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All For One- Chapter Seven
7. A Quick Lesson of Poison
While Athos trained with André, his former wife found herself learning many unusual things as well. Far away from Paris, in the diocese of Luçon, Milady, now going by the name of Sabiné du Luçon a local widow, was receiving an education in espionage.
Rochefort was her mentor in many areas. One day, shortly after meeting the bishop, he led her to a private room on his estate. An assortment of jars and liquids was arranged on the table.
“Today, we are going to learn about poisons,” he said. “One of the ancient Greeks, by the name of Paracelsus, said that everything is a poison, it’s only the dose of something that makes it not a poison. In other words, anything in the right amount can be fatal.”
He pointed to the left end of the table. A few jars containing yellowish liquids were first. “Some animals secrete poisons through their fangs. We call that venom. These two jars are snake venom and scorpion venom. Very dangerous, but difficult to get. It takes a trained wrangler to extract venom without a bite. And once you have it, how exactly would you administer it? If you wanted to use venom as a poison, you’d be better off planting a snake or a scorpion in someone’s room. Cleopatra died of an asp’s bite, but she planned that herself. You run the risk of failure, as animals tend to do whatever they want.”
He then pointed to a small plate with assorted food products. “Mushrooms are tasty, but only some of them are edible. Many are poisonous.” He held up two mushrooms, both an orange-yellow color with a funnel shape. “One of this is called the chanterelle, the other the jack-o-lantern. One of this is edible, the other is poisonous. Can you tell the difference?” Milady shook her head. “Neither can your average cook.”
“Mistletoe is great for Christmas,” he continued, “but also poisonous. The Norse believed that Mistletoe will eventually kill one of the gods, starting the end of the world. Maybe they knew something.”
“Ever hear of Socrates?” he asked. Milady shook her head. “He was sentenced to death for his ideas. The means of execution?” He held up a small vial of liquid. “Hemlock.”
He pointed to a few more substances. “Lye isn’t really so much a poison as it is a corrosive. Antimony causes headaches and dizziness in small doses, but in larger doses can kill in a few days. It’s a nasty death as well, extensive vomiting and diarrhea.”
“Do you like apples?” he asked. Milady shrugged. “Apple seeds, cherry and peach pits all have trace amounts of cyanide. Grind them up and you have a potential poison.”
“What about your flower garden?” he asked. “Daffodils, foxglove, azaleas, oleander, yew, monkshood, nightshade, elderberry, holly, ivy…” he sighed, “the list goes on. Some of them are killers. But this one,” he held up a vial with white powder, “this is arsenic. When you’re in a pinch, arsenic is your best choice. Starts with a headache, ends with death”
He sat down. “Poisoning can be a dangerous and difficult prospect. Members of the royal family employ food tasters to make sure their food isn’t poisoned. Many people are watching, and if the food taster suddenly dies they can trace it back to you. There are ways around that, however. Food tasters don’t last too long, and they’re usually criminals. Sometimes the chef is also the official food taster. It makes them quite a bit more careful Poisoning can happen over a long time. Poisoning someone a bit of a time can work. Before anyone realizes that poison has been introduced into your victim’s system, they’ve already ingested enough of whatever substance you’re using to make any recovery difficult, if not impossible.”
Milady held the vial in her hands. “Tell me more.”
“All right,” he said. “Can you tell if someone is lying?”
Milady thought, “Well that depends, do I know the truth?”
“No, you don’t. If someone is looking at you and then away several times, are they telling the truth or lying?”
Milady pondered the question. “Lying. If they can’t look you in the eye, they’re not telling the truth.
“What if they’re trying to remember something?” Rochefort asked. “Don’t people look up or down if they’re trying to recall a detail? I’d be more suspicious of the person who stares at me the entire time. People who are lying try to convince us that everything’s normal.”
“So what would I look for?” she asked.
“A quick answer is almost always an honest answer,” he explained. “A lie takes a moment to create. Some liars repeat the question to give them time to think about the fabrication they are about to attempt. People sweat more, as well.”
“They could be just sweaty people,” she said.
“True,” he conceded. “Therefore, you have to see all the elements. Are their hands relaxed or are they gesturing too much? And what are they saying? Are they adding too many details to convince you that they’re telling the truth?
“The only way you’re going to get information is by observing,” Rochefort continued. “You should practice by observing people in the street. Notice details and little eccentricities.”
Milady nodded. This was the most interesting part of her education under the bishop and Rochefort. She enjoyed it much more than the etiquette lessons, but she knew the reasoning why. If she was going to infiltrate nobility, she had to blend in.
There were lessons that Milady knew that Rochefort could never teach her. She was young and beautiful, with a tight, firm body. She knew the influence she could have over men. She knew what they wanted and what they would do to achieve it. A promise of something was far more deadly than actually getting it. Hadn’t she already seduced a priest and that young jailer? And what of the Comte de la Fère? He had certainly fallen for her charms. She tried not to think of her former husband. Rochefort investigated the matter and discovered that the Comte had disappeared. It didn’t matter to Milady. She believed in the bishop, in his vision of a strong monarchy, and she was willing to do whatever it took to secure her place in his future. One day, Richelieu called her into his office.
“Congratulations,” he said. “You’re dead.”
Milady started. “What do you mean from that?”
“I’ve just received word that the Comte and Comtesse de la Fère were tragically drowned at sea,” he said with a smile.
“Where did you hear that,” she asked.
“Apparently, a letter was sent to your former estate with the horrible news. Your staff has been dismissed and the property now belongs to the crown.”
“So he never told anyone what he did to me,” she said. “He pretended that everything was the same, and then he died.”
“Unfortunately he left his estate to the Crown. Had he left it to the Church, we could have had you back in your old room in a few years,” Richelieu said.
Milady was quiet. “I don’t feel sorry for him,” she said.
“Nor should you,” Richelieu said. “It is best to forget he ever existed. If we succeed in placing me at the King’s side, I could have you named Comtesse de la Fère once again, and situate you back where you belong.”
She nodded. “I would like that very much.” She sighed. “I just can’t believe he’s dead.”
“You loved him, didn’t you?” Richelieu asked, even though he knew the answer.
She smiled and hid her feelings. She never wanted to appear weak in front of the Bishop. “I was young.”
“You are still young,” he said.
She shook her head. “I don’t feel young. I feel as if I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes. My old life seems so distant, like it happened to someone else. My God, have I changed so much?”
“You are older, wiser, and stronger,” he said. “The woman you are is nothing like the girl you were. Some of us find ourselves growing up faster than others. It is our curse and our blessing.”
- All for One- Chapter Six
The Next Chapter
- All For One- Chapter Eight
The Next Chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel