"Charlton Heston or Tim Curry?" mused Cardinal Richelieu.

Since there was no one else in the room, the chief minister to His Majesty Louis XIII of France was speaking for his own benefit.

Richelieu sat in a large chair behind the huge desk that dominated the room serving as his office. Two candelabra provided more than enough light for him to work. He brought out a pair of small boxes from one of the desk drawers, and put them next to a glass of wine he had poured earlier.

He found himself having to squint slightly to study the boxes. His eyes were good, for a man his age, but not as good as they had been more than a decade before, when Armund Jean du Plessis had first been created a cardinal-prince of the Roman Catholic Church.

The printing on the boxes was in English, a language he had only a smattering of, but it was the pictures on them that really interested him. They were not paintings, but rather what were called photographs, just another in a seemingly unending stream of new terms he had learned since the Americans and the town of Grantville had appeared on the scene.

Richelieu had long been an admirer of art; photographs, however, were far different than any paintings that he had ever seen. They showed what really was, not an artists interpretation.

The photographs were scenes from "movies." As best he understood them, movies were like plays, only they could be watched over and over again—not repeat performances, but the same one, with no differences.

These two movies were of special interest to Richelieu. They were the same basic story, entitled "The Three Musketeers," but each used different performers, and had been made several decades apart. Viewing them was an impossibility, since he had neither the machine to do it—or the power to run it if he had the machine. So, his agents in Grantville had also supplied very detailed summaries of the plots.

True, the movies did exaggerate events—not to mention playing rather fast and loose with actual facts; as had the book, by someone named Dumas. They even included a supposed relationship between Queen Anne and the English duke of Buckingham.

Richelieu, himself, was a character in the story. It certainly didn't hurt his ego to know that he would be remembered nearly four hundred years in the future, not just in the history books but apparently as part of popular culture.

That he found himself portrayed as a villain and schemer didn't bother him one bit. A fact of life he had learned a long time ago was that whether or not someone came off as a villain or a hero depended on who was telling the story.

Something about the picture of Curry reminded Richelieu of himself, back when he had first come to the church. It was, perhaps, the gleam in the man's eye, which gave an almost predatory, animal look to the man's face. On the other hand, the older man, Heston, with his hands steepled in front of him, projected the quiet dignified look that Richelieu fancied for himself.

"Yes, I think Heston is more me."

"Excuse me, Your Eminence." Richelieu looked toward the door where one of his secretaries, Monsignor Henri Ryan, had appeared. The young man held several thick folios under one arm.

"Yes, Henri?"

"I have just received word that the Italian delegation will be here within the hour." Henri placed the documents he carried in front of Richelieu. "These are the reports on the things they want to discuss with you."

The younger priest stared for a moment at the two movie boxes lying on the desk. His distaste for them was rather obvious. Richelieu made a mental note to have a long talk with Henri about learning to conceal his feelings on some subjects, whether it was the Americans or the Spanish or whatever. That was one of a wide variety of skills Henri needed to develop.

"Very well, let me refresh my memories of these matters, and then bring them in when they arrive."

"Of course, sir." Henri started to leave, but stopped a few steps from the door and turned back toward the desk. "Also, that man, Montaine, arrived, a short time ago, saying he needed to see you."

Richelieu cocked his head slightly. Montaine was not due to report for at least a week. His unexpected appearance suggested that he came bearing news.

Of course, the Italian matter was also pressing.

"Very well. Have him wait in the smaller library. If he is hungry, have the kitchen prepare something. I shouldn't be more than an hour or two at the most. Did he say what he needed to speak to me about?"

"Yes, Your Eminence. He said it was on the matter of D'Artagnan."

****

Charles D'Artagnan stared out the window. It was an hour after sunrise and the narrow street below was already filled with people; there were food vendors, merchants, barbers, craftsman and their customers. A woman screaming at a man in a greasy apron, who was selling meat pies of some kind, caught his attention.

The exchange continued for a few minutes, with invectives flying between the two. The verbal combat only stopped when the woman handed several coins across and the vendor passed her back several of the meat pies. The two parted with smiles and wishes for the best of the day.

D'Artagnan felt something small and furry rub against the side of his hand. He looked down to the window ledge and found himself confronting a tiger-striped kitten who was very vehemently demanding attention.

He reached down and gently picked up the animal. The kitten was not happy with this idea, preferring to be petted rather than held, and struggled to escape his grip even as he began to stroke the animal's temples and then under its chin. The response came quickly, and the kitten stretched out, offering its neck for more attention, showing its approval with some very loud purring.

"Like that do you, little one?"

"I must say, you certainly have a way with animals, my dear Charles." A dark-haired woman clothed only in a sheet stretched out on the bed that filled much of the room. She had raised herself up on one elbow and leaned across the impression in the mattress that, until several minutes before, D'Artagnan had filled.

"I have had a bit of experience with the wilder creatures of the world." He smiled.

"Do you think you can bring out the animal in me?" Charlotte Blackson laughed.

"I'll do what I can," he said, walking back to the bed.

He set the kitten down on a side table, much to the chagrin of the animal. The cat reached out to try to drag his hand back, but D'Artagnan ignored the protests, intent on a different goal now.

He reached over and gently ran his finger along the edge of Charlotte's chin. The gesture brought a purr to her lips and a very inviting smile.

Charlotte Blackson was a beautiful woman. Her husband, a Musketeer, had been killed in the war. While not rich, he had left her well off. Charlotte had, in turn, taken her inheritance and shrewdly parleyed it into much, much more. Now, six years later, she was the proprietor of a dozen businesses and a partner in several more. She had even begun to move into some of the minor social circles of Paris. D'Artagnan had met her a few months before when he had stopped a thief intent on making off with her purse. In spite of the fact that she was more than a decade older than he, D'Artagnan soon found himself enamored of her.

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