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All For One- Chapter Twenty-Five
25. The Journey to Madrid
True to Marie’s word, Athos received leave from des Essarts. As a cover, he told his friends that he was going to visit his family. He hated keeping secrets from those he considered his truest friends, but Athos valued honor above all, and he had sworn an oath to the Queen. If André or Tréville were confused by the sudden departure of their friend, they kept it to themselves. Using money given to him from the Queen, he purchased four strong horses. He loaded the biggest horse with their provisions for a week’s journey, and early the next morning, he met Marie and Doña Consuela on the Rue Moufftard. The women were dressed in simple servant’s clothes and covered themselves with long cloaks. Athos also wore a simple cloak over his leather jerkin. It served not only as a means of protection from the elements but also to conceal his weapons. In addition to his rapier, he carried three pistols, two poniards and a dagger concealed in each boot. Across his chest he carried his ammunition pouch and a bandolier of a dozen powder charges nicknamed “the Twelve Apostles.” He had a small snap sack that he used to carry personal objects and also a small powder horn.
They traveled south following the same path they had traveled last year, but in reverse. The found themselves talking freely on the road, about Palace gossip. Athos discovered that Doña Estefana knew just about everyone in the Louvre, and he picked her brain about people. Like most of the country, she hated the Italian Concinis’ and longed for the day when Louis would be his own man, and drove those hated foreigners out. Athos thought about pointing out that Doña Estefana herself was a foreigner, and there were many people in France that wished that her and his mistress would be driven out of the country as well, but he thought it prudent to hold his tongue.
Their conversation ceased when they reached Orléans, the home of the Valois kings. On the Northern part of the Loire River, it was the closest point to Paris from the Loire. They planned to see the great Cathedral, the first stone laid by Henri IV, but they were slightly paranoid and too afraid that they would be discovered. Athos was well aware of the absurdity of the situation. He was a nobleman, living the life of a soldier, pretending to be a peasant. They had to eat, so Athos insisted that they stop at an inn. They had food stashed on the fourth horse, but that was for emergencies, and they had gold to fill their bellies. Athos entered the inn and took a seat far from the door. The two women joined him. He was amused, for both Marie and Doña Consuela were not accustomed to dining among the common man. Doña Consuela could not hide the distain from her face. Nothing could have revealed her true identity more unless she stood up on the bench and shouted her name.
After lunch, they followed the Loire River to Blois, site of the murders of the duc de Guise and his brother Louis. They decided to stop there and spend the night. Athos acquired two rooms, one for himself and one for the women. He examined the rooms himself, before he allowed the women to take the room. His room was next to theirs and he thought about Marie.
Marie, for her part was not thinking about Athos. She wasn’t thinking about Doña Estefana and her surprisingly very light snoring. She wasn’t even thinking of the Duc de Luynes, whom she had been thinking about quite a bit lately. She was thinking about the message she was to deliver in Madrid. Her conscience was bothering her, but she loved Anne, and would do anything for her. She decided that doing something for a friend didn’t mean just doing the easy things. Sometimes, you had to make difficult choices.
They woke up early and broke their fast in the inn. They were eager to continue their journey. Athos thought that Marie looked tired, and indeed she was, for she found sleep to be quite elusive. They continued to follow the Loire River to the town of Chinon which lay the junction of the Loire and the Vienne Rivers. They ate at Chinon and decided for the trip that they would have to assume false names as the Queen suggested. Marie suggested that they keep their first names, so that if they slipped up and referred to each other in their true identities, no one would get suspicious.
“I will be Marie Michon,” Marie suggested. “You can pretend to be my sister, Consuela.”
Doña Consuela nodded. “Consuela Michon,” she said in her decidedly Spanish accent.
Athos’ brow furrowed. “You don’t think your accent will give you away?” Athos suggested.
“What accent?” Doña Consuela replied simply.
“Never mind,” Athos said. “So who will I be? Your husband?”
“Of course not,” Marie said laughing. “How would we explain you staying in a different room?”
“Right,” Athos said forcing a laugh.
“You can be our brother,” Doña Consuela suggested.
“But what kind of name is Athos?” Marie asked. “Isn’t that a mountain?”
“What is your real name?” Doña Consuela asked before Athos could protest.
“My real name is Olivier,” he said, “but I implore you to keep that information to yourself.”
“Why, Olivier?” she said.
“Because, Marie, I wish to keep my true name secret,” he said simply.
Marie didn’t ask anymore questions, but her curiosity was fully engaged. Athos spoke no more on the subject but continued his practice of scrutinizing each person that dined in the inn. He could tell that most of the people were locals. They clearly knew each other and conducted business often. Every once in a while he’d see travelers enter, dust on their shoes. He didn’t worry about them. They were only concerned with filling their bellies. Athos was almost convinced that no one knew of their journey when he saw a suspicious man.
He was a tall man, about forty, with black and piercing eyes, a pale complexion and a carefully trimmed black moustache. He was clad all in black, his boots were dusty, and although the clothes were simple and unornamented, Athos could tell that the fabric was still fairly new, without any rips, tears, or worn spots, suggesting a nice purse. He looked to see if there were bulges under his clothes revealing weapons. Athos watched the man as he strode to the bar and ordered a glass of wine and a simple meal. The man scanned the inn, looking at each person.
“Look at me,” Athos said to the women.
They looked at him. “What?” asked Doña Consuela.
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” Athos said. “Just look at me and don’t call attention to yourselves.”
The black-dressed man swept his gaze at Athos’ table. He couldn’t see the women’s faces, but he could see Athos. He looked at the table for a second and fixed his gaze back to the bar. He didn’t look over at them for the rest of the time they were in the inn.
“Don’t turn around,” Athos said. “But there is a man at the bar, who doesn’t belong.”
“Do you think he’s here to stop us?” Marie asked.
“I don’t know. He may have nothing to do with us at all,” Athos admitted. “I do not want to rely on that. I suggest that after we finish our meal, the two of you leave. I will pay our landlord.”
“I’ve suddenly lost my appetite,” Marie said.
“Me too,” Doña Consuela said.
Athos nodded. “I’ll get up and head to the bar to pay our bill. Let him look at me, no one knows who I am. The two of you slip out as quietly as possible.”
Marie nodded. Athos rose from his seat and causally walked to the bar. He was about eight feet away from the man in black. Athos asked the innkeeper to settle the bill and waited. He watched the man through the corner of his eye. The man did not look back, but rather looked at his meal. Athos thought he seemed like he was trying very hard not to look at him. For his part, Athos chose a spot on the wall just past the man in black to which he could look at in order to avoid direct eye contact.
Athos paid the innkeeper and stole a look to his table. The women were gone. Athos raised his hood and causally walked out the front door. As soon as the door shut behind him, he dashed to the end of the inn and ducked around the corner. He peered out around the inn and watched the front door. Shortly, the door opened and the man in black exited the inn. He looked at the street, both to the right and to the left. When he didn’t find his quarry, he returned inside.
Athos was sure that this man was following them. He ran around behind the inn where he knew the horses were moored. He found Marie and Doña Consuela already mounted and waiting for him. He mounted his horse Tonnerre and whispering for them to be silent, cantered the horses around the inn. He stopped Tonnerre before they walked onto the main road. He looked at the front of the inn, and, seeing no one there, turned onto the road with the women following him. Once outside of Chinon, Athos spurred their horses and they rode swiftly, putting as much distance between them and the man in black.
They crossed the Vienne and headed South. They rode through Richelieu and finally made it to Poitiers, the former capital of France while Paris was occupied by the English. Marie wanted to see the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater but Athos though it would not be prudent. The horses were tired from their journey, and Athos decided that the town as large enough to properly disappear in. He felt that if the man in black was following them, he would have a difficult time searching each and every inn in Poitiers.
He found two rooms at a small inn. He requested a room with a window overlooking the street, and after dinner he told the women to retire early. He sat by the window and watched the road. Later, he heard a soft knocking at the door. He grabbed his pistol and aimed it at the door.
“Come in,” he said.
The door opened slowly and Marie stuck her head in. Athos lowered his weapon.
“May I come in?” she asked.
He nodded. “Quickly.”
She slid into the room. “Are you going to shoot me, Olivier?” she said jokingly.
“Only if you’re a tall man dressed in black,” he replied.
She approached the window. “Are you looking for him?”
“Yes,” he replied. “What about your chaperone?”
“Passed out,” she replied. “Wine apparently steadies her nerves.”
“Not a very good chaperone.”
“Oh, I trust you, Olivier,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in this situation if you didn’t.”
She sat on the bed, close to him. They watched for a while, their bodies close. Athos found it difficult to concentrate with Marie’s breath on his neck and the scent of her perfume in his nose. “Are you upset at me?”
“No, not at all,” he said. “At least I know I can protect you.”
“It seems our entire friendship involves you saving my life,” she said.
He smiled. They watched for a while.
“Olivier, you’re a man…” she began.
“I try,” he answered back.
“Could I ask your opinion about someone?”
“Of course,” he said.
“What do you think of the Duc de Luynes?”
He thought about it. “He seems like a noble man. He’s certainly good friends with the King. Tréville said that he was raised at court and has been with the King since Louis was little. He likes to hunt. He knows quite a bit about falcons from what I hear.” He shrugged. “Other than that, I don’t know.” He was not exactly pleased to be discussing another man with Marie.
“He’d be a good match,” she said.
“For who?” asked Athos.
“For me, of course,” Marie said.
Athos turned away from the window.
“I’ve been considering writing to my father suggesting the match,” she continued. “I’ve seen how Anne is so unhappy in her marriage. I would like to find someone I could be happy with and still be a good match.”
“And you think this de Luynes is a good match?” Athos asked, controlling himself.
“I’ve spent some time with him recently,” Marie said. “He seems like a good man.”
Athos turned back to the street. He peered down the way. He banished the painful thoughts of Marie and de Luynes out of his mind as soon as he saw the black clad figure riding up the street.
“Get down,” he whispered.
She immediately glided off the bed and sank to the floor. Athos slipped out of his chair and crouched near the window with his eyes peeking over the sill. He watched the man ride by. Marie held her breath, but remained hidden under the sill, close to Athos’ chest.
“He’s gone,” Athos said. Marie stood up. “I doubt this is a wild coincidence.”
“Who is he?” Marie asked.
“I don’t know,” Athos said. “You should get back to your room.”
She nodded and slipped through the door. If Doña Consuela had any idea that her charge had snuck away during the night, she betrayed no knowledge the next day. The only thing she acknowledged was a splitting headache.
Athos was tired as well. He slept very little the night before, preferring to keep watch for the man in black. They kept to a curious route. Rather than making a long trek with one stop in the middle of the day, they left Poitiers and headed south to Civray. They crossed the Charente River and headed to Cognac, home of the famous brandy, where they ate their midday meal at an inn dear the Saint-Léger church. After they ate, they journeyed to Coutras, and finally stopped for the day in Bourdeaux.
- All For One- Chapter Twenty-Four
The next chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel
- All For One- Chapter Twenty-Six
The Next Chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel