Chapter One: One Day
d’Artagnan stood amongst the fifteen or so others, in the tight ring of musketeer recruits and was struck dumb with awe. Everyone stood shoulder to shoulder; breathing in each other’s space – leaning forward to watch the lesson for the day. This is what they had all been waiting for – to see the master swordsman at work.
He held his breath; and strained to keep the joy from his face as he watched Athos spar within the circle. He was beautiful – fluid – almost dancing; Renard no match for his genius. He bent his wrist to copy a move – itching to give it a try; but stilled his hand with great effort – not wanting to take his eyes away from the demonstration for even a second.
He spoke sternly to himself; and made sure then to not move a muscle – to be as still as possible – so as not to be the one to interrupt the absolute poetry he was witness to this day.
He watched mesmerized as Athos spun; turned; and twisted his body at angles he could only dream of. The others murmured in appreciation – but he could not let his breath go; holding it still as if releasing it would break the magic spell in front of him.
His heart pounded so hard in his chest, that to his ears – it sounded like thunder; and he thought for sure the others standing near him would turn and admonish him for disturbing the match with such noise.
He bit his lip; and dared not blink. To close his eyes for a moment would mean he might miss something – something important; something magnificent. His hands sweat as if he were the one on display instead of the master at hand.
And a master he was. How lucky he was to be here at this moment in time – to be here among the many who dreamed of becoming a musketeer. To have this opportunity to watch a legend in the making – to see the great Athos at work; he counted himself blessed.
d’Artagnan furrowed his brow to help him concentrate – to count; to weigh each step – to understand each move; each counter move; and to comprehend the why of each tactic. He pressed his lips tight. Everything Athos put forth appeared so effortless; in sync and unhurried – his sword always one step ahead of his opponent’s.
What he would give to wield a sword such as this. He closed his hands into fists with eager anticipation and watched as Athos languidly turned and deflected a furious attack on Renard’s part without ever changing his expression – his demeanor, cool and non-pulsed; his eyes alight with respect for the surprise move.
Everyone hissed out a relieved breath; leaned in tighter to compress the circle and learned in that instant what recovery looked like. Athos shouted out over the clanging of their swords, “See there?” and fifteen heads bobbed up and down in understanding.
d’Artagnan moved his feet to find that stance – to remember that moment and then followed the circle as it shifted with the two within – dust swirling around their feet; rising to a fine mist into the air. He heard someone sneeze and the circle of men laughed lightly.
And then suddenly the dance was over. The two men saluted one another – Renard smiling; his face sweaty with exertion – openly happy he had survived the demonstration without being humiliated. Athos shook Renard’s hand and above the applause d’Artagnan heard him say with sincerity, “well done”.
The circle dispersed – excited young men pairing off into small groups – exclaiming over what greatness looked like – some pounding Renard on the back with approval; laughing loudly and moving on to the rest of their day.
The dust settled in the yard; and as their voices drifted away, d’Artagnan stood still in that place – reliving the sparring match from beginning to end in his mind; closing his eyes and blocking out all sound to recapture what he had seen.
One day, that would be him in the circle. One day Athos would look to him and say “well done”. All he had to do was remember it all – soak it in – practice; give it everything he had; and not forget.
One day – Athos would look at him with respect for his abilities. But first he had to learn. Learn everything the musketeer had to offer.
He frowned a little at his own timidity. So far, he had not yet built up the courage to ask for pointers; to request a private training session; but instead had taken to watching and listening. The only time he had matched swords with Athos had been during their first encounter; and embarrassment had kept him from seeking out more.
d’Artagnan came to himself; opened his eyes and found that he still stood in the garrison yard – now alone. He looked around sheepishly and hoped no one had noticed how lost he had become in branding the match in his brain; locking the moves away in his memory – so that he would not forget; and pull them up when needed.
It was a trick his father had taught him – to take note; visualize and remember.
He moved swiftly to the stables and casually strode through to see if anyone was about – and when the coast seemed clear – pulled his sword from its sheath and began.
He closed his eyes and started from the beginning – pretending Renard stood across from him and he was the great master – Athos.
As he progressed through each motion – he knew he was a poor imitation. His feet stumbled over intricate moves; he lost his balance when anticipating a spin and found it difficult to keep up with the tempo of parry – lunge and deflect.
But he continued through, and at the end sheathed his sword, and vowed to start again. Practice made perfect – right?
Because one day – one day – he would have worked hard enough to be a true musketeer – to have Athos say to him….
“You memorized the entire match.” Athos said from the shadows – his eyes keen and narrowed slightly.
d’Artagnan turned slowly with unease, and there facing him was the man he so much wanted to emulate. How much had he seen? How clumsy he must have seemed? What must he think?
His mouth went dry; his palms sweaty and his heart beat fast. All he could do was nod in assent to the man in front of him – words lost in the storm of his thoughts whirling about his head.
Horses stomped and neighed around them; as together they studied each other with open curiosity. d’Artagnan shuffled his feat – nervous energy coursing through his body – ready to flee; his face flushed red under such steely scrutiny. He wished Athos would go or let him pass.
Athos looked over the slight young man before him. He had never met someone who would go to such lengths as to memorize a sparring session. Here was determination personified. After several moments of watching the boy shuffle nervously from foot to foot – ready to bolt no doubt – he broke the silence and commanded, “Let me see again.”
d’Artagnan hesitated, lifted his eyebrow in question; and watched as Athos folded his arms and took a seat on a bale of hay.
So, he took a deep, controlled breath; nodded once in assent – unsheathed his sword and closed his eyes. This was his chance, he thought. This was his chance to show what he could do – to learn something from a master. He rolled his shoulders; popped his neck to the side; and pulled up the match in his mind and danced through the routine – the invisible Renard keeping pace.
Athos was amazed. He could see his moves there amidst the raw talent; and remembered that day in the yard this boy had come to challenge him.
He considered d’Artagnan as he came to a close; sheathed his sword and opened his eyes. And there, he saw within those depths the desire to be the best; to one day match his sword with his own.
d’Artagnan shuffled his feet again; and felt his ears burn red. Why must Athos look at him so? It unnerved him. He could not tell what the man was thinking?
Athos stood to his feet; looked to the ground – and made a decision. “I see you are more than willing”, he announced. “Come – today we begin.”
Athos turned away and walked with purpose out of the stables and into the yard.
d’Artagnan stood rooted for only the briefest of moments - stunned. He had not expected this. Here was his “one day”. He would not let the moment pass. So he gripped the hilt of his sword and ran to follow.