It was late afternoon, the encroaching night will have a full moon, not the best time to begin a werewolf hunt. Redmond Barry tried to convince Karl that the following morning would be a better time to commence their move on Fernand Wagner, but the Prussian spy was adamant to his timing and skeptical of Munchausen's theory.
"Redmond." Said Karl. "I've organized our support for now. The tip we're acting on may be compromised or obsolete by tomorrow. We must act now; if all goes well we could finish this mission before nightfall.
"Today is the day of the big hunt for the Beast of Gevaudan, thus our musket fire will not draw unwanted civilian attention. We must do it this afternoon. Now that Fritz is no longer with us, I'm going to need you by my side more than ever; so please don't tell me your frightened of an old horror story."
The Irishman would do his duty despite his reservations. What field support their mission had, amounted to one man Karl had discreetly hired to carry and reload the many muskets brought along.
Earlier in the day, Redmond was introduced to the hired bearer, his name was George Hastings, he was upper class, tall, athletic and friendly, with his long hair brushed back and tied at the nape with a black ribbon. George spoke good French, but seized a few moments with Redmond, while traveling, to converse in English. The Irish spy felt it prudent to not mention anything about his work in Prussian Intelligence or of Munchausen and his League and tactfully hid his resentment at, after being sent by Prussians into France, finding himself in the company of a bloody Englishman.
Their hike took them to a large tree where a French teenager awaited them, Karl approached the figure and whispered while showing the sketch of Fernand Wagner. A motion by the youth bade the group to follow him; after half an hours travel through the French countryside, all came to a halt at the base of a hill.
"There is where I saw him, several times, he probably has a campsite amongst those hills." Said the youth.
"Are you sure it was this man?" Asked Karl showing the sketch.
"They call me Jacques Forget Not for good reason. When I see a face it leaves an image in my head, which registers loud when I see it again; when you showed me that sketch, there was a loud register. Your man is somewhere in those hills."
"Jacques Forget Not." Inquired Redmond. "If you do live up to your name, you can give a description that the sketch doesn't show."
"There is only one distinct thing about him and his friends." Replied the youth. "They wear wolfskins."
"Thank you Jacques."
Karl took out a bag of coins, poured half of them into his hand, then presented the handful to Jacques Forget Not; he took the payment then frowned.
"This is only half the payment you offered." He complained.
"You will get the whole amount after we get our man." Answered Karl. "In the end, if your tip is true you will reap the full amount. You can hang around here if you like but stay out of our way."
The youth known as Jacques Forget Not sat down on a log and adopted a look that projected his bitter grudge.
Karl, Redmond and George ascended the first hill to find that it interconnected with a range of similar hills, the Prussian led them to a wall of rocks just under a tall peak.
"You two stay here for now." Said Karl. "I will scout the apex alone. Hastings make sure all muskets are loaded and ready for use."
George gave an amateur salute then began his assigned duty; Redmond helped out. One musket needed reloading; the Englishman showed his proficiency at this task while conversing in English.
"This countryside is beautiful Redmond." He said. "You know when I go back home I'm going to lift my maiden fair of her feet and bring her here to live. England may have its pleasant green, but France has a verdant splendor."
"You may have to wait until the wolf hysteria fades away." Said Redmond.
Karl returned with spyglass in hand. "I've seen them; wolfmen, they're here. Come with me, both of you."
Over the hill's peak was a panoramic view, but all that interested the spies was a campfire on a nearby hill; Redmond focused the spyglass on the spot to see that two wolfmen were manning a perimeter post. The two spies agreed that they could make their way downhill to a tree that would get both guards within musket range, this was achieved without notice. Both spies aimed their muskets towards the campfire and fired, hitting their targets.
George took the spent muskets and handed ready muskets to each spy, they then rushed to the campfire. Both wolfmen were dead, but neither was Fernand Wagner.
"The others would've heard the musket shots." Said Karl "They will come here to investigate, our man might be among them. We will take up positions by those rocks."
The rocks were just short of the current hill's peak; Karl, Redmond and George each found a crevice to hide in. Sure enough wolfmen passed them and approached the campfire to investigate, there were six of them. Karl and Redmond stepped out of their covers and fired their muskets into the backs of the group, eliminating two wolfmen. Immediately, the two spies dropped their spent firearms and unslung the reserve muskets, firing them and taking one more enemy each out of the equation. Of the two remaining targets, only one had a musket, he poised to return fire but a shot from within the rocks killed him; George Hasting could use a musket as well as he could reload it. The last wolfman drew his pistol and fired, but with intermediate range and bad aim his shot went wide; Karl rushed the figure and despite the mark's flight downhill, got within close range and blew him away with a pistol shot.
All targets were dead, at least they were after Karl slashed their throats for good measure, but once again neither were Fernand Wagner.
"He is sure to be in the next lot, we must take new positions." Said Karl.
A rush over the hilltop sent the three men to cover behind an earthwork wall overlooking the hillside beyond; what they saw was a large cave mouth with illuminations inside.
"I don't get it." Said Redmond. "That cave seems to have campfires inside but their is no smoke coming out."
"Concern yourself with that later Redmond." Said Karl. "Look down there."
Five wolfmen were approaching the earth wall from below; Karl focused his spyglass on them.
"He's with them." Announced Karl. "I saw him. Hastings have you finished the reloads?"
"Yes." Answered the Englishman. "But look over there."
George was pointing at two more wolfmen approaching from the left. It was clear then that if they engage Wagner's group here they will be outflanked. Karl moved the team to a new location back over the hilltop where rocks provided individual cover. A mirror allowed the Prussian to monitor, without breaking cover, the two wolfmen approaching from the left. The time had come for action, Karl pocketed his mirror, gave Redmond the signal, then raised his musket; the Irishman did likewise; together they fired at their designated targets. Both wolfmen dropped dead on the spot. Going over to the fallen duo to make sure they were dead and to seize their guns was ruled out.
"Wagner and four others will be here any second." Said Karl, handing his spent musket over to George and taking a loaded one. "They will spread out once they see the bodies, try to take out at least one before they do so."
Karl pointed to a nearby ravine. "See that ravine Redmond? You and Hastings hide on the edge behind that rock, they can't get behind you there. I will be around here somewhere.
"We're almost there Redmond. You've done very well, keep it up." Karl patted the Irish rogue on the arm then went to his position carrying two ready muskets and a pistol.
The ravine was rocky and covered in grass; its slope was steep but climbable, the designated rock appeared to provide good cover. Each of the two men undertook reloading a musket.
George Hastings was informed that this job was support for a mercenary mission and it would involve killing. He had heard about the wolfmen cult and how they were made up of criminals, there were no reservations about supporting an effort that eliminated them. The money Karl paid him was good, it would help him set up house in this beautiful country.
"Where did you learn to shoot?" Asked Redmond.
"Hunting grouse on the moors." Replied George. "And you?"
"The Seven Years War."
"Really? Top show old chap."
Five figures got to the hilltop; it was at the very instant they noticed their two dead comrades that Karl fired his gun, killing one of the five. Redmond followed suit immediately taking out another wolfman. The remaining three figures scattered amongst the rocks, Redmond bolted forward without receiving a freshly loaded musket, he unslung his reserve weapon and put his back to an adjacent monolith.
The Irish rogue had guessed the course taken by the scattering wolfman nearest to him, he appeared high up on the rock that overlooked the ravine; he had climbed it to get an advantageous position over the battlefield and a shot at anyone hiding in the ravine. Redmond's new position gave him a perfect shot, he took it, sending the struck enemy on the high rock to a fatal fall into the ravine.
Loaded muskets were with George, Redmond rushed back to frantically exchange his spent firearms for ready ones, seizing the latter, he clumsily dropped the used guns; they fell down into the ravine.
"We may need those muskets George." Said Redmond. "You must go down there, get them and reload them. I will take an extra musket."
George didn't argue, he began his descent down the slope. The Irishman was now carrying three muskets and a pistol as he cautiously probed the rocks for the enemy.
Karl employed his soldier's judgment well, he managed to get one of the remaining scattered figures into his line of fire. The musket shot sent the wolfman sprawling against a monolith, but he wasn't down, despite being mortally wounded, he was slowly raising his gun to return fire. Acting fast, Karl drew his remaining loaded weapon, his pistol and fired, finishing the wolfman off; but not before he expended his musket clumsily into the ground.
Redmond heard the gunshots, knowing that area would be the centre of attention, he combed the vantage points the enemy would be most likely exploiting; the stratagem paid off, he soon noticed Fernand Wagner, with a torn seam on his wolfskin's shoulder aiming a musket at what must be Karl. The Irishman had no time to aim, a wild shot at the wolfman sent a musket ball into the breech of Fernand's gun. The powder within the firing pan exploded in the wolfman's face, throwing him backwards. Whatever shot came out of the burst firearm went wide.
The two spies converged on their quarry, Redmond tossed a loaded musket to Karl while discarding his spent one and unslinging the third. Fernand Wagner was on his back nursing a painful burn on the cheek.
"Fernand Wagner." Said Karl. "You have been tried in absentia by a German military court and found guilty of desertion and multiple murders. The sentence is death, to be carried out immediately. May God have mercy on your soul."
Lock hammers were cocked as the two musket were aimed at the fugitive. A sudden crack of thunder crashed the moment, distracting the two executioners for a second, they were about to complete the task, when an invisible force tore both firearms out of their grasp and flung the weapons aside.
"Excuse me gentlemen." Said a robed figure five meters away. "But you are doing great mischief to my order."
A colorful robe adorning a colorless man with a bitter expression was the figure confronting the two spies. Redmond recognized the ghostly face in Cagliostro's firebowl on the interrupting man, this was Joseph Curwen, the warlock Munchausen was after. Neither spy saw Curwen approach, they noted that the next wave of wolfmen reinforcements would not arrive for at least five minutes, his presence was sudden, as if he arrived on a bolt of lightning that came with that thunder.
"It's not about you or your order. It's about him." Explained Redmond indicating the recovering figure of Fernand Wagner. "We just want him."
"Do you now?" Replied Curwen angrily. "I know my men have criminal pasts, that's just fine, but they are my men. It's bad enough that you go after one my loyal followers, but what's this; you wage war against my order, murder half its members to get him, and you want me to stand aside?"
Eye contact and secret gestures from Karl gave the Irishman a signal for timed action. The Prussian made a swift arm movement with a flick of his wrist, hurling a dagger at the warlock, who with a simple move of his right hand sent an invisible force to deflect the missile away. Redmond acted when Karl did, drawing his pistol and firing at Curwen; the dagger had just been deflected when the shot began its motion, the spy hoped the former had distracted the warlock long enough to get the shot off; it did. Joseph Curwen's left hand made a swift movement, slowing down the projectile's velocity to a mid air standstill. it then turned red hot and melted, while suspended, into nothing.
Both spies were stunned by this sorcerous nullification of their efforts. Joseph Curwen whispered some incantation then pointed an index finger at each spy, an upward motion of his arms had both Karl and Redmond elevated fifteen feet in the air. Fernand Wagner got up and moved behind the warlock to stare at his helpless would be executioners.
"What arrogance." Yelled Curwen; his look of bitterness became one of furious rage. "These cloak and dagger efforts are an insult. You want to get me? Do something extremely clever."
"We will. Just you wait." Said Redmond.
Joseph Curwen began a manic piercing laughter while maintaining his hold on the two spies.
"I don't think so." Said the warlock. "A couple of wastrels like you should be thrown to the wind. Off with you."
As the robed figure threw his arms forward and down, Karl and Redmond were hurled backwards, catapulted along a horizontal trajectory with great velocity. The airborne Irishman managed to turn himself around to see where he was going, the hilly landscape passed beneath him; his course was taking him straight into a large pine tree. All attempts to warn Karl of the impending impact were drowned by the sound of the bodies cutting through the air; the Prussian had not turned around.
Redmond saw his trajectory would take him into the tree's dense side, so there was hope that he might survive this deadly flight. His hand grabbed the first branch he came to, many others scraped and whipped him, those thick branches that did not bend would knock him heavily before being torn out of the trunk by his sweeping velocity. Throughout his fast trip through the foliage, Redmond would always grope for more branches to slow himself down.
Impact with a thick branch that would only bend slightly and not break, turned the Irishman's course from horizontal to vertical, he was falling. Continuing desperately to grope for handholds that would slow or even stop his descent, Redmond would hit many branches that would either bend as he rolled off them, break as they collapsed under his weight or hold steadfast as he bounced off their strong structure. Inevitably their were no more branches for him to seize or to break his fall, which ended with a face down thud on the ground.
A second thud on the ground occurred nearby, it was Karl, he was unconscious and on his back. Redmond was in agony, multiple hits, abrasions and cuts were all over his body, which in an hour, he figured, would be covered in bruises. His nose was bleeding profusely, he took out his handkerchief to treat the flow. It hurt when he moved, despite this Redmond soon dragged himself to Karl, attempts to wake the Prussian proved futile when it became clear that he was dead, his neck broken.
"So you found him then?" Asked Jacques Forget Not who arrived on the scene. "You found him?"
Despite a pain racked chest the Irishman managed to talk.
"Yes. We found him, but his leader found us."
"Well, that's too bad." Said Jacques.
"Help me." Pleaded Redmond while reaching out a hand for aid.
Jacques advanced toward the unfortunate spies, swept Redmond's hand aside then pushed him away from Karl, ignoring the Irishman's agonized response. The French youth tore open what was left of Karl's tattered shirt, reached in and pulled out the bag of coins.
"This is what you owe me." Said Jacques, while pocketing the bag.
"Jacques, I need help." Pleaded Redmond again. "I can barely move, I'm in great pain."
"You may not be French." Said Jacques. "But I can tell that you are an aristocrat; I saw you at the Marquis de St. Evremonde's chateau. The gluttony you indulge in while we starve and way you expect to have the people at your beck and call without question is disgusting. I look forward to the day when your kind will answer to the people for their sickening high and mighty attitude. Don't you expect help from me. Goodbye."
The youth walked off; Redmond yelled out his name several times in a futile hope for his return and aid.
It was getting dark; wind whistled through the trees like a ghostly howl, shadows of writhing branches took on the appearance of dark tendrils reaching forth to clutch an unfortunate soul; like Redmond. The pain racked Irishman was regaining his ability to move without pain too slowly.
Redmond was still in proximity to Joseph Curwen's abode, all the more reason to get out of the area, he was vulnerable where he was; the warlock could come and finish him off, or send a wolfman, or The Beast, or even, when it got dark, the werewolf that came so close to execution. The Irish rogue was alone and helpless, no one knew where he was, he had failed his mission and his partners were dead. He began to evaluate his luck, a quality that kept him alive during the Seven Years War while others around him dropped dead; it also gave him Baron Munchausen's favor and by a narrow margin allowed him to survive being catapulted across the sky.
Good luck figured Redmond Barry, he had a lot of good luck, but had he asked too much of it? Wealth and fortune can be gained through luck, the Irish rogue began to wonder will he ever see his grand fortune materialize? He had to live for tomorrow first and the wolfman bearing down on him with a butcher's knife was cause to doubt he would.
Running for it was not possible, Redmond could still not move without pain, he lost his pistol during the flight, a dagger was his only defense but he had virtually no faculty to use it. A sadistic grin split the wolfman's face, he approached the near helpless Irishman and with a curt backhand, knocked the pathetically wielded blade away. The wolfman knelt over Redmond then, with a cruel laugh, raised the butcher's knife and stabbed down; the Irishman grabbed the threatening wrist and tried to keep the blade from his body. Shaking off the weak hold on his wrist, the wolfman pinned the interfering hand under his knee and, as his cruel laughter got louder, raised the knife for its fatal plunge. A gunshot sound suddenly broke the laughter, the wolfman keeled over with a musket ball in his putrid heart.
"Redmond. Redmond are you all right?" Yelled the voice.
George Hastings appeared with a smoking musket, he approached the wounded spy and gathered his condition from the difficult mumblings. A brief examination of Karl revealed he was dead with multiple fractures. Examining Redmond showed no discernible broken bones or concussion, but countless bruises, abrasions and cuts.
"Your luck is astounding Redmond." Commented George. "Come on I better get you to hospital."
The Englishman lifted the wounded spy to his feet, then placed Redmond's arm over the supporting neck. As they traveled to the nearest road, George told how he recovered the fallen muskets and got back to the edge of the ravine in time to see the two spies suspended in mid air, hurled by an invisible force to the distant tree. The man in the colored robe and the wolfman with the powder burn on his face combed the rocks to see their dead fellows. Sneaking away without being seen, George made for the big tree where the flight appeared to end. When the Englishman stopped to reload a musket, he noticed a wolfman rushing to the same tree he was heading for, George tailed the henchman; the rest Redmond knows.
"George Hastings is a valuable friend to those who are disadvantaged." Mumbled Redmond.
They got to the nearest road by nightfall, a coach or cart should soon pass and give them a lift. Redmond took the Englishman's hand and thanked him heartily, then stated that the place he should be taken to is the Chateau de Lune.