The girl shivered in her red cloak as she made her way through the forest twilight, her picnic basket empty. It wasn't the cold that rattled her, it was the brooding sense of menace the trees took on. It was rather late to be returning from a visit to a relative, she realised as she tightened the hood of her cloak.
She stopped when she noticed a figure standing on the hilltop wearing colored robes; he raised his arms as if he was conducting the weather, there were a few flashes of lightning about him. She recognised him as Joseph Curwen, a creepy American who came to this French countryside with a sinister demeanor. He yelled out names to the sky as if calling to grey clouds. The utterrings didn't make sense in French or English, the only words she could make out were "Yog Sothoth"
"Yog Sothoth" he repeated until he looked down and saw her.
His face became cold and cruel, he signalled with his left arm to the hillside behind him. That which appeared beside him was the biggest wolf she had ever seen. She had seen wolves before, even been up close to one on several occasions but this was so monstrous that the very sight froze her in her tracks.
The man pointed his finger at her with an obvious command for the beast. The wolf ran towards her. She wanted to run or climb a tree but the shock and fear paralysed her. The beast was nearly as big as a cow, its eyes were demonic red, its fur coal black and its paws gave a loud thud with each step. The jaws salivated heavily as the beast approached the girl, who could only utter in her head a line she said once before.
"My what big teeth you have"
When the beast closed on her and the pain started, she managed a loud scream.
Gustavus with his acute hearing heard the scream, quickly focusing his gifted sense he also heard the beast's savage growl. The three other servants Albrecht, Berthold and Adolphus had not stirred, they did not have his hearing; nor did the Baron, who was now releasing one of his carrier pigeons.
"Baron, its happening again, right now. This time it is a young girl" yelled Gustavus.
Baron Karl Friedrich Munchausen was tall, graceful and resplendant in his red German military coat. The hair, without his usual wig was brown with a touch of grey and with a ribbon tied plat at the back, letting the style frame a face of aristocratic charm and a long moustache finely twirled at both ends.
"Adolphus can you see it?" He asked
Gustavus pointed to where he was hearing the atrocity. Adolphus focused his keen eyesight to that area then shook his bespectacled head.
" I'm sorry, hills and trees are in the way, but I do see localised lightning there." he reported.
The others didn't need the gifted eyesight to catch a glimmer of the lightning.
"We should go there now." said Albrecht. "And finish this beast off once and for all." he concluded while crushing a brick in his hands.
Berthold got up as if to start his super fast sprint to the dreadful site.
"Hold Berthold, stay put. " Commanded the Baron." You may get there fast enough to catch The Beast at his grisly work but you would then be alone against it and the evil that sponsors this atrocity; and I would then be short one valuable companion. It is too late to save the girl anyway."
Berthold sat down, while Albrecht paced back and forth impatiently.
"It is but a wolf, it is virtually in our back yard so why are we standing down?" he questioned.
The Baron stood atop his temporery leased premises, the Chateau de Lune; made a quick calculation of the space between the roof and the courtyard; then, with a confident grin, stepped off the roof into thin air. The downward trajectory sent him into a diagonal window awning that bounced him in a parabolic arc into another such awning which, with a controlled twist of his body, propelled him to the flagpole; grabbing the flag rope his downward velocity was suddenly counter balanced by the raising weighty flag. The debonair aristocrat landed gracefully on his feet and put on his soldier's hat. Atop the pole fluttered the flag of the Moon kingdom.
"It's not that we cannot deal with a wolf." said The Baron. "After all did I not personally turn a wolf inside out during my adventures? The wolf is but a servant of a more potent evil, an evil that has a concerning command of the elements and dark horrors that even I don't understand. Us Germans are known for our patience and we must practice it now."
"On the following morning" he continued. "The other members of this team I am putting together should arrive. Only then should we proceed against The Beast and the evil it serves."
Berthold stood up eager to help in this gathering. "Where are these team members to be found?" he asked.
"One is in Grasse, practicing the fine art of perfuming, you four shall fetch him here. Two others will be arriving at Marseilles in the morning, I have chartered a coach for them. Another is in Dijon, she will get my summons at the same time. The last one is in Calais; where you Berthold must go and bring him here after your done in Grasse."
The Baron sipped a fine glass of tokay brought to him on silver tray by a valet, then said "When they all converge here at Gevaudan then we hunt The Beast."
The cauldron heated over the discreet night fire, its contents simmered lightly. Water bubbled to the surface which revealed a lot of loose plum matter, rose petals and other herbal mixtures. Vapours rose from the pot to get absorbed by the dried animal fats that were tactfully suspended over cauldron.
The stirrer and preparer of this concoction was Jean Baptiste Grenouille, he was in his late twenties and looked around him vigilantly for any unwelcome presence, that is anyone.
His aim was to achieve a brilliant method of scent extraction; the solid contents of the cauldron being the subject.
This process merged two methods of extraction; enfleurage, which he was adopting as the best way, and maceration which he was abandoning as flawed. Enfleurage required the animal fats to absorb the scent while maceration was to separate the scent from its source through distillation.
This was his own time his own private experiment of which he would tell nobody and that went for all his many nocturnal experiments.
The startled perfumer jumped in shock at the sudden intruder, his vigilance never wavered but somehow this person got under his defences. The flash presence was a German about middle age.
Jean returned a awkward greeting while quickly arranging the cauldron surface into an opaque layer.
"You are Jean Baptiste Grenouille" Asked the German.
"I am" Replied Jean. " How come I did not see you approach?"
"My name is Berthold." said the German. "And I am very fast."
Jean noticed Berthold disappear and reappear in a place ten metres away, then disappear again and reappear one hundred metres away; in the next instant the visitor was standing beside him. Jean noticed the trail of kicked up dirt and realised this individual has superhuman speed; his scent was one of sweat, tokay, crossants and German sausage.
The nervous perfumer shifted himself around Berthold to keep his attention away from the pot.
"Can I help you?" Asked Jean.
"Exactly." answered Berthold. "You have been requested and now summonned by M to aid him in a mission of great importance."
"M." Jean said, baffled. "Who's M?"
"I refer to none other than the great Baron Munchausen; he is in Gevaudan and wants you there amongst other gifted people to help him."
"Gevaudan" said Jean. "This is about the Beast of Gevaudan, he wants me to help him hunt it down?"
"Yes Herr Grenouille. Can he count on your support?"
"I can scent a wolf a mile away. But it is a long way from Grasse to Gevaudan."
Berthold smiled at the young man's apparent co-operation and said. "A coach will pick you up at the main gates about noon tomorrow. I will tell my colleagues to expect you; but after that I will be off to Calais. So we should see each other again at Gevaudan?"
Jean nodded acceptance then noticed Berthold shifting his attention to the cauldron. Quickly stepping to the edge of the pot he darted his fingers into the surface creating ripples that blurred all transparency, then rearranged the plum matter into an opaque layer.
"Making soup?" The German asked.
"No No." answered Jean nervously. "It's perfume. A plum based perfume."
Berthold placed his head near the surface and sniffed the vapours. His response was one badly hid revulsion..
"Perhaps your masterpiece will come another day." he said tactfully.
Berthold reminded Jean of the coach, said his goodbye then sped off to his next stop leaving a trail off soil dust in his wake.
The nervous perfumer breathed a sigh of relief when he regained his precious solitude. Jean would consider this experiment a failure and concentrate his efforts on pure enfleurage, for which he will bring the materials and apparatus on this mission for M.
After putting out the fire, Jean began emptying the cauldron so he could clean it out and prepare for his trip. The visitors appraisal of the experiment's results was accurate and it was good that he did not grope in the water for the ingredients, for beneath the surface of the pot was the naked body of a murdered woman.
Jean Baptiste Grenouille was trying to perfect the extraction of exact scent from living organisms, usually human woman; unfortunately this required him to kill them first, then extract the scent before it died with the subject.
"M doesn't know." Grenouille whispered to himself. "But he was sending a killer against another killer."
The docks of Marseilles were a welcome sight to the Trans-Atlantic voyagers, they had spent days seasick and homesick. Replacing the stability of the New York and Delaware forests for the wobbly and chaotic ride on an ocean ship sent their bodies and minds into a ferocious culture shock that did not subside for days until they got their sea legs.
Natty Bumpo was out of his element here on the ship's deck, only the seagulls made sense to him; he hopes once he gets into the French forests that a measure of his affinities with nature would return.
"It's time to disembark." he said rousing his companion to awareness.
Chingachook was a tall, advanced middle aged yet agile Indian of the Mohican tribe; he had coped with the crossing by spending most of his time meditating, even though he was far from his spiritual homeland. Luggage included muskets that were covered in tanned skins for the trip.
"This is best news Hawkeye give me all voyage." he said.
Natty was given the name Hawkeye by a Huron brave he killed when he was twenty-three, the name stuck. The two grabbed their things and headed for the gangplank.
Captain Caproni approached them for his farewell.
"Goodbye to the both of you. I trust you will find Europe as strange as we Europeans found America." He gave a captain's salute. "I salute fellow explorers of the bewildering." Then promptly returned to supervising offloading of cargo.
Caproni had often spoke of exploration especially down in the relatively uncharted seas way down south.
The gangplank was wobbly but soon came the sweet stability of the docks then soon dry ground. The bayside of Marseilles was picturesque with the familiar sounds of horse drawn carts and wagons, seagulls and occasional people. Waves gently lapping against the sandy beaches, little boats with coloured sails, children on the shore collecting shells, and artists wearing horizontal striped tops and berets trying to capture this tranquil vision on their canvases.
"I bet you two are glad the trip's over." Said a young Frenchman in crude English.
"That we are." said Hawkeye "The sailing part anyway; we're not at our destination yet."
"My name is Candide." Said the Frenchman. "I am to take you two to the coach that will carry you to Gevaudon; but first let's take a sojourn at one these many cafes on the beachfront."
Hawkeye and Chingachook joined Candide at a nice cafe where they indulged in French pastry, coffee, cake and conversation. The two trappers demonstrated a rough capability with the French language saying they picked it up during the recent French Indian War. Candide noticed their wrapped muskets and asked if they were going to hunt in what was foreign land to them with the same confidence that they would have at home. The answer he got was a supposed Yes.
"Confidence can be very misplaced thing, especially for travellers. I travelled when I was young and full of confidence; I went to Portugal; my sense of wonder soon became fear and pain when I was caught in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. After having buildings collapse on top of me I was left crippled and in great pain with fires around me and a maid trying to comfort me with words of confidence. So what happens then? A tidal wave engulfs the city and nearly drowns me after hurling my pain racked body several hundred yards.
"So my fellow travellers watch yourselves, it doesn't always work out as you expect." he finished.
Taken aback by this tale of woe the two trappers finished their repast and sat immobilised.
"My confidence didn't die in Lisbon." Said Candide. "After a painful recovery it was henceforth kept in check, as yours should in your hunt."
Candide paid the tab then ushered Hawkeye and Chingachook of to their coach. It was an open cab; no roof, cushioned seats, a hamper of food and a driver who gave a cheery welcome.
"This should get you to Gevaudan by tomorrow morning, there will be one stop at Lyons where you can stay for an hour. So it is goodbye my friends and give my regards to the Baron." Candide waved as the coach began its journey.
Juliette looked over the city of Dijon from her bedroom window, half dressed and relaxed after a night and morning of vigorous sensual activity with her current lover Fanfan La Tulip, the hero of the Seven Years War. The blackberry wine she sipped was sweet along with the local gingerbread, mustard and Fanfan; he was half conscious and swooning on the bed in pleasant memories of the last few hours activity; he didn't notice the pigeon flutter on to the window cell.
Taking the bird in her arms, Juliette picked out the message in its leg cylinder and read.
The message was from M, it was a summons. The League was forming in Gevaudan and she must get herself to the Chateau de Lune at once.
Being part of the League was rather odd for her, she didn't really care if any mission they performed succeeded or not, it's just that for a few days in her carefree life she would give the illusion that she would be a dutiful contributor to a group effort. Although she had her personal fortune and powerful lovers in society to secure her wild carefree life, she felt it wise to keep M's favour.
A fresh look over the city gave Juliette a view of imminent danger; seven figures moving along the street towards her parlour. These seven were a group of international assassins known as The Seven Virtues; Patience, Humility, Chastity, Kindness, Charity, Diligence and Temperance. Not doubting for a minute that they were after her, Juliette roused Fanfan La Tulip awake then told him to quickly get dressed and prepare for a fight.
"Who sent them Mademoiselle?" he asked.
"Not sure lover." She answered, though she did consider a few possibilities in her head as she packed a quick portmanteau.
A few hailed commands outside her door brought her valet's prompt arrival; telling him to take the portmanteau and prepare the coach for immediate departure; he hurried off. Fanfan completed dressing the same time as her, he was a slim, agile and handsome; when he took his sword out of its scabbard, he demonstrated a graceful use of it as he grinned.
The two left the room and rushed down the stairs. It was when they approached the open door that the noticed the seven virtues were almost at the doorstep. Juliette quickly closed and bolted the door, then rushed past Fanfan asking him to hold them in the hallway while she slips out the back, he gave her a brief kiss goodbye. The seven visitors began to pound the door.
Juliette decided against exit through the back door or any window, the assassins would think of that and cover those escapes, no she would use a secret exit. She could hear the front door give under the constant assaults followed by the clash of steel. Fanfan was holding his ground.
She stepped into a broom closet, closed the door behind her and, after shoving the brooms aside, pulled a lever that opened a wall panel. Taking a step forward she plunged into pile of hay; this was the neighbours stables; the secret panel was good for a roll in the hay with their son. A spring mechanism closed the panel behind her.
It was good that no-one was here now, she had to move fast, no time for explanations. She made for the stable door, certain her coach would be just outside ready to go. One of the assassins appeared in her path, he saw her, brandished his hunting knife and moved in on her. He did not call out; no, he wanted to bag her himself.
Juliette reached into her sleeve and pulled out a rope pre-tied into a noose, she then placed it over her own neck while making some overtly seductive movements. The assassin was known as Humility and he was taken aback not so much by the seductive posturing but by apparent invitation to strangle her to death. He was on her now just a couple of stabs and his duty will be fulfilled; but if she wants to die this way so be it.
Placing the knife in his mouth he grasped the noose and began to slowly tighten it around her throat. She responded with moans of pleasure then lifted her dress up and pressed herself against his body while gyrating her torso in rhythmic thrusts; her hands then both worked on several of his erogenous zones at once.
Humility, unbalanced by this sensation fell into a pile of hay, but quickly shifted himself so that he was on top of Juliette. She didn't seem to mind and she clung to him to maintain her erotic attentions. Remembering his duty he tightened the noose more, her response was a highly intense moan of pleasure with a rewarding smile that lifted with her head to bring her moist lips invitingly to his. Feeling heightened joy from her lascivious touches, he let the knife drop out of his mouth and kissed her while keeping a hand on the noose he used his other arm to embrace her. She had one arm around him pressing his head to hers and making the kiss so passionate that it would be the centre of the universe for him and it was, he became so lost in the heat of the moment that it took a knife entering his chest to snap him out of it.
Juliette grabbed the discarded knife during the distracting kiss and with her free hand stabbed it in between his ribs. Humility gasped in pain breaking off the kiss, Juliette immediately re-initiated the kiss while maintaining the erotic gyrating; she plunged the knife deeper towards his heart. Humility, realising the trap, tried to tightened the noose with all his remaining strength while in this erotic grip. Unable to breathe, Juliette felt her faculties leave her, the painful asphyxiation nearly took her to a new world of potent feeling, but then she felt the assassins life end in her embrace, the knife had hit home.
The noose loosened with the little effort she had left to impart. After waiting a minute to get her breathe back she pushed aside the dead body of the partner whose life she drained then awkwardly got to her feet. She stumbled out into the street suffering extreme dizziness and blurred vision. The Valet found her and led her to the coach, the portmanteau was secured and the coachman was ready.
"Where to Mademoiselle?" he asked.
"West." She answered, then got on board.
The coach took off unimpeded and she was safe for a while. This new sensation of doing it while close to death was awesome. She would have to experiment with this.
The Throttled Hog tavern in Lyons was a rough place to be, it was mainly patronised by barge hands and factory workers drinking ale and the occasional wine. Redmond Barry and his two Prussian colleagues had done their best to blend in; they did not have to be here long, but they felt it best that Redmond do all the talking. The Seven Years War was only three years gone and Prussian accents may draw hostility, whereas the Irish tongue would not.
Redmond's path to this point was odd for an Irish rogue: fled his genteel home in Ireland after a duel; joined the British army so he could eat, deserted after his first battle in Europe; forced to serve in the Prussian army for the remainder of the war; then recruited into the secret service. After an unhappy time spying on foreigners in Berlin he is given a search and destroy mission in France.
There were many deserters from the Prussian military forces, Redmond tried several times to be one, but one case drew intense concern from the army and police. The case was that of Fernand Wagner, a soldier who committed several gory murders before and after his desertion. The case-file ended up on the desk of the police service Redmond worked for. A continental manhunt had yielded one clue from a tipster in Lyons.
Realising that any Prussian making enquiries in France could alert the target to his pursuers, the service would send this Irishman to do all the talking. So Redmond Barry is dispatched to France to receive the tipster's update and hunt down Fernand Wagner from there. The two Prussian agents were Fritz and Karl; the mission was theirs' also but, although Redmond wasn't informed, he knew they had orders to prevent him deserting. So Redmond Barry found himself in the Throttled Hog, a lowly tavern in Lyons.
Hawkeye and Chingachook entered the tavern; their coach had stopped for a rest and this joint had the closest resemblance to what they had in America. The frontiersman managed to buy two ales then sit down at a small table with his friend. The other patrons gave a muted interest at both the coonskin hat worn by Hawkeye and the wild features of the Indian.
Redmond Barry took a keen interest in the newcomers but refrained from meeting them as he had to maintain a low profile. A fresh voice at the bar caught the attention of Fritz who then indicated to Redmond that their tipster has shown up. The Irish rogue approached a suitably wide gap in the bar patrons and ordered three fresh ales from the tipster.
"The dew in the meadows is mild this time of year Rene." he said in well rehearsed French.
"The rain in Spain is heavy." replied the Publican while serving the three ales and looking around to be sure of reasonable privacy.
"The man you are seeking, Herr Wagner is in Gevaudan. I do not know exactly where he lives but that is where you will find him." He whispered.
Redmond showed the informer a drawn ID picture of Fernand Wagner then received a confirmation that he was their man. After paying the tipster Redmond returned to his table with the three ales and told Fritz and Karl of the update. It was decided to finish their drinks then depart for Gevaudan.
Three men entered the tavern, they positioned themselves next to the wall under a stuffed boar's head; making no initiative to procure drinks, all three kept a mean focus on Hawkeye and Chingachook. Redmond noticed the three made eye contact with two similarly attired men who appeared at the side entrance with muskets and another two who stood at the main door also with muskets; the latter two repositioned themselves near his table but maintained their focus on the two Americans.
Chingachook whispered to his friend " We have seven prowling wolves about to pounce on us."
Hawkeye noted the danger and promptly whispered his plans.
Redmond heard the musket men ready their firearms. The three men by the wall approached the table, one presented himself in front of the two trappers while the other two stayed behind them and reached to their scabbards.
"Well what do we have here?" he said loudly. "The two filthy savages who fought alongside the British at Fort William Henry. How dare you even think you are welcome here in France."
Silence reigned over the tavern, but only for an instant. Hawkeye let out a punch that sent the troublemaker flying into a nearby table occupied by workers. Chingachook spun out of his seat and grabbed the knife arm of the attacker behind him; with a strong jerk and swift move placed the man between him and the muskets. Although both guns levelled at the Indian only one fired, killing the comrade Chingachook placed in its line of fire.
Hawkeye wheeled around evading the stab from the other attacker, grabbing his arm and disarming him by smashing his hand against the table edge, then with good strength positioned him before the muskets at the side entrance being aimed his way. Neither firearm fired but the bearers had murder in their eyes; a tomahawk deftly thrown by Chingachook buried itself in one of their foreheads, the man dropped instantly, his associate convulsed in shock, he would be out of the fight for a few seconds. Hawkeye slammed a fist into his current antagonist's belly, the lifted the limp and hurting wretch up and hurled him over the bar into the shelves.
The musket man who fired and killed his friend drew a rapier and moved on Chingachook, who had just flung away his tomahawk. The other musketeer levelled his firearm at the unshielded Hawkeye; Redmond Barry, forgetting the need to keep a low profile, pushed the barrel of the firearm to the left, sending the deadly shot into the back of the man with the rapier. Furious, the gunman drew a knife and stabbed at the Irish Rogue. Redmond stopped the blade inches from his face and wrestled to keep it from connecting.
Hawkeye's first attacker got up from the collapsed table, drew his knife and approached the frontiersman who promptly drew his skinning blade from his boot and engaged. The first few stab attacks were easily blocked by forearm to forearm contact, then some desperate swipes were dodged by Hawkeye who managed do deliver some minor wounds to his opponent. A light stumble by backing into a loose chair rendered the scout apparently vulnerable for a moment, which the attacker seized with a strong lunge; Hawkeye swiftly bent his body like a reed in the wind, avoiding the blade, and with an agile twist ran his own blade into the back of his outstretched opponent.
The knife near Redmond Barry's face lost its force when Karl wrapped a garroting wire around the wielder's neck; he could've finished him off, but Fritz knocked the ruffian out with a blackjack. The Irishman was out of danger, but saw his Prussian colleague's disapproval at his involvement in this fight. Redmond grabbed the pistol hidden in Fritz's belt.
A piercing war cry filled the tavern as Chingachook lifted his large axe like weapon and prepared to throw it. The patrons realising what was going to happen all ducked under the tables. The last musket man had recovered his faculties and prepared to shoot at the Indian, then suddenly losing his nerve under the war cry, slipped out the side doorway he was positioned at. The throwing axe whirled through the tavern, narrowly missing its fleeing mark and flying out the door into a tree beyond.
When the shrill war cry abated Hawkeye went to thank the young man who aided in his plight only to find him pointing a pistol virtually at him; he ducked for cover as fast as he could. The pistol fired sending its shot into the head of Hawkeye's former antagonist, who after being hurled behind the bar, arose with a pistol to shoot his foe in the back.
Redmond Barry only stayed briefly to shake hands with Hawkeye and Chingachook and receive their thanks, he promptly excused himself and his two partners, who said nothing, then departed leaving the two trappers to explain the incident to the authorities.
The inquiry was prompt and the other patrons backed up the American's viewpoint. The only clue to the attackers identity was that each one carried a wolfskin in a pack. The authorities realised that this was a murder attempt by a notorious wolf cult which was menacing this area of France.
When all was said and done, the two trappers resumed their coach ride to Gevaudan, it was clear to them that M's enemies were on the ball.
The coach sped down the road from Grasse to Gevaudan. Jean Baptiste Grenouille was enjoying the ride despite usually travelling by foot. The fellow passengers were friends of Berthold; there was Adolphus with his spectacles and scoped musket, there was also Gustavus with acute hearing and Albrecht driving the coach; they all made him feel welcome, which was unusual as he had rarely felt welcome in other company throughout his life.
They had arrived at noon as Berthold had said, then immediately tested him by having him identify certain objects in Hessian bags; he could easily isolate the scent of oranges, tobacco and coffee beans. Albrecht placed his luggage on the back of the coach, lifting it with just two fingers, and taking his place at the driver's seat. The coach was mahogany, upholstered inside with crimson velvet. The three Germans spoke good French while talking jovially of Baron Munchausen and the Chateau de Lune.
Jean's characteristic reserve eventually gave way to a fraternal rapport with these adventurers, bidding them to sample some of the perfumes he had made, he carried several bottles on his person. Adolphus and Gustavus reacted like they were in Paradise when they smelled the concoctions; Albrecht also had a go when Jean reached the bottles out the window to the driver, the fine scent dissipated to quickly in the open breeze, but he got a big enough sniff to forget the smell of the horses.
Since the breeze went from North-West to South-East Jean could pick up scents from ahead without being distorted by the smell of the horses. Adolphus focused his vision to the road ahead and bid Jean to tell what is two miles up on the side of the road. Jean could smell several things in the light breeze; grass, leaves, dirt, but managed to isolate the odour that was two miles ahead and getting closer.
"Honeysuckle trees." he said.
In a few minutes the coach passed a copse of honeysuckle trees. The Germans applauded, even Albrecht, who could only just hear what was going on.
Gustavus honed his hearing to a specific sound ahead, then bid Jean to tell what was near the road ahead. Jean did not have Gustavus's hearing but amidst the scents being carried to him in the breeze was the dominant scent of sheep plus a couple of secondary odours.
"Lot's of sheep being herded by Dutch sheepdogs and there are some daffodils to." he answered.
Sure enough as the coach travelled over the hill there was a flock of sheep bleating as they were being herded by Dutch sheep dogs. A flower bed of daffodils were growing in a neighbouring field. The Germans were ecstatic with admiration for this gifted perfumer; it was clear why M wanted him in the League.
The waters of the river Loire were fresh and invigorating; for Juliette they were a natural Paradise where she could swim naked, much like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. To complete the Eden similarity she coaxed a young man into the water with her, he was Jean Villeneave, an infantry officer. Together they engaged in a few erotic activities, in and out of the water.
She still thought of Fanfan La Tulip, but he was several hours ago and many miles east in Dijon, possibly even killed while giving her a chance to escape those assassins. He was a good swordsman, so she believed he would be waiting for her return and more loveplay.
As to who commissioned The Seven Virtues to kill her, kept her thinking; she had several powerful enemies: Catherine the Great, who disliked Juliette helping herself to her courtroom favourites; The Pope, who would've labelled her lifestyle sinful; or maybe one of several aristocrats who became furious when they could not possess her, at least not for very long. Whoever it was, they would have to wait, Juliette was out of The Virtues' reach now.
The two swimmers finished their aquatic and riverside activities, dried each other with towels then re-adorned themselves. Jean Villeneave put on his officer's uniform then excused himself with a passionate goodbye kiss. Although this particular riverbank was private there was a designated picnic area just two hundred meters around the bend; that's where her coach was waiting. She would take her towel bag back there and then proceed to Gevaudan.
Striped umbrellas and frilly parasols adorned the picnic ground at Nevers; men, women and children sat on white chairs around white tables sipping coffee and chatting. This crowd included English tourists. Those who actually swam in the river wore awkward bathing apparel that covered eighty percent of their bodies; only the little boys stripped to the waist before they plunged in.
"Juliette." Said a voice behind her.
Turning around, Juliette saw a middle aged Englishwomen standing near her, she wore a white silken dress that reached up to her neck and a wide crafted hat with fake fruit pinned to it.
"You are Juliette de Lorsange aren't you?" She asked in French with a high class English accent.
"Why yes." She answered. "And who do I have the pleasure of meeting?"
A quick and sudden slap hit Juliette's face, she was shocked but recovered in time to avoid the return backhand from the Englishwoman.
"Pamela Andrews B." she answered. "I want to tell you what a loathsome, disgusting harlot you are. When I hear about your filthy vices you practice everyday it makes me sick."
Juliette did not want to listen to this rant, taking advantage of her loose dress, she sent a kick; it would have been good to aim for the mouth, but the English stomach received the force, taking her breathe away along with her bitter words. Pamela moved close and seized a handful of Juliette's hair and pulled, she would have ripped it out of the scalp after two or three efforts had not a left hand punch from its owner impacted on her nose; letting go of the hair she tended her bleeding snout. The Englishwoman's fingers became claws, Juliette grasped each hand with her own hands then the two antagonists wrestled for some advantage. The picnic crowd noticed the fight, especially when a mutual imbalance sent the two women rolling over each other down a hill. Juliette managed a bite on her antagonists ear during the roll. A claw from Pamela dug into The Frenchwoman's face, Juliette made a move for the fruity hat that stayed on her attacker's head, took what she was looking for and stabbed the hatpin into the clawing arm. Pamela shrieked in pain and pushed Juliette away from her..
"Emile." Said Jean Villeneave signaling a fellow Frenchman to restrain Juliette.
The infantry officer was among the picnic crowd and moved to restrain Pamela; despite a gentleman like manner, Juliette could see that he hated the Englishwoman, not because she fought with his recent squeeze, it's just that he really hated British. He was in no hurry to help her extract the hatpin or tend to her bleeding nose and ear.
Emile was quite rough in his restraint of Juliette, when she looked in his face she could see a bitterness derived form a sense of betrayal by a women close to him; either that or his education didn't teach him to understand what crap women have to go through. Pamela's look was one of sheer murder.
Pamela Andrews had to put up with a lot of bitter scrutiny, gossip and harassment before and after she made the odd move of marrying her rich employer, yet she forgave a lot of her tormentors and went on to live a happy life. There will be no forgiving Juliette, she will pay for her vice ridden life and the injuries she inflicted today.
Emile escorted Juliette with her towel bag to her coach. An adolescent boy was seen talking to her coachman, he left as the lady approached. When she got in Juliette asked Emile who the boy was.
"That Madam was Mrs B's son." He replied. "Goodbye."
As the coach departed Juliette thought of what a return slap in the face she could deliver to Pamela Andrews B by personally introducing her son to joyful vice, but that would have to wait. M was expecting her.
The coach sped through the night which bore a moon that was almost there but not yet full. Up on the surrounding hills the trees and rocks stood motionless in their ominous shapes like an audience waiting for the final act in a suspense play.
Adolphus and Gustavus had fallen asleep after a joyful day of testing Jean's impressive sense of smell; Albrecht remained strong in his wakefulness as he was in his muscles, he continued to drive the coach, resting occasionally for the horses sake , not his own.
" We will stop in Lozeres for the night." He said. "The Baron doesn't expect you till the morning."
Jean inquired how far Lozeres was and was told not far. Adolphus and Gustavus woke into a slight consciousness at this conversation; Jean reckoned they would be back to sleep very soon, but a sudden look of concern broke the latter's face. The perfumer began to smell what Gustavus obviously heard. On the knoll ahead of the coach Jean could sense a man and something akin to a wolf. The wolf scent was coupled with potent elements that were foul and never before smelt, no perfumer would ever want to.
Burning sulphur suddenly overlapped all smells as if it was spontaneously called into existence. The coach veered right as Albrecht was steering it to avoid something. Jean sensed the burning sulphur get stronger very fast, then hastened to exit the moving coach; he got the left door open and braced to jump out when the explosion happened, his body was propelled outwards to land in the soft grass.
Mahogany and velvet blew apart at the force of the fireball's impact, that which did not disintegrate was incinerated. Albrecht, who saw the the flaming projectile coming, had too little time to evade it with the coach; he could only jump from the driver's seat the second before it hit. Adolphus and Gustavus were alive but burnt and in shock, Albrecht rushed to their aid.
Jean stood up with no burns, just but a sore ankle; he noticed a man in bright coloured robes standing on the knoll with his arms outstretched. What shocked the perfumer was the wolf panting next to the robed figure, it was huge, while standing on all fours it was as tall as the man's shoulders. Imagine a black Malamute with it's thick fur; make it five and a half feet tall, have the hair on its back stick up like the spikes of a porcupine, colour its slitted eyes dark red then fill a set unnaturally wide jaws with teeth designed to rend a victim to shreds and you will have an idea of the horror that stood on the knoll.
After lowering his arms the robed man pointed towards the perfumer while giving the monster canine a command. The Beast darted down the knoll, its steps thudding loudly and its growl terrible; the robed man uttered a manic cruel laugh. Jean could not run with his bad ankle and he had no weapons; he brought out a perfume bottle, at first to deal with the beast's repulsive smell, then realised how he could best use it. After removing the lid, Jean hurled the fragrant projectile straight at the attacking monster; it smashed against the beast's snout. The huge wolf skidded to a halt, its strong olfactory senses drew in the perfume sending powerful and unprecedented stimuli to the lupine brain. Forgetting its prey the beast, shocked by the potent sensory intake, shook its head in confusion then vigorously rubbed its nose against the ground in a vain effort to be rid of this strange sensation, while emitting growls of frustration.
A loose coach wheel whirled across the plain like a discus and slammed into the Wolf's side, knocking it into a helpless roll with a painful yelp. Albrecht had hurled the wheel and now approached with a lance that was attached to the coach's side. The beast was still in a state of confusion and now pain; a whistle sound from the robed man caught its attention, the beast run back up the knoll in response to the signal. The obvious master gave his beast a further signal when it returned. The huge wolf darted into the hills towards Gevaudan. Raising his arms again the robed man yelled words that neither Jean nor Albrecht could understand; a sudden thunder cracked from a formerly docile cloud above, then forked lightning split the night virtually hitting its summoner, who vanished, then a second bolt shot out across the hills towards Gevaudan.
Jean and Albrecht conferred and agreed that the wolf was the Beast of Gevaudan and the robed man was its master and a warlock; he had conjured a fireball and hurled it at the coach front, it was too fast for the evasive steering. The ball of fire hit the side of the coach just as Jean got to other side's door, the impact force propelling him safely away. Adolphus and Gustavus were not so lucky, they copped multiple burns and heavy splinters but they will live to have adventures another day. Both horses were dead but Albrecht claimed he could perform all draught duties; placing his two injured friends on a makeshift litter, made from the wreckage, he began to drag them to Lozeres, Jean tagging along his ankle better.
They reached the town an hour later. Adolphus and Gustavus were admitted into a hospital. Albrecht wrote a letter explaining the attack and its consequences to the Baron, then handed it to Jean for delivery. A chartered coach was immediately organised to take the perfumer to the Chateau de Lune. Albrecht then surrendered to his own injuries and was admitted to the hospital for treatment, his last advice to Jean was.
"You are our friend now. Do the three of us proud in service to the Baron."
The fresh dawn light revealed the Chateau de Lune to Hawkeye as the coach approached the front gate. New York had only a little extravagance in a mere few individual homes but none of that prepared the frontiersman for this. The place was grand and stood majestic to the surrounding French countryside. Gargoyles and other Gothic shapes adorned the archway entrance with its open steel gates, the trip through was like passing into another world.
The coach pulled up before a flight of steps, a wigged doorman greeted the passengers who got out while still dazzled at the chateau's opulence.
"The Baron is in the upper courtyard." Said the doorman. "This way please. Your luggage will be brought to your rooms."
The two trappers kept their muskets with them as they followed the doorman up the steps. Stone lions stood like guards at the top of the stairs. Chingachook walked bewildered at the sight of many Gargoyles on the upper ledges, some looked like they were ready to pounce while others sat with their heads on their knees. The Gothic look then gave way to an even more alien look when the doorman led them through a garden where the ground was pockmarked with craters specifically dug to copy the surface of the moon. Statues that adorned the area were of creatures that were so bizarre that they could only exist on the moon; three headed vultures that were so big you could ride on them, people that were covered in scales who wielded spears of asparagus and mushroom shields.
Both Hawkeye and Chingachook looked at each other with doubt about the nature of their mission and the sanity of their host; slowly they climbed the next flight of steps to the upper courtyard; the Baron was there.
"Welcome. Welcome." Blared the Baron with buoyant enthusiasm as he got out of his seat and approached the two trappers to shake hands.
Hawkeye offered his hand to find the Baron seized it with both his and shook it frantically like the scout was a long lost relative. Handshaking was not Chingachook's tribal way of greeting but seeing how frivolously his host employed it he offered his for a similarly jovial shake.
Baron Munchausen was dressed in a Prussian blue coat with gold lapels and other military ornamentation, his hair was brown with three rows of curled cylinders on each side of his head and an intricately tied ponytail. A pearly grin was framed with a plush moustache and a pointed goatee.
"It is so wonderful that you two crossed the Atlantic to be where you are so needed." He said in perfect English.
"Please take a seat." M indicated the courtyard lounge under the large umbrella. The valet was called and told to serve three tokays
Taking their seats the Baron explained that the Trans Atlantic visitors were the first to arrive, the others are expected this morning, the gathering of the League seems to be going well. The debriefing will be soon when the gathering is complete; the two trappers need time to engage their sense of wonder over the French countryside and the opulent Chateau de Lune.
The valet returned with three glasses, when each was served the Baron raised his glass and bid the others to do likewise.
"A toast to our new and unusual unity." He said as he sipped the tokay joyfully.
Hawkeye followed suit but clearly preferred ale. Chingachook took only a minimal sip having long considered strong firewater evil. After the toast M was told of the incident in the Throttled Hog in Lyons.
"Our enemy is well informed and well supported." Said M. I decided not to move on him till the League was formed. Sounds like he's afraid we could actually defeat him; when we hunt the Beast we get him also. "
"How can this evil medicine man be here and in Rhode Island?" Asked the Mohican.
"Though the records don't show it". Answered M "I believe Herr Joseph Curwen has a brother. What we have here in France is the real thing, Rhode Island has his brother."
"Tell me, those pigeons I sent you." Asked M to Hawkeye. "Did you leave them and the stakeout job with someone reliable."
"Yes." replied the scout. "I have a friend from the Catskills Mountains who agreed to watch his house, if those pigeons can cross the Atlantic you should get the first message soon."
"Aaarh". Said the Baron with a grin. "If you have heard of my adventures then you know I've done extraordinary things. Well my pigeons are likewise extraordinary and can well cross the Atlantic."
The approach of another coach had the doorman moving down the stairs to receive it.
"That will be the next member." Said M. "My valet will see you two to your rooms, your luggage will be there. Should either of you wish to groom up before the meeting you should go to the grooming room where you will find a Spanish Barber whose services I have acquired, his name is Figaro."
Hawkeye and Chingachook got up and went inside the opulent Chateau. The interior was a new culture shock for the two travellers; the vast space was decorated with plush burgundy carpet with various bearskin rugs, heavy drapes with kaleidoscopic embroidery adorned the windows on each of the floors, crystal chandeliers sparkled in the air, pedestals with ornate vases or marble busts, a knights shining armour and more of those sculptures stood facing the visitors. The walls were decorated with crossed swords, crossed guns, trophy animal heads, Persian tapestries and paintings of the Baron's adventures.
One painting showed the Baron standing defiant against the Turkish army, another showed him on a cratered landscape with those Moon creatures, a third showed him wooing the Goddess Venus, one even showed a huge whale swallowing a ship, the next portrayed the Baron on that ship inside the huge belly of that whale.
The two shocked guests looked bewilderingly at each other with a very concerned stare that translates roughly as:
"What have we got ourselves into?"
The doorman got to top of the stairs above the Lunar garden and entered the upper courtyard to find the Baron awaiting the next guest.
"Monsieur Jean Baptiste Grenouille sir." Said the doorman
"Show him in." Requested the Baron, a little baffled.
After signalling the guest to enter, the doorman resumed his post. Jean was rough looking, rather scruffy and dazed; never the less, Munchausen got up to seize the young man's attention with a cheery greeting and a firm handshake while introducing himself.
"I am Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Munchausen, the one who requested your help."
Jean took his time replying he was still engaging his senses, mainly sight and smell on the surroundings rather than the man who just shook his hand. A reply did soon come .
"I'm glad to be of service. It's odd for a perfumer to be invited to a wolf hunt."
"But where are my three servants?" Asked the Baron. "And my mahogany coach?"
"Adolphus, Gustavus and Albrecht are in a hospital in Lozeres." he answered. "Your coach has been destroyed, the horses killed."
Jean pulled a letter from his pocket and bid the Baron to read it for a more detailed explanation. M took and opened the letter and read it while inviting Jean to sit down. A valet served a glass of tokay to each. Jean recognised the tokay smell and was certain that this was Berthold's employer.
Munchausen finished the letter then stared at the hills for a minute, sipped his tokay but his jovial manner did not return.
"That swinehund attacked my servants and sent his beast to finish them off." Grumbled M. "We have to get him, and the beast; Jean you must help me get him."
The perfumer just nodded; the Baron grabbed his hand and shook it with both his in stirring gratitude.
"I will debrief you and the other members of the League soon." said M "Now I want you to follow the valet to your room, he will furnish you with a neat set of clothing, then you are to see Senor Figaro for some grooming. I will send for you when we're ready."
Jean only nodded, he left a minute bottle of his own perfume on the table, then followed the valet into the Chateau. The Baron slowly smelt the perfume; his fresh melancholy quickly lifted and a soothing sense of paradise comforted him.
The doorman went down the stairs to receive another coach. The Baron recognised this transport through his comfortable delirium, it was Juliette.
The beautiful feisty woman needed no introduction, as soon as she entered the courtyard she rushed the Baron with open arms. They embraced strongly, she managed a few kisses before the Baron politely pushed her back, he knew what this was leading to.
"My dear lady." he said "This is indeed a pleasure to be with you, but we cannot make it too great a pleasure. I summoned you here on an important mission and I at least have to keep my focus."
He kept his social graces well, but Juliette noticed a minor undercurrent of contempt in his manner; he knew full well her notoriety and his aristocratic moral stand was no shroud unlike most Counts and Marquis she met. Still she maintained a boisterous demeanor and a seductive look in her eyes with prolonged eye contact.
"I will fill you in along with the others why I need you here shortly." He said while outstareing her with a look of steel resolve. "Suffice to say, for the time being, that a horrid evil is blighting this land."
"What, more evil than me Baron?" She said while swaying her hips.
"Madam please." He pleaded. "I must ask you to proceed to your accommodation at once." He kissed her hand then summoned the maid.
Juliette noticed the perfume on the table, it smelt heavenly; she patted some onto her neck then lathered it close to her cleavage. She noticed the Baron's steel resolve begin to waver, she smiled then brushed by him on her way to follow the maid inside.
The Baron sat down and quickly sculled whatever tokay was left on the table. A sudden whoosh of air and several chairs knocked over announced the arrival of Berthold; the big umbrella was weighed down, so it withstood this disturbance. The valet brought out refreshments to the panting runner as he made his report to the Baron, who after several minutes seized Berthold's shoulders and pressed upon him the importance of his work. The runner was soon off again and the Baron reviewed the situation, given who he had to work with, his characteristic positivity again flourished.
Figaro ran his razor up and down the strop to finish the blade's sharpening, he had noticed the Baron's guests arrive, he was commissioned to serve host and guests.
The Baron had required inricate trimming of his moustache and goatee, plus fine trimming of his hair beneath his aristocratic wig, which was maintained in its high class style by the barber's special attention. Baron Munchausen was a man of action and his hair and wig needed frequent attention.
Hawkeye was the first guest to enter his grooming room followed by Chingachook, the former had several weeks growth on his face, a full beard it was, having never dared to shave while on the rocky Atlantic voyage.
"Welcome all" Said Figaro in rough French. "You would be after a shave Senor?"
The Barber motioned Hawkeye to get in the barber's seat, he did so.
"I will be with you soon." Figaro assured Chingachook, who took a waiting seat.
Towels were placed around the frontiersman's shoulders, then the barber began to whisk his shaving cream.
"Aah Senor has been to sea, I can smell the Mediterranean salt in your beard." He said. "In Seville I would relieve many sailors of their salty beards. My shop is a splendid sight to all voyagers of the seven seas."
Figaro could also make out crumbs of French pastry, the smell of french ale and the Baron's Tokay before he applied the cream. Hawkeye kept the conversation to a minimum, not wanting to get cut. The shave went smoothly despite the barber's singing in Spanish.
"Your hair is long Senor, fancy a trim?" Inquired the barber.
Hawkeye declined the haircut, but let the Spaniard help him with a few hair ties. All finished, he got out of the chair with a thank you and began to exit the room with his companion.
"Senor." uttered Figaro to Chingachook. "You clearly need no shave but that hair needs to be cut."
The long haired Mohican dismissed the barber's concerns with a curt wave of his hand.
"I am not for scalping." he said. "You can only serve the hairy faced ones."
The two trappers departed, Figaro prepared his chair for the next customer then ran his razor up and down the strop.
Jean Baptiste Grenouille entered the room, a bath and new clothes had improved his appearance, yet the sight of facial growth and ill kept hair jolted Figaro into action, he quickly moved the young man into the chair. A strong whip of his towel to rid it off residue shavings sent Jean jumping out of the chair in panic; Figaro seized him and pushed him back in there.
"Don't you worry young man." He assured Jean. "I do not cut my customers' faces. Figaro will have you looking like a proper gentleman. If you are nervous and need to find your courage, imagine you are a toreador facing a charging bull."
"Actually." returned Jean. "Just last night I faced a charging wolf, it was as big as a bull and ten times as deadly."
Figaro was taken aback by this statement, he thought he was the boaster. The shave and haircut went well, Jean looked prim and proper, however he did smell the after shave and thought it sub standard.
"When I have time and means I can improve the quality of your aftershave so it gives an even greater refreshing feel." The perfumer said tactfully then left.
Juliette entered the room, Figaro smile and waved his towel.
"Would the mistress like a shave?" he jested.
The boisterous beauty grinned at this joke, then began to gyrate with a movement that allowed her loose dress to dance around her body.
"A neat trim of that beautiful hair perhaps?" he asked.
Her arms wrapped around his neck as she pressed herself to him.
"Aah." He said joyfully. "Si Senorita, Si."