3rd Episode in the Black Chamber: The Dossiers Series
The shadowy organization operating behind the scenes throughout the novel Black Chamber: Paradise Lost did not materialize overnight. The powerful organization was centuries in the making. Let’s travel back in time and see if we can get a glimpse of how it all came to be. if you missed the beginning of this series, go here.
August 1st, 1589
Field Headquarters of King Henry III
Jacques Clément arrived in Saint-Cloud late the night before. He made the eleven mile trek from Paris on horseback and had arrived under the cover of darkness. He made a stop along the way and changed his clothing to that of a priest, confident that the disguise would enable him to gain a private audience with the king. It was now half past seven in the morning, and he was entering the encampment of King Henry III. Jacques was a Jacobin friar, the most radical religious order born out of France’s religious wars, and his order had learned that the king planned to attack Paris the next day. Paris was under the control of the Catholic League, an armed group who had rebelled against royal policy the year before, and forced the king to flee the city. King Henry III was himself a defender of the Roman faith, but ever since he had been elected as king of Poland, which was heavily Protestant, he had become more moderate in his views. This was unacceptable in the eyes of Catholic zealots, so in 1588 they rebelled. Now, the king had returned to take back his capital, and Jacques had no intention of allowing that to happen.
Jacques rode past the perimeter guards, who barely gave him a second glance, and made his way toward the royal tent. No one questioned the presence of a priest, though the royal guards at the entrance of the king’s tent inquired as to the purpose of his visit.
“The king has those within the city who are loyal to him, and one of them has sent an urgent message.” Jacques retrieved a sealed envelope from his robe and showed the guard. “It is imperative that the king read it at once.”
“Wait here.” said one of the guards, who turned and ducked inside of the tent.
It was only 68 degrees, but Jacques was sweating beneath his robe. If he were found out, he would die where he stood. Dying wasn’t what concerned him, it was the thought of failing in his mission that he could not bear. He slipped the envelope back into his robe.
He could hear voices coming from inside of the tent, and then the footsteps of the returning guard. The flap of the tent flew back and the guard appeared.
“You may enter, but be brief. The king has much to do.”
The guard stepped to the side and held open the flap so Jacques could enter. Jacques stepped through the opening, paused a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light, and then made his way deeper into the king’s tent. Inside the main chamber was the king’s bed, a writing desk, and several large trunks. In the center of the tent was an ornate chair that served as a kind of portable throne. The floor of the tent was covered in layers of large carpets.
Jacques’s eyes searched around the inside of the tent. Standing side-by-side, and between him and the king, were two more royal guards, both armed with swords. They would be the king’s most trusted, combat hardened guardians, and both were eyeing him suspiciously. He had done nothing to arouse their suspicion, but the safety of the king was their responsibility so they watched all newcomers carefully.
From behind the two guards the king spoke.
“A visit from a priest on the battlefield. Should I take this as a good omen, or should I be concerned?”
Jacques bowed. “Forgive my interruption your majesty. I bring an urgent message from your loyal followers within the city.”
“Come.” The king responded. The guards stepped aside and allowed Jacques to pass. To Jacques’s surprise, the king was sitting on a close stool, a kind of portable toilet, and motioned him to step closer.
“What message do you bring priest?”
Jacques looked nervously around the room, and then back into the eyes of the king. “Forgive me Your highness, I was asked to share this message with you only. It is feared there may be spies within the camp.”
King Henry III eyed the priest standing before him, and wondered what the message could be. He motioned for his guards to step outside. Once the guards were gone, the king leaned forward and motioned for Jacques to come even closer.
Jacques stepped over to the king. A calm had settled over him, and though he knew he would never leave the tent alive, he knew he was about to accomplish what he had set out to do. He leaned over to whisper in the king’s ear, and as the king turned his head to listen, Jacques slipped his hand inside the sleeve of his habit and closed his fingers around the hilt of a dagger.
As he slowly retrieved the dagger, he whispered, “Paris shall never be yours.”
The king’s head snapped around to face the priest at the exact moment the dagger plunged into his abdomen.
“Gardens! Aides moi!” The king screamed as the searing pain engulfed him. He yanked the knife from his gut and slashed at his assailant.
Jacques fell backwards as he avoided the king’s attack. He crawled away as fast as he could, struggling to get to his knees just as the guards came rushing back into the tent, swords dawn. The guards took in the scene at once. Their king had fallen to the floor of the tent, bloody hands grasping his abdomen, and the priest was lunging to his feet. Both guards moved in for the kill.
Jacques knew what was about to happen, and he accepted it. Still, he had no desire to go quietly. He threw himself at the nearest guard, tackling him to the ground. He felt the red hot pain of cold steel piercing his kidney. He rolled off the guard, trying to strip the sword from his hand. He looked up at the other guard who now stood directly over him. With all his might, Jacques delivered a kick to the groin of his would-be killer. The guard dropped his sword, and cried out in agony as Jacques struggled to his feet. He scooped up the sword from the ground and slashed down at the guard on the ground, but the guard was not there. Jacques spun around to find his target but he was too late. The guard ran him through.
Jacques looked down at the hilt pressed into his gut, and then up into the eyes of his killer, blood bubbling from his lips. “For the glory of God, I gladly spill my blood for France.”
Jacques died on his feet, suspended on the sword of his enemy. As the life ebbed out of him, his body slid from the blade to the floor, a soft smile fading from his lips.
August 4th, 1589
Windsor Castle, England
Sir Francis Walsingham strolled through the East Terrace Garden, but he was not there take in the beauty of the meticulously maintained grounds. He wandered down the brick pathway, pausing from time to time to smell a flower or inspect a plant. To anyone watching him, he would appear to be on a casual stroll through one of the castle’s many gardens. In reality, he was there to retrieve a message that had been hidden at a prearranged spot. When he had finally reached the spot where the message should be, he bent over as though he was admiring a stand of Royal Purple Lilacs. While his hands gently grasped the stalk of the nearest lilac, his left foot flipped over a small round stone beneath the bunch of flowers. The underside of the stone had been marked with three vertical lines that had been connected by one horizontal line. A smile began to form on his face. This was the the news for which he had been waiting. King Henry III of France was dead.
He stood upright, his foot flipping the stone back over as he did so. He continued his slow walk through the garden, a flurry of thoughts going through his mind. His plan had worked, and his newest alliances were being solidified. His reputation as a spymaster and loyal subject of the queen was becoming widely known. What was not widely known was the true extent of his power and how far his reach spread throughout the world. He was creating a sort of international deep state, and no one was even remotely aware.
Sir Francis, hands clasped behind his back, made his way back toward the castle. With France now heading in the direction he wanted, it was time to focus on the next step.
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