“The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon's saying: ‘I have never had a plan of operations.’ Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force” – Helmut von Moltke the Elder, On Strategy
As much as I loathe letting sleep put distance between events and my recording of them, I had no real choice in the matter, as my constitution insisted that, having poured a great deal of my life’s blood all over Castle Gumpendorf, it was time for a lie-down. I went to bed thinking I had killed two men in one day, though all to a good cause as these things are reckoned. The news this morning informs me that we still did a good deed, but that we may yet be punished for it.
I devised a plan to determine where Lady Cecily was to have been taken, putting one of our captured assailants in a delivery wagon and giving him the impression that Mlle. Bechard and I were there to “help” him escape the long arm of the law, if he would only help us get Lady Cecily to wherever she was supposed to have gone. As it turned out, Count Cagliostro was impersonating Friedrich Von Amerling, a portrait painter of some renown, at the party. It seems that the artist was on vacation with his new bride, and the ruse explained why Mlle. Penneg had smelled machine oil on the painter’s coat during her search of the cloakroom. Mlle. Bechard proved rather surprisingly enthusiastic for inflicting some pain on our songbird, who had had his knee broken by Mlle. Glass earlier in the evening. Horrid pain plus the promise of escape equals a talkative felon, and we learned that the hoodlums had a delivery cart waiting and that the ringleader was the hulking brute Mlle. Bechard had impaled that morning, who went by the name of Adolph. Leaving the ruffians to the tender care of the Vienna Polizei, Mlle. Bechard made use of Lady Cecily’s dress and a hastily-repaired wig, formerly wielded by Mlle. Glass and we were soon on our our way to Castle Gumpendorf, Herr Von Amerling’s home.
Mlles. Penneg and Glass had headed to the estate ahead of us in order to determine Herr Von Amerling’s status (we were, as yet unaware of the Count’s impersonation) and they appear to have gotten very enthusiastic, for they were nowhere to be found when Mlle. Bechard and I arrived at the Castle. I had met the Count before as Jimmy McGillivray, somewhat dangerously close to my real name, but the surname is somewhat common. Affecting my least offensive brogue, I greeted the Count’s guard, who proved swift as dry mud, but inoffensive enough that he took my message to the Count. We were escorted inside, Mlle. Bechard playing the emotionless automaton with perfection. The Count was sitting in the parlor with a Faerie Lord I did not know and one of his clockwork soldiers, done up in Italian Legionary finery.
I spun a story about Count Navarre reaching out to the Professor after the incident on the river and we’d stepped in to ensure delivery when Adolph and his boys had failed. When Cagliostro asked me about the duel with Navarre, I replied that he had annoyed me, but that I was a criminal of my word and would, as per my agreement with a dead man, be trading “Cecily” for Navarre’s husband, Aristotle. It wasn’t my best lie, by far, but it was just confused enough to sound uncontrived. Cagliostro was in the process of agreeing when a sound like a brass band falling down a mountain erupted outside.
Mlles. Penneg and Glass had enthusiastically moved to free the prisoners, which apparently included making a racket to wake the dead. The Count, never a trusting soul, determined that I was deceiving him, which, to be fair, I was, but not about this. Violence ensued. The Count’s clockwork menace took to me with its sword and I attempted to defend myself with a fireplace poker. My skill at swordplay revealed itself rapidly and the clockwork soldier very nearly relieved me of my arm. Blood ran down the length of my coat and got all over my last decent pair of pants. The room swayed in my vision, but I could hardly pass out just then – to do so would have been a death sentence. I drew my pistol, but I reckoned that the clockwork soldier would take more than a single shot to put down and I needed it to stop rather immediately, so I improvised. I pointed the gun at Mlle. Bechard, whom Cagliostro still believed to be Lady Cecily, and threatened to ruin all his plans if he didn’t call off his mechanical monster. He hesitated, which bought me a moment to catch my breath, but called my bluff, pointing his own pistol at me. In theory, had he shot me, my hand would have flinched and fired at “Cecily,” but I was not going to risk Mlle. Bechard on my bluff. Out of tricks, out of time, and running out of blood, I lowered my pistol and awaited the end I most likely deserved…
…and then it didn’t come. What happened instead was rather remarkable. Mlle. Bechard, playing silent all this time, unleased a spell that swapped the clockwork soldier’s sword for the fireplace broom. No longer confronted with steely death, I swept past the soldier in dodging the Count’s deadly bullet. What I did next I can only chalk up to delirium – I picked up the soldier’s sword. Technological advantage saw me through the soldier’s attack – the sword cut through the broom’s handle. I turned to see Cagliostro firing at Mlle. Bechard, who barely dodged out of the way, her gaze clearly unsteady from some side effect of the magic. Not willing to give the Count another shot, I leapt at him with the sword, further proving I was delirious. But like a broken clock, I appeared to have found two moments in the day to be correct, because I ran him through. He looked at me with that mix of shock and betrayal that usually accompanied various protests from those I have swindled, but he barely had time for a half-finished epitaph before collapsing to the floor.
All of this still left the clockwork soldier, who could, no doubt, brain me to death with half a broomstick, were it of a mind to. A sudden and sharp order to “Halt!” stopped the machine cold, however. I turned to the source of the shout – Mlle. Glass had come in search of more malefactors to thrash. Fresh out of enemies, we decided to make our way outside, where Mlle. Penneg, the household staff, and one rather battered Greek bodybuilder, were waiting to accompany us back to the Palais Todesco. I would have tried to ensure that everyone got where they needed to be, but one of the servants tied off the wound to my shoulder and, rather than cry out in agony, I simply decided to pass out.
I awake this morning to discover that all is as well as may be hoped, with one exception – while a great deal of blood was discovered in the parlor where we fought with the Count, Cagliostro himself was nowhere to be found. The Faerie Lord had departed the area when the fracas started, so he may have had a hand in rescuing his accomplice. I have, for the nonce, lost the use of my right arm, but for once I am grateful that I did not remain in the grammar school where they attempted to beat my left-handed writing preference out of me.
The Todescos are over the moon about the success of their party, Herr Clockmaker is delighted that Cagliostro was thwarted, and we are invited to join the master craftsdwarf on the new express train to Paris. I shall have to find other accommodations, I fear. If Cagliostro survived, he may demand of the Professor why I was interfering in his affairs, which will set his hounds on me once more. Such is the life I lead, but not one that my new friends should have inflicted on them. The moment of Kairos has passed and my usefulness is at an end. Time to disappear once again.