On the first Monday of April, 1625, in Paris, France, Monsieur d'Avaloy strolls into the antechamber of his apartment – it being well into the evening when the sun had but recently made his escape beyond the horizon. As he enters his small, but quaint antechamber, he is stopped short by the sight of a dark figure that is standing in the midst of his apartment, in the living-room area, just beyond. As soon as Monsieur d'Avaloy shuts the front door, and with an agility that is true to his nature, he quickly unsheathes his sword from its leather shoulder-belt, throws himself into the direction of this strange figure, and gravely places the naked blade near the throat of the unknown, who has his head covered with the hood of a black cloak. Then, with a ferocious gesture, he roars at the stranger with a rugged burst of his lungs, forming it into these words: "Speak! Who are you? Or, by all that you hold dear, this blade will be your ticket to another place – of which place, though, I know not where!"
"But, I know which place," calmly replies the stranger.
"Oh?" reacts d'Avaloy. "Well, then, you should be prepared to go there without much complaint."
"'Tis true: I will not complain – for I am confident that my Lord will accept me with open arms into Heaven; for, I shall then be in his presence."
With a slight disdainful grin, d'Avaloy replies, mockingly: "So, you think!"
"So, I know," forcefully implies the stranger.
At this, the swordsman's grin turns once more into an angry expression. "Enough of this! Who are you? And, why are you in my apartment?"
"I see that you have not changed in all of these years, dear brother." At this last sentence, the voice of the stranger suddenly changes from a low gruff, into a voice that is more familiar. The stranger then pulls down the hood of the cloak, revealing his features to the master of this dwelling place; and, what follows next from d'Avaloy is a good, hearty laugh.
"Oh, you are too much, brother mine!" he bellows out, placing his sword back into its sheath. Now, beginning to walk, d'Avaloy makes his way over to a small table, where there's a bottle of Anjou wine, that he begins pouring for himself. Then, asks: "Would you like a cup, Arnaund?"
"No, thank you, Charles," says Arnaund d'Avaloy, as he completely takes off his cloak, laying it over a nearby chair, revealing his priestly robes that were underneath.
"So . . . how long has it been?" asks Charles.
"Since we have last seen each other?" says Arnaund, finishing Charles' thought.
"Yes . . . Eight years, is it not?"
"Nine years, two months."
"Counting the months even?" he chuckles.
"Of course; for, I love you, brother mine."
"But why do you love me?" asks Charles, laughingly, as he looks squarely into the priest's eyes. "I haven't exactly been the ideal brother for you."
"I have endured," Arnaund replies, gravely.
"Well, if you love me as you say that you do, then why have you waited nine years – I mean, nine years and two months – before you came to see me again?"
"I admit that I have purposely stayed away."
After a quick gulp of his wine, Charles' eyes widen at this strange statement. "Stayed away purposely?" he repeats, questioningly. "And what, brother mine, do you mean by that?"
"Well, you have just said it yourself, that you weren't exactly the ideal brother to me."
"True," Charles admits, with a consenting nod, as he pours himself more wine. "But, what has made you come to me now of all times?"
There's a moment of silence while Arnaund's eyes survey his brother's countenance. After Charles empties his cup once more, as he did with the previously filled wine, he too begins to stare for a slight second at Arnaund. "Well?" Charles asks, while his shoulders rise in a questionable gesture.
"It is for your benefit, brother. It was because of you that I have come."
"Oh? And what for? What do you mean?"
"Your soul, Charles; I must try and give you the Gospel before it is too late!"
"Oh, is that what it is?" Charles says, as his body moves in a manner that indicates he's laughing strongly on the inside, while his mouth keeps the same grin that he's maintained since he found out his brother was behind that dark cloak.
"I hear rumors, of what seems weekly, that you have got yourself mixed up into another duel; and, I always fear the worst!"
"Well, you have no need to worry . . . My friend will take care of that for me."
"Your friend?" asks Arnaund, confused, knitting his brows slightly.
"Yes. My friend is strong, lengthy, and takes nothing from anyone! Here she is," he says, pointing out his sword. He then slowly unsheathes it, giving it a slithering sound as it makes it way out of its scabbard; then, he holds the blade directly in front of Arnaund's face once again.
"Yes," Arnaund says sadly, while frowning, "we have already met, her and I . . . But, I have a sword, as well; and, it is mightier than she!"
"Really?" replies the other, sarcastically. "You? A sword? Get serious, brother," he continues, whilst still holding his blade near Arnaund’s face.
The priest quickly pulls a small book from his pocket and places it against the naked steel of Charles' sword. "Touché!" boldly pronounces Arnaund.
"What!" bellows out Charles. "A Bible? Are you serious, man?"
Again, Charles bellows out with a hearty laugh, while dropping his sword arm downward toward the floor. "I think, Arnaund, that you have been drinking way too much religious wine!"
"Give in to God before you give in to death," seriously states Arnaund, while staring his brother directly in his eyes.
Charles' amused face quickly goes back to its serene look once again. Sheathing his sword, he returns to his wine cup – which he refills quickly – and, he downs it within a single gulp. "And, here I thought that you came to just say hello," Charles admits, while looking toward the empty, unlit fireplace.
"Hello, brother," Arnaund says, seriously. "Will you now accept Jesus?"
"Are you mocking me?" snaps Charles, angrily, quickly spinning his glance back toward Arnaund.
"Of course I'm not," Arnaund assures him, seriously. "I am very serious about what I am telling you. I do love you, brother – but, so does God – I just know it!"
"Well, then," says Charles, beginning to shout, "where was God when I was young and needed Him all those years ago? At that time I did call out to Him, but He did not answer! I really needed God, but where was He? You know how things were, Arnaund, for both of us. And, did He wield the sword that saved my life on numerous occasions? Nay . . . Did He give me the gold to feed my belly when I hungered? I think not, brother mine . . . I did all this with my own hard work – not His!"
"I see that you are hurting on the inside," Arnaund pronounces, unhappily, slightly casting his eyes downward.
"You've noticed that? What a genius you must be!" he concludes, sarcastically, while pouring himself yet another cup. "Sure you won't have some, brother?" Charles asks, in a loud, rough manner.
"No, thank you, Charles," says the priest, looking back up. "But, I know someone who can give you something better to drink; which will allow you to never thirst again."
At this, Charles takes his freshly poured cup of wine and slings it at the wall – which bursts immediately as it makes contact.
Arnaund stops short and stares at Charles with wide eyes. Charles also is staring at Arnaund, but his eyes have fire and anger within. And, what follows next is yet another moment of silence, which is finally interrupted by a low knock at the front door. At first, the two men remain frozen, continuing to stare at each other. But, then, a second knock sounds.
"Charles," Arnaund ventures to say, "I believe that there is someone at your door."
Charles' eyes slowly glide into that direction, just before a third, more pronounced knock echoes in the apartment.
"So there is," Charles merely says. He sets the bottle of wine back onto the small table, then starts walking into the direction of the door, just before there's a fourth and more hurried knock. Opening the door, while Arnaund remains where he is inside the apartment – yet, looking on in curiosity – Charles notices a dark figure standing tall and erect, being enveloped inside of a dark cloak.
"Another dark cloak?" Charles says, in a disdainful undertone, while shaking his head. Then, aloud: "Yes? Can I help you?"
There is no answer from the unknown, but the cloaked figure extends a piece of paper out to Charles. And, just as soon as Charles takes this rolled parchment, the person walks away. Charles then shuts the door, staring for a slight second at the mysterious piece of paper. Unfolding it, and walking over to a nearby lit candle, he silently reads the note to himself. After which, he quickly looks up and over at a curious Arnaund.
"Is this your doing?" Charles asks, seriously.
"Is what my doing?" asks Arnaund, confused.
Charles holds up the piece of paper for him to read. At this, the priest advances the same candle, and reads aloud:
"'I have been admiring your swordplay, and have been studying it for months. Your style is quite remarkable, yet so predictable. I know your moves, every one of them – and, it shall be your undoing! Meet me behind the Louvre at noon tomorrow, and I will take you to a spot where I can prove this to you . . . Your Murderer!'"
Arnaund, after reading it, looks up at Charles with bulging eyes. His brother, standing close by, eyes him with increasing anger: "Is this why God sent you here?" Charles asks of him, with a gruff. "To kill me? Yet, to insult me before doing so?"
"God is not like that, and you know it!"
"Oh? Do I?" Charles shouts. "First, my life is going fine; now, this mysterious letter arrives at the very moment that you show up. It's all adding up very prettily, I think!"
"Well, you are right about one thing: I can see that God did send me – but, not to kill you, or to announce your death – but, to give you hope, and to tell you that it is time to stop this madness!"
"Madness is this letter showing up when you did!"
"You must not attend that duel!"
"What do you take me for – a coward?"
"Well, if you insist on going, I shall come with you, then."
"You will most certainly not! You have caused quite enough damage as it is."
"Well..." says Arnaund, sadly, as he grabs his cloak. "I will keep in touch, then. But, Charles, I cannot let this matter drop."
"I think it wise if you did," pronounces Charles, gravely. "If you are trying to convert me, brother, then I think that you have picked a very bad way to start. If and when we meet again, let it be for other reasons . . . Adieu!"
"Nay, not adieu – say rather, Au revoir!" sadly announces Arnaund. "Adieu seems too permanent of a goodbye. Au revoir, till we meet again, dear brother."
At this, Arnaund walks to the front door, opens it, walks outside, and begins shutting the door. Yet, not being able to help himself, and just before the door is closed, he stops and takes a final look at his brother in a very worried manner. Charles doesn't even bother to look back at him.
"You know," Arnaund ventures to say further, "this lifestyle that you have chosen is nothing more than a life of swordplay against a life of priestly robes . . . a life of flesh that's opposed to a life of the Spirit . . . it is a sword against the robe!"
Finally, Arnaund shuts the door and leaves.
Charles remains standing where he is, then turns his head slowly toward the front door, of which Arnaund has just left. Charles now begins to roll many thoughts through his head, while feeling all types of emotions surging through his frame.
Indeed, a strange occurrence it was to have his brother drop in the very evening he receives a note in a fashion that he has never experienced before. Sure, there were duels galore for this man, but always delivered in a normal fashion, through acquaintances of his own. But, this is a bit strange, and far too curious as to being delivered the same evening that his brother suddenly comes out of nowhere, nearly ten years after they had last seen each other. Could God truly be trying to call him to a life of the Spirit through these strange circumstances?...
"Bah!" Charles says to such an idea. And, he then heads straight to bed – leaving his thoughts only to his dreams.
In the morning, Charles d'Avaloy heads straight to the gates of the Guard's Headquarters, where he holds a position therein as lieutenant. He barely makes his way into the courtyard, though, when a Guard seizes his attention.
"Holla – d’Avaloy!" the Guardsman calls out. "And, what makes you in such haste this morning?"
At this, d'Avaloy turns around and notices a small group of soldiers who were having a conversation when he entered. Charles stops his advancements and begins to rest his eyes upon the one who had addressed him thus, recognizing the man immediately, though he had not known him for very long.
"I am in haste," Charles says to the speaker, having no expression upon his face at all, whilst delivering the announcement with an obvious bitterness that's not hard to miss, "for I am in hopes of passing by before you would notice me, dear Monsieur l'Forney!"
"Ah! Surely you jest, my friend," l'Forney says, grinning widely, eagerly awaiting the results of the conversation.
"And, why should I do such a horrible thing as to jest about such a serious matter?" Charles asks, continuing his sarcastic tone.
"Why, because, dear sir, I would think that you would be speaking to me in a kinder manner than this, considering that you are perhaps touched by divine grace this day."
There's a pause on d'Avaloy's part. But, just as soon as this line is delivered, the small assembly of Guards, who are standing directly behind l'Forney, begin laughing a little. Charles slowly surveys the small group with a careful eye, for he's not an acquaintance with any of them, because he's but recently been admitted to his post as lieutenant, and has not had the chance to make known who each Guard is. And, as far as he being a Guard for several years now, we must take note that Monsieur d'Avaloy is not one to make friends with many people; therefore, he knows but only a quarter of the Guards personally, and most others by face alone.
"And, what mean you by that, sir?" Charles finally asks, looking back at l'Forney.
"Why," l'Forney begins, "only yesterday a stranger in priestly robes stopped by here looking for you. I know he was looking to know of your whereabouts," he continues, sarcastically turning his gaze slowly toward his listeners behind him, hoping to get more laughter – and, he not being able to fight the grin that has now embedded itself upon his face, "for, I was fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of eavesdropping in on the captain's conversation with him." He then looks back at d'Avaloy. "A priestly brother, eh?"
There's certainly more laughter from the small group of soldiers, and l'Forney continues to grin with satisfaction. "Is this really the case, brother d'Avaloy?" he adds, stressing the word brother, which has a religious ring about the way he pronounced it. This last statement causes the small group to laugh with even more vigorous zeal.
D'Avaloy, after a very brief reflection, decides to turn his grim look into his usual sarcastic, swaggering grin. "First of all, dear l'Forney," he begins, "it's not a strange thing to have a priest in one's family, and neither does it indicate that the rest of the family would be enticed into such a lifestyle just because that's the case; and, secondly, did you not know that it is a serious offense to insult an officer? I would think that the good manners would have to come from you, for I do outrank. Also, as I am to understand, you come from too good of a family to be insulting them in such a manner as to being nothing more than a bully."
"Really?" says l'Forney, beginning to lose his grin. "As to my family traits, they're no concern of yours," he amply implies. "And, as far as your rank is concerned, you can choke on it – I have been transferred to a better unit than this as of tomorrow!"
"Oh? Is this true? And, what Guard unit is better than this one? The Cadets?" d'Avaloy adds, with a more sinister grin. "You forget, we are in the unit of Captain des Essarts; which is, in my humble opinion, the best of all the Guard companies!"
"I am transferring into the company of Musketeers – which is better than any of the regular Guard units – and, as a lieutenant, to boot!"
"Lieutenant of Musketeers?" D'Avaloy says, laughing loudly. "They couldn't have picked a better man!" he adds, mockingly.
"Too true, I was the better man," l'Forney concludes, insinuating that he was a better pick than d'Avaloy for the position.
D'Avaloy gets the point. And, after stopping his short laughing spell, he – now, with a very serious expression – takes a step toward l'Forney, to where he's only twelve inches away from him. L'Forney stands his ground, gravely staring at d'Avaloy, without even blinking an eye.
"Good," simply says d'Avaloy to him. Then adds: "But, a better man for the job should know not to insult a better man at the sword; for, he may see that a high rank does not entail that he's manly enough to back up his insulting words behind a blade!"
"All in good time, d'Avaloy," l'Forney says, beginning to smile once again. Then, as he leans forward a bit, he says with a wink: "Finish your other quarrels first."
At this, there's more laughter from the small group.
This last statement really does strike home! D'Avaloy knits his brows into a frown. Does l'Forney know of the mysterious note that d'Avaloy received just the night before?
"What do you mean, sir?" d'Avaloy asks, very seriously.
"Nothing, sir," l'Forney says, leaning back to where he was originally, and still continuing with his smile. "Soon enough, my friend," he implies, whilst starting to walk away, "soon enough!"
The small group of soldiers walk away also, and are still laughing at d'Avaloy – who is standing very still, quite vexed, not knowing what to think about what he had just heard. He finally breaks away from where he was standing, and looks all around to see if anyone is watching him. He notices nobody looking, so he proceeds on to the captain's office.
Walking into the captain's antechamber, d'Avaloy is greeted by a servant who asks what he's needing.
"An audience with my captain."
"Presently, lieutenant. Please have a seat, sir."
He sits on a chair near the entrance of the captain's chambers, while his mind is in a whirl. He hardly notices anything that is going on in the room because he is totally mixed up in his own thoughts; though he does imagine that he sees somebody looking at him. But, just as soon as he looks in that soldier's direction, the soldier returns his attention back to the small group of men with whom he was conversing. D'Avaloy shrugs it off as nothing out of the ordinary.
Just afterward, the servant walks out of the captains' chambers and asks d'Avaloy to enter. He does so.
"Lieutenant d'Avaloy, reporting for duty, sir," he says, saluting his captain, just as the servant leaves, who has shut the door behind him.
Captain Alexandre des Essarts, of his majesty's Guards – a middle-aged, yet slightly muscular gentleman – jumps up from behind his desk upon the soldier's entrance, holding out his hand for d'Avaloy to shake. Having, too, a look of concern about him.
"Are you feeling well, sir?" asks his captain, while d'Avaloy shakes his hand.
"Quite well, sir. Why do you ask?"
"There have been a couple of strange events that have happened since I had seen you yesterday," the captain announces.
"Yes, sir. I know. My brother had come to see you yesterday, asking where I lived."
"I was surprised to see that you have a brother, for I did not know that you had one. I was reluctant to give out your address at first; but, as you may or may not know, my personal servant has taken holy orders himself, and had been an acquaintance of your brother in the church, and he was able to verify him as a reliable and honest man. I then gave out your address on such grounds. However, having a brother that you have not seen in many years is hardly a strange occurrence, and is not what I am referring to; though, it was the first of a couple of events that were about you."
"Alright, you now have my curiosity up; for, verily, some strange things have been happening to me since last night, and not just my brother showing up. But, please tell me what you mean, sir."
"Well," continues Monsieur des Essarts, as he walks back around to his desk, sitting down again, "like I said, it started with your brother asking for your address; and, no sooner had he left, when a stranger showed up also asking for your address."
"A stranger?" d'Avaloy asks, interrupting his captain's tale.
"'Tis true. I had never seen him before. And, he said that you two have never met, but that he was trying to warn you that your life is in danger, and that it was most urgent for him to meet with you. I refused to give him your address, of course, but I promised him that I would send you a note, telling you of his request to see you. That is why I sent you that note last night."
"You sent me that note?" d'Avaloy asks, surprised, raising his voice a little.
"Of course. I signed it, didn't I?"
"Are you then my murderer?"
"Your murderer? What ever do you mean by that, sir?" asks the captain, with a frown.
"The note that was delivered to me last night was signed by my murderer, and was challenging me to a duel at noon today."
"Really?" says the captain, confused. "Well, I assure you, sir, that I sent you no such note; it was of an entirely different nature. You say that you have been challenged to a duel? Well, that is nothing new for you. But, what has become of my note to you, then? . . . Apparently, my messenger never reached you."
"The only messenger that I saw last night was one enveloped in a dark cloak, being careful to conceal their identity."
"I see," says the captain, thoughtfully, while looking away, as if he could more easily see this whole situation by looking out the window. "It appears," he continues, looking at d'Avaloy once again, "that my messenger is then dead."
"Dead?" asks d'Avaloy, frowning in his turn. "I don't think that it is as serious as all that, now!"
"My boy, I think that you are mixed up in a rather pretty net; and, the catcher is just about to reel you in."
It is now d'Avaloy's turn to look out the window, perhaps to see what his captain was seeing. He then turns back. "Are you sure?" he asks, with some doubt.
Looking attentively at his captain, while his captain looks attentively at him, d'Avaloy begins to reenact in his mind the events of last night.
"I have not yet told you all," the captain continues, not giving Charles any time to finish his thoughts.
"There's more?" asks d'Avaloy, his eyes widening.
"Yes, yes. It's concerning the stranger who asked for your address last night. It would seem that he didn't get too far. Only five minutes before you were announced this morning, I was informed that he was found two streets down, in an alley, dead! One of my Guardsmen who lives in that quarter happened to see him there, and had recognized him as to have been the one who visited me last night. I was just about to send a small troop out to search for you, but thank the Lord that you are safe and sound! I fear also for your brother's safety."
"Oh, as far as he is concerned, his God will protect him."
"His God?" asks the captain, curiously. "Is He not your God, as well?"
There's a moment of silence as d'Avaloy slowly answers: "...of course."
"I think that now, of all times, you will need Him for your well being."
"Of course," d’Avaloy mechanically repeats a second time.
The captain scans his lieutenant’s countenance with all the scrutiny of a parent who holds his child's protection in his hand.
"But, as far as this duel at noon is concerned," the captain says, continuing, "you must not attend."
"But, captain," d'Avaloy protests, with a slightly raised voice, "my honor is at stake!"
"You mean your life! You know as well as I that duels are forbidden. You, being an officer, have to set an example for the men."
"That's exactly why I must attend – to be an example!"
The captain sighs. "True," he admits, shaking his head a bit.
"What kind of a lieutenant would I be if I decline such an engagement?"
"A scorned and cowardly one."
"Now you see why I must attend – even at the risk of my life."
"I'm afraid that it will be at the risk of your life. This letter that you mentioned smells of ambush to me!"
"Well . . . what must one do?"
"Well, one – such as myself – will send an attachment of Guards with you to make sure that all will be fair play . . . Unofficially, of course."
D'Avaloy smiles at his captain's cleverness. "Of course," he says, with satisfaction.
"Still," the captain continues, "we must find your brother for protection."
"If I know my brother, he will show up at the duel at noon. Otherwise, I know not where to find him."
"Why do you say that he will show up at your duel? Is this priest fond of fighting?"
"Nay; but, fond of saving my soul! That is why he was looking for me last night, to get me to give in to his – I mean our God."
"Oh, I see . . . Well, a little religion never hurt any soldier; myself included. I pray under my breath before every skirmish, bloody as well as political – though, there's very little difference between the two! Well, if your brother will be at this duel, as you say, then we must try and convince him that his life is perhaps in danger, as well. Hopefully, waiting until noon won't be too late to warn him. Get this matter over with as quickly as possible, and I will try and find out what this whole thing is about concerning you as best as I can."
"Thanks, good captain."
"Don't thank me yet – there's still much we must do!"
Directly at noon, Charles d'Avaloy, along with a small company of Guards, show up at the back of the Louvre, much to the astonishment of three men; whom, it would seem, had been waiting for him there.
"Only three?" d'Avaloy says to himself. "There may be more waiting for me wherever it is that they wish for me to go."
Upon arriving in the presence of the three men, d'Avaloy exclaims surprise at the one who is standing in front of the other two.
"L'Forney! Are you behind all this?" he says, addressing the man with whom he had a conversation with in the courtyard of the Guards only an hour earlier.
"Of course! Did you not know?" l’Forney says, smiling as usual. "I really didn't think that it would be that hard for you to figure out. I gave you a clue only this morning."
"Are you really that dense? Do you not remember our conversation this morning when you challenged me to a duel, and I said that you have to attend other matters of that nature first? I was referring to the letter that I sent to you last night. My friend, here, delivered it to you," he adds, pointing out the man standing behind him to his left.
"Who hired you to kill me?" bellows out d'Avaloy, wasting no time.
"What! Hired me?" l'Forney says. He then turns to his friends, and says to them: "He thinks that someone has hired me to kill him! As if he were that important."
After saying this last sentence, l'Forney bursts out laughing. His two friends laugh a little as well, but not over-enthusiastically, for seeing the small troop of Guards that are with d'Avaloy, they have become somewhat nervous.
"And what's with this company of Guards?" l'Forney continues, turning back to the lieutenant. "Need this much help with your fencing?"
"That note that you sent me was part of a series of strange events, and the captain thought it wise to send a small company of Guards with me, to make sure that there's no foul play, and that I can have a fair fight."
Ever since d'Avaloy had mentioned the word 'captain', l'Forney's eyes began to widen. "The captain!" he yells out, with a grimacing gesture. "You have involved the captain in this matter? Are you trying to get us both arrested? Are you mad?"
"Let's just say that the captain involved himself into this matter. There was a man that came to see the captain last night, asking for me – a man whom the captain had never seen before. He came to warn me of my life, that it was in danger. They found that same man dead in an alley this morning, and the message was never delivered to me."
"And, you think that I killed him?" asked l'Forney, a bit concerned.
"It was either you, or one of your friends," he says, looking at the other two men; who, in turn, look at each other with worried expressions upon their faces. "Or, perhaps," d’Avaloy continues, "the killer was part of the same group that hired you to kill me today."
"What an imagination you have, d'Avaloy. When I said that you weren't important enough to hire someone to kill you, I wasn't jesting. I'm not even going to kill you myself!"
"Oh, no? If what you say is true, then why did you sign the letter as 'your murderer?'"
"It was to get you upset!" l’Forney says, while rolling his eyes about sarcastically. "It was not an actual threat. I merely wanted to humiliate you in front of a couple of witnesses here, just to have some fun. There's no real murder involved."
"Oh, but there is murder involved. And, you are now the prime suspect – you and your two friends, here. And, I have a handful of witnesses who can vouch for that," he adds, while pointing out the soldiers who are accompanying him. "Just by you being here, and confessing that the word 'murderer' was in your note, these men can all testify that you were the one’s who signed a death threat."
"Now, wait just a moment!" protests one of l'Forney's friends. "What l'Forney has been telling you is true. We just wanted to scare you, and humiliate you a little – there was no murder to be involved. We have nothing to do with the death you spoke of."
"Why is it that you want to humiliate me?" says d’Avaloy, with a frown, and while addressing l’Forney’s friend. "I don't even know you. What have I done to you?"
"Nothing, personally. I am doing this as a favor to my friend l'Forney."
"I have never seen you before," continues Charles. "Just who are you, sir?"
"François d’Ambry, of Musketeers. And, my associate here is Monsieur Nicolas de Fontenot, also of Musketeers."
"Trying to impress your new lieutenant, eh gentlemen?"
"It's not that way, Monsieur d'Avaloy," insists d'Ambry. "L'Forney insisted that you were nothing but a scoundrel, and how you had hurt his mistress; and, that you really needed to be taught a lesson."
"His mistress?" asks Charles, taken aback by that statement. "And, who is that?"
"Oh, come now, d'Avaloy," says l'Forney, "don't play stupid now. You have dishonored a lovely lady – don’t try and deny it!"
"I honestly don't know what you're talking about," declares d’Avaloy, knitting his brows heavily. "What lady?"
"You really are dense!"
"Enough insults l'Forney, or I'll order my men to shoot you!"
"And, I believe that you would – it would save yourself from my sword! You know perfectly well that I am speaking of Madame Anne, Duchess d'Halluin."
"What! The marshal of France's daughter in law? She’s your mistress? So, that's how you received the appointment of lieutenant of Musketeers! I knew that you didn't receive that appointment upon your own merits. You come from a good and noble family, but that station is beneath one such as yourself."
"Now, who is insulting who?"
"That's not an insult – that's a fact!"
"Enough! I had my mind set on teaching you a lesson today, but after these new events I will hold my peace, for I would like to have a talk with the captain about these matters, and try to prove my innocence of this murder – considering that you said I'm the prime suspect. However, this still does not excuse you of offending my mistress."
"I tell you honestly, l'Forney, I know not your mistress. I have never even met her – I swear upon my honor as a gentleman! Perhaps she has me mixed up with someone else of her acquaintance."
"Perhaps," l'Forney says, unconvinced. "I will, however, get to the bottom of this matter. If you are guilty, I should like satisfaction from your humiliation."
"If you prove me guilty, I should be honored to satisfy you. If proved innocent, I will hear no more about this, and you will not bother me in future."
"Agreed!" simply says l'Forney.
The group of men turn on their heels to leave; but, just as soon as they turn, however, they are stopped short by the figure of a man who is standing at a short distance away, enveloped inside of a dark hooded cloak, and is facing them.
"Who goes there?" asks d'Avaloy, in a voice of authority. But, then, upon a suspicion: "Is that you, Arnaund?"
The man now takes off his hood. "Yes; it is I, Charles. I am glad that the duel did not take place."
"How long have you been standing there, brother?"
"I've been behind your troop since you first entered this place."
"Did you overhear our conversation?"
"Nay. I was standing in the background, praying."
"I see. Then you do not know that your life may be in danger?"
"Danger?" Arnaund d'Avaloy asks, forcing his brows into a questionable look.
"Yes, danger. It would seem that there's someone out to kill me, and you may be a target, as well. Come, let's go to my captain, and all will be explained there."
Just as soon as Charles d'Avaloy, Arnaund, l'Forney, d'Ambry and Monsieur de Fontenot enter into Captain des Essarts' chambers, Charles briefly explains what had taken place behind the Louvre to his commander.
"Well, I'm glad to see that you are safe and sound, my friend," says the captain, after hearing the story.
D'Avaloy grins, while saying: "Well, did you expect me to lose in the first place?"
"Ha!" suddenly bellows out l'Forney.
At this, the captain looks hard at l'Forney. "You can laugh, but this is a very serious matter, sir," he tells him, in a firm rebuke. "It’s a good thing that you will not be in my company as of tomorrow – else, I would have you imprisoned for your insolence! Instead, I will write the captain of Musketeers and have him deal with you in the best way that he sees fit."
L'Forney looks glaringly at d'Avaloy. "Thanks for telling him!"
D'Avaloy was about to reply when the captain broke in: "He didn't just tell me; but, considering the circumstances, he had no choice. Honestly, this is the first time that he has ever spoken to me about these types of engagements of his. I think, dear sir, that you have a lot of explaining to do concerning many matters. But, first . . ." at this, he looks back at d'Avaloy, "I must explain that my words to you were not because I thought you would have lost the duel..."
L'Forney laughs silently under his breath.
"...it was because I have just been informed that the body of my messenger has recently been found near your apartment, and that his letter was stolen from him."
"Another death," interrupts l'Forney. "And, I suppose that this will count against me, too!"
"As I've told you, l'Forney," says d'Avaloy, "you are the prime suspect because of your letter to me."
"Now, just a moment," l'Forney shouts, in an irritated voice, "I was in my apartment all night last night, and could not have been outside to commit any murder!"
"Can you prove this?" asks the captain, suddenly. "Is there a witness to this?"
"Well..." l'Forney hesitates.
"Well, a lady was present with me."
"A lady?" asks the captain. "And, what is her name?"
"Madame Anne, Duchess d'Halluin!" interrupts d'Avaloy, with a sly grin.
"What! The marshal of France's daughter-in-law?" shouts the captain, in great disbelief. "No wonder you got the appointment into the Musketeers!"
This time it's d'Avaloy's turn to laugh under his breath.
"Doesn't anyone think that I could land that appointment upon my own merits?" asks l'Forney, in slight bewilderment – lifting his arms slightly in the air as he asked.
"No!" d'Avaloy and the captain shout at the same time.
"Not even a hesitation!" says l'Forney, looking back at his two friends, with a bit of disgust.
"I must summon Madame Anne, Duchess d'Halluin, to ask her to verify your story," continues the captain.
"Oh, sir – don’t do that!" yells out l'Forney.
"And, why not? You want to be freed from being the prime suspect in these murders, do you not?"
"Oh, yes, sir – I would. But, it's just that my relationship with madame is supposed to be a secret. She would just die if she knew that I was the cause of her being interrogated!"
"Well, in that case, there's no other thing that I can do but to imprison you."
"What? Now, hold on just a moment! You told me that you wouldn't imprison me, that you would write my new captain, instead."
"True. But, that was just because you ignored the edict against dueling."
"But you sent d’Avaloy off to duel with me!" insists l'Forney.
"No, sir," calmly replies the captain. "I sent him off to defend himself. But, what I am talking about now is a different matter entirely, for you are the prime suspect in a murder case. That is, you and your friend here," he adds, pointing out d'Ambry.
"Me?" yells out d'Ambry, in his turn. "What for?"
"You delivered that letter to d'Avaloy, did you not?"
"True. But, what does that have to do with anything?"
"You were at the scene of the crime on the night of the murder."
"Oh, this is too much!" says d'Ambry, dismayed, and waving his hands up in the air, also. Then he adds, while looking at l'Forney: "What have you gotten me into?"
"Shall I send for the Duchess d'Halluin, or not?" asks the captain of l'Forney, once again. "Or, just send you to prison now?"
There's hesitation once again.
"Oh – alright!" l'Forney concedes. "Besides," he adds, while looking at d'Avaloy, "It will give her a chance to prove to this lunatic that he's a fraud and a liar."
"I have heard Monsieur d'Avaloy called many things, sir," says the captain to him, "but a liar and a fraud he is not!"
"That remains to be seen," simply says l'Forney, looking about the room and trying to avoid the captain's eyes.
"You gentlemen wait in my antechamber until madame arrives," announces the captain, pointing out the direction.
The interlude spent in the waiting room of the captain's office goes by in silence, except for the daily rush of the messengers and soldiers doing their daily routine. The silence, though, is coming from the waiting gentlemen, who are sitting in uneasiness, awaiting the captain's orders. And, finally, after an hour had elapsed, the men are called back into the captain's office.
"I have just received word from the Duchess d'Halluin," the captain begins.
"Well, where is she?" desperately asks l'Forney.
"I was just about to tell you that she refuses to come. It would seem that I am now going to have to involve the marshal into this matter.
"What!" shouts l'Forney. "You mean her father-in-law, the marshal of France? Are you mad?"
At that statement, there's dead silence in the room.
"Sir," says the captain, glaring hard at l'Forney, "one more outburst from you in such a manner as this again, and you will be dealt with in a most embarrassing manner . . . Gentlemen, please wait a while longer in the antechamber."
And, as another hour passes, Captain des Essarts steps into the antechamber where the anxiously awaiting men are. "I do apologize for keeping you waiting, gentlemen. It would seem that the marshal was struck in the wrong way concerning my summons for him. He has asked me to meet with him in the king's chambers where we can discuss this in the presence of his majesty. I have also asked the captain of the Musketeers to be involved in this, as well."
What proceeds from l'Forney is a low groan. D'Avaloy looks at him and notices that he's turning very pale.
"Please, go home for now, sirs," the captain continues. "But, I would advise all of you not to leave the city until this matter is settled, else there would be the law to deal with. You two sirs," he says, addressing l'Forney's two friends, "will leave your address with my servant. Adieu, gentlemen."
At this, the captain walks back into his office.
D'Avaloy turns to his brother Arnaund. "Not a word about this to me concerning God, alright?"
Arnaund smiles. "Alright, brother. But, do you mind if I come home with you for a while? I do not have enough money to stay at an Inn."
"Of course, Arnaund," says d'Avaloy, while smiling. "You are always welcome."
At that last statement from D'Avaloy, Arnaund shoots him a quick glance of doubt, for his brother has never been this nice to him before. But, accepting the good natured welcome, he merely decides to follow his brother without question back to his apartment.