Friday, December 03, 2010

Captain Fouquet; Chapter 1.1 'The Fire Bird'

Chapter 1.1
01 December. 2010. Present were; Jan, Oleg, Palle & Goeg.

9th Marts. 1625.

Late in the evening (somewhere between 11:30 and 12pm) Misteline the artist, sometimes known as 'the Magnificent' on account of his wonderous powers of perception and artistic ability, was sitting in his bed, with a glass of something snappy, sketching a few idea's in a sketch book, when he became aware of a distant screaming coming from somewhere behind the house. Since Misteline's bedchamber is situated in the front of the building, then the screaming had to be coming from the backyard. Slipping on a robe, the old artist made his way to one of the windows of his studio in the back of the building. As he did so, he distinctly heard the foot steps and muffled voice of Doctor Giffshank who lived upstairs.

Outside in the yard, the artist was horrified to see the burning body of a young woman, and nearby, one of his neighbours; Marmaduke Gurdlecat, moving away from the body. He pulled on a second robe and made his way down stairs, followed closely by Doctor Grimshank. In the courtyard, Misteline came across several more of his neighbours who were standing around in horrified amazement. Gurdlecat, armed with a crossbow amongst them. One of the local women, Meg Plum, began to beat at the body with her cloak and another, Gregory Marshkindle, poured a bucket of water over it. Between them they quickly managed to extinguish the flames. A wail of grief went up as Meg Plum realised that the body was that of her companion Molly Cutlerstub.

Molly Cutlerstub (see image above) was a local charwoman, employed along side Meg Plum and known by all present as a quiet and contentious worker. In her late twenties, she had five children, the oldest of whom, Nicolet, was already employed as a maid at the Red Fox Coffee House.

Misteline took note of the body which was heavily burned around the upper torso, arms and head. The hands and face in particular had suffered considerable damage. The face was almost burned away and both eyes had ruptured. The nose had been burned right down to the face and the nasal cavity was exposed. The mouth was badly burned and both lips had been burned away revealing the teeth and gums which were charred and blackened. All the hair on the head had been burned away except at the base of the skull. The neck and upper torso were charred and blistered, and the right breast had been ruptured, or ripped apart.

The right hand was damaged down to the bone and all the digits had apparently been burned down to the knuckle. The left hand had been shredded and the last two fingers had been detached. Both hands were considerably burned. The body’s clothing had also been completely burned away from the thighs up and Molly Cutlerstub appeared to have been consumed by a fast burning fire. Misteline felt inside her shoes and found the soles of her feet to be cool to the touch.

Hanging in the air was a faint smell which Misteline recognised but couldn't quite identify, and scattered around the courtyard, in the muddy ground, were small burning remnants of fabric. There was much consternation and shouting but Misteline kept his cool and took note of who was present; Apart from himself, Meg Plum and Gregory Marshkindle, he also noted his land lady Mrs Crimpstock, their upstairs neighbour Doctor Giffshank, Marmaduke Gurdlecat, Anton Fouquet, and Bertram Turnbull who was keeping his distance (standing close to the rear of the Red Fox coffee house). As events unfolded, several other neighbours arrived also, these included Robert Ladlevane the carpenter, Odette Turnbull, the artist Bagangelo and his apprentice Oliver Taprattle, and at least two of the girls from the Red Fox; and Isabelle. There were also a few strangers present, but most were cluttered around the Red Fox, only one stood close by, a man of southern appearance, wearing clerical garb, who appeared to be one of Meg Plum's lodgers (Misteline noted the other lodger gazing from an upstairs window.)

Rufus Carraresi de Castelopea was also present and he quickly sought out Misteline to find out what was afoot. Misteline explained and Rufus began to question people as to what they seen. When he spoke to Gregory Marshkindle, the old soldier explained (through a haze of gin fumes) that he had been awoken by a loud banging noise, but this didn't seem to correspond with what other people were saying. Doctor Giffshank told any one who would listen that he had seen Marmaduke Gurdlecat fleeing the scene, but Gurdlecat explained that although he had been quick to arrive on the scene, he had glimpsed some one else fleeing and had then returned to fetch his crossbow (which he was in fact holding). No one came forward to affirm the sighting of another person at the scene of the crime, though there was much talking and wailing and no one was really paying much attention to any one else.

Nicolet Cutlerstub then arrived on the scene, running from the Red Fox, and crying out in her anguish. Meg Plum intercepted her and Misteline suggesting moving the body. Anton Fouquet suggested moving Molly Cutlerstub's remains to the lower store room of the south tower of his gate house abode, "so as to avoid stinking up Misteline's studio". Misteline agreed. The body was wrapped in a blanket and moved.

Misteline examined the ground beneath the body and found it was largely unmarked, but there was the same faint smell of something alchemical. He then looked around further and found a patch of ground, closer to Meg Plum's house (where Molly lived) which was darker than its surroundings. When he examined this darker patch Misteline found a faint trace of soot.

The body was placed in the store room and Anton Fouquet had Gregory Marshkindle stand watch until the Militia arrived. People returned to their homes, but before he departed, Misteline (who understood Anton Fouquet to be interested in alchemy) asked Fouquet if he could identify the curious odour which still hung about the body. Fouquet thought the smell was 'some kind of sulpher'.

10th Marts. 1625.

Unable to keep sleeping, Misteline rose early and looked out into the courtyard where he saw three Militia men talking to Gregory Marshkindle. Pulling on some clothing, he made his way down into the frigid morning air and approached the four men. One of the Militia men was a captain of the guard and he recognised Misteline and greeted him sardonically. Misteline replied in kind and learned that the gruff and burly officer was the local Militia authority, Captain Heneage Shallowsack, in whose jurisdiction the Armorial quarter fell. Captain Shallowsack did not seem to be in any great hurry to investigate the death of a cleaning woman and when the store room was opened, he gave the body little attention. Anton Fouquet arrived on the scene and it appeared that he knew Captain Shallowsack for the two men withdrew back into the courtyard and spoke together in low voices.

Captain Shallowsack took his leave, but left one guard behind to guard the body until an undertakers wagon arrived to remove it. He bid Misteline farewell and wished him good luck in his investigation. Misteline had over heard a few words and was therefore not surprised in the least and when Anton Fouquet asked him to investigate the mystery of Cutlerstub's death, in return for a fee and expenses, he agreed to do so, not least because he was curious as to the manner of Molly Cutlerstub's death. What was less clear to Misteline was Anton Fouquet's motives in hiring him. There didn't seem to be any clear reason why Fouquet should take an interest in Cutlerstub whom he had only known for a few months after all, but the old sea captain appeared to be emotionally affected by the matter, even going so far as to wipe away a tear as he spoke of his duty as the woman's land lord. Misteline kept his silence and presently Anton Fouquet took his leave.

Rufus arrived shortly there after and Misteline told him that he intended to discover who had killed their charwoman. Rufus immediately agreed to help and both went to see Marmaduke Gurdlecat who had been the first person identified on the scene.

Marmaduke had just woken up but was pleased to see the two men. Last nights commotion had proven very awkward for him, not least because several people present appeared to regard him with suspicion, and he was already something of a social outcast due to his inability to conduct himself with any grace or charm and his outlandish habit of shooting from his windows at birds on the carpenters roof hadn't won him any friends either. He grateful explained what he had seen and heard during the night.

Marmaduke had been sitting in his bed, reading a bawdy novel and drinking mulled wine when he became aware of a commotion outside. A woman began to scream and a strange light flickered and danced beyond his windows. He arose from his bed and looked out and saw the shadow of some one moving in the darkness, in the direction of the Red Fox. Alarmed by the horrific screams he quickly stepped outside and saw the burning body. Looking around he saw no one else present. He decided to fetch his crossbow so he returned to his room and fetched the weapon, pausing long enough to load it (it was already strung). By the time he returned to the courtyard, several other people had already gathered around and Doctor Giffshank was telling everyone that he had seen Marmaduke 'fleeing the scene'. Marmaduke became uneasy when Doctor Giffshank then pointed out that Marmaduke was carrying a loaded weapon. Fortunately no one paid much attention to Doctor Giffshank.

Misteline and Rufus decided to include Marmaduke in their investigations, mainly on the strength of Misteline's instincts. Having worked with the reclusive cabinet and viola maker before, Misteline was not convinced that Marmaduke was the guilty party (or maybe he just wanted to keep him close enough to make sure?).

The three decided upon a course of action and then Misteline examined the body further. He discovered small charred remains of leather in the wounds and one piece was large enough to reveal a seam. He deduced that Molly Cutlerstub was likely killed by some kind of alchemical reaction that was contained in a leather receptacle she held in her hands, that this reaction rent her flesh and then set fire to her. Uncertain as to the actual cause of death, Misteline found Cutlerstub's wounds to be extensive, almost certainly fatal, but impossible to fathom so he decided to go and visit an old acquaintence, Nicholas Rungate, who owns Cartmarten’s Apothecary on Copplemoss Court and ask his advice.

Nicholas was curious and eager to help, but he could not identify any alchemical compound which would cause such wounds. He related however that people engaged in alchemical research have been known to have blown themselves up once in a while. After some further questioning, Nicholas revealed that Anton Fouquet had recently bought fairly large quantites of several compounds, including charcoal and stone-salt (saltpetre). None of this made much sense to Misteline, but an idea was forming. He thanked Nicholas and after the latter had demonstrated a funny alchemical reaction involving a frog, he returned home to eat and find his companions.

In the meanwhile Rufus and Marmaduke had left Marmaduke's workshop/bedroom and discovered Meg Plum talking with Father Caltrop outside Meg's house. Rufus quickly moved to intercept their conversation and some what disconcerted, Father Caltrop bid Meg Plum good day and entered her house with the stated intention of bringing consolation to Molly Cutlerstub's children whilst Rufus set about questioning Meg. According top the old woman, Molly Cutlerstub had come home sometime between 7 and 8pm after having helped Mrs Crimpstock. She described Molly as being quiet and withdrawn and having gone to bed not long afterwards. She did not hear Molly leave the house at all and was awoken by the screaming. She also described how she rushed outside and who she remembered seeing. She identified the strange man who had been with her as one of her two lodgers, a cleric named Cristobal Sebastiano from Castelopea.

Rufus and Marmaduke then went to visit Mrs Crimpstock who welcomed them into her kitchen and served them some gruel with dripping. Whilst they ate, she described what she had seen from her window. Awoken by a soft bang, "like the sound made by a falling cupbard perhaps" she looked out of her window and saw the burning figure staggering about. Beyond it, she also saw a second figure moving about, but her attention was fixed on Molly Cutlerstub. When pressed, she supposed the other figure to have been male.

Misteline returned home around 11am and found his companions with Mrs Crimpstock. Having thanked the old lady for her help, the three companions then withdrew to Misteline's studio to exchange information. As they spoke however, they became aware of two men standing outside Meg Plum's house. One was Cristobal Sebastiano and the other was his mysterious companion. Rufus related that he had seen the second man around, and believed him to be something of a fighter from the south, possibly even skilled. This he deduced from the man's movements, his watchful nature and the long Aquilean rapier he wore. Rufus decided to write a letter to his God Father in Castelopea and ask if he was able to identify Cristobal Sebastiano. As the three companions observed the two southerners, the two men glanced up and caught sight of them and moved to a position in the courtyard from where they could not be observed from Misteline's studio windows.

Misteline swore to himself and then rushed out onto Milners Lane in order to come around and hopefully observe the two men from the arch way of the Red Fox. To his surprise however, he met the two men walking around the corner from Cobblemoss Court and to further his amazement, Cristobal hailed him and wished him a good day. Misteline replied politely and Cristobal expressed his dismay at the events of the night. He then informed Misteline that he had heard Misteline had been asked to investigate the matter, and offered any help and assistence he might offer, should the need arise. Misteline thanked him and Sebastiano went on his way. As he did, he refered to his silent companion as Franco.

Misteline walked around the corner, but then paused and sneaked a look back along Milners Lane. In doing so he caught a glimpse of the two men standing in conversation. Misteline went on his way and passed under the arch way of the Red Fox. Here he met one of the prostitutes who work at the coffee house and whom he has employed on occaision as a model. Her name was Kit Kindle and she asked Misteline if it were true about Molly Cutlerstub. Misteline replied it was and Kit expressed sorrow and sympathy for the children. She then returned to work and Misteline passed into the courtyard. As he did he looked up and caught sight of a female figure in one of the high windows in the northern tower of the old gate house. He assumed this must be Anaïs Fouquet. Rather than enter his home, Misteline then decided to return the way he came, and in doing so he found Cristobal and Franco still standing on the pavement, talking, only now they were talking in some what agitated tones, in a southern language. Misteline passed them by, and exchanged another polite greeting.

Back in his studio, Misteline and his companions decided to interview Anaïs Fouquet, but after having knocked on the door thrice, they came away without a reply.

Instead they decided to sneak into the southern tower and take a look around, so they went back to the body under the pretense of gathering samples. The Militia man guarding the door suspected nothing and let them in without question, but he left the door open and watched in morbid fascination. This prevented Marmaduke from sneaking up the stairs so Misteline whispered to Rufus and bid him distract the guard.

Rufus walked outside with a swaggering gait and engaged the Militia man with tales of the recent war. This had the desired effect as the Militia man was both bored with his guard duty and eager to exchange horrible war stories. Marmaduke sneaked up the stairs whilst Misteline pretended to be examining Molly Cutlerstub's corpse.

On the first floor, Marmaduke found a store room full of barrels, boxes and a number of strange leather bucket like bags. The bags in particular struck him as curious and he examined them closer. He found they were filled with liquids, root vegetables and apples. He then explored the tower further

The second floor was a workshop which opened onto the top of the gate house, but that door was shut. The stairs continued up but a padlock hung from a trap door which blocked the way. Marmaduke examined the tools which were scattered about the room and found a wide variety of hammers, spikes, tongs and other metal working instruments. He also found jars and bottles filled with all manner of strange things and more leather bucket bags, filled with various substances. Most contaied charcoal. He returned to Misteline to report what he had found. Misteline, grabbing a hessian sack, then sneaked upstairs and stole a leather bucket bag full of apples. He put it in the sack and the three companions exited the scene whilst the unsuspecting guard locked the door to the tower behind them.

It was by then around 2pm, and after some roast chicken for lunch the three men examined the bag. They decided it had a vaguely maritime quality to it and they spent the rest of the day at the dock yards asking around. Sure enough they identified the bag as a common water proof supply container, used on all manner of ships.

The game ended as the three companions returned at night fall.

1 comment:

Misteline said...

Anton Fouquet asked me to solve this mystery. He seemed to be genuinely upset by Molly Cutlerstub's death, and it is possible that they had been having some sort sexual relationship.

The mystery is why she died, not how.

As far as we can determine, Molly was less than happy all evening. Her movements in the early part of the night are unknown, but I am fairly certain that she died in the courtyard, from violent ripping and rapid, severe burns.
From the soot marks, and the position of her body, she moved away from Gregory Marshkindle's lodging, towards the centre of the courtyard, but I have no idea if she had been moving towards or away from it (or Anton Fouquet's lesser tower, or her abode), when the infernal substance ignited.

I can infer that the infernal substance was in a leather container, probably identical to the ones in Fouquet's stores.
Probably, Molly was holding it in front of her, possibly with both hands, when it ignited.
It may have ignited spontaneously, by accident, deliberately (but without the person knowing the consequences), or deliberately (with the person knowing, roughly, what the effects could have been).
There may have been no motive, the motive may have been to kill Molly, to kill someone else, or to destroy the substance.

As to the nature of the substance; this is of little importance of itself.
It is rare, or largely unknown (thus, someone who knew what it would do, would be one of a select few).
It is interesting to speculate about, though, but I do not know of any alchemic substance with all the properties that I can infer.
It contained Brimstone, and the residue was sooty.
It burned violently and very rapidly.
Unlike the burning oils used in warfare, it burned away at once, with only Molly's clothes and perhaps skin alight as she died.
Some foreign formulations contain a miraculous agent that permits the oil to burn in, or under water.
Aqua Fortis can, I believe, support combustion (or something like combustion) of itself.
I am unsure if Marine Air, Oil of Vitriol, or Aqua Regis can do so.
Of these, only Oil of Vitriol contains Brimstone.
Aqua Fortis and Stone Salt are related by some alchemic operations.

Anton Fouquet had the leathern containers, and had been buying large quantities of Stone Salt, and fine Charcoal.
This does not seem like coincidence.

Molly was not pregnant.

Immediately after her death, and possibly immediately before, another person was observed in next to her (by 2, independent witnesses).
This person, at least, observed her death, and is, obviously, a prime suspect. He or she could have fled for unrelated reasons (I would be interested to know if anyone has facial burns).

That is, alas, as far as I can follow a chain of logic.
I can speculate, broadly, however.
Molly died carrying an unknown substance that killed her.
Anton Fouquet's stores may well have contained such a substance.
Even if Molly died by accident (some alchemic products are dangerous, of themselves), she was probably doing something surreptitious with it. Most likely as a courier, perhaps stealing it.
If she was killed deliberately, she could have been killed because of who she was (my thoughts turn to an illicit affair and a jealous wife). She could have been killed because of what she knew.
Alternatively, she could have been killed by accident, the intended victim being, for example, the other person in the courtyard.
How, if at all, do the Southerners fit into this? I suspect that they are spies, perhaps connected with Anton Fouquet, and the unknown substance or operation.

My list of suspects is:
The unknown person in the courtyard.
Anias Fouquet.
The Southerners.
Gregory Marshkindle (possibly as an agent of one or other Fouquet, but most likely, not).

I am not sure how to proceed, but I am interested in anyone else interested in the infernal substance.

[From Oleg - Bgr, I forgot to change the white balance on your camera.]