All For One- Chapter Twenty-One
André stood. They had waited long enough. Opening the sack, they pulled out two wheellock pistols and two matchlock muskets. They loaded the guns with the powder charges they brought along. They slipped the pistols in the belts and propped the muskets against the wall near the door. The two men slipped the black masks over their faces and carried two chairs to either side of the double doors leading to the hallway. Silently they climbed on the chairs and unscrewed the bolts holding the top hinges together. They slid the bolts out slowly, their hands holding the door up. The top hinges disabled; they slowly climbed off the chairs. Both men crouched and slowly repeated the action first with the middle hinge, and then the bottom hinge.
The door was barely attached to the wall. With their free hands they grabbed their new muskets propped by the door. They looked at each other to confirm each other’s preparedness. In unison, they stepped five paces backwards and knelt. They lit the wicks on their muskets and aimed at the door.
For a moment, nothing occurred. Then the inevitable happened. The locked double doors toppled over like a fallen tree and landed on the floor with a splintering crash. The men guarding the door jumped and fumbled for their weapons. Calmly, André and Bertrand fired their weapons, felling two guards. Since the muskets took too long to reload, they simply discarded them and pulled their pistols. They fired again, and again two guards flopped against the floor. André and Bertrand neutralized the four guards outside the door in less than ten seconds.
They leapt to their feet and drew their rapiers before they dashed through the doors and into the cramped hallway, leaping over the bloody bodies of the guards.
André turned to the right. “This way.”
He advanced down the hallway, with Bertrand following and looking over his shoulder. As expected the gunshots soon brought men rushing up the stairs. The two men faced the dozen men rushing towards them. As the men advanced they went to draw their swords. The hallway was narrow and they tried to brandish their rapiers, their elbows slammed into the wall, keeping their swords at bay. André and Bertrand did not let this opportunity pass. A quick thrust from each, dispatched the leaders of the attack. André smiled. He regretted for a moment that Athos was not here. This was a perfect example of the superiority of the point over the blade.
A yell came from behind them. Bertrand turned to see three more men running towards them from behind with their swords already drawn. Bertrand faced these men. He wondered why some fools always announce their presence by yelling. Now he was prepared for them.
They fought back-to-back. César and Condé’s men were adequate, but André and Bertrand were excellent. André drove them back to the landing overlooking the great room. Bertrand retreated right along with André until he had dispatched his last opponent. He turned around and accessed the situation. At least four more men were cramped behind the man that André was dueling, but couldn’t get past him. Bertrand looked on the main floor and saw three more men racing for the stairs. Looking out, he noticed that the main chandelier was right in front of him.
He had one shot. He sheathed his sword. Stepping on one of the bodies, he leapt on the rail, and launched his body to the chandelier. He caught the fixture and it swung far from the landing. The simple rope could not handle the combined weight of both the chandelier and Bertrand, and it snapped. He dropped to the ground and as he hit the floor he pushed the chandelier away from him and it shattered to pieces around him. He landed hard on his feet. One day his knees were going to give way. But not this day. Drawing his sword once more he dashed to the stairs to face the men attacking André. Caught between the two of them, César and Condé’s men had no chance.
When all of the guards were dispatched, they saw César and Condé striding to them.
“I rather liked that chandelier,” César said. “Yet that’s the least of the crimes you’ve committed here.”
“Interesting choice of words,” André said.
“Destroying a chandelier is hardly worth comparing to kidnapping a princess,” Bertrand added.
“You have no proof,” Condé said.
“Other than the Infanta herself?” André asked.
“You don’t actually think you’re going to escape with her off these grounds, do you?” César asked in return.
André and Bertrand laughed.
“Do you really think we would be telling you our plans, if there was any chance at all the Infanta could be in danger?” Bertrand scoffed. “She escaped two hours ago.”
Indeed at that very moment, the Anne of Austria was riding from Orléans to Étampes on the second leg of her journey. She made very good time with the valiant Tréville at her side pushing the horses to their limit. When she arrived at Orléans she found a friendly face waiting for her. Marie de Rohan was smiling, waiting beside three fresh horses. The Infanta leapt from her saddle and embraced her friend.
“Sabía usted que no me deja pudrirse allí,” she said.
“¿Hay alguna duda?” Marie replied.
There was little time for storytelling. They left the two tired horses at Orléans with instructions to the groom that they were to be retrieved by a M. d’Artagnan the next day. Within minutes the three riders were off to Étampes where Grimaud was waiting with three more horses to take them to Paris.
Back in Vendôme, César called for his men. Those that were still alive rushed into the room, and seeing André and Bertrand with rapiers in their hand, brandished their swords at once.
“Hold,” Condé ordered. “The prisoner has escaped. Find her.”
The men nodded and ran out of the room. Bertrand laughed.
“They’ll never catch her. They have a two hour head start. You don’t even know which route they took,” he said.
César drew his own sword. “Then you’ll have to talk.” Condé drew his as well.
“Oh, that would be a mistake,” André said.
“Is that a threat?”
“Not at all,” André coolly replied. “But it would be a mistake to kill us before you’ve thought it through.”
“Not to sound immodest, but we won’t be easy to kill,” Bertrand said.
“It would be a shame if the King were to find out what you’ve done,” André said holding a letter.
“What is that?” Condé asked.
“A letter to the king,” André explained. “It tells how we found the Infanta locked in a room upstairs and freed her. Your names are mentioned very prominently.”
“Then give me it,” César ordered.
“Gladly,” André said as he tossed it to César’s feet. “Read it over yourselves. The language is very poetic.”
“Thank you,” Bertrand said. “And now you will let us go.”
“And why would I do that?” César snarled.
Condé sighed. He understood. “Because that’s not the only copy of the letter.”
“Then hand it over!”
“That we can not do,” Bertrand said.
“Then I shall kill you, and take it,” César said.
“They don’t have it, you fool,” snapped Condé.
“Of course not,” André replied.
“May I assume that it is in the hands of a third party with instructions to deliver the letter to the King unless you arrive in Paris tomorrow?” Condé said.
“Three days, actually,” Bertrand said. “And you have no idea who. Even if you torture us, the man is in Paris as we speak.” And at that moment Athos dined with Vitry and des Essarts in Paris, a copy of the letter tucked under his doublet.
“So we have come to what in chess is called a stalemate,” André said. “We can not kill you because you are of royal blood. And you can not kill us because your plot would be exposed.”
“What do you want?” Condé asked.
“Simply to leave in peace,” Bertrand said. “We leave with our lives. You have not seen our faces, there is no threat of retaliation.
“I don’t know the one,” said a voice to their left. “But the other is the Chevalier de Valence.”
André turned to see Milady in the doorway, knife in her hand. He laughed. “I am sorry to deceive you, but there is no such man.”
André watched as the realization spread across her face. Her eyes hardened and her cheeks turned red. She took a step towards them.
“Sabiné stay where you are,” Condé barked. She stopped, but her eyes continued to glare at André.
“Very well,” Condé continued, “if you leave unharmed, what do we get?”
“Our silence,” Bertrand said, “and our partner’s too. We will not tell what you did, and you can go about your lives without any threat from us.”
“How can we trust you?” César asked.
“We swear it on our honor,” André said.
“That’s not good enough,” César said.
“It will have to be,” Bertrand replied.
Milady raised her voice. “And what of the Infanta? Do you speak for Anne of Austria’s silence as well?”
“We can not silence the princess,” André admitted. “But did she ever see either of you?”
Condé looked relieved. “No, that was the plan.”
“Then you’re safe,” Bertrand said. “Who did she see?”
“Of my men,” César said, “none that are still alive.”
“Those who abducted her?”
“Dead,” Milady said.
“And what about you, Sabiné du Luçon?” André asked. “Did she see you?”
“Do you think that is my real name as well?” she said haughtily.
“Do you think I care?” he shot back, turning her face another degree of red.
“Then it’s settled,” Condé said. “You leave here unharmed, and we do not try to find you. You destroy that letter when you are safe and you never mention our names to anyone.”
“Agreed,” Bertrand said.
Condé nodded. “César, lower your sword.” The younger man bit his lip and for a moment tried to think of a flaw in his opponent’s logic, but he found none. He reluctantly lowered his sword.
“Sabiné, drop your knife,” Condé ordered.
Milady seethed and clenched the knife harder.
“Sabiné,” Condé said again, “Drop your knife or I swear I will run you through.”
Bitterly she dashed the knife to the ground. Condé lowered his sword.
“Well played,” he said to André and Bertrand.
“Thank you, your grace,” Bertrand replied. “And now we shall bid you adieu.”
They backed away, swords still drawn, and slipped though the main door.
“After them,” Milady said, after they had gone.
“Sabiné,” Condé said, “we have to let them go.”
“What if they’re lying?” she asked.
“What if they’re not?” he countered.
“It’s over,” César said. “Be glad it’s not worse.”
Condé pulled Milady aside. “Sabiné, you must disappear, like you promised.”
Frustrated, she nodded. “If another opportunity arises, my benefactor will contact you.”
- All For One- Chapter Twenty
The next chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel
- All For One- Chapter Twenty-Two
The next chapter in the Three Musketeers prequel