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Compulsive CommentatAAR
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Aug 1, 2002
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When I wrote a piece in a Guess the Author thead recently I based it on a Spanish game where I had a lot of fun turning large swathes of the map a golden hue. I had wondered about possibly doing some sort of AAR on some aspect of the game, but couldn't find the right hook to catch the fish. Then coz1 provided it with his topic of "a declaration of war".

At least one commentator wanted to know what happened next, and on reflection so did I. Well, I am just starting to find out. I will repost my entry from the thread for those who did not read it there. I have made two edits, which I hope will be forgiven.

All comment and criticism is welcome.

And now a Dramatis Personae, that I will try to keep updated.

The Past

Jean de Fontenay (aka Giovanni) a young nobleman
Carlos de Aranda another young nobleman, company
Pierre yet another young nobleman, a crowd

Notable Spaniards
Alessandro, The Duke of Milan Secretary of Committee of Europe, de Aranda's boss
Alonso Ponce de Leon, Duke of Puerto Rico a powerful noble
Miguel de los Santos his stooge on the Committe of the Americas
Enrique Velasco Secretary of the Committee of the Mediterranean, enemy of Duke of Milan

The French Embassy
Francois Comte d'Artois French Ambassador to Madrid
Henri de Tallon his deputy
Captain Bernhardt Captain of Bavarian guards
Gunter one of the guards

Jean's family
Louis de Fontenay (elder) (aka Alessandro) former French Ambassador to Spain, Jean's father
Louis de Fontenay (younger) Jean's elder brother
Marianne de Fontenay Jean's sister
Philippe de Fontenay Jean's younger brother
Anne-Marie de Fontenay Jean's youngest sister
Catharine Jean's mother

At the Red Lion
Old Charles (aka Captain Simmonds) owner of the Red Lion, patriarch of a large family
Young Charles son of Old Charles, and mostly runs the Red Lion
Red Charles Grandson of Old Charles, Jean's contact
Second James Member of Old Charle's family
Mary Old Charles' daughter, mother to Red Charles, Richard, and Edward
Richard brother to Red Charles
Tall William
Short Henry
Alonso married into the family
Richard Red Charles' brother
Edward another brother to Red Charles

Bertrand a clerk
Koenraad Van Hecke Chief Factor of the Rose Trading House in Madrid
Martin de Faro Enemy of the Red Lion

The Present

Jean de Fontenay
Carlos de Aranda

Bertrand (dead)
Captain Etienne
Captain Bernhardt

Red Charles
Elizabeth & Mary (Red Charles' daughters)
Tall William
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I wonder if this is what a condemned man feels as he is being led to his place of execution. I think I know, in general, what will happen when those beautiful white doors open. There is only room for a certain amount of variation.

The waiting is the worst of it. I have been waiting for this moment for nearly three months now, ever since the news arrived in Madrid of the fiasco that has taken place half a world away. Even then, when I hoped I could salvage something that might save the land I love, I knew deep within my heart my cause was hopeless. Having waited for the moment for so long I should be able to stand a few more minutes, but I find myself impatient. I think of the Louis himself back in Paris and his fantasies. A King should know better.

Here comes the equerry. He sketches a quick bow, though there is no discourtesy. He says, “You are asked to forgive the delay. You presence is requested.” I nod back. In truth one could hardly call these few moments a delay, just the merest interval to establish that I am the one being summoned. A motion that has to be followed through. A foretaste.

The equerry moves to the doors, and they open outward to greet him. It is a smooth trick, even when one knows there is a pageboy inside squinting through a peephole in the wall. The Audience Hall is a small chamber, much smaller than those used in other countries. It has a disarming, comfortable feeling to it. Even the banners strewn all about the ceiling and the tapestries hanging idly on the walls seem to be worn and gentle. These sights are familiar to me, as is the raised throne at the back, decorated with the wealth of an Empire than spans this Earth. It is empty.

Clearly my thoughts were awry. I had never expected this. I had expected to meet at least two people this night, but there is only one in the Hall, and he is standing a little way away from the throne, not sitting in it. In spite of myself I remain still for a moment as I try to encompass that absence. There is a rush of anger, gone faster than it came, as I force myself to move. I walk to the appointed place and make the traditional obeisance to the symbols of Imperial Authority. As I kneel I hear the doors behind me close, and become aware that we are alone in this room, just this man and I.

“Jean,” he says, and there is a note of compassion in his voice, “I am truly sorry.”

I get up, my obedience done, and turn to him. “Have I fallen so far, so fast?” My voice sounds as though it comes from very far away, and only then do I realise that I spoke in French, as did he.

“What insult is offered here is directed at those whom you serve.” He takes a step towards me, to face me more properly. “It was done against my advice.”

Were the matter not so grave I would have smiled at that. “In my experience Kings have a tendency to ignore advice.”

However he did smile, just a little. It is, of course, the theme of many of our private jokes. It is the bond between us, the common element that bridged the chasm of our heritage. “They also can ruin dreams.”

To that I nodded. That was no joke, just an accurate summation of the current situation, from my point of view. “Or turn that dream into a reality.”

We have hid little between us in the years I have served here. At times it seems like I have spent most of my life in Madrid, which in fact is simple truth, as I have striven to keep my country free. Strangely, the man before me was the first Spaniard I met when I arrived here for the first time, all those years ago.

“Jean, I cannot deny it. I am sorry for you – I think you know that. It would have been better if you had died back when you had that fall, so that you would not have had to live to see such times as these.”

“Was this disaster one of your creations?” A dangerous question perhaps, but I have been asking myself that for three months now, and I no longer have cause to be cautious.

He does not answer for a time. If my question was dangerous his reply would be perilous. Safer to stay silent, but he is no coward. He is many things, but never that. Old Louis has never really understood how he was thwarted all those years ago, and why a Hapsburg, not a Bourbon, now rules half the world.

“In the main part, no, though I will confess I helped to keep the thing afloat when it looked like it might sink. Jean, the chance was offered and I took it. Do you blame me for that?”

I shake my head. “No Carlos. Would that I could hate you.” An unexpectedly large sigh escapes me. “Do we have to draw this out any longer?” My voice is raw now, as a bitterness wells up within me.

There is another pause. Carlos looks at me with that enigmatic gaze. He has bewitched so many. They say the floors of this palace are kept washed by the tears of those who have been reduced by those baleful eyes. To me though they are orbs of pity, for had a certain guard failed to be bribed …

I dash the thought away, determined not to chase such indulgent fancies. I raise my head, and stare straight back. I have waited three months. I can wait a little longer.

“Of course,” he says, and from somewhere within those robes takes out two scrolls. He draws himself up, and in Latin that would have done Virgil proud he intones, “It is my solemn duty to inform you that His Majesty, with the agreement of the Cortes, has decided that our grievances are sufficiently serious to demand satisfaction. We have determined this will not be forthcoming in negotiation. We consider that our cause is sufficiently just, and that our injury is suitably grave, for us to enter into hostilities with the Kingdom of France. However, in a final effort for peace we have prepared an ultimatum, the particulars of which are within this scroll. Should the government of France acquiesce within one month there shall be peace. If not, then we are at war.”

His carefully contrived speech over Carlos seems to deflate. He takes a further step towards me, and then in French explains, “The second scroll is a safe-passage for you, or whomever you send.” He proffers me the two deadly documents.

This then, is the moment. My right arm seems curiously reluctant to rise, as if all on its own it might prevent this terrible thing from happening. Frustrated, I give orders to my left, and with a sharp movement I take the scrolls from Carlos.

For a moment we are frozen, my left hand grasping those miserable missives, his right arm still held out. It lasts an age, but the wheel of time turns, and he lets his arm fall. Carefully I ask, “I do not at all suppose those particulars you mentioned have a chance of being met?”

He shakes his head slowly. “No.”

An incredible anger starts to consume me. I feel myself begin to shake. My voice cracks, and is made harsh. “Congratulations. You have won.” I spin on my heel; turning so rapidly my cloak whirls out from behind me and buffets his knees. I make three swift steps.


I stop.

“Jean.” There is a soft insistence, a pleading I have never heard before.

I turn again. Carlos has not moved.

“Jean. Do not die in this war. When the dust is settled, your countrymen will need you even more than they have done so in the past.” He surprises me again – he is good at surprising me – and goes down on one knee. “I beg of you.”

The dams on my anger finally burst. “Do not presume that I will fight in this war of yours!” I am shouting now. I am sure they can here us in the corridor. I no longer care. “I have served the King of France my whole life, and at every turn he has dishonoured me!” Now I am panting, so more quietly, though no less fiercely I continue. “There is one final duty I must do, which will be discharged when I have dispatch these two scrolls to Paris.” Carlos looks genuinely shocked. I turn a final time, and draw another breath. I look over my shoulder. “Thereafter, if you still wish to speak to me, seek me out. I will not be difficult to find.”

I storm out of that hall, violently ramming the doors open in an empty gesture. As I march I realise that at last, after thirty years, I have finally managed to surprise that bastard.
Madrid is a beautiful city, the one lucid dream of mad King Carlos. It is a city that commands respect. You cannot walk its wide streets and not be awed. It is a homage to ancient Rome, or a simple statement of reality. It is a city befitting an Empire that spans the globe.

Of course, there is a story. Not so long before I was born there was a plague. Carlos, in that frightening, direct, way he had ordered almost the entire city to be burnt in one colossal fumigation. When the ashes cooled he ordered them to be cleared away, and even the sewers to be demolished. The city was rebuilt from the basement up. The expense nearly bankrupted Spain. Only a madman would have dared. Only a lunatic with the wealth of the world to command could achieve such a creation. By the time I first arrived in Madrid the destruction had long been forgotten.

Even the most majestic of sights becomes commonplace through repetition, and Madrid’s entrancing architecture does not distract me as my feet pound out their rapid rhythm. I have no guard and do not need one. Only in the poorer sections of the city would I need protection. Two patrols mark my passage, but they seem to recognise me, and do not intervene.

The French Ambassadorial palace is a grand building, but in decline. A gift of King Carlos, his generosity did not extend to the upkeep. From a distance, and at night, one cannot discern the neglect.

I find myself in a most curious state, after that outburst in the Audience chamber. I feel almost free, the two scrolls I have tucked away my only remaining shackles. I walk quickly, more now from the excitement than from any earlier anger.

As I approach the gate I force myself to slow, to assume the illusion of calm. It is surprisingly hard, like putting on an old coat that is now too small. I concentrate on my breathing, softening its pace, and command my muscles to relax. By the time I open the small side-door I seem to be at peace. Typically Bernhardt is waiting, stretched out on a bench. He half-opens an eye and watches as I enter and close the door, appraising me.

I turn about, and with a grunt he swings his feet to the floor and gets up. “Is it as we feared?” He speaks in his native Bavarian – he is no good at French, and only marginally better in Spanish.

I nod, and take out the scrolls. “In one month, we will be at war.”

“One month. Might you-”

I shake my head. “I will not be allowed to.”

He is silent for a moment while he considers this. “What do you want me to do?”

“There is little enough. Captain Etienne must a message to Paris. The servants must be dismissed, and you and your men must disperse. Tonight. By the morning this place must be abandoned.”

“And yourself?”

“I have my own plans.” He accepts this evasion with good grace.

“Give me an hour to rouse everyone properly.”

“Of course, though send Etienne straight to me. His errand will not wait. I will be readying his horse in the stables.”

It is a relief to do something as mundane grooming and saddling a horse. By the time Etienne stumbles into the yard, still bleary from sleep, I have his steed prepared and his saddlebags packed.

“Your Excellency,” he says.

“Captain, you must take this scroll to Paris. Keep it always about your person. This other scroll is a safe-conduct, should there be any trouble, and should also authorise you to use the way-stations of the Imperial Couriers.”

He blinks at that. “Are we …” he begins, but his voice tails off as he mind tries to understand the implications. I do like this young captain, and am sorry that I have made him the bearer of this bad news. As he works it through his face becomes whiter. “How?” he asks finally. A good question.

“We are all fallible Etienne. Some more than others perhaps. Remember that, when you reach Paris.”

He looks confused, but he does not allow that to distract him long. “Any personal message?”

“Say to the King only that my duty is discharged. To my family…” I pause. I honestly do not know what to say.

“My lord?” How long has it been since I last saw my father? Or any of them?

“Your family, my lord?” Etienne asks again. He looks alarmed.

I look to the ground for a moment. “Nothing, tell them nothing.” I look up. “No more questions. Make haste.” I turn, and walk away. I do not watch him go.

Bernhardt already has everyone gathered. I look over the rest of my establishment. Nineteen servants of various sorts, and their families, are lined up to one side, the true inhabitants of this palace. On the other side a dozen Bavarian soldiers that I am allowed to retain in contravention of treaty. Servants and soldiers, both truer companions on my life’s journey than nobles and generals. They are looking at me, and I am looking at them, and we all know what I am going to say. In the strongbox I have just brought down from my room are thirty-one small bags of silver and gold. A final gift, so I they might remember me kindly, even the spies.

“Dear friends. The moment I have feared has come, and it will not be long before France and Spain are at war. Therefore, for your own safety I must command your evacuation. I must be away before dawn, and therefore so must you.” I unlock the box, and take out a bag. “There is little I can do, but I would be greatly honoured if you would accept these tokens of my gratitude.”

They cheer. By God in Heaven they cheer. Bernhardt forms them into a line, and each steps up to receive a prize. They are effusive in their thanks and their good wishes. I act puppet-like, going through the motions thirty-one times. I want this to be over, and, after a time, it is. Bernhardt goes to make sure they leave, and I am left alone.

I feel incredibly tired. There is nothing for me to do, not yet. I draw out a seat, and sit. My words to Carlos aside I have done nothing yet that would cut me truly free.

Bernhardt returns. “They are all gone.” He reports, sitting in a chair himself. “I guess this is goodbye.”

I pull out a final, larger, bag from the strongbox. “For you.” I toss it over.

He catches it and grins at me for a moment. “Do you know what you are going to do.”

“I believe so.”

He stands, so do I. We start to shake hands, and end up in a fierce bear hug. “If you need me, ask,” he whispers into my ear. We stand apart.

“Farewell, my friend.”

“Rubbish,” he retorts with a smile, and steps out, whistling. I hear him ramble down the stairs. I move to a window, and see him walk out to the gate. He stops, turns, and looks up. He makes a crisp salute, and is gone.

I am now truly alone. One thing left to do. To the east the faintest glimmer.

I find myself running to my room. I am almost out of time. I change quickly, forsaking my finery for rougher garb. These old clothes greet me eagerly, and I rejoice as I feel them chafe my skin. I gather a few things. With exquisite care I lay out my most formal attire, including my family sword.

It is a wrench leaving that sword, but I am serious and there can be no half measures. I step back, and study the scene I have set. In one corner an untidy heap, on the bed and on the stand my dress for the next day. In pride of place an invaluable heirloom. It is not entirely as I had hoped, but it will have to do. I shut and lock the door.

It is strange walking through the empty corridors, with not even prying eyes to keep me company. I come to the secret place. I suppose I could turn back now. No one would know. My hand finds the hidden latch, and a door opens. I begin to walk through, then halt.

Slowly, I find the lever again, and pull. I stop to get a better grip, and pull harder. Nothing. I take a deep breath and heave, and the handle snaps. I smile and close that door behind me. Forever.
Truly a treat, Stnylan, to get to read your writing!

And you are right! You did pique my interest, and you have found just the way to satisfy me! ;)

Stnylan, this is truly outstanding! Take pride in this: you almost made me feel sorry for the French, a near impossible feat! :p

Best wishes to Jean on his private journey, whatever it may be. I am very curious to know what he has in mind.

Evidently you chose the Habsburg line in 1700? ;) It will be interesting to see just how badly you and your allies humiliate France in the upcoming war.
Giving up his life in court, it seems. Good to see your GtA submission fleshed out more. And certainly good to see you writing again. I have really enjoyed your efforts at writing present tense/first person. Somehow, it seems to allow more emotion to flow through. Looking forward to more.
Looks like I'll have something to read when I get back from my vacation. :cool:

Many thanks all. It is my intention to update this twice every week, more or less, though as I am heading stateside in a fortnight's time there will be a hiatus. No update tonight though, just thanks for reading and replies to comments.

Storey I certainly hope so ;) Have a good time down in sunny California.

coz1 The emotion certainly does flow easier. I think it is because the present tense poses less of a barrier, something happening now as opposed to then. The truth is I've been casting around for something to write on for a few weeks now, and GtA just provided me with the focus I needed to discover what.

jwolf That is very high praise! As for Jean, when he tells me what he's doing I'll let you know. I'm just as curious as you. ;)

Rensslaer Thank you for stopping by. I am to please ;)

J. Passepartout Welcome along. I'll admit I'm not quite sure whose name you mean, since I don't think I've left anyone important un-named so far (except I guess the current King of Spain). Unless I've missed something.
Another stnylan story! Excellent...although I DO miss your vampire story that you have seemingly abandoned...This one is a VERY worthy successor to it.
The sense of things coming to an end. The feeling that the future will be very uncertain, except for the certainty of an ugly war. I have to say, even if I never find out where Jean is going and what he is planning to do, I really enjoyed what I have read so far. You have created such a strong mood, an atmosphere of the calm before the storm... I am very impressed with it.

I guess that means I should check in on your AARs more frequently, eh? ;)
I blush that I did not know you were going forward with this. I did read and enjoy your submission to 'Guess the Author' and I am glad you are going to expand on it.

Sorrow for the passing of France? My, you do take on the most unlikely subjects! Or perhaps the protagonist is bidding farewell to a king and country that have misused him? Nicely phrased, if somewhat ambiguous!

Seriously, the emotional tone you've set rings so true. Every word and action supports the effect you are trying to achieve, and that is no small skill on display. I don't quite understand why our protagonist is doing what he is doing, but then if I did there would be no story. ;) An excellent setup.

"I smile and close that door behind me. Forever."

And then what happens?
J. Passepartout Well I am afraid they will both have to remain a mystery for a moment. ;)

Amric Glad to have you along. As for the vampire one, I actually have very mixed views about it. A learning experience, I think.

Stuyvesant Thanks for reading. While I won't comment on your reading habits (it would be terribly rude ;) ) I am rather pleased with what I did in my CK AAR.

Director Well, I didn't know I was going forward with this either, so that makes two of us!

As for what happens next - read on!

The Present

I pause, willing myself into the shadows as a patrol walks past. I must not be seen. The night is clear, but I cannot wait. Once the rumours start my prey will take flight. As yet the City Guard does not know it has to take extra precautions. The news of the coming war has not yet hit the streets.

The patrol continues on its way. I cross into the opposite alley. Halfway along there is a gated entrance. It should be guarded, but a little well placed money goes a long way. I take out a key that was made for me a many years ago.

Once inside the sewers I rest for a few minutes. The tension of the last two days is sapping me. Another reason I cannot delay. I get up, and begin to make my way through this underground avenue. There exists down here another city, to mirror the one above. A city of thieves of smugglers, and other, darker, sorts. I do not carry a light, but I know the way. It is not far, and I do not encounter any of this realm’s denizens.

Bertrand knows of two secret entrances into his mansion, but he is in ignorance as to the third. So is Carlos. I had it constructed four years ago. I move slowly, feeling my way along the side of wall. A foul stench bungs up my nose. I want to retch.

I step on something, and my foot slides on the treacherous surface. I scrabble at the stones, but they provide no purchase. I fall backward, and land heavily. I slither down into the channel of filth that is the detritus of Madrid. I curse. I lay there, gritting my teeth. Sounds echo all about. There is a stinging pain in my right shoulder, and a ringing in my ears. I gasp for air. I clamber out of the muck and sit on the walkway. I vomit. I touch my arm. My clothes are torn and I scent my own blood. I sit, waiting to see if I have attracted attention. There is no response. My breathing levels off. I am no longer young. I groan, and get to my feet.

I am exactly where I need to be. A little alcove, with small depressions up one side, leading to a trapdoor with an iron ring. This is in the hands of fate. There might be a tun of wine above me. I climb, and reach up. I listen, but can hear nothing except the quiet gurgle of the sewage. Unlike other trapdoors this one does not open up. I twist the ring, and pull.

There is no light. I reach up and encounter only air. I smile, and pull myself up. I wince as pain flares in my shoulder. I stand. My hands find the barrels and bottles of Bertrand’s cellar. I make my way carefully to avoid another fall. The door is locked, but easy to pick. I edge the door open, and freeze as the hinges creak. Nothing. I breathe again. One inch at a time, and I am out.

There is a window at the end of the hall. The moonlight seems impossibly bright. I wait as my eyes adjust. Now is not the moment for rashness. Bertrand is no fool. A traitor, and a puppet. An idiot perhaps, but a rich idiot. He has guards, and Carlos ensures they are well trained. Blundering about half-blind will not aid me in any way.

The building is an ally, too large for discrete protection. Bertrand cannot hire an army. I sidle along to the nearby kitchen. A warm glow is cast by the fire. One of the servants is slumped against a wall. He snores gently, an empty flask rolled to one side. He does not stir as I walk to the stairwell. I stop, and look down at the trail I am leaving. I look back. The drunk mumbles something in his stupor. I want to turn, to go up those stairs, but I stain whatever I touch. There is really no option. I look about, and gather up some cloths.

The sot is so far gone he does not struggle as I smother him. I stow his body in a cupboard. My dirty clothes I throw onto the fire, and watch until I am sure there is no trace left unclaimed. I leave him his boots. They are too large. His clothes hang loosely, but they suffice.

I pad my way up the stairs. Bertrand is fond of certain comforts, and his mansion accommodates them. I reach a landing where small corridors lead into the servants’ quarters. I climb up to the top, where it opens out onto a corridor near Bertrand’s study and bedchamber. There is no door, and the corridor is lit by lamplight. A floorboard creaks, and again. There is someone moving, and moving closer.

I press myself back against the wall. I might be able just to let the guard pass - I am certain it is a guard – but that would be dangerous. I unsheathe my dagger. I see a shadow on the far wall. I tense. An arm appears, a body follows. He makes another, fatal, pace. I grab him, wrap my right arm around his back and clamp my hand over his mouth. I pull, and as I do I stab him in the chest. I feel my blade go in, and go deep. He jerks, trying to break free. My shoulder tears. I whimper, but force him to his knees. His hands thump against my legs. He stamps his feet hard on the floor. I wrench free the dagger and slice it across his throat. There is a fountain of blood, but I no longer care. There is a cry of alarm. He has a sword and pistol. I take them, stuffing the dagger back into my belt. I try to raise my right arm, and I nearly scream at the pain. I place the pistol in that hand, and run.

A second guard turns a corner and charges. He hacks at me, but I slam to one side against the wall and drive the sword into his side. He thrashes as he dies. I pick up his blade, and continue. The door is locked, but there is no point in subterfuge now. I am breathing hard. I check the pistol. It is loaded and ready to fire. I stand back, and kick. The wood splits, but does not break. I kick again. The door splinters, and bangs open. I barge through the study and into the bedchamber.

Bertrand is not alone. He is rummaging for something in a chest; naked as the day he was born. In the bed a whore, holding the sheets up to her breasts. My left hand is slick with blood, and I feel the sword slip from my grasp. I ram into Bertrand’s back.

We sprawl onto the ground, scuffling. His hands find my neck. He lifts himself up and starts to throttle. Grunting, I jam the pistol up into his belly, and fire.

He looks surprised as he is blown back against a cabinet. In that moment he recognises me. Blood appears on his lips as he tries to form a word, a question. Why?

Who am I to tell him why? He knows, as I now do, what he has done. Used by Carlos to stoke the fire I was trying to douse. He is coughing now, and a crimson puddle is forming at my feet. He was oil on the blaze. He heaves, and vomits more blood. A Frenchman dooming France. He flops over. I spit on his corpse and let the pistol fall.

There is only the sound of my breathing, and the whore’s. The gun lands with a wet thud. I take out my dagger.

She screams. I silence her with a clean cut, and cover her with the bedclothes. I leave Bertrand where he lies, and move to one of his cabinets. It is filled with painted sculptures. Signals to those with eyes that can see them. It is unlocked, and I sigh in relief. I take out a red lion.

I scoop up a pair of Bertrand’s boots, and hurry out. It is time to leave.
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I hadn't entirely expected Jean to go around and kill people. That was a suprise, although I imagine he has a good reason.

The third entrance to the house is a nice thing, which I place into the same category as finally suprising Carlos.
I tell you, this guy is quite the cold killer when he gets his blood up. So he is to bring retribution to all those that doomed France? If the rest is like this, it will be a pleasure to read. Just the right amount of tension and relief above. And again, the tense serves the material very well. It keeps us at the edge of our seat as much as the character is himself. Well done.
Jwolf, I'm pretty sure Bertrand was not mentioned before. Clearly, Jean believes him to be responsible for the outbreak of war between France and Spain. Jean's actions show that beyond a doubt.

Maybe stnylan will explain later just what Bertrand did to earn the enmity of Jean, maybe he won't. In a sense, it doesn't even matter if it's never explained: it is selfevident to Jean, and since we are hearing the story through his voice, we have no other choice than to accept it. We readers are stumbling along as this man on a mission goes about his business, not knowing what to expect, groping in the dark to figure out what's going on. I like the approach, it makes for a nervous pace. :)

stnylan, a great update. I was surprised by the matter-of-fact violence against the sleeping cook and the whore in Bertrand's chamber, but that might just be my modern sensibilities. I'm enjoying your less-is-more approach, trying to piece together the bigger picture from the little slivers you throw us.

Wow! You've really engaged me deeply at the very beginning!

I agree with Stuyvesant. There is so much I do not know, yet I understand that I will understand in time, and it all makes sense, internally.

I'm getting used to the first-person style. I can see how it definitely makes it more personal, and more vividly real. I'm not sure I'd be able to pull it off. It's like he's reliving an experience in his own mind, or perhaps relating it to someone else in a dreamlike state. Very odd. But vivid.

Cold blooded killing. I suppose if you're on a mission, the right person convinces oneself that it cannot be helped.

Jean is a driven person, to be sure. Driven by deeply held resentments, it seems. And by a loyalty to something that may be very different from what everyone else in the picture owes loyalty to.

I love your writing! This will be a treat to keep up with!