The attack by Challons’ battalion on the Imperial cavalry encampment is a success. In addition to Riordan capturing the Lisowcycy banner, Lieutenant Vaile takes an Austrian cavalry officer prisoner, a son of the graf von Felseck. Pierre Gaignaire, the young Genevan law student, also captures an officer, an Albanian lieutenant, suffering a serious sabre wound in the process. Sergeant Valdimontone leads the squad that captures the enemy pickets and seizes the bridge leading into the Monferrini village, enabling the French to attack with surprise.
Unfortunately Sergeant Courtivron‘s ill-luck follows him into battle once more – seriously wounded by an arquebus ball in the leg in the first engagement against the Albanians months earlier, and still not fully recovered, he takes an arrow in the neck from one of the Polish troopers. He is one of many so injured – for Guillaume, it’s a clinical lesson in the treatment of arrow wounds, as well as the more expected sabre slashes and pistol balls.
The battalion falls back to a Piedmontese étape to rest and refit amid the warmth of Saint Martin’s summer as October turns to November. Challons’ company, which started with nearly two hundred officers and troopers, is down to one hundred thirty-two, due to deaths, wounds and other injuries, illness – which has been mercifully rare in the camp – and a half-dozen desertions, Huguenots who returned to France to fight alongside the duc de Rohan in the Cévennes against the royal armies. The company of the baron de Saint-Jurs, the other half of Challons’ battalion, is similarly depleted.
Dispatches are sent and received. Créqui, the French commander, advises that the army of the duque de Feria, the Spanish governor of Milan, is falling back from Verrua, their seige broken. Indeed, it appears that Feria himself is being recalled to Spain, and a new governor, Fernández de Córdoba, appointed to Milan.
One afternoon Riordan and Guillaume are summoned to Challons; Vaile is there as well. Challons, holding a sheaf of papers, suggests the four men take a walk. Once away from the camp, Challons seats himself on a stone wall in the shade of a hazelnut tree. “I must begin by offering my general commendation to you all, for your loyal, courageous, and steadfast service,” he says, looking at each of the three in turn. “No commander could ask for better officers, or better men, at his side.”
The papers are shuffled in his hands. “In the spring I received a request from the King of Denmark, to raise a French regiment for his service in the Empire, and I have been granted office to do so, conditioned upon the promise that those recruited are of the Reformed faith. I raised this company in order to form a corps of experienced soldiers to this end. This,” he continues, holding up one of the papers with several seals attached, “is my colonelcy, and this” – he flips to another paper – “is Raoul’s captaincy in my regiment.” Vaile bows deeply at the count’s words.
“The company will return to France at the end of the month. By my reckoning, there are seventeen Catholics remaining, including you, Riordan. Saint-Jurs will accept the others into his company, and you are welcome to join them if you wish, retaining your rank of cornet,” he says to the Musketeer. “But you should know that His Excellency, the king’s ambassador in Turin, has word from Paris regarding you, and our skillful surgeon, here.”
The count smiles at them as he continues. They will hear from Monsieur Marini directly, he explains, for they are to ride to Turin tomorrow, so that their cornet can be honored by monsieur le duc himeself. Challons looks at the doctor. “It’s my understanding that you lost your horse some time ago and have been making do with borrowed mounts.” He grins at Guillaume. “For your excellent service, and to insure that you are well-mounted should your services be needed – particularly by me! – I make a gift of one of my horses to you.” He leans in slightly. [[:tréville | Tréville]] made him promise that he would not steal the doctor away, he adds, “but for the welfare of my men and in recognition of your talent, I feel I must nonetheless extend the offer to you to come with us to Denmark, if you are so inclined.”
“Are there any questions, gentlemen?”
Riordan indicates he would like to hear what the ambassador, Marini, has to say before he commits to any plan, and Challons nods. As Challons and Vaile walk back to camp, Guillaume tells Riordan that he’s reluctant to serve a foreign king, and in any case he’s looking forard to returning to Paris.
The following day finds Riordan and Guillaume riding out with Challons and a small escort led by Valdimontone for Turin. Malcolm Macleod, the Scottish exile who travelled with Challons, joins them as well. Throughout the last few months Macleod would appear and disappear, and what little he says of his whereabouts in his absence usually involves wine and women but few other details.
To the doctor and the Musketeer, Turin feels very different from Paris, small cramped and ancient behind its Roman wall, despite its massive modern citadel. The familiar limestone of Paris is replaced with kiln-fired bricks, sometimes stuccoed and painted white, others times left a burnt red. The soldiers find quarters at the Saxon Inn, in the center of the city, while the comte de Challons is hosted at the Palazzo Ducale. The men settle in for the night, to keep their uniforms clean for the next day.
In the Palazzo Ducale
The ceremony in the Hall of the Swiss Guards at the ducal palace is a simple one, as various soldiers are honored by His Highness the duke in turn. He is joined by both the prince and the princess, and Riordan is quick to note the presence of Bianca among the princess’ ladies; the young woman is missing a ribbon from one sleeve of her dress. As Guillaume watches from among the spectators in the crowded all, behind a line of tall Swiss guards, Challons presents Riordan to the duke as Valdimontone stands nearby, holding up the Polish banner of Saint Michael which Riordan captured. The duke’s hair and beard are a steely gray, and deep wrinkles are gathered at the corners of his eyes, but Carlo Emanuele stands straight and strong, his eyes alert, richly dressed in burgundy silk and velvet with a snow-white ruff at this throat and his long sword at his side. He responds to Riordan’s bow with a courteous nod and motions for the Musketeer to rise.
“I am told you serve as bodyguard to my cousin, His Most Christian Majesty,” the duke of Savoy says in French, his voice clear and strong. “Madame,” he adds, with a nod to Cristine Maria, “is grateful that such a valiant soldier protects her brother.” The duke motions to a servant, who opens a small mahogany box, and from it Carlo Emanuele a small gold medallion. “This medal of San Maurizio, the patron saint of the House of Savoy, was presented to my father, Emanuele Filiberto, by my mother, Marguerite de Valois, on the occasion of their marriage. It was cast in France, and I would be honored if you would see it home again.” He presents the medal to Riordan, who bows deeply before the duke, then backs away a few steps before following Challons out of the hall.
Gazing at the gleaming medal, Riordan notes that one side contains an image of Saint Maurice, the patron saint not only of Savoy but of soldiers generally, with the inscription, “Sanctus Mauritius OPN,” and on the reverse the arms of the House of Savoy.
After the ceremonies end, Challons leaves Riordan and Guillaume to their own devices. a servant approached the Frenchmen and announces that “La Madama” – Cristina Maria – requests the honor of their presence. The principessa offers the gallant soldiers a tour of the Palazzo’s La Galeria, which the men accept; Bianca is close at hand. The Galeria houses a panoply of arms and armor, paintings and statuary, even a meangerie of exotic animals, belonging to the dukes of Savoy. After guiding the Frenchmen among the treasures, Cristina Maria excuses herself, leaving Bianca to escort Riordan and Guillaume, under the watchful eyes of the Swiss Guards discretely posted along the gallery.
To give Bianca and Riordan a moment of privacy, Guillaume begins carefully studying a painting, getting closer and closer to it, until the nearst guard can be seen leaning forward to keep him in view. Riordan meanwhile flirts with Bianca, who offers him her arm to replace the ribbon she gave him as her favor. The Musketeer hesitates to put the dirty, bloody ribbon he wore through the campaign on, and does so reluctantly – perhaps sensing his reluctance, Bianca accepts the return of the favor truculantly, then leads the two men back to the assembled worthies without further comment.
Back among the ceremony guests, Riordan and Guillaume are approached by an elegantly dressed man, who introduces himself as Moderante Scaramelli, the Serene Republic’s ambassador to the duke of Savoy. His Excellency congratulates Riordan on his honors, and inquires about a rumor he’s heard that the comte de Challons’ company is returning to France. Riordan puts off the question, even as Scaramelli presses, and Guillaume makes himsefl scarce. The Venetian offers his congratualtions once more and graciously excuses himself.
As the gathering winds down, a dark-haired noblewoman approaches Guillaume and is introduced as by a servant as the marquise de Montauron. She speaks with the familiar accent of Bretagne as she asks if the physician would examine her young son, who is sick with a fever. When he agrees, the marquise says she will send a servant for him in the morning and rejoins the principessa, with whom she seems intimate.
One of Challons’ servants arrives and escorts Riordan and Guillaume into a small chamber where Challons, the German colonel Razmann, and the French ambassador Marini are waiting. Marini, who has been close to the principessa all evening, warmly greets the two exiles, telling them that friends in Paris are working to secure their return. He says that their exemplary conduct during the campaign has worked to their advantage as well, and suggests that, if the final word arrives as expected, they could be back in Paris by Christmas.
After Marini takes his leave, Challons informs Riordan that an Imperial cavalry commander, the graf von Hentzau, challenged Challons and his officers to a cavalry duel, to be held before the walls of the Monferini city of Casale. Each side will consist of five soldiers, the count explains – Challons, Vaile, Razmann, Saint-Jurs and Riordan, if he accepts, will represent the French. The Musketeer immediately accepts the count’s offer. Challons informs Guillaume that he would like the surgeon to accompany them as well, for obvious reasons, and Guillame likewise agrees to join the party.
At last the evening is over, but as they prepare to return to the lodgings at the Saxon Inn, a familiar young woman appears – they recognize her from the hunting lodge at Stupinigi, in the company of Marius de Condillac. She asks them to follow here , and in a small salon they find Condillac waiting, accompanied by another man with a dark visage and the mien and carriage of a fighter whom they recognize as Fortunio, the Grenoblois fencing master.
Condillac congratulate Riordan on his success on campaign, and inquires if the men have considered his proposal to take the château from his brother, the marquis de Condillac. Guillaume and Riordan cautiously express their support, but ask how Condillac intends to prove that the marquis is in fact in league with the Spanish. Condillac replies impatiently that the proof condemning the marquis is in the château, along with Fortunio’s testimony. Condillac adds that the death of Gourjon, Challons’ lieutenant, was set in motion by the marquis, giving them the opportunity to take their revenge. Fortunio keeps hard tyes on Riordan as both the Musketeer and the doctor glance at him, aware that they are in the same room right now as Gourjon’s killer.
Riordan points out that Fortunio worked for the marquis, and for the Dutch banker and spy, but Condillac replies that Fortunio was his ally from years past and could be counted on to see that the marquis would be brought to justice. Again Condillac stresses that Riordan and Guillaume would be working on behalf of France, bringing a traitor to the crown to justice and further gilding their laurels. Riordan says they can do nothing now, as they are to participate in a duel at Casale in a few days time, but that he would be willing to discuss it further on their return to Turin. Condillac’s face darkens at the delay, but he agrees to wait upon their return.
Leaving the Palazzo Ducale at last and returning to the Locanda di Sassone, the pair encounters Malcolm Mcleod. The Scotsman offers to take them out to celebrate, and Riordan agress while Guillaume elects to turn in for the night.
Mcleod takes Riordan to a lively tavern, the Osteria di Falco di Palude – a stuffed marsh-hawk, the tavern’s namesake, perches on the fireplace – in the small suburb of the city between the east gate and the Po River. Mcleod is a determined and experienced carouser, leading the mystified Piedmontese in Gaelic songs and imbing copious quantities of wine and spirits. To his own surprise, Riordan rises to the challenge posed by the gregarious Scot, matching him cup for cup and, as the celebration winds down, woman for woman. Mcleod retires with a pair of women and Riordan, not to be outdone, works his wiles on a two of the maids – one eagerly accepts and the other, more reluctant at first, is convinced to join in as well; the morning finds a grinning Riordan wrapped in a warm tangle of soft, bare limbs.
A servant arrives at the Locanda di Sassone that same morning, to escort Guillaume to attend to the marquise de Montauron’s young son, a boy of a little more than a year, at her rooms in the Palazzo Ducale. Aside from slightly pink ears and a hint of a temperature, the child seems fine, to Guillaume’s relief, and the marquise invites him to join her for breakfast.
As the physician prepares to sup, to his surprise the marquise’s hands caress his neck and shoulders, then slide down to his chest to begin removing his doublet. Alarmed, he blurts out, “Are we safe?” The marquise laughs and replies, “No one will disturb us.” Guillaume hesistates for a moment, then relaxes and allows the marquise to seduce him.
Riordan and Guillaume rendezvous at their lodgings shortly after noon, to recount their exploits. Riordan immediately sets about finding additional armor to wear during the duel – tassets, epaulettes, and a vambrace. Fortunately Turin is a warrior’s city, and proper armor is prodcured.
They awake the next morning find a servant from the palace waiting for them in the common room of the inn – they recognize him as one of the servants to the principessa. The two are apprehensive for a moment, but the servant simply says that he was asked to inform Signore O’Neill that the signorina Beccaria di Grognardo would be attending the Church of Our Lady of Consolation, to offer prayers for the safe return of her brothers from the field of battle.
Hastily cleaning up, the duo sets off for the church, located in the northwest corner of Turin. Entering the shadowy narthex, they spy Bianca and her maid, Lucia – and two of the duke’s Swiss Guards. Riordan and Guillaume consider and reject a number of plans to get to get rid of the guards. Finally Riordan makes his way to one of the stations of the cross, set in a small alcove. After a few minutes, Lucia makes her way along the stations, finally joining Riordan in the alcove, out of site of the guards. Qucikly Riordan outlines his plan – Bianca is to pretend to faint, and Lucia is to send the guards to summon a physician, after which they can slip away from the church.
Riordan and Guillaume slip outside, waiting for the guards to leave. However, it’s not the guards who rush out in search of help, but rather a priest, who prepares to send a bystander to summon a barber. Guillaume quickly steps in, identifying himself as a physician, and the priest rushes the Breton inside to attend to the ‘suddenly ill’ Bianca.
Riordan slips in behind Guillame; the doctor is attending to Bianca as Lucia, the priest, and one of the guards are gathered around her. Catching Lucia’s eye, the Musketeer slips into one of the confessionals along the west wall of the nave. After assuring everyone that she’s fine, Bianca rises, steadied by Lucia and the guard. Guillaume, apparently aware that Riordan is in one of the confessionals, decides he needs to distract the priest and the guards, and in a clear voice announces his intention to convert to Catholicism.
The stunned priest falls to his knees and grasps Guillaume’s hand, proclaiming that this is surely a miracle of the icon of Blssed Virgin in the chapel of Santa Maria, and a baptism and hasty catechism is arranged for the Huguenot doctor.
With the priest busy, Bianca is able to slip into the confessional at last, trusting that the Lutheran guards won’t notice anything odd about going to confession without a priest. “Forgive me, father, for I am about to sin,” she giggles to Riordan. Once again Riordan puzzles over plans, finally settling on Bianca and Lucia exchanging cloaks and slipping out under the guards’ noses. The plan is put into effect, freeing Riordan and Bianca from the church, while leaving Guillaume and Lucia inside to maintain the subterfuge.
Riordan asks Bianca is she can ride. “I was raised by my father and three brothers,” she replies. “Of course I can ride.” They obtain horses at the inn’s stables, and exiting to the west of the city, they ride along the fields, finally stopping under an old almond tree where they make love for the first time.
At the church, Lucia continues to pray in Bianca’s stead for another hour, but unsure of how long she should remain, she makes to leave – and the guards discover that Bianca is gone. Guillaume notes the guards hustling Lucia out of the church, and finally makes his own escape from the tearful, joyful priest. Guillaume waits in the small plaza outside the chruch until Riordan and Bianca finally return shortly after sunset. Realizing that their ruse was exposed, Bianca bites her lip. “The old witch will make hay with this,” she says, forwning.
Riordan, undterred, insists on riding with Bianca back to the ducal palace. At the gate waits a distinguished servant, dressed all in black. Bianca excuses herself and enters the palace past the guards. The servant identifies himself as Vittorio Vestini and tells Riordan that the principessa’s court is “not a brothel” for common soldiers. Riordan replies that Vestini is disrespectful and that if he was a gentleman he would answer for it, but Vestini is undeterred. “I am not a gentleman and I am under no compulsion to dignify your threats,” he says frankly, then bows and passes through the cordon of guards at the palace gate.
A quarrel renewed
Two soldiers wearing the white sash of the French are waiting at the Saxon Inn when Guillaume and Riordan return. They identify themselves as officers of the Normandy Regiment and seconds of the sieur de Saint-Alar. They say that Saint-Alar desires to finish their engagement which was interrupted in Paris the previous spring. Riordan informs them that he is Saint-Alar’s disposal, but that he is currently previously engaged in another duel in two days’ time, and asks if Saint-Alar would be content to wait a week for Riordan’s return. The seconds assure him that this is satisfactory.
The next morning they join Challons, Razmann, Vaile, and Saint-Jurs on the road to Casale.
““Her lips touched his brain as they touched his lips, as though they were a vehicle of some vague speech and between them he felt an unknown and timid pleasure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odor.” – James Joyce