Le Chapeau

I have been with him for as many years as the fit became a mutual pleasure. I knew him as the boy he was before he grew into the man he is today. I have been silent witness to both his inexhaustible joy and his inexpressible grief, his boundless energy and the black miasmas of depression that suck the life force from him like marshy swamps full of quicksand.

His gauntlets have no say, for he does not talk with his hands. His boots have the privilege of conveying us where we wish to go, but that is their only dispensation. My master has endowed only my humble origins with the prerogative of power.

And I have many stories, though you will hear few of them from me for I have had life lessons and take my cues from my master. If he is silent, I have no voice, but that does not mean I am voiceless.

Once, long ago, we were inseparable. We rode and fenced and roamed together daily and ended the day together as well,I on my pillow and he on his. But that was before Milady. I did not mind her at first, for she brought much joy into my master's life. But then, one day, she took me off, and running her fingers through his hair, she whispered in his ear that I cast his beauty in the shade, that she preferred he not hide his handsomeness beneath my brim. For that reason alone I resented her.

I will not say I was overjoyed the day he came home and took me from my peg again, for I had been relegated from pillow to peg. You will say I am soulless and cannot feel, but there was such sadness in his eyes that day, I could not fail to comprehend the weight upon his heart. I think that day, it turned to stone.

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then I became his shield to guard against intrusion. The veil he used to keep his thoughts hidden. I was, once again, his happy companion, though the weight upon his heart only became heavier as those long days faded one into the other without counting.

And then one day, he buckled on his sword, took me from my peg (I never did regain my pillow satus), settled me just so upon his head, and threw a pair of saddle bags over his shoulder. We rode away without looking back.

For three years we drifted aimlessly, rarely parted except in sleep, for I became his armour against the world at large. I was the deflection of curious eyes, the curvature that signaled accessibility - or not - the tack or turn or angle that offended or assuaged. We have a language, he and I, developed in those long, lonely days traveling the continent, for he does not love travel by ship.

We went then, wherever land allowed free roaming. We traveled first to Spain and Portugal, then back through France, across Savoy and down into Genoa and Florence, though we did not visit the Papal states. We passed through Venice and wiled away many months in the Austrian courts before moving on through the vast wastes of Polish-Lithuanian and into the steppes of Russia.

The Moscow courts of Mikhail Romanov were for a time, a diversion, but it was not long before we were a horse again, though we returned to France by the northern route through Lavonia and Prussia, across to Brandenburg and down through Saxony over to Luxemburg and back into France through Reims and then to Paris.

There we tarried not but went straight to the garrison of M. Tréville, Captain of the Musketeers, to accomplish the goal of purchasing a commission in the king's elite guard. You will imagine, I am sure, my horror at the humiliation of my master when he - the finest swordsman in all of Europe - was turned down. We left the garrison, he and I, with my feather, in perfect symmetry with my crown, announcing to one and all that we were unbowed by this defeat. But I knew he had lost his sense of purpose.

Fortune, though, shone at last upon my master, for the heart of the musketeer Aramis was so infatuated by my perfection, he sought us out. My master ruthlessly used me 'gainst this young man's valiant attempt to penetrate the darkness in his soul, though this failure did not touch him as did the refusal of a place in the king's company, for here, he gained a friend. And through Monsieur Aramis, our friend Monsieur Porthos as well. And in time, the exuberant youngster d'Artagnan, came into my master's circle as well.

We are still inseparable, he and I, but there are other Inseparables in his life now, and I rejoice, for in a different way, I have seen that they bring him as much joy as Milady once did. For these three alone we have engaged in instructing them in the nuances of our private language. They no longer need an interpreter, for though I bow to no man on my own, to these three, and these alone, do I accede the care of my master's spirit.

Though I remain interlocutor, the conveyor of questions, his aegis against sun, rain, snow, sleet and hail. I am the protector and purveyor of thoughts via a tilt, a cant, a flick or a touch, an emissary of respect, an advisor of moods, and the seneschal of cold, deadly wrath.

You will say again that a hat has no feelings - but you are wrong. It is my very great honor to be the hat of the Comte de le Fère, who is Athos of the King's Musketeers.