Forgive and Forget
by Martin Hall
"Let composure be our watchword." Alasaiz Valoix Praisse du Rachetisse III swept down the hall leading to the Council Chambers of the Parlement, the four musketeers sent to guard him fluttering at an awkward marching pace beside him. Medals chimed quietly off each other on his impeccable dress uniform. With his lieutenants flanking him, the men in the red and blue tabards looked less like men escorting a dangerous enemy of the state than an honour guard. "Though we march down the throat of the bear, we shall not be consumed."
"Sir?" Michel Rois et Reines, navigator and de facto first mate of the Predateur des Mers, did not share the arrogant certainty of his captain. He stole a nervous glance at the swordswoman who kept easy pace at Valoix's left. Despite being disarmed by the guards on the way in, she showed no hint of anxiety or fear, keeping pace with the Admiral and her unblinking gaze focused directly ahead.
Valoix swivelled on his heel, turning to face Michel. The swordswoman stopped abruptly, and the musketeers did all but bump into each other. The overall effect was of a storm suddenly and inexplicably blowing out. "I have been quite tolerant in your education, monsieur Rois et Reines. You have served me well and loyally. For that, I indulge your ignorance."
"Monsieur, the Council has demanded" One of the musketeers swept an arm toward the heavy oak doors of the Council chambers. Valoix snapped a solitary finger up, cutting the man off in mid-sentence.
"Do not interrupt me whilst I am speaking! It is the height of ill manners to intrude on the private conversation of another. Wait over there." The Empereur's former High Admiral pointed imperiously to a far corner of the corridor. The musketeers withdrew politely. One bit his lip and looked uncertainly at the doors. Another hid the trace of a smile.
"Now, I believe what the Council requires is something which only I can grant them. They require a commander who knows the navy. Correct?"
Michel opened his mouth to speak before realising that the question was rhetorical. Valoix smoothed the sash adorning his immaculate uniform before continuing. "Of course they do. However, many of the mutineers who now find themselves in command of fleet vessels are already well-acquainted with the navy's workings, and do not represent", Valoix smiled broadly and indicated himself with a great flourish, "less egalitarian times as I do."
Valoix straightened, sweeping his hat deftly back into place and smoothing the plume. "No, what the Council requires from me is someone who knows the enemy. Someone who can tell how a noble thinks. How they'll move against the new regime. What port they might try to flee the country from. In short, monsieur, they must set someone with breeding to catch someone with breeding. They just aren't aware of this fact yet."
The swordswoman cleared her throat politely. "Sir. We can achieve nothing by keeping them waiting." Her eyes flickered to the heavy doors of the new Parlement.
Valoix adjusted his sash again and brushed a hand over his impressive collection of medals. "Astute as always, miss Du Toille. Come." He indicated to the musketeers to open the doors and drew himself up. "Let's exploit the goodwill of the people." He smiled as the Parlement doors swung open and the roaring cheers of the assembly rose to the ceiling of the great chamber beyond.
"Citizens," Valoix's voice rang out clear and smooth across the Parlement, "I apologise profusely that I have been so slow in returning to my native soil. For too long, I have been in exile, a fugitive, and it has pained me." His face became serious, his hat held with humility in his hands. Michel and Vivianne stood at either side of their commander, who had elected to stand in front of the speaker's lectern. Nothing came between him and the intent faces of the Charouse Assembly, with the Council of Eight foremost among them. Behind the former Admiral, the new flag of the Republic adorned the wall, red and blue bisected by the pristine white scales of justice.
Valoix leaned forward, continuing his recitation in a bizarre mixture of oratory and conversation. "As you are no doubt aware, Leon du Montaigne," Valoix's lip curled distastefully, as if he had swallowed a fly, "ordered my fleet to attack the Castillian city of San Cristobal, in a vainglorious attempt to conquer our neighbours." A murmur of sympathetic outrage filled the room. Michel noted it with little surprise. When Valoix had rehearsed his speech, he had stopped to offhandedly remark that a pause would be appropriate to give the 'rabble' time to express anti-royalist sentiments or disgust at the attack on San Cristobal. His eyes following the lines of new benches around the room, Michel wondered idly what function the room had served before it became the centre of his homeland's government.
Valoix drew back, his eyes shining and his voice thick. "I could not in good faith carry out such an order. I could not drag the good name of my country, my homeland, through the mud like that. But I was an officer, bound by duty and honour to obey. For three days the attack continued, as I wrestled with my conscience." He let his eyes flicker briefly over his shoulder to the flag, drew in a deep breath and continued. "On the third day, my opportunity came. As the Castillians advanced on our ships, I brought about confusion and disarray among our men," he jabbed a finger into the air, "whilst allowing our ships to flee with minimum casualties and our nation's honour bloodied but unbowed.
"My mind reeling from the enormity of what I had to do, I could not believe the words that came from Leon's messenger. 'Return to Charouse', he said. 'You are to be awarded the Medal of Valour.'" Valoix's face twisted in anger. "Valour? How could that vile pig associate the slaughter he had forced his own sailors to undertake with the courage which is synonymous with our nation? Filled with rage and unable to stand the sight of Leon's vile sorcerous toady" Valoix's voice rang out loud across the Parlement, his face white with remembered anger, "I ran the fiend through rather than live another minute under the heel of that coward Leon du Montaigne."
Cheers sounded throughout the Parlement. Several people leaped to their feet, their hats tearing unsteady arcs through the air. The Council of Eight remained impassive. Valoix held up his hands. "Please! Citizens! Do not applaud me. I am no hero."
A voice rang out from the back of the assembly. "Of course you are! You stood against a power that no-one else could raise a hand to!"
Another voice. "You lived free from oppression!"
Valoix turned to the second voice. "But did I return to free others, or did I flee? No, sir, I am no hero." His downcast face was solemn. "You are the true heroes. You have carved out, in but a few short months, a glorious future for our great nation. If only I could have such an opportunity. An opportunity to serve the people. An opportunity to seek out those who would return us to the darkness, and drive them from our borders. An opportunity to expunge the evil of sorcery from this land once and for all and return us to the grace of Theus!" With each sentence, Valoix's voice swelled until it seemed to thunder from every corner of the room. All at once, as a storm blows out, he became quiet.
"That is all I ask."
All at once, and with little formality, the new Council of Eight stood. Professor Eugene Suchet du Crieux spoke. "Alasaiz Valoix, you yourself are a nobleman. Why would you wish to serve Montaigne?"
"Sir, I consider myself Montaigne first, and anything else second. I wish to serve my country as I have done in the past." Another round of cheers erupted from the assembled legislators. Valoix bowed to them. With glances to each other, the Council of Eight nodded and smiled. Aristide Baveaux, Grand Knight of the Order of the Rose and Cross and commanding officer of the Musketeers, raised his hand from the Council's platform. The assembled musketeers snapped to attention. Valoix's lieutenants stepped smartly forward.
As they strode away from the celebration to the Naval Board's offices, Valoix carefully rolled the decree which restored his position and handed it casually to Michel. He turned to the swordswoman. "Vivianne. You are certain that your marines can find Le Beau?"
Du Toille nodded once, confidently. "Of course, sir. They are the best. We can have him within a week. What then?"
Valoix stared into the blue skies over Charouse. "What then indeed? He knows where the General is."
Michel's brow furrowed. "Sir. If I may?"
"Sir, correct me if I am wrong, but the Parlement has no issue with the General. His quarrel was with the old regime."
"Of course. However, we do have an interest in von Stutten." Valoix drew a carefully folded notice from his coat pocket. "I believe our dear Rosamonde feels some sort of obligation for him. She almost destroyed me politically to cover his desertion." He flicked the paper open, revealing passable likenesses of Ysabette and Rosamonde du Montaigne. His face hardened. "No, monsieur, we are after bigger fish than Le Beau. With the capture of L'Empereur's daughters, my position is assured." A vicious smile disturbed the line of his moustache. "Besides, success makes revenge all the sweeter." The sun feebly poked a few damp rays of light through the thick winter clouds that muffled the happy streets of Charouse, and the banner of a new nation fluttered in the breeze. Alasaiz Valoix Praisse du Rachetisse III, High Admiral of the People's Navies of Montaigne, walked the streets in triumph. Somewhere, the first flakes of snow settled on the forgotten pauper's grave of Leon Alexandre du Montaigne XIV, the most powerful man in the world.