Notes: This is written in present tense second person. Yes it is supposed to be that way. I was in a weird mood.
The Most Devoted Servant
I will watch over your son and guard him with all my strength and heart. I will lay down my life for him, if necessary. He will have no more devoted servant.
-Aramis, Musketeers Don't Die Easily
You are a man of honor, or at least you try to be. When you give your word, you keep it.
You watch from a distance as the queen's stomach swells, and for the first time in a long while, you pray every night.
Let him be wise. Let him be strong. Let him be healthy. Let him be happy. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.[i]
Athos knows, but he says nothing. Porthos does not know, but he prays with you, when he catches you at it. D'artagnan is oblivious, and that is just as well.
You look at d'Artagnan now, and you see him differently. He is still more boy than man, though that is rapidly changing. Will your son be the same, you wonder.
You hope so.
The queen's time draws near. (And she is not just Queen of France, but Queen of Your Heart, though she must hold you at arm's length. You sleep with her gift to you, her cross, pressed to your lips, and dream that you are kissing her.) You are assigned to be her guard in this delicate hour. She asks for you especially, and you are grateful that she has given you this chance.
The baby comes, and he is a boy, just as your queen predicted. You are there, outside the doors, when he takes his first breath, and you hear him cry. You are not permitted inside, so you do not see him until much later.
He has black hair. It already curls in an untidy mop, and you silently apologize to him for that, and promise him that it will be dashing when he is older, so long as he lets it grow long enough.
(You spare a moment to be relieved that the king, too, is black of hair, and so there is no call for anyone to be suspicious.)
He is named Louis XIV.
A tournament is held to decide which soldier shall have the honor of being Prince Louis' personal guard, and you enter, determined to win. Your queen gives you the money for the entry fee with a soft smile, and you know that if she could, she would simply appoint you to the position.
No one will care for your son as much as you, nor guard him as fiercely.
Athos and Porthos do not enter the tournament. They know how important this is to you. D'Artagnan does enter, but you don't mind. If he can best you, you will be happy to have him guarding your son. You will only be disappointed for the time you won't be able to spend with the child.
The day of the tournament dawns bright and clear. You feel as if your heart pulses with lightning. Every breath is sharp. Your hands tremble. You will win on this day.
The king motions you to the royal box and presents you with a lace handkerchief, smiling brightly, like a boy. You take the token and bow to him, trying not to choke on your tongue. "Your Majesty honors me," you manage to say.
"The honor is ours," King Louis replies. "You have served us faithfully and well. It is only right we show you favor."
You bow again and tie the handkerchief around your sleeve, and for a moment you feel shame.
The first round of the tournament is shooting. You win.
The second round is wrestling. You are nearly beaten by a Red Guard twice your size, but Porthos shouts, "Remember La Rochelle!" and then you find the trick of it. You twist the man's knee, just as Porthos did to a Huguenot in the aforementioned battle, and the Red Guard goes down.
The men who remain will fence in the final round. You are worried. You are tired, and there is a twinge of pain in your shoulder. Your chin is bruised. But you touch your cross and look up to see your queen in the royal box, and stiffen your spine.
You are not here for glory. You are not here for honor.
You are here for blood.
You are here for your son.
You give no quarter to the men who cross blades with you. You blind one and lame another. You try not to kill, not when it's not necessary, but you can feel it in the thud of your heart and the grit of your teeth that you will. You will, if it means being near Louis.
In the end, you face d'Artagnan.
(Of course you do.)
He laughs and lunges at you with a smile, and you are hard pressed to parry. The little blighter nearly disarms you with a technique that you taught him, and there is sweat in your eyes. The field is slippery from hours of blood and trampling feet, and you cannot see, and you don't want to hurt d'Artagnan too badly, but you must win, you must win the right to stand by your son as he grows into a man!
D'Artagnan falls, the treacherous ground betraying him, and you press your sword point to his throat.
You are declared the victor, and you will always wonder if d'Artagnan let you win.
Being the prince's guard comes with a new uniform and a pay rise, as well as a room in the palace. You don't care about the money, but you hope that if Louis ever knows, he will be proud.
You hope that he will know you love him.
Sometimes standing in the nursery is boring. Louis is often asleep, and doting father that you are, you can only watch him for so long. Your queen comes often, but she never speaks to you. You understand. There are always eyes, and now it is more important than ever that no one find out. If Louis was ever discovered to be anything but royal…
It does not bear thinking about.
The king comes often as well, and he is so delighted and full of love for this child he thinks is his that you cannot help but smile. The king does talk to you, about the prince, about hunting, about anything and everything. In time, you come to think that you are friends. Or as close as to a friend as a king may have.
But you do not like dwelling on such thoughts, for you know all too well that your son will be a king one day.
Time passes and your son grows. He has your mother's eyes, and your queen's smile. The likeness to you is near enough that Porthos realizes. He is angry with you for all of an hour, before he weeps for you and pulls you into an embrace, swearing undying loyalty to the boy who will one day be king.
Porthos is soft hearted.
Athos still says nothing.
In the wake of Porthos' epiphany, you are nervous. If one person sees the resemblance, why not another?
But nothing happens, and you relax again. Porthos knows you best. No one else will see.
Louis celebrates his third birthday, and he begins to call you my Aramis with a fond familiarity. You wonder that your heart hasn't completely gone to mush.
(He calls the king 'Father' in court, and 'Papa' in more playful moments, and it strikes you like bullets in the chest.)
He declares that he is too old for a nanny, and so at night he has only you, in your room that adjoins to his. Sometimes he wakes you to check for monsters, because you are his personal guard, his very own, and it is your job, my Aramis, and please don't tell father. (Like bullets in your heart.)
You put him back to bed and try to sing a lullaby, laughing when he scrunches his face up at your singing voice. (And in these moments you know Isabel was wrong. You could have done this. You could have been a father. You are a father, even if few know it.)
"Tell me a story!" Louis demands. "A story about the Musketeers!"
You give in, as you always do, and tell him a tale. His favorites are about Porthos, much to your chagrin. And when his eyes fall shut and his breathing evens out, you put your hand on his forehead and pray.
Let him be wise. Let him be strong. Let him be healthy. Let him be happy. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.[ii]
When Louis is four, the man he thinks is his father dies, and your queen becomes Queen Regent. You hold your wailing boy during the funeral, and wish there was something, anything you could do to make his heart stop breaking.
You consider telling him that you are his father, but it would be dangerous and cruel, so soon after his loss, and so you hold your tongue.
He is too small for his throne, and the crown too heavy for his head.
So you help him.
Louis turns ten, and you begin teaching him the art of the sword. He is a quick study, and concentrates on your lessons intensely. Already, he is aware that there are things that are expected of him, this Boy King of France.
"Well done!" you applaud him when he successfully completes a sword thrust. You are moving slowly and using buttoned foils, but still your pride knows no limit.
"Look, Maman, look at me!" Louis calls, and you look over your shoulder to see Queen Anne standing in the entryway to the practice courts. You smile at her, holding a similar cry behind your teeth.
Look, Anne, look at me.
Your queen comes to you sometimes, after the death of her king. You don't relish the danger as you once might have. You love Anne, but you are always aware that if you are caught, people may wonder about Louis. His younger brother, Philippe, is a true son of Louis XIII, and all of this has the makings of a civil war that could tear the country apart.
(But you don't care about the country, not really, not as you once did. You only care about your Little King, and you will raze the fields and burn the cities if it means saving him.)
Anne tells you that she is lucky to have your love, honored to have your faith, and that you are a better man and better father to Louis than she could have ever hoped for.
You kiss her, and close your eyes so she will not see they shine with tears.
When Louis is sixteen, his hunting party is attacked at the edge of the royal forest. You knock him from his horse and take a sword thrust in the back. You can feel the tip of the blade stick in one of your ribs, and you know that you are going to die.
You still manage to cut the throat of the man who stabbed you.
Things are fuzzy after that. There is darkness, punctuated by flashes of color. You hear a roar, and see Porthos, his face close to your own. Athos' voice is shouting orders.
Then blackness. Heat. Sweating. Swirling visions and cloying incense. You think you are praying. Or are you hearing others pray? Whichever it is, prayers fill your head.
Let him be well. Let him be whole. Let him come back to us. His family needs him. Aramis you promised, do you remember what you said? The most devoted servant! It isn't time yet to lay down your life, please, God.
"Anne," you groan, unaware that you've said the word aloud. Hands touch your face, blissfully cool against your fevered skin.
"He said my name!"
There is a flurry of footsteps and voices, and you surrender once more to the darkness.
You wake to find yourself not in your bed, but the bed of King Louis. Anne sits at your bedside, and Porthos guards the door. Your eyes find his, and he smiles at you, looking instantly younger.
A hand places a cool cloth on your head. You turn, shocked at how difficult it is to move your head, and catch sight of your son. "Sire," you say, "I should not be in your bed. It's hardly proper."
Louis looks you right in the face. "You are my father, and I am the king. I will do as I please."
You die a happy man.
[i] Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
[ii] Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.