Summary: Although the bond between Athos and d’Artagnan is strong – no one could have guessed the absolute depth of their connection. Will that connection prove powerful enough to save them both?
Hello everyone! Pinon had many stories to tell – so the musketeers stayed just a little bit longer.
I hope you enjoy! Thank you. Please review!
Chapter 5: Welcome Recovery
Monsieur Baudouin stepped from the door of his inn and looked with pride out into the square. He shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun and placed his hat on his head with purpose; and breathed in air as a new man – an independent man – a land owner.
The noon day sun was high today; the atmosphere heavy with heat, humidity and hope. All around him the residents of Pinon went about their now daily routine of rebuilding their small village. If fear, intimidation and death would not stop them from gaining their independence; then a little heat was easy enough to bear through their restoration.
The noisiness of it; the business of it all was comforting and much needed. Pinon was going to be better than before. He scanned the faces of his neighbors and a twinge of sadness filled his heart - the loss here had been immense; but the gain equally significant. They were a strong people, and would survive this.
Thanks to the Comte, they were now an independent and self-sufficient people. He took in all of Pinon before him. He would not let this go to waste – he would not disappoint the Comte de la Fere.
For the past two weeks Monsieur Baudouin had taken to walking through the village this time of day to see for himself how things were faring with repairs and with everyone’s mental state. He would leave the inn for his daughter – Jeanne – to keep an eye on, and greet his neighbors – one by one – determined to keep their spirits lifted over their shared harrowing experience.
It was true – they had won the war over the Baron for the right to keep their own land, and be masters of their own destinies – but the everyday battles were just beginning.
Looking about – he could see that things were improving – but now that their lost ones were buried, the church needed the roof repaired; doors taken off hinges to create the barricade needed to be replaced; the homeless needed to be housed – crops replanted – the orphans cared for and people fed.
The task before them was daunting – but it could be done.
As Monsieur Baudouin stepped onto the porch, he noticed the Comte sitting beneath the awning, getting much needed sun and fresh air. For two weeks – he had lain upstairs in one of the rooms - fighting fever and weakness, due to loss of blood and infection.
It had been touch and go for the Comte, and for those two weeks, all of Pinon assembled in the chapel each day, before the sun would set, to pray for his recovery. Then a few days ago, Monsieur Aramis had announced to them all that the Comte had made it through the worst of it and now just needed to rest and heal.
Everyone had spontaneously erupted into song and Father Elie led them in a fierce prayer of thankfulness.
Monsieur Baudouin stepped further onto the porch, to approach the Comte, and greet him good morning. He was always unsure how to act around him – ingrained deference hard to shake.
For the past few days, the Comte had been relegated to sitting in front of the inn – quietly watching the village work to rebuild – a daily ritual he could see the Comte was already becoming weary of.
Each day - he watched from the porch his fellow musketeers take part in assisting neighbors with some needed task or repair; running an errand or tending to wounds still not healed from the battle.
His unrest was evident.
Monsieur Baudouin could read the signs clearly – the longing look to move about, the shaking leg and fingers drumming at his thighs were dead give a ways.
He looked to the Comte and smiled fondly. He had known this young man his whole life and remembered seeing him as a child with the same mannerisms of impatience.
He laughed softly to himself – thinking back to that time and place – little Olivier walking stoically behind his father; with such a serious face; his leg shaking, just as it was now, causing him to shift from foot to foot; itching to run and play – but held back by his birthright and the stern looks from the man whose shadow he dared not step from.
Olivier had been such a quiet boy – a reticent adolescent – and then a reserved young man; who left home six years ago under a cloud of scandal – his wife hanged – bitter and haunted. It saddened him that he was not happy.
As he approached the Comte – he removed his hat, bowed his head – as he had been taught – and spoke with great respect, “My lord – good morning.”
Athos lifted his head as Monsieur Baudouin stood before him, his head bowed – waiting to be addressed. He squint his eyes from the blinding sunlight and annoyance, “I have asked you Monsieur – on several occasions to stop bowing and to call me Athos.”
Monsieur Baudouin chuckled and replaced his hat on his head, “Old habits die hard Comte. I fear you will always be my lord to me.”
Athos attempted to stare the man down – but was unsuccessful – as Monsieur Baudouin seemed immune to his tactic, and sighed with resignation for now asking instead, “You walk again today. May I join you?”
Monsieur Baudouin tilted his head to the side, considering his Comte – his eyes twinkling, “And what does Monsieur Aramis say about this?”
Athos frowned, “He has left for the day to make rounds of his own, I believe; and has no say. I make my own rules sir and wish to join you.”
Monsieur Baudouin smiled within – some things never change. Little Olivier was still there amidst the anger. “Then do sir”, he said aloud, and gestured for Athos to stand and lead the way.
Athos nodded and stood cautiously from his chair. When on his feet, he smiled slightly with satisfaction, “We walk together Monsieur – side by side”, and with a slow pace walked from the porch into the square.
Athos breathed in deep the fresh air – letting it fill his lungs and clear his mind. It was good to be up – about – and moving. He felt an ache in his thigh and a slight pull at his chest – but what he was aware of most was the tiredness and weakness in his limbs and in his lungs. Exercise was what he needed. He would deal with Aramis’ concerns later – because lying around – being inactive – had him thinking too much.
And thinking too much about his life without alcohol to dull his senses to it; left him feeling raw with emotions – emotions better left unexplored. When he thought too hard – dark moods would come; and he did not need that now. So – better to be moving and kept busy.
Two weeks ago – he almost died. In similar instances, over the past five years – he had become to welcome the knowledge that his life would end in battle – any battle – one battle was as good as another.
His life for hers – that’s how he thought of it. He had taken her life and so would gladly let battle take his. He had not purposefully wished to die; but if it happened – so be it – it was what he deserved.
But now things had changed. Anne was alive – he could not find it within himself to hate her; and Pinon was morphing, transforming before his eyes – rising up from dust and ash to redefine itself. Perhaps he should do the same.
For such a long time his purpose in living had been centered on being a musketeer and self-destruction. If not for Aramis and Porthos, his lack of self-preservation and indifference would have seen his pension for death fulfilled years ago. Then, living turned into restoring his honor – using King and country as an excuse. Now, living had reshaped itself into being part of a family – his small family of four, who he allowed two weeks ago to pull him from the edge of death – and he was glad.
Across the square d’Artagnan’s laughter bounced its way over the clatter of hammers; greetings and braying horses. Honing into that sound – Athos searched and found him helping to place a new wheel on the blacksmith’s cart – chattering away amiably – dirt covering him from head to toe; but his smile bright and clear – it was good to see.
Monsieur Baudouin caught his line of sight, “Your friends have been a great help these past weeks. We couldn’t have gotten this far without them.”
Athos nodded – concentrating on d’Artagnan’s transparent, open happiness.
Monsieur Baudouin gestured toward d’Artagnan, “That one has brought comfort to many a mother here.”
Athos frowned slightly, “Has he?”
Monsieur Baudouin nodded, “Five have lost their sons. He has been someone to cook for – mend for and fuss over. He has gladly fetched their water; chopped their wood and sat for a meal or two. We are grateful. The mothers will miss him when you leave.”
Athos’ heart swelled with pride as they slowly made their way toward the stables. Truly, d’Artagnan would be the best of them, for he had brought him comfort over these weeks as well. Athos had lain in bed, sick with fever, and listened for hours at a time, through a haze of pain, to his “tales of Pinon.”
Aramis had tried to convince him to take something for the pain, but he had refused; understanding his weakness for addictions – instead, letting the sound of d’Artagnan’s voice and the tales keep severe physical discomfort at bay.
d’Artagnan would sit at his side – wipe his brow; feed him broth and tell him stories of Pinon.
There was the story of William – thirteen years old – the first volunteer to take up arms against the Baron. He had lost both his parents in the fighting and had been wounded in the arm himself. It seemed he had taken a liking to Treville – following him everywhere – soaking up tales of musketeer adventure and being a solider. So far – the whole town was taking care of him and the other orphans – making sure they had places to sleep; eat and feel safe. William was quite the hero in Pinon. He had made his own pauldron from cloth – drawn on it the fleur-de-lis – declaring himself a musketeer.
There were the stories of Jeanne – who had opened the doors of the inn to help the sick and wounded; helping to care for them day and night until they were ready to go home. She worked tirelessly by Aramis’ side, who pushed himself to prevent further loss of life – visiting each one of the wounded daily to be sure they were changing a dressing – washing their wounds and taking draughts for pain.
Jeanne had recruited Porthos, and they worked diligently together to organize hunting parties to gather food; pool what was left of the crops and needed supplies after being reduced to almost nothing in the after math of the skirmish. Jeanne had become “lady” of the village.
The story of Monsieur Laurent had touched something in him greatly. d’Artagnan shared how the blacksmith had worked day and night for three days without stopping, to create the memory plaque for the twenty souls who were lost. On day four, he mounted it in front of the church – so that each day a villager could visit; leave flowers; a token or just touch the many names etched in iron – and remember.
In telling the story, d’Artagnan had paused, leaned close and whispered, “Did you know, Monsieur Laurent made a plaque for us as well – The Heroes of Pinon – with our names and the fleur-de-lis; thanking us for fighting against injustice.”
And then there was Father Elie – who had lifted a weapon to help defend his home and the church – and cried the whole time, asking God to forgive him. He had led the villagers in prayer every evening while he had been racked with fever – praising him for his bravery and willingness to fight for Pinon, “praying for your speedy recovery”. d’Artagnan had smiled at this – his eyes brimming with admiration. “He called you the prodigal son returned; and everyone agreed.”
Sitting by his side, he had relayed with awe, “You know – people stopped by the inn every hour to ask about you. They would shake my hand; the mothers kissed my cheeks and left me food. I have never eaten so much in my life. I think they took pity on me. I’ve been so worried.”
And it went on like this for two weeks – story after story; Pinon opened up before his eyes.
Athos had waited with anticipation every day to hear his tales – listening for pauses; stutters and prolonged silences – but there were none. His words flowed easily with no strain or discomfort. It seemed that his episodes of silence had diminished greatly – perhaps a product of watching him recover; or receiving such overwhelming attention from the mothers – Aramis had surmised.
Athos was amazed and captivated to see Pinon come to life in d’Artagnan’s descriptions. And though he remembered many of these people from his childhood and from his time as the Comte – it felt as if he were meeting them for the first time through him.
And now – walking along side Monsieur Baudouin – to match faces and names to these accounts, brought him a sense of closure. Soon they would be leaving here and he would not return. He had already made up his mind – he would give Baudouin his seal; and he would be the one to manage Pinon in his stead.
Walking from place to place – speaking with the residents; shaking hands with the blacksmith; receiving freshly baked bread from the baker – visiting the plaque of the lost ones and hearing their gratitude for the help of the musketeers and for the gift of land – left him feeling content and guilty.
Sitting now alone in the church – resting before continuing on to the last place he must visit – his thoughts fell heavily on this. He would not have stayed to help but for his friends – especially d’Artagnan’s passionate plea of his responsibilities. They knew better than him, and he was glad to have listened.
Baron Renard sat below his estate, in his family vault, staring at what was left of his reason to live. His boy, Edmond, was gone – lost to him forever.
He touched the casket before him and squeezed his eyes shut to close out the image of Edmond lying in the dirt bleeding out in his arms – lost, lost, lost….
What was he to do now? It had taken every ounce of strength he had to bury him – now; there was nothing of him left. All of his land – his lavish home – his title – held no meaning if there was no son to leave it to. His God given, divine right – his place on this earth – his sole purpose was to rule and to leave it to the next generation to rule in his name.
Now – there was only this void – a never ending waste land of pain that pierced his chest and made it hard for him to breathe. Looking to his wife’s marker on the wall – he realized that her death had not compared to this devastation. He could not live without his son.
His eyes shifted to his own empty casket – waiting for the day his spirit left his own body – to lie in rest, with his ancestors and next to his dear, dear boy.
He laid his head on the cool surface of the casket, and wept – hard and deep – his well of tears indefinite. For the past few weeks it was all he could do – for he could not sleep, or eat; and barely took care of his needs – drinking only wine, next to his son until drunken oblivion snatched him down into darkness.
His servants cowered above ground, in the estate, afraid to disturb him – his grief leaving him filled with hysterical rage- holding onto his firearm; threatening to kill them if they interrupted him.
Renard lifted his head, tears and spittle streaming over his face unheeded; and thought of all that had transpired to lead to this.
The battle of Pinon had cost him everything. The Comte de la Fere, who did not wish to be a Comte – had survived – but not Edmond. Who was it that la Fere had lost; what had the battle cost him?
Baron Renard sat up straight and wiped the spittle from his nose and mouth. No – that man had lost nothing. He reached for his firearm atop his son’s casket; and imagined himself shooting the Comte de la Fere dead. For a moment the imagery felt powerful; but then he exhaled, leaving himself deflated, and defeated all over again.
To kill the Comte would mean nothing. The man did not care for his title - his land - or his life. This was evident. He had been willing to die for those peasants, and leave his legacy to them.
He thought back on that day – looked past his own pain – and remembered the boy who held la Fere in his arms – screaming silently; beating the ground with his fists. That was love he witnessed – the same fierce love he held for Edmond.
Maybe there was someone he could lose that would pierce his heart as his had been pierced? Maybe the battle could cost him everything and leave him lost as he was lost.
He looked down at his son’s casket and rubbed his name plate gently; placing his ear to the head to hear below the stone cover. There – there it was - the sound of his boy crying; sobbing – telling him how cold – how dark it was in limbo; and that he was afraid to be alone.
Baron Renard pressed his ear closer and whispered, “I know my boy – but I will make it right; you won’t be alone for much longer. I promise.”
He stood up straight then, resolved to a new purpose; and left the vault behind – calling to his servant to saddle a horse.
“Athos!” d’Artagnan called into the quiet church; and stepped in. There seated at the back pew was his friend – staring resolutely at the cross above the altar.
“Monsieur Baudouin has sent me with the cart”, he stated boisterously and flopped down next to him – swiping dust and dirt from his shirt and pants. “He says you are tired – that your leg is bothering you; and there is one more place you’d like to go.”
Athos nodded – happy to hear the string of words emitting from his friend unencumbered. A few weeks ago – he never would have believed it; but now the sound of his voice was much welcomed – even if over enthusiastic in this place of worship.
“So, here I am”, he laughed, holding out his arms. “Where do you wish to go?“, and stood ready to help his friend stand.
Athos waved him back, “I can get to the cart on my own”, he stated – gritting his teeth as he held onto the pew in front of him and hauled himself to his feet.
d’Artagnan placed his hands on his hips and smiled with cheek, “Of course you can – but I want to help you anyway”, and turned his back to Athos, for him to grab a hold of his shoulder, just as little Laura had done for him not so long ago.
So Athos – feeling the dull ache in his thigh ready to escalate into pain, conceded – gripped his shoulder; and together they left the church; moving cautious and slow toward the horse and cart – where d’Artagnan helped to carefully guide him up and into the seat.
d’Artagnan then ran around to the other side of the cart and bounded up into the seat beside him – took the reins and looked expectantly to his friend, “What will Aramis say about all this moving about today? You are barely from your sick bed.”
Athos looked to the sky with some exasperation – and just as he was about to speak – d’Artagnan rolled his eyes and interrupted with, “I know, I know – you are your own man; have a mind of your own; and make your own rules.”
The two sat for a moment – Athos eyes shooting daggers – d’Artagnan’s crinkled with mirth – until he chuckled and asked, “Where is it you want me to take you Athos?”
Athos relaxed and looked out over the fields beyond the church and over the rise – to the tree that stood large, and steady – casting its shadow over Pinon.
d’Artagnan nodded – concern now wiping the mirth from his countenance as he set the horse on its path.
Baron Renard rode along aimlessly, heading his horse in the general direction of the la Fere estate. His thoughts wandered between his wife presenting him with a son – seeing Edmond take his last breath in the dirt; and providing the Comte de la Fere with a loss that would rival his own.
With his firearm pressed firmly in his hand – his purpose to live now directing his every move – it was only a matter of time before he would keep his promise to Edmond. He would no longer be cold, and alone. If there was anything he could do about it – he would give him that much.
Renard scanned the road – the fields – the area all around him. He was on a mission and would not be deterred.
Sitting with their backs to the massive trunk and looking above to the strong over hanging branches – Athos remembered the day he sat watching as the noose was placed around Anne’s neck, at this very tree. She had stood with her back – ramrod straight – staring him down; until he could watch no more.
He covered his eyes and inwardly groaned. He had loved her beyond life; condemned her to death, and wanted to destroy himself for it for five years. He leaned his head back and stared up at the limbs – had he done the right thing? Did he rush to judgement? Was his decision the catalyst that created the unfeeling assassin she had become? How could he redeem himself if he did not asses the past?
He looked down at his hands, and then secretly glanced at the young man beside him - and what of d’Artagnan? When it came to him he had a blind spot. There was nothing he could do that would anger him for long; he would do anything for him – even give his life. His welfare meant everything – his health; wellbeing – were a priority – his life above all a must.
Only fourteen years separated them, yet he felt his love for him as a brother and then some. Was this how a father felt for a son? His experience with such things was limited. His relationship with his own father had been strained; tense and oppressive – so he would not know. Only Treville had filled that blank space of fatherhood with consistent loyalty and encouragement; showing through action his unwavering faith in his abilities.
Too many questions bombarded him; and he now only wished to quiet his mind – before a dark mood set in.
d’Artagnan sat silently next to Athos, pulling on the grass at his feet – unwilling to disturb his friend’s distressful musings. Whatever he was thinking of – he could tell it was pressing; and that he was not sent away – for him to think alone – spoke volumes to him. What could he say to help? Should he say anything?
Moments like this – he wished Aramis or Porthos were here. They always knew the right thing to do when it came to emotions and feelings - and when hard things needed to be said. He had always counted on his father and now Athos and the others to take the lead on such things.
He stole a helpless look in Athos’ direction. All he knew was that he loved him; would do anything for him; and that he could do nothing that would turn him away. Should he say that? Would it be helpful?
Suddenly a shadow fell across him; and when he looked up, silhouetted by the sun, stood Baron Renard – his hair blowing askew in the breeze; face flushed; his eyes red and manic. He then lifted a firearm, and pointed it right at Athos.
d’Artagnan gasped and felt Athos look up also; and moved to stand to protect his friend; but Athos held his arm in a powerful grip – telling him to “stay”.
Athos’ heart beat fast, his mind trying to catch up to what was happening in front of him, “What is it you want Baron?” , he asked, trying to keep his voice calm and even; noticing the unfocused; unkempt delirious look of the man before him.
He reached slowly for his sword, and remembered that he had not carried a weapon while in Pinon – admonishing himself for this mistake.
“What I want Comte is for you to lose as much as I have.” The Baron tilted his head listening past rustling leaves, to his son tell him how afraid he was. “My boy is cold, alone; and afraid in the dark Comte. I have promised him he won’t be alone anymore.”
Athos squeezed d’Artagnan’s arm tighter – feeling the weakness in his body – knowing that he would be unable to overpower the Baron without getting one of them killed, “What are you talking about Baron?“, he insisted, trying to keep the man focused and on him – as d’Artagnan was unarmed as well.
Calling to d’Artagnan, but keeping his weapon and eyes trained on Athos, the Baron barked, “You stand up boy!”
Athos held on tight for a moment, but let his arm loose; and nodded for d’Artagnan to do as he was told. d’Artagnan reluctantly stood as the Baron continued, “Get on the horse and wait for me. If you try anything, I will kill the Comte right here.”
d’Artagnan walked toward the Baron’s horse and mounted – taking his cue from Athos, understanding that to rush him, or to go for help, might lead to Athos’ death, and he couldn’t risk it. The Baron then moved toward the horse and cart; released the horse; slapped her on her flank and urged her with a push to run. Satisfied that he would be stranded out here for a while, he turned to Athos, leaned over him and jeered, “Your boy for my boy – that is a fair exchange, don’t you think?
Athos leaned in closer, and bore his eyes into the madness in front of him, “If you harm him, I will kill you.”
The Baron then turned away – mounted his horse behind d’Artagnan; kicked his flank and took off at a quick gallop – away toward the west.
Athos got swiftly and painfully to his feet; looked around in helpless frustration. There was no one nearby to turn to. So he began the run to Pinon – desperate to gather his brothers and retrieve d’Artagnan.
Porthos sat languidly in the shade of the stables and watched as Treville spoke with William in serious tones, discussing the finer points of being a good soldier and taking care of your horse. William sat enthralled; eyes wide; hanging on every word. He nodded with enthusiasm, asked lots of questions, and was a captive audience. Porthos chuckled to himself – Treville was eating it up.
Though he was definitely still angry with the man for keeping secrets from him about his parentage – he could not deny that Treville was a good man. Not many years ago – he had sat listening to Treville with the same type of awe and enthusiasm; grateful he had taken an interest – and helped fulfill his dream of becoming a musketeer.
Over these few weeks; Treville had been good for young William. He had needed something to cling on to and aspire to; and Treville had given it to him. The boy adored him; and soaked up every bit of information Treville had to offer.
A commotion in the square pulled him from these thoughts, and he watched as Monsieur Laurent walked a horse over to the stables, “This is my horse”, he announced perplexed to Porthos,“d’Artagnan borrowed her and the cart earlier today to ride the Comte in. Why has she come back alone?”
Porthos looked to his Captain; and they were instantly of one accord.
“Go to the inn and have Aramis come quickly”, he commanded William, who took off running – sensing the urgency in Treville’s voice. Then he turned to Laurent, “Ride him in from where?” Monsieur Laurent shrugged his shoulders, but then remembered, “They were last at the church.”
The two musketeers began saddling three horses and then there was Aramis with William breathing heavily at his heels - in the stables with their weapons asking, “What has happened?”
Porthos called over his shoulder, “Our boys are in trouble”, and swung up into his saddle reaching down to William for his weapons – Treville doing the same. Aramis then mounted, and the musketeers quickly made their way to the church.
William stood still at the stable doors watching them retreat; clutching at the cloth pauldron on his arm – wishing he could go with them.
As they progressed closer to the church – Aramis spotted the lone, massive tree in the distance and knew this was where Athos would want to go - bent over his horse and led the others in that direction. They followed without hesitation – leaving the village behind.
d’Artagnan sat in front of Baron Renard stiff and uncertain if he should try and make a move. The barrel of the firearm dug painfully into his back; and the Baron speaking in riddles to his dead son – had him wondering about the man’s sanity.
That Athos lived was a relief – and anything beyond that was an afterthought. When they reached the de Louvier estate – the Baron dismounted and then forcibly yanked d’Artagnan down from the saddle – dragging him by the back of his collar to a cluster of stairs leading underground.
The servants who had rushed to meet him; fell back toward the house scurrying in fear – wondering now if their liege was truly deranged.
At the top of the stairs – he called down, “Edmond?” and pushed d’Artagnan down, watching as he tumbled to the bottom.
d’Artagnan was stunned as he found himself ricocheting down the stairs – his head making painful contact with sharp edges; causing his vision to blur into an explosion of light. When he reached the bottom his head was throbbing and his side was on fire. When he touched the tender spot at his temple, his hand came away sticky with blood. He felt the earth spinning beneath him, and thought he might release his most recent meal, but swallowed it down.
Renard reached down and dragged him to his feet – propelling him toward the casket at the back of the vault. “There is my son”, he moaned – grabbing his head; and pulling at his hair.
“There is Edmond!” he shrieked, more forcefully, waving his weapon for emphasis. “He is alone and I have promised him you for his company.”
d’Artagnan’s stomach clenched with fear. Baron Renard was insane and he had to get out of here. The Baron then pointed his weapon to the open casket next to Edmond’s, “This was for me when my time came – but I have promised my son – so you must take my place.”
d’Artagnan decided then, and rushed for Renard – grabbing him about the waste attempting to tackle him to the ground; but the man’s strength brought on by madness was formidable – he would not go down. Instead, Renard took the butt of his weapon and hit him about his head; neck and shoulders; and when d’Artagnan fell to the ground – followed up with a strike to his temple.
d’Artagnan’s head exploded in agony and he succumbed to darkness, thinking, “I am about to die.”
As the musketeers raced for the tree at a full gallop – Porthos pointed ahead, and there running toward them was Athos; his thigh bleeding profusely; his face red with exertion – his breathing labored and heavy.
When he saw them, he stopped – leaned over and pulled in gulps of air – attempting to manage his pain and emotions. When they met him – Treville reached down and pulled him deftly to sit behind him in the saddle.
Athos raised his voice to be heard, “Renard has taken him to his estate – we must hurry – he has gone mad.” And without breaking cadence, they rushed to the west, toward the Louvier estate.
When d’Artagnan regained consciousness and opened his eyes, what greeted him was darkness and pain. He groaned and felt the sound echo close around him. Where was he? What was happening?
He squeezed his eyes tight, opened them again, and saw flashes of light in the corner of his eyes. Was he dead? Had Bertrand killed him after all? He reached for his throat with trepidation. His head hurt so bad – why did his head hurt so? He touched his temple; felt wetness and was confused.
He placed his hands out in front of his face and could see nothing. Had he and the King been captured? Was he now in the bowels of a Spanish slave ship?
He coughed and felt his side pull at him with such pain that he gasped. When he tried to roll onto his side – he found he could not – and felt a barrier there keeping him from moving. He reached out and felt for the other side, and also met a resisting force.
When he extended his hands above him, and came upon that same resistance, a heavy weight of panic assailed his chest, his limbs and his mind. Suddenly he could not breathe, the air felt thin; heat encompassed him and pressed down on his lungs – he thought he heard Pepin yelling in the distance to come join him.
He pushed at the barrier above him, and Gus laughed loud and hardy, the sound of it closing in around him in the small space. He pushed again, and Baron Renard beat him about the head – ordering him to not leave Edmond alone.
Realization hit him. He was in the casket – closed in – left to suffocate and die next to Edmond. He gathered what little strength he had, and pushed at the cover again – straining his muscles; feeling his side burn with the effort.
When he could push no more, he lay back exhausted – breathing in the stale air around him – terror taking a firm hold. Then everything went haywire in his mind – Pepin, Gus, Bertrand, the dead of Place de L’Eglise; and Pinon were howling and lamenting – shrieking for him to join them.
He covered his ears to block them out, but it was no use – there was nowhere for him to go to escape the noise.
Then beyond the dirge, he heard a faint whisper, “steady”. He removed his hands from his ears and honed in, “steady”. He frowned in the dark and latched on – that was Athos; and heard the whisper again, this time close to his ear, “steady”.
Soon the mantra drowned out the cacophony of deathly noise and all he heard was the anchoring resonance of Athos’ voice – clear and distinct – giving him direction.
So, he closed his eyes, drifted away and would wait.
Once at the estate – the musketeers dismounted and were met by a man servant, who with fear and anxiety pulled Treville by his arm, leading him to the stairway that would take them below ground to the family vault. He pointed below, trembling with fear; afraid that any moment his master would appear and shoot him dead for his disloyalty.
The musketeers nodded their thanks to the frightened man and gestured for him to return to the house. They drew their muskets; held them out before them, and quietly made their way down into the vault.
Below them they could hear the echoes of a one sided conversation – the Baron pleading for his son to stop crying.
When they reached the bottom, they observed the Baron – resting over his son’s casket – his weapon at his feet.
Athos stormed toward him – ripped him from the casket – grabbed him by the front of his tunic and shook him harshly, yelling, “Where is he?” his eyes wild with rage.
The musketeers looked around them, and seeing no others – holstered their weapons.
Receiving no answer from the sobbing man in his grip, Athos pushed him to the ground in disdain and looked to his friends, “He is here”, he said with certainty – clutching at his chest.
“But where?” Aramis countered. The space was small – could he be hidden behind something? The four men spread out to look.
Porthos then called to them from the side of one of the caskets, “There is blood here; and here”, he stated as he pointed to the ground.
Noticing the closed casket and Baron Renard’s name etched on the plate, the four looked to each other, and knew right away where d’Artagnan could be. As one, they quickly began to heave the heavy stone cover from the casket, and when they pushed it off, it fell to the ground with a crash – cracking like a lightning bolt.
Athos looked down into the casket and could not breathe. There lay d’Artagnan, still as death – blood covering his hair, the side of his face and his neck. Athos reached in and gently touched the side of his face; softly calling his name. He received no response, so held his chin more firmly, and called again with urgency, “d’Artagnan wake up!”
But only stillness and silence met his plea – so he grabbed him by the collar; and shook him with force; ignoring Aramis’ hold about his shoulders attempting to pull him away – causing d’Artagnan’s head to loll to the side, and his eyes to open at half-mast – seeing but not seeing.
Shaking Aramis off, Athos held the boy up in his arms, and pushed the hair from d’Artagnan’s face attempting to look into his eyes.
Athos yelled to him, “We are here!“, but d’Artagnan was lost – trapped somewhere he could not reach – his body limp; his eyes tracking away from him. He laid him down gently – and touched his hair. The others dismayed into speechlessness.
From the corner of the vault, the Baron could be heard wailing, his cries bouncing off the walls, “Now you know – your boy for mine!”
Athos looked down at d’Artagnan, and before the others could react - left his side, and strode with purpose toward the hysterical Baron. He looked about and retrieved the man’s discarded weapon from the floor; aimed down at him ready to pull the trigger. Suddenly there was Treville standing before him; blocking him from the Baron – the weapon now pointing straight at the Captain’s heart.
“You don’t need to do this” Treville said, placing his hand over top of Athos’ – his voice calm; even. From where they stood by the casket – Porthos and Aramis held their breaths, and watched in stunned apprehension.
Athos growled through clenched teeth and stared straight through his Captain, his eyes hard with intent, “No – I don’t need to”, and moved to step around Treville.
Treville moved with him, held onto his hand, and slowly pressed his arm down toward the ground. He took a chance and stepped to the side, “He is dead already Athos.”
“See?” and they both looked down at the Baron – who pulled at his hair; scratched at his face; and screamed only for Edmond.
“Baron Renard is no longer here”, he soothed gently, removing the weapon from Athos’ grip.
Athos turned, looked into Treville’s eyes, and saw the truth in his words. The Baron was gone - here now was a husk of a man; whose mind was shattered.
Treville let out a breath; and wiped the sweat from his brow – pitching the weapon across the small space – the clatter of it reverberating loud and clear.
Athos felt his world tilt, and would have collapsed if not for Treville’s firm hold on him; and firmer voice telling him, “Let’s get out of here.”
Porthos and Aramis seeing the crisis averted, reached down and lifted d’Artagnan up and out of the casket with ease, and carried him limp in their arms toward the stairs and out of the vault.
Athos sat patiently by d’Artagnan’s bedside; rubbed at his eyes tiredly, but would not give into the pull of much needed sleep.
For three agonizing days d’Artagnan drifted in and out of consciousness - silently navigating between the worlds of sleep and wakefulness; never quite here or there; his friends never leaving his side.
When he was awake, he was unresponsive – in every way. He would not speak; take sustenance; or relieve himself without help. When asleep – he tossed and turned – reaching out to push away the stone cover; but never made a sound of distress.
They were unsure he even understood what they said to him. But it didn’t matter. Day after day, Athos spoke to him; read to him – force fed him broth and cleaned him up. He was tireless in his care, but d’Artagnan still did not acknowledge him – any of them – in any way. Instead, he stared out to some distant point, as if waiting for something – until sleep wrenched him away.
It was as if his mind had shut down; locking them out. But Athos refused to give up – he just had to wait - d’Artagnan would come back; and when he did – he would be here to greet him.
So on this evening, while everyone else had gone to the chapel to pray – he had stayed behind – refusing to let anyone else sit with him. Jeanne had volunteered; the mothers had insisted – but he was adamant; he wanted to be here when d’Artagnan woke up.
So when d’Artagnan pushed his way to consciousness yet again, he could not breathe – the air was stale; and he could not move the stone cover from over top of him. He pushed, and pushed, but could not move it. The noise about him was deafening – the wailing of the dead pressing at his senses; but this time he heard it – the faint appeal he was waiting for.
He took in a shuddering breath – but the cover still would not move. He felt himself being lifted up and warmth enveloped him.
The wailing called to him, but the warmth held him closer; and he heard the breath of a whisper in his ear calling – “Steady”.
d’Artagnan opened his eyes and found himself being held in Athos’ arms – so he reached out and held him back.
Athos – feeling arms wind weakly around his waist – pulled back and was astonished to see d’Artagnan gazing up at him. He gently laid him down but held onto his arms watching the emotions of confusion and uncertainty cascade across his face. Was this understanding he saw? Had d’Artagnan decided to come back?
d’Artagnan scanned the room, and could see that he was at the inn where they lodged in Pinon lying on his bed. The room was quiet, with light glowing from the fire in the hearth; and a single candle on the nightstand. There was no one else in the room except him and Athos.
He looked up again at his friend, who explained, “You are well, a few bumps to the head; some bruises and a cracked rib – but nothing to worry about. You will recover.” But d’Artagnan heard something else in his explanation and searched his face to find the answer.
Athos frowned slightly; worry swirling in his stomach – but he worked to keep his face neutral; searched d’Artagnan’s eyes, and asked, “What do you remember?”
d’Artagnan thought hard on this and remembered that he had been waiting.
Athos grabbed his hand and squeezed – insisting – so he cleared his throat and answered, “I was waiting”. Athos released his breath, and swiped a shaking hand over his face. A weakness came over him; and he could feel relief rush through his body.
“Do you remember anything else?”
d’Artagnan creased his brow in concentration and thought back to the last thing that was clear in his mind, and softly recounted, “I remember I wanted to tell you, that you are my brother, that I love you, and that whatever you have done doesn’t matter.”
Athos regarded his brother and smiled – the affection and fondness of it reaching his eyes. He swallowed around the constriction in his throat and turned his face to hide his emotions.
He felt d’Artagnan touch his arm; and after gathering himself, turned to his brother and greeted, “Welcome back.”