League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1766

Chapter 12

The morning sun shone on the hunting campsite where the many participants gathered. Aristocrats and specialists assembled in the elite tent to go over their plans, while outside was the rabble consisting of soldiers, gendarmes and hunters. Many farmers, workers and even gypsies were present to help with the mustering.

Baron Munchausen had his own tent erected. The League came along: Hawkeye and Chingachook mingled with the crowd; Alan Breck gave Jean some lessons on how to use a musket; Juliette left soon after arriving, she said she was going for a walk with James Durie. M didn't mind Juliette removing herself from the day's activities; she would be of little use in the hunt and it will be a long "walk".

A buoyant drive was in the hunting party; a fatal wolf attack in the chateau gardens of the Marquis de St Evremonde gave much impetus to this undertaking. The sight of the smouldering wolf last night had several aristocrats grabbing firearms from the Marquis' personal armory but before any shots could be taken, the creature made its exit through the tradesman's entrance, which had been left wide open. Three peasants camped outside, including a child, had been killed by the wolf as it left the area.

Throughout the party dinner and late night activity the Beast of Gevaudan seldom escaped discussion. There was a few condolences for the unfortunate waiter and the slaughtered peasants, though the Marquis de St. Evremonde and The Marquis de Praille each gave a wave of apathy towards the latter.

Redmond Barry entered the tent to a warm welcome from the Baron then sat down.

"Once again." Said M. "I am sorry about Fritz. It hurts when I see a comrade in arms killed in the line of duty."

"Karl and I spent all last night mourning, but at the time we were shocked and baffled as to what happened. We still don't understand it."

Munchausen poured the Irishman a tokay, assuring him it wasn't poisoned. Redmond drank the offering.

"Your mission Redmond and mine are closely connected. The man you are after, Fernand Wagner, serves the man I am after, Joseph Curwen. After this hunt I hope we can work together."

"I would like that Baron, but right now Karl is following up another lead as to Wagner's whereabouts; I have to get back to him as soon as possible. If this lead is good, our mission could be finished today."

"Then I must tell you about your quarry. I've been doing some thinking and research since I noticed him in Cagliostro's theatre: his use of old German words that have been unused for two centuries; his Black Forest dialect; the wolf motifs and the shock appearance of that wolf creature where you were expecting to find him.

"The Black Forest has a legend that a few people know to be fact. In the early sixteenth century an old peasant, angry over the lack of attention from his family, was visited in his hut by a dark figure who promised him immortality with renewed youth and vigor. The price for such good fortune was that every seven years he would shape change into a wolf at each full moon and with a dark savage nature he would kill anyone unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity, thus giving his infernal sponsor a dividend in blood."

"And he accepted?" Asked Redmond.

"Yes." Answered the Baron. "And he has been killing ever since. There have been several reports of his much deserved demise; but they are irrelevant since the deal made him immortal.

"Oh; and the name of this legendary fiend from the Black Forest. Fernand Wagner; the very same man you're looking for."

Redmond stared in disbelief; not wanting to show disrespect for the soldier who was known for his exaggerated adventure stories.

"These murders Herr Wagner committed, when did they happen?" Asked Munchausen.

"When he was serving the Prussian army in the Seven Years War." Answered the Irishman. "Seven years ago."

M continued the questions and Redmond nodded affirmatively for each one. "The murders were savage with heavy mutilation were they not? They were done at night? If you check the almanacs of the time you will find the moon was full like it was last night wasn't it? The last time you saw your quarry he was disrobing, twitching, convulsing and howling; isn't that what you told me? So that wolf creature you saw was Fernand Wagner? The same man who embraced a dark immortality over two hundred years ago?

"Redmond. I'm here hunting a huge freak wolf, while you're here hunting a werewolf."

The Irish spy took a few moments to take this in. Munchausen went on to explain that the page boy seen in the garden was in league with Fernand Wagner, his name was Guy Loup. The page boy tried to poison Munchausen at Wagner's behest, because he serves M's enemy Joseph Curwen. Guy Loup reported his failure to Wagner who, knowing he was about to transform, told the boy to leave the tradesman's entrance wide open, he did that, running into the spies along the way. The boy has fled, so he can't be questioned.

This new wisdom had Redmond Barry sinking several more glasses of tokay. The Baron wished the spy good luck and advised him not to stalk his quarry after dark; also he requested that should he locate Herr Wagner, whether he terminates him or not, to kindly inform Munchausen of the whereabouts; thus helping M achieve his mission. The Irish rogue departed.

Alan Breck, wearing his kilt, entered the tent to report that Jean Baptiste Grenouille has no potential or interest in using a musket.

"No. I didn't think he would. " Said M. "But thank you for trying Alan."

Francois Leroy stood up on a box and addressed the gathering, giving a pep speech and promising a huge bounty for the hunter who kills the Beast of Gevaudan. The French Canadian trapper introduced his chief scout, a shoemaker from the north, his name was Thibault. What was strange about the scout was that his short non descript hair was dotted with streaks of long red hair. Rumors had already spread among the party that he had been promised a bounty for each wolf killed.

Thibault ran into the woods to begin his work. Francois led the hunting party to a place in the forest where he asked all those who were armed to take positions on two stretches of high ground that overlooked a low area between them. Munchausen and the League stood on one of the high grounds; Jean was not armed but stayed with them. Several aristocrats on horses waited in the wings. Musterers were placed on each end of the chosen ambush point.

"Many wolves coming." Said Chingachook, after a half hour wait.

Wolf sounds began to get close the hunting party, everyone readied their muskets.

Thibault bolted into view as if running from the approaching wolf sounds, he promptly ran up the right incline to the safety of the hunters.

"They're coming." He Yelled.

Sure enough a large pack of wolves ran into the low ground; musterers bolted out from behind the pack to force the lupine beasts into completing their run into the hunters' firing line. The pack traveled down the low ground. There were many common grey wolves, a few white ones and some black furred ones; these were fired upon first. Muskets fired in rapid succession raining death on the fleeing targets whose hides were knocked this way and that, while each emitting a yelp of pain.

The first volley was over. Hunters with extra weapons got them out, others reloaded. Hawkeye found Chingachook's hand on his shoulder shaking his head in disapproval. The Mohican had not fired his first shot, Hawkeye realised that this isn't hunting, it's a slaughter.

Those wolves that remained tried to maintain the course to get clear of the deadly zone but a second group of musterers bolted into their path, the pack quickly changed course; some ran back from where they came, a second volley of reloaded muskets annihilated them. The other wolves cut right to an unmanned part of the high ground hoping to reach the protection of dense trees; a few hunters focused on this group sending musket balls into several hides. Horses galloped sending their aristocratic riders after the surviving lupine targets.

Baron Munchausen and Alan Breck had joined in the second volley, then noticed the two frontiersmens' looks of disgust.

"My dear fellows." Said Munchausen. "You're right. This isn't hunting it's slaughtering and The Beast is not among them."

A general exhaltation went throughout the hunting party. M moved the League away from the cheering revelry unable to share in it. Distant gunshots in the forest told that the horsemen were inflicting more casualties on the pack.

Thibault, seemed to be in bitter discourse with Francois Leroy and St Evremonde, he was pointing at the many wolf corpses and demanding something. The Marquis picked out a coin and tossed it at the scout's feet. Thibault let out a few angry words and gestures before picking up the coin and walking off.

"Baron." Said Jean. "The Beast of Gevaudan's spoor is in that box."

The perfumer was pointing at a farmer approaching the party, he was carrying a box. Munchausen called the man over and enquired about his load, he was a Dutch tenant farmer trying his luck in France, his plot had just been traversed by the Beast of Gevaudan he had brought spoor and a candlewax image molded in its footprint for proof that the hunters should bring their efforts to his area.

There was no interest from the Marquis in the Dutch farmer who was insultingly shooed away. Munchausen offered to investigate the farm hoping the Mohican could track down the Beast from there. Four members of the League; M, Hawkeye, Chingachook and Alan began to follow the Dutchman. Jean Baptiste Grenouille convinced the Baron that he could best serve the League by staying behind with the main hunting party.

Jean waved the four hunters goodbye then walked to the killing ground for a look at the slaughtered wolves, most were dead but a few held a flicker of life; some of these had shots pass through their spine or tear at internal organs, others just bled profusely.

A brief request was made to the Marquis de St Evremonde and Jean was allowed to take several of the unfortunate wolves for his purposes. The main hunting party moved to a different location leaving behind a couple of furriers to work on the animal corpses. Jean approached his first marked wolf, it was alive and immobile, a shot having passed through its spine. With a quick action Jean fitted a muzzle over the creature's mouth, restraining what little movement it had.

The perfumer rolled out his tools and, checking to see that the furriers' attention was elsewhere, began to shave all fur off the helpless lupine; when this was finished Jean opened a tub of animal fat and completely covered the furless wolf in white goo. Enfleurage was proving to be a sound method of scent extraction, Jean could sense the animal scent being absorbed by the fat. A heavy blow to the top of the head finished the wolf off, as the scent left its body, the covering fats absorbed more. Neatly scraping all the white goo of the now dead lupine, the perfumer set up his portable distillery and cooked, treated and macerated the scraped animal fat until a precious few drops of potent liquid dripped out of the distillery tap into a perfume bottle.

Jean's sampling of the captured wolf scent brought a grin of victory, smelling the contents of the perfume bottle was like smelling a wolf at very close range, only this was stronger, he would dilute it with water. No marketable perfume could be made with this result, but Jean figured it would be useful for this mission against the Beast of Gevaudan.

Other wolves had been marked for similar attention, the perfumer took his tools, animal fat tub and muzzle and repeated the procedure on several wounded wolves. After three hours Jean had collected enough fluidic wolf scent to fill three vials.

It was only after the perfumer finished and packed up his portable distillery, that the furriers noticed his handiwork; while they were skinning and tanning hides this young man was clearly doing something different. The sight of several furless dead wolves had them scratching their heads in bewilderment, the shaved fur wasn't even collected. The thought that came to each of their minds was "Weirdo" and his exit from the scene was a relief.

What to do with the bottled scent? Jean contemplated many answers, but none were clear as to how it would aid this mission. The hunt gave him the opportunity to take the scent, so he did it. As for the hunt, the perfumer had no confidence that it would find and kill The Beast; he could track down Munchausen and join him, but without a musket or skill to use it he would only get in the way.

Jean was heading towards the Baron's tent when another wolf scent caught his senses; it was like the ones he bottled only this had a drawing seductive quality; it wasn't The Beast, he had been up close to it and would recognise its scent. The woods were thick yet with each tree he passed the gifted sniffer felt he got closer to the mystery of the drawing odour. There were hunters close to the source, spent gunpowder could be sensed but the scent origin was alive.

Francois Leroy greeted Jean as he entered the clearing from the woods. There were only three hunters including Francois; a curt nod was the return greeting. A wolf in a cage was the scent origin it was grey with black streaks and paws; one foreleg seemed to be hurt.

"We caught her in a snare." Explained Francois. "That's why her leg is hurt. A she-wolf in heat and she will bring The Beast to us."

"That depends on which way the breeze is going." Said Jean.

The Canadian trapper told how the hunt had been going badly after the wolfpack massacre. Apart from her, the only wolf that showed was the one that surprised them, darting out of the bushes and biting the Marquis de St Evremonde on the leg; it was shot but not before inflicting grievous damage to the aristocrat, who was carried to hospital. There was no sighting of The Beast, nor of any other wolf after that, the scouts found nothing and the hounds could only lead them to abandoned lairs. It's as if someone told all wolves in the area to leave. The hunting party has since dispersed with only small mobs continuing the effort. The she-wolf was found in a snare two hours ago though she had probably been there longer; realising she was in heat they caged her hoping she would lure other wolves or even The Beast to this killing field.

On hearing this Jean decided to wait with the hunters but after another hour a feeling of hopelessness pervaded. A return to camp was favored and this lure strategy to be stopped. When a musket was pointed at the cage to finish off the she wolf, Jean yelled out a protest. Francois told the perfumer that they don't want to carry the cage back to camp with the wolf in it; if they kill it now they can carry its carcass to the furriers and pick up the cage later.

Munchausen had issued Jean with a pouch of money should he need it for the mission; the perfumer offered Francois the pouch.

"Take this." Offered Jean. "Split it between you. It's worth more than a wolf pelt. Just leave her with me."

"You're not going to let her go are you?" Asked Francois.

"No. I just think your idea can be applied better."

"Ok Jean." Agreed Francois taking the pouch. "Do you want the cage?"

"You can pick it up later. I have my own enclosure." Said Jean while fidgeting with a perfume bottle.

The three trappers left. A stick with a looped rope on the end was available for use. Jean placed a perfume bottle on the flat surface of a tree stump. He stopped for a focused stare at the origin of this luring scent.

Although in heat, the caged wolf knew she could expect only death from these humans, three had just left, leaving only one to deal her fate; he had no loud musket but was preparing a set of tools. The human stared at her; she stared back into his eyes while concentrating her lupine olfactory senses on the perfumer; what she read in him had her shuddering in utter horror.

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