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Thread: In memory of France

  1. #21
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    J. Passepartout Well, to tell the truth neither did I, but the idea came to me and I ran with it.

    coz1 I am definitely enjoying writing in the present tense. It keeps things fresh.

    jwolf As Stuyvesant says Bertrand has not before made an appearance, though he was alluded to a little in the GtA post (though of course at the time I didn't it). I hadn't thought about the irony aspect, but its true.

    Stuyvesant If you were surprised that makes me very happy. Violence is an interesting question, and I am of the opinion that in the right place it is often better be 'matter of fact' than to make a special point of it. I would add myself to the number of people groping in the dark. Or rather, perhaps I have a not very good lantern. I am winging this AAR rather a lot, so unlike my others I only have a hazy idea where I want to ultimately go.

    Rensslaer Were I to some up Jean in one word "driven" would not be a bad one. I though would opt for "haunted".

    This is, I think, the fourth serious effort I have done using present tense. The first time was roleplaying related and not preserved. The next time was two updates in All Alone in the Night (this post and this post). The third time was my character in Book VII of the Free Company. It has taken some experimenting, and I view this AAR still as an experimentation. Or, what I am trying to say, give it a go and see what happens!

    To all
    As I said I am writing this one very ad hoc, and with the next update written I now realise that the most recent update was in fact the first episode of Chapter 1 "Beginnings". I apologise for what, I am sure, is not the last editorial lapse. An edit will be made just as soon as I have posted the next installment.
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  2. #22
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    The Past (May 17th 1682)

    “Jean, stop whistling. You sound like a dying cat.”

    I chuckle. “As you wish. I was only trying to pass the time.”

    “Then entertain the guards. They might be grateful for your renditions.”

    “Perhaps.” I smile at him. “How is your head?”

    Pierre growls at me, a full-throated rattle.

    “Do you need a tonic?”

    “Jean! I know I drank too much. Gloating does not become you.”

    The road is busy, no surprise this close to the border. There are a few carts, an ornate carriage of some rich merchant, perhaps a score of riders, a mule-train, a number of walkers, and of course our escort of two dozen Bavarian soldiers. It is an excessive entourage for two young noblemen, but according to treaty. We exploit the little we are allowed to the full. My father calls it idiocy. He has never been the most popular of people in Paris.

    It is not long before the river comes into view.

    It is strange that such a small stretch of water should divide two lands. Standing proud a great stone bridge, a custom-house at each end. On one side there is France, on the other, Spain.

    I turn to my side. Pierre has stopped. He is staring at the bridge. At the flags.

    On the far side is the great banner of Spain, shining in the sun, alone and supreme. On this side another Spanish standard, and beneath it the blazon of France, hanging limply from its pole.

    I force myself to keep my horse ambling towards that bridge. I try not to look at those flags, but neither do I want to seem to be avoiding them. The Spanish do not trumpet their dominance, except in a few particular places. France is inviolable – they signed a charter that said that. They merely hold ‘in trust’ what they conquered, so long ago.

    Pierre glowers in his saddle, but I especially do not look at him. He kicks his horse into motion. I can hear him breathing heavily, but say nothing. My father had said that I would always be on show. I finally understand what he meant. I am acutely aware I am being watched. I am no longer the son of a minor noble, but a symbol. This bridge is no simple crossing between France and Spain: it marks a deeper transition. In France, we are permitted our fantasies.

    I nudge my horse onto the bridge. Despite my intentions I find myself looking up. The tassels on the edge of the fleur-de-lys are weighted down with little stones. Above it the Spanish flag moves easily in the morning breeze. I look away – too quickly I fear. I hope Pierre is attracting more attention.

    Concentrate on your breathing. I hear my father’s voice, his most repeated lesson. Breathe in, hold the air a moment, and release. Gently! The memory admonishes. Now again, and again. It gets easier after a few moments. My horse clip-clops her way over the well-worn stones. I do my best to look bored, as if I have made this journey a hundred times.

    Beside me Pierre is fidgeting in frustration, but he has the sense to let a few miles pass before he lets vent to his anger.

    “The gall of them!” he exclaims along a quieter stretch of road.

    “It was petty, but not unexpected.”

    “You were expecting this?” He sounds incredulous.

    “My father was ambassador here,” I explain.

    He finally manages to place me. “You are from that family…” He does not finish the thought. Perhaps he is being polite.

    “They will have marked you, down there,” I say. “A few more insults are likely due our way.”

    He shrugs. “Then I will show them there is one Frenchman they cannot intimidate.”

    I suppress a sigh. “You play their game.”

    He smiles. “It is the only game in town.” I grin, but he continues. “And I would rather play it than surrender all the time.”

    It is such a ridiculous jibe. I laugh. Pierre flushes. In his embarrassment he spurs his horse into a canter. I quieten as he goes. That is probably poorly done. Two soldiers ride passed, keeping Pierre discreetly in their sight. A few moments later I hear the gentle gait of the Captain easing up beside me.

    “Good morning Captain Bernhardt,” I greet him, in Bavarian. I do know how someone with such horrendous French got assigned to the Paris Guard.

    He is not one for pleasantries. “How is the young gentleman?” he asks, nodding up ahead.

    “Pierre? A little shocked I think. Tarnished pride. I am sure he will be fine.”

    He is silent for a moment. “And how are you?”

    I am taken aback. “Me? I am fine. Very fine. It is a fine morning, why would I be anything else?” I hope I am not blushing.

    Bernhardt glances up at the sky. “It will rain later.” There are only a few clouds in the sky, but the Captain is very good at predicting the weather. “You did well at the bridge,” he offers, after a moment.

    “Ah, thank you. I think.”

    He grins, and seems ten years younger. “Most are like the other young gentleman. You will enjoy Madrid.”

    “I am looking forward it,” I answer. “How much longer before we arrive?”

    “Two weeks, more if it rains – unless you like getting drenched?”

    I chuckle. “Pierre might well be willing to be soaked for King and Country, but I have no objection to keeping dry beneath a decent roof if you manage to find one.”

    He salutes, and returns to his men. I see Pierre in the distance, waiting. Two weeks. It seems such a very long time.
    Last edited by stnylan; 27-02-2006 at 01:32.
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  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by stnylan
    “The gall of them!” he exclaims
    An ironic turn of phrase.

    Talk about interesting trivia... did they really do that with the flags? And where did you find out about it? Fascinating.

    My mind has decided that the present-tense leaves the impression of a movie camera. It is disorienting, when accustomed to something else, but exhilarating!

    Magnificent!

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  4. #24
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    Nice to see some history of Jean and what will lead up to his murder-spree (if it turns into such.) I don't see a problem with the order as long as things are dated appropriately. You know I have no issue with skipping around in time.
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  5. #25
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    I'm also curious about the flags! If so that definitely falls under insult.

    Jean seems very...determined in the modern day. I'll be very curious to see how he wound up there, and what Bernhard did to stoke the fires so badly.
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  6. #26
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    I had hoped to update tonight, but got sidetracked by various telephone conversations. I do not know if I will be able to complete this update before I head stateside in about sixty-one hours time, but I am hopeful.


    Rensslaer To be honest I have no idea, but to my mind it seemed suitably insulting. And the movie camera point is well taken.

    coz1 Thank you for the vote of confidence.

    CatKnight That is one way to put it. Hopefully I will be able to cast some light on how Jean reached this point.
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  7. #27
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    A change of pace, a change of time. What a great post to establish that France has been beaten, and still is beaten, by Spain. People have already pointed out the weighed French flag, but I found so many subtle hints of past history: the fact that Spain holds French lands 'in trust', since she conquered them 'so long ago'. And this exchange:
    “My father was ambassador here,” I explain.

    He finally manages to place me. “You are from that family…” He does not finish the thought. Perhaps he is being polite.

    ...

    He smiles. “It is the only game in town.” I grin, but he continues. “And I would rather play it than surrender all the time.”

    It is such a ridiculous jibe. I laugh.
    Which suggests that Jean's family has had the dubious honor of surrendering to Spain, at least once. Maybe more often. If that was the case, poor Jean has been sent to Madrid with a large burden on his shoulder from the beginning.

    And then there are these few lines, kind of hidding within the greater text:
    “Good morning Captain Bernhardt,” I greet him, in Bavarian. I do know how someone with such horrendous French got assigned to the Paris Guard.
    What's going on there? What is it that makes this Captain Bernhardt so useful that his lack of French can be ignored? I sure hope to find out.

    To me, that is the great attraction of this story. There are constantly little glimmers of insight, slivers of explanation, although the greater story is still unknown. So I keep reading, and rereading, spotting little bits and pieces and trying to fit them together to get a little closer to understanding the events. It's a bit like doing a crossword puzzle, except that I don't keep getting stuck on obscure clues.

  8. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by stnylan
    I am winging this AAR rather a lot, so unlike my others I only have a hazy idea where I want to ultimately go.
    It can be quite fun doing it that way.

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  9. #29
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    A stnylan AAR!

    With excellent stnylan-quality writing and everything! I thoroughly enjoyed the read. It was deep and layered, like some sort of deep layer cake. It was as if every sentence was able to convey through literary magic what would normally take three sentences to accomplish. At the same time not a sentence was out of place or unnecessary. I envy that quality.
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  10. #30
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    Well I quite plainly didn't get the update posted as I had thought. In truth this about has been regurgitated several times since my last post in this thread. But here it is. First however, a few replies.

    Stuyvesant Well I certainly hope nothing I post here is as obscure as some crossroad clues!

    One issue, or facet would perhaps be a better word, of this story however is that things are going to increasingly become known. I only hope as that transition becomes more and more obvious that i will be able to maintain a level of interest.

    Storey I can also be quite terrifying, in an albeit sedate way.

    anonymous4401 That sir, is very high praise, and i thank you.

    Next update as soon as final typo sweep done, etc.
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  11. #31
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    The Past (6th June 1682) - Three Weeks Later

    Madrid scares me.

    It is too large. I have spent little time in cities, and this one is far greater than Paris, London, or Vienna. I can hear far-off the clanks and bangs of building work, the cries of the labourers and grunts of the donkeys. It is over twenty years since the plague that gave birth to Carlos’ Dream, and still Madrid strives to be equal to his vision. I am coated with a film of dust even at this early hour. Everything is changing. No ordinary nation could commit what Carlos has commanded. A madman ruling the one country that could turn his delusion into reality.

    But it is beautiful, like a raptor soaring high.

    The sun is just rising, and I see the first glints of light on the tops of towers of palaces and mansions. Those turrets are covered with beaten gold. They gleam at me. I shiver, though the air is warm.

    I stamp my feet, and yawn. The sentry almost immediately does the same, and blushes at this dereliction. I smile. “It is early.”

    “Sorry sir, I did not sleep well last night.” Unlike his captain this Bavarian – Gunter, I think his name is – knows his French well. He is from the Saarland.

    “Neither did I. We can agree not to let anyone else know?”

    He nods his head in thanks, and straightens as someone nears. It is Bertrand, a clerk. He is walking fast. The sound of his feet seems very loud in the morning air.

    “Greetings. It looks like it could be a fine day.” I say as he nears.

    He starts, and glares up at the sky. “To be honest my Lord I am not so sure. We are due some rain.”

    I smile at his acerbity. “Surely we might manage to enjoy the morning whilst it remains dry?”

    “You might, my lord, but my master needs me to complete some contract-work by lunchtime, so you will excuse me if I continue.”

    Without waiting he hurries on. “A strange one,” I muse aloud. The sentry coughs.

    “None of the guard like him,” Gunter offers unprompted.

    “Really? Please elaborate.”

    “Well sir, it is partly his manner as you might have guessed, but also his bearing. He walks like he is better than the rest of us, but his father was just a fisherman – in Gascony I have heard it said. The fool has no right to be so proud, just like that Lord Pierre...”

    Gunter flushes again. After a moment I ask “What Frenchman does? To be proud, I mean.”

    “I am very sorry my Lord, I did not mean….”

    “I am sure you did not intend anything,” I say, waving him quiet. “It is early, and by your own admission you are tired. Nonetheless, you did say something with a clear conclusion. I will accept it, and make no comment, but I would advise you to be very careful around Lord Pierre, and of course the ambassador.”

    “Of course my lord.” He stands still to attention. To his credit he looks at me straight in the eye. I am sure he has had worse reproach from his drill instructors, though they would have had less cause. From down the street there is the rattle of wheels on stone.

    “I will not mention this to the captain either, but I should like you to tell me the rest of the soldiers’ gossip – when we are alone.”

    A carriage turns onto the avenue. It is serviceable and durable, but no fancy ornamentation that is so often on display. The driver pulls it to a stop just a few feet away. The door opens and down steps a man.

    He is young, perhaps my own age. He stands for a moment looking at me, and then sweeps into an extravagant bow.

    “Monsieur Jean de Fontenay I presume?” He speaks a flowing French, though there is a trace of an accent.

    “You presume correctly senor,” I reply in Spanish.

    “Allow me. I am Carlos de Aranda. I hope you are expecting me.”

    “Why else would I be here? At this hour?”

    “As to that I could not possibly comment,” he says with a laugh. “Still, I think there is no real reason for us to loiter here. Come up, and we can go to somewhere more comfortable.”

    He holds the door open. “Thank you,” I reply, and see the interior is as sparsely furnished as the outside.

    Getting in after me, Carlos leans out the window. He bangs twice on the wood. “Driver, to the Red Lion.”
    Last edited by stnylan; 27-02-2006 at 01:31.
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  12. #32
    Well, finallly we know their whole names. And the Red Lion, isn't that the sign that hangs in the loading picture in EU1?

    Good update as usual.

  13. #33
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Setting things up nicely, I see. We begin to meet the characters that move Jean to act later, especially I am presuming the same Bertrand that meets a gruesome fate. So no one likes him? I guess he got what was coming then.
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  14. #34
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    I am so glad that I was able to somewhat catch this near the ground level, stnylan, for this is simply master wordsmithing at it's best.

    I can only wait with eager anticipation to see how the past catches up with the present, 'cause if what we've read so far is any indictaion, it's gonna be one fun ride!
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  15. #35
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    Always good to have eyes and ears placed around, and to keep up on the gossip!

    Most pleasantly atmospheric, Stnylan, and portentous now that we see some of the ending begin to lay its foundation.

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  16. #36
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    I will probably update this at the weekend, what with my wonderful journey coming back from the US. However, answers to a few responses.

    J. Passepartout You have no idea how much heartache went into thinking up those names! As to the Red Lion I never owned EU1, so any resonance is entirely co-incidental.

    coz1 Thank youOf course, we have now met both the characters we actually saw in the Prologue. I might need to come up with a few more characters soon!

    Draco Rexus Thank you most kindly

    Rensslaer I find it slighly eerie really. I mean, I now have this character Bertrand whose death I have already written, but whom I still know so very little about. Hopefully that will change.
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  17. #37
    Compulsive CommentatAAR stnylan's Avatar
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    The Past (6th June 1682) - Continued

    The driver shakes his reins, and calls the horse. The wheels creak as the carriage begins to move, turning. Carlos de Aranda runs one finger along the corner between door and ceiling, a lazy cast to his face.

    “So monsieur, how do you find our city?” His voice is soft as silk, speaking Spanish-tinged French.

    “Senor, it is quite unlike any other city I have set eyes upon. My father – who has visited far more of this world than I – describes Madrid as a crowning jewel, and I can understand the attribution.” I reply in aristocratic Spanish.

    “Please monsieur, I asked for your opinion, not that of your father’s, however respected and well-travelled he might be.”

    I do not reply, but let a slow smile touch my lips.

    He looks at me a moment, the same hand raised above his head, and laughs. His mirth is like an eruption of joy onto a humourless land. “But of course, you did give an opinion. Forgive me, I was not paying attention.” He quietens, and the languid mask. “I hope your ambassador explained matters.”

    I take a moment to reply. The ambassador has met with my only briefly. It seems like both he and his deputy wish as little of my company as they can arrange. I have become nostalgic for Pierre’s companionship – a remarkable thing – but he has been gone five days on a tour of the Granadan forts to the south. “He did, general terms. I was hoping for more detail.”

    He shifts in his seat. “Well the truth it that matters have changed rather substantially in the last few days.” He stops, and looks down. In his mind, he wrestles with something. He looks up, and stares me straight in the eye, and says in a deliberately level voice. “The evening before last King Carlos took ill with a fever. So far it has not broken.”

    I make no sound for a moment. “Truly, how fragile is the King’s health?” I marvel at how steady my voice sounds in my ears.

    De Aranda makes a flicking gesture with his other hand. “It has never been good of course, with his … condition. He has been ill before and recovered, but he can only tempt fate a certain number of times before he is called to the Lord. All the same, it would be very dangerous to think anything other than that the King will recover.” He licks his lips. “However, there are a generation of schemers who will believe that this is their last chance for power, and it blinds them.”

    Against my expectations, against all that I could reasonably hope to expect, this conversation has become highly significant. “Has my ambassador been informed?”

    He shakes his head. “Not yet. He will be receiving notification from my Minister about mid-morning – it can take longer to do things officially.”

    I lean forward. “Your Minister is the Secretary of the European Committee? The Duke of Milan?”

    “He is.”

    I let my words come slowly. “Knowing this, you kept this meeting for a purpose." There is a jolt as the carriage runs over a bump - or is it the world's foundations being re-ordered as we speak? "What is it you want of me?”

    “My Minister requests of you – and through you your ambassador – your co-operation in helping to maintain order in this peculiar climate." He pats his coat, and I assume a pocket. "I have a missive to this effect.”

    “You know I can make no official reply to that, not on my own authority.”

    Carlos makes an aggressive nod. “Of course. However, my Minister had hoped that the son of Louis de Fontenay might also hold a personal opinion.”

    I let my face remain blank. The trick has become a little easier with a month’s practice, and the light in the carriage is poor. My father had a reputation, whispered in dark places. It seems to stain me too.

    “The current government of Spain would seem to be of the benefit of France. I would not wish to see it changed.”

    The edges of his lips twitch. “Good. Your Spanish, incidentally, is excellent, monsieur.”

    “Thank you. Honesty forbids me from making such a compliment regarding your own French.”

    A pause. “And why is that?”

    I pitch my voice high and whiny, like a schoolteacher’s “While your vocabulary and grammar are more than passable, your accent is worse than an Englishman’s.”

    This laugh begins slow at the corner of his mouth, and builds until his entire figure is convulsed in chuckles. He breathes quickly, and his eyes begin to water. I wish I know more about de Aranda. In good humour he is even more obscure. He subsides, and wipes a few tears of delight from his eyes. A single cough, and he is composed once more. “There is … little cause to know much French in Madrid.”

    I accept the point. “I will admit to some surprise that you know my language as well as you do.”

    He shrugs. “Well, my father insisted, and before I was old enough to do without his money,” he grins, “I had already been educated. Clearly not well enough, however if you are going to compare me to an Englishman."

    I allow myself to smile. “So, do you have any idea who is likely to conspire with my country for his own gain – yourself excepted?”

    “Believe me,” Carlos says, suddenly serious, “I might do deals with you de Fontenay, but never with France.” There is the sound of hatred on his voice, hard and unforgiving. I stay silent, unsure, but remain careful not to react. The moment passes, and in an ordinary tone he continues, apparently unaware of his lapse. “However, there are three potential culprits that my Minister and I are concerned with. We can discuss them over breakfast. The Red Lion does an excellent breakfast. Ahh, we are here.”

    I peek out the window as the carriage pulls into the yard of a large, sturdy building, built in an obviously non-Iberian style. Swinging from a sign is a crimson-painted sculpture of a rampant lion.
    Last edited by stnylan; 27-02-2006 at 01:30.
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  18. #38
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    You do well in building both the early relationship between Carlos and Jean, as well as showing Jean's initial learning tract, if you will - his inexperience. But wise already, it seems. Knowing when to say what.

    As well, there is some lovely foreshadowing of events we know will happen later there. Excellent!
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  19. #39
    Very interesting... Carlos appears to already have the ability to guess anything our friend Jean is throwing at him, and not be suprised. With the possible exception of the line about the accent of an Englishman, which I liked.

    I wonder what the European Committee is?

  20. #40
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    I'm ineterested in knowing, besides what the European Committee is, the reason for the animosity de Aranda has for France. Is it a Spanish thing, or something personal?
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