It is the end of June as the Chevau-légers de Challons begin the march over the Col de Montgenèvre for the Val di Susa, escorting a mule train of powder. Cornet Riordan O’Neill, recovered from the most recent attempt on his life and resplendent in a scarlet uniform coat, bears the personal standard of the comte de Challons, a bend argent on a field sable , near the head of the column; the company’s barber-surgeon, Guillaume Sébastien rides toward the rear of the column, near the creaking fourgon – ambulance wagon – carrying his supplies and instruments.
Challons relays hard news as the company departs – the duc de Lesdiguières, constable of France and commander of the Army of Genoa, is returning to Dauphiné, suffering from camp fever. The French soldiers in Piedmont are now under the command of his deputy, the marquis de Créqui. Privately Challons confides in his officers that Carlo Emanuele and the Savoyards blame Lesdiguières for the failure of the expedition against Genoa; the count explains that the veteran warrior advanced cautiously, seeing plainly the trap into which the Savoyard and French armies were marching. Without the promised fleet to interdict Genoa, no siege could hope to take the city, and with the duque de Feria assembling an army in Lombardy, it would be a simple matter for the Spanish to march into Piedmont at their rear, cutting off their supply lines and trapping both armies between Feria’s tercios and the walls of Genoa.
And the constable’s judgement proved prophetic, Challons observes. Feria attacked along the Valle Padana, across the Duchy of Monferrato, toward Turin, and Carlo Emmanuele and Créqui are moving north to meet the Spanish governor while Vittorio Amadeo battles the Genoese, under the Neapolitan commander Tommaso Caracciolo, in the south. Austrians are massing before the the marquis de Coeuvres’ small force in the Valtelline as well. The issue, Challons opines, is in doubt.
Thus the carabiniers go to war. The company of nearly two hundred gentlemen troopers is accompanied by a motley array of camp followers. Roughly half of the men bring servants, valets to see to their persons and equerries to tend to their horses. Another hundred horses trail the column, remounts for the wealthier troopers – indeed, the count himself has five cloud-grey Andalusians – and an equal number of mules carrying baggage. A number of wives and mistresses follow their men, along with a half-dozen expensive doxies riding in a carriage; the latter are attended to by a number of servants and superintended by a moneylender.
One afternoon, as the column marches in the clear sunlight and cool air of the Alps, a small herd of chamois are seen, grazing in a mountain meadow. Valdimontone and Courtivron unlimber their carbines, and Riordan and Guillaume are offered to join in. “As one,” Valdimontone says as the four men draw a bead on the animals. At the sergeant’s word, the locks whirr and three of the four carbines crash, scattering the herd without recording a single hit. Valdimontone looks at his weapon in dismay – his powder never ignited. Laughter ripples among the troopers as the would-be hunters remount, and at mess in the evening men hold up empty bowls with mischievous grins, asking for more of the delicious ragout de chamois .
The trip across the Alps occupies a full month due to the pace of the powder train, and Challons takes the opportunity to continue drilling the men in his unorthodox – to the eyes of some of the veterans in the company – tactics. Slowly the men come together under the watchful eyes of the officers and sergeants. The healthful Alpine air means Guillaume’s time is spent treating minor injuries incurred during training. As they column descends toward the Piedmontese plains at last, they are met by a formation of militia, carrying dispatches – the Chevau-légers de Challons are to proceed to Turin, to receive their orders directly from Créqui, the French commander. A guide leads the carabiniers to a village on the outskirts of the Savoyard capital, and after a messenger arrives, Challons summons his officers, Riordan and Vaile, along with the doctor, and orders them to tend to their uniforms – they are to attend a party hosted by the principessa di Piemonte.
The villa di cacchia di Stupinigi is a short disance outside Turin, and it is here that the principessa has retired for some hunting and other diversion from life at court. Riordan, Guillaume, and the other two officers arrive too late in the day to participate in the fox hunting, and shortly after their arrival a tall officer, wearing the white royal sash and speaking with a pronounced German accent, escorts them into a salon, guarded by a pair of dragoons. in the villa. The marquis de Créqui, commander of the royal Army of Genoa, greets Challons warmly, and introductions are made. The tall German is a colonel, the baron de Forcheville, recently arrived from the Valtelline where he served as an aide to the marquis de Coeuvres – the Austrians pushed Coeuvres’ small force of Swiss mercenaries out of the strategic valley, and Razmann remained in Savoy with Créqui.
Razmann conducts the briefing, punctuated occasionally by observations from Créqui. The Spanish and Milanese, backed with Austrians and contingents from the duchies of Parma and Modena, are pushing along the Po River, and the French and Savoyards established their lines of defense at Verrua, a day’s ride northeast of Turin. In the south the principe di Piemonte has effectively bottled up Carraciolo’s Genoese.
Feria is employing irregular cavalry, Razmann continues, Poles and Christian Albanians under the command of an Imperial officer, the graf von Hentzau, to mount raids deep behind the French and Savoyard armies, threatening the supply lines each and raising havoc among the Piedmontese villages and towns. Créqui interjects that Challons is familiar with the Polish cavalry, and both the count and Vaile nod in agreement. "The Lisowczycy ," he says. “We fought them at White Mountain.” Because of his familiarity with the Poles and their tactics, Créqui wants Challons to command a battalion to engage the raiders; the Piedmontese militia are simply not up to the task, and Verrua promises to be a protracted siege – the irregulars cannot be allowed free reign at their rear. Razmann explains the irregulars are crossing the hills of Monferrato and Roero to strike on the plains of Piedmont. Because the carabiniers must operate over a wide area, they will not have a fixed headquarters – foraging will be essential for keeping themselves supplied. Caution is urged – during the retreat from Genoa, swarms of deserters descended on the Piedmontese, and strong feelings against the French resulted in attacks on isolated formations by the peasants.
Questions are asked and answered, and finally the briefing is concluded. As Créqui and Challons speak privately for a few moments, Razmann pulls aside Riordan, Guillaume, and Vaile. “Not everyone here is a friend,” he warns the men. Riordan asks if Razmann wants them to offer disinformation, and the colonel shakes his head, replying, “The less you say, the better.”
A short while later, Challons and his officers are summoned to the grand salon for an audience with the principessa. First a priest, a greying man with an erect stance and a kind face, is announced, Giacomo Marenco di Mondovi, the expected nominee for the vacant bishopric of Saluzzo. After receiving the principessa’s greeting, Marenco adds that he hopes God will grant peace to all those afflicted by the fighting. Next a wounded soldier is introduced, the conte di Barolo, recently returned from Langhe with greetings from the principessa’s husband – he is young and handsome, though pale and weak, and the principessa speaks to him as one who is well-known to her.
Finally, Challons and his officers are announced – Challons is permitted to approach and exchanges a few pleasantries with the principessa while Vaile, Riordan, and Guillaume wait with their heads bowed. Cristina Maria expresses her gratitude to the count and all of the French soldiers serving alongside the Savoyards.
As a few more introductions are made, Razmann points out of few of the other attendees: Michel Marini, the French ordinary ambassador, who stands close to the principessa and often exchanges quiet comments with her; a dark-eyed man, Moderante Scaramelli, the Venetian ambassador; Sir Issac Wake, the English ambassador; and César-Auguste Bienvenu, the French ordinary ambassador to Parma, stopping in Turin while returning from Paris with dispatches.
Challons is seen speaking quietly with Bienvenu, and shortly after the two men disappear. Riordan, being Riordan, immediately sets off in search of feminine companionship and soon engages an attractive young lady in conversation, pursuing a rendezvous with the tried-and-true soldier’s gambit, this-could-be-my-last-night, but the young lady is not so easily woo’d. She asks Riordan if the rumor is true that the Spanish are going to attack France from Flanders, and Riordan replied that if they do, the mighty French will defeat them.
At that a nobleman, well-dressed and strongly built, with the gold collar of a knight, interrupts the conversation. “Here we witness the spectacle of His Most Christian Majesty sending his heretics abroad to fight those of the true faith while allowing their heresy to fester in armed camps under his very nose,” he says. Riordan, perhaps mindful of Forcheville’s warning, is cautious and tactful, replying that he is but a soldier and follows orders, going where he is told and fighting who he is told to fight.
But the Piedmontese noble is not satisfied. “It is a degenerate soul which submits itself to the command of a heretic,” he continues, and as Guillaume seethes, Riordan ties a different tack, replying, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” “And give unto God what is God’s,” the nobleman snaps back, adding that it is to be expected, when His Most Christian Majesty marries his own sister to a heretic.
Guillaume can barely contain himself, but at that moment another courtier, his brow furrowed, frustration adding an edge to his voice, intercedes. Addressing the noble as Brandi, the courtier says sharply, “You disrespect Her Highness,” but the younger noble is undeterred, replying, “Her Highness knows my feelings on this matter, as does His Highness the duke.” Nonetheless, the diatribe ends.
Challons returns and informs the officers and the doctor that they are expected to dance with Her Highness and her ladies. The other guests ring the walls of the grand salon as Challons escorts the principessa to the middle of the room, and Riordan, Guillaume, and Vaile are each pared off with one of the ladies-in-waiting. The doctor forgets himself and fails to bow to his partner, the marquise de Montauran, at the appropriate time, earning himself a withering look from the courtier. The dance is taught by another of the principessa’s ladies, who claims it is Dalmatian in origin, but the doctor recognizes it as a gagliarda, an engergetic, tricky sequence of steps. The music begins and the soldiers and the surgeon do their best to match the steps of the courtly ladies. Both Challons and Vaile forget the steps toward the end, resulting in good-natured laughter from the assembled courtiers, but Riordan and Guillaume complete the dance in style, and are rewarded with applause by the audience.
Riordan’s partner, introduced as la signorina Bianca Beccaria di Grognardo, is a lively girl, the youngest of the principessa’s ladies. She asks the cornet many questions about Paris – she’s very curious about the French court, and the life the principessa led before she married into the House of Savoy – and his duties as a Musketeer. Riordan is immediately smitten, then a bit heartbroken when the young lady is called away to serve Her Highness.
A lovely young woman approaches Riordan and Guillaume, and invites them to a small gathering in another salon. Off their guard, the two men enter the room, where a courtier waits, seated in a brocade-covered chair, a hand idly stroking the neck of a fawn-colored hunting hound. He introduces himself as Marius de Condillac. Both the cornet and the surgeon recognize the name of Condillac, and Riordan recalls that he was involved with the Grenoblois swordmaster Fortunio, whom the provost-martial Mageron described as an ally of the Dutch banker, and Spanish spy, Absolon Breydel. Condillac recounts the discovery of Breydel’s true allegiance, in which Riordan and and Guillaume played a role, and asks if the men were aware that Breydel was the personal banker to the marquis de Condillac.
The marquis, Condillac continues, was, in fact, behind Breydel’s treachery, a Spanish sympathizer with a Milanese wife. “It was the marquis – my half-brother – who used Breydel as his agent. The events which led to the death of your lieutenant, monsieur Gourjon, were set in motion by the marquis’ treason.”
After letting that sink in a moment, Condillac leans forward. “I can help you avenge the death of your lieutenant, and you can bring a traitor to France to a justice richly deserved.” His eyes gleam. “The marquise is a sickly woman who has not produced an heir, which means I stand to inherit the title my half-brother has bismirched with his prefidy. Avenge Gourjon, and you stand to be richly rewarded for your efforts.”
Condilac studies the pair for a moment. "Consider my offer, and when your time is once again your own, you can find me in Turin, and we will speak some more.
After they leave the salon, Razmann approaches and escorts the two men to an alcove where Challons’ awaits. Riordan and Guillaume recount the events in Grenoble for Razmann and Condillac’s assertion that the marquis is a traitor. Riordan adds that Marius de Condillac, aided by Fortunio, once tried to seize the title by assassination, and the doctor speculates that perhaps Marius is really the Spanish agent, attempting to frame his brother as a means of taking the title. Riordan suddenly notes that Condillac said Gourjon was dead, and Challons’ face hardens, his eyes flashing – up to this point they believed that to be true, but Condillac offered it as fact. Both the doctor and the cornet said that Condillac struck them as insincere. Challons, his voice low, asks what Condillac wants, and Guillaume and Riordan both answer, kill the marquis. Razmann asks to be kept informed of any further messages from Condillac.
The party winds down, and as the carbiniers prepare to return to their troop, Bianca appears once more, to thank Riordan for the dance and to wish him good fortune on campaign, and she invites him to call upon her in Turin should the opportunity arise. The cornet impulsively asks for a favor, a token he can carry into battle. With a wry smile she unlaces a white ribbon from her sleeve and offers it to Riordan, who kisses it, then with a curtsy, she’s gone.
Military life is one of routine, but for the Chevau-légers de Challons et Saint-Jurs – the Provençal company of the baron de Saint-Jurs is added to form a battalion – their routine is marked by inconstancy. Cavalry troops are typically quartered on a town, but as Challons points out, a fixed headquarters makes them vulnerable to raids, and the Poles and Albanians will be looking for exactly this opportunity. To avoid this, the troop rarely spends the night in the same place twice. The baggage train and camp followers are abandoned in Turin, and the troopers are forced to forage for supplies on the march, which earns them no great love or admiration from the resentful Piedmontese.
On a warm August night the troopers are suddenly roused – enemy cavalry is raiding villages a short distance away. The last quarter moon is just rising as the village comes into view, and the irregulars can be seen milling about, looting and killing, in the orange glow from burning buildings as a dark cloud blots out the stars above. The carabiniers ar swept up in mêlée with the strangely dressed raiders, who shout vicious epithets in a tongue few of the French and Swiss understand. Guillame is wounded in the leg by a lance, and an arquebus ball strikes Riordan’s helmet, dazing the cornet. Riordan spots a dismounted rider, his arms full of various goods taken from a villager’s house – the raider drops his booty and raises a pistol, the ball striking Riordan’s leg, then the cornet’s rapier sinks deep into the rider’s abdomen. The raider folds in two and collapses to the ground.
In the morning word passes among the men that the raiders were Albanians – Christian refugees from their Turkish-controlled homeland, recruited in Naples. Most of the raiders escaped as Challons’ newly-minted troopers simply fought to stay mounted and alive in the confusion. The doctor is busy treating wounds, some minor, some grievous, through the next day, and the next. One of his patients is Courtivron, quietly cursing his misfortune at taking a arquebus ball deep in his thigh at the opening of the engagement. Challons is quiet, his face grim, after the battle.
Weeks pass, and aside from the occasional skirmish between scouts or discovering the aftermath of another raid, there is no contact with the enemy. The count assigns responsibility for foraging to his lieutenant, Vaile, but when Challons is called away, Vaile assigns Riordan to scavenge supplies for the troopers. With his sergeant, Valdimontone, a dozen troopers, and the doctor in tow, Riordan sets off to find a village. Riding along a country lane, the foragers spot a lone man walking along the low stone wall that marks the edge of a harvested field, a blunderbuss carried casually over his shoulder, and a wire-haired dog sniffing along beside him. Riordan, concerned with accidentally provoking a fight, elects to head in a different direction, cutting over another wall into an adjacent field. The lone man spots the troopers and waves – Riordan chooses to continue moving away, but Guillaume decides to speak with the man. The farmer introduces himself as Giovanni Fassero, a farmer, and when the doctor explains who the men are and what they are doing, Fassero invites them to his farmhouse, on the edge of the village just over the rise. The doctor thanks him, then rides off to retrieve Riordan and the rest of the troopers.
Following Fassero’s directions brings them to a large, sturdy farmhouse with a stone barn and a dovecote, overloking a small village. Fassero is there to greet them when they arrive, and the farmer informs them that he’s already set his servants to baking loaves of bread as well as filling bags of grain and separating out a number of his milky-tan Piedmontese cattle. Bottles of wine are produced for the dusty troopers, and Fassero invites them to stay the night on his farm, to give the bread time to bake and the cattle brought in from the field where they are grazing the stubble of the spring wheat harvest. Riordan is suspicious of “Don” Giovanni’s goodwill, however, remembering the warning he received earlier about French soldiers attacked by Piedmontese peasants. The cornet asks if Fassero can provide him with some of the supplies now, and they can return in the morning for the rest, and the farmer immediately orders the servants to hasten the filling of the bags with wheat and loading them on the trooper’s mules.
As the troopers ride, the doctor speculates that Fassero may have wanted to stay to provide security for his family and farm, but Riordan counters that perhaps they were being lured to stay to be attacked in the night.
As they ride back toward where the battalion is bivouaced, they spot two men in armor wearing white sashes slowly walking horses along a lane. Riordan carefully leads the troopers forward. The riders watch cautiously as well as the carabiniers approach. The older of the pair identifies himself as lieutenant de Busigny of the chevaux-légers of the maison militaire. They carry urgent dispatches for the marquis de Créqui from the principe di Piemonte, explains Busigny, and their horses are spent. Busigny’s name is familiar, though he has no recollection of his face, so first he poses a number of questions about court life in Paris. Busigny smiles and nods, and answers the cornet’s questions. Satisfied that the man is who he claims to be, Riordan offers him two of his men’s horses, Guillaume’s and another trooper’s. With thanks, Busingy and the trooper mount and disappear in a cloud of dust.
The truth of the matter is subsequently revealed when Guillaume attempts to ride Busigny’s horse and discovers that the animal is not fatigued, but rather lame in its right front leg, tossing its head with each step. Riordan apologizes to his friend as they walk slowly back to their encampment.
When Riordan, Guillaume, and the troopers return to Fassero’s estate the following day – with the doctor mounted on a borrowed horse – baskets of bread, some dried beef as well as a half-dozen Piedmontese cattle, and more than a dozen fiascos – demijohns of wine – are waiting for them. Not content to simply offer the provender, Fassero invites the troopers to a meal set out under an almond tree in near his house. “Don” Giovanni, as the peasants deferentially call him, is curious about the troopers and the state of the fighting; he shakes his head slowly, decrying the loss of life, and expresssing his fervent wish that the war will end soon. Riordan asks if the squire has seen signs of the enemy cavalry, but Fassero shakes his head. “Thankfully, God has spared us,” he answers, crossing himself, then goes on to speak of neighboring villages raided and burned and strange horseman seen riding across the fields at a distance.
Suddenly Fassero slaps a palm against his forehead, and leans forward earnestly, offering to bring a priest to hear the trooper’s confessions, but Riordan, carefully skirting the issue of the men’s Reformed faith, assure Fassero that “clergy” accompanies the battalion – a Huguenot trooper who is also a minister – to see to the spiritual needs of the men.
Soon the troopers’ mules are loaded and a number of gold zecchini counted out from the bag provided by Challons, Riordan mounts his horse, and Fassero invites him to come back after the fighting is done, saying that there are plenty of eligible young women in the village and that he would insure they had a good dowry.
Vaile is pleased, and a bit surprised, when Riordan’s foraging party returns with enough rations to last the company for two weeks, and at a fair price.
The Lisowczycy engaged
The Piedmontese air remains warm even as the first day of fall approaches. Word comes that Saint-Jurs’ scouts engaged a group of Polish riders, and the battalion mounts to pursue. The chase is hard – the Poles’ horses are surprisingly quick and nimble compared to the heavier mounts of the French, and it appears that they will retreat faster than the carabiniers can give chase.
But the Polish riders have other plans, sweeping ‘round a hill and attacking the French column, firing bows and pistols and refusing to come to grips with the frustrated carabiniers. Riordan must keep pace with Challons as the carabiniers rally around the standard – so intent is Riordan on following Challons that he doesn’t see the Polish rider who slashes at him with a saber, cutting into the flesh of the cornet’s right leg as he passes. Challons brings order to the chaos, and the Lisowczycy withdraw, rather than stand and fight.
The Poles have been driven off, but not defeated, and there are numerous casualties among the French. Guillaume has neither seen nor treated so many arrow wounds, and he and his orderlies are hard-pressed to care for the injured troopers. Colonel Razmann appears afer the battle, to interrogate the small number of prisoners captured by the carabiniers, assisted for a time by Lieutenant Vaile, and once again Riordan is charged with the responsibility to lead foraging parties.
From the signori to the peasants, the Piedmontese sullenly refuse, claiming that they face famine from the hardships they’ve endured at the hands of the irregulars and the French alike. In one village the carabiners are met by a priest hurling epithets – by now word of the Huguenot cavalry troop has spread through the foothills of the Monferrato and Roero – and a couple of Riordan’s troopers grow restless, commenting that the church should be sacked to feed their men. Riordan restores order among the troopers as he and the doctor convince a local militia captain, in command of a formation of just two men, that to aid them is easier than to face the consequences. Guillaume sets out to pay for the supplies, but in the confusion he overpays for what the troopers receive from the villagers, adding injury to insult.
Saint Michael’s banner
After a brief cooling, Saint Martin’s summer arrives in the middle of October as the last of the harvest is completed in those fields not burned or trampled by the roving cavalry. A waning gibbous moon hangs over the carbiniers encampment deep in the Roero when Razmann appears, coated in dust, his horse lathered and spent. The colonel wastes time on neither pleasantries nor formalities – he’s found the Lisowczycy encampment for the night. The tired troopers rouse themselves quickly, eager for another chance to engage the Poles, perhaps this time on the carabiniers’ terms.
Under the moonlight the troopers ride, led by Razmann at the head of the column, followed closely by Challons, Riordan, and Valdimontone – as ever, Vaile commands the left wing, assisted by Courtivron. Challons himself leads the party that overwhelms the Polish pickets, and the French surprise is complete as the chevau-légers charge, carbines and pistols spitting gouts of orange flame in the dark and sabers flashing in the moonlight.
Riordan spots a Polish cornet waving a banner, attempting to rally the Lisowczycy . The standard looks black in the moonlight – it won’t be until the next morning that its true color, a deep red, can be seen – emblazoned with a white cross pattée and an image of Saint Michael, the Archangel. Arrows whiz through the darkness, striking glancing blows on his arm and leg as Riordan spurs his horse at the cornet. The Musketeer’s carbine cracks bu the shot goes wide, and the Pole looses two arrows at Riordan as the carbine drops away on its leather sling and the his rapier shines in the moonlight. A handspan of Riordan’s blade pierces the Pole’s eye, and the Musketeer grabs the banner of Saint Michael from a hand suddenly gone limp, as the Polish rider slides from his own horse to the ground.
I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor food; I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart, and not merely with his lips, follow me. – Giuseppe Garibaldi