a foreign army to invade French Soil - I could only clench my fists as an anger I’d not felt in years swept over me. I tried to comfort myself with the words of kindness and absolution you, yourself, offered me after Tortennson’s trial, yet, Your Eminence, for too long my vision was blurred by rage. Where I should have mocked the Tri-colors and named myself the man who brought Lennart Tortennson and his brother to justice and death, and re-assured our quailing crew that these Tri-Colors were but bad pretenders, I merely seethed.
Thus, leaderless, the crew routed. I found my voice and shouted to the Republicans that to honor their namesake, they would need to catch his killer and dodged into the trees. As I hoped, most of the false “Horse Guard” pursued me into the forest. Their horses were unable to dodge and whirl as quickly as I. They were quickly left behind.
Violette blasted his way free with shot and pistol. Brighteyes whirled his cloak upon an branch and abandoned the simple decoy when it was shot through. McMoridin fought free with wild slashes of his dagger. Gignot was taken captive. Of our crew, most vanished into the landscape.
Rejoined we continued along the road to Bruges. As night drew nigh we decided to stop at the next available Inn for shelter and food. It would prove fortunate for the Inn to receive our patronage, for, as we approached it was clear that the Inn was under attack from bandits. The presence of Tri-Colors in the area must have taxed the local soldiery and constables, for so motley a gang of petty criminals to act so brazenly. Violette called out, mocking the men. They paid no notice.
Brighteyes chose a more practical approach. He strode up to the Inn, sized up the bandits then reached up with his walking-stick, rapped at the joint between overhang and support, turned and strode off. The quizzical bandits were just turning to challenge Brighteyes when the import of his action became clear. With a creak the supports for the patio overhang fell outwards. With a crash the patio ceiling and roof crashed down upon the would-be raiders. With a laugh, Brighteyes turned again, took the purses of the fallen and gave them to the innkeeper, “…for your troubles and our suppers.”
Several local lads seemed impressed by the way Brighteyes handled the bandits, and offered their services. With the rout of Alida’s crew and the men still unseen I figured we could use help, and passed over my purse of coins for the lads to split as a retainer, with promise of more to come for faithful service.
We dined, drank and rested. Thomas de Marchand arrived. De Marchand had been scouring the countryside trying to find us and had heard much of local events. Most importantly the man known as “The Seer” was believed to be near Bonheme.
I am certain, Your Excellence, you have seen for yourself the crude propaganda written by the so-called Seer. Rumor even indicated the man had been directly involved in the assassination of King Maxime! I am uncertain as to why this “Seer” expressed the views he had, and, as I write to you now, I find myself disbelieving, hoping - even praying - that the rumors of his involvement in the slaughter of our King were false and mistaken…
Yet, I get ahead of myself and the story.
We progressed, uneventfully, the following day. Along the highway we began encountering some of our missing crew. By the time the evening shadows lengthened, some twenty of the sailors had rejoined us. Once again we sought an inn, dined and took rooms. I had arranged an early breakfast with the innkeeper and was returning to my room to retire when I heard muffled voices from one of the rooms we had rented for the local lads and the Alida crew. My trust in the inherent goodness of man was shaken again, for they were engaged in low conversation, plotting to send word of our route to the Horse Guard of Tortennson, and trying to convince the sailors of Alida to join the Tri-Colors. I burst in on the five plotters and battered them all senseless, tossed them to the streets, retrieved the coins I had paid them, and offered them, instead, to the innkeeper. It was the least I could do to make amends for the damage to the door and room.
De Marchand was awakened by the noise of the brawl. While I, in the aftermath, was tired and ready for sleep, de Marchand found himself alert. As the rest of us slept, de Marchand continued with his inquires and gossip. He heard rumors an remarkably attractive woman seemed to be seeking our party, and that, somewhere, pamphlets existed detailing the Seer’s plans for Bruges. Our goals were now five-fold: Find the woman, intercept the Seer’s message, recover the Carta Magna, retrieve the printing press, and rescue Alain Gignot from the Tri-Colors.
As fortune would have it, the rescue of Gignot would come quickly, for the very we day we caught his captors along the highway. Gignot had been leashed and trudged, balking, behind the trailing horse. This time, we were prepared. The crew and I screamed from the trees causing the “Guard” to spin their mounts and fire blindly into the trees. Violette and Brighteyes were our marksmen. Each man had a pile of pistols and muskets, and the two fired, grabbed a fresh weapon and fired again as quickly as possible. The volleys of shot blasted through the Tri-colors. In under a minute, all lay dead in the road. Alain Gignot was freed. Over half of our sailors had sacrificed their lives for the rescue, for the Tri-Color’s aim had been remarkably true.
We buried our own along a ridge. Gignot was battered and bloody, although he insisted he looked worse than he felt. He was not seriously injured, but the spectacular bruises blooming under his eyes were the type of thing that would draw notice. Gignot was dispatched back to Alida in the hopes her crew would be able to send word to the families of their fallen comrades. The rest of us continued overland towards Bruges. The Tri-colors were left where they fell.
As the light faded to a dim glow along the western horizon we sought another tavern in which to spend the evening. The tavern was busy and boisterous. The locals were gregarious and the serving wenches busty and flirty. The village was having a singing contest and all were welcome to join. My own talents are more aligned with the actor’s craft, yet Nemo McMoridin and Tomas de Marchand tried their talents.
While the two aspiring minstrels awaited their turns, Violette turned, alone, to his cups while Brighteyes laughed and drank with the locals. One man, barely able to grow whiskers, was seduced by Brighteyes boasting tales. Antani du Déchets asked to join our band. Brighteyes accepted the offer. It was then de Marchand began his song. De Marchand’s singing voice was bold, bright and expressive - as well as nasal, grating and off-key. Du Déchets laughed if de Marchand were in the habit of singing nightly that his service was withdrawn. Brighteyes assured him it was an anomaly.
I had stepped outside to clear my head (and ears!) in the cool night air. I was not the only one in the dark. As I circled the outside of the tavern, lost in thought I stumbled across a couple in flagrante delicto. His garb indicated title and status. Hers, less so. It was obvious the assignation was illicit. The two froze before the ignoble noble pulled himself together and offered me gold for discretion.
I mislike those who mock the Sacrament of Marriage, and chastised the duo for their obvious affair. I told the man if he was lucky the lady’s husband would be nowhere near as vengeful as I once was to slights of honor.
Disgusted, I re-entered the tavern. Nemo McMoridin was singing, and the grizzled soldier proved to have a high, clear, ringing tone with superlative phrasing and breath control. McMoridin’s voice was of such quality that, were he a minstrel by trade, he would earn a more than comfortable living. My mood immediately lifted from the beauty of the music. It plunged again somewhat at the realization McMoridin was singing a slanderous ballad - of how the “Noble and Just Lennart Tortennson” was foully “betrayed” and “murdered” by an “ungrateful” and “treasonous” crew. Still, McMoridin’s performance was so compelling even de Marchand’s insistence on attempting to croak harmony couldn’t dampen the crowd.
I was mulling on the power of song and stage to falsify facts and resolving to set quill to parchment in order to restore truth to the record when the tavern burst into cheers - McMoridin had justly won the singing contest. McMoridin, Gignot and I collected Violette from his lone stool and went to fetch Brighteyes. Brighteyes, with du Déchets, was seated with a woman of exceptional beauty and bearing. I believe we all, at first, believed a business transaction or assignation was being planned, but the woman’s heavy cloak and hood was the garment of one avoiding attention, not seeking it.
She called herself “Demoiselle Martine,” and she was in-route to Bruges to collect her inheritance. She pled to accompany our party for protection along the road. It seemed she was the woman de Marchand had previously heard of. It was possible she was some sort of spy or agent for the Tri-Colors, yet we unanimously agreed to function as her escort.
I was retrieving another round of drinks for the group when two young men in fine garb placed themselves in my path. They attempted crude jokes at my expense and were obviously attempting to provoke a duel. Their cloaks bore badges that were somehow familiar…. The badges matched the symbol of the local noble whose tete-a-tete I had earlier interrupted. These were obvious lackies, and their actions a crude form of indirect revenge. I smiled and leaned in close, draped my arms over their shoulders and spoke low into their ears. I informed the two of my name, rank, and of my part in the events of Gardener’s Field, Mainz, Nantes and other battles and asked gently if they truly wished to test themselves against me, then stepped back and gestured, grandly, towards the table where my companions sat with one hand gripping the handles of three steins of ale. “Also, if you cause these drinks to spill, my friends will be quite displeased.” The two had already looked discomfited at the quiet confidence of my recitation. At the realization that I also had (if needed) assistance, the would-be duelists employed their own better valor.
I delivered the drinks to my waiting friends and the evening concluded in a series of wagers. Violette was the ultimate winner, although there had also been negotiations after the betting. Brighteyes now had a purse of coins. I found I had a new valet in Antani du Déchets.
As we continued along the highways, the “Guard Horsemen of Tortennson” continued to be a nuisance. Again they accosted us on the road. “Cavalry” attempting to run down a group on foot - not even enough to be called “infantry” - should end with those on foot dead or dispersed. Instead, when they charged, Brighteyes tried, yet failed, to keep our hirelings and henchmen calm while Nemo McMoridin and I implemented one of McMoridin's plans. The simple rope worked as desired, and the “Guard Horsemen” were dismounted.
The sight of the Tri-Color horsemen landing heavily on tailbone as their horses galloped on instantly cheered the men. Laughter rang out from all around the grounded guards, who had clumped together, back to back in a defensive circle. De Marchand strode forth, cheerfully enumerating to the unhorsed cavalry several other ways we could have managed them, “…with methods that would have already killed man and horse.” He pointed at their Sergeant with his rapier. “You will stay for a chat. The rest of your men may go.”
From the Sergeant, we learned that the infamous “Seer” was to meet the Guard Horsemen at he Naval Prison in Bruges. Oddly, the order was signed “Bold-Decisive, the Seer.”
Bold-Decisive? We debated:. Bold-Decisive could be a battle-cry or rallying term? Could be a code phrase? The Sergeant had claimed no knowledge of other meaning, and merely repeated that all “The Seer’s” dispatches were signed thus.
The Sergeant’s interrogation grew heated. At one point I bellowed at the man as I listed the fallacies in the Republican logic and enumerated how many of their more radical ideas imperil the rights of the common man they claimed to stand for. Moreover, the Sergeant was educated to the true history of Lennart Tortensson. Finally, I jotted down the ignoble events of Tortennson’s treachery (written as satire to make it palatable to the unsophisticated Sergeant) and released the officer, after he swore to spread the truth. As he limped down the road I noticed someone had taken the man’s boots. I did not see by whom, but would suspect Mathys Violette.
The lads had rounded up the horses of the humiliated Guard Horsemen. We mounted - doubled or tripled per horse - and rode the rest of the way to Bruges. We arrived before mid-day and charged straight through the Carriage Gate. The guards opened their mouths to challenge, then ducked back when McMoridin. Sent warning shots towards their arrow-slits. We dropped from our horses, sent them out as a distraction with slaps on the flanks and huddled together for a planning session. Demoiselle Martine’s apartment was in the southwest section of the city, the docks to the northeast. Logically, a Naval Prison would be close to the docks.
For her safety and ours we decided to escort the damsel to her destination before pursuing the dangerous work ahead..
We moved east to a drawbridge. The guards were fully alert, and we knew we would have to rely on solid strategy to pass safely - this was not the time for Brash or Bloody Reckless action! Mlle Martine was pointing over rooftops towards an area of the city - the Ladies’ Apartments - when more guards boiled into the courtyard. The word of our arrival must have spread from the carriage gate.
We lingered in the crowd at the far end of the bridge. Violette tried to encourage the men. His attempts to raise morale failed, but he did correctly note a weakness in the guard’s deployment we could exploit. McMoridin was near berserk with anger and had to be prevented from charging forwards into open combat. De Marchand, Violette and I remembered some minutiae from our prior interrogation of the un-horsed Sergeant of the Guard Horsemen - most of these so-called soldiers were not truly military, but under-trained conscripts and local bullies. They lacked imagination to adapt in battle, and, if a group they had been alerted to, a group was what they would look for. Splitting up was the soundest option.
I communicated the plan to the others, and delivered rousing words of encouragement to our underlings. We split into pairs and trios and merged with the crowd. Mlle Martine, Antani du Déchets and I crossed together and met up the others once past the lines of guards. Brighteyes had been stopped and challenged. He bluffed through by saying he, like the guards, could appreciate the actions of one Bold and Decisive. De Marchand crossed alone. He played up the limp from his missing leg and must have seemed harmless. He took an opportunity and managed to slit the throat of a guard officer then vanished into the throng.
As disorder spread behind us our rejoined party crossed northwest past the Courthouse. Here a public debate was raging over the rights of men and the claims of the Carta Magna. “As Phillipe, African Emperor of Rome laid down the foundations of Law sill in use today, why should his rediscovered Carta Magna be suppressed?” cried the speaker. “If an African can rise to Emperor of Rome, it merely proves that all men are created equal, all en can ascend to greatness, and all men have the right to be treated as citizens, not property!” he continued. On another day listening to the remainder of the debate might have been enlightening, yet then was not the time to indulge in philosophic argument.
We turned westwards from the Courthouse and entered the area of Bruges where the Ladies’ Apartments stood. Tri-Colors patrolled the streets. Dispatches from the Carriage Gates and Drawbridge must have been sent throughout the city, for we were assaulted in the streets. The narrow lanes of the Ladies’ Apartments were too crowded for swords, and we were hesitant to draw pistol and musket in close quarters or to endanger innocent women.
Perhaps, dispatches had not yet been distributed. The officer in charge of the Tri-Color squad was known to me, and I to him. Charles of Tours commanded me, by name, to stand down “In the Name of the Seer!” Behind me, the party was retreating to a crossroad where they had more room to use their weapons. I backed along with them, calling back to Charles of Tours, “No matter how ‘Bold and Decisive’ your Seer, I fight for the Absent King! I do not submit to the authority of a coward who hides his name and face!”
The Tri-colors pressed forwards. Violette shoulder-blocked the first thug then cut him down with a thrust of poniard. Brighteyes intercepted the next. For a moment they struggled, swords and arms locked together, before Brighteyes slipped his sword into the Tri-color’s gut. McMoridin later confessed his hand had slipped when he tried to draw his sword - instead he held a wicker basket and was pressing forward against the Tri-Color whose sword was now caught in the lattice.
Charles of Tours had advanced and caught up Mlle Martine by her hair. I mislike seeing a woman abused, especially by one who should act better. I resolved to take down Charles and save the damsel. Here, my own hand slipped. My intention was to clasp De Marchand’s wrist and, together, spin to knock our foes from their feet. Alas, instead I grabbed the forearm of young Antani du Déchets. The unarmed valet and I circled, pressing through the common guardsmen, but du Déchets ended the movement impaled on Charles of Tours rapier. I did not wait for Charles to pull his blade free. Instead, I embedded mine in his right eye.
Behind me the rest of the squad had been dispatched. Thomas de Marchand is oft overlooked as a fighter due to his ragged peg-leg, but the soldier trained hard to regain his technique, and it was his flashing blade that had cut down the remaining five Tri-Colors.
The Demoiselle was now safe in her own apartments. Sweet Mlle Martine thanked us for our assistance, grieved for our losses on her behalf and promised to see to the body of poor Antani du Déchets. Thus, we took our leave, free to continue with our truly dangerous tasks: obtain the printing press, the Carta Magna, and attempt to gather information on “The Seer.”
We worked past the Courthouse (the debate still raged, but, by then, rotten fruit had become a debating tactic) towards the Cathedral. The improperly-trained sentries were quickly knocked senseless with a series of hilt-punches. From there were worked our way north and northwest via a series of back alleys. Only through “gentleman’s luck” did we cross without incident from the Gypsies that had made the network of alleys their own.
We located the local Monastery. The Monk, Brother Achève, outside, who shepherded the peasants awaiting Confession was your man, Your Eminence, and responded to the passwords you provided. The monk had identified the location of the leaden type used in the printing press. The unique and valuable letters had been reduced to artwork. The letters now spelled out verses of Scripture along the walls of the monastery's refectory. These Monks took no mid-day meal, and so we were free to retrieve the valuable type. The refectory held a large chest. When opened it proved full of coins. Perhaps the amassed collections from penitents during mass? The rest of the group thought this a good time to fill their purses. I slapped their hands down and informed them we would not be stealing tithes from the Church. The chest was filled with the type, the coins left behind.
We left the monastery, wended back through the city past the cathedral and followed the coast of the river east as we sought the Docks. We passed the Lodging of the Abbots, but a forged writ (Which showed us on an errand for Brother Achève) served us well in passing the city guards. We continued north and east along the shore until we came to the riverbank’s warehouse district.
We decided to search the warehouses, in hopes that the framing for the printing press might be inside. We felt that the type was the most important, and hardest to recreate segments of a printing press, but retrieving the extant frame could save weeks or month of trial and error in the creation of a new framework. Of course the warehouses were well-guarded by wary guards. Violette was laying about himself with a section of shelving, McMoridin shaking his head after taking a ringing club blow to the back of his helm, and I was grappling a guard, keeping his pistol-laden hand from pointing into my chest, when de Marchand ended the battle most brutally. De Marchand had climbed to an upper loft where he found barrels of lamp-oil. And a chest of coins. The chest crashed down from above and burst open. The impact separated we combatants. “Run as if Hell itself were on your heels” he cried as pushed the barrel of lamp-oil from the loft. It shattered on the floor below. We were clear of the puddled oil. The guards were not. The torch de Marchand threw down consigned the guards to Hell Everlasting after a brief encounter with Hell on Earth. The warehouse burned….
As we fled east, deeper into the ports district I could not help but hear the way Brighteyes, McMoridin and de Marchand clinked as they ran. The three must have grabbed as much as they could, and quickly at that!
As expected, following the riverbank brought us to the Naval Prison. Could we retrieve the Carta Magna? Could we even, by some miracle of fortune, identify, or even capture, possibly kill, “The Seer?”
It seemed as if the Seer had taken over the entire prison and all its guards. The guards were pouring from the gates, shouting to each other. The majority moved west to help contain the fire raging in the warehouse district. Only eight that we could see remained outside.
We were observing and plotting when Mathys Violette murmured, “What if ‘B. D.’ is initials?”
I was replayed our missions in my mind and strove to recall all the letters I had received from members of the Valliant. Somewhere, sometime, we must have encountered the errant knave who now called himself “The Seer.” One of our adventures must have contained clues as to the identity of the foul criminal who could so debase our beloved France. Surely I could bring the name of the fiend to mind. Olaf Porse, Duchess Gonzaga, Tsar Michael…. Ben Johnson…. To my own hysterical amusement I had pondered “Bob DaVinci” when a prison guard barked, “’Ten SHUN for The Seer!”
Eagerly we peered from cover as a hooded, cloaked figure emerged from the gates and strolled into the courtyard. Something in the gait was familiar, but I could not place it yet. No matter. There were five Valliant and allies in out party and another five underlings against a mere eight guards and one Seer. It was time to take Bold and Decisive action against the traitor to France.
We bolted into the street, weapons drawn and called on the Seer and his guards to surrender or die, “in the Name of the Absent King! The Seer halted in the middle of drawing on his riding gloves. His head swiveled and took in our assembly before he pushed back his hood. The face revealed stopped me in my tracks with a shocked gasp.
“Surrender or die, Lord Bayleigh? No parley? No bargaining? No debate? No bribery? No calls for loyalty? I am disappointed, my friend.”
The Seer stood revealed at last Truly, this was a bad joke, for before us stood a Hero of Gardener’s Field, a sailor of merit who accompanied the Valliant around the entire globe, the former Governor of Alexandria, and, above all, a brother of the Vert Valliant. The Seer was Bartolomeu Diaz.
Vert Valliant began as a celebration of the actions of one long-ago battle against the forces of Bozkurt. As time passed the Valliant became more. Members of the Valliant rose to Governors, Viceroys, Marshals, Admirals and Ambassadors. The green felt-heart or satin sash was passed, first from those who fought and died at Gardener’s Field, to those who fought alongside we heroes in Mainz, Nantes, and even Japan. The Valliant became more than a group of soldiers, and even more than a network of loyal French united in ideals of loyalty, chivalry and service. The Valliant became a force for all that was best in France. That, following the assassination of His Highness, King Maxime (may he Rest in Peace), the Valliant became the targets and scapegoats of the Grognards, Tri-Colors and all those who sought to undermine hundreds of years of legacy and tradition., merely showed how powerful and true the legacy of the Valliant had truly become!
How so noble a man as Bartolomeu Diaz could stray so far in his duties was a conclusion I could not reach then, or now.
I have chronicled the missions and deeds of the Valliant for years, and the names of so many are so ingrained in memory that I often forget how many French have earned the green. While Louie Brighteyes, Thomas de Marchand and Nemo McMoridin all possessed green hearts, and I bore my sash, Brighteyes, de Marchand and McMoridin had never served with Diaz, nor even met the man. As far as the three were concerned, Bartolomeu Diaz was merely “The Seer,” and an enemy of true France. Enemies must be defeated.
Brighteyes ran forward and tried to bind Diaz’s arm. A prison guard intercepted Brighteyes. A moment later the guard lay dead.
McMoridin darted in, sword weaving, Diaz’s eyes were still on me as his pistol barked, splintering McMoridin’s blade. A second guard interposed himself. Shortly thereafter the jagged-pointed hilt of the remnants of McMoridin’s sword slew the minor foe.
Diaz had squared off with me, and he was flourishing with his blade in sweeping arcs designed to bedazzle an opponent. I could not yet bring myself to attack Diaz. Despite his betrayal the years of friendship meant I was honor-bound to try to change the man’s path. I shouted as much to Diaz. The words hit home. For a moment his sword dipped, and his mouth opened to shape a response.
Diaz’s jaw clamped shut as he sidestepped the blade de Marchand swept at his legs. A third guard grabbed de Marchand and dragged him back. A moment later the guard fell flat. De Marchand’s dagger was dripping with the guard’s blood.
Brighteyes dashed in. His hands blurred and Diaz’s pistol spun into the dirt. Diaz spun away from the soldier - towards me, as luck would have it.
Diaz’s boot was cocked and ready to lash out. “I smiled ruefully at him and ask, “Have you fallen so low you would attack the one man trying to bring you peace?” Perhaps the shame I saw in his eyes was mere hope or imagination, but Diaz spread his hands and stepped back.
A whirring passed through where Diaz had been. McMoridin angled his smoking pistol and began pouring powder. Diaz sprang backwards into a full somersault as another guard charged McMoridin.
De Marchand clattered forth, his limbs twirling in a complex series intended to land fist and foot in a foes face. Diaz swirled his cloak from his shoulders around de Marchand who tumbled to the ground and rolled while ripping at the clinging garment.
Diaz’s sword gleamed in the afternoon sun as it rose. It sparkled in the light as it disintegrated. Brighteyes’ daring shot had found it’s mark.
Diaz ducked, then spun sideways. The shattered hilt of his sword arced out towards Nemo McMoridin. McMoridin was no longer there. McMoridin was running, pell-mell, for cover.
Diaz turned back towards me and his now-empty hands rose as he settled into an exotic fighting stance. “Stand down.” I pled. “It is not too late for you and I to settle this as gentlemen, as brothers in arms.”
Diaz glanced at de Marchand, who was now free of the enveloping cloak and holding it like a Spanish matador. De Marchand rocked on his feet as if he were to charge in. One of the remaining guards barreled into de Marchand and, together, they crashed to the ground.
“I would be more likely to listen to you, ‘old friend,’ if you called your hounds to heel.” Diaz drawled. Stung, I stood silent.
Behind Diaz, I could see de Marchand, on hands and knees, his dagger twisted in his foe’s intestines. There was a sharp whistle. De Marchand glanced at the source then braced rigid on his limbs. Brighteyes ran, pushed off de Marchand’s back and rose into the air with his pistol poised. Diaz must have seen something in my gaze, for he rolled backwards and rose behind the discombobulated Brighteyes. Diaz grabbed Brighteyes’ arm and twisted. A second later Diaz stood, Brighteyes neck caught in the crook of one arm, Brighteyes’ pistol in his other hand, pointed at me.
“Would you truly shoot me down in cold blood?” I asked. “However this day might end must you and I really tear out each others throats?” Our eyes were locked. I was still unwilling to attack the man who had been my friend. He would have to force the issue. I believe Diaz may have felt the same regarding me, for, while his aim held true, and his pistol’s muzzle remained pointed towards my face, while Brighteyes yet struggled in his grasp, and while de Marchand brought his own pistol to bear, Diaz held his fire.
De Marchand pulled his trigger. The report echoed along the street as Diaz’s pistol cracked in half from the impact of shot. Diaz smiled, tightly. “I think, ‘old friend,’ this day shall end with me giving you one last chance to rethink your loyalties. Do you give yourself to an outdated ideal, of the corrupt idle rich, or will you see that this is where the work of the Valliant ends - with free men of honor rising up to govern and aid themselves?” Diaz pushed Brighteyes to the ground, turned his heels and fled. De Marchand had reloaded his pistol. His parting shot was intercepted by one of the prison guard who had thrown himself into the path of the bullet. Our few remaining hirelings had secured Diaz and his guard’s horses. Now they fell to Diaz’s dagger.
“If you see the Admiral, tell him there’s more to explore as a free man than as a well-paid servant!” Diaz laughed while he rode off.
For a moment I considered vaulting onto one of the remaining horses to give chase, yet I could not yet bring myself to pursuit. Our mission was to procure paper and press, not to eliminate The Seer.
Mathys Violette emerged from the prison looking quite pleased with himself. “And where were you?” de Marchand queried, sharply. Violette ignored the interrogative, and held up a satchel filled with documents.
He dumped them in the street and sorted through them. There was a tube, waxed and sealed. Violette cracked it open and produced a roll of vellum. He unrolled the sheet, glanced over the page then handed it to me. “I believe this is what you were looking for?” he asked, with a sneer at de Marchand, “It’s fine, it’s not like I’m asking for thanks, or anything….”
It was, indeed, the Carta Magna. As it was stored sealed, we believe that Diaz had not yet made copies of the manuscript. And so, with the Carta Magna in hand and the leaden type of the printing press safely stowed it seemed we had completed enough of our mission to count a success.
Your Eminence, we intend on scouring the city for the missing frame before we return, yet, with the revelation of the identity of the Seer, I felt it imperative to inform you of the activities of Bartolomeu Diaz. I implore you to pass the information on to Marshal Duclos, Viceroy Moridin and such members of the Vert Valliant as you are able to locate.
I remain shocked, Your Eminence. I cannot fathom how a man of renown like Diaz could so renounce all he once stood for, and that he once helped to build. I had hoped my days of travel and battle were long behind me. I was content to remain on my Estates with my beautiful Caterina and our sons and daughter. I was happy to receive letters of the adventures of the Valliant to set into play and song that we might be remembered long after our days. Yet life is seldom what we wish it to be. Again I find myself embroiled in conflict and intrigue. By honor and duty I must do what I can to set right affairs in France. It was under my watch that His Highness, Maxime, was slain. I find it almost too much to bear that one of our own - a valiant hero of the Vert Valliant - might have been the very man who planned the cowardly attack. Against a proven villain, like Marco daVinci or Ben Johnson such vile deeds are almost commonplace, and to kill such a criminal is so sin against God, Man or State, but merely to bring justice. Against a friend and seeming man of honor like Bartolomeu Diaz….
I am lost.
It is my hope, Your Eminence, that you might make some time for me upon our return to Marseillaise. I am, once again, in need of your spiritual guidance and insights.
Lord Bailey Bayley Baileigh
Extra foreshadowing for naught.... -- Mike Myke Mique (posted: 4/8/2019)
Take your time -- red (posted: 4/8/2019)
Dunno, maybe rushing is better to the reader... -- Creative Mike (posted: 4/9/2019)