The Hunt for The Red Cardinal
The West Virginians from Grantville have met many historical personages since the small town was flung back in time and into a new universe. But the down-timers have too. Cardinal Richelieu cannot decide whether he likes Charleton Heston or Tim Curry better as Cardinal Richelieu. So, when the King is murdered on the way to see his unborn son, and the Cardinal is gravely wounded, who else would the Cardinal’s friends call on but D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers!
The dynamic foursome is charged with saving the Cardinal and getting him out of the reach of evil King Gaston. Even the Cardinal’s robe gets its share of adventures!
Will D’Artagnan and his three friends win out and save the Cardinal?
May 1636 Paris
One morning, Luc Boyea was passing by the radio room on the top floor of the Paris townhouse of Louis, Count de Soissons. His brother, André, who was responsible for receiving, transcribing, and delivering radio messages, worked there. André had just completed a transcription and was heading out to deliver it when he ran into Luc, nearly knocking him to the floor.
“Important message?” Luc asked, after steadying himself against the doorway.
“Very,” his brother, who seemed hurried, replied almost in a whisper. “Don’t ask what it is. I can’t tell you that the queen is about to give birth.” He realized what he had done, clapped his hands to his face and said, pleadingly, “Don’t even mention what I said to yourself. I could get in a lot of trouble.”
“The queen is . . .?” Luc looked around to see if anyone else was there, listening. “Don’t worry. I won’t even breathe it.” But, he thought, I will remember it and listen at doors for anything I can hear. He had done that many times before, learning things he probably shouldn’t know, but no one ever found him out. He was very reticent about telling anyone the secrets he kept.
His position at the townhouse was to do whatever he was told. That included taking messages to various people around the city, fetching anything his master requested, and staying up until all hours waiting for the count to dismiss him. His family had all worked for the count for generations. His father was the stable master, and his mother was the head housekeeper. Two of his sisters were housemaids, and his other brother, the eldest, oversaw the count’s armory. They were at the historical home of the count’s family in the village of Soissons. Only he and his brother, André, had gone to the Paris townhouse.
Luc somehow meant to advance his position in the household. He was old enough, he thought, to be responsible for something other than fetching and carrying.
Right then he arranged to find himself at any door which had conversations going on behind it. He had very good hearing and a very good memory of what he heard.
He followed his brother at a distance as he rushed down the sumptuously carpeted stairs and hallway to deliver the message. When he saw André leave the room where he had presented the message to the count, Luc calmly made his way in that direction, busying himself with the large bowl of flowers on the ornate gold-covered table beside the door. Presently, he heard the voices he hoped to hear.
“Somewhere to the west, not terribly far from Paris. I’m not sure just where. It is unknown if the child has been born yet, but I know that Richelieu,” the name sounded as though it was a nasty taste in the speaker’s mouth, “is going there.” It was the voice of the count, and he was talking to his friend, Claude de Bourdeille, Comte de Montrésor, who was visiting. Luc knew just what to do to accomplish his goal.
Charlotte Blackson, a wealthy divorcée of middle age, but hardly looking it, stretched and looked out the second-story window of her Paris townhouse. The open were blowing in the breeze, and the sun shone through the window on her golden hair, warming her creamy skin and highlighting her blue eyes. She realized that it was some time after dawn since she could hear the sounds of commerce in the street: venders hawked their wares, whether they were selling food, household goods, or themselves.
Wrapped only in a sheet, she was enjoying herself immensely. That was not unusual when she was in the presence of Charles. He made her happy, and she liked being happy. Much of her past had not been happy, so she took it whenever she could get it.
Charles, lying on the large bed, rose up on one elbow in order to see her face. “Charlotte, what are you thinking about? You’re certainly quiet right now.”
She smiled up at him, turning her head to admire his bare chest and his handsome, chiseled face, and brown eyes.
“Oh, nothing, really. I’m just trying to avoid doing anything constructive for a while. I know I have many things that I must accomplish, but I just don’t want to right now.” She turned the rest of the way to face him, stretching again, the sheet slipping from around her. “And what are you thinking of, my young guardsman?”
“Ah. The past several minutes, for one. And the view just now is most delightful, m’lady.” He made as much of a bow as he could from his position. “But my leisure brings to mind that I am not with my fellow guardsman, wherever they went with the cardinal yesterday morning. As much as I like being with you, I don’t like not being with them on whatever it is they are doing. It is my duty, after all,” he said with a flourish of his hand, which came close to meeting with Charlotte’s head.
“Of course, my darling, but you do get a day off now and then,” she said as she leaned away to keep his hand from knocking against her. “Besides, I’d rather you were here with me.”
He had leaned farther toward her and bent his head for another kiss when there was a knock at the door. “Madame. Madame?”
“A letter has come for Monsieur D’Artagnan. It was sent to him at his barracks, but the messenger was told he might be here.”
Charlotte looked at D’Artagnan, rose, wrapped herself in a dressing gown, and went to the bedroom door. Opening it just wide enough for the paper to pass through it, she replied, “Thank you, Sophie. I’ll give it to him.”
“Yes, Madame.” Sophie, as Charlotte knew, was aware that the gentleman was with her, but neither would ever let on what they knew. It would certainly not be proper form for a servant to have any opinion about what the master or mistress did. However, Charlotte knew that servants always knew what was going on in the house.
“A letter has come for you, Charles,” she said, waving it at him. “I wonder from whom it could be. Are you expecting a letter, my love?” She waved it around some more, trying to keep it from him, her robe loosening as she spun. He rose, not bothering with a robe, and joined the game, chasing her around the room. When he was able to grab it from her hand, he looked at the stamp. “The seal is blank, but it does have my name on it, so . . .” He broke the seal and unfolded it. He started reading it to her. “To Monsieur Charles D’Artagnan, from His Eminence, Cardinal . . .” He read the rest quickly, reread the letter, and folded the page.
“My dear Charlotte, I must leave. The cardinal wants to see me at once.” He headed for the door, taking his hat and placing it on his head.
“Darling, perhaps you should put your trousers on first.”
“Oh, yes.” He turned toward her, flourishing his hat and bowing. “If I must.”
“But it is still early, my dear. Must you leave now?” she whispered, reclining enticingly on the bed.
He gazed at her for a moment, then sighing, replied, “I must leave regardless of the hour whenever the cardinal summons me.” He quickly dressed himself and left the room before she could ask any of the many questions he was sure she had.
She sighed. Well, she thought, I have things to do myself. Best get on with it.
It was noon when Charles D’Artagnan entered the parish church, Saint-Étienne-du-Grès, as instructed by the message sent him by François Leclerc, Cardinal Tremblay, and found the statue of Notre Dame de Bonne Délivrance, The Black Madonna, indicated in the note. D’Artagnan was of average height and build, which belied his strength and skill with weapons. His demeanor led his betters to believe him of average intelligence, which was a mistake. His friends knew this, as did his master, Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu. His countenance, however, immediately caught the attention of all around him, especially of women of any age.
As directed by the letter, he was not wearing his usual uniform but clothing a laborer might wear, something he might be overlooked wearing. He was wearing plain breeches and stockings and a simple shirt and sleeved cloak. His boots were the ones he always wore. He would not wear footwear other than his own comfortable and sturdy boots. He waited patiently. Patience was a virtue he had cultivated in his career as one of Cardinal Richelieu’s guards. Sometimes he thought the motto of the Guard should be, as the up-timers said, “Hurry up and wait.”
He didn’t have to wait very long, though. Before he knew someone was near, he heard a low voice saying, “Thank you for being prompt.” He recognized Cardinal Tremblay’s distinctive voice.
Out of the corner of his eye, D’Artagnan glimpsed a tall man in a monk’s robe with the hood covering his head.
“Don’t look at me, just look around as if you were admiring the art. But be attentive. I have grave news and a task for you.”
D’Artagnan nodded slowly and gazed at a painting hanging nearby. “What is the news?” he asked in a low voice. “And the task you have for me?”
“I will explain when you attend me this afternoon at my residence. You will be admitted at the servants’ entrance. Come at four o’clock and be ready to travel.”
Without another word, the tall monk turned and walked farther into the church. D’Artagnan waited a moment, then turned the other way and walked slowly toward the door.
Back in his room at the barracks, D’Artagnan mused on what might have happened to cause a respected man such as Cardinal Tremblay to be so secretive. He knew that her majesty, the queen, was in confinement awaiting the birth of the royal heir, but that should be another month away. He also knew that Cardinal Richelieu had taken a small contingent of guards and left for an undisclosed location the day before. His not being with them was a result of his attending to other matters. And where, he wondered, was he to go? And why was it at Cardinal Tremblay’s direction instead of his master, Cardinal Richelieu’s?
D’Artagnan did as instructed, packing a saddlebag and arriving on horseback at the cardinal’s home at the appointed hour.
“My name is Charles D’Artagnan,” he told the maid who opened the back door when he knocked. “I have an appointment with His Eminence.”
After looking him up and down appreciatively, she said, “Yes, monsieur, come with me. You are expected. My name is Audrey.” The maid led him down a plain but clean hallway and handed him off to a man D’Artagnan assumed was the butler. He was led up the back staircase to a room on the second floor. The man knocked on the door, opened it for D’Artagnan to enter, and then closed the door again.
It was a small room, as the rooms of a cardinal’s residence went, with two chairs, placed on either side of a massive, ornate fireplace. Farther from the fireplace was a beautifully carved mahogany table which would seat six, with heavily brocaded chairs to match. The room was at the back of the house, looking out over the kitchen garden, with a tall stone wall at the back of the property. Heavy red velvet drapes were pulled back from the windows to admit sunlight.
“Ah, you’ve arrived. Good,” the cardinal said as D’Artagnan kneeled, and kissed the cardinal’s ring. “Would you have some wine?”
Cardinal Tremblay, known for his austerity, was a bearded man in his late fifties. He kept the residence and servants he was accorded due to his office, but refused extravagance and preferred the cloak and persona of Pere’ Joseph.
D’Artagnan replied, “Yes, thank you, Your Eminence.”
Cardinal Tremblay poured for both of them and gestured for D’Artagnan to sit, indicating one of the chairs by the fireplace, where a small fire had been lit.
“Your Eminence, you hinted that something has happened.”
“Yes, it has. I’ll tell you the whole story, but it must be kept between us.” The cardinal took a deep breath, exhaled, and then took a sip of his wine. “Two days ago, Cardinal Richelieu received a radio message that the queen would give birth very soon. He told the king, who insisted on going along, but dressed as one of the cardinal’s guards. In the group were a dozen guards, the king, the cardinal, and his secretary, Servien. Along the way they were set upon by what was thought at first to be a group of highwaymen.” He paused, took another breath, another sip, and continued. “His Majesty was killed and the cardinal was injured on his side by a gunshot. Servien and one guard got away unscathed. They escaped with the cardinal to a nearby church, leaving the rest behind. If they had stayed, they would have probably all been killed, and no one would have known who the killers were.”
D’Artagnan reacted with a gasp and a cry. “Not the king! What terrible news. And the cardinal? If only I had been with him, perhaps this horrible thing would not have happened. What of his circumstance?”
Cardinal Tremblay went on, dryly. “I doubt that one more guard would have changed the outcome of the attack, regardless of your prowess with the sword or the musket. It is by God’s grace that you still live to carry out what needs now to be done. Cardinal Richelieu’s situation is unknown, except that when the young guard who informed me of this left the church to return to Paris, he was alive.”
“And the queen? Has she been told?”
Tremblay nodded. “The secretary, Servien, went on to the destination and gave them the news.”
“And the heir? Has the child been born? Is it a boy?”
The cardinal replied, “I don’t have that information yet. Regardless, your orders are to go to the small monastery at Clairefontaine, where the cardinal was taken. If the cardinal is alive and improving, he must be removed from the monastery as soon as he can travel.”
“Yes, Your Eminence,” he said. “But if he has succumbed, God forbid, to his injuries, what should be done?”
“If he is alive, time will be of the essence. If he is able to travel, he should be moved to a more secure location. Otherwise, a . . . replacement . . . must be found and persuaded to go in his stead.”
“A replacement? What do you mean?”
“I mean that Gaston should believe that the cardinal is alive but not know where he is.”
“If he is alive and able to travel, I would request that trusted friends of mine be included in the party. They would be invaluable in keeping the cardinal protected.”
“Who are these friends of yours?” Cardinal Tremblay asked.
“They are in the king’s Musketeers, Athos de la Fere, Porthos du Vallon, and Aramis, also known as René d’Herblay. They will be loyal to the throne and to the Queen and the heir. They excel at shooting and are excellent swordsmen, as well,” D’Artagnan explained. “Also, they are all cousins.”
“And you vouch for them?”
“On my life,” D’Artagnan replied.
The cardinal thought a moment. “And if a . . .substitute . . . is needed?”
“I should like them to accompany me regardless. Since the king was murdered, his Musketeers will likely disband, and my friends might be in danger. It could be safer for them to leave Paris.”
“I will send for them while you are away. I will provide food and drink for your journey so you won’t have to stop for it on the way.” Tremblay handed him a sealed letter. “Give this to the abbot when you arrive,” he said, and called for a servant to go to the kitchen and procure the provisions.
“Might I ask the name of the guard who survived?”
“Of course. He is Jean D’Aubisson.”
“Thank the good Lord,” D’Artagnan exclaimed in relief. “He is the youngest of the guards, and I have a fondness for him, as he reminds me of myself. Do you know where he is now?”
“Yes. I myself sent him on a journey. He should be in no danger, so don’t be concerned about him,” the cardinal said.
“Where is the place that I am going?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. The place is southwest of here, near Ramboullet: the village of Clairefontaine. I will draw you a rough map.” He took quill and parchment and drew on it, adding directions, then handed it to D’Artagnan.
“And where should I ultimately take his enimence? Or his replacement?” The words sounded very wrong to D’Artagnan.
“I have a place in mind which should be safe for my friend, but is a far distance from here, so it may take you many weeks or months to arrive. I will give you directions when you return.”
“If the cardinal cannot ride, how should he be moved?”
“The monastery is not wealthy and would not be able to help monetarily with this journey, but I believe they have a small cart they can provide. I can provide a horse for the cart.” He handed the guard a small leather bag. “This is in case you need funds for this first trip. I will give you more to fund your journey when you return. Now, go at once,” Cardinal Tremblay said. “By the way, I think it best if you use another name.”
“Other than my own. Certainly. What name should I use?”
“Allais, I think, would be suitable. Allais Dubois. Report to me when you return. God go with you.”
D’Artagnan stood, bowed to the Cardinal, and took his leave.
Luc Boyea had intended to set out from the Count’s townhouse immediately upon hearing the conversation regarding Queen Anne. He had borrowed a horse from the Count’s stable to ride as fast as he could through the streets of Paris, then west and a little south from there. However, it took a short while for Boyea to actually leave the Count’s townhouse, since he had to procure money as well as the horse. He put a few items in the horse’s saddlebag with all the cash he had squirreled away from his pay. Not knowing how long he’d be gone, he also tucked in a change of clothing, something non-descript if he needed to be anonymous, and a bit of food from the kitchens where a cousin worked.
He had no map, so he wasn’t quite sure where his destination on the west side of Paris was. He rode to the edge of the city and turned slightly south on a road that seemed likely. The road happened to be the road the cardinal’s party had taken just hours before. He was far enough behind the cardinal’s party that he did not catch up to them but followed from a distance. When he arrived at the scene where the attack had taken place, somewhat past midnight, he was stunned. There were bodies lying everywhere, most of them dead. He could tell they were the Red Cardinal’s men by their uniforms.
He searched for anyone who might still be alive and found a man who seemed near death but was still conscious.
“You,” he said to the man. “Were you with the cardinal? Who attacked you? Where were you going?”
The man breathed heavily and pointed, as if to say, that way. Boyea checked to see if anyone else was still living. The only face he recognized was the face of the king, who was certainly dead. He saw no one who looked like Cardinal Richelieu.
There was no road leading the way indicated, but Boyea went anyway, leaving the man to complete his death.
After riding over land for some way, he found himself at a small village. It was some time until dawn, so he decided to find a place in the nearby woods to rest until it was late enough to inquire at the village inn for information.
While looking for a likely place to camp, he passed a church with another large building behind it.
A monastery? he thought. I could request shelter there later. Then he thought, I have nowhere to leave the horse and my belongings. I’ll tell the brothers that I’ve been robbed and have nothing. I can take the horse to the stable in the village in the morning and request shelter for tomorrow night from the monks.
He rode on and found a grassy patch next to a river with a gentle bank. He tied the horse to a tree limb, settled on the ground with his back to the tree, and dozed until the morning sun woke him.
D’Artagnan arrived at his destination, the church at Clairefontaine, the next afternoon after a hard ride. He had left Paris immediately after speaking with Cardinal Tremblay and had ridden all night, only stopping briefly to rest, feed, and water the horse. The trip had been long and not as smooth as he would have liked. The way was hilly and rocky, and the ground was muddy in places, as it had rained the day before. There was always the possibility of his horse tripping and falling.
The church compound was a short way outside the village and was comprised of the church itself, the chapter house, and a few outbuildings. Entering and looking through the foyer, he saw monks at prayer. He stood in the doorway to the sanctuary and waited for one of them to conclude his prayers. He examined the interior of the country church, finding it plain compared to the cathedrals of Paris, but it was beautiful, never-the-less. There were several paintings of the Madonna and other historical scenes, statues, and stained-glass windows. The altar had been supurbly painted and was a sight to behold, with a stark crucifix above it. The monks sat on benches that reached from one side to the other. At that time of day, the benches had only the monks and a few of the townspeople on them. On regular days and times of worship, they were filled with pious adults trying to control active children and crying infants.
Presently one of the monks rose and noticed the visitor.
“Good day, monsieur. I am Brother Paulo. Have you come to worship or make your confession?” the monk asked D’Artagnan.
“In other circumstances, it would be my desire. But I am on official business for the Church and must speak to your abbot.”
“Then please follow me to our chapter house. Our abbot will see you.” The monk led him along a covered walkway to an adjacent building, which housed a monastery small enough that everyone knew everyone else.
When they entered, the monk called to another, “Brother Julius, is Abbe’ Michel available to see this traveler. He says he’s here on church business.”
D’Artagnan saw another monk pass by and stared at him for a moment. He looked very like Cardinal Richelieu, although he seemed younger and more robust. The Cardinal had been gaunt as long as D’Artagnan had known him. If, God forbid, the cardinal should not survive, this man could very well take his place on the journey.
“Abbe’ Michel has just entered his office.” Brother Julius said, looking at D’Artagnan. “Please follow me.”
Brother Julius led him along a hallway with several doors on each side, then knocked on one of them. After being bidden to enter, the monk opened the door and motioned D’Artagnan through it.
D’Artagnan bowed to the abbot, a thin, middle-aged man with a well-manicured tonsure, and said “Abbe’, forgive me for coming unannounced. My name is Charles D’Artagnan of Cardinal Richeliou’s guard. I come at the behest of Cardinal Tremblay. Here is a letter he bade me present to you. I believe it will explain the reason for my presence.” He handed the letter to the abbot, who opened and read it immediately.
“I see,” the abbot said, folding it and sliding it into a drawer in his desk. Then he rose and walked around it. “But I’m afraid he is not up to seeing visitors right now.”
“But he is still alive? What is his condition?”
“He is very weak. It is hard to tell if he will live or not. One of the monks is with him, praying for his recovery, but only God knows what will happen.”
“I know he is probably asleep, but may I, at least, look in at him? I promise I will not try to wake him; I just want to reassure myself that he still lives.”
“Of course,” the abbot replied, and led him to a remote room in a mostly-unused wing of the chapterhouse where the cardinal had been taken.
When they entered, the cardinal was asleep, another monk keeping watch over him. The abbot motioned the monk to leave the room, then closed the door behind himself as he followed.
D’Artagnan stood, looking at his master, assessing his condition. Presently Richelieu opened his eyes and saw his visitor standing there.
He said in a soft, breathy voice, slowly, “My dear D’Artagnan, have you come to see me?”
D’Artagnan bowed and knelt by the bed to kiss the ring, but the ring wasn’t on his finger. “Eminence, I have come to see you, but has your ring been stolen or lost?”
“I gave it to Servien to take with him.”
“Cardinal Tremblay sent me to see you. He told me of the recent events. I grieve for his Majesty and my brother guards, and am grateful that you still live.”
“I, as well,” the cardinal replied. He made an effort to say more, but could not, and seemed to go back to sleep. However, after only a moment he roused and said, “I must leave this place. I am a danger to it.”
D’Artagnan had to lean close to hear what the cardinal said, but understood perfectly what he meant. Seeing his master like that seemed impossible to D’Artagnan. Cardinal Richelieu had always been commanding, intelligent and sometimes abrupt and unpleasant, but always strong. D’Artagnan had been a faithful and loyal guard since he had joined the guard and would remain so until he had successfully delivered the cardinal to wherever he was going.
The abbot opened the door and motioned for D’Artagnan to leave the room as the monk guarding the cardinal returned. “We have a guest room you may rest in. I know you must have ridden all night from Paris to get here. Attend Vespers and eat our evening meal with us and then sleep.”
“Thank you, Abbe’, but I have plans to make. His Eminence must be moved to a safer place as soon as he is able to travel,” D’Artagnan said.
“Yes, but right now he is too ill. However, you are correct that he must go. His presence also potentially places this monastery in danger. But Vespers will begin soon. Then we will eat. We all think better with food and rest.”
“Yes, Abbe’. Oh, if you speak of me to anyone else, Cardinal Tremblay has suggested that I use the nom de plume of Allais Dubois.”
“To keep your true identity a secret?” the abbot said. “I will use that name for you in the future.”
D’Artagnan did as told, joining the others at Vespers and the evening meal. Then he went to the guest room and slept through the night, awaking at the call to Vigils. It was later than he had planned to wake, so he quickly rose, dressed and joined the monks on their way to the chapel. Sine he hadn’t attended any of the rituals in a very long time, he felt the need for the peace he thought he needed, if only for a short time. While the other monks were praying the prescribed prayers, he prayed fervently for the cardinal’s recovery. Afterward, he kept his thoughts to himself as he ate.
D’Artagnan looked in on the cardinal, who was asleep, and he decided not to disturb him. Instead, he went to look for the Abbot.
“Abbe’, I know that the cardinal is not able to travel yet, but I believe, and I think Cardinal Tremblay would agree, that we must make the arrangements now,” D’Artagnan said.
“I agree. What will you need? We are a poor monastery, not materially wealthy as some are, but wealthy in spirit,” the abbot said, “but we can provide food and drink and, I would think, a horse and small cart for him to ride in.”
“That is much appreciated, but Cardinal Tremblay has already provided a horse and is financing the journey. I do have need of the cart, though. I have friends who should be able to go along to assure safety. But I need to ask you another question. How many of the brothers here know the identity of your patient?”
“Well, when he was brought in to us it was very late and not many of us were awake. There was some disturbance, of course. The Night Watcher let them in and roused me. Two or three other brothers were awake and helped carry him to the table where he was examined by our resident healer, Brother André. Our ‘patient’ was badly wounded and needed immediate care, so those present did what needed to be done. Some of them went to the chapel to pray. But the rest of the residents were left sleeping and were not told of his identity.”
“So only those five or six of you that were present know who he is? Are you sure of their loyalty?” D’Artagnan asked.
“Their loyalty?” the abbot replied. “Of course they are loyal. They are men of God.”
“I mean their loyalty to the Crown. Were you told of what happened to cause the Cardinal’s injuries, and what happened to the others in his party?”
“We were told that there had been an attack and that everyone, except the three that came here, were killed,” the abbot said.
“Do you know any details of that attack?”
“No, just what I told you. Can you say what the details are? Who was killed? What can you tell me?”
D’Artagnan thought for a moment, and made a decision. “The news will come out, and probably soon. It might be best if you, yourself, know what happened, but please, no one else must know until it is made public to everyone.” He took a breath. Cardinal Tremblay hadn’t authorized him to reveal the details, even to the abbot, but he continued anyway. “The party was going to visit the Queen in her confinement. The cardinal had received news that the birth would be soon. He advised the King that he was going, and His Majesty insisted on going along, disguised as one of the guards. The instigators of the attack had gotten word somehow of what was going on and staged the attack, killing the king along with all the guards except the one that guided the cardinal and his secretary to you.”
The abbot gasped, “But how could someone know. Did the cardinal tell anyone in the court? Anyone who had reason to want the king dead? Or the cardinal, even? How did they know where to go?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. I do know that Monsieur Gaston, when he receives the news, is certain to claim the crown for himself. That is where the danger to this abbey lies. Gaston and his brother, César Vendôme, hate Cardinal Richelieu. If the attack was orchestrated by them, then the cardinal was probably their target. That the king was also killed would be a welcome bonus to them. That is why the cardinal must be moved as soon as possible.”
“Of course. I will see that your provisions are ready when you need them.”
“Thank you, but, as I said, Cardinal Tremblay has provided what we will need. I must go back to Paris to collect my friends, the horse and instructions on where we are to go.”
“Go with God, my son. Be safe. I think the future of France may lie with you.”
A tall, young, beardless man, dressed in the clothing of a country peasant, approached the door to the country church and knocked. It was late, he was tired and hungry and on foot. When the door opened, he said, “Can you help a poor man with lodgings for the night? And maybe a little food?”
“Of course,” the monk at the door said. “Please come in. All are welcome in God’s house. I don’t recognize you. Are you from the village?”
“No. I’m traveling to Paris to stay with my sister and her husband. I was riding with only my meager belongings until I was beset by robbers. They took my horse and all I had. I barely got away. I was fortunate they didn’t take my clothing, as well. But, with a little help, I’ll be able to get to Paris, where I can work for my sister’s husband.”
“You poor man. Please come eat with us. What is your name?” the monk asked “I am Brother Jacques.”
“My name is Luc. Luc Boyea.” He had decided that it was easier to use his own name than have to remember a different one. No one there would have heard of him; he was only a lowly servant, after all. “I’m traveling from Ablis. I don’t even know exactly where I am, now.” He followed Brother Jacques through the church and into the dining hall of the chapter house. It was a medium-sized room with several rows of long tables and benches. On the far side was a door to another room.
He inhaled the aromas coming from the kitchen appreciatively. They smelled delicious. He hadn’t had anything to eat since he had left Paris the day before, and was very hungry.
“We have rooms for travelers in need. You may stay one night or two before you go on your way. Sit here,” he was told. “Someone will bring you some dinner in a moment.”
The monk walked away toward the door which must have been to the kitchen. Monsieur Boyea could hear the noise of pots and utensils from that direction. He looked around the room; some of the tables and benches were occupied. This was obviously not a silent order; there was much talking and some laughter. They seemed a happy lot, and welcoming. That was good. Monsieur Boyea was on a mission.
Another monk set a plate on the table. “I hope you will enjoy your meal. I am Brother Maurice. It is simple food, but we are simple folks here. We do serve good wine, though.” He filled a glass from a pitcher of wine and handed it to Monsieur Boyea.
After Boyea finished his meal of, he assumed, homegrown vegetables, fresh bread and cheese, both probably made there in the monastery, Brother Jacques returned to guide him to a small room with a narrow bed, a small table and a chair. “I think this should serve you for the brief time you will be with us,” he said.
“Thank you. I am very grateful for your generosity.”
“You are quite welcome,” Brother Jacques said, and walked away.
Monsieur Boyea took off his boots and lay down on the bed, meaning to stay awake, but instead fell asleep.
D’Artagnan arrived in Paris just after dark the next day. After sending a message to Cardinal Tremblay that he had returned, he planned to retire for a meal and few hours’ sleep at Charlotte’s townhouse.
Charlotte Blackson was at home when he arrived.
“Charles, where have you been? I was worried sick that you had come to harm.” She rushed at him and embraced him.
“I was sent somewhere by the cardinal. I regret that I had no time to send you a message first,” he told her.
“Naughty boy. I will forgive you, but you must earn my forgiveness first. Come with me.” She headed for the stairs, beckoning him to follow. “This way, Charles.”
“My dear Charlotte, nothing would make me happier than attempting to earn your forgiveness, but duty is not finished with me. I have to leave again, and have time, most likely, for only a few hours of sleep. This time I may not be back for a very long time,” he told her.
“What? But why? Tell me what you must do.”
“I’m so sorry, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy and may tell no one.”
“No one? Then you must make it up to me now. Then I will let you sleep.”
Resigned and excited, he followed her up the stairs.
He was awakened by a messenger with a note from the cardinal at seven o’clock the next morning
“Please attend me at eight o’clock this morning, as before. Only one of your friends was found. He will be in attendance.”
He dressed and packed his saddlebag, then ate a quick meal and left. Charlotte was still asleep, and he didn’t want to wake her, so he left a note for her.
My dear Charlotte, I have been summoned by the cardinal to go on an important journey. I believe that in time you will understand the circumstances that have caused my absence from you. Pray forgive me for not revealing all to you, as I have been forbidden to speak of this. I will miss you every day that I am gone, and hope to rejoin you without excessive delay. All regards, Charles.
As it was near to eight o’clock, D’Artagnan left immediately for the meeting, taking his horse as he was sure to be leaving for Clairefontaine immediately. It was a lovely morning. The trees had begun to produce leaves and flowers were popping up with buds almost ready to burst. He arrived at his destination a few minutes early, and knocked at the servant’s entrance.
“Good evening, Audrey,” he said to the kitchen maid who opened the door. “His Eminence has summoned me, but I am a little early. Might I enter anyway?”
“But of course, monsieur. Would you like a bite to eat? Breakfast is just over and there is some left.” She smiled at him as she held open the door.
Since he hadn’t eaten before he left, and thought it might be awhile before he could eat again, he said, “That would be welcome, Audrey. Thank you.” He entered into the hallway that led to the kitchen, into which they went. Audrey had him sit at the large kitchen table and brought him a plate of bread and cheese, with a small glass of small beer.
Just as D’Artagnan swallowed the last bite of cheese, the butler arrived to take him to the cardinal. He quickly finished the drink, and with a nod of thanks to the kitchen maid, he left.
“Ah, D’Artagnan, how was your journey?” the cardinal said as D’Artagnan knelt to kiss his ring. “But more importantly, how fares the cardinal?” Cardinal Tremblay asked, indicating a chair at the table. “I’m afraid that the only Musketeer I could find on such short notice was Athos. He should be here shortly.” Tremblay poured two cups of tea as D’Artagnan sat.
“Your Eminence, the journey was tiring, but no matter. I found Cardinal Richelieu alive, but very weak and unable to travel yet. He insists he will be well enough to travel before long, and reiterates the necessity of doing so. I have set the plan in motion.”
“Good, good. Let us pray that when you return there he will be stronger and able to travel.”
There was a rap at the door, which opened to admit Athos.
“D’Artagnan! How do you fare? It has been awhile since we have met,” the young musketeer cried. He was shorter than D’Artagnan by some two inches, and slim, with dark hair and beard. He wore a costume similar to D’Artagnan’s. After the two embraced, D’Artagnan indicated Cardinal Tremblay.
“Athos, have you met His Eminence, Cardinal Tremblay?”
Athos turned and knelt to the cardinal, kissing his ring. “Eminence, please accept my sincere apology for greeting my friend first.”
“I understand, but please seat yourself. We have much to discuss.” The cardinal poured another cup of tea and put it in front of Athos.
“Your message gave no information on the reason for your summons.” Athos sat and took a sip of the tea, smiling appreciatively.
“The reason is this in a nutshell: Cardinal Richelieu left a few days ago to visit the queen after receiving notice that she was about to give birth. Yes, I know this was early. He informed the king, who insisted on going along disguised as one of his guards. Somewhere along the way they were attacked. All the guards but one were killed. Cardinal Richelieu was injured. His servant and one uninjured guard escaped with him to a monastery.”
“Were you the uninjured guard?” Athos turned toward D’Artagnan.
“I was not with them,” was the reply.
“Thank God for that, my friend,” Athos said. “But what of the king? Was he the uninjured guard?”
“No. I’m afraid that the His Majesty was killed, as well.”
Athos gasped. “What terrible news. We must search for the villains!” He began to stand.
“An admirable thought,” Cardinal Tremblay said, waving Athos back to his seat. “But misguided. We do know who the villains are, but they are inaccessible, for now. There is a more pressing task at the moment.” Cardinal Tremblay looked at Athos, then at D’Artagnan. “Back to the business at hand.”
“But why have you summoned me?” Athos asked, looking at the cardinal. “Are you asking me to assist with this task?”
“I am,” the cardinal replied.
“I will give whatever assistance I can; I am at your service, Your Eminence” Athos assured the two men.
“The task,” Cardinal Tremblay said, “is to remove the cardinal from the monastery where he is being cared for and take him to a safer place to recover from his wounds. I also ask that you use another name on the journey.”
Athos thought a moment, not wanting to refuse a cardinal or a friend, but reluctant to agree to protecting a man for whom he had no fondness. Finally, he realized that it was something he had to do. “A false name?”
“Yes. Gerard Le Roi would be a good name to use.”
D’Artagnan took up the story. “Sir, I spotted a monk at Clairefontaine who looks very much like the cardinal. In the remote chance that the cardinal, er, dies before the journey begins, I could ask the abbot if this monk could go in his place.”
Cardinal Tremblay thought a moment. “Very good. Let us pray it will not be necessary. If it is not, perhaps you should call the cardinal by this monk’s name.”
“His name is Brother Etienne. We will use that name when needed,” D’Artagnan assured him.
Cardinal Tremblay paused a moment before continuing. “I would like you to leave at once for the monastery, and then to leave as soon as possible with the cardinal. I know of a place which should be safe, but it’s some weeks’ ride from here, at least, and I know the cardinal is weak. I have an itinerary that could help you find your destination. The two of you must return to him and prepare him for the journey. If you leave now, you should arrive by late evening. Sleep when you arrive; your journey will be long and possibly fraught with danger. You must be at your best.”
“Your Eminence, I have an uncomfortable question.” At the cardinal’s nod, D’Artagnan continued. “What should we do if, God forbid, the cardinal should die during the journey? And what if it should happen when other people are around, such as at an inn.”
The cardinal thought a moment. “If such a thing should happen, this is what I think should be done. If it is at an inn, since you all are traveling incognito and, if asked, your story is that you are taking him to his family’s home in the west, you will transport his body out of the town. When you are well away from there, or if he should die in an uninhabited area, bury him in the woods, taking care to remember where.”
D’Artagnan took a deep breath. “I understand, but regret, the need to do so. Is the grave to be marked so that others can find it to bury him properly?”
“That is correct. Then go on your way, and at every town and city spread the rumor that he has been seen in a different one.”
He handed D’Artagnan a letter and a package. “This is another letter for the abbot, and this package contains funds for the trip. It should be sufficient, but be careful with it. There won’t be more.” Another pause.
“Of course, Eminence. You said you have an itinerary?”
“Yes.” He handed D’Artagnan a sealed document. “It is the most direct route, but I know that sometimes the most direct is not the best. You will be the best judge. I have included a list of several safe people, who will be sympathetic to our cause. Use them if you need to. I have provisions ready for you, packed on a horse you may take. Yes, I know that the Abbot said he would give you a horse, but his is not a wealthy abbey, as, I’m sure, he already told you. Now he may keep his horse and give you just the cart. I know it’s early, but time is of the essence. Be sure to be at your first stop within two days. Now go.”
Athos and D’Artagnan were dismissed.
“I can’t believe what I have learned tonight,” Athos said as they left Cardinal Tremblay’s residence after being given the extra horse and provisions. “The king, dead; Cardinal Richelieu gravely injured. What will happen to our beloved France now?”
“This is something we must not talk about when near others. No one must know but those of us who already know.” They talked in low voices as they walked their horses through the streets.
“But what about Porthos and Aramis? Are they to be left out?”
“Cardinal Tremblay failed to find them. Are they away on their own business?” D’Artagnan asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“They may still show up and get the message from the cardinal. Perhaps they will join us after all. The future may be unknowable, but we must do our best to guess correctly.”
They mounted their horses and rode quickly toward Clairefontaine and the monastery.