Friday, February 17, 2012

In France

French border, 24th October 1713

Princess Elisenda was anxious for entering France but, after Claire's insistence, the entourage stopped a few hundred meters from the French border and encamped close to a farmhouse, to the surprise of the Archbishopric dragoons --who finally decided to also encamp in the nearby.

Still clad in her manservant clothes, Claire spent the last hours of night talking quietly with the imperial escort captain, and afterwards with some members of the princess retinue --always in the utmost discretion. Elisenda was really intrigued, but said nothing. While everyone in the camp went falling aslept, Claire and a soldier were still busy removing the stage coach baggage. They were the very last in going to bed.

On the next morning, Elisenda didn't notice anything odd at first. But a few meters after the journey restart, she suddenly realized. Her eyes went alternately from drover to coachmen and then to ushers, and then to drover again.

--Claire, our retinue has changed.

--Yes it has, Your Highness --Claire admitted, a slightly ironic smile on mouth.

--But... --and then Elisenda noticed the cavalrymen riding the closest to coach --but ...they have exchanged roles! I mean, what is our drover doing dressed as a soldier? And the man at reins is an imperial soldier!

Then Claire's smile widened: --Your Highness, you've placed great hopes in France. Please remember that France is still the enemy, though --and she then suddenly got serious: --I deserve no doubts about King Louis intentions, of course. But remember that France is King Philip's homeland too. He's your deadly enemy and still keeps many supporters in France, who would no doubt enjoy your death.

Then she told that, in collusion with the imperial captain, Claire had replaced all the Princess civil servants by appropriately disguised Austrian soldiers. Some of their weapons had been hidden inside the luggage. Not only that, but in the cabin of the car there also were a few handguns. Just for case.

--I was told you're pretty good at rapier, Princess.

--I had an excellent teacher --Elisenda admitted.

--Fiona, I know --Claire's glance went sad for a while-- Well, under your seat there's a rapier. If lowering your hand under the seat like this, you'll touch its knob. Right?

The girls stopped their talk at the sight of French border, running along a narrow stream. On the opposite side, an impressive full squadron of Gendarmes de la Garde was obviously waiting for them. Elisenda felt the Austrian soldiers tension through their tight lips, or their fists clenched over the reins. Just before facing their old enemies, the Austrian captain turned towards Elisenda and gallantly kissed her hand. She gratefully pronounced some thankful words.

Both troops formed in line, facing to each other in silence. Nothing went wrong, however. The escort relief maneuver was carried over with admirable precision, as if a ballet was performed. Claire's insightful glance went from one French soldier to the next one, and thoughtfully told to herself: --Which one? which one might be a hidden supporter to King Philip?

Heading the French squadron there were two standards, and Elisenda was the first one to notice them:

--Look Claire, the Gendarmes are flying two standards. The first one...

--I see, the Royal Standard of France. It's a signal for everyone that this entourage is under King Louis' protection --then Claire raised an eyebrow-- The other standard however... It is also some kind of sémée but...

--Thistle, or Cardoon --Elisenda observed, not less surprised than Claire-- They've filled up a yellow-red standard with thistle flowers, my lineage device.

Claire's face turned into a naughty smile: --True, they've arranged them as in their own fleur-de-lisée.

--So they've created a...

--A genuine fleur-de-chardonée!!

Both girls started laughing loudly, they weren't able to stop. The crystal-clear sound of their laughter filled the air, to the amusement of both nations soldiers.


Jiminho said...

Your story grows richer and richer, Lluis. That standard deserves to fly at the head of a fine battalion on the wargames table - well done!


Jeroen72 said...

I like that flag :)

BTW did anyone smile with the thought of Lady Elisenda grabbing that knob or am i the only one with a pervy mind ;)

abdul666 said...

I suspect that -following Claire's pressing suggestion- all male members of the Lady's retinue are actually retired military types. Out of practice, but not bewildered nor helpless in a fight; and to be back in uniform seems to have rejuvenated them.
Give your enemies exactly what they expect -but with a surprise.

In those times, being 'hereditary enemies' did not imply hatred between professional soldiers. Extreme watchfulness in such awkward situation; stress, everyone knowing the importance of the moment and wanting to measure up; will to be a credit to their unit and sovereign in the eyes of their 'rivals'; but no hatred. Actually, by then military professionals felt honored when they could think highly of the enemy, even admire him. Other times, other values....

A nice, pleasant banner, but somehow looking innocuous, un-threatening -and totally uninformative. Those who designed it carefully avoided any detail that could imply, even suggest, a commitment about Lady Elisenda's rank and status.

As for Claire's ambiguous formulation -sure it was not intentional, but knowing here she burst out laughing inwardly at the very moment she was pronouncing it. As for the Princess... the young Lisette would have laugh merrily, but she is another person now, her mind overwhelmed with responsibilities and worries.

abdul666 said...

"suspectED from the start that all male members of the Lady's civilian retinue were at least..." Sorry, slightly befuddled by analgesics [old age, osteoarthritis, been too enthusiastic while playing with my dog :)]

abdul666 said...

Seemingly Claire is back in woman's clothes? Even this can be part of the deception: a young woman looks even more harmless / helpless than a man servant; and is more... distracting. Claire no longer conceals her very feminine forms, but can easily conceal more weaponry under her ample skirt [I'd say, at least a pair of cavalry pistols and a pair of hunting daggers:)].

The Gendarmes of the Maison, heirs of the personal company of King Henri de Navarre, are junior only to the Gardes du Corps. Not every guest of the French King is granted such a prestigious -and elite- escort.

Had the escort be made of Mousquetaires, Claire would have be deeply worried. Being their direct Captain, Louis uses them for 'difficult' police operations and implementations of lettres de cachet, surprise arrest and escort of Fouquet, during the affairs of the Man in Iron Mask and affaire des poisons; and probably in very 'dirty' (read 'homicidal') secret missions.

Soldadets said...

Jim, thanks for your appreciations --highly welcome, especially having in mind my poor management of English language... I'm in fact deeply enjoying the global experience (campaigning + story telling + devices designing - eventual roleplay gaming), so that it's far from difficult to extract supplementary ideas at any time...

Soldadets said...

Jeroen72, well, it wasn't my purpose to... ehem... suggest anything that... cough, cough (intense blushing)

Soldadets said...


There was a hidden, pervious double sense with the thistle motif phonetics. This might well lay under the girls teenage-jokes about the cardoon sémée. Unfortunately, that sexual hidden sense gets lost when translated from Catalan into English, so their laughter sadly looses here some of its originary sense.

Thistle is called "card" in Catalan. But also, "cardar" is a colloquial verb literally meaning "to fuck". Easy to understand such combination of that a explicit verb with the arrangement name itself ("sémée") can evoke plentiful of mischievous images in the fevered imagination of two young girls. Moreover, if using the Catalan words for "fleur-de-chardonée", which would be more or less "flor-de-cardat" --that is, "fucked's flower" (ehem).

The scene also allows me for suggesting the start of a complicity relationship between Claire and Elisenda, beyond their respective status. Don't know yet if it should end as a close friendship or not, but I thought it worthy to note.

abdul666 said...

Thanks for the enlightenment :) :)

Claire would not mind to escort the Princess beck to Catalonia: otherwise she would not feel to have completed successfully her mission; and she is really curious to discover the regiment Fiona McGregor.
And maybe she remembers Lieutenant Leibnitz....

I hope her Austrian escort left to the Princess the personal banner she was granted when leaving the Emperor. The standard is beautiful, and when displayed in Catalonia its combination of the old víbria of the Kings of Aragon with Catalan republican symbols may elicit 'interesting' reactions.

Soldadets said...

Well, I had in mind suggesting that banners are replaced alongisde with their bearers... it was intended to reflect how each side sees the Princess.

As you suggested before, the Austrian version of the standard reflects a high commitment degree, shown not only through her princely crown but also in the background colour chosen --yellow, the same as for Emperor's own banner.

As you so cleverly noted, the French-made banner is most of a diplomatic piece of work. It reflects no commitment, no official recognition of anything yet.

At a first sight, it could be wondered if any friendlyness is possible, given the radical contrast of background colours between her personal standard for use in France and King Louis' own banner.

When designing the banner, it would have been considered equally unappropriate (even offensive) by Versailles to assign Elisenda a banner showing her arms as a mere Countess. So that they've diplomatically designed a standard clearly pleasant to her, by using the National Colours of Galatea combined with her own Cardona lineage device.

At the very same time, "ells no s'hi mullen". That is, "they don't get wet", as commonly said in Catalan to express they do not commit themselves anymore.

However, interesting to notice that (at least in my oppinion) the banner also expresses some kind of complicity expectation by French authorities, this expressed by the shared arrangement of lilies and thistles --or should it be understood as a will of supremacy or influence?

Not in vain French has been the language of Diplomacy for centuries... ;)

abdul666 said...

The essence of diplomacy:
'The Diplomat and the Honest Woman:
- When the Diplomat says 'Yes' he means 'Maybe';
. when the Diplomat says 'Maybe' he means 'No';
. when the Diplomat says 'No'... but no Diplomat ever says 'No'.
- When the Honest Woman says 'No' she means 'Maybe';
. when the Honest Woman says 'Maybe' she means 'Yes';
. when the Honest Woman says 'Yes'... but no Honest Woman ever says 'Yes'."
Fortunately, the Lady is not acting as an ambassadrix :)

Now, for Claire 'Good Girls Go to Heaven - Bad Girls Go Everywhere.'

Btw "Ne pas se mouiller" is also widely used in French with the same meaning.

abdul666 said...

When compared to King Louis's banner, what is missing on the current French design of the Lady's one is an heraldic device in the center.
Examples such as Bavaria show that such can be superimposed over a rather 'complex' background.
Maybe one is already waiting in Versailles in case discussions are concluded positively, with a Catalan coat-of-arms and a princely crown?

Soldadets said...

Such might well be the case, Jean-Louis. Anyway, take for sure that our gentle Elisenda has already noted in mind all those diplomatic attempts to assign a regular device for her, in order to select the best of each one for her own (still projected) Ordnance on flags, uniforms and military organization. She's plenty of ideas at this respect... ;)