Thursday, January 20, 2011

Heading to Versailles

Monte-Cristo, 23rd August 1713

Claire Baizanville's first impulse was to burst in anger with Marquis de Vilana, but the Catalan legate's peaceful resolution attitude puzzled her for a while, until she managed stuttering: -But... then... Friedr... ahem, Lieutenant Leibnitz is not accompanying you? Is he... ahem... are your retinue sailing in your xebec ship?

The Marquis said nothing, he just nodded head with concern. Then Claire continued, taking a sharp tone: -The Spanish galley did also sail, a short while after your xebec. In pursuit of it, for sure.

Vilana closed eyes and fell silent, thoughtful. After a while, he gently responded: -My dear Claire, Lieutenant Leibnitz is a responsible young man, a true soldier committed to his duty. I'm persuaded you know what I am talking about. He and all my retinue knew and accepted the risks this might take.

For an instant, the girl's face got muddy. She hadn't so far noticed the affection that the young Austrian soldier had awakened in her, and such knowledge perturbed her. Struggling not to be taken by sentimentalisms, she swallowed and fought to get rid of the strange thoughts invading her mind. She prevailed, not without a huge effort: -And you, Sire?

Given the inquisitive silence of Vilana, the girl continued: -I wouldn't like to be misunderstood, but... I don't believe it wise travelling alone through a still considered hostile country, with no other retinue than two men, Sire.

-What do you mean? I can not imagine any obstacle from French authorities, Claire.

-Most likely not -she admitted. -However, France is not just its authorities, Sire. That country has been as torn by war as the rest of Europe, even more. The State is exhausted and impoverished, its power over society has become fragile and not always apparent, and deprivation have made people become surly and bad-tempered. Further if facing to some mysterious foreigners... Why are you so confident in that no nasty obstacle is to happen at any lost stop in your journey?

The Marquis stared briefly at the two soldiers escorting him, whose gaze was hesitant. He understood they were aware of their own limitations: they couldn't speak French, had no proper credentials and were carrying pistols only. Then Claire added: -Listen Sire, you are probably taking no difficulty in Provence: language similarity and friendly character of locals will let you travel with just the normal precautions, as if you were at home. But further north, the locals you are going to meet will behave with suspicion and even hostility towards any perceived foreigner. Someone might take you as spies, or even worse...

-And what are you proposing then? ...It's my duty going in Versailles, even though risking my life -at this point, his voice was slightly trembling.

-Let me come with you, Sire -she quickly answered. -Now I'm returning back to town, for I wouldn't leave without a due permission or some baggage -she then humourously smiled -but we can meet at the French border, by the road to Aix.

-Meet you there in three hours' time, then. -he agreed.

-I'll be there, Sire.


abdul666 said...

No doubt Claire went immediately to meet the Prince-President: to get his approval was her duty, both as Captain of the Gardes and as ruler of the Presipality, since she was to act -perhaps (hopefully?) violently- on foreign land, with possible diplomatic consequences.

Now Louys is certainly of all rulers of the world the easiest to meet, but anyway the Gardes enjoy a special privilege: any of them can meet the POPP at any hour of night and day without previous notice and without to answer any question on the way. This is part of the very peculiar ethos of the Corps: the Prince-President is their Captain, on his accession to power they swear him a solemn oath of loyalty, courage and obedience to death, but in the very same time in the Corps he is just one among his peers.: The 'figurehead' of their Brother (and, to a very limited extend, Sister)hood.
And remember the Gardes have, not the right but the *duty* to assassinate any POPP who would cling to power while no longer able, fit or worthy to exercise it.
A very peculiar type of bodyguard or 'Druzina' of Companions!

And there is now doubt Louys gave her immediately his approval and blessing, complimenting her for her initiative, promised he will personally take care of all administrative formalities and wrote a carte blanche allowing her to requisition anything she could need for her 'journey'. An gave her one of his famous blanc-seigns, written by his own hand and bearing his own signature and private seal: "C'est sur mon ordre et pour le bien de l'Etat que le porteur de la présente a fait ce qu’il a fait." This would give her, in case of extreme necessity, a form of diplomatic immunity at least in France and ensure her the officious collaboration of the Secret du Roy.

And, without telling her -unnecessary because obvious- he will immediately and by the fastest way put in a state of alert any member of the Monte-Cristan 'Service' currently close to the route from Monte-Cristo to Paris, to watch unnoticed on the progress of the travelers, inquire about any local special source of insecurity, provide Gypsy scouts and, to cross areas of high level of risk -local unrest, banditry...- to provide 'by mere chance' traveling companions in the form of a Lady, accompanied by her secretary and handmaiden, traveling in their own coach precisely in the same direction for some time...

abdul666 said...

Since she'll pose as a merchant's daughter, Claire will not appear in breeches and riding boots, not openly carrying weapons. Then, a shirt has advantages: the 4 front flaps below the waist are not false, they cover slits allowing her to easily reach her (concealed) sword, Garde's dagger and 2 heavy cavalry pistols. Also hidden by the convenient long skirt, are strapped to her calves a throwing knife and a weapon combining a hunting dagger with 2 pistols. This last she keeps as trophy: it belonged to one of the '45', the private retinue of the (Vile) Stagonian Mutter-Koenigin, born de Sade; because of his behavior -no detail necessary- she challenged him in formal dual. Realizing very quickly that his fate was hopeless, the man ignored the rules and tried to use the pistols of this secondary weapon. Claire's hardest task was, less than 4 seconds later, to free the weapon from the clenched fingers of the severed hand... Claire is not of the kind to take trophies, but the foe was of a specially repulsive bunch, children kidnappers reputed to poison their blades with the ichor of their own pustules; and the combi-weapon is really convenient.

Her decent, modest long sleeves conceal another throwing dagger and a miniature 'pepperbox' pistol.

In her purse, some ammunition and a few throwing stars; and what could pass for a handkerchief is indeed a Rumaal, a strangler's garotte.

And see how carefully she handles her hatpin...

Since the Marquis de Vilana, masquerading as a merchant, cannot openly bear his sword or any weapon, Claire would probably offer him a Canne de Saint-Christophe. This multi-purpose walking stick is a development of the swordstick used by the Investigateurs of Monte-Cristan police: as a walking stick, heavy, thick and knobbly enough to be a tremendous truncheon, with a lethal spike-like ferrule and a huge leaded knob allowing to 'reverse' it with a quick wrist rotation to use it as a casse-tete.
Additionally, in the Canne de Saint-Christophe, below the shark skin covered section used as hilt when the sword is drawn, the 'scabbard' part is crowned with a rococo ring above a thicker part some 10 inches long, fluting-decorated with 4 grooves; actually the functional parts are the 4 cylinders so delimited: alternatively 2 barrel pistols and 2 hollow ones containing each a string of cartridges; the triggers and firelocks are hidden in the rococo crown.

Soldadets said...

No doubt the two young Catalan soldiers, who are accompanying our good marquis, will have a feeling of deep relief after our beautiful -and dreadful- sous-lieutenante confirmed her company to the small group! ...After all the Lieutnant Leibnitz passionate comments on the last weeks about Claire's skills, most soldiers in the marquis' retinue have built some kind of half-legendary 'aura' on her, so that she's considered some kind of re-born Amazon Queen or half-goddess of war. In case of need, they would eagerly follow her orders as if she was their own lieutenant.

abdul666 said...

The Galatans soldiers appreciation of Claire is of course grossly exaggerated. Then, it's certain that a girl who since the age of 14 managed to stay alive and earned her life only with sword and pistols (and other implements of sudden death) must have had natural predisposition to start with and gained a *lot* of experience, practice and skills.

Fencing with a left-hand dagger passed totally out of fashion outside Monte-Cristo (where children of both sexes play "2 Cannes", mock fencing with a long and a short staff); being good at it is thus an advantage over most adversaries. Claire had to learn it the rough way -when boarding a ship defended by a trained crew with high morale, you have to keep your both hands busy simply to stay alive- and her technique was crude. But most of the Monte-Cristans who join the Gardes after years of soldiering in foreign armies have forgotten most of the art of 'main gauche' and their weapon master is a marvelous teacher.
And Claire enjoys the advantage to be totally ambidextrous, and to master to perfection the trick of exchanging 'instantaneously' the weapons between her hands: no one who faced this trick survived to analyze it later at leisure and try to find a parade!

abdul666 said...

For this journey, Claire Baizanville have been entrusted (a mark both of personal esteem, and of the importance of de Vilana's security for the Presipapal Palace) with two rare weapons:
- an airgun: no sound, no flame, no smoke: the perfect sniper / long range assassin weapon, and could shoot twenty bullets a minute to boot! This one she keeps in her luggage hidden (partly taken apart) under the false bottom of a viole d'Orphee case [while not as skilled as with weapons, she plays it more than decently -but she warns you: 'If you hear me singing, I'll have to kill you!];
- an improved (rifled) version of Felipe V's own prototype of breech-loader using pre-loaded cartridges: a delicate, outrageously expensive weapon, but allowing the range, accuracy and rate of fire of late 19th C. military fusils à répétition. This one, with a box of ready cartridges, she hid under the seat in the coach.

Having observed that de Vilana's bodyguards carried only pistols, she came with a pair of flared barrel blunderbusses: more 'efficient', shotgun-fashion, than pistols and chiefly more impressive / deterring: not by accident the weapon of choice of coachmen, stagecoach guards, postillions and the like wary of highwaymen.


abdul666 said...

As for the origin of Claire's strangling rumaal, she fortuitously discovered (before entering Monte-Cristan service) a fact that the Presipality, after a century and a half of exceptionally trusting (for gadjos) relationships with Romanies, is only benining to know for sure: the existence of an utterly secret (even towards other Gypsies) Thugs-like sect of Kali worshippers. Not totally to be unexpected, given that the Gypsies' Saint Patron they come to venerate at the Saintes Maries de la Mer, Sarah 'the Black' is called 'Sara Kali' in their own tongue, and they are known to be of Indian ancestry.
As it happennened, Claire save the life of a rogue jemadar excommunicated and sentenced to death by the Stranglers Cult. As a mark of gratitude -and as an act of defiance towards the 'Deceivers' sect- he broke the secret and taught her his 'art'. He was a 'black rumaal' -over 100 kills recorded- and since they were only 2, he taught her the most difficult practice, the 'solo' strangling (while the Thugs normally operate in teams, with a 'senior' strangler and 3 - 4 apprentices: 2 or 3 limb-holders and a 'decoy / lure'); and if he bothered to tell her the ritual use of the pickaxe to dispose of corpses, it was only because such knowledge can be useful in other contexts. Since Claire is a 'natural' fighter, she learned even the most difficult thrust: strangling from the front a fully alert and aware opponent.

Claire carries her rumaal openly -it looks like a harmless, if fanciful, scarf- but in her luggage she also have a length of harpsichord wire with a heavy handle at each extremity. When the skilled practitioner 'whips' the neck of his opponent, the 'free' handle by its inertia winds the wire around the neck and flies to the free hand of the user. The pressure exerted by the wire is several order of magnitude higher than that of a scarf, instantaneously crushing the windpipe and ensuring a perfectly silent and fast strangling. The victim can even be beheaded by the 'cheese wise', but Claire lacks the physical strength to achieve it; not that it really matters, in the end....