Dear all, I am painfully aware that I have not continued 'Retribution' for nearly three weeks and I apologise profusely. The IT man successfully retrieved all my material from the portable hard drive but that, together with my chaotic summer, paled into insignificance on the sudden and unexpected death of a dear friend of many years fifteen days ago. A few of you did know and I have valued your kind words and thoughts so much in recent days. Thank you. I seem to have been full of excuses of late but I hit a wall with my writing that has only begun to break down since the weekend so it's back to 'Retribution' this week.
In the meantime, here is something I started over the summer, intending it for the August challenge 'Heat' but the IT debacle ended that and now it is too long for 'Confusion' so (although I always told myself I would not publish two simultaneously) I thought you deserved something to read and have consequently uploaded this for your delectation (I hope!) The title is, if I recall correctly, also from Holinshed, hence the odd spelling.
Little historical footnotes will begin to emerge at some point but not today.
"MERRY AT DINNER AND DEDDE AT SUPPER"
Set shortly after S1E8.
"A newe Kynde of sickness came through the whole region, which was so sore, so peynfull, and sharp, that the lyke was never harde of to any mannes rememberance before that tyme." Holinshed's Chronicles, published in 1557.
Tréville stood on the balcony overlooking the yard as the morning's training and exercises drew to a close. The sound of groans from expended energy, laughter and men's chatter drifted up to him as his musketeers took turns to sluice sweating bodies from buckets of cold water prior to eating their midday meal. Already, two of his Inseparables were sitting at their customary table at the bottom of the stairs that led up to his office, quarters and the balcony on which he now stood. They were to be found there at any time of day, duty and other plans permitting: bad weather or the onset of winter were usually the only incentives for them to move within doors to the small and inadequate room that served as the regimental mess. They had completed a night's guard duty at the palace, rested for a few hours and were now eating as they awaited the arrival of their two friends.
Porthos and Aramis had not questioned his decision to send Athos and d'Artagnan together on a routine errand for King Louis, namely taking a missive and other papers to the Comte de Beauvais in the Picardy region, but he had seen in their expressions and body language that they had desperately wanted to accompany their brothers on this mission beyond Paris, d'Artagnan's first since becoming the King's Champion and gaining his commission.
The Captain had his reasons though, deciding that it was an important time for both mentor and mentee to spend together. Athos had initially been reluctant in taking on the tutelage of the would-be musketeer but a friendship had developed that transcended the responsibility of training. Porthos, Aramis and Athos had been a close trio for several years, their brotherhood envied by some of their colleagues and totally exclusive until the abrupt arrival of the farm boy from Gascony, who successfully inveigled himself into their circle and the three had become an accepted and recognised four. That Athos was proud of the moment when d'Artagnan was given his commission by the King was beyond question but, ever one to guard his emotions, he had formally shaken the younger man's hand rather than envelop him in the congratulatory bear-hugs meted out by Aramis and Porthos. Standing to one side and cradling the arm wounded by the Red Guard's representative in the challenge, Tréville was convinced that he had seen disappointment in d'Artagnan's eyes, albeit misguidedly for the honour had been conferred upon Athos to buckle on him the prestigious leather pauldron that he had sought for so long. The Captain did not perceive any problem but wanted to afford them the opportunity to be and work together without distraction.
Beauvais was over a day's ride from Paris and he anticipated that their task would not be onerous but generally afforded them a maximum of five days for completion. Given the group's dynamics, he had made sure that he kept the other two as busy as possible but now they sat waiting for the return of their brothers. The deadline was approaching but there was, as yet, no need to worry as the pair was not overdue.
They were not kept waiting for long for the sound of horses' hooves heralded the arrival of riders and the two musketeers in question, obviously weary and coated in dust, rode through the archway and into the yard. As their friends rose to greet them, a stable boy emerged and waited as the men slid from their mounts and retrieved their saddlebags before he led the animals away. Much back-slapping and hand-shaking ensued, initiated by the two who had remained at the garrison and they were full of questions for the newcomers as to the success of their journey. For a moment, Tréville could not suppress a smile at the obvious display of their deep camaraderie.
As to be expected, d'Artagnan was doing most of the talking as he animatedly gave an outline of their time from Paris. It was not long, however, before he cast fleeting sidelong glances towards the quieter, more taciturn member of the group and there was a hint of a growing anxiety. Tréville watched the interaction between mentor and mentee with growing interest. Was d'Artagnan seeking Athos' agreement or approval about the details he was sharing with the others? If so, that tacit endorsement was not forthcoming from Athos. What had transpired on the road then? Had the pair experienced some sort of disagreement? Had Tréville's well-intentioned plan failed somehow?
He studied the young man whom he had long-regarded as his unofficial lieutenant and the first seeds of a niggling unease began to take root and develop. Immediately, he discounted an argument between the two; although Athos was very guarded about his thoughts and feelings, he was not one to harbour a resentment. There were, undoubtedly, occasions when he was quick to anger and Tréville had been witness to rare displays of a ferocious temper but they were usually short-lived, especially where his brothers were concerned.
Now, he stood with the other three but not as a part of them, or so it seemed to Tréville. Athos continued to say nothing and appeared one moment to be deep in thought and the next distractedly looking about him, saddle bag trailing from his hand and onto the ground. Not once did his eyes rest upon his friends and he exuded an air of intense restlessness, a trait that was alarmingly atypical of him. Transfixed, the Captain continued to watch as d'Artagnan cast another perplexed glance in Athos' direction and it was only then that Porthos and Aramis seemed to notice anything amiss.
The clatter of pewter dishes falling onto the floor and the subsequent stream of imaginative invective from Serge in the kitchen successfully drowned out the question that Porthos had asked of the silent musketeer who, without answering, began to walk away from the group. Through leaning more obviously over the balcony and because Aramis raised his voice, Tréville was able to hear the next exchange.
"Athos! You have said little, my friend. Where are you going? Have you nothing to add to d'Artagnan's account? Athos!"
It was only when Aramis shouted his name the final time that Athos, already almost back at the entrance to the garrison, stopped and revolved slowly, his face puzzled.
"What did you say?" he asked, as if realising at last that a question had been directed towards him.
"Where are you going?" Aramis persisted.
There was a long pause and Tréville could not help but wonder if Athos was thinking about an appropriately biting riposte at such an unnecessary inquiry or if he were trying to remember the purpose for his moving away.
"I have to check the guard at the gate," he eventually answered, an edge to his voice clearly indicating his irritation at being asked something so painfully obvious.
Porthos and Aramis simultaneously looked towards the young Gascon in uncertainty but the newest musketeer merely shrugged for he could not explain the action.
Athos was about to move again when Porthos spoke.
Another pause. "Why what?" Athos asked as if he had completely forgotten the comment that had initiated the question.
Porthos sighed with exasperation. If Athos had decided to play some sort of new game at his expense with this odd behaviour, he did not appreciate it. Besides, any such game was usually his domain, in league with Aramis. He pinched his nose between thumb and forefinger as he composed himself.
"Why are you checkin' the guard at the gate? They changed at the allotted time and are in place; I can see 'em from 'ere," Porthos said carefully and deliberately.
Athos remained where he was standing but turned his head towards the gate, that same frown of confusion contorting his features.
"I don't understand. There are not enough men on duty," his voice was low but the distinct timbre still carried to where his three friends waited, trying to make sense of his words.
Tréville knew that it was time to intervene.
"Athos," he called, straightening up from where he had been leaning on the balustrade. "I await your report. I need you to do so immediately."
The words were couched as a distinct order and, under normal circumstances, there would be no hesitation on Athos' part to respond but now he stood, weight shifting from one foot to the other and his gaze alternating indecisively between the gate and Tréville.
"Now," the Captain emphasised and began to descend the stairs, anticipating that he would have to go and get the musketeer himself - another unheard of turn of events.
He need not have worried as Athos moved to meet him but stopped directly in front of him as if awaiting further instruction.
"Up in the office," Tréville explained, realising that he had not been explicit as to where the report was to be delivered but had not thought such a directive was warranted for Athos always went directly to the Captain's office to give his succinct account. He still did not move. "Go now, wait for me there and I will follow shortly."
Tréville spelled out the instructions slowly as if to a child and was rewarded by a slight dip of the head as Athos acknowledged him, stepped round him somewhat warily and moved with a heavy tread towards the stairs. It was not until he had reached the upper level and entered the office that Tréville rounded upon d'Artagnan.
"What is going on? What is the matter with him? Did something happen? Is he drunk?"
D'Artagnan knew only one answer for sure. "He's not drunk; not a drop has passed his lips since we shared a bottle of wine early yesterday evening. He has had neither the amount nor the opportunity for more; I swear it."
"He is not himself though," Aramis stated, concern etched on his handsome features.
The sigh d'Artagnan breathed was one of relief. "I am glad you think so; I was beginning to worry that I was imagining things."
"What things? How long has this been going on?" Tréville pressed.
"An hour, maybe a little longer. He seemed fine when I awoke; I had taken first watch and he made me wake him at midnight, insisting that he take a longer duty, but I do not believe he had had a restful sleep. We resumed our journey and all was well until we began to approach Paris. He made us stop three times in quick succession so that he could check that he still had the letters for the King in his saddlebag; they could not have gone anywhere in between times for we met no-one. Then he made me unpack my bag because he was adamant that one of the documents had somehow made its way into my keeping. It was a long while before I could convince him otherwise."
"That is not like Athos," Aramis murmured to Porthos.
"Too right," the man growled by way of reply.
"That's not all," d'Artagnan was clearly uncomfortable, as if he were betraying his friend by revealing what had happened on the road home. "Our pistols were loaded and within easy reach as usual in the saddle holsters. Suddenly he was obsessed with the notion that I had not kept my weapon clean and demanded that I let him look at it, berating me that I would not be ready for an attack. Of course it was clean and he could find no fault, but then he believed that it would not fire properly so he had me prime it and shoot at a specific tree branch. It worked perfectly but still he had me clean and reload it, which took more time. All the while, he was circling me on horseback and scrutinising both the way ahead and the route we had just taken. He was muttering …." His voice trailed off as if this were to be one revelation too many.
"Mutterin' what?" Porthos persisted.
"That the Comte de Beauvais had sent his men to follow us or that they were going to overtake us on another route and intercept us before we reached Paris."
"Why would the Comte do that? Had your errand met with unexpected problems?" Tréville demanded.
"On the contrary, it had been an unmitigated success. There was nothing to go wrong and the Comte himself had been most accommodating, but as we neared Paris, Athos got it into his head that he had been duped in some way; that the Comte was not all that he made out to be."
"What gave him that idea?" Aramis wanted to know.
"Nothing," d'Artagnan hesitated. "At least, nothing that I had seen but he is the one with experience and he has never given me cause to doubt or question his instincts so I decided that I must have missed something; we were both uneasy and constantly on alert for an ambush and then …then we reached the fork in the road before the north gate. We have ridden that way so many times; we could do that route blindfolded but … but Athos began to ride the wrong way and I had to call him back. I thought he was going to argue, to be angry with me and I had thought him so distracted by the threat of ambush but when he came back to me, he was ….."
"Well?" Aramis prompted gently.
"He was so confused that, heaven forbid, he even looked afraid and, in that moment, I was sure that he did not even know where he was or why."