The warmth of the June day vanishes into the sea with the sunset, and the cool night slips down the alleys and streets of Marseille in its wake.
Resplendent in a blue and green silk and velvet doublet, the slashed sleeves revealing a white silk shirt beneath, the chevalier de Saint-Sauvan adjusts his hat and cape as he sets out for the Upper City, to locate a tavern known as Lo Diable. A merchant on the quays, fresh from haggling over the price of olive oil, recommended the Devil to the chevalier earlier in the day as a place where one could be sure to find games of chance.
Saint-Sauvan’s hand strays of its own volition to the purse in his doublet. Inside are some one hundred livres , all the money the chevalier possesses. The meagre allowances he receives from his mother, well-intentioned as they may be, will not cover his expenses, so Saint-Sauvan turns to his God-given gift of reading weakness and doubt in the face of his fellow man to make up the difference.
Climbing the streets and stairways to the Upper City, the red and purple glow of the sun still clings to the western horizon, and the gibbous moon hangs in the sky opposite la bonne mère on the other side of the port.
The Devil’s game
The sign of the Devil is the silhouette of a winged imp holding a mug in its clawed hands. The hubbub of the busy tavern breaks over him along with the scent of old wine and other less savory odors. The chevalier notes with satisfaction that cards and dice are in busy motion at many of the tables in the tavern.
The crowd is decidedly common – laborers, perhaps some tradesmen. Motioning to the tavern keeper, he hands over a pistole and receives a mug of vinegary wine in exchange.
Near at hand sits a man different from the others clustered around the tables. A brocaded and beribboned doublet hangs from the back of his chair, and his silk shirt, spattered with droplets of red wine, is open at the neck. His shoulder-length hair is dark and unkempt, but his mustaches are neatly trimmed. A rapier hangs by its baldric on another chair, a chair occupied by one of a pair of cheap trollops, the first bearing a remarkable resemblance to a scrawny chicken, the other like a lump of dough to be shaped into a loaf for the oven. The women giggle as they lean against him, his arms draped over their shoulders.
Behind the man in the chair stands another, younger, wiry and lithe in build, with blond curls and a clean-shaven face. He wears a leather jerkin, and from a bladric suspended over his shoulder hangs a rapier matched with a long curving dagger. A pair of wheellock pistols protrude from a sash around his waist. He eyes Saint-Sauvan with an expression of impertinent amusement. Next to him stands another man, shorter, squatter, bearded and balding, wearing a leather jerkin, a bastinado clutched in his hands.
On the table are a plethora of wine bottles and mugs, some empty, some half-full. A clay pipe rests on one edge of the table, a thin trail of blue smoke rising from the smoldering bowl. A deck of cards is scattered across the table.
The man nods at Saint-Sauvan, and the chevalier bows at the waist. The stranger motions Saint-Sauvan to a seat opposite him at the table, and with another bow, the chevalier takes a seat. “Whom may I say I have the courtesy of addressing, monsieur ?” Saint-Sauvan asks. The man’s brown eyes look like hazel nuts as he returns the chevalier’s gaze.
“I am the marquis d’Espard,” he replies thickly.
Saint-Sauvan rises again, and offers a more formal bow, sweeping the floor with the plume on his hat. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the chevalier de Saint-Sauvan, your humble servant, monsieur le marquis ,” he replies.
“Do you play lansquenet , monsieur le chevalier ?” the marquis asks, blinking slowly with heavy-lidded eyes.
Saint-Sauvan smiles, removing his purse from inside his doublet and stacking silver coins in front of him. Disentangling himself from the two trollops, the marquis scoops up the cards strewn over the table and shuffles them with a deft hand. From his own purse d’Espard produces fifty livres and places them in the center of the table. Saint-Sauvan’s heart quickens as he matches the bet.
The marquis deals two cards, one to each player, then turns over cards in succession, finally matching his own card. He smiles, and rakes in the silver with a delicate hand as Saint-Sauvan’s heart sinks in his chest, watching nearly half his stake disappear on the first deal. Again d’Espard antes fifty livres and Saint-Sauvan matches the bet.
This time Saint-Sauvan makes the match, and he relaxes slightly as he sweeps up the coins. D’Espard barely seems to notice the loss as he tosses in another fifty livres, the silver coins glittering in the candlelight from the chandelier. Saint-Sauvan antes up his own coins, and the cards are dealt once more. Again the chevalier matches his card and rakes in his winnings. The marquis shrugs, and places another bet, thirty livres this time.
The cards flip and immediately Saint-Sauvan makes a match. He sweeps up the coins, then helps himself to a mug of wine from a half-empty bottle. It has an earthy smell, like freshly-gathered mushrooms, but he drinks it anyway as the marquis’ smile slips slightly. He quickly drains his own glass, antes fifty livres, and deals the cards once more.
Three more times the cards are dealt, and each time the chevalier is the winner. The marquis’ smile disappears altogether. The two men behind d’Espard are watching him, Sain-Sauvan notes, the bravo with a slight smile, the lackey with a hateful glare. The plump trollop leans closer to Saint-Sauvan, her eyes shining. The chevalier’s back is to the room as he plays, and he’s uncomfortably aware that eyes around the room are no doubt gazing intently at the pile of silver in front of him.
But the marquis deals the cards, and the chevalier is loathe to let a sheep go unsheared. As the marquis loses again, Saint-Sauvan, now up two hundred livres, suggests nonchalantly, “Perhaps a new deck is in order?” D’Espard makes no reply, dealing the cards once more. “Your pleasure, sir,” the chevalier continues gravely as he antes up.
This time the hand is a draw, and a hint of a smile flickers across d’Espard’s face – a change in his fortunes. Saint-Sauvan refills his mug with wine.
Bets are placed, cards are dealt, and again Saint-Sauvan is the winner. D’Espard leans back in his chair, shaking his head, leaving the cards scattered on the table as he refills his glass. The plump trollop sidles up to Saint-Sauvan now, and the the odor of fish, garlic and wine wafts overr the chevalier. He withdraws his purse from his doublet and reaches for his winnings, but suddenly a rapier slaps across the pile of silver – the bravo leans toward him, the smile gone, his eyes hard.
The tavern keeper’s voice booms out and the room falls silent. “Not in my place, La Gautier,” he intones, and the sword is withdrawn. With a curt nod, the bravo turns on his heel and exits the door of the tavern.
Saint-Sauvan counts his winnings – two hundred fifty livres – and deposits all but three coins in his purse. He leaves the three livres on the table, calling to the tavern keeper, “A bottle of your best for monsieur le marquis, if you please?” He can feel all eyes on him as once again he doffs his hat to d’Espard. “Your servant, monsieur ,” he repeats, and the marquis nods slightly, followed by a dismissive wave. Saint-Sauvan offers him arm to the trollop, and she grasps in firmly, and together they walk to the door. The chevalier quickly loosens his rapier in its baldric, and unties his cape, clutching it in his left hand.
Outside the streets lit by the bright moon as it dips toward the sea and the dim glow of yellow-orange candlelight from various windows. Saint-Sauvan’s eyes are in constant motion, searching out every shadow, nonetheless he doesn’t see the bravo’s attack until the last moment.
La Gautier charges Saint-Sauvan in a fleche, and the chevalier whips his cape to turn the blade aside as the bravo passes. The trollop shrieks in surprise and lurches back.
Saint-Sauvan parries La Gautier’s vicious slash at his head with his cape – a killing blow turned aside – as he draws his own sword. He hears a whistling in the air behind him, d’Espard’s lackey, swinging his bastinado, then to his amazement the trollop is throwing her arms around him, searching for his throat, and he shrugs her off.
The chevalier expects La Gautier to attack en fleche again, but the bravo once again slashes viciously at Saint-Sauvan’s head. Again the cape knocks the blade aside, then the chevalier sweeps the garment over La Gautier’s head, surprising the bravo.
Again he elbows aside the screeching trollop as she tries to slip her arm around his throat, then charges the struggling bravo, a handspan of steel piercing the bravo’s chest. La Gautier gasps, then sinks to the ground and is still. Again the lackey swings his club, and the trollop succeeds in getting surprisingly strong arms around Saint-Sauvan’s neck.
The chevalier struggles to free himself from the woman’s grasp as she attempts to crush his windpipe with a meaty arm. The lackey’s club strikes Saint-Sauvan’s chest and ribs crack under the blow as the chevalier’s gasp is strangled by the trollop’s grip.
Finally he breaks free of the trollop’s cltuches and brings up his sword. The lackey hesitates, then steps back. “Bazos, you coward!” the trollop screams as she lunges for Saint-Sauvan once more, again wrapping her arms around him. But Bazos has had enough, and with the trollop’s vile imprecations ringing in his ears, he bolts up the street the way he came. Saint-Sauvan struggles to free himself from the harridan’s grasp, lights flashing in his eyes and a heaviness settling in his chest as she tightens her grip around his throat. At least he elbows her aside, gasping for air as he slaps her on the arm with the flat of his blade. She howls and aims a vicious kick at his groin with her wooden clog, but he jumps aside and her foot finds only air.
Again he slaps her with the flat of his rapier, catching her just under the ribs and knocking the wind out of her. Now she stops and struggles to regain her breath. “Beast! Flithy dog!” she snarls at Saint-Sauvan, clutching her side, the fight gone out of her at last.
Saint-Sauvan offers her a mocking bow and a flourish of his hand, but as he rises, his eyes catch sight of three shadows in an alley, a naked blade gleaming dully in the moonlight. Tied and aching, the chevalier wants no part of another fight, and quickly slips down another alley, but footsteps sound behind him, so his thoughts turn to finding a place to make a stand. A narrow stairway, one of many that climb the steep hillside to the Uppper City, offers him a refuge, giving him both a height advantage and forcing his opponents to come at him one at a time. The thought flashes through his mind, “Unless they have pistols,” but there is no time to dwell as three shadowy figures appear at the bottom of the stairs.
The chevalier does his best to look both menacing and carefree as he comes on guard. The three gzve up at him and exchange whispers, then melt away into the darkness. Saint-Sauvan feels a tremor in his limbs and the sweat drying on his body gives him a chill as he struggles to catch his breat. He listens to the darkness and is rewarded with silence, then carefully descends the stairs and peers about at the empty street.
He reaches inside his doublet, feels the reassuring bulk of his purse and the jingle of the silver therein, and a slight smile appears on his face.
Approaching his lodgings, Saint-Sauvan spies a trio of well-dressed gentilhommes illuminated by a lanthorn in one man’s hand, laughing and singing as they walk up the street. On many nights he would be tempted to join them, but now his ribs ache were the club crashed against them and his throat burns from the scratches left by the trollop, so he slips down a side street instead and makes his way home for the night.
The actual play log of this game can be viewed here.