The Italian Hatmaker: The Merchant Men

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They crept silently into each tent. The Whispering Merchant had sent them to awaken each king. The Merchant had bought time yesterday by requesting a meeting at noon the next day. Each King had agreed, not knowing what they were in store for. They both awoke to a masked figure sitting in their tents.

The Merchant’s men wore the ‘Merchant’ families’ trademark dark blue colors over their white armor. Each held an orange hilted sword in their hands. The Kings almost ordered the figure in their tent eliminated, until they remembered the stories of the Merchant’s warriors.

It was said they could kill a man while sitting on the ground. Neither royal wanted to know whether or not this was true. “I have tidings from the Merchant. You have angered our family, insulted us, and dishonored our agreements. At noon, your soldiers will face great challenges, unless you appease at the meeting. Meet the Merchant in the blue tent near the water’s edge in an hour, if you want to live.”

Almost as quickly as they had entered, they had left. Each King was shaken, they didn’t want to fight this way. In an hour, they rode to the blue tent that had went up in the night. It was lined, inside and out, with white armored, navy clad warriors, with orange hilted swords.

The King of England spoke first. “Defend yourself Merchant! I have kept my agreement, I suspect so has my cousin the King of France.” The King of France nodded. “His majesty is right, we are both honorable this day.” Then the figure in the middle of the tent laughed.

“The threat of death has brought you both, and the fear of it has reminded you of your connection. Two of three cousins want peace, but the one that matters is the silent one in the room. The Heir Of Alan is also in this tent, and he has convinced me that it is time for an adjustment.”

They were both alarmed now, which is exactly where the ‘Merchant’ wanted them. “Imagine my forces and his soldiers, not to mention all of your unhappy countrymen. What a war that would make, are you each prepared for it?” The two young kings started to draw their swords, only to be surrounded by warriors.

“I would think without your tempers. If I wanted your heads, I would have them. You have both walked into a trap that your fathers would have refused. It shows your youth, and your naivety.” The English king answered angrily. “We didn’t respond blindly, our best soldiers stand beside us, and more are near awaiting our signals.”

“You’ve witnessed my warriors’ ability this morning. Do you think you would live to give the signal?” The King Of France grit his teeth. “What do you want then? A ransom?” The Merchant smiled. “We will take 100 pounds of gold from you both. With it, you each buy peace, and to show your goodwill, you both give up the Princess. My price is the gold, Alan’s price is the hand of the King’s sister.”

The two kings stepped to a corner, a quick truce was formed between them. The price was agreed upon, and they rode off together. No one moved for an hour, until The Merchant’s spies confirmed that the Kings had broken camp.

Sir Robert removed the patches over his eyes, and the wig. Henri, the Princess, Giuseppe, and Ethan removed their helmets. Giuseppe had been the intruder in the English king’s tent, Princess Laurel had been the one in her brother’s tent. Sir Robert and Henri had both secured their entrance with some sleeping powder smoked into the tent hours earlier.

The groggy kings, and their servants were too drugged to attack. “How did you know they would show up?” Ethan asked. “I know my King, Laurel and Henri knew her brother. We attacked their pride, and then chided them with it.” Sir Robert responded.

“Oui, ‘your fathers wouldn’t have made the mistake’ secured it. Still, we had to keep them from getting too angry.” Henri added. “If they had, the two would have fought in spite of the odds. They played them well. What was the part over my hand?” Laurel questioned.

Sir Robert smiled. “Your Highness, I am happily married to a lady that I plan on seeing as soon as I leave here. However, I happen to know an Italian merchant, who sells hats, that needs a partner.” Laurel hugged Sir Robert. “You bought my freedom, thank you!”

Giuseppe shook Sir Robert’s hand. “How can we thank you?” “You can thank me by falling in love, by marrying this young cousin of mine, and producing many children.” They had done just that, and were as happy today as on that day.

The two soldiers of their kings, had each returned half the gold to their country’s coffers. The rest repaired villages, Churches, and fed hungry people in each country.

You’ll notice that neither King is mentioned by name in this story, you’ll also notice that at the start Ethan referred to the fact that Laurel’s father was the king, and not her brother. The reasons are quite simple, they also were part of my one mistake as an agent of Alan.

You see, my name is Ethan, and I have shared this story with you. I was one of two confederates in the camp of Sir Robert. My orders were to protect the Hatmaker at any cost. I never lied to my friend, I just didn’t share the news.

This story is written in my journal, all names, including my own are altered. Still, I promised Sir Robert and Henri, not to give a hint to the identity of either king. Each went on to rule well, and kindly. They learned from their mistakes, so we will not risk their reputations here.

The other confederate was Laurel’s father, who was supposed to be dead. Sir Robert had saved his life at Tréal. The king’s enemies had thought him dead. He was content to continue the charade, if it bought his family safety. While not privy to the secret of Alan, he had secured Sir Robert’s help.

The former king did not want his daughter to marry for any reason other than love. So through Sir Robert’s aid, I was selected as matchmaker/bodyguard. The two of them only learned the truth shortly before saving my neck from hanging. That however is a tale for another time, or you might say, another feather in the cap of The Italian Hatmaker.

The Italian Hatmaker: Eliminating Check Mate

Henri rode into camp. Sir Robert had sent a messenger, and a sealed note for Henri’s eyes only. It said to meet him in Alan’s tent. If anyone asks, he was only to say that he was going to Alan’s camp, consulting with Sir Robert, and meeting with the Whispering Merchant.

Henri got off his horse, and walked into the tent alone. Sir Robert was seated at a desk. There was a screen that covered half the room. A voice greeted them both from behind the screen. “Welcome gentlemen!”

Henri smiled. “Is this where the performance happens?” Sir Robert laughed. “Most times it is, of course they are are usually about twenty years apart. Our family have a talent for mimicry, and throwing our voice.”

“When did you know?” “When I saw how Alan’s soldier looked at you when you asked if Alan was here?” Sir Robert nodded. “Alex is a good man, but not an actor. Go ahead and ask Henri.”

“What is the purpose?” Sir Robert sighed. “To eliminate check mate. Tell me Henri, how do you keep two chess kings from gaining superiority, one against the other?” Henri, somewhat of a good player himself, said. “You force a stalemate.”

“Many years ago, Alan The Great proposed a plan to the Kings Of England and France. Kings know that there is only one Kingdom that lasts forever Henri.  His plan was this, whichever line was eliminated in the future, that line’s memory would be kept.  Not to honor, and not out of vanity, but as a tool.”

“It was to be a way to keep the other two kingdoms in check. Through the possibility of a third party with a hereditary pedigree. To keep the others from needless bloodshed.  They turned him down, so he secured a promise from his family.  Generation after generation of Alan has kept the threat in the public.”

“So, given the escalating threats of our two young kings, you felt the need to produce a stale mate.  How did you secure the Whispering Merchant?”  “Over time, my ancestors have added to the legend.  They produced, when necessary, a family to substantiate Alan, usually, the heir in disguise.”

“You’ve never had to actually produce the heir.”  Sir Robert smiled.  “Never. ‘The family of the merchants’, have successfully discouraged either country from following through.  This is the closest we’ve come, but our kings are young, and stubborn.”

“So where does the legend of ‘The Flying Swordsman’ factor in?” “That started with my Grandfather.  He found himself in service to the King Of England, his bravery earned that title.  My Father, and myself, have tried to do it justice.  I love England, and I miss it. I love my country’s king. I have always served loyally.”

“Like you, I am a royal cousin. I am a legitimate and direct heir to Alan, but I have no wish to rule.  Also, I wish no ill to the King Of France.  I am afraid Henri, that their youth will overtake their welfare.  You and I have some gray in our hair.  We have fought enough battles to hate the taste of it.  If we can, safely introduce this fear to them today, it will save many lives.”

“What of my Princess, and the two prisoners?”  “I would encourage them to do what my family has for generations.  Hide in plain sight, serve in some quiet way, and live happily ever after.” Henri agreed.  “As you miss England, I miss my house.  Let’s get everyone home.”

A production was set in motion, one involving soldiers instead of actors. This group included a collection of misfits with noble hearts. Two valiant soldiers, an escaped princess, and two brave fugitives.  One of which was, ‘The Italian Hatmaker’, whose particular skills would be vital, if they were to secure the peace.

The Italian Hatmaker: I Wouldn’t Have To Ask

“Then we will make camp here. Princess, after we and your soldiers setup camp, they will tie Ethan and myself up. If either King investigates, they will find their cousin a hero. You will give us to whichever King arrives first. This will rescue your life, and buy us the time.”

Giuseppe didn’t wait for an argument, he simply started gathering wood for a fire. Ethan froze in place. As the Italian Hatmaker walked into the woods beside their new camp, the Princess spoke to Ethan. “He’s brave isn’t he? To volunteer for captivity is gallant.”

Ethan looked at her, aroused from his shock. “It’s better than dying isn’t your Majesty?” This time it was the Princess who froze momentarily, then she whispered. “Perhaps, but captivity is not easy.” “No your Highness, I guess it isn’t, even if it’s from a palace.” With that, Ethan went off to help his friend.

Now, Henri joined her. “You take to many risks your Highness.” “I suppose I do Henri, but my brother knows how desperate I am. I left him a letter before I volunteered to be ‘kidnapped’ by our English cousin. In it I explained that I would die if I married for any reason other than love.”

Henri looked at the strong young lady that he had grew up serving. “What do you suppose his response would be?” She laughed a laugh that was both painful and cruel. Although the cruelty was not hers, it was a mimic of her brother. “Then marry for love of your kingdom my sister. You’ll learn to love my ally in time.”

“I take it you’ve had this part of the conversation with him before?” “The night before I left Paris, I escaped, I suspected that I would never find love if I hadn’t.” Henri smiled. “I suspect that the hat maker’s friend was right, you think you may like him?” “I don’t know him Henri, but I would like to see what he looked like minus the beard and mustache.”

“I suspect, it would have to be but spoken, and he’d be willing.” She shook her head no. “I would not ask that on a whim. If he loved me, I wouldn’t have to ask at all.” With that remark, the Princess walked towards her horse.

Henri found Giuseppe and Ethan. “The Princess favors you my friend, but not your companion.” Ethan immediately took offense. “I’m not partial to her either!” Henri laughed. “Not you my friend, the one that protects Giuseppe’s chin. She does not like his beard, nor his mustache for that matter.”

Giuseppe flashed with an anger of his own. “I have had them both since I was a young man. Why should I shave them for a woman that called me ugly!” Henri laughed. “It was not you of which she spoke, it was of your companions.” “Why should I care?” “Oh, but you do don’t you. I know it is asking a lot, and she did not ask. The Princess would not be pleased that I am here.”

“Then why are you?” “My Wife and I were walking through Paris one day. We passed by a small flower cart, filled with the most beautiful flowers. I commented on how I enjoyed the carnations, but my wife preferred the lily.” “And Henri?” “We have such beautiful rows of lilies outside our home.”

“I can say goodbye to the beard, but not the mustache. My Mother remarked how much it made me look like my Father.” “I wonder what your Father gave up to see your Mother smile? For now, remove the beard. See if the reaction you receive will warrant saying goodbye to the other as well.”

He handed Giuseppe a razor, and walked away. The Italian Hatmaker returned to camp minus his beard. He would forget the other old friend, the one under is nose, just as soon as he saw the smile that graced the Princess’ face.

The Italian Hatmaker: Gaining Time

“It is not permitted!”  Princess Laurel said as she rode up with several troops at a gallop following. The small group was alarmed to see her, but none more than Henri. “Your Highness, this is no place for you. What if the two kings follow?”
“They haven’t followed me, I’ve followed them. They both intend to have a resolution. One has announced that he will produce his ally, the Heir Of Alan, while the other threatens to expose him as an imposter.”
Sir Robert sighed, “Henri, your king will accuse England of exactly what it’s Monarch is trying to do. Produce a fake heir. Giuseppe, he has guessed, not hearing from me, that you would travel here. It’s where he expects to meet the Whispering Merchant.”
Giuseppe was angry. “Meaning the power merchant who he has bribed to falsify me as Alan’s heir. I am tired of this. I am Giuseppe Cavallaro, an Italian hat maker. I am not a mysterious king, but I will fight two arrogant ones. Sir Robert, you may return to your camp and tell his majesty, I will meet him tomorrow, on the field of battle!”
Princess Laurel sighed. “That’s the trouble with all of you, too dramatic for your own good. You’re right about one thing, you’re a hat maker. My English cousin, and egotistical brother will kill you! Then I’ll be carted off to marry some political ally.”
Ethan did what only came natural to him, he laughed. “You two sound like an old married couple. She cares for you my Italian friend.” This made Giuseppe laugh, “Hardly, this sarcastic one, the first night we met said how ugly I was.” “I said your mustache was ugly, and I see it’s but a physical reflection of a lack of character!”
Sir Robert interrupted.  “They’ll be time enough for all of this at another time.  Now, we have to secure the safety of England and France.”  He looked at the soldiers of La Garde Alan.  “Is Alan here?”  The leader looked somewhat surprised, but quickly recovered.  “Yes, his tent is ready at our headquarters.”  “Take me to it, I will not leave things this way.”  Henri spoke.  “What are your intentions?  Will you act as the Flying Swordsman, the Servant Of The King, or Protector Of The Innocent this day?”

Sir Robert looked at his friend and smiled.  “Yes to all.  Henri, you know that neither King, although well meaning, could handle what they are attempting to accomplish.  They wish to up end the scales, I wish to maintain the balance.  Today, we will serve all by serving well.  Together, we must do what we can to spare both our countries from getting an upper hand.  Trust me, fight with me, and free both of our countries.”

The two soldiers shook hands, and Sir Robert was off.  Princess Laurel looked at her soldiers. “We will camp here.  If my brother, or my cousin, sees us in the camp of Alan, they will both attack immediately.  We must do what we can to insure we are gaining time to our side.”

The Italian Hatmaker: La Garde Alan

Henri shook his head. “How will we do that?” Giuseppe questioned,”We?” The two Royal representatives looked at each other. Sir Robert spoke first. “It seems to me, that we can’t help you succeed, but we can help you find his camp.”

Henri agreed. “Oui. It will be each of our duty to persuade him to our perspective cause. In order to do that, we must first find him. It seems that at least until that moment, we are on the same side.”

The words rang in Ethan’s ears, “at least until that moment”. He woke Giuseppe up in the night. “Giuseppe, they’re only going to try and stop us. We must get away.” The tailor sighed, “We tried that. This way, we can use their help, until they will help us no longer.”

Ethan, looked out into the darkness, “I’m not so sure.” Giuseppe laughed. “Do you really think we could get away?” At that moment, their supposedly sleeping companions added their thoughts. “I wouldn’t try it, would you Henri?” “No, it seems a mistake to me.” Ethan angrily lay back down.

The next morning they were on their way to Brittany. Their object was not Alan’s heir, but his protectors. The ‘La Garde Alan was rumored to be active on three continents. Whether true or not, they would find a faction in Nantes.  They knew they were on the right path when they when three men met them on a road outside of town.

Sir Robert spoke first.  “We are here to see the ‘La Garde Alan commander.  I’m aware that your Alan is in hiding, and I prefer it for now. We merely wish to talk.” The men did not move, the eldest spoke slowly.  “I am the Commander, and I understand what you say.  My only question to you sir is how would you like to die?”

The Italian Hatmaker: The Heir Of Alan

“They are out there somewhere.” “Oui, you just had to help them.” “You just had to chase them.” “It’s Tréal all over again.” Sir Robert laughed. “I saved your life at Tréal.” “I suppose it’s time to return the favor.”

Sir Robert stifled a laugh. “You wouldn’t kill your brother in law.” “No, but the King won’t allow you to live as easily. The next time he finds you, he will kill you.” “He isn’t still mad over Tréal?”

Zachary laughed this time. “He is furious, you stole his woman, and his diamonds.” “She was my fiancé. Plus, those were the King of England’s diamonds.” “That was his opinion, he just happens to feel that he is King of both countries.” “So he’s no longer mad over Izzette?”

At that point, General Armure slapped Sir Robert’s horse and he carried him off into the night. He was safe, for now, but Zachary couldn’t protect any of them. The King was intent on winning, and Sir Robert longed for England.

He returned to a nearby field, out of sight of Zachary’s guards. Tomorrow, they would discover a tied up General, and an escaped prisoner, provided he wasn’t spotted tonight. “You escaped?” Henri asked from near him. “You know he is my brother-in-law Henri, so officially, yes I escaped.” “I wasn’t sure if it were that, or if it was that he was part of ‘La Garde Alan’.”  “If he were, would I tell you?” Henri smiled.

Guiseppe was tired, hungry, and cold. He was tired. “I want answers! What is going on? Why am I involved?” Sir Robert looked at him. “You are what is known in Chess as a Pawn. You are caught in a vacuum between two very powerful leaders. The King Of England and the King Of France.”
“That much I’ve figured out. What is the rest?”

Henri spoke. “Years ago, the area of France, known as Brittany, was independent. Alan The Great was on the throne.  Years later, the last ruler married into the French Royal Family. Another heir of Alan, from a different blood line, has been found. His pedigree has been verified by important people. If he claims the throne of Brittany, there will be war. It will give England an opportunity to attack, in defense of a native son.”

Sir Robert finished the tale. “Some think his ship was lost on the way from his stronghold. Others say he is in hiding. The King Of France wants to force you to pretend you are him, and proclaim loyalty to France.  The King Of England wants you to do the opposite.”

“Why choose me? Do I look like him?” Henri finished.”No, but that doesn’t matter, it’s your voice. You sound like him, and the person that matters can no longer see. They will trust your voice.” “Who is this person?” “That is the only thing that the two kings agree on, no one is to know who the person is. His name isn’t known to me.”

Sir Robert spoke. “I’m not sure we would recognize the name if we were to hear it. Power Brokers aren’t always famous. I know this though, the fate of two countries aren’t resting in his hands, but in yours. What are you going to do?” Guiseppe knew. “Find the Heir Of Alan! Then I am free to return home.”

The Italian Hatmaker: The Flying Swordsman

“He is known as The Flying Swordsman. He works on special projects for The King Of England. Some say he is part of the Royal Family. Either way, he is after you both.” Giuseppe was tempted to think that this was all some exaggeration to scare them, but he could see the fear in Henri’s eyes.

They made it to Champagne before he caught up with them.  It was outside of a little inn kwown as Silent Peace.  Henri had planned to stay there because he liked the name.  Henri was a warrior, but out of necessity, and not choice.  The Flying Swordsman knew that, so he too liked the irony.

The Swordsman did not attack in the night, it would have ended in a very different way than he wanted.  Instead, he waited until the afternoon.  He was positioned in a field adjacent to the inn when he called to them.

“I am the King’s Special Envoy, I request to speak with Henri and his two companions.  I propose a truce.”  Henri didn’t trust him.  “Why would the Flying Swordsman ask for a truce?  Why not attack?  You are rumored to be the greatest swordsmen in two countries.”

“No one is that good, not even me. The Flying Swordsman has two feet, I may leap high, but I cannot soar.  What I can accomplish is a peaceful resolution Henri.”  Henri looked at his two companions, they agreed.

The three walked out to see Sir Robert Clayworth standing before them.  “Like you Henri, I am a servant.  I come, not to seek bloodshed, but a resolution.”  The two soldiers shook hands.  The Princess’ Warrior and The King’s Flying Swordsman started to find out that their goals were  more in line than at first thought.

It was then that a third faction reared it’s head.  The King Of France had his own envoy who was feared throughout France.  He was ready to silence both groups that “were playing in his backyard.”  That is where General Armure came in.

The four found themselves outnumbered by twenty men.  Henri looked at Sir Clayworth.  “I hope that at least some of those myths were true.”  For the first time that day Sir Robert grinned.  “Just a few.”  His sword went hurdling through the air towards one of the General’s men.

Sir Robert leaped into the air lunging at the man.  “You can either escape me or the sword, my friend.  I’m afraid you can’t do both.”  The soldier dodged the sword while Sir Robert hit him, knocking him off the horse.  He caught it at the last moment, and swiveled the horse around to face the General.

“It’s been a few years Zachary, you’ve been promoted I see.”  “Oui, as has your reputation. Do you think that you four can hold twenty of us off?”  “I count 18, if you hadn’t noticed.  I’m not planning on winning though.”  “Then what is your plan?”  “Why to stall of course, they needed time to escape.”

The General looked around to see the three men galloping away on one of the horses that the General’s men had just lost.  Henri also knew how to leap when it was required.

Find out where our friends are going in next month’s installment of The Italian Hatmaker”

The Italian Hatmaker: Henri Knew

Henri knew the King’s Envoy, he was a legend among the royal heads of Europe. Outside of the families, only the closest aides knew who he was.  They said that no one could hide from him, but that he could hide from all.

He knew that his own skills were good, but they didn’t match the Envoy’s.  The only advantage that he had was that he knew what it was like to be a fugitive.  Henri knew that hiding in plain sight wasn’t only a ploy, it was an act of desperation.  Anyone who had enough time to get away, would do so quickly.

This is why that Henri took another approach when he arrived in Paris.  He went, not to the out of the way places, but to the busiest place in Paris.  At this time it was the market.  It was there he found two very unusual looking Frenchmen.  Unusual in the sense that they were doing everything they could to act normal.  Which meant it was not what they were doing that was awkward, but how they were doing it.

The movements were at times slow and precise, at others rushed, as if they had just given themselves away.  Henri would have normally waited until dark to approach them, but he couldn’t resist the Envoy reaching them first.

“Monsieur, if you and your friend wish to live, I suggest you follow me.  The Princess Royal of France is much more accommodating than her cousin the English King.  This is not to mention that His Majesty’s Envoy is the best swordsman in either country.”

The two followed him to a small cart pulled by a, very plain looking, gray horse.  Once outside the city, the horse revealed a speed that was masked by his appearance.  “Where are we going?” Giuseppe asked.  Henri looked at him, “To freedom, which in this case is in Champagne.”

The Italian Hatmaker: Reach Them First

“I did not think you were ugly.” Laura told her husband every time he recounted the story to his children in their cribs.  Now the children were much older, but her mind wondered back to that time often.  She did this as much as all parents do as their children grow bigger.  Laura smiled at the memory.  She thought his mustache had been ugly.  It was like a smear on his handsome face.

Once they were married, her first act was to shave it off.  Guiseppe never wore it or his beard again.  His face looked entirely different without it.  “Some men look grand with them, but you are not one of them.  You look incredible without it.”  That was the only persuasion it had taken.

This lead to the memory of what she was doing when the news of the escape came to her.  Laura turned red, embarrassed by her reaction.  That reaction was to laugh in the King Of England’s face.

“Laura, this isn’t funny.  Our entire plan hinges on these two!”  “Our plan?  This is not my plan.  This is your feeble attempt to hold on to the throne, I’m not concerned.” He never reacted in anger, so he left without speaking.

Laura looked at her servant Henri.  “Get a message to Paris.  Tell these two escapees to run.”  “Your Highness, why would they go to Paris? How would I find them?”  She looked frustrated.  “If anyone can find them you can.  Where will they go other than Paris?  It’s the closest port a stranger would migrate too.  It is there that they will meet the King’s Envoy.  You must reach them first before he does, now go!”

The Italian Hatmaker: The Jailer Won’t Need

How do you escape a locked prison without a key?  That was the question that Guiseppe and Ethan had to answer.  Fortunately, Ethan was in prison with a hat maker.  If he had been in prison with a tailor, or a cook, he would have been in trouble.

A hat maker fashions hats out of very strange items at times, especially Guiseppe.  It was nothing unusual for him to have had to make a metal ornament for a wealthy client’s hair.  So it wasn’t that hard to fashion a key out of a cot wire.

Guiseppe always kept a spare tool hidden in his shoe.  His Father had taught him this trick. Although he failed to explain to Guiseppe how he had learned it.  Guiseppe figured that out years later when he discovered what his Father had done for a living.  A spy from Milan who vacationed away to spare his life.  So this innocent hat maker was not far removed from the intrigue of court after all.

The two fugitives hid in the best possible place for them.  One where no one would have guessed.  The jailer’s room in the castle.  They reasoned that he would either be searching the grounds or occupying their cell.  This meant that he would have no need of his quarters.

The dock was just under his window.  At midnight, the two stowaways commissioned the king’s ship, and sailed away from their castle prison.  They knew that all of the land exits would be patrolled, and that this was their only way of escape.

It wasn’t until the next day that they figured out that they were actually imprisoned on a small island off the coast of France.  “We have to get rid of this boat.  The king will chase us as soon as he gets to another ship.”  Guiseppe grinned, “Of course my friend, when we dock in Paris!”

Find out what the Italian Hatmaker and his friend find waiting for them in France’s capitol next time.