The following tale first appeared in the NOM newsletters, sent out to Game Masters who joined the official 7th Sea fan organisation.
Alvara strode into his chambers, his wary eyes searching the shadows and crevasses of the room with practiced ease. Content that he was not in danger, he took off his coat, then removed his meticulously kept wig and carried it over to its resting place on his vanity. Pausing to admire his visage in the mirror, he quietly said, "Quinn."
There was a slight movement, as something stepped out of the darkness… as if the shadows themselves merged together to take shape. There was no sound as the form glided across the room to stand behind Alvara. "Yes, Arciniega?"
Alvara slowly turned, looking down into the shorter man's face. "What news do you bring?"
Quinn held Alvara's gaze. He despised the weak-willed, and although he was willing to take their money... he harboured a silent resentment for them, and never gave them his loyalty. In Alvara's eyes, there was no weakness. "Everything is in order, just as we discussed. I have already set our plan into motion. Your daughter will never suspect your involvement."
Alvara regarded him for a moment, seeking any sign that Quinn was holding something back or attempting to gain the upper hand. Quinn was not the only one good at reading people. In Alvara's business, it was a necessary skill that could mean the difference between life and death. Satisfied that everything was on the up-and-up, he took a seat, turning his attention to grooming his wig. "Excellent work Quinn. I suggest that you leave at dawn; you need to be in place by the end of the week. You will receive the rest of your payment upon your return."
Quinn stepped back, melding once more into the darkness. The only reminder of his presence was the echo of his final word. "Understood."
Alvara looked into his ornately carved mirror, and smiled.
Monique Allais du Crieux stepped from her coach as it arrived at her father's estate. She was just returning from the Spring Ball, hosted by her aunt Julie, where she met the most delightful young man, She couldn't shake him from her thoughts as she dismissed the coachman and walked up the short cobblestone walkway. Her father would stay at the ball for a few more hours, attending to business with the other family heads, so she had complete run There was a slight movement, as something stepped out of the of the mansion. Monique couldn't wait to share the latest gossip darkness... as if the shadows themselves merged together to take with her handmaiden.
She flung open the door, and rushed in with a smile. "Bridgette! Come quickly... I have news!" When there was no response, she turned, walking toward Bridgette's chambers. Perhaps she retired early this evening.
When she entered the servant's suite, she was greeted not by her smiling handmaiden, but by a small group of men wearing dark robes. She screamed and tried to run, but was panicked and frightened, and was easily captured. She was gagged and her hands were bound with a tight leather cord. She struggled against her bindings fruitlessly, and after delivering a staggering kick to the nether regions of one of the assailants, her legs were bound as well. A young man stepped forward and lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes. "Monique Allais du Crieux! It has been brought to our attention that you are the illegitimate daughter of Alvara Arciniega. His vain attempt to hide you from us has failed. Now you will be held accountable for his crimes."
He then calmly struck her in the back of the head with a small leather strap filled with sand. She crumpled to the floor like a bag of laundry. The youth closed his eyes, relishing his victory and imagining the prestige he would gain for securing Alvara's Daughter. As he eyed her broken form upon the floor, he smiled.
"What the hell happened Quinn? You gave me your assurances that everything was in place!" Alvara paced angrily about his foray. It had been a simple plan: Monique was to he arrested after the authorities found planted evidence that she was a Castillian sympathizer. Enter Quinn, with a large cache of guilders and the deeds to several strips of Castillian land, and the corrupt official turns a blind eye as she escapes. Of course, with no-where to turn for assistance, Alvara would offer her the hand of friendship and tell her the truth of her parentage. Now, with the Inquisition involved, things just got ugly.
"All was in order my friend, until the Inquisition was tipped off. It is my belief that a member of your house is responsible, one of the Council"
Alvara considered this for a moment... he knew there were members of the Council of Thirteen who did not share his vision of NOM, but he never expected them to know the identity of his only daughter, nor offer her up to the Inquisition. But somehow, he knew Quinn was right.
"Then you have a new assignment old friend. After you retrieve the girl, you will find out who turned her in, and I don't care what you have to do to obtain this information." Alvara fetched a bottle of antiquated brandy and filled two glasses. "But for now have a seat. It's time we discuss our plans for the Inquisition."
Quinn reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small black leather bag. Leaning forward, he emptied its contents onto the table for the Bishop to see. Almost forty diamonds each the size of a thumbnail lay glittering in the candlelight. They were worth more than the Bishop would see in a lifetime. Upon seeing the gems, the Bishop snorted "A bribe? I could have you burned as a heretic for this!"
Quinn's steady gaze never left the eyes of the Bishop. He knew that this was a dangerous game he was playing; one false move would mean failure. "You could. But I assure you that I have the protection of powerful friends, some of whom you know Bishop. Besides, the diamonds are only part of my offer."
The Bishop leaned a little closer; dropping the diamonds he was absentmindedly toying with. "Go on."
"I have information that a resourceful man such as yourself could put to good use. Information which could catapult your position within the church. Think of what your superiors would say if you were to bring in one of your most wanted heretics... I know the location of one of the largest Invisible College safehouses in the country."
The Bishop scooped up the diamonds, returning them to the black pouch and placing them in his pocket. He then offered his hand to Quinn. "I think we have a deal."
The door to
the Bishop's chambers opened and in strode a young man who looked quite pleased
He walked to the table and removed his hat. "Your
Excellency, I have the girl. We -" The Bishop cut him off with a quick
" You captured the wrong woman, brother Ramirez." The Bishop gestured to Quinn, sitting in the shadows. "A friend of the Church has already delivered Monique, she awaits judgment in the cells below." Only the Bishop and Quinn knew that the woman imprisoned below was a drugged Jenny who would be executed before she fully regained her senses. Only the Bishop would see the confused horror in her eyes as her life was extinguished without reason.
The man's brow furrowed. He knew that the woman in his possession was Monique Allais du Crieux. He personally planned her capture after studying her habits for many days, and his plan was flawless. What trickery was this? "But ... your Excellency 1 am certain that..."
"You doubt the truth of my words brother?" The Bishop met the young man's gaze with steely eyes. It was a dangerous look, meant to inspire fear; warning to let the matter rest.
The youth knew
better than to push his luck. He had served under the Bishop for several
and the consequences of falling into his ill favour were
appalling. "Of course not your Excellency. 1 must have been mistaken.
My deepest apologies."
The Bishop stood, drawing himself up to his full height, and swaggered over to the youth. His stance was meant to intimidate and his intentions were not lost on the young priest. "Good. Then you will turn the innocent woman you captured over to our friend here, then go to your chambers and pray that Theus will forgive you for your mistake."
Alvara stood in front of his full sized, gold inlaid mirror. He was wearing his finest clothes, his newest wig, and his most expensive jewellery. He looked immaculate, as if he were going before the Empereur of Montaigne himself. Walking over to his weapon case, he selected his finest and sharpest rapier, placing it in its sheath. He then selected a lightly weighted pistol and tucked it into his sash.
"Where are you going Alvara? Is there a party I don't know about?" Monica had slipped into his room to inform him of the results of an experiment she was looking after. But upon seeing Alvara clad in his best clothing, she was sure he was attending a social function, and she was hurt that he wasn't taking her along.
Alvara sighed. His mouth set itself into a firm line. "I'm going to kill an old friend." Gazing at the mirror, he made his final adjustments before turning to face her.
Monica, taken aback at what she had just heard, innocently asked- "But why? What did he do?" She hadn't been with Alvara very long, but she understood the dangerous games he played on a daily basis with his council. She wondered which of them had crossed the line.
He betrayed you to the Inquisition my dear, and in doing so he betrayed me... Alvara considered his words for a moment before he spoke. Although he didn't keep her in the dark about his activities, she didn't need to know all of the grisly details, not yet. She still needed... conditioning, "The details are of no consequence Monica, what matters is that he betrayed me, and I must take action."
"But why kill him?" Monica cocked her head to one side. She looked genuinely confused, as if the act of killing would never have crossed her mind.
Alvara smiled inwardly. Such an innocent child. How different would you be had you grown up in my world? "Because my dear, I will not be betrayed in my own house. For me not to act would be a show of weakness. The council looks to me for leadership and guidance; weakness is something I dare not show. My position demands that 1 make a show of power."
Monica didn't let up. "But simply killing a man isn't a show of power, Alvara. True power lies in the ability to spare a life when you have every right to take it. To show him that he is only alive because you allow it. Besides, murder is not the only way to punish the wicked."
Alvara sat and stared into her eyes for a very long time...
Alvara banged his gavel loudly against the large, oval shaped table, calling the meeting to order. As the other members began to quiet down and come to attention, Alvara met the eyes of each and every one of them with his steely gaze. More than one member was visibly unsettled by the long silence and uncomfortable stare. When he spoke, his words came out softly in an ominous whisper.
"There has been a transgression in the house of NOM Some of you know what 1 am speaking of, but for those of you who do not... one of you betrayed my only child to the inquisition. In so doing you betrayed me... and this council."
Alvara stood and slowly walked around the table, looking each man in the eye as he went. Finally, he stopped before the seat of jean Pierre du Lac, a former Avalon Earl who was ousted with the rise of Elaine. "With NOM's help, you have done well for yourself since your exile, wouldn't you say?"
Jean Pierre said nothing; he could only stare into Alvara's cold black eyes. Several of the council members shifted uncomfortably. Alvara leaned closer.
"What would you do Jean? What would you do to a man who betrayed you... and sought the death of your only child?"
Jean Pierre kept his composure under Alvara's gaze. "I would kill him... with my own hands"
"Interesting," was Alvara's only comment as he walked back to his chair. Alvara slowly drew his sword, and carefully laid it upon the table in front of him, then took his seat. He placed his hands on the table and began to speak.
"I have some bad news for the entire council it has come to my attention that one of us has become a hunted man." Alvara paused for a long time, allowing this news to set in and watching the reactions of each member. Finally, his eyes settled on Jean. "Jean Pierre du Lac, I'm sorry to inform you that a seditious journal was found among your belongings by a servant back at your estate in Montaigne. It seems you have been charged with the crime of high treason and are being hunted by the Empereur's finest. As such, you have been stripped of your lands, holdings, and titles, and your estate has burned to the ground."
Jean Pierre looked ashen, but he made no move for a weapon, nor did he say anything. He simply sat still in his chair, staring into space.
Alvara continued. "In addition, your wife, daughter, and son have all been hanged as conspirators. I'm told that Montaigne's soldiers have been ordered to shoot you on sight, should you return. If there is anything I can do, my old friend, please feel free to ask."
All of the colour had drained from Jean Pierre's face and he had begun to tremble. These things Alvara was saying were unbelievable, but he could tell that Alvara was telling the truth. Jean's words came out in a jumbled stammer. 'It isn't true... 1 never kept such a journal..."
Alvara smiled... "I know."
And So It Begins...
Alvara sat behind his desk silently, intently listening to the two Council members seated before him. He was dressed immaculately, every hair of his curly wig in place, every accessory chosen to accentuate the fine fabric of his jacket. His hat lay in his lap, hiding the pistol he in his left hand. With his free hand he was enjoying a glass of wine.
One of the men before him leaned forward and spoke silently through his well trimmed goatee. His face was slightly reddened, and although obviously angry, his composure never once wavered. "No one questions your decision concerning Jean Pierre. He was a pathetic weakling; he put a gun to his own head mere hours after you exposed him. However, I do take exception to your chosen replacement Appointing Monica to the Council creates a disturbing imbalance of power... in your favor."
At this point the other man, imposing and scarred, chose to speak. He was less subtle than his companion, his anger and frustration plain in the tone of his voice. "What makes you think this spoiled young girl even deserves to be on the Council? What kind of training does she have that would prepare her for this? She can't even defend herself for Theus' sake!"
Alvara shot him a penetrating glare of warning, one not lost on Serk Markstrom. Alvara expected, and even understood Villanova's concerns over the balance of power within the Council. But Serk's verbal attack on his daughter took him by surprise. Alvara's face hardened, his voice taking on a stem tone. "I am teaching her swordsmanship myself Serk. As for training, she has been a Courtier in the court of l'Empereur himself. If that hasn't prepared her to work with the likes of you two, I don't know what will. As for her age... I do not think you are one to point fingers Serk; you were younger than her when you took your seat on the Council. What can she offer us? Connections... connections and information concerning the royalty of Montaigne."
Then Alvara looked over at Villanova, speaking quietly, almost deviously. "And insurance. You are quite correct in your apprehension concerning the balance of power in the Council Giovanni. But I'm no fool. I've seen the machinations turning in your head before you even gave them life by utterance. I know you have been attempting to garner support within the Council for your personal vision of NOM However, I now have someone on the council whom I know I can trust. Apparently this frightens you Giovanni. I wonder why?" Alvara smiled.
Villanova's mouth straightened into a thin line. If any other man had spoken to him in such a mocking and condescending manner, Giovanni would cut him down without a second thought. But not Alvara. Not yet. Not only was Alvara likely to be every bit his equal in swordsmanship, but he knew de Espectro Acero, the Council Police were within earshot of Alvara, and wouldn't let him walk out alive. No, it was better to wait. Alvara's time would come soon enough. Villanova smirked that wry crooked grin he has become so famous for. "I am afraid of nothing Alvara, you know that. I'm simply looking out for my interests; you would do the same in my position. By the way, you didn't give this wine enough time to adequately breathe; there is no depth of flavor. You should come to my estate sometime and I will share with you a glass Of my finest."
'And help me find the stairwell no doubt." Alvara leaned back straight in his chair, quietly looking each man over before speaking his next words. "Well then, it seems we understand each other. I assume I have satisfied your concerns gentleman, and I thank you for coming." Alvara paused. "But in the future, I will not make a habit of explaining my actions to you like a pair of jealous children. And Serk, don't forget what you did to earn respect on the Council. I would hate for Monica to prove her worth to you in a similar fashion."
After the two
men left his chambers, Alvara slipped into an adjoining room and softly called
Call together de Espectro Acero. I want them to keep an eye on Serk Markstrom."