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On The Matter of D'Artagnan

By Bradley H. Sinor

"Charlton Heston or Tim Curry?" mused Cardinal Richelieu.

Since there was no one else in the room, the chief minister to His Majesty Louis XIII of France was speaking for his own benefit.

Richelieu sat in a large chair behind the huge desk that dominated the room serving as his office. Two candelabra provided more than enough light for him to work. He brought out a pair of small boxes from one of the desk drawers, and put them next to a glass of wine he had poured earlier.

He found himself having to squint slightly to study the boxes. His eyes were good, for a man his age, but not as good as they had been more than a decade before, when Armund Jean du Plessis had first been created a cardinal-prince of the Roman Catholic Church.

The printing on the boxes was in English, a language he had only a smattering of, but it was the pictures on them that really interested him. They were not paintings, but rather what were called photographs, just another in a seemingly unending stream of new terms he had learned since the Americans and the town of Grantville had appeared on the scene.

Richelieu had long been an admirer of art; photographs, however, were far different than any paintings that he had ever seen. They showed what really was, not an artists interpretation.

The photographs were scenes from "movies." As best he understood them, movies were like plays, only they could be watched over and over again—not repeat performances, but the same one, with no differences.

These two movies were of special interest to Richelieu. They were the same basic story, entitled "The Three Musketeers," but each used different performers, and had been made several decades apart. Viewing them was an impossibility, since he had neither the machine to do it—or the power to run it if he had the machine. So, his agents in Grantville had also supplied very detailed summaries of the plots.

True, the movies did exaggerate events—not to mention playing rather fast and loose with actual facts; as had the book, by someone named Dumas. They even included a supposed relationship between Queen Anne and the English duke of Buckingham.

Richelieu, himself, was a character in the story. It certainly didn't hurt his ego to know that he would be remembered nearly four hundred years in the future, not just in the history books but apparently as part of popular culture.

That he found himself portrayed as a villain and schemer didn't bother him one bit. A fact of life he had learned a long time ago was that whether or not someone came off as a villain or a hero depended on who was telling the story.

Something about the picture of Curry reminded Richelieu of himself, back when he had first come to the church. It was, perhaps, the gleam in the man's eye, which gave an almost predatory, animal look to the man's face. On the other hand, the older man, Heston, with his hands steepled in front of him, projected the quiet dignified look that Richelieu fancied for himself.

"Yes, I think Heston is more me."

"Excuse me, Your Eminence." Richelieu looked toward the door where one of his secretaries, Monsignor Henri Ryan, had appeared. The young man held several thick folios under one arm.

"Yes, Henri?"

"I have just received word that the Italian delegation will be here within the hour." Henri placed the documents he carried in front of Richelieu. "These are the reports on the things they want to discuss with you."

The younger priest stared for a moment at the two movie boxes lying on the desk. His distaste for them was rather obvious. Richelieu made a mental note to have a long talk with Henri about learning to conceal his feelings on some subjects, whether it was the Americans or the Spanish or whatever. That was one of a wide variety of skills Henri needed to develop.

"Very well, let me refresh my memories of these matters, and then bring them in when they arrive."

"Of course, sir." Henri started to leave, but stopped a few steps from the door and turned back toward the desk. "Also, that man, Montaine, arrived, a short time ago, saying he needed to see you."

Richelieu cocked his head slightly. Montaine was not due to report for at least a week. His unexpected appearance suggested that he came bearing news.

Of course, the Italian matter was also pressing.

"Very well. Have him wait in the smaller library. If he is hungry, have the kitchen prepare something. I shouldn't be more than an hour or two at the most. Did he say what he needed to speak to me about?"

"Yes, Your Eminence. He said it was on the matter of D'Artagnan."

* * *

Charles D'Artagnan stared out the window. It was an hour after sunrise and the narrow street below was already filled with people; there were food vendors, merchants, barbers, craftsman and their customers. A woman screaming at a man in a greasy apron, who was selling meat pies of some kind, caught his attention.

The exchange continued for a few minutes, with invectives flying between the two. The verbal combat only stopped when the woman handed several coins across and the vendor passed her back several of the meat pies. The two parted with smiles and wishes for the best of the day.

D'Artagnan felt something small and furry rub against the side of his hand. He looked down to the window ledge and found himself confronting a tiger-striped kitten who was very vehemently demanding attention.

He reached down and gently picked up the animal. The kitten was not happy with this idea, preferring to be petted rather than held, and struggled to escape his grip even as he began to stroke the animal's temples and then under its chin. The response came quickly, and the kitten stretched out, offering its neck for more attention, showing its approval with some very loud purring.

"Like that do you, little one?"

"I must say, you certainly have a way with animals, my dear Charles." A dark-haired woman clothed only in a sheet stretched out on the bed that filled much of the room. She had raised herself up on one elbow and leaned across the impression in the mattress that, until several minutes before, D'Artagnan had filled.

"I have had a bit of experience with the wilder creatures of the world." He smiled.

"Do you think you can bring out the animal in me?" Charlotte Blackson laughed.

"I'll do what I can," he said, walking back to the bed.

He set the kitten down on a side table, much to the chagrin of the animal. The cat reached out to try to drag his hand back, but D'Artagnan ignored the protests, intent on a different goal now.

He reached over and gently ran his finger along the edge of Charlotte's chin. The gesture brought a purr to her lips and a very inviting smile.

Charlotte Blackson was a beautiful woman. Her husband, a Musketeer, had been killed in the war. While not rich, he had left her well off. Charlotte had, in turn, taken her inheritance and shrewdly parleyed it into much, much more. Now, six years later, she was the proprietor of a dozen businesses and a partner in several more. She had even begun to move into some of the minor social circles of Paris. D'Artagnan had met her a few months before when he had stopped a thief intent on making off with her purse. In spite of the fact that she was more than a decade older than he, D'Artagnan soon found himself enamored of her.

"Yes, you do have a way with animals." Charlotte reached up and wrapped her arms around him. The sheet fell away, its edge dropping over the end table and trapping the kitten for a few moments.

"I try," he said as she plastered her lips against his.

* * *

"So what do you have for me, Montaine?" asked Richelieu.

Montaine was a small man, dressed in shades of brown, with a face that, other than having an immaculate pencil thin moustache, was not unique in any way whatsoever. Two minutes after they had seen him, few people could describe the man; most failed to even notice his presence, which had often proved a major advantage.

He stopped a half dozen steps in front of the cardinal's desk. Montaine never approached any closer than that; it was as if there was a line on the floor that he could not, or perhaps would not, cross.

Richelieu had employed Montaine for nearly four years, but actually knew very little about the man, other than the fact that he was loyal to France, i.e. Richelieu, and he had been remarkably effective in the various tasks that were set for him.

"I have located the man you are seeking. His name is actually Charles de Gatz-Casthenese. His mother's family was named D'Artagnan. He is from Lupiac, but he was raised in Gascony and came to Paris just over a year ago. He has been calling himself simply Charles D'Artagnan. He has not made a secret of who he is, but has not gone out of the way to make it known either."

"Indeed," Richelieu prompted.

Montaine nodded. "He attempted to get into the Musketeers, but was turned down, I believe because of his lack of military experience. However, he was able to secure an appointment with the Royal Guard."


"From the reports I have seen he has proved to be quite the gifted swordsman. He also turns out to not only to be good with his sword, but also knows when to fight and when to walk away. I suspect his superiors have an eye on him for eventual promotion."

"What of the other three men I asked you to find?"

"Oh, yes. I'm afraid I have bad news in that area. I could find no trace of anyone by the name of Athos, Porthos or Aramis currently serving in the Musketeers. From the way they were described in that book you gave me, I should have been able to find them, or at least someone who had heard of them. It's really a pity; the story makes them seem the sort of fellows I would have liked. However, I have found some very young men, barely in their teens. Issac de Porteau, Henri d' Aramitz and Armund de Sillegue d'Athos d'A'Autevielle. I suspect they may have been the ones that this Dumas fellow modeled his characters on. They are all relatives, to one degree or another, of the commander of the musketeers, Monsieur de Tourvelle. So I did not inquire too extensively. I can, should you require more information on them."

"Unnecessary." De Tourvelle was a man that Richelieu knew of, quite well. He bore watching and could be either friend or foe to the cardinal, depending on the needs of the moment.

Perhaps it was true that the Athos, Porthos and Aramis of the movies and the book might not exist. It was entirely possible that those three were indeed simply characters who had been invented for the purposes of these entertainments. However, that did not mean they might not eventually still be of use to him.

"Have you actually met this D'Artagnan?"

"No, Your Eminence. I didn't feel that wise at this time. I have learned enough about him to know that this young Gascon is someone that you might do well to be wary of. He would not be easy to control and could end up being very much of a loose cannon."

Richelieu had come to trust Montaine's opinions. But he had also learned that there were times when you wanted someone who was not easily controlled, so this young man might suit him quite well. "Very well. Bring him to me, but do it quietly. I do not want the world to know of my interest in this man. Not quite yet."

"That might prove difficult. If it were a formal summons he would come, of that I have no doubt. However, D'Artagnan seems to have an agenda of his own and I do not see it allying with others, even you, sir," said Montaine.

Richelieu meditated for a few moments on the man's words, then took a single sheet of paper and began to write on it, adding a large daub of hot sealing wax to the bottom of the page into which he placed not only his official church seal but that of the chief minister of France.

"You must wait until the chance offers itself and bring him to me. If he is indeed as stubborn as you suggest you may have to persuade him." Richelieu passed the paper to Montaine. "This may be of assistance. I will trust in your discretion about when and how to use it."

* * *

D'Artagnan stood quietly in the doorway of an abandoned storefront. This was not the best part of town. From the look of the grime on the windows and the rust on the shutters, this place could have been shut up for decades. That suited D'Artagnan's needs perfectly.

From here he had a clear view of the Flying Pig, a tavern just down the block, and few would be able to see him, even if they were standing directly in front of him. A covered lantern sat at his feet. To add to his camouflage, D'Artagnan had left his uniform in the wardrobe at Charlotte's home. Tonight was not a night to be known as a Royal Guardsman.

No, tonight was a night for personal matters.

The Flying Pig was a low dive at its best. At its worst, it was a dump. The clientele asked no questions and only demanded to be left alone to muddle their dark thoughts in cheap wine and nearly tasteless ale.

D'Artagnan had gone into the Flying Pig twice, two times more than he would have wished. The smell inside the building reminded him of a charnel house or a battlefield long after the fighting was over, when the crows held forth. It was not a place that, even in the darkest of moods, he would willingly seek out.

Yet the Flying Pig fit the man he was seeking like a glove

D'Artagnan had watched his quarry enter, small forms that seemed to be fleeing from the moonlight that filled the street. At just past ten o'clock the tavern door opened and two men emerged. Both were short and round, their clothes the color of sand stained dark after a rainstorm. Neither man was steady on his feet. It seemed a miracle that they both didn't end up face down in the mud.

They stopped, for a moment, almost directly in front of his hiding place, then moved on. One of them began to sing, very badly.

D'Artagnan came up behind them in a few steps, grabbed both and slammed them hard against each other. Then he dragged them backwards, kicking the door of the abandoned shop open and pulling them inside. By the time the door had swung shut he had both of his prisoners on the floor.

The whole incident hadn't taken even thirty seconds.

Hand on the hilt of his sword, D'Artagnan waited to see if the attack had caught anyone's attention. One minute, then a second, passed and there were no cries of alarm.

He recovered his lantern and opened it to look down at them. One was barely breathing, and would not be waking up anytime soon. But the other, the one that D'Artagnan wanted, surprised him. The man had actually begun to snore. This wasn't what he had expected, though the man fairly reeked of cheap wine and ale, which explained it.

D'Artagnan grabbed him by the lapels of his threadbare coat and shook him hard. "Wake up, you scum-sucking piece of filth."

There was no response at first. "If its money you're wanting," the man said finally, "then you're too late. What few coins I had have been sent to keep company with their cousins in the tavern keeper's cashbox."

D'Artagnan snorted. "I sincerely doubt that you have ever had enough money enough to interest me."

"What do you want from me, then?"

"I want your memory." D'Artagnan shook him again, then, while the man was still rattled, dropped him and held the lantern up close to his face. "I know who you are, Andre Marro. I know that you were once seneschal to the family LeVlanc, as your father and grandfather had been before you. It is for that reason that I've come looking for you, that I want your memory."

At the mention of his name Marro's eye's shot open. If it were possible, his face went paler than it had been.

"I . . . I . . . I . . ."

"Don't deny it. That will only make things worse. I know all about what happened to the LeVlancs and why it happened. You do as well, since you were there. I've tracked down the other servants who survived the purge. They didn't know the name of the man that the LeVlancs trusted to organize the whole thing, but they all agreed on one point. You knew who it was."

Marro groaned. D'Artagnan slapped him twice. Finally he muttered a name, a name that D'Artagnan recognized.

"If you have lied to me, I will find you, no matter where you run or hide."

Marro curled into a ball and tried to shrink into the floor. D'Artagnan walked away and slammed the door.

* * *

D'Artagnan came awake with a start and pulled himself up almost completely out of bed before he was fully aware. He struggled for each breath, every one coming as a hard won victory while cold, clammy beads of sweat rolled down his face.

Images cascaded though his mind: blood, the edges of swords, screams, the smell of burnt gunpowder, all rolling over and over and over. Intermixed with them was a single face, one that brought him a feeling of warmth, yet cut into the very fiber of his being.

"Charles, what is the matter?" Charlotte's voice was a distant sound for him.

"I'll be all right," he gasped. "Everything is all right."

"Right. You have nightmares like this all the time." Charlotte pulled the covers up around his shoulders to warm him, her arms wrapped tightly to hold it in place.

"This will pass." He knew the reason for the dream; the reason had followed him for more than twenty years. "It is not the first time I have had to face demons in my dreams."

"I don't understand."

D'Artagnan drew the blanket tighter around himself but let his arm slide out to put around Charlotte. "It's complicated," he said, finally. "I must face someone, someone I have been searching for a long time. I know where he is, but I have never been able to find him alone."

"Who is this person?"

When he told her, Charlotte's reaction was not what D'Artagnan expected.

"I think I might be able to help, my dearest," she said with the hint of a smile.

* * *

"Please, Monsieur, is this the act of a gentleman?" Charlotte giggled.

"I hardly think a gentleman is what you want right now." The man who had been nuzzling her neck for the last few minutes laughed.

They were standing in a garden to one side of the Hotel Transylvania, where a ball had been going on for many hours. Charlotte wasn't even certain who was throwing this ball; she had the feeling that a great many of the guests felt the same way though most would sooner die than admit it.

Manuel Zarubin had been standing near one of the windows when Charlotte spotted him. He was not openly circulating among the guests, but remained in one place, letting others come to him. It had taken nearly an hour for Charlotte to gain his attention and finally lead him into the darkness of the garden.

"It would all depend on what the gentleman in question might be offering. So what are you offering, my good sir?" Charlotte drew her words out so each one was a breathy echo.

Zarubin was fully twenty years her senior, but still muscled like a soldier. His neatly trimmed beard was streaked with grey, but in a manner that made him seem exotic rather than ancient. A few streaks of graying hair had snaked out from beneath the perfectly coiffed wig he wore.

"Perhaps I can show you." He pushed her back into the shadowed area between two large trees. His hands moved quickly into the opening presented by her cleavage; the staves of her corset screamed as they were pushed out of shape.

"Sir, I beg you, do not do that. I am, after all, a lady." Charlotte tried to pull back. Her action threw her up against the fork in a tree just behind them, lodging her where she could not move.

"You are no lady, tart," Zarubin said, pushing his hand further down.

"My good sir, I believe that lady said she was not interested in what you had in mind." D'Artagnan moved toward the couple from behind a gazebo, where he had been waiting.

Zarubin twisted his head, his face showing surprise and anger at being interrupted. "Begone, sir! This is none of your affair."

"On that matter—" D'Artagnan laughed. "—I would say that you are definitely wrong. This is mostly definitely my affair."

He grabbed Zarubin and yanked him away from Charlotte. That the man managed to stay on his feet was a surprise, though his wig did go flying off onto the ground.

"You are a dead man, assassin." The Spaniard's voice was quiet and cold.

"We all die, sometime. Perhaps it is my time, perhaps not. Personally, I would put money on my walking away from here alive."

Zarubin pulled a rather fancily decorated sword from the sheath at his side. "Then you would lose your money, just as you are going to lose your life. I suggest, instead of boasting, that you put steel into your hand."

"My name is D'Artagnan," he said, and brought his own weapon free. "Prepare to die."

Zarubin made the first blow with a driving lunge meant to end the fight immediately. D'Artagnan parried the thrust and responded with several of his own.

"Enjoy this, dear Charlotte." Zarubin didn't take his eyes off his opponent. "You obviously know this young upstart. I hope you had a chance to say goodbye to him. Once I am finished with him, we can resume our little tête-à-tête."

D'Artagnan said nothing. He struck for Zarubin's chest with three quick jabs, which the man parried with ease, his battle hardened reflexes obvious with every move. As he parried Zarubin's counter strikes, D'Artagnan stepped to one side, his foot hit an uneven patch of ground and he went down, his sword slipping out of his grasp and out of reach.

"Now you are mine." Zarubin closed the distance, looming over his foe, intent on finishing the fight as quickly as possible.

D'Artagnan's dagger came into his hand as he rolled to one side. Striking blindly, D'Artagnan drove the blade hard into Zarubin's heart. The man trembled for a heartbeat and then he fell, the light fading from his eyes.

"Fight, don't talk," D'Artagnan muttered.

"Monsieur, do not move, or we will be forced to shoot!"

The command came from two men in Musketeer's uniforms with pistols in their hands. They had come from the direction of the hotel. Others were coming behind them to find the source of the disturbance.

"Charles, would you please settle this whole matter," said someone from behind D'Artagnan.

Startled, he turned to see a small man, dressed in brown, who was stroking his thin moustache as he spoke, walk forward from behind a statue of the Greek god Prometheus.

"I must say, it is rather cold out here and I think that Mademoiselle Blackson would definitely like us to escort her home," said the stranger.

The small man stood looming over D'Artagnan for a moment, just staring at him, before he offered him his hand. Once D'Artagnan was back on his feet, the newcomer's small fingers slid into the pocket on the right side of D'Artagnan's vest; producing a small folded sheet of paper, one that D'Artagnan knew for certain had not been there earlier.

"There are times, my old friend, when you get so centered on your task I suspect that you would lose your way in your own home." The little man turned to the Musketeers and offered the paper. "I believe that you will find that my friend had a full and proper warrant for what he did this evening."

* * *

"The bearer has done what he has done by my order and for the good of the state," intoned D'Artagnan as he stared at Cardinal Richelieu.

The cleric said nothing, just cocked his head slightly and waited. D'Artagnan wasn't sure just what he had expected to happen. From the moment his blade had plunged into Manuel Zarubin, he had expected to wind up in the Bastille, not standing in front of the king's chief minister.

"I know what is on that warrant, young man, since I wrote it," Richelieu said finally.

Once the Musketeers had read the warrant, D'Artagnan and his companions had been released. After escorting Charlotte home, the small man, who refused to even give his name, led him to Richelieu.

That the cardinal had been awake and working in his office fit his reputation for having a hand in everything that happened in Paris and France every minute of the day and night.

"Then I suppose I have you to thank for my freedom, Your Eminence?"

"Indeed, you do," Richelieu agreed. "And how do you propose to repay me for that favor?"

"What would you call fair payment? You seem to have some interest in me. This fellow," he gestured toward Montaine, "obviously works for you, and, I would guess has been following me for some time."

"That he does, Charles de Gatz-Casthenese." Richelieu smiled. "Don't look so surprised, I know who you are. The question is what I do with you. You have obviously been planning the death of Senor Zarubin for some time. So let me ask you the next question. Why?"

D'Artagnan didn't know whether to smile or be worried at this latest turn of events. "Justice, Your Eminence, justice."

"I thought the king and I were the dispensers of justice in the realm."

"You are, but sometimes that task falls into the hands of others. In the case of Zarubin, it fell to me. I had no choice in the matter. If you will recall, the year before he was murdered, our current king's father, Henry IV, was the victim of another assassination attempt.

"Most of the conspirators were captured and executed, as they should have been, but not the man who organized it. My father was killed while still searching for him, although it took a long time. My mother was convinced that he must have gotten too close to the ring leader and was murdered for it. I have searched for most of my life to find out who that was. Three weeks ago I found out that it was Zarubin."

"You were duty bound to avenge the attack on his late majesty?" Richelieu steepled his fingers.

"Duty bound, yes, but not for that reason. If you will recall, the king was unhurt. My father, however . . . I have known all my life that for my father's soul to rest there must be justice. It was a matter of the honor of my family."

Richelieu was silent for some time. "There will be consequences for his death, political problems that I really did not need at this time."

"I regret nothing that I have done. I am prepared to accept whatever penalty I have earned for my action."

Richelieu pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his desk. It bore both his personal seal and the seal of his office. It had obviously been prepared some time ago. He passed it to D'Artagnan.

He could feel his jaw hanging open as he read the document. "I do not understand, Your Eminence."

"What is there to understand? That is a commission as a lieutenant in my personal guard. If you accept this, know that while your loyalty must always be to myself—and that means to France—I will, from time to time, call on you, for shall we say, special duties."

The man in brown chuckled. "Do you think Dumas would approve, Your Eminence?"

"Dumas?" asked D'Artagnan, but Richelieu waved the question away. "What of the consequences for the death of Zarubin?" he continued. "If I recall your statement not minutes ago, you said that you didn't need the political problems that might come from it."

"True, but there are ways to turn them to the advantage of France." Richelieu's smile was cold. "That is where a statesman can be as deadly as a swordsman. As for you, Charles D'Artagnan, I feel that your skills can be of use to me, and in turn to France, in these most unsettled times."

"How did you know of me?" asked D'Artagnan.

Richelieu hesitated for a moment and then smiled. "Let us say that you came to my attention because of a man named Charlton Heston."

D'Artagnan shook his head. "I have never heard of this person."

"It is highly unlikely and completely unnecessary that you have. Perhaps one day I may explain who he is." Richelieu took a bag of coins and tossed them toward D'Artagnan. "Consider this an enlistment bonus."

"Why do I have a feeling that my life has just become quite interesting?"

"Because it has," said Montaine. "Personally, I think that a celebration is in order." D'Artagnan had almost forgotten the little man's presence.

"It is late, gentlemen and I am tired. I will leave the celebrations to you young men." Richelieu turned and left the room.

"I, for one, could use a drink," said the small man to D'Artagnan. "I also know an excellent tavern not a stone's throw from here."

"Lead on. I think I am going to need several drinks," said D'Artagnan. "By the way, it occurs to me that you still have not told me your name. I have no idea who you are."

He grinned and flamboyantly traced the line of his moustache. "I have many names. Why don't you call me Aramis?"

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