“Let me tell you, my friend; women are nothing but trouble! They will do nothing but bat their eyelashes and get you into trouble! And when you think they are gone, then they come back to haunt you.”

Charles D’Artagnan took a sip of his wine and rolled his eyes as he looked over toward where the voice seemed to come from. The speaker was a young man, perhaps twenty-one or -two, yet he had a world-weary look to him that D’Artagnan could empathize with..

“Can I get you some more, Monsieur?” said the innkeeper. A gray-haired man in his fifties, he moved in and out among the tables with practiced ease.

“Just let me know when your supper is ready. I have spent far too long at sea and am famished,” D’Artagnan said.

In truth, it was good to be back on solid ground. After concluding their business in Venice, he and his companion, René Montaine, had taken a ship out of Venice, intent on reaching the southern French coast. However, storms had delayed their arrival by nearly a week, a very long week for him. Not that D’Artagnan was prone to seasickness; it was more the fact that there had been nothing to do onboard, and, with the weather, they had been confined below decks for several days.

“Not to worry, sir. I call my wife the best cook in the province. Her meals you will find to be the next thing to a banquet at the palace of the king, himself,” said the innkeeper, patting a rather large belly. “I have been the beneficiary of them for more than two decades, ever since I left the king’s army.”

“In that case, innkeeper, I look forward to it,” said D’Artagnan as he reached into his coat pocket and produced a clay pipe and bag of shag tobacco.

“Porthos, you of all people can understand this,” said the young man that D’Artagnan had been listening to. “I’ve seen your heart be broken by a woman.”

The mention of the name Porthos caught D’Artagnan’s attention.

“Athos, Athos,” the other man sighed. “I do the heart breaking, not the other way around.”

Athos, Porthos? Those two names pulled D’Artagnan out of his relaxed stupor. In the time since he had been in the service of Cardinal Richelieu, he had come to know those names very well. Apparently, in the up-time, those two and their cousin, Aramis, as well as D’Artagnan himself, were quite well-known in certain circles because of a book and those things called movies. Montaine himself had been known to use the name Aramis, but that was just one among many names that the man who could fade into any crowd preferred to use.

“I tell you I saw her, Porthos; she was here not an hour ago walking down the street. The same blonde hair, in a green dress; the same walk,” he said, with a hint of anger in his voice, or perhaps it was despair. D’Artagnan couldn’t quite be certain.

“And by the time you got there she was nowhere to be found. You do tend to get in melancholy moods, my friend, so I suspect you saw some other woman who had a slight resemblance to this woman and your mind added the details,” said Porthos.

“Your pardon, gentlemen,” said a voice from just behind D’Artagnan. He looked up to see the familiar face of his partner, Montaine. That the small man had been able to come so silently, so unnoticed into the inn did not surprise him in the least. Montaine had been on shipboard with D’Artagnan, but had disappeared shortly after they had come ashore, saying that he would see the young man back in Paris after dealing with a few necessary matters. D’Artagnan hadn’t bothered to ask for any details; he had learned from experience that the little man was not forthcoming with details except when it suited him.

The matters might have been another assignment from the cardinal or, possibly, something else. D’Artagnan had met people who didn’t let their left hands know what their right hands were doing. He sometimes suspected that Montaine didn’t let his fingers know what his thumbs were doing..

“This is a private conversation,” said the man called Athos, his stare a dark thing, especially for one so young.

“I am aware and do apologize for intruding, but I had to ask you. This woman you mentioned, the one in the green dress. I also am seeking her, so I think we have common cause in this matter.” Montaine turned to order a drink from the innkeeper. “Plus, I believe it might settle your companion’s mind to know if this woman is who he thinks she is.”

“And you are seeking her, why?” asked Porthos.

“For reasons that will bear no harm to her or to you gentlemen,” said Montaine.

Athos muttered something, but the sound was lost as he drained the mug in front of him. Porthos looked at the newcomer for a few moments before speaking. “My cousin is subject to the woes of too much drink, but perhaps it would not be a bad thing to go in search of this woman and let him see that it is not this phantom of his heart,” he said. “Very well, shall we meet you by the fountain in front of the convent in, say, a half hour?”

D’Artagnan considered the possibility of entering into the conversation himself but it seemed the wiser thing, for the moment, to hold back and see what Montaine had in mind.

Montaine left a moment after the two men, passing by D’Artagnan’s table with a particular twitch of his fingers. D’Artagnan let himself sit for a few minutes, casually finishing his drink and the last of the dinner that the innkeeper had brought him. He stood, took his time straightening his clothing, and moved toward the door.

The stable was just behind the tavern and D’Artaganan casually walked up to the stall where the dark horse he had purchased at the port the day before was standing. The animal was quietly munching on hay and seemed to be hardly aware of D’Artagnan.

“So, you have some interest in this ‘lady in green,’ ” D’Artagnan said. “Anything you can tell me about? Is this why you wanted to come here? After all, it’s not the most direct route back to Paris.”

Montaine climbed down from the hayloft, brushing a few strands off his clothing. “Quite true,” the smaller man replied. “I suppose, as the Americans would say, it’s a matter of ‘national security.’ ”

“What isn’t, these days? I would like to get back to Paris and see Charlotte,” D’Artagnan said.

“Your lady friend can wait. I’m sure a businesswoman like her has numerous matters to occupy her time. I need you to see if you can find this other woman.

“The woman in the green dress?”

“Indeed, although I suppose the dress color doesn’t matter; it can be changed. And if she is who I think she is, she will have more than one change of clothing.” He peered around the side of the stables toward the inn. “I have to go now. Do what you can to aid them. If I need to reach you, I’ll leave a message with the innkeeper addressed to Monsieur de Largo.”

“One thing,” said D’Artagnan, “I have to know. Those two men, Athos and Porthos, are they who I think they are?”

Montaine smiled. “They are Issac de Porteau, and Armund de Sillegue d’Athos d’Autevielle who you may have heard of under the names of Athos and Porthos. They are cousins and members of the King’s Musketeers. I would suspect they are on leave, since I think they may have relatives who live in this province.”

That Montaine knew the men did not surprise D’Artagnan in the slightest. After Cardinal Richelieu had become aware of the up-time novel The Three Musketeers, and that it was based on some bits of actual history, he had dispatched Montaine to find D’Artagnan and the others. The results had ended with D’Artagnan enlisted in the churchman’s service.

“And the third . . . Aramis?”

“I’m not sure where he is.”

Before D’Artagnan could ask for more details, Montaine slipped around the corner and disappeared.

****

When one is looking for a person or an object, it helps to have some idea of where to look. It wasn’t that the town was that large; it was the kind where a man at one end of the town could hear when a mouse farted at the other end. So since there was one man who knew where this “woman in the green dress” had been seen, it seemed the logical thing to seek him out.

The fight had just ended when D’Artagnan walked through the entranceway to the convent into the main hall. Athos stood at the far end of the room, methodically wiping blood off of his sword with the tunic of the freshly-dead body. Porthos was a dozen steps away, his sword in one hand and a chicken leg in the other. He took several bites out of it as he poked at another corpse with the toe of his boot.

“Did I miss the entertainment?” D’Artagnan asked as he stopped to pick up an un-broken bottle of wine from the floor.

The two musketeers eyed him warily, but when he pulled the cork from the bottle, took a swallow and then passed it to Athos, they seemed to relax.

“Friends of yours?” D’Artagnan gestured at the bodies on the floor.

“They were screaming at a couple of the sisters and seemed to take umbrage when we politely asked them to stop,” said Athos.

“It was strictly self-defense,” said Porthos.

“Of course,” said D’Artagnan.

One of the nuns emerged from a far room, shaking her head as she looked at the damage. From her manner D’Artagnan couldn’t help but wonder if she was the Mother Superior. If she wasn’t, he suspected it might not be too many years until she ascended to that office. “I should make you ruffians clean this up, though I know that you were defending yourselves. I hope that the men these bullies were looking for appreciate what you have done.”

Moments later several other nuns appeared and in swift order carried the two bodies off. The chances were that both men were dead and would soon be making their explanations to the good Lord, rather than the local magistrates, which suited D’Artagnan. Even before he had gone to work for the cardinal, he had preferred to not cross paths with the local magistrates any more than necessary. D’Artagnan thought it best not to ask what was going to happen to the bodies.

“Who were they looking for?” he asked the nun.

“I didn’t recognize the names—Athos and Porthos,” said the nun.

D’Artagnan’s two new acquaintances looked at each other. He wasn’t sure if it was a look of surprise, amusement or relief on their faces.

Athos turned to D’Artagnan. “My good sir, if memory does not fail me, were you not just at the inn up the hill? What brings you here?”

“The same thing as you, gentleman, and the same person. I work with the man you spoke to concerning the woman in the green dress. He suggested that I accompany you in her pursuit. He was needed elsewhere.”

Athos eyed D’Artagnan for a moment, looked at Porthos and then nodded.

“Very well,” said Porthos. “I am Porthos, this is my cousin Athos. And your name, my good sir?”

“Charles D’ . . . de Largo,” said D’Artagnan. Why he had not given these two his real name, he couldn’t say; it just seemed the right thing to do for now.

“Very well; so now we are three,” said Porthos.

“Where do we go to look for a ghost? A memory come to life; that is what this woman in the green dress appears to be,” said D’Artagnan.

“Your pardon, gentlemen,” said the nun who had spoken to D’Artagnan earlier. “I know of whom you speak. I believe I have seen her on several occasions, at a distance. She is not someone I know personally. I know she is not staying with us at the convent. I think I saw her yesterday, going into a dress shop some two streets over.”

“We have yet to actually begin our search, except for asking here,” replied Porthos. “I believe I know the establishment you speak of; we will certainly ask after her there. Thank you, Sister, and good day.” The three men doffed their hats and bowed, then filed out of the convent and headed toward the street indicated.

“What happened?” asked D’Artagnan. “Were those men rifling the poor box?”

“That’s what we assumed when we heard the commotion. But from what the nun said they apparently had other motives.”

“Pity you couldn’t have asked them who they were working for?”

“Indeed,” said Porthos. “Who do we owe money to around here?”

“No one that I know of,” said Athos. “Unless you got into a dice game last night and haven’t mentioned it.”

“Me? Not that I recall?” Are you sure you don’t owe anyone any money?” asked Porthos.

“None that I recall, save for a few sous to Aramis,” said Athos.

“Hardly a motive to dispatch leg-breaking assassins to track you down,” said Porthos. “Besides, he would want to do that himself.”

“Indeed,” Athos said.

The village was small, but its streets were winding, so it took a quarter-hour to locate the dressmaker’s shop that the nun had spoken of. The woman running it had red hair and a provocative smile when she saw the three men walk through the door.

“Good morn, my good woman,” D’Artagnan said. “How are you this fine day?”

“Very well, good sirs. And yourselves? Are you looking for some finery for your ladies? I have a very good selection.” She pointed out some odds and ends of frippery along with several bolts of bright colored cloth.

“Alas, no. But we are looking for the—cousin—of my friend here.” D’Artagnan pointed to Athos. “She is of medium height and of good figure, with light hair. One of the sisters at the convent said she saw her come in here yesterday. I wonder if she might have said where she was going after she left. We haven’t seen her in several hours and are somewhat concerned.”

The woman stared at the three men for a few seconds and then smiled “I remember the woman. She was in here yesterday, dressed in green with a silver swan necklace. I saw her head east when she left, I think, going toward the warehouse district.” That was toward the other end of town.

“I thank you, dear woman, for your assistance. May your custom be profitable,” said Porthos, though he did take time for a long lingering look into the woman’s eyes. The smile she responded with suggested, at least to D’Artagnan’s mind, that she would not object to the young man making a return visit to her establishment.

****

“Wasn’t this where you thought you saw her?” asked D’Artagnan.

Athos made a sound deep in his chest and nodded, pointing toward the street corner a half block away. “Yes, friend de Largo. I was standing there and saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. Something about it made me turn, and then I saw her, for just a moment”

“She saw you?”

“I suspect so. She turned toward me, as if looking to see if I or someone were following her, then vanished into the alleyway. By the time I got there I could find no sign of her or that anyone had been there for some time. It was late; I presumed I had imagined the whole thing.”

“Yet, cousin, you could not stop brooding on it,” chuckled Porthos.

The alley that Athos led them to was a dead end, running up against a wall that was a good ten feet high. Climbing it would have been possible, as far as D’Artagnan could see, even by a woman in a dress; although, he admitted, he doubted the dress would be in any presentable shape afterwards.

“If she didn’t come out where you could have seen her, then we have to presume that she went into one of the buildings,” said Porthos.

There were four doors opening into the alley. Two were securely locked and one of them looked like it had not been opened in years. The third, however, had been freshly painted and bore a sign with the single word: Deliveries.

“When you have one choice,” said Athos, gesturing at the door, “You take it.”

“I suspect that if your blonde lady came here, she was just passing through and is long gone. I don’t think there will be anyone here but us and a few rats,” said D’Artagnan.

“You might be right,” said a man dressed in a dark brown doublet with no insignia, a cocked pistol in one hand. He had moved quietly and none of the three had heard his approach. “But then, again, you might just be totally wrong.”

“One man, one pistol. Really, unless you are very good with that sword I see at your side, you should take into account the fact that there are three of us.” D’Artagnan looked at the stranger and sighed.

That was when a half-dozen others appeared at the entrance to the alley, all armed like the first. They were all dressed in plain clothes with no sigils or any other sign of allegiance; although each of their weapons looked well cared for and extremely functional.

“We could take them,” said Porthos softly. He had locked eyes with two of the men and seemed ready to charge into the fray without a moment’s hesitation.

“True,” said Athos. “But I suspect that they know where the lady in question is. So why should we waste our time searching for her? Let them lead us to her instead.”

“A sound plan.”

“Now, we can do this quite easily. If you gentleman will divest yourselves of your weapons we can get on with things,” said the first man. “Please understand that all of my men are excellent shots, plus they are armed with more than one pistol each.”

D’Artagnan looked at his two new friends; they each nodded and then removed their swords, laying them on the ground, as well as placing several daggers each next to them. D’Artagnan had two other smaller blades on his person. While he didn’t know it for a fact, he felt that Athos and Porthos were no doubt similarly armed.

“There are those in Paris who would be shocked to see this,” muttered Porthos.

The Musketeers and D’Artagnan found themselves being taken to a house two streets away from the alley. It was the sort of place that could have been found anywhere on any street in any country. Their captors had gathered up the discarded weapons and were looking at them with much interest.

Inside, the party moved to a stairway and down into the basement. There were several small lamps set up, casting an odd glow to the whole scene. In the center of the room a man was sitting in a chair, facing them. It was fairly obvious that he was securely bound to the chair. Standing next to him was a blond woman dressed in green, a silver swan necklace around her throat. It was a fairly safe guess for D’Artagnan to presume that this was the woman they had been looking for.

“I believe you gentlemen belong on the groom’s side,” said. a thin grey-haired man who held an eagle-headed cane in one hand, looking like he could brandish it as a weapon at a moment’s notice.

D’Artagnan angled his head slightly, taking in the scene; there were the half- dozen thugs who had escorted them here, the man in the chair and the girl. It all seemed rather surreal. The girl rested her hand on the chair; she was definitely not happy to be there. She looked as if she could either burst into tears burst out into screaming anger. It was a little hard to tell which to expect.

“You know this fellow?” the thin man with the cane said, gesturing toward the chair.

“Our cousin, Aramis,” said Athos. “Although I suspect you already knew that.”

This was not the face that D’Artagnan was accustomed to associating with the name Aramis. This man was taller, with sharp features. He had known all along that Montaine’s real name was not Aramis, any more than René Montaine was. For some, names were things that suited a given situation.

“Good,” he said. “My name is Maximilian Andre Castellans Moreau. The young lady over there is my daughter, Celine. She is my pride and joy and that bastard, your cousin, dishonored her and insulted my family honor.”

“Father! It’s not true! You burst in on us and started screaming at the top of your lungs before you knew what was happening,” said the girl called Celine.

“I am not a fool! You were lying in your bed and this insult to humanity was standing over you. When I entered, he leaped from the balcony of our house in Paris ! He did not have the honor to stand still so I could shoot him!” The older man’s face went red with anger.

“I wonder if that was the night Aramis showed up at the barracks with blood all over his buttocks,” mused Porthos. “Actually, Monsieur, I don’t think you missed. He had trouble sitting down for a week.”

“Then he had the effrontery to follow us here! He pollutes the very air that we breathe. I will have my daughter’s honor vindicated. I will see her married this night and her honor restored. Then she will become a widow and take holy orders with the sisters of San Carlo,” snorted Moreau, stamping his cane down to emphasize his words.

“My lord, I understand why you are fiercely angry with my cousin,” said Athos. “And you should be. But know he did not know that your family had come to this village and follow you here. The three of us stopped here to rest and resupply ourselves before returning to Paris.”

D’Artagnan could see Aramis’s eyes get as large as grapefruit. He tried squirming in the chair, but whoever had tied him had done yeoman’s work and he could barely move. He looked at Athos and Porthos. Both men nodded almost imperceptibly. They knew that if they did not do something, and quickly, this wasn’t going to end well.

“Bring in the monk. Let us get this wedding on the way. I grow tired of being in the same room with this scum.” Moreau slapped Aramis hard and stepped away.

Two of the men who had brought D’Artagnan and the other two into the room came in from a side door, escorting a little man in a homespun monk’s cassock. The monk walked with slumped shoulders, the hood of his robe up and a Bible clutched in his arms.

“This is Brother Cornelius; the other monk is sick and could not come,” said one of the men.

“I don’t care if he’s His Holiness the Pope, let’s get this done,” growled Moreau.

The monk, his head still bowed, moved in front of Aramis and Celine. As he opened his Bible, everyone turned to watch the ceremony. That was the moment that D’Artagnan had been waiting for. He kicked the leg of the man standing in front of him. The dagger he had up his sleeve came sliding down into his hand as he turned to slash at the guardsman who was to one side of him.

Athos and Porthos were not wasting any time, either. They grabbed Moreau’s men standing next to them. Porthos slammed two of them into each other, making a most satisfying sound in the process. Meanwhile, Athos, fists flying, hit several of the men and sent them down. The three men grabbed dropped swords and pistols from the floor. There were still three of Moreau’s men standing, their jaws hanging, seemingly not at all sure of whether to run or attack.

“Kill them!” screamed Moreau.

“I do not think so, Monsieur,” said Aramis. He was on his feet, the chair empty, a sword in his hand. Celine stared at the whole scene, confused. “I give you my word that in spite of the compromising situation you found your daughter and myself in, I had not dishonored her. Also I pledge you that I did not come seeking you or your daughter, that we came to the town you live in purely by chance.

“Now that my cousins and this other gentleman have matters well in hand, remember that there are now four of us. I would not want to see Celine, who is truly a treasure, lose her father. We are going to leave now and will be gone from this town in a few hours and never trouble you again.” He turned to D’Artagnan and the other two and said. “Come, gentleman.”

****

“I thought you said we were going to leave within a few hours,” D’Artagnan said as the four of them sat at a table in the inn where he had first encountered Athos and Porthos.

“You cannot expect a man to travel on an empty stomach. Eating is always a good reason for changing your plans, almost as good a one as drinking,” proclaimed Porthos, just before he took a large bite out of the chicken that the tavern maid had just deposited in front of him.

“True, sir,” said D’Artagnan. “But don’t you think that Monsieur Moreau will be watching? He does seem to wield a wee bit of power in this town. Am I not correct, innkeeper?”

The owner of the inn looked at the four men and shook his head. He had not been happy when they had come through his door in such a hurry, it suggested problems that he may not have wanted to be involved with. But the coins that had made their way into his till seemed to have allayed his dissatisfaction.

“The Moreau family has been prominent in this area for a long time. If you are making enemies of them, I would really prefer you to find some other place for your revelries.”

“Worry not, my good man,” said Athos. “We will be long gone before they are even aware that we were here. You have my word on that.”

“Very well.” The innkeeper shook his head as he started toward the kitchen. “Oh, Monsieur, did you find that lady you thought you had seen?”

“Indeed,” nodded Athos, without looking up from his tankard. “And I thank God that she was not the person I thought she was.”

“When they brought you in that door I wasn’t sure,” said Aramis, “if you were relieved to see the girl or to see me tied to that chair.”

“Perhaps he thought being tied up would keep you from getting yourself and us further into trouble, if that was possible,” said Porthos. “Speaking of being tied to that chair. How the dickens did you get loose? Was it the girl?”

“Hardly,” said his cousin. “She seemed so angry and confused I think if someone had put a knife in her hand she would have used it on her father or me, or both of us. When you three started that little diversion someone cut my ropes from behind. I didn’t bother looking, just stepped in to help my relatives.”

His cousins smiled in agreement at this statement. “It was Monsieur de Largo who struck the first blow,” Porthos acknowledged. “Although I’m sure we would have outnumbered them even without him.”

The three cousins looked at each other and then at D’Artagnan. Just then a small robed figure came walking toward them from the direction of the kitchen. It was the monk, Brother Cornelius, only this time instead of a Bible he had a leather drinking mug in his hand.

“Actually, gentlemen,” he said, “it was I who took care of the ropes.”

This time D’Artagnan recognized the voice, just as he realized that the monk was actually somewhat larger than he had thought he was earlier in the evening, although not by much.

“Well, Brother Cornelius, or should I be calling you Montaine?”

“Friend of yours, de Largo?” asked Porthos.

“You could say that,” D’Artagnan nodded. “And I have a gut feeling he has been in the middle of all the events of the evening. Am I not right, old friend?”

Montaine didn’t speak until he had divested himself of the monk’s robe, which he tossed into a corner of the room. Two cats, a yellow tabby and a grey one, began to sniff at the garment, but soon found other smells from the kitchen demanding their attention.

“Well, perhaps I had planned to come to this charming little village, perhaps I was even looking for the family Moreau,” he said. “Let us simply say that I had business with the head of the family and would prefer to be gone before he knows it was transacted.”

“What sort of business?” asked Aramis.

Montaine said nothing.

“Don’t bother asking, my friend,” said D’Artagnan. “Montaine is good at keeping secrets.”

“I have a feeling it involves politics,” said Porthos. “I hate politics, don’t you, de Largo?”

“I’m not fond of them, and, by the way, I should let you know that my name is not de Largo, it’s D’Artagnan.”

The three cousins sat staring at him for fully half a minute, the only sound being that of the crackling of the fire. Porthos took another swallow from his glass.

“Really,” he said, then turned to Athos. “You owe me ten sous.”

The oldest of the three musketeers took his purse out and dropped several coins from it on the table in front of his cousin.

“I don’t understand. How do you know who I am?” asked D’Artagnan, glancing toward Montaine, who was smiling.

“It’s quite simple, my friend,” laughed Porthos. “I have been seeing a lady in Paris who is well acquainted with one Charlotte Blackmoon, a close friend of yours, I believe. You were even pointed out to me departing Madam Blackmoon’s residence before sunrise. My friend, you really need to be more careful about your comings and goings from a lady’s boudoir.”

“It is what I have said all along; women will be the death of us all,” muttered Athos. “Besides, I have read that book. I had been wondering when we were going to cross paths with you.”

“And we have, thus earning me some money.” Porthos turned toward Athos. “Cousin Aramis, you owe us a little explanation about this evening.”

Aramis fidgeted a moment, then took up the tale.

“Well,” he began, looking everywhere but at his companions. “When we were in Paris, I met a young lady, and I use the term loosely, and struck up an acquaintance. She was lovely, blonde with a slender figure. She was quite flirtatious. We arranged an assignation for later that evening. She pointed out her house and showed me an easy way of climbing into her window out of view of passers-by. She warned me to be quiet, as there were others who resided there.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “I arrived at the right time and climbed through the window. There she lay on the bed. The covers were pulled up, almost covering her face, but I could see her sun-colored hair. I called her name and began to divest myself of encumbrances.

“Then things began to go wrong. When she opened her eyes she took one look at me and gasped. At that very moment I could tell that the young lady in the bed was not the one I had talked to earlier. I backed toward the window, apologizing for the mistake, when her father burst into the room and began screaming at me. I leaped for the window but the balls from his firearm creased my backside. I fell through before I could be injured further and escaped. The first ‘lady’ must have had something against me or the other young woman to have done that, may she rot in Hell. There, you have it, and I swear that it is the truth. I owe my freedom and very life to you.” Aramis took a long draught from his tankard and sat back in relief.

“Quite a story, cousin,” Porthos said. “I think I will believe you. It’s easier that way. But you left out how you came to be in the hands of said young lady’s father.”

Aramis shook his head and smiled. “Quite literally I came walking around the corner and found myself facing her, her father and several of those rather doltish-looking fellows in his employ. Before I had a chance to unsheathe my sword one of them got behind me and applied what felt like an iron bar to the back of my head. When I woke up I found out I was to be the guest of honor at a wedding and, I suspect, a funeral to follow immediately afterwards. It definitely made taking holy vows look quite appealing; which is what I intend to do, eventually.”

“You’ve been saying that since you were ten years old, cousin, and I don’t see you any closer now than you were then,” said Athos.

“It will come,” intoned Aramis.

“By the way,” said D’Artagnan. “If you don’t mind my asking, what are you three doing here? This hardly seems like an outpost for the King’s Musketeers.”

“It isn’t,” said Aramis. “We’re here under orders. Several weeks ago Monsieur de Treville, commander of the Musketeer Corp, ordered us out of Paris; a little matter of too much dueling with the cardinal’s guard. He stuck his finger on a map and found this delightful town; suggesting that we not return to Paris for some months.”

“And yet here you sit drinking with a lieutenant in the Cardinal’s Guard,” said Montaine. D’Artagnan noticed that he did not mention his own connection to the Prime Minister of France.

“I will drink with any man who fights at my side,” said Athos. “I care little what tabard he does or does not wear. Besides, who knows but we can convince you to transfer to the Musketeers.”

“Me, a Musketeer? Hardly,” laughed D’Artagnan.

****