Upon the King
Blue Fenix

Upon the king, let us our lives, our souls,
our debts, our careful wives, our children
and all our sins lay on the king!
He must bear all. Oh hard condition,
twin-born with greatness.
Henry V Act IV scene 2

For once, no one was watching him. The young man ducked through the kitchen
and out the back courtyard. He grabbed a warm bread roll on the way. He felt a
stab of fear, though no one at the chateau would mind the trivial theft.
Hunger and fear were hard-learned habits for him, not to be lost in a few
days. Solitude was the deepest habit of all. No one nearby meant no one near
enough to hurt him. The morning breeze on his face and hair distracted him,
the daylight stung his dark-accustomed eyes. Philippe kept moving until he
reached a half-collapsed barn that made up one side of the courtyard. He knew
a hiding place in the old hayloft, a pocket-sized den where he could stay in
shadow and see out without being seen. Sometimes Philippe needed the refuge.
His new friends had given him freedom and safety, fresh air and companionship
and the chance of wealth and power. Sometimes the change was more than he
could bear.

As a child he had been a boy with no family name, growing up in the country
with guardians but no parents. Then after a night of sudden violence he had
been a prisoner, locked in an iron mask, with no name at all. He had been no
one for a long time. Six years, they told him now, from sixteen years old to
nearly twenty-two. He had no hope of rescue, but rescue came. Strange,
dangerous men, soldiers old enough to be his father. They gave him his
freedom, released him from the mask and told him his history. Philippe, they
said, was a prince of the house of Bourbon, son of one king of France and
identical twin to another. They had hidden him in this country house. Soon,
unless fate or the King's captain intervened, they would put Philippe on the
throne in his brother's place.

A door opened along the back of the house. Philippe froze in his hideaway.
Aramis, his chief rescuer, came into sight. The boy felt no impulse to show
himself. Philippe was still a little afraid of Aramis. The man had been first
a musketeer, later a Jesuit priest. He had known where to find Philippe in
prison because he had put him there, at the king's command. Aramis waited at
the open door; in a few seconds Athos and Porthos followed him outside.

Philippe liked Porthos better than Aramis; Porthos was easy to cope with. He
enjoyed life, especially the simple pleasures of wine, women, and fighting.
Philippe sometimes thought of Porthos as a reprobate brother not too much
older than himself. But Philippe felt closest to Athos. From the moment he was
rescued Athos had been at his side, taking care of him. He learned later that
Athos had raised a son alone, a boy close to Philippe's age, and that
Philippe's brother the king had murdered that son.

Athos had always been kind to Philippe. He coaxed the boy to eat and exercise,
to recover his strength after the years in prison. He had begun teaching
Philippe how to masquerade as King Louis. When Philippe woke up screaming,
Athos was there with a candle or a kind word or simply a comforting silence.
Pain drew them together, the fatherless orphan and the bereaved father.
Philippe was sure that Aramis had planned it that way. He had never protested
against being a puppet. He was adrift in the world, cut off from his
childhood, owning nothing but his name. Being a substitute king, or a
substitute son, was infinitely better than being no one.

Philippe, curious, moved closer to the barn entrance. They weren't looking for
him. They seemed to be pacing off a clear space within the courtyard. All
three men wore swords, but they always did. Then they drew, and Philippe
recognized the situation as a practice duel. He climbed out of his hiding
place. This should be interesting. Philippe had learned the basics of fencing
as a child. Now Athos was teaching him more. Maybe he could join in. Philippe
came out through the barn door, and steel clashed a few inches in front of his

Philippe froze. They all did. Porthos had been backing up toward the barn at
an angle, Aramis attacking him. Philippe had almost walked straight between
the swords. Aramis said something unholy, his face chalk white, and dropped
his. "Don't you have any SENSE, boy?" His voice was shaking.

Athos stepped around him. "No harm done." He soothed Aramis with a hand on his
shoulder, then checked Philippe. "You're fine. Why don't you sit down over
here until we're done." He encouraged Philippe towards a bench by the kitchen

Aramis picked up his sword. "I'm sorry I snapped at you, Philippe. I was
afraid you'd get hurt." Philippe shrugged, more or less accepting the apology.
"You have to pay more attention to what you're doing."

"That's good advice." Athos gestured with his own sword. "Did you want to
practice or not?" He glanced back once, making sure Philippe had stayed put,
and the three men met in the center of the courtyard.

Philippe gave up his idea of asking to practice with them. He would have been
killed. The three-cornered fight went at full speed - their full speed, not
his - and came as close to lethal blows as possible without actually drawing
blood. Aramis was the most scientific fighter of the three. Philippe
recognized some of his combination attacks from his own formal fencing
training before he was thrown in prison. But the warrior-priest moved so fast
that Philippe could barely identify one move in three. Porthos was slower, not
too much faster than Philippe himself. He relied more on his massive strength.
A few minutes into the fight Porthos dodged past Aramis' guard and slammed a
shoulder into his friend, knocking him back six feet. Aramis landed on his
feet and kept coming.

Athos fought two-handed, with a rapier and a long slender dagger. Before five
minutes had passed he was fighting both the other two by himself. Porthos
charged him, trying the same move that had felled Aramis. Athos was suddenly
elsewhere. The thin dagger sliced Porthos' jacket as he went by. The big man
came back angry, bellowing, swinging wildly. Athos shifted his ground again,
and Porthos slammed into Aramis trying to follow him. They disengaged, Aramis
hitting Porthos in the side of the head as a criticism, and closed on Athos
from two different directions. He engaged Aramis with both blades, forcing
the priest back and around by sheer strength of wrist. Porthos saw the trick
coming this time. He dodged his friend. Athos disengaged his rapier for a
second and tapped Porthos' neck with the flat. "You're dead." Porthos backed
up, grumbling. Aramis beat the dagger aside and began the battle over again.

Porthos moved back into the kitchen doorway, taking Philippe with him. It was
a wise idea. Once Aramis and Athos focused on each other, they took up the
entire courtyard. They had similar fighting styles. Both relied more on speed
and accuracy than brute force, and both preferred avoiding a blow to parrying
it. Aramis, more out of practice, began to tire first. His dark eyebrows came
together in a dangerous frown. He began attacking a little slower, a little
harder, as if hoping to raise bruises. Athos kept to the defensive, biding his
time with a vague half-smile as if slightly distracted. Philippe stared. Athos
was relaxed, even to his untrained eye, clearly not working hard. What would
he be like angry? Philippe leaned close to Porthos, afraid any noise would
upset the delicately balanced fight. "You said something about Athos attacking
a Musketeer guard post to get to the king," Philippe whispered. "How many

"The guards at the palace? Twenty-five or thirty," Porthos said. "And

The other on his list of jobs, Philippe thought. Substitute son for Athos,
substitute king for Aramis, and substitute D'Artagnan for all of them. They
had been the four Inseparables for more than twenty years. When their fourth
and youngest member had opted out of this hopefully-bloodless rebellion it had
left the three off balance. Philippe felt them half-consciously pushing him
into the vacant place. It was a place he could never fill, though, any more
than he could stay alive on this battlefield. The savagery of the mock duel
brought home to him, as nothing else had, how slim their chances were. The men
who could fight like this terrified him -- and they were his allies. How much
worse would his enemies be?

"Athos should have taken us with him," Porthos said. "He only wounded three;
not much of a fight. There, see that."

Philippe nearly missed it. Instead of circling and dodging, Athos suddenly
shifted his weight forward. He met Aramis' charge with one of his own. Their
rapiers clashed and slid together, pushed forward by both men's momentum,
until the hilts collided. Then Athos moved his dagger hand, a flick of the
wrist. A button flew off Aramis' shirt from over his heart.

Aramis came out of attack position, still breathing hard. "Take the edge off
my sword next time, won't you?" He went after the button, waved it in Athos'
face. "You can damned well sew this back on, too."

"Of course," Athos said humbly. One corner of his mouth turned up. "As usual."

"Excuse me," Porthos said to Philippe. "They're likely to start up again." He
picked up a water bucket and dipper from the kitchen doorway and ambled out
between his two friends. "How shall it be, then? A friendly drink or the whole
thing over your heads?"

Aramis gave him an evil look and took the dipper. He drank quickly and pointed
at Athos. "You rely too much on that Florentine trick," he said. "If you lose
the dagger or get wounded in that arm, you'll have no defense on your open

"I do practice without it," Athos said. "But if God gave me two hands, I think
I should use them both."

"I'll have that put on your gravestone." Aramis was calming down as he got his
breath back.

Athos had taken over the water bucket. He drank and offered it back to Aramis.
"I'll sharpen your sword if you like."

"It's not that bad." Aramis looked faintly apologetic. "I have a courier-load
of reports to read. This conspiracy won't run itself, you know."

Athos nodded, taking the apology. The three understood each other very well
after twenty-five years of service together. Philippe always felt very young
and out of place when he noticed the undercurrent of half-spoken
communication. Now Aramis got Porthos' attention with a touch on the sleeve.
Both men disappeared into the house. Philippe thought about following them,
but in spite of everything he felt safer with Athos.

Athos settled himself on a bench by the kitchen door - the last time he'd been
there, he'd been cutting up vegetables for dinner - and began cleaning his
already-clean blades. Philippe watched him from a little distance. He tried
to reconcile his gentle friend with the talented killer he'd just seen in
action. Philippe felt as if the barn cat had walked up to him and grown into a
tiger. He'd practiced with Athos once or twice a day since they came to the
manor. Now he couldn't believe he'd survived those bouts. Philippe gathered up
his courage and sat on a pile of firewood opposite Athos. "I thought I was
doing pretty well."

Athos looked up and smiled. "You are, Philippe. It takes time."

"Is D'Artagnan as good as you are?"

Athos thought about it. "Better, I imagine. He's nearly ten years younger, and
that's starting to make a difference. But we've never fought each other in hot
blood. Not quite."

"Can I learn to do that?"

"You could. You have a good eye, it's the practice you lack. But it would take
years. You won't need to make your living by the sword, the way we have."

"No. I'll be king, or if we fail I'll be dead." Philippe felt cold, the damp
cold of a dungeon. He shivered. "Could I face D'Artagnan, if I had to?"

The smile left Athos' face. He pointed at Philippe with his dagger hilt. His
voice was hard and brittle. "If you ever face D'Artagnan, throw down your
sword. I mean it. He'd never hurt a surrendered prisoner. But you're just good
enough, in a fight, that he might not be able to take you alive."

The cold filled Philippe. "I don't want to be taken alive. You saw that place,
the thing they put on me. I've thought about it. I won't go back to that. I'd
run onto a sword first."

Athos squeezed both of Philippe's hands, hard enough to hurt. "Stay alive,
boy. Whatever it costs you. A prisoner at least has hope of another chance.
Dead ..." Athos' voice cracked. His eyes filled with tears, and he literally
could not speak. Guilt stabbed Philippe. Surely Athos had lost an argument
like this one with his own son.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He threw his arms around Athos. Philippe felt his
breath catch, and start again in painful gasps, but Athos would not cry. "I'll
surrender if it comes to that, whatever you say. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Athos hugged him back, hard. "You haven't hurt me." The lie sounded strained,
unnatural. He gathered Philippe's head against his shoulder and kissed his
hair like a child's. "It will not happen. We'll win, that's all, and you will
never need to choose." Philippe sensed the rest of it, not while I'm alive, as
if Athos had said the words out loud.

Philippe felt safe, safer than he'd felt since he was a baby. He wanted to
give in to the comfort, but the coldness still lived in his stomach. Athos
felt him tense and released the hug. He watched the boy's expression. "What is

I wish you were my real father. Philippe wasn't sure if the remark would
please his friend or hurt him. "I wish I was somebody else," he temporized.
His worry tipped over into bitterness. "It doesn't matter who I am, does it?
As long as I look like Louis. As long as Aramis can use me."

Athos only nodded. "It's true. We are using you. I wish there had been another

"Good thing for me there wasn't, or I'd still be in prison."

Athos sat very still for a second; pain or anger, Philippe couldn't guess. His
voice acquired a sharper edge. "Probably. We are not what we were. We wanted
to save the world when we were young. Now we're lucky to save ourselves. But
you are free, whatever our motives were. Don't waste it."

Philippe was afraid: of the Musketeers and their talent for killing, of his
brother and his brother's throne, of the mysterious D'Artagnan, even of Athos'
affection that left him unmasked and vulnerable. "No, I'm not. If I was free,
I could walk away." His body tensed on instinct, prisoner's habit, preparing
for anything from shouting to a punch in the face.

Athos moved, and Philippe flinched. The older man only took a pouch off his
belt. "It would be good to save someone out of all this." His voice was soft,
suddenly tired. The pouch had money in it. Athos counted it out by touch; not
a fortune but a substantial sum, about the price of a good horse. "You are
free, Philippe. You've made us no promises. You have every right to think of
your own safety." He held out the whole pouch. "In your place I'd go south.
Marseilles, maybe. Nobody's hunting you."

Philippe refused to touch it. "That's not a real choice. I can't survive on my

"You can, though. Look at what you've survived already." Athos reached down
for his sword, which had dropped to the dirt in the confusion. He wiped the
blade with an oily rag. He sheathed it and handed the sword and scabbard to

Philippe took it automatically. The sword weighed three or four pounds; it
felt like a mountain. "Do you want me to go away?"

"Never mind what I want." Athos avoided meeting his eyes. "The question is
what you want."

"I don't know." Philippe stared at the ground, miserable. I want to live. I
want to stay with you. I don't want to leave, I don't want to die. "I have to
think about it."

"I can see that." Athos started to reach out again, stopped before touching
Philippe. "Watch where you're going."

"I will." Philippe turned back toward the barn, carrying the sword awkwardly
by its scabbard. He stopped in the barn doorway, caught by a movement at the
corner of his eye. Aramis was standing at the far end of the house. He was out
of earshot of where Philippe and Athos had been talking, but in a direct line
of sight. Athos saw him too. A look passed between the two older men, and
Aramis headed toward Athos.

Philippe thought about going back and speaking up for himself. He turned and
fled back to his self-made cell.


Athos was in no mood for this. He was tired, body and soul. He hadn't meant to
offer Philippe a way out of Aramis' plan; the action was pure impulse. He
distrusted emotional outbursts, but the more he thought about that one the
more he suspected his impulses were trying to tell him something. Now Aramis
was bearing down on him, ready to thrash it all out again. Athos had already
hit one close friend in the recent past. It wouldn't take too much Jesuit
arrogance to make it happen again.

Aramis had the sense not to start by snapping at him, at least. "Let's go
inside." Athos followed him into the kitchen, trying to retain control of
himself. Aramis sat down at the table. He spoke quietly. "I'm glad you've
gotten close to Philippe this quickly. You're probably the only person on
earth he cares about. Certainly not me. I'm the monster of his nightmares,
you're his guiding angel." His voice became a little harder, but no louder.
"Philippe will do what you tell him."

Athos kept his voice just as quiet. "I think he would, yes."

"So what have you been telling him?"

"The truth." Athos stared hard at Aramis. "He doesn't have to risk his life if
he doesn't want to. We didn't take him out of hell for his own sake. He
deserves a choice."

"He can't make a choice. You said yourself he's like a child."

"That is a reason to protect him like a child." Athos lowered the tone of the
discussion a little. "Instead of destroying him in a scheme that has no

Aramis only looked curious. "Is that what you think?"

"I'm not a fool, general." Athos decided to tell him all of it, while Aramis
was still listening. This conversation had nowhere to go but down. "You
wrecked this plan yourself before it started. When you told D'Artagnan about
it. He'll be ready for us. He's no fool either. He knows Louis better than
anyone alive. Philippe could never deceive him, not if we trained him for five

"He won't have to." Aramis was talking too fast now. "If we can put Philippe
in place for any length of time, even a few hours, he can have D'Artagnan sent
away on some pretext. Maybe the Queen ..."

"You don't believe that yourself. He's only our enemy now." Athos shut away
half a lifetime of memories. D'Artagnan's betrayal had hurt worse than
anything except his own son's death. If Athos let himself feel it, he would
break completely. Bad enough to frighten Philippe by losing control; he would
not be useless when the young man needed him. Not again. "It will come to his
life or ours. His or Philippe's. That bastard Louis is more to him than all of
us put together."

"I was sure he'd help us." The pain was in Aramis' voice too, though Athos
didn't want to hear it. "The plan was perfect; no civil war, no treason, no
deaths. Not even Louis. We could have exchanged them easily, with D'Artagnan
keeping his security off us. He's hurt, Athos. D'Artagnan sees Louis' evil as
clearly as you and I do. If I could have talked to him for a few more

Athos thought seriously about hitting him. It must have shown on his face;
Aramis finally shut up. "You'll still be talking when he hangs us. This plan
has failed. I won't lie to Philippe."

"You already have. You told him he could get away." Aramis was becoming angry,
too. "We're not talking about some minor comte abandoning his title." Athos
glared at him but let the insult go by. "Louis is the greatest king in Europe;
he has agents in every city in the civilized world. Philippe can't go
anywhere, wearing the same face, and not be remarked. They'll see him. Louis
will learn he's still alive. He'll be damned lucky if they only mask him

And Athos would have failed him, finally and completely. He looked away,
fighting for control. Then Aramis was gripping his wrist, as if pulling him
away from a literal cliff. "Listen to me. We haven't lost yet. The
substitution is still our best chance, ours and Philippe's. On my honor. I
believe this plan can succeed, if we're all behind it heart and soul.
Including Philippe -- especially Philippe. But you have to be the one to
convince him. You love him. He knows that. He won't do anything just because I
ask it; he thinks I'm a cold-blooded bastard."

Athos looked into his oldest friend's eyes. Half a lifetime of war and
fellowship, danger and joy, closer than a brother. He wondered if he knew
Aramis at all. "Maybe he's right."

"Probably he is." Aramis looked tired too. "But I'm doing my best, Athos. We
can't forget the larger problem. People are dying every day because of Louis'
rule. Human souls as deserving of life as Philippe or Raoul. The country is
close to a breaking point. Soon enough, the people will rise against Louis no
matter what it costs them. It'll be worse than any battlefield you or I have
ever seen. I've already damned myself trying to prevent a civil war. I'll use
anything or anyone to prevent this one -- you, me, Philippe, all of us. I'll
use us up."

"I think you would." Athos said it without anger. "That's your idea of giving

"You never could stand a liar." Aramis didn't smile, but his expression became
a little less grim. "You are the most depressing man I've ever known."

"It's the company I keep," Athos said. Aramis had been the same the day he
learned of Raoul's death, the day he didn't kill King Louis, the day he nearly
killed D'Artagnan. No glib phrases of comfort, no outward sympathy. Not a word
about God or Heaven from the priest; Athos' belief had not outlived his first
wife. But Aramis had looked until he found him, wandering near the palace,
unable to complete his revenge. He'd kept Athos with him by every means short
of outright force. And Aramis had not left him alone, not for an instant,
until Athos had hope for a justice that didn't require his own death. The
subtle guardianship hadn't really stopped until they rescued Philippe. Not
until Athos had something to think about besides his own pain. "You're
ruthless, general," Athos said. "Quite unlike the pale seminary student who
wanted fencing lessons to defend poor, insulted Madame -- what was that girl's

"I've forgotten," Aramis said. "You charged more than any three teachers in

"You never paid anyway." Athos squeezed his friend's arm. "You could never
have been an ordinary priest. You have a soldier's heart by nature. I never
taught you that."

"You can teach more than you think," Aramis said.

Athos sighed. "I'll talk to Philippe. I won't take his choices away. He's been
kept on one leash or another all his life. Let him have some freedom now, if
only for a little while."

"As long as I can," Aramis said. "I don't have control of our timetable. If a
mob pulls Louis off his throne, then trading the one for the other will serve
no purpose anyway."

Blood in the streets, but Philippe would be safe. "Don't tempt me," Athos


Philippe had long since been used to solitude. It was people who upset him,
not their absence. To keep sane in prison, he'd almost forgotten that the
outside world existed. Now, though, his nest in the hayloft felt intolerably
small. The silence filled his head like an overwhelming noise. He was clean
and well-fed, safe and unmasked, but he felt as trapped as his first day in
the dungeon. Athos' sword rested against his shoulder. Philippe hugged the
sheathed blade against him. The sword had seen more of the world than he had.

Philippe didn't want to think about his future. He had a clear vision of all
his possible endings: another foul little cell, a sword through his lungs, a
throne room with hundreds of people watching him live a lie. He'd learned one
more fear in the last hour. If their plan met the slightest opposition, if
they made the smallest mistake, Athos could die for him. Philippe was in awe
of his teacher's skills; he felt sure Athos could beat any five opponents. But
Louis had armies of thousands. They only had themselves, a boy and three men.
Athos would not consider his own safety if Philippe was in danger. Philippe
could see him in his mind's eye, blood spraying from his throat or chest,
falling. Gone forever. His fault.

Running away would be a dream come true, even if it meant begging for food and
sleeping under hedges. They wanted too much from him. They needed an adult for
this, not a child afraid of his own shadow. Not just Athos; all of them
deserved better. If they trusted Philippe, they made themselves vulnerable to
his weakness or mistakes or failure. Failing these men would be a greater
damnation than anything that Philippe could do to just himself. The
responsibility settled on him like a weight. Being a king must feel like this
all the time. He hated it.

Philippe turned the sword around and held it properly. He would have to defend
himself when he went out into the world. Nobody would come with him. That
would be best of all, wandering freely and still having Athos for company, but
it couldn't happen. He would never ...

Philippe's hand clenched on the sword hilt. Athos would never stop fighting
King Louis. Everything he was made them enemies; his oath to France, his
loyalty to his friends, his love for his son Raoul and now for Philippe, all
focused into a single white-hot obsession. Athos had never been angry at
Philippe. He had never even raised his voice, but after seeing him fight
Philippe understood his friend's capacity for rage. Nothing would stop Athos
but Louis' destruction, or his own. If Philippe left, if Aramis' idea of a
peaceful substitution became impossible, Athos would simply find another way.

Last time, he had tried charging thirty armed soldiers. Athos would not
consider his own survival. Aramis and Porthos could not make him consider it.
They cared deeply for Athos, but they were just as dedicated to winning at any
cost. Philippe saw only one way of making them careful.

Stories about starving Parisians and unjust wars meant little to him; they
were too distant, understood intellectually but hard to feel. D'Artagnan and
Louis and his mother were only names, attached to faces Philippe had never
seen. But Aramis had taken him out of prison. Porthos had treated him like a
brother. Athos had loved him like a son. That was real. Philippe was still
afraid; he had something to lose now. He would be afraid in the heart of his
brother's palace. Kings must be afraid all the time; they had everything to
lose. But he would not let his friends die for him, not alone.

Philippe was still sitting, the sword across his knees, when Athos came up the
ladder to the hayloft. Athos looked nervous, unable to keep his hands still.
"Aramis wanted me to talk to you again." He glanced around at the half-ruined
frame of the building. "He's clever, but he's not infallible. Aramis still
thinks his plan is the safest way, for you as well as the rest of us. He may
be right. I only wanted you to know ..." Athos hesitated, then blurted out the
rest of it. "If you do this, if you help us, I'll be with you. I won't let
anyone hurt you." His voice was so brittle that the promise sounded like a
lie; his eyes were bitter with the memory of failure.

Philippe held out the sword and scabbard in both hands. Athos took them, not
understanding. "I'll do it," Philippe said. "I'll go to Paris, I'll be king.
You'll have to teach me how. I'm sorry I don't know anything useful, but I
will try."

Athos searched his face. "You're not afraid?"

"I'm terrified." Philippe tried to smile; it came out too tight, too nervous.
"But nobody ever needed me before." He couldn't keep up the bravado, with
Athos watching him. "It's what you do, isn't it? All of you. If something has
to be done, and you're the best person to do it, then you have to. I
understand better now."

"Come here." Athos drew him to his feet and hugged him. The contact warmed
Philippe to his soul. He felt some of the tension and despair leave Athos,
too. "Yes, you do understand. It's a pity we need a new king. You'd make a
fine musketeer."

"My loss," Philippe said. He let go of the hug. The feeling of safety stayed
with him. He had learned to accept affection; respect was something new again.
A starved part of him whispered, this is worth dying for. Philippe kept the
thought to himself. Better not to call down any bad luck.

Philippe remembered his detailed fears of different futures. He had heard
Aramis say, once, that thought is prayer. He called up the picture of himself
in a crowded throne room, impersonating his brother as hard as he could. Athos
would be somewhere in that room, alive and well and proud of him. And Porthos,
and Aramis. He would succeed, because he had to. "I'm going to need my own
sword," Philippe said. It came out louder than he'd meant, crisp-edged and
decisive. He stopped, surprised by his own voice.

Athos did not look surprised. "I think you will, at that. I'll get you one."