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The Scarlet Eroica

Chapter Text

Paris, Feb 1, 1793

 

Daylight was waning, and the sentries on duty at Paris’ West Gate were looking forward to their evening meal and the pint of ale that would accompany it.  Traffic through the gate had slowed to a trickle, particularly since the latest edict restricted travel by aristos wanting to flee the city.  The lieutenant smirked at that thought; soon enough, the despised aristocrats would have more reason to flee.  Even now, the Committee was arresting the traitors, destined to follow their deposed king to the guillotine.

The creaking sound of a cart approaching the gate caught his attention, as did the doleful ringing of the bell carried by the old man following the death cart.  "Unclean!" the bell proclaimed, and the soldiers guarding the gate drew back as they cast uneasy looks at the slow-moving cart pulled by the old man’s hulking son.  The lieutenant took a quick look at the cart with its burden of bodies bound for the charnel pits and then nodded familiarly at the old man.

"A light load today, old father," he said.

The man shrugged eloquently.  "L’ange de la morte, she has her moods.  There will be more dead of the plague tomorrow, or next week."

The lieutenant faltered in his stroll towards the cart even as his men drew back further.  The word ‘plague’ still had the ability to freeze a man’s blood and anyone would think twice before risking its embrace.  He turned away from the cart, gesturing to his men.

"Open the gate!"

The cart made its slow way through the gate and down the winter-rutted road leading away from the city.  The old man followed, ringing his bell and muttering to himself, causing the few travelers they met to give the little procession a wide berth.  At a branch in the road, the half-wit son pulled the cart onto the path that led to the charnel pits outside the city.  A rough hut stood in the shadow of the woods, some distance away from the stench of death, and the half-wit halted outside of it.  He set down the handles of the cart and began struggling out of the harness.  The old man, moving quickly for his advanced years, hurried forward to help him with the stiff buckles.

"Are you all right, Lord Tournay?" he asked softly, in a more cultured tone than he’d used with the guard at the gate.

The man nodded, shrugging out of the rough straps with a wince, his shoulders unaccustomed to such heavy labor.  "My wife and son?"

The old man turned to the cart, flipping back the burlap sacking that had shielded the bodies from public view.  One of the corpses blinked at the sudden light, pushed up into a sitting position, and looked around.  Her eyes lit up at the sight of her husband and she held out her arms to him.

"My love!" she said, her voice anxious.  "Are we safe?"

"We are out of the city but not yet safe while we are in France," he said as he helped her down from the cart

The younger corpse sat up and grimaced as he brushed at the ugly pustules afixed to his arms.  "La, these will be the very devil to wash off!"

"Easier than blood would have been, Philippe."  A handsome young Englishman walked out of the hut as he spoke, and the young Vicomte de Tournay's face lit up.  

"John-Paul!  You are our savior, m’sier."

"Not I," John-Paul said, helping the young man down from the cart.  "The honour goes to that man," he added, gesturing toward the old man who was now leaning against the cart with his back toward them as he began wiping off the heavy make-up distorting his features.  "And he is Eroica."

"The Prince of Thieves?" the Countess de Tournay queried, casting an intrigued look over at the man.

"The very same, my lady," John-Paul said, bowing slightly to her.  "But we must move.  Soldiers will be patrolling the woods shortly and it is a long ride to the coast."

The man who had played the half-wit, now revealed to be the Comte de Tournay, turned to John-Paul.  "Never-the-less, we are in your debt, my lord.  You have stood our friend, as you swore.  If ever I may repay your kindness, be assured that I will."  

They mounted, the Comte and his lady on one horse, John-Paul on another with the young Vicomte de Tournay mounted pillion behind him.  As they rode off towards the woods and beyond that the road to the coast, a stocky man emerged from the hut bearing a basin of water.  Eroica pulled off the grey wig and his curly blond hair tumbled to his shoulders.  He plunged his hands into the basin.

"Well, Bonham?" Eroica asked as he splashed his face with the icy water.

"The old man and his son be inside, snoring o'er their pints," Bonham said, gesturing with his thumb towards the hut.  'They'll wake in the morn, none the wiser 'bout their part in today's doin's."

"Good.  I'll be happy to return to stealing artwork; smuggling out the de Tournays has nearly shattered my nerves."

"The Daydream be off the coast, m'lord, ready to sail for England once we're on board."

"Excellent."   He rubbed a wet rag over his face, finishing the task of removing the make-up that disguised his aristocratic features.  "Take no chances as you make for the coast – stick to the woods along the road and watch for patrols."

"You’re not coming with us, m’lord?" Bonham asked, watching as his employer shed his rough coat and heavy brogues, exchanging them for garments more suitable for his station in society.

"And miss my sister’s soiree this evening?" Eroica asked in mock horror as he settled the coat about his shoulders.  "She would murder me - it is her lord husband's birthday."

Bonham gave him a shrewd look.  "I expect it ain't Lady Margaret’s party but her guest list that draws you, m'lord, if Major von dem Eberbach be invited.  Still hopin’ to give him a tumble?"

Eroica made a face as he tied his cravat, knowing that without a mirror it wouldn't look as elegant as usual.  "Bonham, my blushes!"

"When'll you give up tha' pipe dream?"

"Never!" he said, standing up and shaking out his ruffles as he finished his transition from the Prince of Thieves to the foppish Earl of Gloria, Dorian Red.  His air changed from brisk efficiency to languid dreaminess as he said, "The Major is my Destiny!"

"Aye, m’lord, and he punched you the last time you said that," Bonham said drily.  "And pulled his pistol on you the time 'fore that."

"His response is becoming less violent!" Dorian said brightly.  "A sign that he is relenting."

Bonham rolled his eyes.  "Keep telling yerself that, m’lord."  

Dorian laughed.  "I will spend a few days in Paris, Bonham, then my entourage will make its leisurely way to Brussels while I make a rather quick side-trip to Bonn.  There are a few pieces I want to add to my personal collection."

"James will have a fit," Bonham said drily.

"I'll bring him back something pretty to sell," Dorian promised.  "Have the Daydream standing off the coast of Belgium in a month."

"Aye, m'lord," Bonham said.  He gave Dorian a leg up, then mounted his own horse and spurred it after John-Paul.  Dorian watched until Bonham had reached the safety of the woods, then gave a cursory glance over the scene.  Satisfied that nothing would give away the game, he turned his horse onto the road and made his leisurely way back toward Paris.

Chapter Text

Soldiers poured into the Rue de Lille, heedless of the citizens of Paris going about their daily business who hastily pulled back into doorways and shops to avoid being run down.  Once they reached the Hotel de Tournay, the captain of the guard pounded on the door and, when there was no response, nodded for his men to  break down the door.  The soldiers rushed through the building, searching each of the floors and every room before returning to their captain.

"The house is empty, sir!" his lieutenant reported.

The captain swore.  "Search again!  Kitchens, basement, attics – they must be here!  Question the servants!  They must know where the Comte and his family have gone!"

"Captain!"  One of the men rushed in.  "We found this, in the Comte’s bedchamber."  He held out a single perfect red rose and a small square calling card.

The captain grabbed the card.  There, writing in flowing script, was a brief message.

 

Since France no longer knows how to cherish its nobility, I have stolen the Comte de Tournay and his family.  I will not be returning them.

From Eroica, with Love

 

The captain crushed the card in his fist, cursing the elusive thief under his breath.  "Find them!  Search the city!  Hunt down the Comte de Tournay and find me this damned thief Eroica!"

Chapter Text

Dorian Red, the 5th Earl of Gloria, paused on the threshold of the Grand Salon of the British embassy in Paris.  He assumed a dramatic pose, well aware of how he would appear to the assembled crowd.  A few years on the right side of thirty, he had been Blessed by nature with a taller-than-average stature, a slender and attractive form, and a face almost too pretty for a man.  As he disdained both wig and powder, he proudly displayed his own golden blond hair.  It cascaded over his shoulders in a riot of curls and tangled with the gold embroidery of his exquisitely fitted coat.  His deceptively indolent blue eyes studied the room, both to gauge reaction and catalog his audience. 

He noted that all the usual players were present: the British Ambassador and his wife, delegates from several of the German states, ambassadors from Spain, Italy and Austria, some of the French aristocracy, and a few members of the National Assembly.  His sister would no doubt be delighted at the success of her little party.

Margaret sighted him at that moment and pounced on him.  "Dorian, you’re late!" she scolded as she drag him over to where her husband stood talking with several members of the German legation.  "It's too bad of you!  Percy, tell Dorian how horrible he is."

"A thousand pardons, Meg, but it couldn’t be helped," Dorian said, in his most affected drawl.  "My cravat, you know."

Sir Percival Blakeney, the British Ambassador to the French Court, leveled his eyeglass at the article of clothing in question.  "Indeed, Gloria. it is dashed intolerable.  Don’t know if my credit can stand being seen with you in that appalling state."

One of the men with whom Sir Percy had been talking growled at the interruption and gave Dorian a cursory glare.  "Looks fine to me," Major Klaus von dem Eberbach said shortly.

"Kind of you to say so, my dear Major," Dorian said, affecting to be flattered by his words.  "But just look at it!"  He lifted his intricately tied cravat with one finger and then let it drop.  "It just lays there, limp – and limpness is not a trait that I’m accustomed to!"

The crowd that had gathered around the Earl of Gloria tittered at his ribald joke and Margaret lightly smacked his arm with her fan. 

Klaus rolled his eyes.  "The only thoughts in that empty head of yours are of sex and clothes."

"And of you, my dear Major," Dorian said, looking coquettishly at him through his eyelashes.  "Although not in conjunction with clothing.  Rather the opposite."

The crowd tittered again and Klaus scowled.  "Verdammt pervert."

Dorian opened his mouth to issue a rejoinder but at that moment the Ambassador's undersecretary, Sir Lawrence, rushed up to them accompanied by one of the Major’s men – the one he called ‘Herr B’.

"Lord Gloria, have you heard about the Comte de Tournay and his family?"

"Please, I implore you, do not tell me that they have been arrested!" Dorian said and shuddered.  "The Vicomte is a personal friend, and I cannot bear the thought of him in a filthy gaol – and without a clean change of linen!"

The Major curled his lip at the mention of clothes again but before he could retort, Herr B said eagerly, "Oh no! The Comte de Tournay, his wife, and their son the Vicomte have all escaped from Paris, just as they were about to be arrested!"

"That dashed thief, Eroica, has spirited them off," Sir Lawrence added.  "Left one of his demmed – beg your pardon ladies!  - cheeky notes."

" ‘From Eroica with Love’," Margaret said dreamily.  "So romantic!"  The other ladies murmured agreement, fluttering their fans.

"That dashed thief has stolen My Lady’s heart from me!" Sir Percy said with a laugh and Margaret gave him a brilliant smile that said quite the opposite.

Klaus scowled.  "The man is a criminal, a thief.  Jewels, artwork – and now people!"

"But dashed romantic," Dorian drawled, fanning himself lightly.  "Taking what he likes, leaving no trace behind.  And now vanishing with the de Tournays."

"He shall not have another such opportunity," said a harsh new voice behind them.  

The group turned, uneasy murmurs rising at they recognized the man.  Both the Earl of Gloria and Sir Percival raised their eyeglasses to study him, taking in his clothing - rough boots, black frock coat, country waistcoat, and the cockade declaring him a Jacobin - as well as the distinctive scar on his cheek.  Dorian visibly shuddered at the badly tied cravat around the man's neck and averted his eyes.

"And you are?" Sir Percival asked, raising his eyebrows at his unexpected guest.

"Citizen Franco Juliani," the man said, scowling at the English aristocrats standing before him.  He turned to Klaus, saying, "I am relieved to hear that you think little of this thief, Major.  You and I appear to be the only sensible men at this gathering."  Juliani looked around him with undisguised disgust.

Klaus scowled, not pleased to be linked to a damned frog.  "The thief is not without his good points.  He is competent at what he does and he is brave."

There were murmurs of agreement and more fluttering of fans, and the Ambassador deftly moved to change subjects.

"Herr B, I understand that you are soon to leave us?"

Herr B nodded and, after a cautious look at his superior, added,  "I have been assigned to the Court of Saint James, as a liaison between our delegations here and there.  I leave at the end of the week."

"What a happy coincidence!" Dorian exclaimed. "I am returning to London in a few days myself, via Brussels, on a matter of great importance."

"More clothes?" Klaus asked sardonically.

"Boots," Dorian said simply, gesturing down at his feet.  "The French are geniuses for fashion but their boot-making is atrocious.  Give me good English leather any day."  He gave Citizen Juliani an apologetic look.  "No offense intended, Monsieur."

Juliani looked the Earl up and down and curled his lip.  "Your entire person is an offense."  

He turned his back on Dorian, focusing his attention on Klaus, ignoring the angry mutters from the crowd around them. The Earl of Gloria was a great favorite with the majority of the diplomatic corps and they took the insult towards him personally.  Dorian, on the other hand, surveyed the Citizen with amusement.

"Major, I understand that many of your countrymen are sympathetic to our goals.  May I assume that you are one such?" Juliani asked, looking certain of a favorable response.

He was not to get one.  Major von dem Eberbach was given to harsh outbursts, even violence, toward the foppish Earl of Gloria.  However, the irritating pervert was his to insult, not this buffoon's.  

"No, you may not so assume," he said harshly.  "Your revolution may have had lofty goals at first, but it has become little more than an uncontrolled mob thirsting for blood.  You have murdered your king and invaded my homeland.  You receive no sympathy from me."

There was a gasp from the onlookers and Juliani’s face turned an ugly shade of red that made his scar stand out even more.  Klaus ignored him as he turned to Dorian and said curtly, "Lord Gloria, you will give me advice on having Herr B obtain such boots from London.  They cannot, of course, compare to good German boots, but I have to make due until I can return home."

A delighted smile lit up Dorian’s face and he gave Klaus a little bow in acknowledgement.  "Your devoted servant, Major."  He gestured toward a secluded area of the drawing room.  "Shall we talk privately?"

Klaus snorted.  "Don’t be an idiot, Gloria."  He stomped over to the punch bowl.

Dorian gave Juliani a flourishing bow, just to infuriate the man.  "Your servant, Citizen.  Margaret – ladies."  He kissed his fingers to them and then followed Klaus.

Neither man saw the ugly look that suffused Citizen Juliani’s face, or the white knuckles on his clenched hand.  But Margaret and Herr B saw, and each feared that the Earl and the Major had made a bitter enemy. 

Chapter Text

Part 2: Our Cast Expands

Chapter 1: New Orders

 

March 1, 1793

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach stared down on the Place de la Revolution from the offices of the Cologne Legation, temporarily lodged in the French Naval building.  In the past month since the beheading of the French king, activity in the Place had increased, and none of it pleasant. The guillotine seemed to be permanently placed there.  And with the creation of the Watch Committee and the subsequent arrests of many of the nobility and clergy of France, it looked like more would follow their king into the guillotine's embrace.  

He frowned as he watched the crowds gather in anticipation of the afternoon’s ‘entertainment’.  He, like Goethe and many other Germans of his age and station, had approved of the initial goals of the Revolution: equality for all and an end to the excesses of the nobility.  But the rise of the more extreme factions in the new government, the increased violence of the mobs culminating in the September Massacres, the death of Louis XVI, and now the bloody bickering between the two most prominent factions in the National Assembly, had left a bad taste in his mouth.  

Klaus turned away from the window, his attention once more on the letter from his father.  The French had invaded the Rhineland the previous year, and although they had not yet reached Bonn, the unrest in the area worried him.  He would have asked for leave to return to Bonn, had his duty not been elsewhere.

"Major!"

He turned towards his current superior, the consul sent from the Electorate of Cologne, with a scowl.  The man was an idiot, a fat toady to whoever was in power at the moment, and the Major had little respect for him. The fact that Herr Twittenheim didn't appear to notice his contempt reinforced his disrespect for the man.

"Sir," he said stiffly.

The Consul held out a document.  "Your new orders, Major.  You are to leave for London at the end of the week."

His scowl deepened.  "I prefer to remain at my post here, sir."

"Your sentiments do you credit, Major.  However, it is no longer safe for you to remain here in Paris, given your family’s connection to the Habsburgs."  He gave Klaus a patronizing smile, one that made the Major grind his teeth with suppressed fury.  The Consul’s own roots were plebeian at best, and in consequence he both fawned on and resented those of higher birth.

Klaus waved a hand in dismissal; he had never paid much attention to the family bloodlines, given that he had no intention of fathering another generation – that was his older brother’s duty.  "A distant connection at best, sir."

"Graf von dem Eberbach is concerned, and the Archbishop agrees that the execution of his brother-in-law puts any German of blood at risk.  Better safe than sorry, eh?"

Klaus took the papers, resisting the urge to snarl at the man.  "Yes, sir."

"You will take your Alphabets with you," the Consul continued, handing over another set of documents.  "Although once you are settled, you are to send back one of them to act as liaison between our offices.  Perhaps that sweet Herr G?"

He leered and Klaus resolved to send anyone but Herr G.  Perhaps Z would be best; Herr Z was intelligent and capable, although not as experienced as Herr A.  And he was a good Catholic German boy, not likely to succumb to the perverted attentions of the Consul.

"Is there anything else, sir?" he asked.

"You must seek an audience with the Regent," Twittenheim added.  "England must come to our country's aid, before France swallows us all whole.  It is vital, Major.  You must not fail."

Klaus made a face but nodded his understanding.  The Prince of Wales held a lot of power in England at the moment, given George III's fluctuating health.  He also stood in the center of the decadent crowd that Gloria moved in, and Klaus knew that he'd be unable to avoid the man's society.

As if reading his mind, the Consul added, "Make some friends among those in the Prince of Wales' circle - that will help.  Your friend, the Earl of Goria, is a prime favorite - start there."

"Gloria is not my friend," Klaus growled but the Consul ignored him, advising him to go home to pack for his trip.

Klaus had never felt more like swearing.