The Year of Our Lord 1625

  1. Yves' Childhood
  2. A Call to Arms
  3. Preparing to Leave
  4. The First Journey

Yves' Childhood

The Marchaudin name is of moderate renown, at least among some in the palace, as Xavier Marchaudin performed admirably in the King's service many decades ago. Unfortunately, Xavier's family didn't uphold the well earned name settling into a life of lukewarm service within the middle class choosing to embrace the sedentary lifestyle of bureaucratic nonsense.

This loyalty was not forgotten, however, and watchful eyes within the palace sought to offer an opportunity of reward to the family for such a noble deed. Just when it looked as if the family would never produce a worthy vessel who had the qualities of Xavier, there was a promising young man by the name of Yves borne unto the Marchaudin family.

Yves Marchaudin grew up within a family that was able to provide an education and upbringing befitting a gentleman, with the chance for a career in the law.

Yves moved to Paris, to study law at the courts and the way of the sword at the famous Fraternite Saint-Didier.

He soon had the chance to do the King a small favour concerning some issues in Spain, near his home province of Foix.

As a result, the King dropped a word in a few ears at the administrative offices of the Order, and soon Yves was admitted and knighted.

For these kindnesses, his loyalty to the King was re-affirmed, and the King gained a valued and trusted servant.

A Call to Arms

Yves had barely begun to settle in to his new rooms in Paris, when a messenger arrived bearing a letter with a familiar seal -- the seal your patron uses when he wishes to remain incognito. The note inside reads.

	Cher Yves,
		Soon you will be offered a position on a diplomatic
	mission.  It is my wish that you accept and pay close attention
	to what transpires so that I may be kept informed.

					- L.
The next day, a message arrived in a red envelope sealed with both the Royal Seal and the insignia of Cardinal Richelieu. Inside was a note.

	Monsieur le Chevalier Marchaudin,
		For the good of the state, you are invited to
	join the retinue of M. de Bienvenu, Ambassador Extraordinary
	of His Majesty King Louis the Thirteenth of France, as he
	embarks on a mission of utmost importance.  You would serve
	as clerk and translator on this delicate mission, assisting
	M. de Bienvenu with correspondence and document preparation,
	and interpreting for him and the party when needed.
		You may attend upon M. le Cardinal Richelieu tomorrow
	at nine at the Palais Royale.  Bring this document.

				For the King and Cardinal,
				M. de Malicorne, Sec'y
Yves awakened on the beautiful Paris morn, donned his finest suit of clothes, put a hasty shine on his boots and went off to the Palais Royale with correspondence in hand. The walk was brisk at 0900 and to combat his nerves Yves whistled a little ditty garnering smiles from the young ladies out delivering goods for the daily market. A nod here, a wink there, and a flower purchased from a young girl found its way to a random redhead along the way.

As is often the case when dealing with princes, it was a case of hurry up and wait. Yves arrived at the Palais-Royale and displayed his invitation. He was passed from functionary to functionary, given a perfunctory search by members of the Cardinal's Guard, who seemed to be looking for concealed firearms, and ended up in a hallway with eight or nine other men, all of whom also seemed to be wearing their finest clothes.

After perhaps a half an hour, the large doors at the end of the hall were opened from the inside and a secretary stepped out, "Messieurs, you may wait in here, the Cardinal will join you shortly."

Yves and his companions entered the room, a large and luxurious salon, with heavy velvet drapes covering the walls. A window overlooked the gardens of the Palais-Royal, empty and stark in January. The chamber was dominated by a heavy oak desk, piled high with papers and documents.

Yves introduced himself to his companions, his flawless grasp of manners setting them at ease, and soon they all were known to each other. In addition to Yves himself, they were:
Captain Andre Marroil, of the Royal Dragoons;
Father Armand de Rols;
M. Daniel Romane;
M. Jean Reynard;
Le Chevalier Pierre de Tournail.

Each had received a similar envelope and had been instructed to attend upon the Cardinal.

After a few moments, the door opened again and another man entered. He was of medium-height, impeccably dressed, wigged and powdered, and groomed with a style bespeaking breeding. He introduced himself as M. de Bienvenu, Ambassador Extraordinary.

"And a loyal servant of the State," came a voice from behind the men. The rich tones could only belong to Armand Jean du Plessis, Duc du Richelieu, Cardinal and Minister of State. Turning, Yves saw the great man himself standing behind the desk. "Gentlemen, be seated," he continued.

"As you know, M. de Bienvenu is soon to depart on a mission of utmost importance, and you gentlemen are invited to accompany him and aid in his mission. I believe you to be loyal servants of the state, but this mission may be dangerous, and will take you outside of France for many months. Therefore, I shall ask each of you once more if you will accept, and you may decline without shame or fear.

"Captain Marroil, will you take command of the guards for this mission and serve as military advisor?"

"I shall," replied Marroil.

"Good. M. le Chevalier de Tournail, will you serve as general aide to M. Bienvenu?"

"Your Eminence, I shall," replied the man.

"Father Armand, I have no doubts of you," stated the Cardinal.

"Nor should you, Your Eminence."

"M. le Chevalier de Marchaudin, will you serve as translator and clerk on this mission?"

"Oui, it would be a privilege of the highest order your Eminence," replied Yves Marchaudin with a polite bow of humility.

"Bien," said Richelieu. "And you, Monsieur Romane, will you serve as translator and interpreter?"

"Je regrette," said Romane, "that I cannot accept, Your Eminence. I cannot leave Paris at the moment. I have obligations that keep me here until the summer."

"Very well, Monsieur. I hope they are profitable for you. Now, you must leave us."

Romane rose, bowed and left. When he had gone, Richelieu continued, "Monsieur Reynard, I hope you are free to be our translator?"

"Indeed I am, Your Eminence, and honoured to be at your service."

"Tres bien." The Cardinal consulted a few papers, "I think we can do without Monsieur Romane, so! We are complete.

"Messieurs, you depart in one week from here, by carriage to Lyon. From there you travel through Switzerland and along the Rhone and Rhine to Austria where you will be met by Austrian troops and escorted through the Tyrol and Carinthia to a secret rendezvous in the mountains north of Graz. You will spend a week there while M. de Bienvenu negotiates with the Hapsburg Emperor.

From there, toward the end of February, you will head south to Trieste and take ship for Venice for Carnival. From there you take ship again to Segovia, then if all goes well, you return by carriage to Paris.

After some time in Paris, I expect that you will need to depart for Holland and England. That should be May. You should be home by late June."

He distributed envelopes to the party, "The details of lodging, payment and so forth are set out here. You will find them ample."

The Cardinal returned to his desk and stood for a long moment facing away from the men. Then he turned and lifted a stack of envelopes. "There is one other, small, matter. While M. de Bienvenu conducts negotiations, there are a few small tasks that I would like you to undertake. He approached Yves and handed him three envelopes, each sealed with his insignia.

"These envelopes contain the details of your tasks. The first envelope should be opened when you cross the Austrian border, the second when you reach Trieste, the third when you arrive at Valencia. It could be dangerous to open them before their time. The letters are in code, naturally, and here is the key." He offered another document to Yves.

"Your envelopes contain your passports, Messieurs. Have you any questions?"

"Yes, Your Eminence," asked Marroil. "I am to command the guards, how many are there to be?"

"Ah, yes. You will travel in three carriages, and shall be accompanied by eight members of my own guard. Other questions?"

Yves fidgetted under His Eminence's eye, prompting a query from the youth. "Your Eminence, should we expect cooperation throughout all legs of this journey, or do you foresee opposition from various enemies of the state?" meekly asked the youngster who looked to fancy pastry over physical exertion.

"The State has enemies everywhere, but also friends," replied the Cardinal.

"As most humble of clerks on this important mission entrusted with these envelopes, to whom am I to report the contents and details of the tasks contained herein?" questioned Yves.

"I will expect detailed reports from all of you on your return. You may, of course, discuss these things among yourselves, but they should be considered secret." The Cardinal looked around. "Anything further?"

The Cardinal waited a moment, and then said, "Very well. One week from today, you depart. The carriages will be here, and you leave at dawn. Good day."

With that, the Cardinal waved his hand, clearly dismissing the company. The men rose and departed, saving M. de Bienvenu who remained seated. As the door closed, Yves could hear the two men beginning to speak in low tones.

The Priest didn't leave the building, turning off inside the Palais-Royale, but the others exited as a group, then split up, with the Captain mounting his horse and riding off and the others leaving on foot.

Preparing to Leave

Yves headed back home with the envelopes safely tucked away in his garments, keeping an eye out for anyone who may be following him, as he takes a round-about way home. No one seemed to be paying attention to him save a few young ladies who were properly appreciative of his fine clothes.

Once home Yves hid the envelopes inconspicuously under his mattress, planning to carry them with him when he went out so that they would not be out of his sight.

The next few days passed quietly, and so on Friday, Yves felt comfortable dropping by Le Louvre and mentioning to Le Couronne, a loyal servant of the King's, that he had been accepted by Richelieu and that he would be around for another few days if there were any messages.

Le Couronne nodded, and Yves departed.

One evening with the lamp turned down low, Yves ruminated upon the contents of the mysteriously sealed envelopes and rediscovered his own personal parcel. "Incroyable!," he quietly exclaimed at forgetting all about this envelope and opened it to check on his passport and other documents contained within.

Inside was his passport, signed by the hand of Richelieu himself. The next document was a quick summary of his duties as a clerk. The third was simply an outline of the financial arrangements for the trip; the State would pay for food and transport, of course, and a salary of 40L each month for the duration of the mission.

With the adventure of a lifetime no more than two days away, Yves decided to enjoy himself in the social life that Paris had to offer. However, instead of reveling in the company of social peers, Yves decided to visit Le Chien Noir (a drinking establishment frequented by travelers and men of adventure) to whet his appetite for the upcoming journey, as well as discover any information about Austria, the border, political scuttlebutt, and dangers along the way.

His usual charm rose to the challenge, and although he did not discover much information about Austria, he did meet a charming Fraulein who left him with happy memories of the Austrian people.

As the evening progressed, and a brandy worked its pleasant magic on him, Yves gravitated to the card tables and soon found himself playing the odd hand.

Wandering back home, he checked his purse and was delighted to find that beginners luck had held and was several livres to the good on the evening.

Grasping Fraulein Helga's hand with a deep gaze into her eyes Yves whispered "Merci beaucoup" while placing a suitable reward for the luck she delivered. A short gentlemanly bow preceded a kiss upon her hand as Yves Marchaudin bid her farewell and left out into the night.

The First Journey

The company met outside the Palais-Royale bright and early on Monday morning, January 24, 1625. Eight members of the Cardinal's guard helped the party to load the three fine carriages with the group's luggage and then climbed atop the carriages, with their weapons ostentatiously displayed to discourage any bandits that might appear on the road to Lyon. Three guards mounted the outer two carriages, while two were assigned to the middle carriage.

M. de Bienvenu and Le Chevalier de Tournail rode in the middle carriage.

When it came time to board the carriages, Yves humbly asked Father de Rols "Father, may I have the honour of your company on this journey?" seeking to learn more about the church and what the Father's role may be on this diplomatic mission through small talk.

"Of course, my son," replied Father Armand.

Over the course of the next few days, Yves had many chances to discuss things with the good Father; the topics ranged far and wide. Father Armand, Yves learned, was a Jesuit priest, and one completely devoted the Cardinal. "A great man, M. le Chevalier! Learned, wise, devoted to the Glory of France and the Glory of God!" His purpose was to provide spiritual support to the party and also to help M. de Bienvenu when the negotiations touched on religious issues. "One of the issues we will be discussing is the Catholic League, concerning the administration of the Holy Roman Empire. These are very important discussions, you understand."

Traffic was light in January, and the only interest occurred when a minor dispute over right of way with some gentlemen on horseback was resolved when the Cardinal's name was invoked. Three days travel saw the party arrive safely in Lyon.

In Lyon, the party turned East, passing quickly into Switzerland, where travel was slower in the mountainous country. Traffic was a bit heavier as there were fewer good roads, but the Austrian border was reached without incident in five days.

Shortly before reaching the border, M. de Bienvenu ordered the carriages to halt, and tied a large red ribbon to each carriage.

"Father," inquired Yves, "for what purpose did M. de Bienvenu order the carriages to be marked such?"

"I do not know, my son," replied the Priest.

At the border, a detachment of fifty Austrian Imperial Cuirassiers was waiting and watching all traffic across the border. When the carriages appeared, their officer quickly approached and went to the middle carriage, where he had a short conversation with M. de Bienvenu, who was visible through the window.

He then signalled for his men to mount, and now escorted by the Cuirassiers, the journey continued.

"Ah, perhaps the ribbons are to inform yon soldiers who we are," offered Armand.

Shortly thereafter, Yves withdrew the cypher key from it's protective case and skimmed the contents. Then he broke the seal on the first envelope and despite the jostling of the carriage ride proceeded to translate the coded message from the Cardinal.

		Baron Otto von Vulkan, a powerful noble from Moravia, will
	be hurt by M. de Bienvenu's negotiations with the Emperor.  It is
	highly probable that he will make several attempts on Bienvenu's
	life.  Your orders are as follows: prevent any and all assassination
	attempts without attracting attention of disturbing M. de Bienvenu.
	A public scene would embarrass the Imperial Government and ruin
	negotiations.  M. de Bienvenu should not be bothered unless
	absolutely necessary as all his attention must be focused on
	his ambassadorial duties.  For help in your assignment, contact
	Peter Reinke, one of the Palace Heralds.  He is a spy in my pay.
	Identify yourself to him with the code words: 'Regnum Sanctum.'
	Bon chance.  
			By my own hand
Yves visibly shuddered causing Father de Rols to express concern. "I am afraid it is a matter which hopefully by the grace of our Lord will not come to pass," offered Yves as he briefly explained the danger that M. de Bienvenu could be in.

Yves, thinking out loud, said "I must speak with the others and especially Captain Marroil tout de suite."

At the first rest, Yves approached Captain Marroil and relayed this important matter to him and did likewise to M. Reynard. Due to M. le Chevalier de Tournail's proximity to M. de Bienvenu, Yves thought better than to speak of this matter now, so as not to disturb whatever preparation he was undertaking.

The men listened to Richelieu's orders carefully, expressed concern, and placed themselves at Yves' service in this matter.

Thinking the fewer who knew of the existence of M. Reinke the better, Yves neglected to tell of this part of the message to anyone, only revealing the need for precaution against would-be assassins.

For three days, the passage through Austria was uneventful, but on the third day smoke was visible on the horizon to the North. A Cuirassier explained that it was probably the Bohemian Protestant Rebels fighting over a town.

Yves, through a puzzled expression, asked of the Cuirassier "These Bohemian Protestant Rebels, are they a threat which should worry us?"

"No, mein Herr. They are far to the North. And such rabble rarely attack a well-armed company such as ours."

"Whatever could they be protesting to such a degree?" pressed Yves.

"You joke, ja? They are Protestants -- heretics and infidels -- who knows what could motivate them."

The Day of Arrival

Yves' first sight of the castle came as the carriages wound up the mountain road leading to the powerful stone structure bristling with towers and crenelations. His companion remarked that earlier he had heard M. de Bienvenu comment that all German palaces look like fortresses, and that this one certainly seems to prove his point.

Inside, though, the palace was richly decorated. A large crowd of courtiers and heralds met the party as they entered and servant bustled forward with trays of wine and dainties to refresh the party before taking them into the Imperial Audience Hall.

There the party was presented to the Emperor. Seated on a throne at the end of the Hall, the Emperor greeted the party courteously, in passable French. He expressed a wish that the negotiations go well, and

then waved at a herald to announce the schedule. The herald did so:

	Tomorrow, Saturday, a discussion of the Rhine Military Clause and
		a banquet.
	Sunday, discussion of the Bohemian situation.
	Monday, a discussion of the role of the Jesuits in the Catholic
		League and a traditional Austrian revel.
	Tuesday, Vatican negotiations.
	Wednesday, discussion of French forces in the Franch-Comte, and
		a concert by the Imperial Chamber Orchestra.
	Thursday, the Mercantile settlement and a ski-trip.
	Friday, Final details and preparation for departure.

After a few more formalities, the company was shown to their suite and began to settle in.

Yves told Captain de Marroil that the guards should stand watch on a rotating basis in the main salon just as a precaution. He walked over to the balcony, mentioning that special care should be taken with it.

As he was walking over and pointing this out, he noticed a few things: the drop off from the balcony is sheer and deep, about 16mtrs, so it would be difficult, but not impossible to enter that way; also a handkerchief of cloth-of-gold appears to have caught on the wall near the balcony a little bit down.

Spying the cloth, Yves enlisted the aid of Captain Marroil to assist him as he climbed over the balcony railing to reach the fabric. As he did so, the railing suddenly gave way under his weight. Moving with a grace unexpected in such a large man, he twisted and reached for for safety. Marroil was able to grab onto the draperies near the window, and it was lucky for Yves that they were heavy ones, designed to keep out the cold mountain nights. He recovered his balance, and looked to the rocks below where the balcony railing now lay splintered.

Yves and Captain Marroil shared a glance. With great care, using the end of Yves sword, the pair recovered the handkerchief. The item was finely made of cloth-of-gold, embroidered with the letters O and V, and a coat of arms.

"This is tres interesting Captain Marroil," said Yves deep in thought as he lightly sniffed the cloth and walked back inside. Shaking the cloth with a gesture of discovery, Yves exclaimed "Alors, this means something and I intend to find out who the owner of this mouchoir d'or is!"

"Indeed so, M. le Chevalier," replied Captain Marroil. "I had thought perhaps you exaggerated the danger, mais maintenant ..."

Yves prepared for bed but was still puzzled by such a fine linen finding its way to the castle exterior. To satisfy his curiosity, he went back out to the balcony and examined the railing which nearly cost him his life.

The railing had clearly been tampered with; several fasteners had been removed and one portion had been attacked with a saw. Any substantial weight applied to the railing would have caused it to collapse.

"Sacre bleu!," exclaimed Yves, quickly returning to a hushed tone. "It appears that someone planned for the fall of our beloved M. de Bienvenu's diplomatic mission, quite literally. Failure breeds desperation, so we must be ever vigilant from this point on. The threat is real, indeed."

Withdrawing the handkerchief, Yves pondered "O.V....could this belong to Baron Otto von Vulkan?! I must find out for sure." Yves got dressed and excused himself in the presence of one of Marroil's guards, informing him that he was unable to sleep in these new surroundings and was in need of a walk.

Yves slipped out of the suite and began to explore the castle, in search of M. Peter Reinke.

Scarcely had Yves begun his walk, when a man in the garb of an Imperial Herald appeared, walking casually down the hall. He affected surprise upon seeing Yves, then smiled and approached. Yves was able to watch him and form an opinion. The man was tall, blond and carried himself with the assurance of one at home in his surroundings. He stopped just short of Yves and bowed, "May I help you, Monsieur?" he asked in flawless French.

With a friendly bow, Yves addressed the Herald. "Bonsoir monsieur. Je m'appelle Yves Marchaudin, and I am the clerk of M. de Bienvenu's ambassadorial party. I seem to have misplaced my writing tools and was looking for a Palace Herald so that I may borrow appropriate instruments for this evening's preparation and tomorrow's grand event," said Yves modestly.

"How fortuitous, I am, as you can see, a herald," the man indicated his garment. "I am called Peter Reinke, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

"C'est magnifique!" said Yves. "It appears that I have been blessed," he thought, then continued aloud, "In times of need, it is always a pleasure to meet another who is a servant within a royal kingdom. Regnum sanctum as they say back home." Yves concluded by raising an eyebrow.

"Indeed, always a pleasure," replied Reinke. "I think I have what you might need. If you will follow me?" Reinke led Yves down a few corridors, then opened a door and ushered him through.

The room was small, but clean and apparently little used. "This room was prepared for a minor noble who was unable to attend, we can speak freely here. I was hoping that someone would come out to meet me soon, I would not have been able to linger by your quarters much longer without arousing suspicion. How may I serve you and my master?"

"His Eminence is concerned for the safety of M. de Bienvenu. It appears that a Baron Otto von Vulkan would seek to do harm and jeopardize these negotiations by seeing to the demise of M. de Bienvenu. I am most concerned and have reason to believe that His Eminence is correct," offered Yves. Yves went on, explaining to Reinke about the handkerchief, its location, and the sabotaged balcony railing. Yves, withdrew the handkerchief and showed it to Reinke, "Ici, are you able to recognize the coat of arms?, take note of the monogram...O.V."

"Your suspicions are correct," replied Reinke. "That is the coat of arms of Baron von Vulkan. He is a clever and dangerous man, and I have been told that he will attempt to sabotage the negotiations, possible by assassination.

"I can tell you only a few things which may be of use. Any actual attempts on the ambassador's life will probably be made by Vulkan's servant, Rolf. Rolf is a thug and villain. Vulkan saved him from the gallows and now he serves Vulkan with doglike devotion. He is a master of disguise and expert with explosives. He will be difficult to spot since he rarely appears in his own shape. However, he is missing one finger on his right hand, which will help, although he tries to conceal it as best he can.

"I will send you a note if I see anything suspicious, of course, but I am not sure what else I can do for you."

Yves said, "What can you tell me of Baron von Vulkan?"

Reinke considered his answer, "The Baron takes his name from a volcanic mountain within his domain in Moravia, a province in the Empire. He stands to lose a great deal of power to the Jesuits in the negotiations are successful. He is here in the palace as a nobleman with a vested interest in the issues under discussion."

"This is not good, for this allows Rolf access to the castle," thought Yves outloud. Yves inquired of Reinke, "How many did Baron von Vulkan bring in his entourage? I'm afraid we know that Rolf is either housed in the castle or has means by which to enter and leave at his discretion."

Reinke replied, "His entourage was small, but you fear rightly -- Rolf is either already present in the castle or has means to come and go as he pleases. None will bar Vulkan, of course, for none but us know his goals."

"Will Baron von Vulkan be participating in the negotiations, or merely an observer?" questioned Yves.

"None but the Emperor are scheduled to be present, but Vulkan may be invited to attend. He will, of course, be at all the festivities as a member of the court," said Reinke. "In a way, it might be better if he were negotiating, he might be less inclined to drastic measures."

"C'est vrai. However, Rolf's expertise in explosives may be lessened during the actual negotiations so as not to harm the Emperor; whereas Vulkan's presence at the accompanying festivities may do likewise. Therefore, if anything is to occur in such public locations it would be subtle; with the danger of catastrophic destruction increasing while M. Bienvenu is apart form the Emperor and the Baron," stated Yves. "Mon ami, I would be most pleased if you would let me know which man is the Baron at tomorrow's banquet, and include in all correspondences our words of confidence from His Eminence who forged our friendship." said Yves to Reinke.

"I shall do my uttermost for His Eminence," replied Reinke.

"Come, let us retire for the evening for we have an important night and week ahead of us," said Yves in parting.

So saying the men parted and went to their beds.

The First Day

The next morning, a servant arrived early with a package for Yves. It contained a few pages of paper, some ink and a pen. Hidden in the pages was this note:

	One of the pastry chefs has been taken mysteriously ill and I suspect
	foul play. Be prepared for some sort of attempt on M. de Bienvenu's
	life at the banquet this evening.
		Regnum Sanctum
Yves crumpled the paper and looked for an opportunity to pull Captain Marroil aside to explain about the new information concerning the Baron, Rolf (his talents as well as distinguishing characteristic), and now this revelation about a possible attempt tonight at the banquet. Yves instructed the watchful eye of Captain Marroil to examine the right hand of all people who come in contact with M. de Bienvenu and that no one was above suspicion. "As a master of disguise, Rolf could assume the visage of any of us," warned Yves, "None of us should be above suspicion, for things may not be as they seem. The right hand will be his undoing, for it is all we can count on."

"And now this!" Yves indicates the note. "Fortunately, it appears that Rolf will seek to poison M. de Bienvenu, but we should not count on this to be the only option. Be alert, mon ami." Yves clasped Captain Marroil's forearm in a sign of loyalty, "For France," he said before preparing the party for escort to the negotiation table.

The party set out for the room set aside for negotiations, and at the doorway, M. de Bienvenu thanked his escort and dismissed them. Alone, he entered to speak to the Emperor.

With the negotiations behind closed doors, Yves was free to do a little detective work. First stop was the presumable scene of the crime -- the kitchen.

The kitchen was a bustle of activity when Yves arrived. One one side, roasts were slowly turning over enormous fires, on the other a staggering quantity of individual sized Black Forest Cakes were being prepared by a small troop of chefs, and in between were tables on which a wide variety of side dishes were being prepared.

Through the flurry gastronomic activity, Yves focused in on the small troop of chefs preparing the banquet's confections. 'Were any of these men missing a finger on their right hand?' thought Yves to himself as he stared.

He looked around and tried to spot a chef with a missing finger, but such things were difficult to spot in the tumult. He started to move closer, then paused and looked again. There was now one fewer chef than there had been when he first looked. A short elderly chef was nowhere to be seen amongst the men who were finishing up their work at the pastry table.

Yves went to examine the stacked pastries. A table was covered with small Black Forest Cakes, each one suitable for a single diner. He noticed that a small number had been given extra care in the form of additional frosting in intricate designs; they were clearly intended for special guests.

Yves, noticing the special desserts set aside, spoke generally to the pastry chefs. "Pardon. Parlez-vous francais?" he addressed a nearby chef.

"Mais bien sur, je le parle, un peu," replied a chef.

"Magnifique," exclaimed Yves admiring their work. "I am with the ambasador's party and was wondering which of these desserts is to be his. He has a dreadful time with his digestion," Yves grabbed his stomach to illustrate his point. "Oh to be a Frenchman and not to be able to enjoy rich desserts," recounted a dismayed Yves.

"Oh, that is a terrible thing. That one is his, there," the man pointed.

Yves commiserated with the chef, "Tsk tsk tsk...his portion must be regulated, we would not want to cause an embarassment, n'est ce-pas?" Yves began to eye the piece of cake from a variety of angles, holding it to eye level to evaluate it's potential for a gastronomic catastrophe. "Bon, bon," as he turned the cake around. "I believe this will be acceptable, monsieur," Yves stated with an air of satisfaction to the concerned chef.

As Yves proceeded to pat the chef on the back for a great job, the plate tilted causing the cake to fall to the floor. "Sacre bleu! Pardon-moi! Je suis maladriot!" Yves feigned humbly. Yves fell to his knee to retrieve the soiled cake, picking it up with his hand. Apologizing profusely, Yves eagerly offered up his own dessert for the chef to prepare for M. de Bienvenu and to keep this clumsy escapade quiet. After all, Yves could stand to forego several desserts, indicating his girth.

The chef fussed, but rapidly grew quiet and took the fresh cake aside to refrost, muttering something, probably impolite, in German as he did so.

Yves noticed that the cake he still held felt a bit odd. Upon examination, he saw that there was something concealed inside the cake.

Trying to find a towel to wipe his hands, while attempting to stay out of the way of irate chefs, Yves extracted with care the embedded object under cover of the linen. Humbly excusing himself, Yves departed the kitchen.

Once safely away, Yves examined the object. To his untrained eye, the golf- ball-sized object looked like a grenade of some kind! A bomb in the bombe, as it were. Being unfamiliar with explosives, he hadn't the vaguest idea of how to disarm the thing.

Yves came to the realization that this small bomb had to be disposed of quickly hurried back to his quarters.

Arriving there, he found the room deserted. Dismayed that no one who could disarm the bomb was present, Yves rushed to the balcony and looked below, hoping that there was a safe place to dispose of the explosive.

The balcony, still without a railing, presented a sheer drop of 16 meters to the rocky cliffside below. There was no one to be seen on the side of the cliff, so Yves gently lofted the grenade off the balcony. It fell with a disarming grace, struck the rocks, and exploded! The shock was such that Yves felt certain that, had the Ambassodor bitten into it, it would have been the last dessert he ever tasted.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Yves remarked to himself, "En garde M. Rolf, we will meet soon." Yves checked his appearance in the mirror, and departed the room to find Captain Marroil and brief him on the latest events.

          *                   *                         * 
The party, resplendent in its finest clothes, was greeted at the door to the banquet hall by a servant. The doors swung wide, and the opulence and gaiety of an Imperial banquet appeared. The servant led them to the head table, and pointed out their seats. Yves took his place with the etiquette befitting his station and kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, while engaging in appropriate conversation.

Soon after, the Emperor was trumpted into the room, and swept grandly to the table and assumed his seat. That was the sign for the banquet to begin.

The feast was in seven courses: potage, pheasant, partridge, ham, salad, and mutton. Each had accompanying side-dishes, of course, and all were adequate if uninspired -- or perhaps Yves' gastronomic expectations were too high.

The crowning glory was the Black Forest Cake, though, and Yves was unfortunately left out of the celebration. Captain Marroil took pity on him and slipped him a sliver of his own cake, though, so he was not completely bereft.

The most exciting event of the evening also took place at this point: three tables down, where some of the minor functionaries of the ambassadorial party were seated, a man coughed once then pitched forward face first into his cake. It was Grimouche, the Ambassador's personal body-servant! The coachmen seated on either side of him pulled him up, and one exclaimed, "Il est morte!" Word spread quickly, he was dead.

The Emperor rose and spoke, "M. de Bienvenu, I am appalled at this tragedy! I offer my most abject apologies. My men shall investigate and see what they can find. I hope this will not affect the negotiations!"

M. de Bienvenu replied that it would not, and a few more polite exchanges were made, concluding with the Emperor promising to send a servant to the Ambassador in the morning to take the place of the poor Grimouche.

The Second Day

Shocked by the evenings events, Yves could not sleep. Surely the extension of courtesy by the Emperor would allow entre to M. de Bienvenu, refusal was not an issue during these delicate times. Therefore, Yves must find some way to assure that the provided body-servant brings no harm to M. de Bienvenu. Naturally, Rolf would not present himself immediately but his uncanny ability of disguise would allow him to impersonate this new man since neither Yves nor anyone else would be familiar with him. With these fears in mind, it was no surprise to find that Yves himself was at the door when the servant arrived in the morning to attend to M. de Bienvenu. Yves gave the man a searching glance, looking with extra care at his hands. There! Yves spotted what looked like a seam on the man's hand, where one of his fingers joined the palm.

Yves gazed deep into the man's eyes and introduced himself with the appropriate pleansatries one could muster under such circumstances. Yves thought to himself, 'surely a professional such as this Rolf would not take such a risk as making himself so vulnerable, at least not until desparation has set in.'

Yves appeared lost in thought, as he vigorously shook the man's hand; suddenly catching himself.

"Pardon, the events of the last evening weigh heavy upon my mind, such a tragedy, monsieur?" questioned Yves.

"Indeed so," answered the man in heavily accented German.

"Bonne, I trust I did not cause you any discomfort," said Yves indicating the man's hand.

"Nein, mein Herr, I mean, Non, Monsieur," said the man. "Oh! I am an idiot," he continued, "I have forgotten the toiletries and shaving supplies! My pardon, Monsieur, I shall return momentarily." The man turned to go.

"Bien sur," said Yves following the man, "Allow me to come with you, this will be a good time to discuss your duties and M. de Bienvenu's expectations for the rest of his stay."

"Very good, Monsieur," he replied, "only ... if I hurry I will be back the sooner and I would not want to keep the Ambassador waiting."

"Bon, " said Yves quickly falling into step with the man. "Have you been briefed on the events which have transpired? Oui ou non?"

"Un peu, only un peu. The Ambassador's servant fell ill?" the man asked, leading Yves quickly through the palace.

"Much more than that, I'm afraid. The poor gentleman has passed," said Yves sullenly. "The pressures of such an important position, I'm sure." Yves picked up his pace to come abreast on the right side of the German man. "Pardon moi, I do not even know your name."

"Pased? How terrible." As Yves came up, the man replied, "Moi? Je m'appelle Klaus. Ah, I go in here." With a lunge, the man jumped left through an open door and slammed it shut behind him.

Instinctively Yves, sent his stocky frame against the closed portal. Had his suspicions been confirmed? was this the assassin Rolf? or was there something else to worry about? Klaus had been a mystery and this swift disappearance could very well be a risk that was too great to let pass.

The door crashed open. Yves saw "Klaus" ducking behind a tapestry a few feet away, on the floor directly in front of him lay the wig and some of the other implements the man had been carrying. A plume of smoke was rising from the wig.

Yves smelled gunpowder, like a fuse, from the wig and with a garbled yell he stepped back out the door and ran up the hall. A moment later a muffled thump sounded from the room. When he returned, a blackened spot on the floor was all that remained of M. de Bienvenu's toiletries and of the man "Klaus" there was no sign.

Yves kicked at the sooty supplies in digust. Inspection of the tapestry revealed nothing of interest. There did not seem to be any exits, but neither did there appear to be a man calling himself Klaus. Interesting ...

"Encroyable.." Yves muttered under his breath. "I know what I saw, something is not as it seems," said Yves as he began to rap upon the wall where the mysterious "Klaus" disappeared. Somewhere in its solidness there must be an answer to this exit, was there a device? a hollow sound? perhaps a passage? Yves studied the wall, ceiling, and items left in the room. A man could not just disappear! and Yves did not believe in ghosts who shook hands.

Knocking and rapping gave back a solid sound, the walls were thick but it was easy to believe that there might be passages in them. Old castles often had such things. Try as he might, though, Yves was unable to find a means of egress.

Then it dawned on Yves, M de Bienvenu and the others were vulnerable. Quickly Yves rushed back to the quarters hoping that "Klaus" hadn't taken the opportunity to return and in desperation fulfill his nefarious plot. Yves stumbled back into the room gasping for breath to see...

... M. de Bienvenu in a high dudgeon, complaining about the state of his wardrobe and wig and hair, but very much in good health.

"Bonjour M de Bienvenu," said Yves through gulps of air. "Je regrette not being here when you awoke, but there seems to have been a problem with your servant. Is there anything I can do to help you prepare, you really shouldn't be worrying yourself with such menial tasks."

"It does not matter, this will have to do," Bienvenu regarded himself critically one last time. "Enough, let us go."

Again the little troupe proceeded through the castle to the room appointed for the meeting and again M. de Bienvenu disappeared behind closed doors.

Yves pulled Captain Marroil aside, "I believe that the gentleman who presented himself as the appointed replacement for the departed Grimouche was indeed the assassin Rolf!" Yves recounted his discovery and that his suspicions were confirmed when "Klaus" made a hasty escape fooling him with a smudgepot and disappearing into what is believed a hidden passage. This tale bore the brunt of the implied warning to the Captain and his trusted guards -- time was becoming ever shorter for the assassin's duty and utmost attention must be paid to the surroundings, trust only the loyal, and be diligent at all times for the walls could open up at any moment to deliver death.

Content that M de Bienvenu was safe within the guarded company of the Emperor, Yves set out to find M. Peter Reinke to express his gratitude on behalf of France and also to inquire about the network of passageways which aided Rolf's escape.

It was without too much difficulty that Yves found M. Reinke, and only slightly more difficulty that he was able to find a pretext to meet him for a short time in a private location. Reinke inclined his head and waited to hear Yves' concerns.

"On the behalf of France, I thank you for your assistance M Reinke. Because of you M. de Bienvenu is alive today," said a grateful Yves. "Earlier today I had an altercation with a man I believe to be Rolf. He masqueraded as a replacemen t to serve M de Bienvenu, j'etais soupconneux of his hands and accompanied him back to his quarters. It was there that he created a diversion and escaped me through what I believe was a secret passage."

"Are you aware of any passages within these walls which could provide access to M de Bienvenu? or perhaps allow the mongoose to turn and strike the serpent in his own pit?" questioned Yves with a gleam in his eye.

"Passages? I'm sure there are many," replied Reinke. "These old castles are riddled with them, they were built at a time when such things were needed. You say Rolf knows of them? That is surprising. I did not think there was anyone alive who knew the hidden paths."

"I presume there are those among the servant staff who have been in the Emperor's service for generations, n'est ce-pas? Perhaps a trusted elder would know of the mysteries," pondered Yves aloud. "I have some time, an inquisitive young mind has often found the means to loosen wizened lips," said Yves while slapping M Reinke on the back. "Do you know of such a venerable monsieur ou madame?"

"There is old Klaus, he might know," came the reply. "But, wait! He is not in the castle! He was called away a few days before your arrival to attend a dying cousin ... a somewhat suspicious circumstance it now seems."

"Most definitely," sighed Yves, "I'm afraid that Klaus may have met with foul play, perhaps even tortured to reveal the secret of the passages." Thinking aloud, Yves set forth the following observations to determine if Peter Reinke had any additions. "Today are the discussions on the Bohemian situation, talks which should last for most of the day and therefore present little problem guarding M de Bienvenu since his appearance in public will be brief. However, tomorrow the talks center around the Jesuits which are great concern to Baron Von Vulkan. Therefore I expect an desperate attempt to be made either tonight or early in the morning. The Austrian revel is scheduled for tomorrow night, yet that will be after the talks..we must remain vigilant."

"I shall inform you as usual should I hear anything," said Reinke.

"Monsieur Reinke, it appears I have some time to investigate the palace. Could you tell me where Baron Von Vulkan has his residence? I wish to see if there is any information which can be gleaned from the climate around those quarters."

"His quarters are in the far wing. Walk carefully, these old nobles are touchy," warned Reinke.

Yves clutched the handkerchief bearing the monogram of Baron Von Vulkan within his pocket as he strode off toward the far wing to do some investigative reconnaisance.

Several fruitless hours later, he returned to his quarters. The rest of the day passed in uneasy repose.

The Third Day

All was quiet the next morning and the Ambassador installed safely with the Emperor. For a few moments, Yves and Captain Marroil allowed themselves to hope that their foes had been thwarted.

Alas, it was not be. With their mid-day meals came a note concealed under the napkin.

"Von Vulkan plans some trap for the revel tonight.  Test everything destined
for M. de Bienvenu's lips before they're reached.
			Regnum Sanctum"
The afternoon passed uneasily.

The revel was to take place late in the evening, and so the entourage was served dinner in their own quarters. It was a simple matter in this setting to make sure that nothing unwholesome reached M. de Bienvenu's lips.

Some time later, a servant arrived to show the party to the beer-halls and wine-cellars in the basement where the revel was to take place. Tables had been set, and over two-hundred courtiers were in attendence. Again the party was seated at the Emperor's table and again Von Vulkan and Rolf were conspicuously absent.

The Emperor greeted the Ambassador courteously then spoke of the plans for the evening, "We are a people known for many things, but one of the first is this -- beer. Let the tasting begin!"

Mugs of beer were brought to the table and placed at one end to be passed down to the Emperor and M. de Bienvenu ...

Yves joined into the good tidings of the event by passing along the mugs in a jovial manner cavorting with the man seated to his left. When M de Bienvenu's mug began its treacherous journey down the table Yves continued his joyous conversation with his neighbor reaching out with a clearly distracted hand. Feigning inattention Yves quickly drew his hand away to gesture over some point causing M de Bienvenu's tankard to fall to the floor with a clatter sending the presumably tainted liquid cascading on the floor. Yves leapt up apologetically, assuring the man passing the mug that the fault was entirely due to his [Yves'] neglect. "Pardon moi, s'il vout plait! It is purely my fault, I was so engrossed in enjoying myself that I have created a mess, pardon," exclaimed Yves as he checked on the passer to make sure that he did not get splashed by the beer.

Yves continued to apologize in the role of oaf, as the newest tankard found its way to M de Bienvenu and rejoined the festivities.

After tasting the mug of beer, M. de Bienvenu set it aside; he knew what was coming. The Emperor queried him about the beer and waxed eloquent about its qualities. "Now this next beer," he said, "has an entirely different character."

Yves groaned inwardly as a new tray of mugs appeared and the process of handing them down was started anew.

Yves groaned inwardly as a new tray of mugs appeared and the process of handing them down was started anew.

Making light of his clumsiness, Yves took great care to handle each tankard with both hands. Tankard upon tankard was passed along the table as Yves interpersed sniffles throughout. As M de Bienvenu's beer came to Yves, he clasped the mug with both hands and began to contort his face to stifle a tickle, unfortunately he exploded with a thunderous sneeze directly into the inviting suds. Unable to tend to the disturbance since his hands were preoccupied, Yves sloshed the "contaiminated" beer haphazardly to the table to cover his offending faux pas. Sheepishly, Yves muttered "Pardon moi," while attempting to shrink from the rebuking gazes.

Yves' internal sigh of relief was cut off as a third round of mugs appeared.

Yves eyed the third wave of amber refreshment and sighed. With a glance at Captain Marroil down the table that screamed "Aidez-moi!" he began to formulate yet another means to prevent the liquid from falling upon M Beinvenu's lips. As the mugs were passed down the table, Yves identified the one destined for its quarry and as it approached he absent-mindedly took hold with an overhand grip at the rim. From this position (never mind the rudeness of touching the drinking area) he casually slipped his middle finger into the beer and grasped the mug in his left hand while making a spectacle of himself by shaking his right hand to dry it. A slurping taste of his right forefinger led to a coughing fit that caused him to push away from the table still clutching the mug intended for M Bienvenu.

Excusing himself through a series of gestures, tears, and coughing Yves exited the dining hall to compose himself and discard the offending liquid. Tidying himself as much as possible, and after a deep breath, he returned to the table apologetically bowing graciously to his host.

And so the evening progressed. No less than eight different beers were presented, and Yves managed to reroute them all, looking more ridiculous with each passing moment. Finally, though, the trial by lager was over.

After a short respite, music began to play, and the courtiers began to engage in a series of traditional folk dances. M. de Bienvenu joined in enthusiastically. The dances were of the usual sort: line dances, partner passing dances and so on. One involved a complicated figure in which the dancers interwove between other couples and traded kisses with each new partner in passing.

In spite of his buffoonery earlier in the evening, Yves found several mademoiselles who grudgingly allowed themselves to be partnered with the surprisingly agile big man. Some steps were a bit unfamiliar yet Yves did the best he could and attempted to blend in and not further wreck the evening's festivities. Afterward he was able to have a word with Captain Marroil, "Has your watchful eye seen anything of concern, mon ami? Anything suspicious that bespeaks M Rolf?"

"Not as of yet. But the evening is not quite over," replied Marroil.

Indeed, after the dancing, goblets of wine were being served. Marroil and Yves placed themselves so as to taste and test each goblet before it reached the ambassador. As the old drinking songs began to echo about the beer hall, the Emperor rose, "Now, we smoke!" Leaving behind those already unconscious from over indulgence, the party wove unsteadily into the alcove where pipes had been prepared with fine American tobacco.

Keeping his wits about him throughout the festivities, partly out of sense of duty to M Bienvenu and partly out of no one trusting him with a drink, Yves hustled along to assume a position as close to M Bienvenu as possible.

The pipes were laid out on a table, and a few had been clearly labeled by some thoughtful functionary familiar with the level of inebriation common at these events.

Under the guise of helpful servitude, Yves adroitly navigated around the meandering group to reach the table first and secure M Bienvenu's pipe along with his own. After a simple switch, Yves presented M Bienvenu with "his" pipe while he conversed with a burly mustachioed gentleman and bowed graciously. Cupping the pipe intended for M Bienvenu in his left hand, Yves watched the sotted party puff away on the tobacco.

After the smoke, the party broke up and began to trickle back to their rooms.

With a sigh Yves fell into step beside Captain Marroil, "Protecting M Bienvenu is becoming much more taxing. With each victory Rolf hears the ticking of the clock signalling less and less time to carry out his task. Have you noticed anything strange, or anyone acting odd -- aside from me, bien sur!"

With a sigh Yves fell into step beside Captain Marroil, "Protecting M Bienvenu is becoming much more taxing. With each victory Rolf hears the ticking of the clock signalling less and less time to carry out his task. Have you noticed anything strange, or anyone acting odd -- aside from me, bien sur!"

"No, but tonight's attempt was prepared well in advance," replied the Captain. "Who knows where Rolf is at the moment."

The pair, and the rest of the party returned to their rooms and fell into a fitful sleep.

The Fourth Day

The next morning, M. de Bienvenu was preparing for another day of closed negotiations when a knock was heard at the door.

Yves leapt to his feet to approach the door. "Un moment, s'il vous plait," as Yves grabbed for his rapier, more as a precautionary habit than an expectation of the devious Rolf staging such a blatant assault. Slowly, Yves opened the door with a friendly "Guten tag."

No one replied, for indeed no one was there. There was, however, an exquisitely wrapped package sitting in front of the door. On top rested a small perfumed letter, which read:

        With all my affection
in French.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" whispered Yves to himself as he cautiously bent over and retrieved the parcel. Carefully he lifted the package to his ear in hopes that there would be a warning tick-tock, before returning inside.

He was rewarded with the tick-tock of a clock. Looking at the shape of the package it seemed clear that the package contained a clock, possibly one of the amusing ones in which a bird or man pops out to mark the hours.

Gently, Yves set un cadeau atop the table and read the letter, inhaling the lovely fragrance and pondering who could have sent such a thing, and to whom?

Back home it could be any number of women who had fallen to his numerous charms, mused Yves silently with a chuckle, but here?

This whimsical journey of conquests d'amour came to an abrupt end as Yves remembered where he was and what was going on. A clock, he supposed, could be used as a timing mechanism for a bomb. Rolf had already proven himself a crafty foe and skilled in explosives, and this ticking package could be counting down not to a humorous wooden bird but to a much graver climax. Yves scooped the package carefully in his arms and made his way to the balcony where he tossed it to the rocks below!

The clock shattered when it struck, and faint greenish cloud filled the air at the point of impact. The wisps of gas were rapidly dispersed in the morning breeze.

Marroil joined Yves at the window. "An unpleasant gift to receive so early in the morning."

"C'est vrai, it is almost enough to make one forget about breakfast -- almost," sighed Yves looking out over what would have been a most unpleasant end. "Have we any word on M Bienvenu's itinerary for today?"

"Oui. He is in private conference with the Emperor all day and there is, thankfully, nothing scheduled for the evening. If we can simply get him to and from the meeting we are safe for another day."

"Bon, un morceau de gateau as the queen might say. Speaking of cake, I am famished," said Yves aloud. "Are all of your men accounted for Captain Marroil? we should probably enlist the aid of all available to assure M. Bienvenu's safe delivery to the Emperor."

The Ambassador was safely escorted to the conference chamber, and with a sigh of relief, Yves turned to a day or relative liesure.

The Fifth Day

On the fifth day, the Ambassador was once again escorted to his private audience with the Emperor. After this duty, Yves retired to his quarters to review the days schedule.

There was the meeting during the day, of course, then a private dinner. After that there was to be a musical performance in the concert hall.