A/N: Wow, it took me more than a year to get here, but this is it. The final chapter. I had most of this chapter written a long time ago so that I would have something to work toward, so that is why it is getting posted rather quickly after the last.
My sincere thanks to everyone who read this story and took the time to review. It means a lot to me. Best wishes to all.
Chapter Thirty Nine
D'Artagnan hesitated outside the door to Louis' chamber. It had been three weeks since the successful midnight transfer of the former king, during which time the Musketeer captain had traveled with Anne on her weekly visits, but he had never set foot inside the chamber, nor had he been invited in. Then, to his surprise, a message arrived from the Estate early in the morning stating that the prisoner had requested to see him at his earliest convenience. D'Artagnan was both surprised and overjoyed by the summons, having never expected to again lay eyes upon his older son in this life. No indication had been provided to explain why Louis wanted to see him, only that he should come at his earliest convenience.
Beside him, Herve, his jailer, made an unintelligible guttural sound, drawing the Musketeer's gaze. As their eyes met, he gestured toward the door, indicating that the door was unlocked and D'Artagnan could enter.
With a nod, he opened the door and stepped inside. The bolt slid into place behind him, locking him in the room with Louis.
Louis was standing at the window looking out across the sunny, gently rolling hills beyond the courtyard, reminding the Musketeer of the way Anne had stood at her window for so many years, longing for a freedom that she could never have. His hands were clasped behind his back, but he stood in his typically regal position, still proud and authoritative even while incarcerated, and D'Artagnan was pleased that Louis' spirit had not broken. For a moment the former king seemed unaware of his presence. Finally, he turned and his gaze settled upon the man who had helped to remove him from power.
D'Artagnan bent slightly at the waist and dipped his head in a respectful nod, still offering the deposed king the respect he would have expected had he still been in the palace. To his surprise, Louis gave a single nod of his head in response, a gesture which suggested that he had accepted his loss of power.
"Thank you for coming," Louis said.
D'Artagnan moved closer, so happy to see his son that he wished he could embrace him, but of course he did not. He stopped about ten feet away and observed the younger man's countenance, detecting a great deal of difference in his demeanor than the last time he had seen him, when he was angry and bitter over his arrest. "I did not think you would want to see me," he admitted.
"I did not believe I would, either," Louis agreed with a note of irony in his voice. "But I have had much time to sit and think about everything that has happened in my life and the way I have lived it . . . and perhaps abused it."
D'Artagnan cocked his head slightly, unable to hide his surprise at this unexpected comment.
Louis offered a slight smile. "Yes, D'Artagnan. I have thought long and hard about our last meeting, when you placed your hand on my leg and gripped it in a way that a father would as you urged me to accept my fate."
His eyes, which had strayed briefly to the décor of the sitting room while the other man spoke, snapped back to Louis' face, startled.
Louis smiled again, apparently enjoying the Musketeer's astonishment. "Forgive me. It was not my intention to startle you so. Of course, I know that you are not my father, but it has occurred to me that you have often treated me as such. For as long as I can remember, you have looked out for me. I even remember you coming to my room once as a small child. You thought I was asleep, and you stood there for a long time watching me."
D'Artagnan was immediately uncomfortable with this revelation, and he lowered his eyes to the floor, recalling those long ago nights when he would sneak unnoticed into the child's room to simply gaze at him, marveling at the life he and Anne had created together, and lamenting that the only way he could be a part of that life was in a subservient way. He had visited him many more times than just the one, but he had been unaware that Louis had been awake that time.
"I knew that you were watching over me," Louis continued. "Protecting me as you did my entire life. And now you protect him."
The words were spoken harshly, and D'Artagnan felt a twinge of guilt. "He is now the king."
Louis waved away the statement with a flick of his hand. "I know. I told no one about you being there that night, for I am certain my father would not have approved you coming to my chamber without his permission. What I am trying to say is that I always felt safe with you in the palace, D'Artagnan. You went above and beyond the call of duty to assure my safety, and I took that for granted. I remember other things, too, the way you would speak to me in ways that a father might, and the way you sought to council me, even when I was not willing to hear it. And I remember the last day, just before I was taken away. There were tears in your eyes as you looked at me. I noticed it even then, but could not imagine why. Now, I understand. It hurt you to see me placed in the mask and taken to the Bastille."
"It hurt me deeply to see that done to you." He averted his eyes and shook his head, slowly in regret. "I wish there had been some other way . . . "
"I could not understand it at the time. But now, after the past two months of confinement and many hours in which to think, I realize that you have always cared deeply for me. You dedicated every aspect of your life to watching over me and protecting me, and I never once felt gratitude for the sacrifices you made. Until now. You kept your word to have me removed from the mask and from the Bastille. Aramis told me that you were responsible for me being allowed in the courtyard unattended, and for that I am very thankful."
"Are you comfortable, your majesty? Is there anything that you need?"
"I am no longer king, yet you do me the honor of referring to me as 'your majesty'."
"You are still royalty, whether or not you sit on the throne."
Again, there was that single nod of affirmation. "The one thing I want is the one thing you will not give me, and so there is no point in asking for it," he replied with a trace of bitterness in his voice. He paused briefly, then continued, "To answer your first question, I am as comfortable as I can be while being imprisoned. I have nice rooms, a soft bed, a lovely garden, many books to read, and plenty to eat. But I am lonely, D'Artagnan. I am accustomed to having many people around me, but here there is no one to talk to, except when my mother comes to visit."
"Sire, you must understand –"
Louis raised his hand, cutting him off. "I know. No one must see my face except Herve and his wife, and he is unable to speak to me. I had his tongue cut out, you know. He hates me for that. I see it in his eyes every time he opens my door. And Marie. She hates me just as much for what I did to her husband. How easy it was for me to issue that order!" Slowly, Louis walked back to the window and gazed longing toward the distant rolling green hills that lay beyond the walls of his domain. "This is the first time I have physically seen the result of the punishments that I levied on others. Punishments were always ordered, and then I put them out of my mind. But here, I see it and am reminded of it every day. He will live without his tongue for the rest of his life. I cannot imagine such a thing. And I will live without the power I once had." He sighed, heavily. "Some days, I am glad I am no longer king and no longer have the responsibilities. Other days, I miss the life that I once had. I miss the parties and the women. That is the hardest part."
He fell silent for a long time, and behind him, D'Artagnan waited silently for him to continue.
"Was I truly such a bad king?" he asked at last.
D'Artagnan shifted from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable with the question. "How am I to answer that?" he asked. "Do you believe you were a bad king?"
Louis did not respond immediately. For several moments, he lingered by the window, then turned abruptly and strolled to the table and rummaged around in the bowl of nuts that had been provided to him. "Until a few weeks ago, I would have said no," he finally replied. He gestured toward the bowl. "Would you care for something?"
D'Artagnan shook his head.
With a handful of nuts, Louis went to a chair and sat down. "Do you think Philippe will forgive me for placing him in the mask and sending him to prison?"
"I believe he already has."
"I wouldn't, had it been me," he admitted. "Having endured the mask for five weeks, the longest five weeks of my life, I cannot imagine living in that thing for six years, as he was forced to do. Did you hear what he said to me before I was taken away? That he hoped we would someday be able to know each other as brothers?"
"Yes," D'Artagnan replied, cautiously, wondering where this curious line of question was leading. "Under the circumstances, he showed remarkable generosity."
"From the moment my father revealed his existence to me, he was like a shadow following me constantly, always in the back of my mind, always present even though he lived far away. I had never seen him, nor did I ever wish to see him, for I feared he would do exactly what he has done – take my throne. But now that it is done, I suppose I have come to see him as less than a threat. As you said, he has shone remarkable generosity. For the past three weeks, living in this fine house away from the horrors of the Bastille, I realize that he has been far more forgiving than I would have been in the same position. I want to get to know him," Louis finally came to the point. "Will you bring him here so that I might speak with him? If he will agree to come, that is."
D'Artagnan was clearly uncomfortable with the request and the possible problems it presented. "I will speak to him about your request, but you must be aware that if he agrees to come, I cannot permit the two of you to be alone together."
Louis appeared disappointed. "You do not trust me."
"It is a matter of protocol. You know that. The king cannot be left alone with someone who has made an attempt on his life."
This was clearly not what Louis had wanted, but he nodded his acceptance of it. "Very well, then. But I still wish to see him."
"I will tell him."
"I have one other request. I need a companion, someone to share my time with. I know that companion cannot be human, so I would like to have a dog. A small dog would be fine, one that would be content living inside with me and accompanying me to the courtyard. I promise, I will treat it better than I have treated the people under my authority."
"I see no reason why that cannot be granted."
"Thank you for coming, D'Artagnan."
D'Artagnan knew that this was his signal to leave, so he bowed slightly, then returned to the door. He rapped three times on it, and Herve unbolted it and opened it. The Musketeer paused in the doorway to gaze over his shoulder at the son he had never stopped loving, then gave a nod of acknowledgement, and walked back down the corridor. Behind him, he heard the echoing slam of the door and the bolt being returned to its locked position.
"He wants to see me?" Philippe asked in astonishment.
"I cannot overlook the possibility that it might be a trick, but yes, that is what he said," D'Artagnan replied.
They were in Philippe's bedchamber, visiting casually over a bottle of Bordeaux, something that would never occurred while Louis was in power.
D'Artagnan continued, "I have no idea what he wants to speak with you about, but he says he is lonely and that he has had a great deal of time to think about the things he has done, including the things he has done to you, and your leniency toward him."
"Do you think he is sincere?" Philippe asked.
His father shrugged. "That remains to be seen. Your brother has always been a master at deception. However, in this case, it is my desire to believe him. His only visitor is your mother. His loneliness must be great. It seems natural that he would be drawn to his family."
Philippe fell silent for a long time, contemplating the idea of finally having a discussion with his twin brother. "I had hoped this day would come, but I never imagined it would be so soon! Will I be permitted to speak with him alone?"
"You know the answer to that, Philippe," D'Artagnan chastised in a gentle voice. "The king is never, ever left alone with someone who might do him harm. I will be with you."
"Perhaps Mother can go with us, and we can all be as a family!"
D'Artagnan shook his head in disagreement. "That would not be a good idea. Remember, son, Louis is unaware that I am his father, and you must not reveal that to him." He paused, recalling the conversation they had shared only hours before. "Although there were a few moments today when I was worried that he might suspect." He told Philippe about his brother's comments, but then added, "His later comments assured me that he remains unaware, but he seems close to me, like he would see a father figure. When you see him, you must say noting that would reveal the truth to him. As much as I would like to claim him as my son, it would not be fair to him. He believes he is the son of the former king; we must allow him to continue to think that."
"I will say nothing to him about it. I just thought it would be nice for all four of us to be in the same room together. But as you said, that can come later."
"There is one other thing. He has requested that he be allowed to have a dog as a companion. I believe it is a good idea, and will help alleviate the boredom and loneliness."
"Then it shall be done. Since you know him better than anyone else, I leave it to you to make the selection. When will we go?"
"The decision is yours. We will go at your convenience."
He glanced at the clock. "I would like to go now, but the hour grows late. First thing tomorrow, then."
D'Artagnan placed the glass on the table, and stood up. "And in the meantime, I must locate a suitable dog."
The next morning, with an escort of Musketeers, Philippe rode with D'Artagnan in the coach that bore them to the estate home where Louis was living. Although it was unusual for D'Artagnan to ride inside the coach with the king, as his head bodyguard it was done on certain occasions, so it was not questioned. A small white dog with long hair and large black spots rode in a basket on the seat beside the captain. Not one of the Musketeers suspected that their monarch was visiting anyone except a friend who lived there, and they waited outside while D'Artagnan, carrying the dog under one arm and the basket in the other, entered the residence with Philippe.
Marie and Herve were there to open the door for them, and after the initial shock of observing his resemblance to the deposed king, they bowed and curtseyed with great respect.
"I speak for both of us in saying that it is an honor to welcome you here, your majesty," Marie said in a nervous, rather animated tone. "If there is anything you need or require during your visit, please let us know."
"I will do that," Philippe replied in the slightly indifferent tone that he hated to use when greeting servants.
With both hands full, D'Artagnan nodded his head toward the staircase. "Up the steps and down the corridor, your majesty," he said.
Together, the two men climbed the steps and walked together down the long, darkly paneled corridor, with Herve trailing at a respectful distance. All the while, Philippe was looking curiously at the richly polished paneling, the portraits and paintings in their gilded frames, and the colorful tapestries.
"You say it was in a state of disrepair?" Philippe asked.
"Very much so. No one had lived here in a number of years, and the house was allowed to fall into decay. I have no idea if your predecessor had any intentions for the house before the exchange, but I suspect he had forgotten about it."
"The workers did an excellent job restoring it to good condition."
"There are doors on both sides," Philippe observed. "Is anyone living in the rooms that are not his?"
"Yes. Herve and Marie occupy the rooms across the hall from his to be readily available if he needs anything. The other servants live on the third floor, but the doors to the rooms directly above his have been sealed to prevent access. An additional precaution."
Philippe came to a stop outside a door that had a sturdy metal slide bolt on it, and correctly assumed that this was his brother's quarters. He stopped beside it, and glanced at his father as he drew a deep, calming breath. "I feel so nervous!" he admitted.
"There is no reason to be nervous, your majesty," D'Artagnan said, continuing the charade for the benefit of Herve, who was approaching behind them. "I will be there to observe, but I will remain near the door to allow you both a reasonable amount of privacy. Remember, sire, you must remain in the sitting room where I can see you both."
Herve pulled back the slide bolt and pushed the door open a crack, peering inside to determine the location of his prisoner. Seeing him in the most comfortable chair, he opened the door fully and gestured for the two men to enter.
Louis stood up expectantly when D'Artagnan and Philippe stepped into the room. Behind them, the door was closed and locked again. The sound of the slide bolt being pushed into place generated a brief sensation of panic inside Philippe's heart, having heard that sound many times over the past six years, and as he looked into his brother's eyes, the younger twin saw a knowing expression reflected in Louis' eyes.
The dog in D'Artagnan's arms whimpered and squirmed, wanting down, and the sound drew Louis' attention, breaking the gaze with his brother. The Musketeer was surprised by the way his son's eyes lit up at the sight of the dog.
"You kept your word," Louis said. "Set him down; let us see what he looks like."
D'Artagnan placed the small dog on the floor, and the three men watched as it shook its long white coat and pranced around the floor, its nails clicking on the wood floor.
"He is a Continental Toy Spaniel, five months old," D'Artagnan explained. "I conducted some investigating, searching for a dog suitable to your rank, and found that the Continental Spaniel was the official dog at the court of Henri III, and was much favored by him."
"So he has a royal history," Louis said, smiling happily as he knelt down and patted his thigh to gain the dog's attention. It pranced eagerly to him, waving its bushy tail. "Excellent, D'Artagnan. You did well!"
"I am glad that he pleases you."
"He does indeed." After petting and playing with the dog for several moments, Louis stood up again to look at his brother, marveling that he could have been looking into a mirror, the resemblance was so great. "So, we meet again, my brother."
From Louis' tone of voice and his direct, penetrating gaze, it was impossible to determine if his greeting was intended to be unpleasant or simply an observation, so Philippe merely replied, "Yes."
Louis observed that Philippe's eyes seemed uncertain. "Do you fear me, Brother?"
"No. I was surprised that you asked to see me, but I am happy that you did."
"Are you?" Louis said in a rather taunting voice as he turned and made his way back to his chair and sat down. The dog trotted halfway, then stopped and looked over its shoulder at D'Artagnan, the person with whom it had spent most of its time since leaving its first home. Louis saw its hesitation, and called, "Come here, boy." He looked pleased when it jumped up in his lap, and his hand stroked its soft fur as he said, "I thought it was time you and I talked. Is the palace to your liking?"
"Better than my last residence," Philippe told him, pointedly. "Courtesy of you, I might add."
"Touché," Louis said with a smile. "I suppose I should apologize for that. Aramis told me when he brought me here that our father would not have approved of my locking you in the mask and hiding you away at the fortress prison on St. Marguerite." He stroked his chin thoughtfully with one hand as his other hand continued to stroke the dog. "I dare say, he is probably correct, since Father had previously seen to your welfare. I was in a panic, you see. Of everyone in the world, you were probably the one person I feared. I feared you would do exactly what you have done – take my throne."
"Taking your throne was never my idea. In fact, I did not want it."
"If you did not want it, then why did you take it?"
D'Artagnan stood near the door, determined to merely observe as his twin sons discussed their situations and hopefully reached some sort of understanding between them, but Louis' bitter words were too much. "Louis," he warned.
Philippe waved an arm toward him, beckoning him not to interfere. "No, it is a fair question. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis removed me from the prison and from the mask, and they told me who I was. Before that, I had no identity. I know only that the woman who raised me called me Philippe. I was happy there with her, until the night the men came on your orders and took me to the forge, where they put me in the mask. They never told me what crime I had committed, and I wore that mask for six years, all the while wondering what I had done to deserve such brutal treatment. You wore the mask for five weeks. Tell me, Louis, was it a pleasant experience?"
"You already know the answer to that."
"I could have left it on you for six years, as you had done to me."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because there is no such cruelty in me. When they told me the things you had done, the horrors you had inflicted on others, I knew I had a chance to change things for the better. I could never do to other people the things you have done."
"You are an idealist."
Philippe smiled in agreement. "Perhaps."
To his surprise, Louis smiled in return. "So, we agree on something." He stood up again and turned his back as he walked to the window. For several moments, he stood looking out while Philippe waited. "There is one thing that has confused me, my brother. How is it that my valet, Francois, has not noticed any differences between us? Surely, there must be some noticeable differences."
Brief surprise flashed across Philippe's face, then realized that Louis had never been told. "Of course, you do not know! Francois is not my valet."
"No?" Louis asked, curiously. "You relieved him of duty?"
"No. The day of the hunt, Francois fell down the stairs into LaCroix's wine cellar and broke his leg. LaCroix was most upset, and agreed to keep him there until he had recovered sufficiently to travel, but Francois kept insisting that he was not healing property and could not travel. That turned out to be a ruse, for a few weeks ago he ran away with LaCroix's eldest daughter."
Louis turned around, stunned. "He just left without word about it to the king? I find that difficult to believe! Always, he was the most loyal of servants, the one I could depend on!"
"I suppose he loved the woman more than he loved his king," Philippe suggested.
After a moment, Louis began to laugh. "I bet LaCroix nearly fainted when he found out that his noble daughter had run away with a servant!"
At the door, D'Artagnan could not suppress his smile, thinking that the news had brought the same result from everyone who had heard it.
"Women do have that effect on men," Louis continued. He turned back to face the window with a wistful sigh. "Women are a true pleasure to men, but if there is one thing I miss about all this, even more than the women, it is the palace," he said, at last. "It is hard to imagine that I will never see it again."
At the door, D'Artagnan winced, visibly distressed by his son's wistful words, but Louis' attention was directed at the landscape outside the window and did not see.
"I am sorry," Philippe said.
Louis turned around again. "What have you to be sorry for? Perhaps I am getting what I deserved."
"I do not believe that," Philippe said. "This was never intended to be a deliberate vendetta against you. The Jesuits only sought a better king, and I was chosen because I am your brother."
"Mother never says much to me about it when she comes to visit, but she does say that you are doing an admirable job, even though you have had no experience in governing a country. She says you have a natural aptitude for the position. I underestimated you."
"I have good council to help me until I am ready to govern on my own."
"I had a good council also, but I would not accept their advice on many things. Perhaps it would have been different if I had," Louis admitted. "I have a favor to ask, brother."
Philippe gestured for him to continue.
"Do you ride my white stallion?"
"No. I prefer the black."
"Then if he is not being used, I would like the field out there beyond the wall to be fenced and ask that he be released into it, where I might see him from my window. I can hear horses sometimes when I am in the courtyard, but I cannot see them. I love to watch horses running and grazing, and he was my favorite. It would cheer me considerably to see him again."
Philippe deferred to D'Artagnan, who gave a slight nod. "I see no reason why that should not be granted," the Musketeer responded. "I will have some men begin building a sturdy fence and a shelter for him next week."
"Thank you. And would you also get me a ball so that I can throw it for the dog?"
"I will bring it on your mother's next visit," he promised.
Leaving the window, Louis approached his brother. "When this first happened to me, I refused to admit that I may have made mistakes during my reign. I believed that I had been selected by God to rule France, answering only to Him. Mother accused me of blasphemy when I said that to her."
"She is a good Christian woman," Philippe pointed out.
"Yes, she is. But now you rule France, and according to her, you are doing an admirable job, so perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps you were the chosen one."
D'Artagnan was pleasantly surprised by his son's words. If Louis accepted his subordination to his brother, perhaps in the future there could be even more privileges. Of course he did not say so aloud, since Louis might be on his best behavior in order to gain favors and then one day bolt, but it lifted his heart considerably to hear it.
"I cannot bring myself to bow to you as my king," Louis continued. "My pride and my former position will not allow it. But I have been thinking that perhaps, as you suggested once before, you and I could at least be brothers." After a slight pause, he reached out his right hand toward his twin.
With barely a hesitation, Philippe reached out to accept his brother's handshake.
A/N: The Continental Toy Spaniel is the forerunner of the Papillon and the Phalene (a drop-eared version of the Pap). During his reign, King Henri III, the last of the Valois kings, declared this breed the official dog of the royal court. He was succeeded in 1589 by Henri IV, the first of the Bourbon kings.