Dear Readers, I know that I promised I wouldn't do another story as I worked on my novel, but I am breaking that promise (unlike Athos) for a very special occasion. Today is my good friend, Mountain Cat's birthday, and I dedicate this story to her. Thank you for the advice, tips, encouragement, support, and for the many, many fun conversations since I discovered this awesome fandom. Happy Birthday, my friend!
Now, you all may notice a slight similarity at the beginning to the S1E2, Sleight of Hand, as it was my inspiration, but the rest is completely different. Enjoy!
The entrance to the narrow, stone corridor was dimly lit with oil lanterns, hung on large hooks attached to the wall. Workers kept torches, ready to be lit, inside the entrance for the occasional excursion deep within the bowels of the city. The sewers were a vast labyrinth of winding passageways underneath the growing city of Paris.
Only the entrance and a short distance into the sewers were lit by the lanterns, leaving the remaining tunnels blanketed in a thick, pitch-black darkness. The torches were a necessary means of navigating the confusing, and sometimes frightening, underground maze.
Athos and Porthos could barely catch their breath as they chased after the escaped convict, Pierre DuBois. The criminal had run into the sewers after escaping his escort to the gallows, where he was to be hanged. King Louis XIII ordered the Musketeers to apprehend DuBois, and return him—dead or alive.
The lack of oxygen deep inside the corridors was stifling, constricting the Musketeer's lungs. Still, the men ran deeper into the labyrinth, torches in hand, guiding them through the darkness.
Athos was gaining on DuBois, his arquebus grasped tightly in his right hand, the muzzle facing upward at the low ceiling. He kept his finger near the trigger, ready to use the weapon, should the need arise. Porthos stayed right on the lieutenant's heels, one hand holding his own torch, and the other clutching his sword.
"There's nowhere to run!" Athos yelled, aiming his arquebus at the prisoner.
Prisoner DuBois turned, pausing long enough to allow a dastardly grin to spread across his face. He locked eyes with Athos and laughed, "oh, but you're wrong."
A flash of confusion crossed Athos' face, wondering how a man in his position could be so cocky, when he was clearly trapped.
DuBois stepped around the corner, disappearing just before an earth-shattering explosion erupted a short distance behind the Musketeers. Hot blasts of whooshing air and fire swallowed the scant oxygen and space inside the tunnel.
"Get down!" Porthos barely had time to shout, as a large ball of fire rushed forward. A fraction of a second later, all went dark as the stone hallway collapsed with a deafening roar, burying the helpless Musketeers, and putting out the fires.
Clouds of hot, dusty air burst from the entrance of the sewers. Rock and debris trickled down, loosened by the shattering explosion from somewhere deep inside.
"My God, Athos and Porthos followed DuBois in there!" d'Artagnan screamed to Aramis over the noise of the panicked crowd.
People rushed from the scene, terrified. The ground under their feet shook with enough force that many had thought an earthquake struck the city of Paris.
"There was an explosion, just after Porthos and Athos followed DuBois in there," Aramis reported to the captain. Tréville joined his men at the entrance of the sewer, waving his hand to rid the air of the dust so he could see.
"I'll need to gather more men to assist in the search, but I want you gentlemen. . ." the captain paused, reluctant to continue. He grabbed Aramis by the arm, stopping him from running into the tunnel before he could finish his order. "Find them, Aramis, but prepare yourself. . . they may not have survived that blast."
"I won't accept that possibility, Captain," Aramis said, shaking his head adamantly. "Athos and Porthos are too skilled, too experienced, to be caught off-guard by that low-life devil, DuBois."
"Even the most experienced soldiers are sometimes taken by surprise, Aramis," Captain Tréville said, pursing his lips grimly. "I want you to be prepared, just in case."
"We'll find them, Captain!" D'Artagnan clapped Aramis on the shoulder, pushing past the medic to take the lead, disappearing into the sewer opening.
"Good luck, gentlemen," Captain Tréville called out after the departing men.
Aramis acknowledged the captain with a quick nod, before turning to follow the Gascon into the darkness of the sewers.
"Athos! Athos, can you hear me?" Porthos called, choking on the thick dust. "Athos, answer me, dammit!"
"Mngh," Athos moaned, painfully. "I can't. . . can't move."
"I can't move either. Oi, I have a lap full of large rocks; my legs are pinned." The large Musketeer felt around with his hands in the pitch-black darkness. "Our torches got buried, can't see a bloody thing. Where are you? Are you hurt?"
Athos heard his name being called, but the fog in his brain muddled his senses. Why can't I move? My ears are ringing; I can't hear. . . buzzing sound. . .
"Athos, answer me!" the stern voice demanded.
"Porth's?" the Musketeer lieutenant said, slurring. Athos opened and closed his eyes, blinking away the dust clinging to his eyelashes. He tried reaching up to clean his face but his arm wouldn't move. Confusion and terror gripped him, as excruciating pain coursed through his body.
"I can't. . . breathe," Athos blurted out with a wheezing noise. He panted, finding his gasps for breath painfully difficult. Something heavy pressed down on his chest, squeezing the air from his lungs. He found it easier to take shallow breaths, but the frightened, quickened pace made him lightheaded.
"Athos, what's wrong?" Porthos called out anxiously. He frowned at the rapid breathing coming from his brother, echoing off the thick stone walls. "I wish we had some damn light in 'ere; I can't see where you are."
"I'm here. . . right here."
"It sounds like you're in front of me," Porthos said, feeling around with his hand. "Say somethin' again so I can follow your voice."
"I. . . don't know where I am. . ." Athos' voice trailed.
"Athos, stay with me, dammit!" Porthos snapped, his voice booming in the confined space. The noise jolted the lieutenant awake. "Don't you fall asleep on me, mon cher. It sounds like you're next to me, here on my left." Once again, the large man felt around with his hand, stopping when he came in contact with a boot. "Wait, I can feel your boot!"
"Mmm," Athos let out a groan, but said nothing.
"Athos, tell me if you can feel 'at," Porthos said, shaking the toe of the boot. "Are you able to move?"
"Yes, and no," Athos replied finally, after an agonizing moment of silence. "I can feel my foot move, but I have something heavy. . . rocks on. . . my chest. It's hard to. . . breathe." He sucked in a breath, only to cough from the choking dust tickling his throat. "Porthos, I c-can't move the rocks. My chest. . . hurts under all this weight. It'll take too long to find us. I'm not g-going to. . . make it."
"Now, don't you dare talk like 'at. Do you hear me?" Porthos asked, not waiting for a reply. "We're going to get out of here, Athos. You just need to hold on. . . just hold on, brother."
"Yes, we. . . we have to get out," Athos rasped. "It's d'Artagnn's birth-birthday. I can't die on. . . on his birthday."
"We are not talking about dying, so don't there. I'm not dying and neither are you, Athos. I won't let you."
"Oh no!" D'Artagnan groaned as his torch lit up the narrow corridor, exposing the fallen rocks blocking their path. "It looks like the roof of that section has completely collapsed; we're going to have to dig our way through."
"Madre de Dios!" Aramis whispered aloud, crossing himself, his eyes wide. "If the rest of the passageway is like this, they're likely buried under massive amounts of rubble. Dear God, how could they survive that?"
"We'll find them, Aramis," d'Artagnan said, putting his hand on the medic's shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "If anyone can survive a few rocks falling on them, it's Porthos and Athos."
"A few rocks?" Aramis scoffed, scrubbing his face with an anxious hand. "You don't have to try and make me feel better, mon ami. I know what we're up against- and what they're up against."
"Yes, I know you do, my friend, but I refuse to dwell on anything but finding our brothers alive. It's my," d'Artagnan paused, his voice cracking, "it's my birthday wish—to find them alive. I don't ask for anything but their lives. I don't think that's too much to ask!" The Gascon picked up a stone, tossing it aside. He reached for another, and then another.
Aramis joined in, picking of the stones at the top of the large pile, tossing them aside by the wall. "We're going to need people in here, helping to pull out this debris, or it will certainly block our ability to leave."
"We'll get right on that, Aramis," Captain Tréville announced from behind them.
The two men turned, each letting out a relieved sigh at seeing a group of Musketeers approaching to assist with the removal of rock and debris.
"We don't know how severe the cave-in is, so stay away from the walls and be careful. Take the rocks from the top, and work your way down," Aramis instructed.
The dark tunnel was too narrow to accommodate but three men at the mountainous pile. Captain Tréville joined Aramis and d'Artagnan at the mound, while the remaining men formed a human chain, removing the stones and depositing them in another corridor of the sewer.
"This looks to be the epicenter of the blast, given these charred stones," the captain said, pointing out the burned streaks. "Look, here on the walls, and the broken remains of the ceiling, this is where DuBois put the explosives. If we can break through this pile of debris, we should be able to find the men soon thereafter."
"That is, if they aren't also buried under a mountain of rubble," d'Artagnan added, grimly.
"If they are buried, we need to make this fast," Aramis said, tossing aside another stone. "They don't have much time."
"Athos, you still with me, brother?" Porthos called, wincing at the pain pounding in his legs. "Talk to me. Tell me what you got for d'Artagnan for his birthday?"
Athos huffed wearily, trying to ride out another wave of pain. He let his eyes droop closed, but they quickly flew open as Porthos' warning broke through his consciousness. "I. . . I got him a new pocket clock. He saw it. . . in Legrand's shop on Rue Lecourbe and said it would. . . help. . . help him." He let out a cry as agony burned through him, searing his very soul. Blood pounded in his ears as the darkness beckoned him.
"Athos! Athos, take it easy. Slow your breathing. . . in and out, slowly," Porthos said, coaching his friend to relax. "That's the way; slow, relaxin' breaths."
"You. . . you sound like Ar'mis," Athos said, wheezing.
"Rubbish, I'm better lookin'."
"Mmm," Athos groaned aloud, stifling a snicker. "This is not an app-appropriate time for. . . for jokes."
"Not trying to be funny, just tryin' to keep you awake, mon cher." Porthos squeezed the boot, still firmly gripped in his left hand.
"I- I'm afraid the pocket clock is broken. . . sm-smashed," Athos lamented. "I picked it up at the shop today. I was going to. . . to take it to my rooms but. . . merde," he gasped, taking in a breath of air through his nose as he endured more gripping pain. "We were c-called to the palace, so I put it in my pocket."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Porthos paused, "but you know d'Artagnan will understand. He doesn't care about things, he cares about you."
"And. . . and you, Por. . ." Athos cried out, gritting his teeth against the agony choking the air from his lungs. The injured man turned his head to the side, coughing up bile, and. . . Is that blood I taste? His breaths sputtered, faltered. He continued drawing in air, though his lungs burned with every breath.
"Athos, 'member what I said, slow your breathing. Take it easy. Slow, easy breaths, in and out. . . in and out."
The injured man took several careful, superficial breaths, keeping his rhythm slow and even. He purposely avoided reaggravating his lungs by stifling the coughs as best he could.
"Are you with me, brother?"
"Y-yes, I'm here."
"You know d'Artagnan won't care 'bout the clock. We're brothers; we're a family," Porthos said, his voice revealing the anxiety and fear he felt for his friend. He coughed, clearing his throat of dust and emotion. "What I wouldn't give for a pint," he rasped, changing the subject. "I had a nice party planned for our younger brother tonight—dinner and drinks at the Wren. I reserved our favorite table in the corner."
"What did. . . what did you get for him, for. . . d'Artagnan?"
"Well, me 'n Aramis, we went in together and got 'im those new boots he's been wanting for months," Porthos said, smiling. "He spends his money on Constance, never leaving enough for 'imself. We thought it was about time he got rid of the worn-out footgear he calls boots."
"New boots," Athos repeated, his lips curling in the corner. "Yes, he'll like that. . . very much. I told him the soles were wearing down. . . affecting his fighting, his stance. His feet kept slip-slipping, sliding on. . . the smooth surfaces. I didn't . . . want him to get hurt."
"With these new boots, he just might make it a real challenge for you in the next sparring match," Porthos huffed with amusement. "I have to look out for our youngest."
"Yes, look out for him," Athos repeated, sadly. "He's one of the. . . strongest men. . . I know." The injured man squeezed his eyes shut against the pain stabbing him in the chest, stealing his breath away. Each labored breath, drawn in through his nose, was an exercise of sheer will. How much easier it would be to close his eyes and let go, letting the darkness take him. At least he wouldn't be in such agony. But what would Aramis, d'Artagnan, and Porthos think of him if he simply gave in and quit? Worse yet, what would his captain think of him? Tears stung his eyes as emotion bubbled in his chest, constricting his lungs even more. He drew in a ragged breath, determined to stay awake.
"D'Artagnan is strong, but with the way 'e looks up to you, I don't know. . ." Porthos stopped himself short, unwilling to let his thoughts take him down that morbid path. "I order you to live, dammit! That settles it, plain and simple."
"You order me?" Athos repeated, chuckling with a scoffing laugh. "I out- outrank you." He gritted his teeth as he sucked in air through his nose, berating himself for laughing, regardless how slight the laughter.
"Rubbish, seeing that we're both stuck underneath this rubble, running out of air, I think we're on even ground right about now."
"Touché," Athos said, hinting a smile. "You h-have a point."
"Of course, I do," Porthos playfully retorted. "I'm not just a street fighter, you know."
"You're a good soldier. . . a good Musketeer, Por-Porthos," Athos complimented. "You think w-well on your f-feet," he took a shallow breath. "You're a damn g-good fighter. You have taught. . . the other men how to be. . . better fighters too."
"Well, if there's anything good about growin' up in the Court, it made me a good fighter," Porthos said, shaking his head. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him as he mulled over their brief conversation. Athos actually laughed at his so-called order forbidding him to die. "My brother, if I die tonight, at least I'll die a happy man."
"What could you. . . p-possibly be happy about?"
"For the first time, since I've known you, I heard you laugh. You might've been mocking me but. . . I'll take it."
"Hold on a minute, I think we've broken through!" Aramis yelled, squinting his eyes into the darkness. "Someone hand me a torch, quickly!"
"Here's one," d'Artagnan said, passing the torch to Aramis. "Can you see anything? Can you find Athos and Porthos?"
"Mother Mary, I only see more rubble, dammit!" the medic cursed angrily. "We break down one mound, only to find another one behind it. God please, some help down here would be appreciated," he said, crossing himself.
"Aramis, we'll find them," d'Artagnan soothed. "Don't give in to despair; neither of them would want that. We broke through this mound, so we'll break through the next one. . . and the one after that. I'm not giving up on our brothers, and neither are you."
"I wanted to see. . . his face when. . . he open-opened my gift," Athos whispered in a low voice, shaking his head to wake himself. His chest, his stomach, his hips hurt; bloody hell, his entire body seemed to ache with a dull, but constant throb. "We can't. . . die, not today. . . not on his bir-birthday. We can't. . . I can't do that to him. . . or Ar'mis."
"We're not going to die. Not today, not for a long damn time," Porthos said, growling. "We're going to get out of 'ere, Athos. You know the captain, and Aramis, and d'Artagnan won't give up searching for us. They're not going to let us die in here—you 'ave to believe that, my brother."
"I know," Athos whispered, his low voice reaching his ears only.
"Athos? Athos, don't you go to sleep on me!" Porthos shook the boot, gripping it tightly with his fingers. "Please, stay with me. We've come this far; they'll be 'ere soon."
The injured man sighed, wishing that were true. "I could use some wine. . . help dull the p-pain," he said, deciding to change the subject.
"When we get out of 'ere, I'm buying wine and ale for all of us, enough to last a couple of days," Porthos said, closing his eyes at the promise. He would hold himself to that promise, if they managed to get out alive. "We can reschedule d'Artagnan's birthday party. I don't think we'll make it to the Wren tonight, not at this rate."
Athos let out a small huff of amusement, his smile registering across the pitch-black darkness. "I don't think. . . they'll hold our t-table." The weary, injured man closed his eyes. He felt so tired; he wished for sleep to take him.
"I see one of them!" Aramis called to the group, all still busy removing stones from the pile. "Porthos? Porthos, can you hear me? Where's Athos?"
"They're not answering," Captain Tréville said, slipping in next to the medic. "Let me give it a try, Aramis. Athos! Porthos! I want you to answer me right now, and that's an order!" his voice boomed, echoing through the corridor.
"Captain?" Porthos called out, his voice weak. "Captain, are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here, son," Tréville called, his shoulders drooping with relief. "Are you hurt? Where is Athos? Athos, answer me!"
"He's here with me, but he's hurt bad," Porthos replied, anxiously, still holding on to Athos' boot. "He doesn't answer me anymore. . ."
"Hold on, son, we're almost there." Tréville tossed aside the remaining stones, not caring where they landed. Finally breaking through the debris pile, he rushed forward to his downed men. "I'm here," the captain placed his hand gently on the large man's shoulder. "We're going to get you out."
"Porthos!" d'Artagnan exclaimed happily, rushing to his friend's side. He stood, searching the area. "Where is Athos?"
"He's over here," Aramis replied from the pile next to Porthos. "This doesn't look good; his entire upper body is buried underneath this rubble." The medic shook his head, silently conveying a frightened, bleak message to his captain.
"Athos, my God," Captain Tréville said, resting his hand tenderly on his lieutenant's brow. "Son, can you hear me?"
"I'm checking his pulse," the medic said, pressing his fingers against the clammy skin. "Athos, come on, give me a sign here. God please. . ."
"I'm. . . I'm st-still here. . . 'Mis," Athos's raspy voice whispered. "What . . what t-took you s-so long?"
"I'm so sorry, Athos, but we had to dig our way through. Thank God, you're alive! Thank God. Madre de Dios, I thought we had lost you." Aramis curled his fingers around the back of Athos' neck and gently squeezed. With a touch, he communicated his message of gratitude, not trusting his voice or his emotions not to break down in a flood of relieved tears.
"I thought you were gone," d'Artagnan said, placing his hand on Athos' lower leg. He glanced over the injured man, his eyes widening with fear at the pain evident on his mentor's face. The Gascon watched as Athos' rock-covered chest rose and fell with strained, labored breaths. Cold shivers ran down his spine at the ghostly pallor. This isn't good, he thought.
"I had. . . a gift for you, but it's cr-crushed underneath the r-rocks," Athos whispered, taking in a shuddering breath. "I'm s-sorry."
"No, don't be sorry, mon ami," the young Gascon assured, his eyes stinging with tears. "I don't need any gifts. Finding you both alive, that's the best birthday present I could ever ask for. I can't think of anything I'd want more than having my three brothers at my side."
"Athos, listen to me," Aramis cut in, knowing that precious time was wasting. "When we remove these stones, the blood is going to come rushing back as your circulation returns," he paused, "it's going to hurt like hell. Are you ready for this?"
"Yes," Athos whispered. "Wait. . ."
"What is it, mon cher?"
"If I d-don't. . . make it. . ."
"No, we're not doing this, Athos," Aramis said resolutely. "You're going to live; I won't accept anything less from you. I'm not letting you give up that easily. You're going to have to fight, but you will fight, mon ami. Promise me that you'll fight, Athos."
"I don't. . ."
"We can't lose you, Athos," the medic said, leaning over to whisper in his brother's ear, allowing no one else to hear. "D'Artagnan can't lose you, especially not today. His birthday would be a date he'd dread and hate for the rest of his life. Let that be your motivation to fight."
"Promise us, Athos," d'Artagnan begged, his throat tightening with emotion. "Promise me that you won't leave us!"
"I n-need to. . . to b-buy a new p-pocket clock."
"What?" Captain Tréville asked, his brow creased with confusion.
"It was his birthday present," Porthos answered, clearing his throat. "But, it's. . . broken."
"Aw, Athos, you went back to that shop, didn't you?" d'Artagnan said, choking up with emotion. "It doesn't matter if the clock is broken, you just keep your promise and you don't have to buy me anything." The young Gascon forced a smile, wiping away the tears falling from his eyes. "Having my brother—all of my brothers—here with me today, it's the only birthday gift I'll ever need."
"Happy. . . b-birthday, brother." Athos closed his eyes, holding back the burning tears. He wanted to hold on, but he was too tired to fight. He allowed the darkness to take him away, and he felt no more.
"Aramis?" Captain Tréville exclaimed, his eyes wide with fear.
"He's still with us, Captain," Aramis said, breathing a sigh of relief. "He just passed out, which is probably for the best. Once we start removing that weight from his chest, it would've been pure agony. That amount of pain would send him into shock."
"Time is wasting then, gentlemen," Captain Tréville said, nodding. "Let's get started."
"I'm holding you to that birthday promise, my friend," d'Artagnan whispered. The Gascon leaned over, leaving a soft kiss on the dusty forehead of his older brother. "Rest now, we'll be with you when you wake up," he said, not accepting any other alternative.
The group of men began pulling off the heavy stones covering Athos' chest and torso. The larger pieces of debris took all three men to move, leaving them panting and wiping sweat from their brows. They managed to clear away all but the smaller rocks and layers of dirt and dust.
While Aramis tended to Athos, the captain and d'Artagnan worked at removing the large, cumbersome stones pinning Porthos' legs. At the removal of the first chunk of debris, the large Musketeer gasped at the pain it caused. White hot, burning sensations pricked his legs as though a thousand knives were stabbing him repeatedly.
"Damn!" Porthos gasped, just before his head lolled limply forward, mercifully losing consciousness.
"He passed out also," Captain Tréville announced after a tense moment, sighing at the steady rhythm underneath his fingers. "Alright, let's get them out of here. This sewer has kept my men prisoner long enough."
The bone-weary trio removed the rest of the rocks, freeing the wounded men from their weighted clutch. However, removing the rocks was only half the battle; they still had to get the men out of the sewers and to a doctor.
"You men, carry Porthos out first," Captain Tréville called to the nearby Musketeers, waiting to assist. "I'll need one more over here to help carry Athos."
"Be careful with him," Aramis said, as the four men positioned themselves to pick up Athos. "He has several broken ribs, at the very least, so we need to carry him as level, and as flat as possible. Everyone, watch your step; we cannot risk dropping him."
Carefully, the two groups of men carried Porthos and Athos through the narrow tunnels of the sewers. Their pace was unhurried, doing their best to avoid the small rocks still littering the ground, lest they drop their precious cargo.
The laborious walk to the entrance was agonizingly slow, but still they pressed onward. Together, the Musketeers carried the unconscious men to the end of the tunnel, toward freedom, toward recovery.
At last, Porthos and Athos were rescued, pulled free from the deathly grasp of the stony underground—a cold, darkened labyrinth that would have been their grave.
"We need two stretchers and a wagon over here, immediately!" Captain Tréville ordered. "Leroux, Bertrand, you two ride ahead to the palace, alert His Majesty to what has happened. Also, I request that his physician is ready to receive and treat the wounded men."
"Yes sir!" the men acknowledged, quickly riding away.
D'Artagnan looked up at the stars in the night sky, choking back a strangled cry. "Thank you for sparing their lives. I know it's not my birthday anymore, but I just ask one favor," he whispered, his voice cracking as he grasped Athos' limp hand. "Please God, let him live. . . let Athos live."
Perhaps the hardest fight of his life still loomed ahead, but Athos had made a promise to d'Artagnan—a birthday promise, no less. The comte was a man of his word, and the Gascon took some comfort in knowing his mentor never broke a promise, but still he worried. Fear gripped his very soul.
The Musketeers loaded the wounded men in the wagons and climbed in next to their brothers. As the Musketeers rode toward the palace, no one spoke a word; each were lost in their own private thoughts and prayers.
Indeed, Athos had made a promise, and each of his three brothers would hold him to that promise, accepting nothing less than survival. The group of brothers rode together to an uncertain future, but they were together and, for the moment, it was all that mattered.
Again, a very happy birthday to Mountain Cat. I hope your day was a cherished one. I know the ending was vague: Did Athos make it, did he survive? I'll leave that to your own imagination. Please don't be mad at me... now, back to my book!
Victor Hugo describes the sewer system underneath Paris in his book, Les Misérables. Hugo says, "Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form."
The Paris Sewer Museum (Musée des Égouts de Paris), is dedicated to the sewer system of Paris. Tours of the sewage system have been popular since the 1800s. Visitors are able to walk upon raised walkways directly above the sewage itself. The entrance is near the Pont de l'Alma.
An early reference to the pocket watch is in a letter in November 1462 from Italian clockmaker, Bartholomew Manfredi, in which he offers his friend a "pocket clock," as they were known then. By the end of the 15th century, spring-driven clocks appeared in Italy, and in Germany. Peter Henlein, a master locksmith, was regularly manufacturing pocket watches by 1524. Pocket watch manufacturing spread throughout the rest of Europe in the 16th century. Early watches only had an hour hand, the minute hand didn't appear until the late 17th century.