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The Secret of Athos

by Monsieur de Tréville

 

As the reader knows, Monsieur Alexandre Dumas has elsewhere ably chronicled a few of the adventures of young D’Artagnan and his three musketeer friends: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Dumas was, however, aware of only some of their exploits and services to king, queen, and France. As the commanding officer of the company of Musketeers and also the personal friend of the men in question, I am, of course, acquainted with all their actions and deeds, and it is my pleasure, therefore, to relate to the readers certain episodes in the lives of D’Artagnan and his comrades which they surely are not familiar with. For example, I recall (although I only learned of it, from Athos himself, years later) one incident which occurred not long after D’Artagnan discovered that the intriguing Lady De Winter, the Cardinal’s agent, had a fleur-de-lis burned on her shoulder and related these facts to her former husband, Athos.

Off-duty and in civilian clothes, Athos and D’Artagnan were crossing the square behind the grey stone church of St. Peter one Saturday before noon. The mid-morning sun bounced lightly off the red cobblestones and warmed the spring air as Parisians bustled about. Jostling through the crowd, they had walked just beyond the fountain in the center, when Athos, the soul of self assurance, halted suddenly. His path was directly but accidentally blocked by a young fellow in homespun clothes who was obviously from the country. The obstacle was less than eighteen years of age with a tall, thin build and an innocent face that fitted a confused child.

When they glanced at each other, the fellow's huge eyes stared excitedly at Athos from under a mop of brown hair.

Athos stopped for only an instant, his own dark eyes boring into the person in front of him, before he moved on quickly with a tart, "Excuse me."

The other seemed ready to cry out, but something in Athos’s manner kept the boy silent for the moment.

D’Artagnan was familiar enough with his friend's voice and bearing to notice the change–-one which would have been trivial for most men, but was a large departure from the norm for the usually iron willed Athos. As Athos and D’Artagnan walked on, the former stared straight ahead without uttering a single word.

The young man in the square stared after them for a minute or so, oblivious to the people who bumped in to him from behind, with the expression of one who had witnessed the Resurrection. He then became animated, as D’Artagnan observed with a quick glance to the side as he and Athos turned a corner, talking excitedly to passers- by and gesturing wildly. A small group soon joined him, spattering the country lad with questions as he started to follow Athos at a distance.

For his part, Athos continued on with out ever turning, but at a slightly quicker pace than before. The group with the country boy slowly lost ground as it churned through the Paris streets, finding itself temporarily blocked several times, and after a few twists and turns it lost sight of the object of interest.

D’Artagnan and Athos returned to the latter's rooms, which were only five minutes walk from the church and near to D’Artagnan's own quarters in the house of Monsieur and Madame Bonacieux. In the deepest melancholy, Athos spoke hardly a word during the rest of the day. Inside his apartment, he sat at the table across from D’Artagnan, but was seemingly unaware of his companion's presence. During this time Athos's eyes frequently stared at the objects of his past, the picture of his ancestor on the wall and the beautiful, jeweled sword that hung over the mantle. Respecting his friend's moods, D’Artagnan was equally silent. Near evening Athos made a sign to his servant, the normally speechless Grimaud, who then scurried off to find supper. Planchet, D’Artagnan's own servant, remained in the background, maintaining complete silence in sympathy with his master.

But D’Artagnan's natural curiosity about the events of the day was soon satisfied. While they awaited Grimaud's return, there was a short knock on the door, followed by a series of quick, retreating footsteps. Planchet, who was closest, moved a few steps to see who it was. He looked down the empty hallway and then bent to retrieve an envelope lying on the floor. It was addressed to “Monsieur Athos.”

Athos immediately took it from the servant's hand, tore the flap, and read the note inside, which was written on plain, coarse parchment in a rough hand. At first, he looked even more troubled than before. Then, without moving a muscle in his body other than those in his face, he pulled himself together, becoming resolute but yet strangely calm.

"Here. Read this and then I will answer your questions," he said as he passed the note to the seated D’Artagnan. The guardsman gestured for Planchet to retreat to the kitchen, which the unwanted servant did with proper haste.

D’Artagnan slowly read the paper:     

Monsieur le comte de la Fère,

Congratulations on your return to the living. You can be sure that this event has not gone unnoticed. If you wish your new identity to remain a secret, which we are sure you do, come to the Red Devil Inn at eight this evening. Come alone.

The note was unsigned.

"Does this have to do with the incident in the square this morning?" D’Artagnan asked, unable to control his curiosity.

Athos glanced at him without showing surprise.

"You noticed that, eh?" Athos paused. "You remember, of course, the story I told you about my 'friend', the Comte de la Fère who found that his bride bore the fleur-de-lis brand on her shoulder? And how he disappeared without a word after hanging her and was presumed dead? The lad in the square, Etienne, is the son of de la Fère's groom and was himself a stable boy on the estate.”

Athos paused briefly.

“After all these years, my secret is threatened. What is the chance that he would ever come to Paris? Surely, one in a thousand. And that he would come face-to-face with me in the street? Another one in a thousand," Athos said, with the calculating mind of the habitual gambler.

"And the note? Do you think it comes from him?" D’Artagnan responded.

"It is hardly likely. My servants were all well treated and fiercely loyal to me. Some of their families were in our employ for generations. In his astonishment at seeing me, for I have not changed outwardly during the intervening years, Etienne probably told the story to everyone who was near him. I doubt if the servant boy is a bad sort, but he might easily have fallen in with criminals." Athos paused again. "Do you know anything of the Red Devil Inn?"

"No, not a wit. Do you?"

"Yes, it is a den of robbers, thieves, and cut-throats. The worst scum in Paris congregate there. It is near the Seine on the eastern edge of the city, just past the Faubourg Saint Victor."

"But how did whoever sent the note, if it is not the servant boy, come to make the connection between Athos and the Comte de la Fère?"

"It is easy enough. After we left the square a crowd followed us for some distance, did they not? Someone from the neighborhood who knows me as Athos may have been drawn into their conversation and pointed out this house. Or it might have been someone who recognized you instead, since you live close by, and you, Aramis, Porthos, and I are well known throughout the district. If I was described to them, anyone who knows you would recognize me."

"What of the note, Athos? Do you think that it is the prelude to a demand for money?"     

"Certainly. They have no other purpose. I am sure they think that I possess the riches of the de la Fère's. Believe me, D’Artagnan, if I did, and I felt they would trouble me no further, I would gladly pay them whatever they ask. But I fear that my secret and poor Etienne are in grave danger."

"Tell me what you want me to do. You have but to ask," D’Artagnan offered as he sprang to his feet.

"We may be against an entire gang so we will need some help. We must send for Aramis and Porthos. But we must be discrete, so not a word about the note to even them." Athos thought for a moment. "Send Planchet to find them at the Louvre. They should be off-duty by now. Tell them to come well armed for close action–- they can borrow extra weapons if they have to–-and to join us here as soon as possible."

Planchet was summoned and instructed by his master. He hurried off to the palace as ordered.

Athos walked to the fireplace and rested an arm on the mantle.

"In the meantime, let me tell you my plan," Athos continued. "At this point we know absolutely nothing while whoever sent the note knows much. I will have to go to the inn at the hour mentioned and meet with them. Anything else would be sheer folly."

D’Artagnan, thinking that Athos meant to go to the inn alone, began to protest.

"Let me explain," Athos said, reading his young friend's mind from his expression. "They know me by name and about the Comte de la Fère, but I do not know yet what they want or even who they are. Not responding to their note dares them to identify me to the world, something that I find extremely undesirable. Especially with your Lady de Winter - my former wife - in Paris. I do not anticipate trouble from them, but nonetheless we will take precautions."

"As long as you do not enter the inn alone," D’Artagnan exclaimed.

"No, no. The three of you will be there well before I arrive. Aramis and Porthos can sit together a few feet away from the door, but you must be by the door. When I enter I will stand near your table. They will approach me–-or at least some of them will–-since they know me. I want to at least try and reason with whoever sent the note. But if there is trouble you and I will deal with the group at the entrance while Porthos and Aramis handle the others. Each of you should have a brace of pistols, but keep them well concealed."

With nothing further to be said, Athos and D’Artagnan loaded their weapons while waiting for the others to join them. Soon Aramis arrived. He looked from Athos to D’Artagnan and back again and said simply, "Porthos will be here shortly."

When the giant musketeer entered the room several minutes later he carried a bag of pistols. Aramis and Porthos cleaned and loaded them while Athos explained why Grimaud had summoned the two of them. He told them simply that he had received a threatening note from some unknown parties, from which a demand for money would surely follow, but did not reveal any of the details of his past, which was unknown to them. Athos repeated the plan he had discussed with D’Artagnan to Aramis and Porthos.

"Tell me who we are to kill!" Porthos exclaimed, bewildered by a lack of visible enemies, when Athos finished his story.

"This is an exercise in stealth, my dear Porthos. We do not even know who our enemies are yet," Aramis interjected.

"Very well then, Aramis. You can stealthily discover their identities for us. Then I will kill them."

"You are the one constant in our lives," Aramis said to Porthos, flashing a wry smile to the other two.

Porthos looked at Aramis in a stern manner, ready to take offence, which Aramis immediately noted. However, Athos interrupted before either of them could say another word.

“Your loyalty and friendship are invaluable to me, Porthos, but Aramis is correct. We must first learn who these men are and what they want. Then we can deal with them appropriately.” Both Aramis and Porthos were placated by his remarks.

“But be sure to bring your warlike spirit with you this evening, Porthos, for we may well need it before the night is done,” D’Artagnan added, to Porthos’s delight.

"Come, you two must be off now. It is almost half an hour before eight," Athos said. Aramis placed two pistols in his belt, one at each side, while Porthos hid two behind his cloak and placed four more in the sack he had brought.

"What do you mean to do with all those pistols, Porthos?" D’Artagnan inquired.

"A reserve. They will stay hidden in the sack. Six pistols should be enough. If not, the rest of these dogs, whoever they are, will get cold steel," he said smiling.

At that point Aramis and Porthos departed. D’Artagnan followed after a short interval and then Athos some ten minutes later. The inn itself was set in a grove of trees near the river. A dirt road, barely wide enough for four horsemen to ride abreast, snaked through the forest from the main road a short distance to the front door. An ancient structure, it stood two stories high and the noise flowing from it could be heard clearly as one approached. Its dirty exterior, in need of paint and repair, spoke of what manner of men were inside. Arriving at the Red Devil in sequence and in civilian clothes, Aramis, Porthos, and D’Artagnan tied their horses to a post on one side before entering. None of them attracted more than a casual stare as they sat down and ordered wine, which assured D’Artagnan that anyone who had seen Athos in the church square earlier in the day remembered only him.

A cloud of smoke hung over the main room on the first floor. The tables and other furniture were rough hewn and the 30 or so men inside were hewn rougher. They were scattered in groups of two and three. Some talked, often profanely, while others played at dice or cards. All the tables were adorned with wine bottles, many of them already completely empty.

Athos’s companions were at their stations and ready when he entered a few moments later. Standing in the doorway just long enough to attract attention, he noticed Aramis and Porthos in the center of the room, seated facing each other several tables from the door. There was a bottle of red wine next to the sack Porthos had brought. Aramis inclined the bottle slightly towards the front of the building, alerting Porthos to Athos’s entry, as Athos closed the door with out turning his back. He took two steps to his left, as if to examine the stag's horns on the wall near D’Artagnan's table. D’Artagnan blinked twice as Athos caught his eye.

Three men seated near the fireplace at the rear of the room became slightly more animated as Athos entered. Their eyes turned toward the door and then away from it and their conversation became much quieter, which Athos noticed without betraying the fact. In response to a query from the innkeeper, Athos said simply that he was waiting to meet someone and remained standing near the entrance. The men by the fireplace waited several minutes, surveying the room the entire time, and then approached Athos with one of them in front.

The leader was tall and strongly built with a square head and a cunning look on his face. One of the followers was short and rat faced. He carried a long scar under his jaw which indicated a partially successful and probably well deserved throat cutting on some earlier occasion. The third man was larger than the leader, but so similar to him in appearance that he clearly was his brother. His ox like expression and battered nose hinted that he had none of his sibling’s guile. All wore swords and a dagger handle was visible under the smallest man's cloak.

They stopped in a line a few feet from Athos and then the man in the center spoke in a low tone that only the four could hear.

"Good evening, Monsieur. My name is Pierre. I see that you found my note important enough to follow its instructions."

"How did you come to send it?" Athos asked with dark, impassive eyes.

"The servant, Etienne. My brother and I happened to be walking through the square today at the time of your encounter with him. He was very excited and talkative after he recognized you."

"And who knows Etienne's story?"

"The first part of it? Many people heard his exclamations and saw him point you out. Most took him for a harmless idiot from the provinces who had seen a ghost. While he attracted a crowd with his rantings I slipped to the side and followed you to your house. A lounger nearby told me your name, based on my description of you. Only my brother and I know both parts of the story," Pierre said, gesturing towards the ox at his side. “It is quite safe with us."

"Provided I pay you," Athos noted flatly.     

"Exactly," the bandit chief responded, to the delight of his henchmen.

Athos considered drawing his pistols and killing the brothers instantly. But two things stopped him. First, and most important, they probably held the servant boy captive, and what two knew others could find out. Second, unprovoked killing, even in a nest of vermin such as this, would bring the city authorities on him with a warrant for murder.

"And Etienne?"

"I found him again, still talking to my brother, not long after following you. We invited him here for some wine. He is quite safe with us for the time being."

"What sum?"  Athos asked coolly.

"Five thousand pistoles, in a week's time." The rat face shook with excitement at the figure. The ox shifted his weight slightly.

"Why do you think I would pay you?"

"Come, Monsieur, I am not an idiot. You have obviously gone to great trouble to disappear and assume a new identity. This is a small price to conceal your past."

"And if I do not have it?"

"Then you will find it, or we will kill Etienne. If that is not sufficient to pry open your purse, we will reveal your identity to one person you know each day until you pay. And, the required payment increases by 500 pistoles each day." The rat face moved his hand nearer to the partially concealed dagger.

"I see you have brought your friends with you," Athos said, gesturing slightly with his finger while evaluating the increasing danger of the situation.

"Yes, and there are several more in the room," Pierre said firmly. He seemed confident in the apparent strength of his position.

"Then I warn you. I also have friends in the room. At this moment, as far as you are concerned, they are the most dangerous men in all of France."

"How so, Monsieur?" the leader asked calmly.

"Because they are completely devoted to me. If necessary they will kill all of you without any hesitation or remorse or even the slightest explanation from me. You see, I do not care to have my past uncovered."

The rat's eyes bulged and his scar protruded as a wild look came over his face. He took a step forward. Reacting to the danger, Athos's hands flashed beneath his cloak, and in one fluid motion he drew and cocked two pistols. He jammed one against the scar on the short man's neck and pointed the other in the face of the leader, Pierre.

An instant later the room exploded with action. D’Artagnan jumped over the table in front of him and placed his right hand pistol at the back of the large bandit's head. His other pistol was pointed toward the center of the room. He looked hard in that direction. Meanwhile, Porthos extended a leg, sending two men moving from a back table toward the door sprawling on the ground.

He drew two pistols from his sack and pointed them in their direction. At the same time, Aramis picked up the other pistols and looked at the crowd, some of whom were now on their feet. Several hostile expressions indicated an allegiance between the one called Pierre and these men.

"You are an inch from hell," Porthos said loudly to the two bodies that were now jumbled together on the floor. "Move and I will send you the rest of the way."

At the front of the room Athos shouted, "Hold fire!"

"Come, gentlemen, to the door," Athos called. Porthos kicked one of the men seated next to his table aside as he and Aramis walked, back to back, to the entrance. No one in the room moved.

Athos jammed a pistol in his belt and clasped the front of Pierre's shirt. The pistol in his right hand never veered from the man's face as he relieved the bandit of his sword and a dagger from his belt. These he threw on the floor.

"You will join us outside," Athos commanded, as he motioned the other two villains toward the wall.

First, Aramis and Porthos backed out of the inn, then D’Artagnan, and finally Athos. As he exited Athos said to those near the entrance, "Remain inside until your friend returns."

He pulled Pierre outside where Aramis and Porthos were already mounting their horses while pointing their pistols at the windows of the building. D’Artagnan quickly untied his horse's reins and those of Athos's charger and brought both steeds to the door.

"Now, where is the servant boy?" Athos demanded as he shoved a pistol against the thief's head.

Even brave men lose their nerve when a staring at a cocked pistol held by a resolute individual. Well acquainted with violence and death, the bandit leader now recognized the type of man Athos was, how far he had been pushed, and how much danger he himself was in. That morning, writing an extortion note to an unknown Monsieur Athos had seemed a simple thing. This evening, standing outside the Red Devil Inn with a gun in his face, it was a different matter.

"I do not know," Pierre stated honestly.

"Explain," Athos demanded.

"Two men stayed behind with him when the rest of us left to come here. I ordered them to move him as soon as we left to a location of their choosing."

"Then how will you find them?" Athos asked.

"I do not find them. One of them will try and find us tomorrow, but only if it appears safe."

It was a sound strategy which Athos found plausible. In fact, it would be hard to design a more sensible plan to stop Etienne from being freed by force if Pierre and his men at the inn were overcome. Yet Athos was not prepared to accept the bandit's answer so easily. He drew his other pistol and eased back the hammer. The click spoke loudly to the bandit.

"Monsieur, release me and I will give the boy his freedom," the bandit offered as fear consumed him.

"Swear it!"

"I swear to you on all the saints that he will not be harmed." Letting the bandit go, Athos reminded him with a fierce look,

"My friends and I are leaving now, but mark you this. If you reveal a word of what you know or if any harm comes to the Etienne, I will hunt you down. I promise you, if it takes me thirty years, I will find and kill every one of you!"

Athos stepped back from the bandit and mounted his charger. As he and his companions galloped off into the darkness, a cloud of fierce, blaspheming men swirled around the outside of the inn.

***

The four friends reassembled at the dwelling of Athos. After making sure they had not been directly followed, they went inside. Aramis and Porthos, now aware that a hostage was part of the situation, waited to see if Athos intended to provide them with any further explanation. When none was forthcoming, they discussed the events of only a few minutes before.

"I do not think we will have any more trouble with them," Porthos said. "But we should have killed one or two for good measure."

"You would have brought the law down on our heads. Besides, killing some of them only forces the gang to continue with their plan or kill the boy they hold. I hope, though, that they will heed my warning. We can only wait and see."

"We could have taken the leader as our own hostage and then parleyed with them to get the boy in exchange. After all, we already had him outside the inn. A knock on the head, we tie him to a horse, and he is safely ours," Aramis suggested.

"Aramis, there is more at stake here than just the boy. They also hold certain information," Athos said as Aramis and Porthos exchanged glances. "Whether the boy is released or not, only they can decide to keep the information a secret. Hopefully my little talk has convinced them to do so and to release their hostage. Kidnaping the leader would only have pushed them in the opposite direction."

"Would you remain here this evening, D’Artagnan? We will place Grimaud and Planchet outside. If they come, we will catch them between two fires," Athos continued after turning to his other friend.

After Aramis and Porthos returned home, only slightly the wiser about what had happened, Athos and D’Artagnan barricaded and locked the door. Well armed, they passed an uneventful night inside while the servants stationed themselves across the dark street behind a house. The next day Aramis, Porthos and their servants, along with Grimaud, stood guard at Athos’s apartment, while D’Artagnan was on duty with his regiment. The day came and went with out incident.

In the evening D’Artagnan and Planchet returned, with weapons at the ready.
“Perhaps they scouted us last night. Just to be safe, tonight, we all stay inside, in case they think we will use the same defense and they try to surprise the servants outside,” Athos directed.

Athos, D’Artagnan, and all four servants remained in his rooms, while Aramis and Porthos returned to their stations at the Louvre. They told me that Athos was ill and could not report until two days hence, at which point I excused him from duty and asked that they convey my best wishes to him.

“Any word?” D’Artagnan inquired of Athos after the others left.

“No, nothing so far,” Athos responded. “What do you think?”

“It’s a good sign. Our show of force the other night could not help but affect their thinking. The situation has changed from dealing with a Monsieur Athos, whom they probably did not know was a Musketeer, to dealing with at least four resolute adversaries. By now they must know you are in the King’s Musketeers and they suspect that we are also. Perhaps they think that we would bring the whole regiment down on them. Everyone knows how fierce the loyalties are among soldiers, especially in crack regiments.”

“Why do you think they know I’m in the regiment?”

“Surely they would have inquired. I would have, if I were them, after the rude shock we gave them the other night. Porthos looked ready to devour every one of them by himself.”

“You are right, of course. It must have been a surprise to them at the Red Devil. Let’s wait one more day. If we do not hear from them before tomorrow is over, I think we will have no more trouble," Athos said to D’Artagnan.

But the next morning Grimaud found another note outside the door.

As Athos scanned its contents, an inflamed look jumped across his face. He passed the paper with out comment to D’Artagnan. It read:

Sir,
Because of your impudence the other evening, you will now pay us 10,000 pistoles to be delivered tonight at midnight. Bring this amount to the road on the left bank of the Seine, opposite the Salpêtrière. Come alone and unarmed or you will be dealt with severely. As an indication of our earnestness, we suggest you ask at the Red Devil Inn about the servant boy.

“Where is this?” D’Atragnan inquired.

“Not far from where we were a few evenings ago. If you go upriver beyond the Red Devil Inn a short distance, the Salpêtrière is away from the Seine but still visible if you are standing on its banks. It is an old factory that once manufactured saltpeter to make gunpowder.”

Grimaud was immediately dispatched to the neighborhood to inquire about Etienne. He returned an hour later with a grave look on his face.

"Dead," he said briefly in response to Athos's questioning glance.

"How?" Athos demanded, in one of the rare conversations he had with the perpetually silent Grimaud.

"Strangled. Near the inn," he said without emotion.

"The swine!" Athos exclaimed.

"I swear a sacred oath to you D’Artagnan. On the head of my father, they are dead men. Every single one of them!" Athos declared after Grimaud was dismissed. "THEY ARE ALL DEAD MEN!"

"Athos, what is your plan? Surely this time they are fully armed and on their guard. Plus, they know the four of us by sight. Are we to have a pitched battle with them along the river?" D’Artagnan asked.

"No, even at that hour it is too risky. If we are caught, Monsieur De Treville himself would find it impossible to help us. If they had attacked us here, we could easily have concocted a story about how we were merely defending ourselves against thieves. But they did not, of course, because that would not get them the money they desire. By demanding that it be brought to them, they have us on the ground of their choosing and can prepare themselves.”

“Besides, they will surely increase their number. The four of us are too few, and anyone else from the company of musketeers would be too many."

"How so?" D’Artagnan responded.

"Because I would have to explain everything to them, which would do more harm then good. You, Aramis, and Porthos are the only ones who will help me without demanding a full explanation." Athos stopped. "I must have time to think."

He paced slowly around the room while D’Artagnan seated himself. Then he sat alone for many minutes at the table with his head in his hands. The minutes turned into hours without any change in Athos’s demeanor. Suddenly, he smiled peculiarly. Picking up a quill pen, sheets of parchment, and an envelope from a shelf, he wrote several lines carefully using his right hand. When he finished, he began to fold the parchment to fit in an envelope. Athos stopped abruptly and shook his head in self-criticism. He then crumbled the paper into a ball and threw it into a basket next to the table.

Taking a new sheet, he wrote some lines of equal length and with equal speed, this time using his left hand. The envelope was then addressed and the note sealed in it. Athos summoned Grimaud and whispered instructions to him before the surprised servant was sent off again.

Athos then sat down calmly at the table and offered D’Artagnan wine. After a time he pulled down the jeweled sword of his father and examined it in minute detail, fingering the hilt and inspecting the blade. His look was one of deep reverence somehow mixed with personal shame. Then they drank in silence until first one and then another bottle of red wine was empty.

On his return Grimaud was ordered to find food and more wine. Athos and D’Artagnan ate a quiet dinner and then amused themselves at dice. Athos was completely untroubled as he won, then lost back, and then finally won again a small number of pistoles from the unlucky, and thoroughly puzzled, D’Artagnan. As the clock struck ten D’Artagnan could control himself no further.      

"I can not be patient any longer! What are we to do, Athos? Surely we must act!!" he said anxiously.     

"Do? We do nothing," was the simple response. "After tonight the problem is solved. Once again it would be best if you stay here until the morning. The servants will remain inside and stand guard. They can wake us if there is trouble. But please keep a pistol or two loaded just in case and be ready for action."

Armed with muskets, the overtired Grimaud and Planchet kept watch while their masters slept through the night undisturbed.

The next day the Gascon rose early to find Athos already awake and fully dressed in his most splendid clothing. A beautiful decoration on a faded ribbon hung around his neck. D’Artagnan recognized it as the same one that the figure in the painting wore - the Order of the Holy Spirit.

“Good morning, D’Artagnan. A lovely day, don’t you think? Some breakfast perhaps?”

“No, thank you. You have already eaten?”

“Yes, I was up before dawn. After making my breakfast Grimaud ran off on another little errand I had for him.”

D’Artagnan gave Athos, who seemed rather pleased with himself, a puzzled look.

“Have you heard the news?” Athos asked casually.

“What news!?” D’Artagnan shot back.

"All of Paris is ringing with it. The notorious bandit Pierre the Wolf was found floating in the Seine this morning along with eight of his followers, including his brother. The bodies showed signs of considerable violence.”

"All dead?"

"Yes, and my secret died with them. Apparently it was quite a battle. The road along the river was soaked with blood, and there were signs that other bodies besides those found in the water had been dragged away," Athos responded matter of factly.

"But how?"

"The note I sent yesterday."

"Yes, but what did you write?" D’Artagnan nearly shouted, bursting with curiosity.

“Let me read it to you,” he said as he pulled a ball of parchment from the basket next to the table.

“After I wrote this with my right hand it occurred to me that my handwriting might be recognized by the recipient. So I rewrote it with my left hand before sending it off.” Athos paused briefly. "It reads 'Your past life as a member of the nobility is known to us. If you do not pay us 10,000 pistoles it will be announced to all of Paris. Come at midnight to the left bank opposite the Salpêtrière. There are many of us and we are well armed. Any treachery on your part will be severely punished.'"

"To whom did you send it?" D’Artagnan asked, now completely confused.

"To Lady de Winter. You see, she is as eager as I am not to have her past discovered. I imagine that she introduced her good friend Comte de Rochefort and some of his men to Pierre the Wolf's gang last night," Athos said as he walked to the window.

“Besides getting themselves killed, the bandits seem to also have accounted for several of Rochefort’s minions before they left this earth,” he added with a faint smile.

 


 

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