A few days pass after Guillaume saves Riordan from the poisoned wine. Riordan is given a room inside the manor house at La Vauvraye to convalesce, tended to by Madame de La Vauvraye and her two young daughters. Courtivron arrives one afternoon, covered in dust. After inquiring after Riordan’s health, the Musketeer shakes his head. “I can’t decide if the captain is a genius or a madman,” he says. Courtivron describes how Challons is teaching the troop to attack, not at the stately trot to carbine range of the caracole, but a full bore charge, with carbines fired at the last minute and swords drawn for the moment of impact. It’s nothing like he’s experienced before, Courtivron, the veteran of two campaigns against the Huguenots, adds.
The next day Madame de Vauvraye announces that Riordan has two visitors from Grenoble, Mageron, the provost-martial, and Monsieur de Barral, a procureur – prosecutor – for the Parlement de Grenoble. Guillaume and helps Riordan to the salon, where the one-armed provost-martial waits with another, a well-groomed, owlish man in his early thirties with various papers spread out on a table and a quill and inkpot close at hand. Mageron makes introductions as Challons arives as well, washing off the dust in a basin provided by Madame de La Vauvraye.
Barral, the attorney, explains that he was informed of the poisoning of Challons, Vaile, Riordan and Guillaume. He verifies the pertinent facts – that a case of Anjou wine arrived from Paris along with a letter, that the wine was served at the officer’s mess, and that the doctor determined the presence of arsenic in the wine.
Barral comes straight to the point. “Who, gentlemen, wants you dead?” he asks, looking closely at Riordan and Guillaume.
Guillaume looks up sharply. “Me? Dead? No one. I’m simply a skilled surgeon and a humble man of science,” he replies.
Riordan, still recovering from his brush with death, is ill at ease with the topic. “Your Excellency, I admit, as the provost-marshal knows, that I have made my share of enemies. But most lack the means or the hatred to take it this far.” Reflecting for a moment, explains the circumstances of the duel-that-wasn’t with the sieur de Saint-Alar at the Hôpital Saint-Louis, and the death of the son of the comte de Gercourt in a Parisian alley. “It could be that the perpetrators know my identity and are seeking to silence me,” Riordan continues, “even though I didn’t even know who they were.”
Guillaume turns away, pondering, then looks at Barral. “There is another possibility,” the doctor adds, pausing for effect. “Perhaps neither Riordan nor I were the true targets of the poisoned wine. Next to monsieur le comte, our deaths would merely be bonus collateral damage to the Savoy expedition.”
Barral carefully takes down notes as Riordan mentions the duel with Saint-Alar, and the dead man in the alley. He nods when Guillaume suggests that the target of the poison may have been Challons, not Riordan.
“I’ve given that consideration,” the prosecutor replies. “Monsieur le comte is not without enemies, of course, and the recent exposure of a number of spies in Grenoble” – he inclines his head toward the provost-martial – "certainly lends credence to this possibility.
“However, it is my understanding that the wine was sent to Monsieur O’Neill, and accompanied by a letter to him,” Barral continues, “therefore I would be remiss if I failed to pursue these leads, to render moot the possibility that he was indeed the object of the poisoner’s effort.” He looks up at Riordan. “Did you keep the letter that accompanied the wine crate?”
“I did, Your Excellency.” Riordan answers. “I can fetch it straight away, if you wish?” Barral gives a brief nod, but as Riordan begins to rise, Challons raises a hand. “I’ll send your man to retrieve it,” he interjects.
The room is quiet save for the scratching of the procureur’s quill as he takes notes in a clear, strong hand until Jean-Luc returns with the letter, ostensibly from the vicomte de Bouvard. Barral reads the missive and closely examines the broken seal.
“I’ll want to check this against an armorial to be sure,” he says, “but this appears to be a fairly crude forgery.” He adds the letter to his stack of papers. “Hopefully the vicomte is still in Paris and can verify its inauthenticity when I arrive.”
Barral looks up at Riordan and the doctor thoughtfully, his finger idly tapping the letter. “Assassins attack your party on the road, then four men are poisoned from a case of wine. The person, or persons, behind these is indiscriminate as to methods, showing no regard as to who or how many may be injured or killed. Perhaps those involved are indiscreet as well. Let us hope so.”
The procureur gathers his papers. “I’m tempted to place you under arrest here in Grenoble,” he adds, “for the good of the community.” He pauses and shakes his head. “But highwaymen will soon be the least of your worries, I’m sure. In the meantime, I am off to Paris, to learn what I can.”
The papers secured in a battered leather valise, Barral stands and offers each man a bow. “Unless you have any questions for me, I will bid you adieu.”
“No questions, Your Excellency, but do be careful when making your inquiries. Whoever is behind this, as you say, they don’t care how many they kill. My conscience is already burdened by the fact that it almost cost the lives of better men than I, and I would hate having to add your life to the tally as well,” Riordan murmurs.
The procureur hesitates a moment, and a wry smile appears on his otherwise placid countenance. “Indeed. I’m acutely aware of the possibility that each of these attacks were, in fact, perpetrated by different parties, each holding a separate grudge.” He studies Riordan for a moment. “Monsieur, may I suggest that you avoid duels – and alleys – for the foreseeable future?”
With a bow to the count, then to Riordan and Guillaume, the prosecutor and the provost-martial take their leave.
I think the first duty of society is justice. – Alexander Hamilton