Sunday, October 16, 2011

Troubled journey (10): Bitter decision

Comtat Venaissin border, night of 24th August 1713

They had the time to interrogate the prisoners and, to Vilana's surprise, Gérard de Beaujeu had shown an amazingly willing collaboration. Llinàs explained to the Marquis that, in exchange for such collaboration, the monk was waiting for some kind of deal -or mercy at least.

According to Gérard de Beaujeu's own words, he was a former soldier with an uncertain past, who joined the Order of Malta fifteen years ago and later became a confidant of the Grand Prior of Catalonia -the deceased Fra Dídac de Serralta. And for several months, he was also a traitor to him, tempted by the generous offerings of the Grand Master Ramon Perellós Rocafull.

Vilana recalled that, at first, the Order of Malta had strived to keep a strict neutrality in the War of Spanish Succession. But in such Nation of Nations as it was, each one's affinities or origin played a significant role hindering such neutrality. Vilana was aware the knights and monks belonging to the Grand Priory of Catalonia openly favoured Archduke Charles' cause, for instance. But interest of the Order itself also played a role against neutrality -not in vain, most estates and priories of the Order were located in France. Therefore, Grand Master Perellós most likely considered appropriate to tilt the balance sightly towards the Bourbon side -just a bit. However, the Empire fulminating reaction at confiscating all the Order estates in Imperial lands only exacerbated Grand Master Perellós position, who definitely chose to favor Philip d'Anjou's cause.

He had no evidence about Serralta activities (as a matter of fact, the Catalan Prior had managed to establish a discrete, permanent flow of significant amounts of money in Barcelona through Malta and Genoa, thanks to English intermediaries), but he finally decided to corrupt Beaujeu with the aim of being permanently informed on any suspicious activity of Serralta. This is how Perellós knew the Catalan Prior had recently been delivered a mystery letter from abroad that caused a deep impact on the old monk, who afterwards started preparing a secret, unauthorized trip in France. Beaujeu was secretly instructed by the Grand Master to offer himself for accompanying Serralta on the trip. Naively enough, Serralta trusted on him and, in spite of not revealing yet the ultimate objective of his trip, admitted it was an affair likely key to the future of Catalonia. When acknowledged in turn, Grand Master felt deeply unhappy.

A small party was then secretly formed by Perellós, with the mission of discretely following Serralta and spying his activities in France -and, if necessary, preventing him to harm the Order interest. Beaujeu would perform as their informer, acknowledging them about Serralta's next successive steps. The party would be formed by a small number of knights of the Order alongisde with a smaller retinue of mercenaries -who would perform as guides and informers to them. Five and three, respectively.

When the small retinue of Serralta met that one of Marquis de Vilana, the traitor became highly suspicious about his master's intentions of explaining to that unknown Monsieur Villars those same objectives he wouldn't unveal to Beaujeu himself. The day before, he had just been acknowledged that their actual destination was not Pontigny Abbey, but that of Bonnevaux, also belonging to the Cistercian Order. Doubtful about the actual relationship between that one Villars and Serralta, also afraid his betrayal might have been learnt by the Catalan Prior, Beaujeu finally took a radical, perhaps hasty decision and murdered Serralta. Some amount of money for the Militia captain would help to spread confusion and buy time for him to join the Maltese party -and who knows, it even would result in the incrimination of that mysterious Monsieur Villars...

Vilana started thoughtfully wandering away by the wet grass, under the watchful eye of Claire, who kept a prudent distance respecting the legate's obvious deliberations. To the Catalan legate, the overall situation was getting increasingly uncomfortable for, to his frustration, it seemed that all actors in the drama were only aware of the part each one had been assigned, and little else... Besides, they now had a new menace closing to them at an unknown rate, personified in 5 knights of Malta and 3 Marsellaise mercenaries. That meant 8 experienced gens d'armes. Bad news indeed.

What should they do next? Waiting for that party to arrive and ambushing them? It wasn't an option, for sure. Fleeing to Bonnevaux Abbey instead? They would spend not less than a whole day in such route, a wolkabout long enough to be caught en route by the Maltese party... if the stage coach wouldn't definitely damaged before, of course. Vilana asked Llinàs for his opinion, and he answered: -We've got now four supplementary horses, Sire. This should allow us to relieve our own coach team if necessary, so that we might keep a more or less constant speed...

Vilana finally took a decision. They would go Bonnevaux, taking advantage of the Maltese party temporary ignorance about themselves.

However, there still was a last, uncomfortable dilemma pending over his mind since the interrogatory very beginning. He had been willingly leaving such decision for later, hoping he'd finally find some alternate solution. But later was now, and he had no other chance than deciding.

Llinàs looked at him expectantly in silence -he knew. Exhausted, Vilana nodded discretely and went away. Lieutenant Llinàs promptly extracted his knife and proceeded with routinary efficiency. Imploring lamentations stopped as sharply as had arosen. Vilana threw himself heavily on the stage coach seat, followed by Claire's apparently impassive glance. "It's war, Sire", her beautiful eyes seemed to tell him; but nothing was said, however.

Only the ceaseless murmur of Rhone waters filled the air since.

4 comments:

abdul666 said...

Politics...

Claire already met fanatical members of a ('officially secret', though obviously caring for discretion) 'Order' when a 'Pirette' in the Caribbean.

abdul666 said...

Claire fully accepts the necessities of war -be it overt or secret- and has no qualms during a fight. But she never killed for the pleasure of it, she's not even a cold blood murderer. Actually she has a very high sense of ethics and justice, unconventional for a large part but stringent nonetheless. Even when making a living as a 'professional duelist' (i.e. paid murderer) she accepted contracts only when the 'target', after an in-depth investigation, in her educated opinion fully deserved the 'ultimate punishment'. Reportedly (but so many tales go around her) she always managed (though some of her opponents were highly skilled) to adjust the duration of the duel to her loathing of the 'prey'; from an almost merciful instant execution to an interminable 'cat and mouse' play, until her opponent spoils himself and tries to throw himself on her blade to put an end to the torture...

As for the botte de Nevers she could have learned it only from the outcast Chevalier Henri de Lagardere himself. Allegedly the Duke Philippe de Nevers 'invented' this thrust; yet he could not work out all alone, only against dummies, this dazzling whirlwind of steel ending in the unstoppable stroke at the base of the forehead, just above the nose bridge. More likely he perfected it with at least one trustworthy fencing partner, probably an old sword master from a line attached to the Nevers family for generations. Yet for sure he was the only man *of fighting age* to know this thrust when he told it to Lagardere just before being murdered. Claire had to meet Lagardere in Northern Spain (where he was hiding for the safety of Aurore de Nevers, the secret orphan of Philippe), probably once she somehow protected / saved Aurore? These two outstanding characters with equally extraordinary pasts sympathized, and Henri told the 'thrust of Nevers' to her. But it must be noted that, while she perfectly masters the botte -she repeatedly rehearsed it against the best fencers among her fellow Gardes- the always used it 'at full speed' so nobody could 'analyze' her moves, never told it to anybody, and never so far used it in a real fight. Probably she swore not to 'spoil' it before Lagardere used it to kill the murderer of Philippe de Nevers. She would use it in a desperate situation, but then would carefully mutilate the corpse(s) so that the nature of the blow could not be recognized (remember, a master strangler of the secret Gypsy Cult of Kali told her all his tricks, and disfiguration of corpses are among them).

Most people think that Claire walks with the grace of a dancer; only top-level fellow predators see that she walks like an assassin.

Rittmeister Krefeld said...

Love your writing style. You actually play these out as an RPG game or you write them up yourself? Was the killing of Beaujeau a planned plot move or the fortunes or misfortunes in beaujeu's case of the dice?

Soldadets said...

Hi Stephan, yes this story was actually played as a roleplaying game. Their webmaster used my Imagi-Nation's main storyline to extract a plot for his players, using GURPS system. In return for using our characetrs and settings, we agreed the adventure results would affect our own Imagi-Nation (glupsss...)

I was kindly invited by them to join their game carrying Marquis de Vilana character, and I must say it was actually thrilling and fun!

At the end of this scene, the gamers got shocked when realized their characters had no other choice than forgetting all mercy promises. They had nearly become victims of a plot incriminating them in a murder, were about to meet a number of hostile armed men and, above all, their high mission seemed to be in a real peril.

Therefore, their only conclusion was they had to kill prisoners. Such action matched by no means with their own idea of "being the good guys", but we all agreed such would have been the characters decision in "real life".

After the gaming session, an observer to the game recalled to us that, after a cruel war lasting for nearly 10 years, cold blood killing he enemy would have become quite normal. There was too much accumulated hate between Catalans and Spaniards by then, he believed, so that in his opinion our decision as gamers was OK.

We use to think of Lace Wars as a gentlemanly affair -but it wasn't certainly the case of WSS in Spain.

It wasn't only the Spanish "gallows tithe" on civilians, to be honest. Some Km north of Sant Llorenç del Munt, for instance, there is a small mountain range known as "serra dels degollats" (=slaints range?). A whole Spanish infantry battalion was killed there after being taken prisoners. It was a revenge for a massive "gallows tithe" performed before by this battalion in Moianès and Lluçanès counties.