Words and Deeds
Summary: Athos finds that it is not always flesh and blood, but sometimes the heart which conceives the bond of fathers and sons by choice.
“Weep,” said Athos, “weep, heart full of love, youth and life! Alas, would I could weep like you!” – Alexandre Dumas
Just recently, on the advice of his Captain, d’Artagnan found himself watching more closely; keeping note of how Athos did things. Discerning the way he kept a certain amount of order, and a calm demeanor in the face of chaos. Watched and paid attention to how with little effort he garnered absolute respect; not having to coerce, cajole or work too hard for it. How Aramis and Porthos loved him, and would lay down their lives to protect him.
In a covert way, without being too obvious, he had begun to file away and memorize the way he spoke to people; listened to praise or grievances; and accepted triumphs and defeats in a casual way. Watching and learning with the hope that he might imitate such actions and one day be regarded in the same light…as someone worthy and of great merit.
He even wondered with admiration at how he walked the streets with guarded purpose; his back straight and stride measured; brimming with charisma and grace. This distinct walk of confidence reminded him much of his father; at times causing his heart to ache and think of the past; a pained reminder of what he’d lost.
Much like Alexandre d’Artagnan, Athos seemed never to be in much of a hurry; always venturing with intent. His journey – unlike his own trek in life – seemed to be a well-known path, with a clear destination in mind. Whether that journey was to market; to stand in the presence of royalty or moving to engage in battle – it was always the same…a deliberate gait toward his journey’s end that commanded the attention of all in his sphere.
He even noticed his skill when imparting good manners; his etiquette with royalty – style and comportment toward women. Subtle politeness; respect for excellence; and patient teachings of his expertise, all models of behavior he wished to attain.
Where others, he included, would most certainly lose patience in the face of stubbornness or bull headedness, Athos seemed to meet the challenge head on, with a slight degree of amusement – that at times irked him to no end.
Just the other day, he had given that example of etiquette a try. Opened the door for Constance; bowed slightly in her presence; offered his hand; inquired about her day and commented kindly on the many small, important things she did for him that got him through the course of a day. As always he took great pains not to add to her hardships; but to show himself as her friend.
He reveled at the blinding smile he received at such overtures; and how that smile would set him on the course of elated bliss for hours; and thanked Athos silently for showing him the way to her heart.
Where his own father had drilled into him the importance of integrity; good will toward others and the art of being a good neighbor, lessons on engaging the opposite sex had been regulated to the “talk”; honorable intentions…and precious little more.
His well-practiced “Athos” scowl got good results as well; eliciting a confession and actual pleas of mercy during an interrogation. He had swelled with pride when Athos crossed his arms and nodded with approval. The moment marred only by Aramis and Porthos, who in tandem, ruffled his hair, and then chuckled at his facsimile of the original.
“You’ll get it down right enough, one day!” Porthos had bellowed with good nature as he dragged the prisoner away.
Cheeks hot with embarrassment, he had felt anger rise up from his belly and would have responded in kind, if not for the warm hand about his neck squeezing with encouragement. A softly spoken, “well done”, smoothing down his ruffled feathers.
But now those satisfying moments were lost to him.
Sighing deeply, he aggressively flung himself down to sit on the bench and swiped sweaty hair from his forehead. Once again he had been sent from training to cool off and get himself under control. Balling his fist, he hit his thigh with frustration and berated himself for not being more like him. For not accepting criticism with more grace; for not putting his frustrations aside and hearing good advice as it was given.
It would seem that gaining his commission had not curbed his temper.
He could practically hear his father’s admonishments loud and clear over the clanking of swords and bit his lip – tasting copper. Recalling their numerous talks on this very topic, he struck his thigh again and cursed.
Peering up to the balcony, he could see Treville watching; curiously looking in his direction and turned away quickly, so as not to witness any sign of disappointment. The man had chosen him as his champion; opened up the possibility of changing the course of his life. But since that time had found it difficult to live up to such high expectations.
In his inner ear, he heard the whisperings of his father to “settle down”, “be patient”, and that “good things will come in the end”. “All will be well”…..He just needed to “not only hear, but listen”.
“Good things”, he countered bitterly, threw his sword down at his feet and reminded that voice of reason that he was no longer here to tutor; or guide; that he had been left behind – and so slammed the door on his soothing voice, so as not to weep. Groaning, he covered his face with his hands and wished now to escape the garrison yard, to be alone, to drown out his father’s voice, whose tenor he greatly missed… in order to stew in his building resentment of abandonment and grief.
A grief he would have thought abated since gaining his commission, but instead it seemed to grow exponentially each day….spilling over from his dreams where blood oozed thick on his hands, into his everyday life – in his dealings with his friends; his fellow musketeers; and his duties.
So much so that the Captain had pulled him aside; spoken to him as a concerned commander and ordered, under the guise of advice to study his Lieutenant with a keener eye. To perhaps gain insight on how to temper his emotions; to follow in Athos’ footsteps on how an elite guard of the King conducted himself.
And he had tried just that.
The Captain’s words seemed to resonate on a truth he had innately known. To follow Athos in all things had come easily. Not once had he hesitated in an attempt to be like him; and carry himself as such. Just as he had aspired to be like his own father – he had done so with Athos.
Standing abruptly, he moved to leave; to be away and empty his mind and heart of whatever this was he was feeling. But his feet were as if stuck in quagmire, a muddy entanglement that would not release him; while thoughts of his father; thoughts of Athos competed ruthlessly for loyalty; allegiances…love?
Was he being a traitor?
He had promised to avenge his father and in doing so kept his vow. When faced with the choice of retribution once again he had risen to the challenge and in its aftermath a most cherished dream to be a musketeer had come true.
Athos had stepped forward; mentored him; instructed him on what it would take to make his father proud – to show that remaining in Paris, the destruction of their home, the loss of the farm hadn’t been in vain. But what would Pere really think? If he were alive, standing with him now – what would he actually say to him?
Would he say, you have forgotten me; our way of life; what it means to be a d’Artagnan….to love the land and feel the warm earth between our fingers and toes? Would it hurt him to see that he now looked up to another….loved another; counted on another as much as he had loved and counted on him? Had he disappointed his father by replacing the love of land with the wielding of a sword?
Before he could escape and step over the threshold onto the streets of Paris and think on this, Aramis and Porthos were at his side interrupting his getaway and joyfully pulled him back. Encouraging him to join them in a meal; a drink; and ready companionship.
His ire, dissipating in the wake of their sincerity and jovial mood; and not able to deny them much of anything – he gave in, determined to put aside his worries and instead keep them company.
At first it was a mere inkling; which became a sensation; and then blossomed over time into noticing that he was being watched; studied – and emulated. For the life of him, he could not fathom what d’Artagnan could take from such scrutiny.
There was nothing outstanding that he offered in deed for d’Artagnan to take such an interest in. However, Aramis and Porthos, with fond humor informed him in no uncertain terms that the boy worshiped the ground he walked on, and would follow him through the flames of hell if need be.
This bit of information astonished him – as he had given up long ago trying to be an example to anyone; and would have thought d’Artagnan had better sense than to look up to a drunkard; a pretender and a fool.
Evaluating himself – he found a great deal lacking in his character; and but one attribute – his skill with a sword. But then, he was not a boy of nineteen who saw things through the filter of youth.
On his Captain’s advice, upon taking note of such furtive gazes and with much self-examination – he began to give his conduct a more positive showing. After all, it was not his wish for d’Artagnan to follow in his wake, committing acts unbefitting to a King’s musketeer. Lately his tormented outbursts of drink; rudeness and self-recriminations reared their ugly heads less and less; almost to a point where he would consider them infrequent.
Taking note of this change in him, Aramis had pointed out, “d’Artagnan has been good for your soul”, and with a twinkle in his eye let that grounding statement sink in and take root.
So it was that he found himself becoming a better person; more open – giving of his time and patience.
He recognized much of himself in d’Artagnan, which frightened him on some level, and agreed with the Captain that temperance and guidance were in order. From the beginning, the very instant of their meeting; he envisioned d’Artgnan’s future clearly – a destiny of leadership and heroism. There was no doubt in his mind about this. Never before was he so certain about a man’s capabilities and potential.
Not sure he was exactly the right man for this job – he took on the responsibility naturally with little persuasion, other than the asking from his Captain and saw that almost immediately between them was a spark of understanding.
A spark of which he had only experienced with few others – one being his Captain, who upon their first encounter found himself under the man’s wing on a fast track to military life; and brotherhood among the musketeers. Who had looked past his many failings and saw only who he was – a man in need of purpose.
His life duly saved, he owed all to Captain Treville. So would do this thing and impart every lesson learned; was still learning from Treville and share it freely with d’Artagnan. And d’Artagnan was a challenge to be sure. His impulsiveness, volcanic temper and stubbornness, was a daily test to be curbed and molded. Counseling without complaint, he forged ahead and was pleased to see marked improvement in technique; strategy and fellowship.
This made him pause and consider his own father – who attempted to mold him with strict etiquette; overbearing tutelage, and an iron will – that entailed a lot of lecturing on duty to the de la Fere name. Thinking on it now, perhaps his father had not the temperament to deal with his volatile nature; for he did seem to prefer the quieter make-up of his brother – who acquiesced and did not push beyond the boundaries of Pinon.
But d’Artagnan had overcome much and now wore the pauldron on his shoulder proudly; and he in turn took much pride in placing it there. Glad that he had in some small way contributed to his success.
Lately however, his temper was laced with an anger which he felt he understood, but could not combat. Something was eating at his young friend, and he did not have the words to question him about it. It was not his strength to speak on the grief he knew resided in d’Artagnan. His own grief weighed him down, and to offer solace to another was beyond him.
Nevertheless, something had to be done. Already his short fuse was becoming an issue and once again he had been forced to dismiss him from sparring practice before he hurt someone or himself. He was distracted; uncooperative – and quick to dispute his every suggestion.
Watching him brood; and berate himself made him feel helpless.
Peering up to the balcony, his Captain watched with a curious expression on his face and without words spoke to him of “straitening things out and getting d’Artagnan back on the right track.” Nodding that he understood, he knew he must dig down deep if he were to help him. To find the right words…in the right moment was the key.
Not for the first time he wished that he possessed Aramis’ gift for words and Porthos’ inclination toward compassion.
The evening spent with his friends had been a welcome respite from his swirling thoughts. Good food, good wine, Porthos’ retelling of his many adventures was just what he needed. Afterwards, instead of retreating to his room he decided to seek refuge among musketeers of another fashion, who would not judge or find the need to cheer him up.
So, after brushing down his horse and whispering to him the worries that lay heavy on his heart, he found himself lying now amongst the hay, the soothing snorts, braying and shifting hooves lulling him down into relaxation.
The cool night air drifted through open stable doors; and closing his eyes, thoughts fell once again on his father. Of how all his life they had held each other up; worked side by side – through good times and bad. How together they had fought rain, snow, sleet and all manner of difficult weather – always sharing in the pride of a successful crop; the birth of a foal – the repair of a roof; the respect of friends and neighbors; and his fleeting experiences of love.
Touching his pauldron, it saddened him that this, his greatest accomplishment he could not share with him. Throat constricting painfully – he grabbed hold and swallowed hard to keep down the well of sorrow ready to spring forth. Frowning, he vowed to not cry – for he had not seen Athos – or for that matter any of the others displaying such an outward emotion.
Thinking back, he did not recall ever seeing his father cry. So decided, it must be the way of strength to keep ones tears in check and would follow their example.
A sound at the stable door drew his attention from inward musings; and opening his eyes was surprised to see two shadows at the door. One was Athos, and the other….?
The lantern hanging by the door provided a small amount of light, which cast an orange surreal glow; a sort of halo that wreaked havoc on his vision. Squinting he thought it might be…?
Blinking haze from his eyes, he thought maybe….…..it could not be… was that? “Pere”, he breathed out in anticipation. Heart hammering inside his chest, d’Artagnan pressed down on his eyelids unsure if what he saw was real or an apparition.
Looking again, heart caught in his throat, a sense of disappointment descended when he could now readily see that there stood only Athos lingering in the doorway, an unreadable expression on his face; the shadow at his side, now gone.
Startled he sat straight up, searched beyond the door; and seeing no other frowned. Uneasy, he brushed straw from his hair and watched as Athos with hat in hand seemed to be gathering himself; and waiting for permission to enter.
Horses shifted in stalls; pushing against wood – crickets sang to each other out in the yard; distant voices called out to greet one another on duty and he nodded uncertainly for Athos to enter; wondering what would bring him out this time of night to seek him out; and why his mind would play such a cruel trick on him.
Athos twirled his hat in his hands and stepped within the entrance; and with a slight smile explained, “It is also my inclination to find solace alone when distressed. To your credit, here is more worthy a place than a tavern.”
d’Artagnan stared back, his heart settling back down in his chest to a normal rhythm; and after a beat, Athos added, “Jacque came to me worried that you have been here long enough, and he wishes to retire for the night.”
Suddenly the night noises muffled – then muted into a suppressed hush. The breeze stilled; and he could no longer hear the steady breathing of the horses. d’Artagnan studied his friend closely as he made his way to sit atop a bale of hay; then place his hat by his side.
Time seemed to stand still as Athos leaned forward, elbows on knees as if requesting that he share his burdens. As if saying, “I am here to listen.” Staring back toward the open door, he looked out into the night and wondered what he should say? How was he to articulate that he felt a traitor to his own father? Turning away to hide his face, silence permeated the space between them.
Athos let the quiet linger; and waited. He would not push. This was the right moment; and he hoped the right words would come.
After a good amount of time, the long, deafening silence was stifling to d’Artagnan and he could no longer find it in himself to keep quiet. So taking in a shuddered breath; he took this moment offered, and with mouth gone dry – warily asked, “Is it safe for me to share something with you Athos?”
Nodding his assent, Athos searched out and made eye contact with this boy who seemed always a part of him, and waited again as he watched a myriad of emotions play out on his face. And after a time could see him build up his courage then blurt out – “Then I say…..that I love you, as I loved my father. And because of this I feel disloyal and a traitor to his memory.”
Taken aback by such a declaration, Athos sat the straighter and ran shaking fingers through his hair. Was this what had been bothering d’Artagnan all along? He had known that d’Artagnan, because of his youth idolized him, as he had once idolized a beloved teacher. But had no idea he had been placed alongside the man on such a pedestal.
So, composing himself; and choosing his words with deliberate care asserted, “I did not know Alexandre d’Artagnan, but through you I see him plainly.”
Noticing d’Artagnan’s eyes beginning to shine, he leaned forward and gripped his shoulder to continue, “A man of honor, integrity; with a good heart that beats true. He has raised you well into a fine man.”
Beneath his hand Athos could feel the slight tremors of emotion, and continued as d’Artagnan bowed his head to hide falling tears behind a curtain of hair. “I know no other like you d’Artagnan, and that is through his efforts. One day, you will be a great leader of men, and I alongside Monsieur d’Artagnan will see it happen.”
And so his heartfelt speech complete, Athos reached down to pull this boy into an embrace; held on tight, and felt honored to be loved as a father – and let him weep without restraint in his arms, then murmured in his ear, “There is no shame in tears. Your father must love you now more than ever, for your heart is full of love, youth and life.”
And to himself wordlessly lamented….. “alas, would I could weep like you.”
d’Artagnan did weep with fervor, as he had spent much time keeping all thoughts of grief and misguided guilt in check. And when he was spent Athos pulled back; his neck and collar damp - thumbed tears away from d’Artagnan’s cheeks; then at arm’s length held firmly onto his shoulders. “Come away then”, he suggested; and together they stood in unison.
And just in that moment Aramis and Porthos rushed in – shirt tails hanging; hair askew and in bare feet, with Jacque standing sheepishly behind them; eyes hooded with exhaustion as he swayed from side to side.
“Can we go now then”, Porthos grumbled, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “I believe Jacque wishes to rest.” And with hands resting on hips, Aramis chimed in, “As do I.”
With a final swipe to his face; to erase all proof of his distress, d’Artagnan warmly looked to his friends with a hint of a smile – feeling somehow lighter and much loved.
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