The gatehouse of the Tower Cerulean was gated with a crystal portcullis, which reflected the late afternoon sunlight. It was as beautiful as it was robust, at least that’s what Sergeant Gendarme Arpin remembered from a school trip to the keep as a youth. Everyone wanted to be a Chevalier at that age, but he had long since put aside that ambition. He might not wear a sword at his hip but he did make the Arrondissement a safer place, which was to his thinking, just as valuable, if not as flashy.
Taking a deep breath, he approached the Chevalier standing guard.
“Halt! Please state your name and business with the Coterie du Honor!” declared the Chevalier, who was clad in armor of woven stone.
“I am Sergeant Gendarme Arpin and I have a message for the Marshal,” said Arpin who displayed his insignia.
Inspecting his insignia carefully the Chevalier nodded.
“Very well Sergeant Gendarme, give me the message and I will make sure it is delivered. “
“I’m afraid I cannot do that.”
“Is it a verbal message? If so I swear that it will be repeated verbatim.”
“No, it is a letter, but I must insist on delivering it directly to the Marshal.”
“That is not possible.”
“Is she not here at the Tower Cerulean?”
“The whereabouts of the Marshal are none of your concern!”
“I will have to politely disagree, given that I have a message for her. Perhaps you can ask her if she can receive me?”
“Ask the Marshal?”
The Chevalier looked aghast as if Arpin had asked him to commit an atrocity.
“Yes. Surely she’s been asked questions in the course of her life. I can think of no one who has not.”
Veins bulged at the young man’s temples as his nostrils flared in apoplexy. He reached for his sword but stopped when he heard a voice.
“Unswerving! What’s going on?”
Another Chevalier ambled from the guardhouse, she was dressed in armor of linked musical notes that made soothing sounds as she walked.
“This…Person was-“ Unswerving began.
“Sergeant Arpin, is that you?” asked the new Chevalier.
“It is. You were part of the group assigned to escort Jules Thibault.”
“I was,” she said extending her gauntleted hand, “I’m the Euphonious Chevalier. Your insight saved the day at the Tribunal. To say nothing of your excellent detective work.”
“You flatter me,” Arpin replied shaking her hand, “I had no idea that my work was that well known.”
“I must admit I’m a bit of a crime buff. I follow cases in the papers. Not that I’m a criminal myself.”
“Of course, I don’t think the Coterie du Honor would approve.”
“The Criminal Chevalier! What a scandal that would be!”
The two of them laughed as Unswerving looked on in perplexed horror.
“He asked to deliver a letter to the Marshal!”
“Important is it?”
“Very,” said Arpin.
“Well then, let’s go.”
“Wait! People can’t just stroll in off the street!”
“Do you know who this is?”
“No! That’s why I said people can’t just stroll in off the street!”
She stepped in close and whispered something to Unswerving. His eyes went wide and he gestured to Arpin. Euphonious nodded.
“No need, you were doing your duty.”
He bowed and Arpin said, “Please Chevalier, that is unnecessary.”
“Get up Unswerving,” said Euphonious and he did so quickly.
“Shall we go?”
“Please. Follow me, Sergeant.”
Squires practiced in the courtyard of the Tower Cerulean. Clacks and thuds sounded as they thrust and parried with wooden swords and Arpin admired their discipline given being beaten with a heavy wooden stick must be very painful even with padded armor.
The entrance hall was bustling as Chevaliers and squires ran to and fro. On the floor was a mosaic of Chevaliers comprised of polished stone. Arpin noticed that it moved as if it were telling a story.
“Compliments on your outer defenses,” said Aprin.
“Do you mean the gates or the guard?”
“I imagine he dissuades unwanted visitors.”
“Unswerving is an excellent man if a bit uncompromising.”
“We all act as our natures dictate.”
“No allowance for free will?”
“That is a much longer conversation.”
“Agreed! Another time then?”
“I will bring several bottles of wine.”
They walked up many stairs, the Coterie du Honor clearly believed in physical exertion, until they reached the floor with the study of the Marshal. A Chevalier in armor that resembled wet pebbles sat in an outer office.
“Forewarned, she’s in a mood.”
“Who is this?”
“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin.”
“Ah yes! I saw your daguerreotype in the Courant. You’re a brave one.”
“You should have seen him in action,” added Euphonious.
“Please, I’m only a Gendarme.”
“You’re too modest.”
“Agreed!” declared Euphonious.
“Is the Marshal available?”
Elusive smiled awkwardly and said, “What is this regarding?”
“I have a letter to deliver.”
“If you’ll pass it to me, I’ll make sure she gets it.”
Arpin sighed. Glory is indeed fleeting.
“I swore to deliver it personally.”
“While I do respect an oath, the Marshal is extremely-“
Taking the envelope from his inside pocket, he showed the wax seal on the back to Elusive. His eyes resembled serving plates.
“Perhaps that is something that I should discuss with the Marshal.”
Euphonious, who was also taken back by what she saw, said, “Tell her he’s here and she’ll want to see him.”
With that, he got up and entered the study. Muffled conversation could be heard but no details. After a lull, Elusive stepped out.
“The Marshal will see you now. Alone.”
While there were many fascinating objects lining the walls of the Marshal’s study, though none were as magnetic as the Marshal herself. She stood behind her desk, in full armor and fixed him with a gaze that brooked no foolery.
“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, I have granted you this audience for several reasons. One, your reputation as an honest member of the Gendarmery. You should know that your captain speaks very highly of you. Two, your actions in the Tribunal de Justice, your insight may have saved lives. Laudable. Third, the cases you are working on are of great interest to the Coterie du Honor. However, if this is a trick or plot, it will be most unpleasant. For you.”
“I fully understand.”
“The letter,” stated the Marshal holding out her hand.
He handed it to her. She took a monocle from a pearlescent box on her desk and examined the envelope. Satisfied, she took a dagger from her belt and opened it. She read it. Then read it again.
“Where did you get this? Who gave it to you?”
“He was an older man. Just showed up at my Gendarmery, asked me to deliver it.”
“Because if I understood him, he trusts me.”
“And why would he trust you I wonder?”
“He said, ‘You are dedicated, methodical, intelligent, and violence is not your first impulse. Also, I believe that if you give your word, you will keep it.’”
“Praise from Le Diable.”
“Marshal, I did not tell you that so you would think better of me. I believe we need to be honest with each other. In the spirit of that, this man offered me a boon if I did this. Anything I wished if it were in his power. Before you ask, he would have turned himself in, or even disbanded his organization. If that was done, he said that things would become unpleasant. He did not elaborate but I believe him.”
“Why not just bind him by law? There were many Gendarmes present I presume.”
“There were but you know what his people can do, I did not think the price of lives lost would be worth it.”
“Do you believe what is in this?”
“Marshal, I am the messenger, I have no idea what was written.”
She regarded him for a moment and then handed him the letter. It read thus,
Though our orders have been in conflict for many years, I would like to request a parley for our mutual benefit. If you agree, please light the tower torches with purple fire on November 7th.
I know how difficult trust can be but I can assure you that is worth your very valuable time.”
The signature was a calligraphic image of the spider symbol.
“I distrust it.”
“I can understand why.”
“Our history with this group is sanguine but I am not.”
“Will you agree to a parley?”
“You think I should.”
“I have a much shorter history with this group than you and I am wary at best.”
“There is a however on the horizon.”
“Have you ever parleyed with them before?”
“Perhaps you will learn something new.”
“If I agree, will you accompany us?”
Arpin could smell her resolve, it reminded him of stone heated by the sun. Unrelenting.
“You may regret it.”
“I suspect I would regret missing it more.”
A tight smile creased the Marshal’s mouth.
“Very well then, we both have work to do.”
“Marshal, I know little of the Coterie du Honor’s history with these people. But perhaps I could share with you what I have learned. If you would permit me.”
“I’ve read the articles, I know what you’ve discovered.”
“With all due respect, we do not reveal all to the fourth estate.”
“May I sit? This might take a while.”