Arriving in Grenoble to discover that the lieutenant of the Chevau-légers de Challons is missing, the adventurers – Riordan O’Neill, sergeant of King’s Musketeers; Doctor Guillaume Sébastien, surgeon and Renaissance man; and Bruno Faucon, fencing instructor and man of mystery; along with Riodan’s lackey, Jean-Luc, and another Musketeer, Barthélemy de Courtivron – must regroup. The solicitous innkeeper, Monsieur Charnière, of the Auberge des Dauphins, arranges a private room for the weary, bedraggled travellers, giving them a chance to collect their thoughts while performing ablutions and exchanging soiled clothing for clean; he also provides them with bread and wine.
Guillaume and Riordan inquire about Gourjon, the missing officer. The innkeeper reiterates what the provost-martial, Mageron, told Riordan and Courtivron earlier: Gourjon disappeared two weeks earlier, and no trace of him has yet been found. His horse remains in the inn’s stables, and his room – actually the room paid for by the comte de Challons, which Gourjon was using while the count journeyed to Paris and Normandie – and to the best of anyone’s knowledge, Gourjon had no travel plans. The travellers inquire about the lieutenant’s habits while in Grenoble; Charnière describes Gourjon as having “a soldier’s habits,” without delving into what those are.
Charnière indicates that Challons’ company is quartered not in Grenoble, but rather on the estates of the seigneur de La Vauvraye, a half-day’s ride up the Graisvaudan from the city. A couple of troopers ride to the inn each day, to learn if there is news; the travellers elect to wait at the inn for the troopers, and the innkeeper gives the group its privacy.
A short time later, there is a knock at the door and a servant enters, indicating that a Monsieur Breydel wishes to speak with them. A short, plump man dressed in black silk and velvet, with a crisp whie ruff, is ushered into the room. Breydel expresses his sincere condolences to the travellers, remarking that Gourjon’s disappearance is unfortunate and complimenting the soldier’s character. “I’m sorry to bring this up under the circumstances,” he continues, “but the lieutenant, in the comte de Challons’ good name, borrowed a sum of five thousand livres, for the purpose of outfitting the company, and it appears that the money is missing as well.” The travellers inquire about the purpose of the loan, and Breydel says he believes it was for purchasing horses and carbines as well as making payroll for the gentlemen of the company.
Again Breydel expresses his regrets for bringing up the missing silver, but he wonders if the travellers can suggest any reason for Gourjon to leave suddenly, or if they have any word on the whereabouts of the coin. Told they do not, the banker apologizes for the interruption and asks that, should they learn anything, to please let him know at the earliest opportunity. With that Breydel excuses himself with a bow.
Observing that the Auberge des Dauphins, with its chestnut tables and linen cloths, its velvet cushioned chairs and Italian silver wine ewers, is beyond their means, Jean-Luc is dispatched to find accomodations in Grenoble more suitable to the travellers.
As promised by Charnière, the innkeeper, two troopers arrive and are ushered in to see the travellers. They introduce themselves Pierre Gaignaire and Catelano Valdimontone. Riordan questions the troopers about the men of the company; Gaignaire
indicates that they are performing drills as instructed by Lieutenant Gourjon before his disappearance, but without supervision and direction the men are restless and bored by the repetition. Questioned about Gourjon, they indicate that the lieutenant alternated his time between La Vauvraye and Grenoble, and that he was purchasing supplies for the company, specifically additional wheellock carbines and horses; a number of the men arrived on mounts unsuitable to the rigors of the coming campaign according to Gourjon, explains Gaignaire. Riordan inquires if Gourjon had any trouble with any of the men, but the troopers indicated that the lieutenant was respected; belatedly Valdimontone mentions friction between Gourjon and their host, the seigneur de La Vauvraye, an ill-tempered former soldier himself, but that the men studiously avoided one another thereafter.
The troopers are excused for a time, and the travellers are left to their thoughts. They speculate that someone might be attempting to delay the formation of the company of reinforcements; perhaps foreign espionage is afoot?
It’s decided that Riordan and Courtivron will travel back to La Vauvraye with Gaignaire and Valdimontone and put themselves to the task of organizing the men, while the doctor and Bruno remain in Grenoble to learn what they can about Gourjon. They agree to rendezvous in Grenoble, at the Auberge du Veau qui Tete, where Jean-Luc obtained lodging for the men, in three days.
The doctor, Guillaume, sets off to speak with the provost-martial, Mageron, in order to recover some papers seized after Gourjon’s disappearance. The provost-martial listens patiently as the doctor explains that the content of Gourjon’s papers is important to the company’s good order, and Mageron agrees release the pages to Guillaume. They are records of the company, requisitions and letters from armorers in Lyons and horse traders in Vienne, payroll records, and one side of a chatty correspondence with his sister in Bazas. Guillaume mentions the visit from Breydel, and Mageron nods. “The Dutchman’s been to me several times already,” he replies with a sneer. The doctor also mentions asking around about Gourjon’s disappearance, and with a cold stare the provost-martial informs him that he is quite capable of investigating the incident.
While the doctor meets with the military magistrate, Bruno makes some casual inquiries about Gourjon, and learns from a maid at the inn that Gourjon was a regular in the evenings at The Lion and Serpent, indicating that he spent evenings at the Lion and Serpent, a tavern favored by members of the garrison of the Bastille, the fortress overlooking Grenoble from the heights across the Isère.
The doctor and Bruno decide to visit the tavern in the evening; to avoid attracting attention, the doctor leaves behind his sword and dresses in the style of a commoner.
At La Vauvraye
On the road to La Vauvraye, Riordan and Courtivron learn a bit more about the two troopers. Gaignaire is a Genevan, a student at the Calvinist academy who served in a militia company; Valdimontone is a Waldensian from the Sabaudian Alps who served with Challons in Holland. Gaignaire describes Valdimontone as the best shot in the company so far. Both speak well of Challons and Gourjon, and are mystified by the latter’s disappearance.
The men of the company, like Gaignaire, are trained, as the Reformed Church stresses military education for its young men, but only a few, like Valdimontone, have practical experience on the battlefield. Gourjon’s drills stressed horsemanship and firing under battlefield conditions; Valdimontone notes that their powder is running low.
On arriving at the estate, Riordan summons the men; the troppers gather, curious about the two King’s Musketeers. He announces that he will assume command of the company in Gourjon’s place until the comte de Challons arrives, with Valdimontone and Courtivron as his sergeants. A murmur runs through the assembled troopers; brows furrow, booted feet stamp, and many eyes turn to Valdimontone, who simply nods and says nothing. Riordan announces he will assume responsibility for training the men in swordsmenship, Courtivron horsemanship, and Valdimontone the carbine. The muttering continues as they are dismissed, the troopers return to their tents.
At the Lion and Serpent, meanwhile, Guillaume and Bruno enter the bustling tavern. It’s immediately clear that there are two distinct groups here, the soldiers from the garrison and workers, soon identified as dockhands from the quays of Grenoble. The two seem to avoid mixing with one another, except at one table, where a pair of soldiers play cards with a number of dockhands. An older man, dressed in the style of a workman or perhaps a lesser merchant, seems to be the focus of attention, laughing and joking with the players and bystanders, occasionally engaging in a hushed conversation. He also seems to win a disproportionate share of the hands of lansquenet.
The doctor moves to a position behind the garrolous card player, to better listen to the conversation. A burly dockhand appears at Guillaume’s side. “Got a good view?” he growls menacingly. The doctor calmly replies that he’s trying to learn the game, and asks if he can join. The gambler, called Henri by the others around the table, turns in his seat, and looks over the doctor, then motions him to a chair, adding with a crooked grin, “Let’s see if you learned anything.”
Small talk around the table suggests that Henri is a leader among the city’s dockhands, in fact if not by office. Questions about the allocation of work, the condition of the river, and charity for an injured dockhand are dealt with Henri as he plays; he even manages pleasant banter with the two sergeants in the game, who largely keep to themselves and are ignored by everyone else at the table. Guillaume surprises himself, and perhaps Henri, by limiting his losses to a mere six livres.
The doctor decides to try a subterfuge; presenting himself as a merchant, he inquires about reliable barge captains. Henri eyes him a bit, then offers a pair of names. Guillaume thanks him and excuses himself from the table.
Bruno is dispatched to talk with the bargemen; he learns that one of them was interviewed by Mageron, as his barge was tied to the quays at the time of Gourjon’s disappearance, but the captain had no light to shed on the missing officer. At Guillaume’s suggestion, Bruno then returns to the Lion and Serpent, to arrange a private meeting with Henri.
At La Vauvraye, Riordan quickly discovers a miscalculation on his part when he begins fencing instruction for the men: the troopers with their shining sabres stare blankly at the Musketeer holding his gleaming rapier and main-gauche. Like a winter’s dawn the realization breaks over Riordan that none of the men are trained in the French dueling style favored by the Muskteeers, but rather the cavalry style of the carabiniers. The Musketeer summons Courtivron, who is given charge of the fencing training, and a chastened Riordan takes over the horsemanship drills instead.
The meeting in the cellar
Back in Grenoble, Brunos meets with the barge captains named by Henri at the Lion and Serpent the previous night. After spreading around a little silver, one of the captains was in Grenoble when Gourjon is believed to have disappeared; the bargeman explains he was interviewed by the provost-marial, Mageron, but neither he nor anyone on his crew could offer any information regarding the lieutenant’s whereabouts. Bruno next arranges a meeting with Henri, with the promise of more silver.
After three days at La Vauvraye, Riordan rides back to Grenoble, leaving Courtivron to oversee the men. Together the Musketeer, the doctor, and the swordsman return to the Lion and Serpent. They are ushered into a shadowy cellar taproom, where Henri, backed by two burly dockhands, sits at a small table with a single fickering candle. The three advance cautiously; Henri takes no chances as well, stopping the men short of the table. “You’re not a merchant, so why don’t you tell me what you’re really after?” he begins evenly. Guillaume explains that they are trying to find out about Gourjon’s disappearance. Bruno carefully places a bag of silver coins on the table, but Henri waves it away.
Gourjon visited the Lion and Serpent, he says, and seemed a decent sort in passing. Mageron, the provost-martial, made inquiries about him after the lieutenant disappeared, speaking with many of the dockhands on the quays. The Dutch banker, Breydel, and a swordsman, Fortunio, also made inquiries about Gourjon in the days after his disappearance, and mentioned the missing silver, offering a share for its return; Fortunio, Henri explains, assists Breydel in collecting on loans, so it wasn’t unusual to see them together.
The fencing master
The next day finds the three, with Jean-Luc, at the salle d’armes of Fortunio, master of the Scuola di Scrimia. A lean, hard-eyed man, Fortunio’s gaze sweeps over the men like a hawk, but his manner is frank. The Venetian acknowledges that he and the Dutch banker made inquiries about Gourjon and the missing silver, but that they’d had no luck in tracking down either the lieutenant or the coin. Fortunio mentions that the last person to see Gourjon at the inn was one of the maids, Marie. He, along with a couple of his blue-sashed students, watch as the trio plus the lackey leaves.
Returning to the Auberge des Dauphins, the adventurers approach the innkeeper, Charnière, and ask to see Challons’ and Gourjon’s room. He reluctantly agrees and admits them to the room. It is clean, attesting to the continuing presence of the maids; Gourjon’s personal effects, save the letters taken by Mageron, remain. Both Guillaume and Riordan note something odd, a floorboard near the bed from which the pegs have been removed. Carefully prying up the board with a dagger, they discover a narrow hollow beneath, between the floor of the room and the ceiling below. The hollow is empty.
Charnière becomes flustered, and asks the men to leave immediately. Guillaume offers to summon the provost-martial, to which the innkeeper quickly agrees, and Jean-Luc is dispatched. Mageon arrives, accompanied by a few of his dragoons; he looks hard at Riordan and Guillaume as he studies in the missing floorboard and the hollow. “I told you I that I am perfectly able to handle the investigation,” he says sharply, and orders the men to the camp at La Vauvraye before leaving. After the innkeeper secures the room, the three adventurers locate a maid. Riordan attempts to make a move on the young woman and is immediately and unequivocally rebuffed, narrowly avoiding a slap in the process; Guillaume steps in and smooths over the ill-attempted pass and is able to learn that Marie is not working at the inn that evening and wheedles directions to the maid’s residence, a short distance from the inn.
Once again the doctor is dispatched to speak on behalf of the adventurers. A knock on the door is answered by a rough-looking man, who gruffly orders the doctor away. Unwilling to press the matter further, the adventurers concede defeat; the next morning, they ride to La Vauvraye as ordered by the provost-martial.
The days at La Vauvraye pass in the routine of a military camp; the doctor sets about seeing to the condition of the men and the sanitation of the camp. Finally the comte de Challons arrives, accompanied by the remaining recruits. A compact man, he exudes the authority of one used to command. He receives Riordan’s report in the evening, after dinner, with the doctor, Bruno, and Courtivron in attendance. Challons is surprised to learn of the missing floorboard in his room; he asks if Mageron was notified as is assured that the provost-martial is indeed aware. Challons says that he made arrangements for the supplies Gourjon was to order when he passed through Lyon and Vienne with the recruits.
A fellow Burgundian, Challons spends a few minutes chatting with Courtivron, inquiring about the Musketeer’s family and affairs in Dijon and Auxerre. He next informs the doctor that dispatches from Piedmont suggest that camp fever is taking many lives among the soldiers, and stresses the importance of camp placement and sanitation on the march; Challons expresses his gratitude for the doctor’s services. Turning to Bruno, he inquires about the swordsman’s experience; there isn’t time to train him as a trooper, Challons explains, but if nothing else, he will make sure Bruno learns horsemanship. Guillaume agrees to take on Bruno as a hospital aide for the campaign.
Finally the count addresses Riordan. Challons spoke with Tréville regarding the duel in Paris and Tiordan’s exile – the count understands matters of honor, but expects the Musketeer to show good judgement and remember his responsibilities to the company and the troopers. He also advises Riordan that Saint-Alar, the Musketeer’s romantic rival, is also in Piedmont after rejoining his regiment. He casts a critical eye on Riordan’s rapier, suggesting that a saber is more appropriate for the battlefield.
With Challons’ arrival, the pace of preparations accelerates dramatically. Among the troopers arriving with the count is the seigneur de Vaile; recruited by Challons as the company’s fencing master, Vaile – another veteran who served with the count in the Palatinate – is appointed as lieutenant in Gourjon’s place. Riordan is made cornet, Courtivron and Valdimontone sergeants.
Vaile, a Norman, seems genuinely curious about Riordan’s Irish parentage; his Hibernian heritage also attracts the attention of another new arrival, a Scot, Malcolm Macleod. Clad in what looks like a great plaid blanket and wearing a floppy blue beret, Macleod recognizes the O’Neill name and correctly deduces the circumstances of Riordan’s family history; Macleod laughs, indicating that he, too, was chased off his family’s lands by the English.
A few days later, Riordan is assigned to provide an escort of a supply of powder arriving by barge from Lyons; taking twenty men, the cornet, accompanied by the doctor and Bruno, journey to Grenoble. Riordan sets a guard around the two barges, then notes with alarm the approach of a group of boistrous revellers carrying torches and bottles of spirits. The drunken men stagger toward the carabiniers, and in an instance their drunkenness evaporates and bottles and torches are thrown at the barges. Riordan swings his sword at a torch as it flies past, knocking it hissing into the Isère, but attack is so sudden that bottles of spirit and torches land on the decks of the bargee before the soldiers can stop them all.
Out of the shadowy alleys facing the quay stream more riders – dragoons, led by the one-armed provost-martial, Mageron. The revellers are caught or cut down as they try to flee, and the fires on the barges are quickly extinguished. Riordan trots over to where the provost-martial sits on his horse. “There’s no powder,” the Musketeer says. Mageron shakes his head. “Tin goods, I believe,” he replies.
After the action is settled, the revellers led away, and the guard resumed, Mageron pulls Riordan, Guillaume, and Bruno aside. “An Imperial spy” – a draper named Koblet – “hired those men to destroy the barges. I learned Koblet’s identity months ago, through one of my contacts. I’ve been feeding him false information for some time now. My men are arresting him as we speak.”
“I owe you my gratitude on another matter,” he continues, shifting position in the saddle. “The Dutchman, Breydel, was also a spy, exposed, after a fashion, by the missing lieutenant. After your discovery of the hiding place in Challons’ room, I interrogated the maids once again – they were still keeping up the room in the count’s absence. The maid, Marie, whom I’m told you also sought” – he casts a sharp glace at the doctor – "appeared agitated. When I brought her to the gaol, she broke down and confessed that she found the loose pegs while cleaning the room, and discovered a letter hidden under the floorboard. She couldn’t read it, of course, but her lover, a sergeant in the garrison of the Bastille, could – it was letter from Gourjon to Challons, exposing Breydel.
“It seems that Breydel made false claims about money he raised from the members of the Reformed Church in Grenoble for the war against the Spanish in Flanders. Gourjon was just returned from there, of course, and saw through the Dutchman’s falsehoods.”
Mageron pauses, then continues. “Marie and her lover planned to blackmail Breydel with Gourjon’s letter. We found the sergeant dead the next day, and Breydel and the fencing master, Fortunio, appear to have fled the city.” The provost-martial clears his throat. “So, my thanks to you.”
A bitter cup
Some days later a surprise arrives at La Vauvraye, for Riordan, a letter and a case of six bottles of Anjou wine. The letter speaks of Riordan’s sudden departure from Paris and wishes him good fortune on the coming campaign; it is signed with the name of the vicomte de Bouvard, whose acquaintance Riordan made at the Paris horse market. The wine is sent to the officer’s mess and a bottle opened that night, for Challons’ toast to the King, and to France. Challons, Vaile, Riordan, and the doctor each drink the wine – and all four are immediately stricken, Riordan worst of all. To the writhing Riordan, Guillaume quickly administers blue vitriol as an emetic, followed by Venice treacle as a heal-all, saving the life of the failing Musketeer.
The next day, as Riordan convalesces in the home of the seigneur de Le Vauvraye, Guillaume sets out to discover the nature of the poison. He slows boils down the contents of the wine – a white crust is left in the bottom of the crucible. Scraping the powder from the crucible, it is fed to a captured rat, which quickly expires. The doctor’s suspicions are confirmed – the wine was laced with arsenic.
Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain. – Carl Gustav Jung