Chapter 7: With the Huguenot League
That night the fog cleared away, and the company of men slept peacefully in the woods under the glistening stars overhead. Theodore felt rather sick, and consequently, had trouble falling to sleep. That day he had seen, in a matter of moments, more violence than he had ever witnessed before in his life. And if it wasn’t for this Huguenot League, he, his uncle, and his guide and companion Charles, would certainly all have perished – would have been riddled with crossbow darts! These thoughts caused him to revert to one of his favorite pastimes, deep reflection.
As he carried on in this way, he was suddenly startled by voices, talking. Presently, he realized that he was not the only one awake, and that in fact, two men were sitting up conversing with one another. Brushing aside his own thoughts, including the one that suggested he should not eavesdrop, he devoted himself chiefly to listening.
“It’s nice to have some quiet,” a lower voice was saying. Theodore recognized it as being Mark’s. “Nowadays, I anticipate in the day, the coming of the night.”
“You are strange in that respect, my friend,” the other voice, Charles, replied. He was stoking and arranging a fire that had burnt down to ashes. “If I anticipate the night, it is only because I am tired in the day. But you, and you have always been this way, never seem to tire out. There! At least we have some light!” The wood and kindling had quickly caught fire when he laid it over the hot ashes. “And now, seeing as it is just you and me, we can catch up with one another. Spare me no details.”
“I am not quite sure what you mean,” Mark said, his face grimmer and sterner than usual.
Charles’s toothpick began to turn. “What I mean is, what’s up in the wide and wild world – you know, since I’ve left it.”
Mark chuckled quietly, and then said, “I think it is fair that we begin by you telling me why you are back out here. After all, last I heard of you, you had retired to the saintly Swiss town of Geneva, never to return, you and all the secrets you carry. Then, I find a group of three men beset by a garrison of soldiers, I am moved by pity, I rescue them out of my own goodwill, and find that amongst them, is you! And in your natural atmosphere as well. I think you owe me some explanation.”
This time Charles chuckled. “I couldn’t help it. I had to come back out, to France. The young man with me – we developed a friendly relationship – I having saved him from a mad dog – he decided he was going to France. To fight for our liberty.”
“I see. Nonetheless, I thought you would have resisted the first temptation a little better.”
“France will be no worse by my being here,” Charles said with pride. “Theodore and I, and his worthy uncle, a philosopher… a philosopher… a studious man… are going to La Rochelle.”
“Good timing!” Mark said. “My followers and I are also heading there. We can escort you – you’ll be less likely to fall into trouble… again.” He smiled. “Many of the towns hereabouts have had their eyes on you three, that is evident by the way those crossbow men assailed you without asking questions.”
“How do you know this?”
“It seems you have aroused suspicions your whole way, wandering through the woods, as you have been; and, as you know, now, France is in a very suspicious mood.”
“It’s not hard to see that the third war is coming,” Charles said rather gravely. “I expect the time is coming in which La Rochelle will play a fatal role.”
“For the Huguenot League, knowing and seeing what we do and have, the war has already begun. Indeed, it began for us not long after the last war had ended!”
For a while there was silence.
Charles spoke. “I assume you bear with you to La Rochelle many secrets. Do you not?”
“I do not deny. And there they will be made known to the various leaders.”
Charles silently missed the days when he was one of those prominent leaders.
“Can you tell me?” he asked. “I’ve been dying for information these days.”
At length Mark said, “I suppose you can hear when we get to La Rochelle.”
Charles figured that he wasn’t going to get a better bargain, so for a while he was silent. Mark began to doze, when Charles awoke him by saying, “Let me tell you something we saw, while in the Alps.”
“Oh?” was the perfunctory reply given. “What did you see?”
“A party of Spanish… burying a man!” Charles answered.
“That does not strike me as being an unordinary circumstance,” Mark said dryly, “In the Alps, nor in all of Europe!”
Charles twitched his nose and his toothpick scurried to the other side of his mouth. “They were led by a Frenchman. He had an ugly gash on his forehead, and his scalp was bald.”
“All this means nothing to me,” Mark said, a little irritated. He was no fan of riddles.
For a while, all was quiet.
Finally, Charles continued, looking down at the ground. “Does the name Firmin de Schomberg ring a bell in your head?”
Mark’s indifferent face turned a new leaf, in an instant. It was deathly pale – deathly pale. His whole disposition suddenly became alert, his eyes opened wide and shone brightly.
Charles looked up.
“You are disturbed.”
There was a chilling gust of wind. The darkness grew darker, until Mark’s face was about the only thing that could be seen.
“Disturbed? Tell me, you did not see this man – alive?”
“That I have,” Charles replied. “Is that, bad?”
“I am grim enough for remembrance of the past. The battles I have fought. The horrors I have seen. The men I have lost. But you have brought back an old and terrible enemy from my past, and into the present.”
“Let it be known that I didn’t mean to,” Charles was a little spooked by the ghostly expression on his companion’s face.
“I thought I killed him, little more than a year ago!”
“What do you mean?”
“When once our league, at least, the men of our league I had with me, came upon him and his Spanish following, I slashed his head open with my sword. He went down. I thought my troubles with him were over. I never thought he would rise!”
Theodore had long ago begun to curse himself for not being asleep and for his egregious sin of eavesdropping. The conversation was not taking a delightful turn, especially not one that would aid him in his sleep endeavors, and he felt dreadfully afraid at what he was hearing.
“I do remember hearing of him before, now,” Charles said. “A leader of a Spanish force…”
“With no other creed but to destroy Protestantism and make rich off of the persecuted church,” Mark finished. “Our persecuted church. This could mean more for our upcoming discussion in La Rochelle.”
Charles opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it again. All would be revealed in La Rochelle.
He and his companion retired to bed. Theodore drifted to sleep with a troubled mind.
For the next few days, Theodore, Charles, and Johanne were privileged to travel over France with Mark and his gathering of men from the Huguenot League. Other Huguenot Leaguers were spread far and wide over the country, but with Mark there were about three dozen, whereas generally the Huguenot League was dispersed by only twos or threes.
Mark was no ordinary Huguenot Leaguer, but a man of impressive capability and wisdom. He was, Theodore later learned, unique in that he was the mouthpiece of the League, and a sort of leader. He was chosen, or sacrificed, by his peers to serve in that capacity, for most of the other prominent men in that society knew their lives were much safer if they kept themselves secret, and it was better that one should serve diplomatically while the rest of the leaders avoid the towns and cities. Even in a Huguenot city like La Rochelle, in constant insurrection to the Crown, there could be traitors to the cause, which was one reason Mark had so many men with him.
The Huguenot League, being by nature, an entity based on spying, intelligence and clandestine affairs, seldom entered any large city proclaiming itself publicly. Therefore, Charles knew that there must be some ominous secret driving them there, and he was somewhat anxious to find out what it was.
As they traveled, Theodore became familiar with the different members of the party. They were all vigorous men, experienced in the art of war, and they showed and taught him many things. Under their training, Theodore improved his fencing skills, and learned how to effectively use a dagger. The man Thibault, who had been with the Huguenot League since its inception, saw a promising marksman in Theodore, and spent hours in those days teaching him how to shoot pistol and crossbow.
All this was watched by Johanne, who, day by day, was becoming more and more dubious as to the journey he was taking.
“Hot blooded warmongers, that’s what these men are,” he said to himself one day as he watched Theodore and another man parrying back and forth with swords. “I know what will happen. The war they desire will come, and wash all of them (except for me and Theodore, if we’re lucky) off the face of the earth. How hasty some people are to waste and lose their lives for the sake of religion!”