Vox Populi Forum
I had travelled with Alain Gignot and Nemo McAlias to Turin along with others, of note: David Stanton, Hector Szelbano and Thomas Guy - three men of merit. We had been sent by His Eminence, Percy on what was to be a meeting with Alexander Pope and the disowned and dishonored Prince du Sang, Henri of Paris. Instead, it seemed we were on a mission of rescue.
We were unclear on who, exactly, we were supposed to rescue. Were we after Pope, Henri, both? One dispatch referred to “The Woman.” The rest was rumor and speculation.
The most amusing gossip surrounds you, my dear Francios! It is rumored the Republicans have deigned to offer you dominion over your own territories and an “Independent Duchy!” Your loyalty the ideals of France are known far and wide, and I am certain you see the humor in these “Republicans” couching their offer to you in Royalist terms.
Other, upsetting rumors revolved around the nature of the disgrace surrounding Henri of Paris. The common telling holds the man an Idiot - an attitude I, until recently, shared. Darker tones infer a more scandalous relationship. “Oedipal,” is not quite the correct term, but it shall serve well enough to describe the supposed, illicit relationship between Henri and his Aunt, Lady Antoinette Phillipe.
More troubling are the tales of Kleef. If true, King Lars marches towards Noire.
Crossing Turin was a series of small misadventures. We entered through the Unclaimed Acreage to the North, through a wedding, where, to cross “un-noticed” re resorted to stratagems such as “bringing the Marriage Contract,” “Bringing the Rings,” “Bringing Love Potions for the Groom,” and other audacious acts. Afterwards, an encounter with five Fasci Friars was resolved by myself, Stanton and Merd-a-din.
In Turin’s Orator’s Block we met with Fortuno Bonadventure - fresh from his honeymoon after his surprise marriage to Pamela Maurice - , while Hector Szelbano was dispatched as courier. The lively debates made a suitably noisy backdrop for hushed exchanges of information.
We passed from the Orator’s Block into the Lyceum Theater. The beauty of the famed Garden was striking, and reminded me of home. For a moment I felt a pang of home-sickness, and I suspect all felt a stirring in his breast. Stanton gave a sigh of such sorrow that fickle fortune, herself would have frowned at such an unmanly display.
The East High Town was held by improperly trained constables. Quick wit served to provide passage. Inquiries with the Dames of society, enjoying their daily promenade, provided the intelligence the Lady we sought oft walked upon the Parade Lawn under the supervision of Spanish. Her dwelling, a fortified manse adjacent to the Lawn.
The manse proved, indeed, to be well-fortified. Stanton’s knowledge of architecture identified a suitable entry point, Bondaventure's skill as a woodsman led us through the thickest woods and flowers unseen, and Merd-a-din’s acrobatic actions secured our route without alert. Our entry was easy.
Of course it was a trap.
Guy had been sent to search the rooms while the rest of us maintained watch from around the walls. I was first to see the Fasci forces. I fired as they came, but the pistol misfired. When the hammer fell, the pan snapped downwards. The primer charge flamed onto my coat, setting my sleeve afire. I shed the coat, by chance into a hay-wagon below. The quick blaze forced the Fasci to turn for another section of wall, and gave my allies forewarning.
As we converged I realized the Fasci were crying out for Gignot. Somehow the soldier had become known to Robespierre, himself! Woe betide should Gignot ever fall into Tri-Color hands. Stanton and Merd-a-din constructed barricades to hold against the Fasci that were bound to enter from the other side of the building while Fortunado kicked off those Fasci who crested our chosen position. Meanwhile I circled the balconies to attempt to secure a second section of wall.
As predicted, eventually the Fasci came for us inside the manse. Our impromptu fortifications were solid, just it seemed we must, eventually be overwhelmed. Yet the Fasci leader was either vain or foolhardy. He came too close to our position, and Gignot was able to spring forth, push past his paltry guards, lock up his sword, grab him, then throw the Spaniard from the rampart. The demoralized foe immediately routed. Stanton espied Thomas Guy amongst the retreating Spanish. His hand were tied. “Let our man go and we promise NOT to follow you!” Stanton shouted. In response, a Fasci spun and rudely shoved Guy to the grass before the Spanish ran off, followed by the echos of non-stop japes from the mouth of Fortuno Bonadventure.
Thomas Guy confirmed The Lady was not in the manse, but, rather, in one of the Quatro Abadia. The location of one was known to Bonadventure, who led us to the site. Alas, the Lady was not there.
We knew the roads would be dangerous for we French, between the Spanish soldiers, Fasci Friars and Tri-Colors, so we chose to work cross-country to search for the other three Abbeys. The countryside proved, perhaps, more dangerous than the roads. With each passage through the deep woods there was danger of losing one’s way, across each open field, snipers. Fear itself was a danger, for, at one point we came across the trial of a witch. Gignot had to strengthen the courage of the more superstitious among our servitors with a farcical argument involving ducks.
North and west of Turin we reached the river border between Spain and Carpathia. Reason suggested at least of the the Abbey’s would lie along the shore to the north, and so we decided to take a Spanish gunboat.
Memory is a funny thing. I have fought skirmishes and raids that seemed to be over in the time it would take to flip a hand of cards, yet this one battle - an insignificant event on its own - ah, this lone encounter could fill fifty paragraphs of narrative, and seemed to last longer than the siege of an entire city. Knives and grenades were thrown, pistols discharged, boots came from below, Stanton charged barefoot, and the Spanish captain was a wicked man who gave no quarter. Still, the vessel was taken with no serious mishap to our side. The Spanish had a prisoner who was able to confirm the location of one of the Abbeys, for the Abbey up-river was being used as the prison.
The Prison Abbey was a centuries-old structure, surrounded by tall trees and lush growth. Picturesque, it was, but the foliage reduced the effectiveness of the sentries. Our approach went unobserved, and entrance was a simple as sending our men to stealthily remove the chocks from the wheels of the wagons outside. The wagons rolled on the slight incline, and the door guards were hard pressed to stop the wagons from rolling off to smash into the forest. We searched the prison, and broke the morale of the interior guards with one swift charge, led by Gignot, before we discovered the most important prisoner held within.
I had travelled with Pope before, and had been won over by the man’s probing mind, quick wit and charming personality. I had felt sorrow when I heard the rumors of his passing in Mughal lands. When informed by His Eminence Pope still lived I tore myself away from hearth and home, for I admired Pope greatly and felt, on our first meeting, circumstances forced me to wrong one I would rather befriend. To say I was pleased to meet Pope once more would be accurate. Surely, a man of Pope’s intellectual and moral fortitude deserved better than the constant series of indignities and misfortunes that had plagued him.
Pope was happy enough to be released, but his immediate concern was for Henri of Paris. Henri had been seeking his Aunt, Antoinette, and had, himself, been taken by Spanish. Pope also vehemently denied there to be any truth behind the more unsavory rumors surrounding Henri. Antoinette was also in Spanish custody, and it was now obvious Lady Antoinette Phillipe was “The Lady” we had been sent to rescue.
It was likely that Pope, Henri and Lady Antoinette had each been held within a separate Abbey for secrecy (instead of being imprisoned in a more suitable facility), thus we deemed it prudent to seek the remaining “Dos Abadia.”
Down river, over dale, through wood, glen and field we moved. At each turn we avoided becoming lost, or embroilment in battle, until we reached one wide open field. By then we’d felt we had some handle on where the patrols and snipers were deployed. Gignot had led us around into a position on enfilade against where we believed a unit of the Tri-Colors to lie in wait. We divided into three groups, two to attack, while the third was merely myself and Pope. Pope was not to fight, and I protected Pope.
The action was a disaster. The Tri-Colors anticipated our attack, Thomas Guy’s column attacked early, David Stanton’s pistol exploded in his very hand, and, rather than accept the better part of valor, Fortuno Bonadventure pressed his luck leading his men into a headlong rush with the prepared foe.
By the time our men retreated, Bonadventure and Gignot had been captured. Besides Stanton’s shattered hand, Guy had been stabbed in the chest.
Merd-a-din and I crept back through the brush to assess the situation. The Spanish had recognized Gignot, and the soldier of the Valliant was already bound on horseback, with a dozen musketeers as guard, being galloped away. Fortunado’s luck had run dry. The Spaniards had wasted no time in hanging the poor lad from a tree. I had only just met him, but felt keen sadness at his death - for he was but barely a man, full of life and promise, who had already proven his bravery, and made a fortunate match with a woman widowed far too soon.
With heavy heart we returned to the rest of the party to meet with a surprise: Birmingham Brown, a cousin to Lord Major Jasc Bonadventure waved Merd-a-din over, and the two conversed in low tones. I asked another sailor among our retinue how Brown had found us. The sailor, Stephan Bravoure, laughed and said, “We’ve been with you since Perugia.” I studied Brown again and realized that I had seen his face - once bearded, now free of hair - with us for some time. I raised an eyebrow at both the “we” and the thought the spy, Brown, had been among friends all this time, and hadn’t revealed himself before then. The questions would have to wait.
Brown and Merd-a-din wished for a second assault on the Tri-Colors. Since so many of their number had left with the captured Gignot. Over my objections they argued we had a chance to eliminate the remaining threat.
The plan was a repeat of Gignot’s. This time, I led one column, Merd-a-din the other. The wounded Guy stayed with Pope. The Spanish must have expected a second assault, for they were ready to meet us. I found myself knocked out during the battle, and I am told I only live because I was dragged free by a man named Jose Calderon. Calderon was the manservant of Bravoure. I thanked Bravoure - who was himself wounded - for the bravery of his man. Bravoure gave a long, silent look, then replied, “It’s why he was here.”
With the field taken, it became clear why this location had been so well patrolled. From a hillock in the center, one could see far across the valley, including the spires of all four Abbeys. We now knew the locations, which would certainly make it easier to blaze a trail through the woods. Of the two remaining Abbeys one was obviously in ruin. We assumed the other would be used as a prison, and set for the likely candidate.
The wounded Guy led the attack on the front gate. After an easy victory we searched the Abbey. The ease of victory was due to there only being a skeleton garrison in place. The Abbey was empty. We would have to search the ruins.
It seemed advisable to sail along the river for most of the way, so we returned to our gunboat, travelled up-stream, disembarked and crossed wood and glen. A group of Tri-Colors was quickly dispatched with an ambush led by Stanton. We reached the ruins, and had just determined a search was fruitless when it was realized the spooky ruins surrounding us were those of a fallen castle, not the Abbey. We moved one as Thomas Guy joked that he was too tired to continue, and needed to be carried. Pope ran his eyes over Guy’s tall frame and drawled, “If no one else will volunteer….”
The day had been long, and night had fallen. Our path through the woods was lit by a type of lamp Stanton had bobbled together. Tri-Colors still patrolled the woods. We could occasionally glimpse their distant lanterns at times. Brown, again, split our men into two groups, and, again, attempted to ambush the enemy. Again, the enemy anticipated our action. This time, Merd-a-din’s second column was in place, and, despite the failure to surprise, our fire was effective. So we thought at first. Almost too late we realized we had been pushed into the center of an open, exposed field. I circled our men into doubled ranks and held discipline. Somehow, we won.
The ruins were in sight, just past a large, sacred oak tree. The gnarled trunk of the ancient forest sentinel silhouetted against the stars was a sight grim enough to test men’s hearts against irrational despair.
The ruins themselves shone coldly under the moon. There were no Spanish, but we could hear voices, speaking French, raised in argument. One man, one woman. Indicated: Henri and the Lady Antoinette had escaped their captors, and the incessant patrols were seeking their re-capture.
We followed the sound of the voices, each growing louder and more agitated. The woman screamed, and we broke into a run.
In the Chapel of the Abbey we found them - Henri of Paris and Lady Antoinette Phillipe. I was first to arrive, and the first to see a tableaux of violence. The Lady was bent, backwards across the altar, Henri above her, his hand, clutched a long dirk, upraised, poised to strike. The Lady was sobbing and pleading, “No, no, please, Henri, let me live!” while Henri growled, “And now it ends!”
Francois, you know I cannot bear to see one of the weaker sex so maltreated, and of my hatred for the bully. Rumor, politics, intrigue held no place in my mind, and I did what any true gentleman would do upon seeing an innocent woman about to be cruelly murdered. I drew my pistol, leveled it an Henri and pulled the trigger.
Simultaneous with the crack of powder came Alexander Pope’s scream of “NOOOOO!” An instant later Henri of Paris’s head snapped sideways as the ball ripped through his skull.
Francois, my friend, in the heat of the moment, driven by honor and passion, I fear I have acted rashly and cannot foresee all the fallout from one pistol ball. Henri of Paris was a vile man, prey to base lusts and dishonorable conduct.. He was disgraced, disowned and despised, yet still considered of value - to wit, the fact that His Eminence charged me to return with the man. Henri was a rival and obstacle to placing a Jasc Bonadventure on his rightful Throne, yet I fear there will plans for Henri that can never come to fruition.
Alexander Pope spoke only twice following the fateful moment. The first, after we buried Henri:
“Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.”
The second, was directed to my ears alone:
“Histories are more full of Examples of the Fidelity of dogs than of Friends.”
And so, it is a somber party that starts it’s return to Marseilles. Pope remains silent. The Lady Antoinette as well. They mourn Henri. We mourn Fortuno Bonadventure and fear for Alain Gignot. For now, these small losses are all that can be born. The larger concerns will have to wait.
Be safe, by Friend. These are dangerous times.
Lord Bailey Bayley Baileigh
That was a costly one! -- Fredrick Rourk (posted: 8/11/2019)