All For One- Chapter Thirty-Two
32. The Trip Home
After the message was delivered to the King, their mission completed, the three companions headed home. They changed their route, opting to ride to the sea before crossing into France. Athos was still wary of their pursuer. Even though he was sure the man in black was dead, he wondered if he had friends, and was unwilling to travel the same way that they had arrived. They traveled north for ninety miles to Aranda de Duero, and then rode northeast to Logroño on the Rio Ebro where they stopped to eat. They had a local specialty called lechazo, roast baby lamb served with torta bread to soak in the drippings in the au jus style.
They ate in near silence. Athos was occupied in an enduring pout. He was still very upset that the purpose of their mission was traitorous, and felt manipulated. Marie kept trying to engage him in conversation, but his answers, while never rude, were usually curt and rarely lasted more than four words. Doña Consuela was eager to return to Paris, and was constantly looking at a map, to see if a shorter route back home existed.
After lunch, they crossed the mighty Ebro and headed to the town of Pamplona. Athos hoped that this stop would raise his spirits, for he had often heard about the traditions of letting bulls run through the streets and the bold and foolhardy men who dared to run with the bulls. He had always wondered if he had the courage to pit his speed and wits against dozens of angry bovines. Unfortunately, after inquiring in the town, he found that they only run the bulls once a year during the festival of San Fermín in July and they were a month too early. He put the idea in perspective. His mission was still to protect Marie and Doña Consuela, and he was still injured, so he forgot his idea of running with the bulls and suggested they head back north to the sea.
Although Pamplona was only twenty-five miles from the French border, those twenty-five miles were dominated by the Pyrenees Mountains. It was easier to cross into France near the low ground near the coast of the Bay of Biscay. So they headed to the border town of San Sebastián. They crossed the Bidassoa River that forms the border between France and Spain at the Isle of Pheasants. Both Athos and Doña Consuela remembered it well, for it was on the Isle of Pheasants that the young Anne of Austria was exchanged for the Princess Elisabeth of Valois. They didn’t travel long in France before it as time to find a place to stay for the night. They spent the night in the town of Bayonne in Gascony.
In the morning, Athos thought it might be a good idea to find a familiar face. The area of Gascony was fiercely independent. Even though they were French, the inhabitants of Gascony had their own language and culture. They were descendants of the clans who came down from the mountains and settled in the area. The Romans called them the Vascones, and the word evolved into Gascons and Basques, depending on which side of the mountains you lived on. The area had been plagued by Viking raids and as a result, Gascons were excellent sailors. Their Duchy was eventually merged with the northern province of Aquitaine through marriage. The new region gained independence during the English Wars, but became French once again in 1453. Throughout all their troubles, the Gascons remained independent in spirit, and more than any other Frenchman, they appreciated the sweetness of life. Athos figured that any place that could give the world foie gras and Armagnac brandy couldn’t be that bad. He was worried that the region would be unfriendly to Parisian outsiders. However, Athos knew he would be welcome at Artagnan. His friend’s large family lived there, and he thought they could find a small amount of comfort.
They spent the morning riding to the small town, or bastide as they were called, of Artagnan, deep in the heart of Gascony. He was impressed at how beautiful the area was, with its green rolling hills with the Pyrenees dominating the skyline to the south. He remembered where the estate of his dear friend Bertrand de Batz-Castelmore was. He was careful not to refer to him as d’Artagnan, since everyone who lived there could be called d’Artagnan. He rode his small company up a familiar lane, when a boy’s voice cried out in that thick Gascon accent.
“Ho! Stand forth!”
Athos looked around, and then looked down to see a black-haired youth with a dark complexion of about eleven, holding a long wooden stick like a sword.
“Hello, my friend,” Athos said.
“Are you loyal to the King?” the boy puffed.
“That I am,” Athos replied, playing the game. “And what are you called?”
“I am Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan, and this is my home,” he announced.
“Then this is good fortune,” Athos said. “One of my comrades is Bertrand de Batz-Castlemore d’Artagnan.”
The boy lowered his homemade weapon. “You know my dad?”
“Know him and fight beside him,” Athos acknowledged. “I have been a guest in your home.”
“About three years past, when the Queen Regent toured the country to show the King to his subjects.”
The boy smiled. “Come, follow me!” he shouted and led them up the lane. They followed the young d’Artagnan and arrived at Bertrand’s house and his wife, Nathálie, greeted them warmly. She invited them in to dine and they were glad to find a friendly face. Athos made sure that he gave Nathálie a few of the gold coins he received from King Felipe to compensate her for her pains.
They ate a good hearty meal and Nathálie gave Athos a special salve that had remarkable healing properties. As they rested before their journey, Marie sought out Athos. He was behind the house gazing at the Pyrenees. She walked up and sat next to him.
“Why haven’t you spoken to me since Madrid?” she asked.
“My opinion hasn’t changed,” Athos replied.
“I can not stand it if you are mad at me!”
“Do you think that I am a fool?” Athos shot back. “Did you expect me to believe that you did not know the content of the message?”
“As I said earlier, she made me memorize exactly what to say to her father,” she replied.
“You speak Spanish,” Athos said.
Marie looked away. “I don’t speak it very well.”
“You speak it well enough to know what the message said,” Athos said. “Did you know what the message was?”
Marie was silent for a moment, as if trying to think. She exhaled and seemed to come to a decision, for she fixed her eyes upon and said simply, “Yes.”
“So you lied to me,” he said.
“I did no such thing,” Marie replied.
“You told me that the message was not treasonous,” he said.
“I didn’t tell you anything,” Marie said, “if you remember.”
Athos tried to think back. She was right; Marie didn’t say anything to him. The Queen said everything.
“So the Queen lied,” Athos said.
Athos thought again. The Queen had assured him that the message was not treasonous. Didn’t she?
“All she said that it was a message from a daughter to her father,” Marie responded. “So what she said was not a lie.”
“But it wasn’t the truth,” Athos snapped. “A lie of omission is still a lie.”
“You had a choice,” Marie said. “You could have refused.”
“I would have had I known,” Athos pointed out. “I made that very clear, but you manipulated me. You knew I would agree.”
“No, I didn’t know!” Marie said. “I didn’t know what you would do. I thought of you for this journey because I trusted you.”
“You thought of me, because you knew you could twist my feelings,” Athos said.
Marie was confused. “What feelings?”
Athos paused. He had said too much, but he was angry now. “You know,” he said.
“Feelings, for me?” she said.
Athos did not say anything, but just held her gaze. She felt conflicted. She always had a soft spot for him.
“I had no idea,” she said.
“How could you not know?”
She felt odd. For some time, she had felt an attraction to the handsome guard, but lately her thoughts were of someone else.
“How long?” she finally asked. “How long have you felt this way?”
“Since the day we met,” he said, too embarrassed to look at her.
“I see,” she said. She braced herself. “Of course, you know, nothing could ever happen,” she said.
She watched his face, but he betrayed no emotion, yet he could not look at her either.
"You are a guard, and I am the daughter of nobility," she said, telling him all that he already knows. “You have to have realized all of that.”
“Of course I did,” Athos said.
“I hope I haven’t done anything to encourage those feelings, and if I have, I deeply apologize,” she said. “I know you think I relied on your feelings to accept this mission, and I now realize those feelings are what led you to come along with us. Please understand that I would never do anything to hurt you, Olivier.”
“My name is Athos, Mlle de Montbazon,” he said formally. She nodded.
He stood and started to walk away. “We should go soon,” he said impassively. “I made a promise to deliver you safely to Paris, and that I what I will do.”
He walked away, meaning to check on the horses, as he stood in the doorway, he stopped.
“If I were not a guard,” he began, “but if I were a nobleman…”
She interrupted him. “But you are not, Athos,” she said. “The point is moot. Let us not linger what can not be.”
He nodded and left. He wandered to the horses and absent-mindedly checked the saddles. He contemplated telling her the truth that he was the Comte de la Fère and more than a good match for Marie de Rohan. He knew the questions that would come with that statement would undo him. She would undoubtedly what to know why he would forgo his name and title and became a simple guard. What could he do? If he told her that he killed his last wife because he found out she was a thief, she would never speak to him again, and rightfully so. What woman in her right mind would? He could lie, but then he knew he would have to live every day knowing that any day could be the day that the truth is revealed from means not under his control.
He knew this was his punishment, far more than any executioner could devise. He could never fall in love with his own class, not unless he revealed who he was and the nature of his crime. No amount of penance could ever erase that day from his life. He always held a lingering thought in his head, that someday he could return and resume his title and place, but he couldn’t imagine what had to happen before he could ever be the Comte de la Fère once more.
They said their goodbyes to Nathálie and her family, and made their way to Bourdeaux.
The next day they rode north in relative silence first to Angoulême, and then to Limoges. The day passed with no incident. The following day they rode straight to the large city of Tours. As they entered through the gates of the town, Marie sat straight in her saddle.
“Father?” she said and rode ahead. Athos and Doña Consuela exchanged glances and followed. They saw a carriage resting in front of a large residence, and Marie approached it. She peered inside and saw that it was empty. It was in front of a large hotel, much nicer than the inns they were used to staying in on this trip. She dismounted as Athos and Doña Consuela approached. Athos looked at the carriage and noticed the crest of the House of Rohan on the door. Was this the same carriage he encountered last year?
“Your father’s carriage?” Athos asked.
“I think so,” she said. Athos and Doña Consuela dismounted and the three of them walked to the front door.
When they entered the servants looked at them oddly. One of the servants, a short, well-dressed man, approached them.
“Are you lost?” he asked.
Athos had forgotten that they were dressed as peasants.
“We’re here to see the Duc of Montbazon,” Marie said.
The short man smiled a condescending smile. “The duke does not want to be disturbed,” he said.
“I’m his daughter,” she said.
He looked at her. “Mademoiselle,” he began. “This is a respectable establishment…”
Athos pulled aside his cloak to reveal the hilt of his rapier. “I hope that you are not about to imply that this young woman has any hint of scandal upon her.”
Doña Consuela stepped forward. “Athos, allow me,” she said. She held up two gold coins. She handed one to the short man. “Go to the duke, and tell him that his daughter, Marie de Rohan is here to see him. If the duke comes out here or informs you to let her in, this other coin,” she said, indicating the second gold coin, “will be yours.”
The short man looked at the coin, nodded, and left.
"You have to know how to talk to servants in a way that they will understand, "Doña Consuela said.
A few minutes later, Hercule de Rohan entered the foyer.
“Marie!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here, and why are you dressed like that?”
“Father,” she said, embracing him. “We are on a mission for the Queen and are in disguise.”
“But who are these people you are with?” he asked, astonished.
“Father, this is Doña Consuela Estefania, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and my chaperone. You remember Athos, as the man who saved us from those brigands last year. He is my protection.”
Hercule turned to the short man. “Rooms for our guests. Draw baths for them, and set three more places for dinner.
The short man nodded. “Yes sir. So that will be five for dinner?”
Hercule nodded and the short man bowed. Before he left he approached Doña Consuela, who discreetly placed the second coin in his hand.
It felt good to be clean, Athos thought an hour later as he dressed in nice clothes he wore for the King. He entered the dining room to find, not only Hercule de Rohan, Marie, and Doña Consuela, but also Charles d’Albert, the Duc de Luynes. He was surprised to see de Luynes so far from Paris.
After they had eaten, de Luynes stood. “You may be wondering what I am doing so far from Paris,” he said. “It is very simple. When I heard that the duke was here in Tours, I made a special trip to see him. Mlle de Montbazon, you and I have gotten to know each other since you came to stay at the Louvre. We have become friends. I have come to Tours to ask your father for your hand in marriage, and to my eternal joy, he has accepted.”
Marie smiled. “I am glad to hear it. I had hoped that when my time came to marry that it would not be to some stranger, but someone I knew and enjoyed their company.” She smiled brightly. Her eyes found Athos, but quickly looked away.
Athos held his glass high. “Congratulations, your grace,” he said, forcing the emotion from his voice.
Later, after the ladies had retired, de Luynes found Athos, looking after the horses.
“So, who are you?” de Luynes asked.
“Excuse me, your grace?” Athos answered.
“Your name. What is your name?” he asked.
“I thought we were introduced, your grace,” Athos said. “I am Athos.”
“That’s not what I mean,” de Luynes replied. “What is your real name?”
Athos turned around slowly. “My real name is Olivier, your grace.”
“You are no simple guard,” de Luynes said. “I know you come from noble blood.”
“Indeed, your grace?”
“Indeed,” de Luynes said. “I observed you at dinner. Your manners were impeccable. Such things are not learned on a farm, or by unskilled workers. So, I ask again, who are you?”
“Your grace, I could tell you,” Athos began. “But certain people believe that I am dead. I wish for that bit of misinformation to continue. If I were ordered to tell you my full name, with all that it implies, I would do so, but understand that the next words to come out of my mouth would be a challenge to the death. I would be compelled to kill you, your grace.”
“I see,” de Luynes said. “The other day I was speaking with your good friend the Comte de Tréville. I asked him where the four of you were during your leave last year. He refused to tell me. I believe that something happened with the four of you, the Queen and Mlle de Montbazon, my wife to be. Will you tell me what happened?”
“I will also refuse,” Athos said. “It is a matter of honor. Being of noble birth, I am sure you will understand.”
“Yes. Of course,” de Luynes said. “I don’t trust you, Athos. The other day I was at the theatre with the King and Queen. When I asked the Queen why Mlle de Montbazon was not accompanying the royal party, she told us that Mlle de Montbazon was in Brittany visiting her father. Naturally when I heard that her father was in Tours I went to see the two of them only to find that Mlle de Montbazon never visited Brittany. In fact she has not been to her ancestral home since she arrived in Paris last year. Now I find her arriving in Tours disguised as a peasant in your company on a secret mission. You can imagine my distress at this situation. Now, I can not compel you to speak your many secrets, but I can do this: I order you to stay away from my wife.”
Athos turned a deep scarlet. “I want to know exactly what you’re implying. I would be compelled to defend my honor if I weren’t so fond of your fiancée.”
“That is exactly the problem,” de Luynes said. “I think you are too fond of my fiancée.”
Athos took a step back and slowly drew his rapier. “Now you have insulted both my honor and Mlle de Montbazon’s. That can not stand. Draw your weapon if you consider yourself a man.”
De Luynes considered the man in front of him. “Very well,” he said, stepping back and drawing his own sword, which shone from disuse.
Athos held his terza guard steadily, while de Luynes stood in what also appeared to be terza. Since this was Athos’ challenge, he was compelled to strike first. He had a feeling that de Luynes was unpracticed, but he wanted to make sure. He started with a few easy cuts—a man dritto squalembrato with a mollonello into the riverso position—and then retreated a step and allowed de Luynes to attack. The duke attacked with cuts and Athos easily parried each one, his protective box quite impenetrable. He had no difficulty blocking each of de Luynes’ cuts as the duke easily communicated his intention with each cut.
Athos laughed. “You fight like an Englishman,” he scoffed. “pay attention now.”
Athos unleashed a brilliant attack. Feinting and thrusting with a minimal of indicative movement. De Luynes was forced to retreat, barely able to parry Athos’ thrusts. His point proven, Athos caught de Luynes’ sword in a bind and flipped the rapier from de Luynes’ hand. Immediately the point of Athos’ rapier hovered an inch in front of de Luynes’ Adam’s apple.
“Do not move an inch,” Athos warned. “By all rights your blood belongs on my sword, but I will not kill you for the simple reason that I value Mlle de Montbazon’s friendship, and I feel your death might just break her heart. I will grant you your life on the condition that you do not investigate my true identity nor do you interrogate my companions about the incident involving Mlle de Montbazon last year.”
“I have sworn to the Queen herself that I will see Mlle de Montbazon safely to Paris, and I will fulfill that vow,” Athos continued. “Afterwards, I will be more than happy to sever all contact with her as long as it does not affect my duties at the Louvre.”
De Luynes nodded. “Very well,” he said.
“Would you agree that honor will be satisfied?”
Athos nodded and lowered his sword.
De Luynes straightened his clothes. “Tomorrow the duke, his daughter, Doña Estefania, and I journey back to Paris. You may accompany us and fulfill your vow.”
“Is that all, your grace?” Athos asked.
“Yes, that will be all,” de Luynes said and turned on his heel out the door. Athos watched him go and then returned to looking after Tonnette. He was eager to get back to Paris and put this entire adventure behind him.
- All For One- Chapter Thirty-one
The Next chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel
- All For One- Chapter Thirty-Three
The next chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel