Book 3, a sneak peek. D'Artagnan and Blandford part 2.
August 14, 2018
Monsieur D’Artagnan and his servant Planchet seemed to do little more than drink, revel and feast at the Tabard. They were waiting on orders from Mazarin, so they said. Personally, I found it irritating, but the news of a sword exhibition at least piqued the Frenchman’s interest. I met with him in the backroom overlooking the river, and took Figgis along to keep him out of my sister’s way. The table in front of D’Artagnan was piled high with different dishes of food and a pitcher of wine, and he lounged in a chair with one leg over the arm as Planchet poured the sack. St John had agreed to pay the Frenchmen’s tavern bill, and they were making good use of the account.
‘An exhibition of swordplay?’ said D’Artagnan. ‘Finally something to break the boredom of this godless city.’
I started to laugh; ‘godless city’ was a phrase William Everard used often enough, but I wagered the radical puritan poacher meant it for completely different reasons to a papist French spy.
‘Pourquoi riez-vous de moi?’ said the Comte. (Why are you laughing at me?)
‘London is greatest city in the world,’ says I, proud of my adopted home.
‘Mon Dieu, Candy! For a city to be great, Monsieur, the food and wine needs to be glorious, the people engaging, the conversation stimulating and the women enchanting. London has none of this. Come to France; you will find good food, better wine than this piss, and prettier girls in every village.’
‘Silence, Planchet,’ said D’Artagnan. ‘Planchet is from Paris. Even the poorest Parisian thinks himself better than a Gascon comte, even when that comte is his master.’
‘Surtout quand le comte est son maître.’ (Especially when the comte is his master)
Planchet grinned at Figgis. The blackguard clearly understood the English tongue. He was more than the comte’s mere servant, I was certain. My rustic valet opened his chops as if to say something.
‘Ye know...,’Figgis began.
‘I have similar problems with witless and impudent servants,’ I said, glaring at Figgis to be silent. ‘And what be wrong with the wine and food? You seem to have enough of it.’
‘Ah the wine: it is Spanish, sweet, sickly and thick, at best. The good wine is never sent here. Instead it is barrels of poor quality vinegar, that you quaff and quaff, caring nothing for taste or body. You cannot even pour it properly, always right to the brim to get as much as possible in your cup.’
‘Ils doivent être très assoiffés, maître.’ (They must be very thirsty, master.)
‘And the vegetables, you murder the vegetables. There is a reason God put the English on an island: it is to stop you poisoning the rest of us.’
‘What be the matter with the vegetables?’ I liked pottage.
‘There are farms nearby. I picked a leek, fresh and crisp and full of taste. You English turn it into this.’ He pointed to the dish of pottage on the table. ‘You boil the flavour out of the food. I would rather eat rat meat; C'est dégoutant.’ (It’s disgusting)
‘You ate a raw leek? That be disgusting.’
‘And what is the jelly? Aspic? You put a boiled egg in aspic then choke it in spice: ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom; tres dégoûtant!’ (very disgusting). And then you encase it in a pastry so tough it could be made of stone. Pastry should crumble and melt like butter on the tongue.’ He sat straight in his chair and pointed to some salted fish cooked in cider and honey; another dish I was partial to. ‘You live by a river yet there is no fresh fish anywhere in the city, it seems. Why is that? Salted fish, spiced fish, smoked fish, dried fish, and pickled fish, but no fresh fish at all?’
‘Well, you would not wish to eat ought that came out the Thames near London,’ I told him. ‘The poisson is liable to be poison. You are supposed to be seeking out an Imperial assassin, not on a culinary tour of England.’
D’Artagnan, waved his hand dismissively at me. ‘Believe me, Monsieur Candy, nobody would come to England on a culinary tour. The ravaillac runs out of the most precious commodity,’ he said. ‘Time for him is pressing. Perhaps your theatre event will be the place he next chooses to strike.’
‘Why think you?’ I did not want anything to spoil our grand design.
‘If the Prince can be killed before the spring it will sow confusion and discord in the alliance, and here in England. By May, France will be invading the Hapsburg Empire, and your new Parliament army will face King Charles. Ferdinand is losing the war; thousands were lost in a battle in Brandenburg last November.’ He picked up a chicken leg, bit into it and spat it out again. ‘Quelle surprise, even the bird is dry and overdone. The only thing you English can cook is roast beef.’
Planchet started to chuckle.
‘Stop whining about the food,’ I snapped. ‘Dip it in the bread sauce if ’tis too dry.’
‘Je ne recommanderais pas la sauce, maître,’ said Planchet. (I would not recommend the sauce, master)
The Blandford Candy Series is available on AMAZON from Sharpe Books