Authors note: This is the longest story I have written. It has some similarities to my last story, ('Fault') but that was not my intention! This one has been rumbling around in my head for quite some time, but it took me a while to get the plot to gel. I hope you enjoy it.
The Greater Good
Athos walked passed the two musketeers at the palace gate, acknowledging them both with a nod of the head. It was his first day of full duty since taking a hit to the arm from a gun during a brawl with the Red Guard. An absurd injury, that had caused a fair amount of amusement from Porthos and Aramis afterwards. Fighting with the Red Guard usually consisted of a couple of black eyes and a few bruised egos.
They had not found out which Red Guard was responsible, when Athos had been hit those that were still standing had taken the moments pause to hasten away and disappear, despite Porthos' best effort to grab them.
The wound had not been serious but, although he could now wield a sword and just about aim a gun, he was not without pain and stiffness in the limb. He knew that this would fade in a few days' time.
He waited for a few moments outside the room where the King was receiving visitors. He knew Treville and Richelieu were inside. He had been summoned to join them. He did not know why, but suspected it would involve a mission that Richelieu had decided was beneath his own Red Guard.
The doors opened and the Cardinal swept out, his robes swinging as he turned away down the corridor. He barely looked at Athos, but there was a hint of smugness about his features. One day, thought Athos, we will find his weakness and show him up for what he is.
Athos entered the grand room. Other than the obligatory servants, only the King and Treville were there. Athos walked over to them, bowing obediently to the King as he came to a stop a respectful few paces away.
'Deal with it Treville,' said the King, 'I want it sorted, Lefevre is too good a man to lose. This needs to be dealt with quickly and quietly. I trust your men can be counted on, they have had their issues of late. Redeem yourself.'
With a curt nod of his head the King turned on his heel and strode out of the room towards the palace gardens. Treville and Athos bowing as he went. Once the door had been shut behind him Treville turned to Athos and smiled, rolling his eyes.
'The man is quite impossible at times,' he said indicating that they too should leave by the door Athos had just entered through, 'if I had known he wasn't going to stay I would not have had you come out here.'
'It is no bother,' replied Athos, as they walked back out to the main entrance to the palace, 'what is it that the King is so keen to have dealt with?'
They left the building and walked across the courtyard as Treville spoke, 'there is a nobleman, Lefevre, who lives a few miles outside Paris, he is a rich man who is currently in the Kings favour.'
Athos smiled at the statement, the King was known to offer favour to whichever nobleman had the most to offer at the time. Once the unfortunate dignitary had been of use they were frequently shunned and the King moved on to someone else.
'Lefevre wants to make a gift to the King of gold. A substantial amount,' continued Treville, 'he is due to deliver it in the next few days…'
'Are we to guard this shipment?'
They had reached the street and could not speak openly any further.
'If only it were that simple, I will meet with you and the others in my room in an hour, there is work to be done before the gold can be moved.'
D'Artagnan did not like the sound of Lefevre. It had become apparent to them all as Treville spoke that the nobleman they were to protect was a cruel and sly man.
Treville related the assignment they had been given. Lefevre was going to transport the gold in the next few days as a gift for the King. Normally this would not be an issue, but two days previously information had been received that a gang of thieves planned to attack the noble and steal the gold. The King was not pleased with this news and had dispatched his musketeers to ensure the attack was foiled and the thieves captured or killed.
What the King did not know, or chose not to know was that Lefevre was not a good man. He was known to beat his servants and treat them with little respect. Whilst it was not uncommon for men to treat their servants badly it was apparent that Lefevre was particularly cruel. They did not know the details, but they knew that he rarely kept a servant on for more than a few weeks at a time.
'What I want you to do is go to Lefevre and tell him that you are there to escort the gift, and him, back to Paris. Don't tell him you know about the plot to kill him; the King does not want the gift to be delayed.'
'Do we know anything else about this plot, do we know anything about the thieves?' asked Athos.
'Not at the moment,' said Treville, he looked over at Aramis who was stood to Athos' right listening intently, 'the man who gave the information only speaks a little French, the guards at the Chatelet have told us that he does speak Spanish, I need you to visit him and get any information you can.'
'In the meantime, you three can make your way to Lefevre, introduce yourselves and learn what you can about the route he intends to take and try to work out where the attack will happen. With luck, our informant will give Aramis the exact location, but we need to be prepared if he does not.'
The men made to leave but Treville stopped them, 'I must remind you that we do not want Lefevre to know that his life is in danger.'
As they left the room d'Artagnan asked Porthos, 'why are we doing this, what about the Red Guard?'
'Clearly Richelieu thinks this is simple enough for us,' replied Porthos with a smile, 'his guard have more important things to do…like learning not to shoot us when we have a fight.'
Athos glared at him.
The Chatelet, was not somewhere anyone would willingly visit. It was a place of gloom and despair. It stank of pain and death. Aramis followed the guard along the dank, dim corridor trying not to glance into the cells that he passed. He did not want to see the poor victims of the horrible place.
The cell with the Spanish prisoner was at the end of the corridor. The guard unlocked the door and stood back to allow Aramis to enter. He waited by the door with a look of distain on his face.
The small room had little light and as Aramis' eyes adjusted he could make out the form of a man sat on the floor, leaning against the wall in the corner, his legs bent at the knees and drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around them. He was shivering.
Aramis sighed, he knew it would be pointless to ask or even demand that this poor unfortunate creature be given, at the very least, a blanket. The guards were not interested. They did not care if the people in their charge lived or died. The inmates were fed sparingly, and their welfare was of no concern.
He had arrived not knowing what the prisoner's temperament would be. The only information they had about his capture was that he had approached a Red Guard and asked for help, saying he had information and wanted a little money. The Red Guard had arrested him and thrown him into the Chatelet before reporting what little information he could gather to Richelieu.
'What is your name?' Aramis asked, in Spanish, not bothering to even try speaking French. He gathered from the man's demeanour that he did not pose a threat.
The man tried to make himself smaller pushing himself further into the corner, although doing so made him wince.
'Are you hurt?'
Aramis crouched down in front of the man and slowly reached out to him, trying to remain passive and unthreatening. Now that he was closer he could see bruising to his face. It was clear the man had been beaten. It was not uncommon for prisoners to die in the Chatelet. To die from injuries, they did not have when they first walked through the gates into the forbidding place.
The man looked confused, perhaps Aramis was the first person to show any form of compassion since he arrived in Paris.
With a small shuddering voice, the man spoke, 'I…I asked for help…I told the soldier I had information…I thought I might get a reward.'
'Yes, my friend, if you can give us the information we need, you will be rewarded.'
Aramis hated lying to the man, but even if he would not be rewarded with his freedom, Aramis would see to it that he was made comfortable. His uniform held some sway over the guards and a few coins might help.
'Tell me what you wanted to tell the soldier.'
'I…I was dismissed by my master, I didn't work quick enough…I was thrown out…after he…' the man paused and winced as he moved slightly, 'they grabbed me…the men…they wanted to know about some gold…'
It was apparent to Aramis that the man was in a lot of pain. But due to the low light and the man's position he could not work out the cause.
'…I told them what I knew, that the master had the gold in a chest and was going to take it to the King…they said…they said that I could help them steal it, I saw Ramiro, he used to work for the master, but had been thrown out a few weeks before me, I think he was helping them…I knew it was wrong…I told them I wouldn't…they hit me and were going to kill me…but I got away.'
'And you came to Paris to warn the King?'
The man was still shivering and showing signs of pain. Aramis decided that he would revisit with food and blankets the next morning on his way to join his comrades, it was the least he could do for this poor soul.
'Where are you injured?' asked Aramis.
Aramis was shocked at the injuries he saw.
Athos had taken the lead as they trotted into the courtyard outside the large house belonging to Lefevre. Porthos and d'Artagnan had been only too willing to let him. When it came to speaking to anyone of a higher-class Athos was the better of them. Porthos knew it was not a slight on either of them and had never taken it personally. They each brought their own talents to the group. And dealing with upper class noblemen was generally Athos' undertaking.
Porthos admired the house. It was large, Lefevre clearly had money. From what Treville had told them the money was partly inherited and partly from investments in trade that had paid well. Lefevre lived in luxury and was immodest with it. The fact that he wanted to effectively buy favour with the King was testament to that.
They dismounted and handed their reins to two stable boys who had run out to meet them. They were obviously expected. A servant was waiting for them at the door to the house. Although well-dressed he looked cowed and would not make eye contact with them. He led them into the house and asked them to wait in the impressive hallway. The tiled floor gleamed, a staircase swept upwards below walls covered with portraits of impressive looking individuals.
'The master will see you,' said the servant, indicating that they should enter a room to their left.
They walked through, Athos leading the way, d'Artagnan following and Porthos bringing up the rear.
Lefevre was a tall man and he was well built, his frame was closer to Porthos' own than the slighter build of d'Artagnan. He was in his forties and looked healthy. As they walked into the room he was standing to the right of an impressive desk, he put down the papers he had been looking at and took a few strides towards Athos.
'Monsieur Lefevre, I am Athos, of the Kings Musketeers, my men and I have been sent, by the King, to assist with the transportation of your gift to Paris.'
Lefevre looked Athos up and down and seemed to approve, he looked over at Porthos and d'Artagnan who had both remained by the door standing at attention. He grunted his approval of the three of them and returned his attention to Athos.
They had decided, on the journey that they would treat the nobleman with the respect his position deserved but that was as far as their interaction with man would go. His reputation as a cruel man had made each of the musketeers uncomfortable with this mission.
'Do you require rooms?' asked Lefevre, 'I will not be ready to leave until Thursday.'
'Thank you, but no, we have taken rooms at the tavern in the village, we will be quite comfortable there,' replied Athos, 'but we do need to speak to you regarding a plot that has been uncovered.'
'Yes?' Lefevre asked intrigued.
'It has been brought to our attention that there is likely to be an attack on your carriage. A group of thieves have learned of the gold shipment.'
Lefevre appeared shocked for a moment. His features then clouded over as anger replaced his initial emotion.
'Where has this information come from?'
'That is being followed up as we speak. When my man joins us later today we should have further information. In the meantime, we need to know which route you intend to take so that we can work out the most likely place for an attack.'
Porthos smirked as he watched Athos manipulate Lefevre towards their goal. They wanted to get the information they needed as quickly as possible so that they could leave. Lefevre, though, seemed to have other plans. He returned to his desk and picked up a bell which he rang impatiently.
The door opened and the same inhibited servant walked in. He crossed the room to his master and bowed slightly.
'Yes sir?' he asked, a hint of trepidation in his voice.
'Bring me my maps from the library,' Lefevre said, he then turned back to Athos, 'I shall pick a different route.'
This was not what the musketeers wanted to happen, they needed the route to remain as planned so that they could disrupt the attack when it happened. The Kings instructions had been clear, he wanted the bandits caught and dealt with.
The servant had not moved. Lefevre looked at him questioningly. The nervous man paused then asked quietly, 'which maps sir?'
Lefevre's rage boiled over. He had been gradually working himself up since Athos told him of the plot to attack his gold. The poor servant, through no fault of his own, had tipped the man over the edge. Porthos was shocked to see Lefevre raise his hand to the smaller man and slap him hard across the face. The servant fell to the floor clutching the side of his face.
'Hey,' Porthos said stepping forward only to be stopped by d'Artagnan's hand on his arm and a look from Athos that could have stopped the King in his tracks. Unfortunately, the damage had been done.
Lefevre turned to Athos as the servant scrambled to his feet, 'control your man,' he said indicating Porthos.
Athos, who rarely let his emotions show said calmly, 'my apologies. If you will permit me?' he turned to Porthos and d'Artagnan, 'wait outside, I will deal with you later.'
Porthos knew that Athos was not belittling or berating him, but trying to retain a working relationship with Lefevre. They needed to be able to work with the man, preferably as equals, and Porthos' outburst could have cost them that luxury. With luck Athos would be able to rescue the situation, but Porthos' continued presence would not assist.
He felt guilty for nearly spoiling their first meeting with Lefevre but he had been shocked at the man striking his servant. He did not like the disparity between different classes. His own upbringing frequently reminding him of how different the levels of society were. He had acted on impulse.
He allowed d'Artagnan to steer him from the room and back out to the courtyard.
Once Porthos had been removed from the room by d'Artagnan Athos turned back to Lefevre, 'I can only apologies for my comrade's behaviour,' he said using as commanding a tone as he could muster, 'he is not used to being around the upper classes.'
Athos had hoped not to use his own status to curry favour with Lefevre but feared it was now their only option. The servant was still hovering near his master and looked even more nervous than he had before. Lefevre nodded at Athos before turning back to the waiting man.
'Go and get the maps from my desk in the library. Now!' said Lefevre with menace.
The man scurried from the room. Athos watched him go sympathetically, but unable to do anything to help.
'You are clearly a cut above your men, I am more than happy to deal with you, perhaps it would be better if your men wait until you can give them orders, once we have decided what the best course of action is,' Lefevre said.
Athos' plan had worked, inwardly he sighed with relief. When the servant returned with the maps and nervously handed them to Lefevre Athos made sure he did not even acknowledge the other man's presence.
The map, when spread across the large desk showed the local roads towards Paris. Lefevre pointed out the route he had intended to take and the one he was considering taking instead. Athos knew that he had to persuade Lefevre to stick to his original route.
'The plot that has been uncovered was reported to the King, who was most concerned,' began Athos, 'he is always concerned regarding reports of bandits on his roads. He is keen that they are caught and brought to justice. I am sure it would please him greatly if you were instrumental in their capture.'
Lefevre thought for a few moments before replying, 'then we shall keep to the original route. I trust that your presence will ensure the gold is protected?' Athos nodded before Lefevre continued, 'You are a man with military knowledge, where do you think the attack will occur?'
Athos leaned forward and examined the map closer. He could see several spots that would work well. He would have liked Porthos' input but that was not going to happen now. He reassessed each area and discounted a couple. There were still three possibilities, a secluded area with a bank on one side which would provide cover for the bandits, a wooded area with a sharp turn, and a section of road that would ford a small river. Athos decided that honesty was his best course of action at the moment.
'I see three possibilities, here, here and here,' he indicated on the map. Lefevre nodded his agreement, Athos was not sure the man had actually chosen the same places or not, 'I would like to wait until my comrade arrive after he has finished interrogating the informant. We will be alert and vigilant for the entire journey, of course, but with the added knowledge of where the attack is to happen we can be better prepared.'
'Then that is settled, now, will you join me in a drink?'
Athos did not want to join the man for a drink, but knew that he would have to. He nodded his accent and Lefevre reached to his left and took a bottle from a side table and two glasses. He poured a generous amount of spirit into each glass, handing one to Athos.
'I envy you,' he said, 'I once considered joining the military, but a horse riding accident left me with chronic pain in my leg, I can no longer ride for any length of time.'
Athos did not like the thought of this man leading anyone into battle. He thought of his own recent injury and how he had been lucky to get away with a temporary restriction in the movement of his right arm. He had suffered a bit on the journey out to Lefevre's property but at least it would improve.
'Will you discipline your man for his actions earlier?'
'He will be spoken to,' lied Athos.
'I use physical punishments myself, I find it most cathartic, it teaches the good for nothing creatures where they belong. I thrash them, and dismiss them, they are worthless to me if they cannot do as they are told. I started employing Spanish men as I had heard they are better behaved, but I have yet to find one that can do as I ask in the manner that I want it done.'
As he spoke Lefevre indicated four small rods on the side table, each had a set of leather straps attached, not dissimilar to a cat-o-nine-tales, although theses homemade implements looked like they would inflict a little less damage to the recipient. But they were still instruments of torture as far as Athos was concerned.
Athos hated the man even more. He was more than cruel, he was evil. Again, he wondered why they were dealing with this matter, it would be tempting to let the bandits kill him. But he was loyal to the King and therefore would carry out his mission, to the best of his abilities.
It was clear that the staff were kept in servitude, more like slaves then people. Athos abhorred such nobles. But he was going to have to deal with this one with as much fake camaraderie as he could generate.
'I don't think he's dead yet, won't be long though,' said the guard with a cackle. Aramis wanted to punch the man, but knew that would only delay him in getting back to the poor unfortunate servant. He still did not know the man's name. When he had finally been able to see the wounds that afflicted Lefevre's former servant it had shocked him. That a supposed leader could inflict such harm to someone in their pay infuriated him.
The wounds had not been tended to, the guards at the Chatelet knowing that no one would thank them for trying to keep their charge alive. Why should they bother, if the man died, it was one less mouth to feed. If, indeed, they had been feeding him.
There had been nothing Aramis could do the day before, but now, armed with a couple of blankets taken from the garrison infirmary and some bread and water, he hoped to make the man a little more comfortable. Not that it would do much good. The wounds were infected, the man had a fever and was, as the guard had indicated, dying.
But, if Aramis could ease the poor man's passing he could rest a little easier himself.
The guard opened the door to the cell and stepped aside.
'You will not be needed,' said Aramis as he entered, 'I doubt he will try to escape.'
With an agreeing nod and a cruel smile, the guard wandered off. Aramis crossed the short distance to the man who was still huddled on the floor. He did not appear to have moved since Aramis had left him the afternoon before. His shirt was still untucked where he had allowed Aramis to look at the marks on his back.
Aramis gently touched the man's shoulder, he jumped slightly at the contact. The former servant was warm, the fever worse than the previous day. His bleary eyes looked up and found Aramis'.
Aramis smiled and said, 'I have some water and bread if you can manage it?'
The man did not respond, looking at him with a blank expression. Aramis gently lifted the man's head from the wall and tried to help him to drink from the water skin he had brought with him. The water simply dripped to the floor. The dying man was too far gone. Aramis sighed, he knew that he would not be able to offer any other comfort to the man. He pulled out the cross he wore and clutching it prayed quietly, in Spanish, in the hope that the man might glean some comfort.
A few minutes later the man was dead.
D'Artagnan was chuckling slightly as they wandered across the courtyard. Porthos glanced at him and smiled.
'Well if Aramis had been here, he would have said something,' Porthos said.
'I know, I have to admit, I was about to interrupt myself, you just beat me to it,' replied d'Artagnan, 'he certainly lives up to his reputation. I pity that poor man when we are gone. Lefevre has quite the temper. I think even Athos was struggling not to throttle him.'
They had reached the other side of the courtyard and were stood just inside the gate. A movement to the left caught d'Artagnan's attention. He took a couple of steps onto the road outside and saw a man hastening away having been hidden in the bushes which grew along the border of Lefevre's property. The stranger saw d'Artagnan watching him and began to run, crossing the road and disappearing into a wooded area opposite.
'Hey,' called d'Artagnan as he took off, at a run, after the fleeing man.
He crashed through the trees pushing back the lower branches as he did so. The running man was not far ahead of him. D'Artagnan was gaining quickly. It did not take him long to be within reach. He grabbed the back of the man's shirt and they both tumbled to the floor, d'Artagnan falling onto the back of the man who howled in pain. D'Aratagnan quickly pulled himself off the crying man and pushed him over onto his back. The man continued to cry in pain. D'Artagnan let go of him completely and he sat up slowly panting hard. But he did not try to run again.
'What were you doing?'
The man stared at d'Artagnan, apparently weighing up his options. Wisely he decided that attempting to fight the armed musketeer was not an option and he already knew he could not out run the man.
'I was sent to watch…to see who was visiting…and to report back,' said the man in between breaths.
'Paget. He helped me…me and my friend, we were Lefevre's servants, but he threw us out. Paget, found me. I help him. My friend was thrown out after me but he didn't want to help and Paget hurt him and he ran away…I didn't want to be alone out there…I…I stayed.'
'Where is Paget?'
'I can't tell you, he'll hit me again, I don't want to be hit again. It's not as bad as Lefevre did but Paget gets angry quick.'
'What did Lefevre do to you?' asked d'Artagnan, concerned.
The man untucked his shirt and pulled it up wincing as he did so, he twisted round slightly so that d'Artagnan could see the man's back. There were several marks, d'Artagnan could tell they had been caused by a lash or whip, welts and fading bruises crossed the man's back. The skin was broken in a few places. The wounds were healing but must have still been painful.
'When did he do this, this looks fairly recent?'
'Just before he dismissed me. One strike for each day of the week said Lefevre when he did it. Same as for my friend.'
If Lefevre could have gone down any further in d'Artagnan's estimations he would have done. The supposed noble was clearly a sadistic man who did not understand patience or compassion.
He became aware of Porthos approaching, he had not realised how far behind the bigger man must have been, he turned towards him. As Porthos came into view d'Artagnan was surprised at his expression, not one of concern, but of shock. And he was not looking at d'Artagnan or the man he was with. Porthos was looking passed them both and he was reaching for his gun. As d'Artagnan turned to look for whatever was causing his friend concern he just had time to comprehend a fist coming at his face very fast. A brief explosion of pain and then nothing.