Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Cyrptographer

Samuel Ogilvy enjoyed watching his grand children play, Stuart aged 10 was the eldest and had already threatened to join the army, something his grandfather frowned on most severely, then there was Charlotte, 8 years old and an extremely precocious young lady already. She was very much the image of her mother Anne, and without a doubt Samuel had the looks and temperament of his father.

Sadly their father was dead, he had been killed several months before when a troop of the Parliamentary council cavalry fleeing London when the King James announced his intention to assume the throne of England. Their father George had been a bookseller and had closed his shop early because of the unrest throughout London on that day, he was walking home when the cavalry came around the corner and one of the troopers according to witnesses simply rode George down, George suffered severe head injuries and died a day later without gaining consciousness.

The last few months had been trying times for the family in making the adjustment of not having their father, but considering those trying times they were managing. The bookshop had been closed, with the threat of war and the likelihood of attacks on London very few people bothered reading books or pamphlets any more, food was of a greater concern. The city was over crowded with refugees coming into the city from the nearby countryside and since the city itself was dependent on the food grown in Kent and Norfolk areas, areas which were now enemy territory the food supply was a trickle to what is was prior to the beginning of the civil war.
So Samuel had suggested that his daughter Anne and the two children move in with him, he lived on the outskirts of London, in what was considered rural land but was easily with walking distance to the out regions of London. He didnt fear raiders so close to the city, though he did worry that if the food situation in the city became desperate then people may start searching for food far and wide. On his small farm he tended his huge garden and small gathering of livestock which included several pigs, cows, hens and three horses.
Anne had very much taken to returning to her childhood home and as Samuel sat watching her and the children it certainly carried his mind back to a time when Ann’s mother was alive and she was out on the grass playing with the children just as Ann now was doing.

Samuel pottered with his numbers, he had been a mathematician professor at Oxford, he had an interest in mathematical codes for many years and shared his love for cryptology with an old fellow professor and friend Mathias Fleming, over the years of the friendship they shared and explored the intriguing aspects of codes and code breaking. Often they would send messages in code, it was a practice that was to last many years. Mathias had himself become a university professor but had retired very early from teaching in England and gone to teach in France and later Austria. He had returned late last year and had resumed the code game with his friend, each would write to the other in a code that the sender expected his friend to break. Samuel had decided to retire early from Oxford when his son-in-law had been killed and he returned to the family home with his daughter and her family.
The house had been rented out for quite sometime by family friends so Samuel had to unfortunately terminate the lease so as to ensure Anne and the children were felt safe.
He communicated via code letters with old Mathias who it was rumoured was now King James's cryptologists. They had for years regularly exchanged letters in codes, it was a game and the honours had been even in breaking each others codes. Sadly Samuel had not had a letter from Mathias in several weeks, he had written two days ago and hoped for an answer soon, meanwhile he simply resorted to creating his own code games. He had even begun to teach his daughter, though whilst it was mildly interesting to her she certainly did not share the same passion for the codes that her fathered harboured.

Events that next occurred could only later be called interesting, the interesting times began when a Franciscan Friar had ridden up to the farm asking for Samuel.

The fact that the friar had a horse was remotely interesting but even more so was that the Friar knew off Samuel to actually ask for him by name. Most Friars Samuel had seen walked everywhere, and Samuel was not remotely religious so there was no logical reason for a man of the cloth to know off him.

As the man began to dismount from his horse, Sam asked, “How do you know my name?'
The friar carried on dismounting and then turned to face Sam, he had what could only be described as a beautiful smile which showed perfect teeth, Samuel quickly assumed Franciscan Friars ate well and took good care of their teeth.

“Through a mutual friend, Mathias Fleming.”

The look on Samuel's face must have said it all,

“I don’t understand, I cannot imagine what Mathias would have in common with a Franciscan friar, he wasn’t exactly a religious man that I recall.”

The friar smiled then laughed,
“Indeed he was not and we used to have many hours of interesting debates over the subject, but Mathias was an open minded man and he allowed me to share in his friendship even if he wasn’t of my convictions.”

Samuel scratched his two day whiskers, then remembering his manners,
“Come inside and we shall have some tea and perhaps you can tell me what all this is about.”

As they went inside the house Samuel's daughter and children were gathered in the lounge, obviously they had been watching the proceedings through the window, with something that was more than mere interest.

As the two men entered the room the children stepped back behind their mother, supposedly for protection for she was the one holding the pistol poionted at the dark robed stranger.
Sam seeing the firearm scowled,
“Good god Anne, please put it way, you are likely to hurt someone”

A little confused Anne did as he asked and placed it in the high draw out of reach of the children.

“Anne my dear this is ahhhh..I am sorry I dont know your name”

The Friar stepped forward, “Brother Andrew” and then looking down at the children, “and these must be Charlotte and Stuart if I am not mistaken.”
Anne was stunned, as was Samuel, but it was Sam that asked the obvious question,
“How on earth did you know my grand-children's names?”

“Once again Samuel, it was Mathias. That and the fact I am blessed with a memory that allows me to recall conversations and events long since passed.”

“Well now brother Andrew ….”

“Simply Andrew if you would be so kind, may I call you Sam,”

Sam simply nodded and indicated the chairs by the windows,
“Well now Andrew take a seat and tell me what all this is about?”

Anne had taken the children out of the room and into the kitchen as she prepared some afternoon tea.

“Sam you obviously know of the work Mathias was doing.”

Sam picked up on the WAS doing,
“Has something happened to Mathias?”

“Yes Sam he is dead, we found his body in the backyard of his home only a few days ago.”

“Dead, but how?”

“He was murdered and we have a fair mind as to the people involved, because a few days ago we found a man going through Mathias house after we had removed his body. The intruder was known to us as a Parliamentarian sympathiser and we know some of the people he associates with but right now we cannot act without warning the entire network. We need to find out more about the people who killed our mutual friend before we act, the ones we are aware off are no doubt merely the low level scum, thieves and murderers alike, we need the people who organised this foul deed”.

“So why are you here Andrew, I am certainly no coroner nor am I an investigator, good god I don’t even like looking at a dead body.”

“No Sam I am not here to ask you to share in that aspect of our friends death, I am here because Mathias asked me to come to you should anything happen to him. He said there was no better mind for decoding cryptic messages than you. He even told us your abilities were far superior to his own, and if that be true you are indeed one gifted individual Sam.”

Sam nodded to himself,
“Well sadly Andrew, Mathias was one very modest man and I doubt there is another in the country who could match his abilities with codes, and I include myself in that., but why on earth would someone murder old Mathias, he was a harmless soul.”

“Well what I am about to tell you Samuel must not reach another ears, including your sister I fear.
We had intercepted a coded message, and it was unusual in that Mathias said it was in Vigenere code and that he had never seen its like before. Are you aware of the Vigenere code Sam?

“Yes indeed, it is supposed to be unbreakable, It was made by a Frenchman Blaise de Vigenere, it is rarely used if ever because it is so cumbersome and troubling to encode and to decode.”

Andrew nodded, “Yes that is almost exactly what Mathias said, he also said that if someone used this code, the message was of the utmost importance. He had been working on it over the last few days, he usually worked from home because he didnt feel comfortable in his office at the palace but when he didn’t turn up for several days we went to his house and unfortunately found his body.”

Sam thought for a few moments, “I assume you still have the message?”

“Yes we do, Mathias always left the messages in his office under lock and key, he always worked from memory, a memory that never failed him.

“So whoever killed Mathias does not know whether the code was broken or not?”

Andrew shook his head,
“No Sam they do not, though they may have his notes, but as he had not even broken the key word there would be nothing of interest to who ever sent the message. Therefore we can only assume whoever the recipient was, now realises it has gone missing and may be trying to retrieve it. I expect once they see that Mathias has not broken the code they will not change whatever was in the message, particularly since they also have killed the only man who could decode it; or so they thought.”

“And from what I gather you are here to ask me to take on the work that Mathias was doing, the work that got him killed?” Sam asked.

“Yes Sam, I am here to do that simply because Mathias was so insistent that if he were ever harmed or killed we turn to you for help. It is clear this message is no simple message between field commanders or even a spy report, many of whom Mathias has regularly broken. No I fear this message was so vital and so secretive they have used the one code they believed no one could break.”

“Yet you expected Mathias to break it and now he is dead because he tried and now you expect me to be capable of doing it along with the same prospects,”

“Well not exactly the the same prospects Sam, my errr leader has made rooms available for you in Whitehall Palace, we have rooms for you and your family and you will live in the safest place in England.”

“The safest place it maybe, but it is also the target for all the enemies that the King has brought down upon himself, enemies who will do whatever they can to kill the King and all around him.”

“Only if we allow them to Sam, that is why we are at war to stop the enemy armies, but there are other enemy forces, unseen ones and they are the ones we need your help to identify and defeat.”

“No Andrew I wont do it, I am sorry; but the risk is to great for my family, I feel we are safer here away from all that intrigue.”

“Well Sam allow me to ask you this, had you received Mathias answer to your last letter?”

“No I did not.” Sam replied.

“No you did not Sam because the enemy had already intercepted your letter, we know this because the individual whom we caught in Mathias's house told us after some convincing all he knew, which was in fact very little. But one of the scraps we did extract from him was that they had your last letter and it had been sent to their decoder to break it. Now Sam I know these exchanges between you and Mathias were a game in nature, but any day now the enemy will realise there is another cryptographer who is capable of at least trying to decode the Vigenere message. Since they will by now or will soon realise you were friends with Mathias how long do you think it will be before they and their thugs descend on you out here alone in the country.

It did not take Sam too long to realise that his rather pointless game of messages with his friend and all of a sudden taken a turn that would place his family in great danger.

Sam's daughter came into the room with a tray of tea and cake, she looked at her father and instantly knew something was wrong.
What’s happened father, what’s wrong?” she asked as if transfixed to the floor, the two children hugging her skirts as they stared at the man in the robes.

Anne my darling, we must pack, quickly, we are leaving the farm.”

Leaving but why and where are we to go?”

Sweetheart we are going to live with the King in the palace.”

The clatter as the tray with cups, teapot and plates hitingt the floor was considerable, the racket that came from the children as they screamed in fear seeing their mother so shocked was quite deafening; but what really made a lot of noise was when two Royal dragoon troopers kicked the door open in the expectation of finding an enemy attacking the man they were there to protect. Instead they found a woman who was visibly shaking two crying children and a very confused Sam.
Sam turned to Andrew, pointing to the two troopers,
Who in earth are they and where did they come from”

They are my escort Sam, I asked them to stay back until I spoke to you and they along with the rest of their troop will by now have your farm surrounded to ensure we were not interrupted by certain people we did not want to interrupt us.”

Anne immediately blurted out as she closely gathered he children into her skirts,
What people, father what is happening, why do we have soldiers in our house and why do we have to leave.”

Sam went to his daughter to give her a reassuring hug, but she was still shaking,
My darling you have to trust me, we may be in some danger if we stay here and brother Andrew here has invited on urged us to go and stay with him at the Palace. You know my friend Mathias worked for the King, well I am to continue his work for a while my dear.”

What has happened to Mathias, why must you continue his work, what danger” she asked almost in tears.

Sweetheart I will answer all your questions once we are under way, for now I must ask you to collect all your things as I will do”.

He turned to Andrew, “Can I ask that you leave a guard here until I can arrange to have the house packed and the farm animals taken care off.”

It shall be done Sam, I promise you, we will have several wagons here tomorrow and if you wish you can come back with them to help in the packing, under guard of course. For now however we must get you and your family away from the house. The captain will leave some men here overnight to protect your property.”

With that said the family rushed off to pack what was required, an hour later the Kings new Cryptographer was heading for the Palace, his new home and greater danger that he ever feared.
As he rode off, a stranger on a small rise some distance way closed his telescope as he watched the distant figures leave the farm heading towards London. Noting there were still soldiers at the farm house he decided to return to London and report what he had seen.


  1. poor Sam, he never got to have those cakes. anyway what an interesting development! I hope that Sam will be looked after well, and that he can get most of that stuff out of his house. and then we still have this mysterious character on the hill. oh so interesting.

    well done a very good story.

    1. I have some adventures planned for poor old Sam and his daughter.

  2. I am reminded of a coded message in the end papers of Alan Garner's book 'Red Shift'. It was method of encryption that had originated with Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), but I didn't realise this. Thought I have a crack at it and had it decoded in half an hour or so. Then I discovered what the key was, an expression used in the text of the story 'Tom's a-cold.' What made it easy was that the text was set down in words - I could not have decrypted it without the key were the thing set down as a continual string of letters. One of these was ten letters long, and had to to be one of just two words (or names) for reasons I don't recall were the only possibilities. The first one I tried turned out to be correct, whereat the code basically just fell out.

    That was fun. I don't recall in fact whether Lewis Carroll's cypher was of the so-called Vigenere code or something different. It was not, however, very difficult. I know; I have far too much spare time on my hands.

    1. LoL I do understand the too much time aspect, hence I am writing blogs and not working or at least wargaming.