Hey all. This is a short vignette that came out of a first and almost completely failed attempt to respond to the following writing prompt:
In 500 words, describe a Montaigne musketeer who is growing more and more sympathetic to the brewing rebellion against l’Empereur Alexandre. A successful description will not only evoke the panache of Montaigne's finest soldiers, but will also be a useful tool for a GM seeking to integrate the character into a session of 7th Sea. Consider how you might get your players invested in such a character, and feel free to be direct with examples and suggestions to the GM.
I didn't know what else to do with it, so I thought I'd toss it up here. It's still a little raw (as editing it heavily doesn't seem like a productive use of time) but hopefully someone might get a little enjoyment from it.
# # #
Julian Gerrard sipped his wine with a vague look of disappointment on his otherwise pleasant visage: it was a good vintage gone bad through neglect. Doubtless the inn keeper had failed to properly store the bottle and thus, while the wine had not spoiled completely, it had acquired an altogether unpleasant aftertaste. The comparison of Montagine to a bottle of fine wine was not at all new; poets, balladeers, and politicians had drawn floral parallels for years, yet the metaphor never seemed more apt than in this moment. Here he was, far out in the provinces, leagues distant from the palaces of Charouse, where utmost care was taken to see that the wine of l’Empereur Alexandre was never spoilt. He had once visited the royal wine cellar, a grotto attended by more royal functionaries than the entire duchy in which he now sat, all of whom were charged with ensuring that each bottle remained untroubled by the travails of the outside world.
He had once believed that the bottles in the cellars of l’Empereur could well have possessed equal share to the claim of the man himself of "L'État, c'est moi:" I am the State. Now, however, he saw more of his beloved Montaigne in this bottle: palatable even spoilt as it was, yet with its grandeur and subtle beauties soured. A less refined tongue might not have even noticed, for it was only those who knew the sweetness and richness the draught could offer that might notice and rue the corruption of each. Ruin had come not through wickedness but through inattention, though it left the finish of each sip no less ruined.
As Gerrard mused, sounds from the town which was now his charge began to creep in through the walls of the tavern. At first these were but commonplace noises, though he would not have thought so some few years ago: the laments of a young woman, the angered shouts of a grown man, and the general, muted, and impotent alarm of onlookers. It was not until the unmistakable low scrape and high hum of steel being drawn reached his ears that Gerrard put his wine and thoughts aside, rising and striding to the inn's door.
A young woman wept, slung to her knees in the street, her arm gripped tightly in the hands of a man in his middle years, who himself was groomed but poorly kempt and wearing the badge of Comte d' Armagnac upon his fine if rustic tunic. It was the Comte's man who had drawn his blade, which he pointed contemptuously at an older man whose every hair was graying or departed and whose face showed the long lines of care. The older man held a pitchfork with a grim determination. As Gerrard's measured stride carried him closer to the scene, he sized up the parties as a matter of habit; years of training had honed more than his body and blade into weapons.
The girl was young, beautiful, and spirited even now: while her eyes never left her captor, her free hand groped blindly along the ground in search of a rock or some other implement with which to bash in the man's skull. The Comte's man held his rapier like a switch or rod meant to punish a disobedient child or dog and Gerrard could tell that the man's parrying dagger had seen little action, a clear sign that the Comte's man had turned his blade on more peasants than fighters as of late. As for the old man, his stance was a sure sign that he was capable with his pitchfork; there could be little doubt that he had served his nation as a pikeman, likely in the War of the Cross, the slight limp in his right leg likely a war wound.
Gerrard's approach did not go unnoticed, though the Comte's man never looked way from the brandished pitchfork.
"This is not your affair, mon ami" the Comte's man stated simply, a sneer in his voice indicating he was used to being obeyed.
"All affairs of justice are the affair of l’Empereur Alexandre" came Gerrard's reply, and it was only then that the Comte's man noticed the seal upon Gerrard's tabard. The Comte's man adopted a more civil tone, though Gerrard could hear the barbarity and distain behind it.
"This man has refused to pay his taxes. He claims poverty and, as is custom, the Comte has generously allowed him to work off the debt. The Comte, however, has no need of an aged, crippled farmer; his daughter is to serve in his stead...as a scullery maid." It was difficult to believe that the service intended by the Comte was washing dishes.
It was then that the old man roared, his powerful voice belying his aging body.
"Refused to pay my taxes? I have given l’Empereur all I have! I gave him my youth and leg in his battles. I gave him my son for his wars, my grain for his tables, and what little coin I ever had for his coffers. He made a cripple of me, a corpse of my son, no bread of my grain, and precious baubles of my coin. He will not make a whore of my daughter!"
"Silence your treasonous tongue!" snarled the Comte's man, and he lunged with his blade. Steel flashed in the sun as Gerrard's rapier leapt into his hand and caught the other man's sword before it could do little more than twitch. For the life of him, Gerrard could not say just why he did it.
The onlookers feel silent. The Comte's man slowly began to replace the look of shock on his face with a sneer. Soon the lively music of combat would ring out in the streets, but in this instant of stillness, Gerrard took a moment to drink in the entire scene: the girl, in full blossom of youth, her future in the balance, the Comte's man, cruelty thinly clad in the finery of nobility and tradition, the old man, who had fought to defend the honor of the Crown and now had to fight the Crown for what was left of his honor, and the Musketeer, bound by twin pledges to protect king and people, slowly being torn in two between them...And each of them crying out:
"...L'État, c'est moi..."
"...L'État, c'est moi..."
"...L'État, c'est moi..."
"...I am the State."
“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken