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A Royal Carriage… A Broken Wheel… One Disgruntled King… a/k/a A Mishap in Lupiac

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Lupiac, Gascony

“Mon Dieu, man!” Shouting at one of the Red Guards King Louis fumed, sitting back against the cushioned, now tilted sideways, royal carriage. “Get it fixed at once I say!” Glancing out the window, he grimaced. “Gascony of all places!” King Louis thumped his fists against his thighs, fuming at the injustice of it all. “Full of hedges and sheep!”

“Tis not like the carriage had a mind of its own and decided this was a perfect spot to lose a wheel,” Cardinal Richelieu murmured sarcastically. Though he believed his off the cuff remark sailed clear over the young king's head. Or perhaps not, judging by the scowl which now adorned His Majestys' disgruntled face.

Shooting His Eminence a dark look, King Louis arched a brow. “Was that remark meant to be witty?” he snapped sharply. “Because it had the opposite effect! I assure you!”

Clicking his teeth together, Richelieu held his tongue. Twiddling his thumbs he prayed that they wouldn’t be stuck here overlong or His Majesty may drive him to distraction.

Not too far away from where they had broken down, King Louis spotted someone. Shouting from the window, he waved the man over. “You there! Come here at once!”

Lips pursed, d’Artagnan slowly approached the broken down carriage. He had to wonder at the angry tone of voice that verbally commanded his presence. The closer he got, d’Artagnan then understood who he was dealing with and wished for papa by his side.

Observing two guards scratching their heads looking down upon the broken wheel, d’Artagnan tried very hard not to show his amusement. Ignoring them he focused upon the main occupant of the carriage. “May I be of some assistance, Your Majesty?”

Cardinal Richelieu’s lips twitched. “And you thought Gascony only held hedges and sheep, Sire.”

An ominous expression crossed over King Louis' face, which did not bode well for the cardinal. “Do be quiet, Cardinal!” His full attention now riveted on the young Gascon, he was relieved. “As you can tell my carriage lost a wheel. We need help to fix it since my guards seem to be woefully lacking in those skills.” It wouldn't hit him until shortly later that the boy had properly addressed him.

Bowing his head, d’Artagnan smiled brightly. “Sire, it will be our honor to fix your carriage. I just have to go back to the farm and get papa and a few other men to help.”

Leaning past the king, Richelieu caught a glimpse of the boy. “Farm you say?” At the youngster’s nod he asked, “How far away is it?”

“Only a short distance.” Pointing a finger at a narrow path that he had just come from, d’Artagnan looked back at the men. “I’d say a five or ten minute walk from here.”

“What do you say to a stroll, Sire?” Amused, despite the interruption in their journey, Richelieu waited upon the young monarch’s decision.

“Among the hedges and sheep?” Even he had a sense of humor and understood the cardinal’s small jab at him. Giving a firm nod of agreement to Richelieu, King Louis turned back to the lad. “We shall accompany you to your home.” At his words, he observed stunned surprise come over the youth. Obviously the boy apparently thought that he and the cardinal would stay with the carriage.

“Give me five minutes, Your Majesty, to prepare my maman for your visit upon our doorstep lest she pass out from the shock of it.” Bowing before the king, d’Artagnan turned to depart. But barely a footstep he took before the young monarch called out to him.

“What name do you go by, young man?”

“D’Artagnan, Sire.” Then he took off racing down the path that led to his home.

Watching the lad, until he disappeared from view, the men turned to look at one another. Puzzlement on both their faces.

“Does not that boy's name sound vaguely familiar to you, Your Majesty?” Trying to remember where he had heard it before, Richelieu stroked his goatee.

“It does but tis too hot for me to wrack my brain thinking upon it.” Responding dryly to the question, King Louis poked his head out the window to hail one of the men. "You, Guard! What the deuce do you think you're doing with that wheel!" Glancing at the cardinal, he snapped. "I'm surrounded by incompetence!"

Listening to King Louis bellow to one of the guards, Richelieu dwelled on the young Gascon's name. “Given enough time I’m sure it will come to me.” Talking more to himself than to the young king, Richelieu hadn't comprehended His Majestys' words. "You were saying, Sire?"

Waving a hand in the air, King Louis was disgusted. "Never mind. No one's paying attention to me anyway. Least of all our guards." Once more noting that same twit of a guard struggle with the broken wheel, while the other guards looked on not sure what to do with themselves, wincing King Louis closed his eyes against the sight.

++++

The d’Artagnan residence

HERE!” Shrieking in distress, Francoise shook a finger at her child. “Your jesting, Charles,” she huffed. “Tis not amusing in the slightest.”

“I promise you on my very life, maman, that right now His Majesty and the cardinal are sweating it out in their broken carriage.” Papa was standing off to his right, eager as he was to gather the men together.

“My house is a disaster!” Looking about her, Francoise didn’t know what to take care of first.

“Mon amour, you always say that when unexpected guests drop by,” Alexandre drolly remarked earning a hearty chuckle from his son.

“These are not simply guests, Alexandre!” Not enjoying her husband’s levity when faced with a visit from such noble men, Francoise tutted quietly to herself.

“I have to get back to them quickly or they may both perish from the heat.” Knowing that he was being overly dramatic, d’Artagnan felt an urgent need to return to the king and cardinal as soon as possible.

“If young Louis’ patience is as thin as King Henry’s,” remembering those days fighting in the wars for the old king, Alexandre grimaced, “I’d say you better take off now, Charles.”

Not needing any extra incentive, d’Artagnan was out the front door like a flash of lightning.

++++

Back to the broken down royal carriage

It took but a moment for d’Artagnan to catch his breath from running before getting his words out. “Papa is coming with several retainers to help fix that wheel.” Opening the door he waited for His Majesty and Cardinal Richelieu to exit it.

Guiding the men carefully down the path, leading to his home, d’Artagnan listened to a brief conversation between the two older men.

“I still do not see any hedges and sheep.” Knowing better than to keep annoying the young king, Richelieu couldn’t help himself. His Majesty was so easy to rise to the bait. Twas the only amusement he could afford from this situation.

“You are correct… this time, Cardinal.” Observing farms dotting the hillsides, King Louis spotted cows and horses meandering about the pastures. Helping themselves to the abundance of green grass covering the landscape. There wasn’t a sheep or hedge in sight. Deciding to make light conversation with the lad, King Louis glanced at the younger man beside him. “D’Artagnan, have you ever been to Paris?”

Smiling at the thought of that one day happening, d’Artagnan shook his head. “Non, I have not had that opportunity yet.”

“May I ask how you knew who we were?” Posing that question to the young Gascon, Cardinal Richelieu added, “Because there was recognition in your eyes almost instantly upon seeing us.”

“First, there was your carriage,” d’Artagnan chuckled. “None of our neighbors have anything so fine to ride in.” His remark caused the king to snort in amusement and the cardinal to simply give d’Artagnan a twitch of lips. “Secondly, His Majesty fit the description my papa told me of the king.” A quick look at His Eminence had d’Artagnan grinning. “After that it didn’t take much to figure out who you were, My Lord, all dressed in blood red.”

“Your père described me, you say?” Exchanging glances with Richelieu, King Louis was curious of the boy’s words.

“Papa had been to the city a few years ago and had the honor of seeing you during a dedication ceremony. He described you perfectly.” Merde! Wondering if he had blundered by saying it the way he had, d’Artagnan held his breath waiting for the fall out.

“Then perhaps he said I was quite a handsome fellow.” Laughing loudly at his own jest, King Louis caught a spark of amusement dancing in Cardinal Richelieu’s eyes.

“Er,” clearing his throat, d’Artagnan’s eyes veered away from the young monarch, “something to that affect, Sire.”

“Well put, d’Artagnan,” Cardinal Richelieu offered, silently amused at how diplomatic the Gascon had chosen to be.

Not quite to his house yet, d'Artagnan noted papa and several other men were coming their way. When they drew close enough he introduced everyone to his regal companions.

Dipping his head to the young monarch, Alexandre studied the king. "You very much have the look of King Henry about you, Your Majesty."

"Had you ever met him in person, Monsieur d'Artagnan?" Arranging himself under the shade of a tree, keeping the hot Gascon sun off his person, King Louis observed the older Gascon's eyes crinkle up in the corners.

"Sire, I served in the wars under King Henry, along with my good friend Jean-Armand," Alexandre chuckled. "Who has been the captain of your Musketeers for a good while now."

Snapping his fingers, King Louis became excited. "Tis why your name had a familiar ring to it." Looking at the cardinal's curious face he went on to say, "I remembered my old fox speaking about some daring exploits he had during the wars with a fellow brother-in-arms." Clasping Monsieur d'Artagnan's shoulder, King Louis was very pleased to meet the other half of that duo. "You, sir, did your country proud."

Once more dipping his head in thanks for the high praise, Alexandre glanced at his son. "Charles, how far is it to the carriage?"

"Just down the end of this road. You can't miss it nor the Red Guards melting in the heat." Not daring to laugh at his quip, d'Artagnan noted that His Majesty and Cardinal Richelieu rather thought it funny judging by their own chuckles.

"Speaking of guards," Alexandre wondered at the lack of them now.

"We assumed there were no assassins lingering about in the trees," Richelieu remarked. "Nor the hedges or among the sheep," he added as a gentle jibe at the young king. "Therefore we deemed it safe and told our guards to remain with the carriage to help you and your men."

Amusement danced in d'Artagnan's bright eyes. Gascony, unfortunately, had a reputation that's carried far and wide. Its lush greenery, and oui its hedges as well, along with farmers in the area that raised sheep have become a butt of jests which most Gascons had gotten used to.

"As to the Red Guards being of help," stopping himself from saying anything further derogatory about them, King Louis clamped down on his words, "I believe you'll have to rely on your own people."

Understanding what the young king hadn't said, Alexandre refrained from saying anything further upon it. "Charles, continue on home before Francoise has a heart attack waiting for all of you." Slapping his son's back, Alexandre and his retainers continued their trek to the carriage.

"We're sorry for putting your parents out like this." Walking side-by-side with the king, Richelieu pondered the scenery.

"Maman's just anxious," d'Artagnan explained. "She's never entertained royalty before."

"Just so, I don't want to be the cause of her concern." When the house came into view, King Louis had to admit that the d'Artagnan's had a fine home with a good amount of land to go with it. He noted a woman standing on the porch, no doubt this was Madame d'Artagnan. As he approached, King Louis could tell she was nervous simply by the way Madame was wringing her hands together. "Good God woman relax! I am not going to devour you!"

Startled at how His Majesty had addressed her, Francoise glanced at her equally surprised son.

Sighing, Cardinal Richelieu stepped forward to smooth things out. "What I believe His Majesty was trying to say, Madame," he dryly said, "was that there is no need to be nervous."

Perking up, coming back a bit to herself, Francoise returned tartly, "I'd say there was every need when the king of France drops into our lap." In a huff, she opened the door waiting for the men to pass through first. D'Artagnan, she noted, hung back with a pinched look about his face. "What?"

"Drops into our lap?" Repeating maman's words, d'Artagnan rolled his eyes. "Really?" Shaking his head he followed her inside.

++++

Realizing his initial greeting fell somewhat flat, King Louis tried to make up for it. "Tis as lovely a home inside as out, Madame. I commend you and your family."

"Tis what comes from hard labor," going to the wine cabinet Francoise retrieved a bottle of Anjou and several empty glasses, "and working all the hours God gives us."

Taken slightly aback at the woman's words, King Louis turned a quizzical eye upon the cardinal. "I'm not quite sure if she was complaining or praising God."

"Oh her meaning was quite clear to me, Your Majesty" Cardinal Richelieu politely murmured.

"Tis bad form not to share your thoughts with me, Cardinal." A bit irked, King Louis began roaming around the room taking everything in.

While pouring the drinks, Francoise silently cursed her wayward tongue. What an impression she had just given those two men. Handing a full glass of wine to first the king and then to His Eminence, Francoise ushered them over to the cushioned highback chairs. Realizing she had made a hash of their meeting so far, Francoise belatedly introduced herself. "Forgive me for not saying so earlier but I am Francoise d'Artagnan."

Setting his glass aside, King Louis took her right hand and placed a light kiss upon it. "Tis a pleasure." He put aside the woman's obvious upset with him. If he was honest with himself, and King Louis always tried to be, he hadn't come off with the best of impressions either.

Making the sign of the cross in the air, Cardinal Richelieu murmured a silent prayer over her. "May the good Lord protect you and your family, Madame," he dipped his head. "Tis a great kindness you and your husband have shown us."

"Merci." Blushing, she wasn't sure if it was from the heat of the day or from when His Majesty kissed her hand. A story to tell Alexandre later and something to gossip about with her neighbors as well.

"Madame," King Louis spoke up, "since your husband is fixing our carriage I am most curious to understand why he did not enter the ranks of the Musketeers when he had ample opportunity to do so." There was a look of pain that crossed the woman's face quickly and faded just as fast. Perhaps he should not have said anything. "We had a brief conversation and I came to know he served in the wars with Captain Treville."

"Alexandre came back home uncertain if he should serve in the regiment. King Henry had offered him the position because of his excellent service to France but as I said Alexandre was hesitant. His parents were getting on in years you see and there was no one else to take over working his family's farm." Her son already had heard this story so it was nothing new to him, yet Francoise observed d'Artagnan raptly paying attention as if this was the first time he had ever heard it. "Then shortly after his return to Lupiac he met me at a local town celebration and one thing led to another." Clasping her hands tightly together Francoise studied the two men listening to her, both of them were hard to read.

"I understand parental duty all too well, Madame." Reaching for his glass of wine again, King Louis sipped at it savoring its full-bodied flavor. "Twas a hard decision for a soldier to make but I applaud it. Even though it meant that the Musketeers lost out on a good man in the process."

"The church encourages families to stay and work together through the good and the bad times," Richelieu added. "Your husband had already bravely served his country and he then made a wise choice to do his duty for family."

"From what I can see, Monsieur d'Artagnan was successful in all things." Raising his glass in the air, King Louis caught Madame's eye and smiled. "Now, d'Artagnan, what of you?"

"Me, Sire?" Not expecting the conversation to suddenly turn in his direction, d'Artagnan was speechless.

"Oui," adding his voice to the young monarch's, Richelieu too was curious to know what the boy's plans for the future were. Would he stay here on the farm and work the land or would the lad set his sights higher.

All eyes were on him now so d'Artagnan blurted out what was in his heart. "One day I would like to visit Paris. Perhaps have a chance to meet Captain Treville too."

"Treville has never before met you?" questioned Richelieu. "I understood your père to say that he and Treville were good friends."

"They are but papa told me that after the wars, Monsieur Treville stayed in Paris and only came back for the marriage of my parents." Glancing at maman, d'Artagnan was encouraged to continue. "Papa and Monsieur Treville keep up a regular correspondence but as yet the captain and I have not had the opportunity to set eyes upon each other."

"Let's say you do get to Paris and meet up with my old fox, what say you then, d'Artagnan?" Steepling his fingers, King Louis peered over them at the youngster.

"I would hope for an opportunity to test my mettle against his and let Monsieur Treville judge whether or not I have it in me to make a good Musketeer for Your Majestys' regiment."

"Very well said." Nodding his head in approval, King Louis turned his attention back to Madame. "Would you happen to have something I could write on?"

"Come with me into Alexandre's study." Beckoning the king to follow her Francoise got up from her chair. "Everything you need will be on his desk." Leaving the young king to it, she went back to the parlor.

After a few minutes had passed, King Louis walked out of the study to approach the young Gascon. Placing a folded piece of paper in d'Artagnan's hand, he watched as the boy read it.

"Sire, I don't... don't know... what to say." Stunned beyond all belief at what His Majesty wrote, d'Artagnan for the second time that day was speechless.

Holding up a hand, King Louis grinned. "Then don't say anything, young man."

"Sire," coming to stand beside the king, Richelieu wanted to know what His Majesty had just given the lad that apparently shocked d'Artagnan so, "may I ask what you have done?"

"You may ask, Cardinal," King Louis drawled. "Perhaps I'd rather you guess."

"Your Eminence, the king gave me a letter of introduction to give Captain Treville." Holding out the note for the cardinal to read d'Artagnan let it slip from his fingers.

Upon reading the missive, Richelieu frowned. Handing it back to the boy, he glanced at the king who appeared rather smug. "Why not give d'Artagnan a choice of becoming a Red Guard?"

"I fancy Blue is more the lad's color." Eyes wide and innocent as a child's, King Louis smiled charmingly at the cardinal.

"As would Red." Annoyed that His Majesty managed to snap up someone whom Richelieu had a feeling would have a great impact on everyone's lives, he told himself they would discuss the matter on the way back to the city. It then came to him that neither of them had asked d'Artagnan his age. Cardinal Richelieu took it upon himself to do just that. "How old are you now, young man?"

"Seventeen, My Lord."

Finding this out, King Louis was pleased all the more. "D'Artagnan, I then expect to see you show yourself at the Garrison shortly after your eighteenth natal day." Tapping the note that was back in the lad's hands King Louis chuckled, highly pleased with himself.

"Twill be next year, Sire." Going to stand beside maman d'Artagnan felt her smaller hand slip into his own, squeezing gently.

Clapping his hands together, King Louis was gleeful as he bounced around the room. "Perfect!"

When the door swung open to admit a somewhat disheveled and sweat-stained Alexandre, the king and cardinal realized their departure was now imminent.

"It took some doing but the wheel's been fixed and your guards are waiting for you both." As the king went to put a pouch of coins in his hands, Alexandre waved the money aside. "No payment is required, Sire."

"Tis nothing more than we'd do for anyone, Your Majesty." Going to stand beside her husband, Francoise was more than proud of Alexandre.

"My thanks to all of you for your kindness." Once again taking Madame's hand into his own, King Louis gently kissed it. Turning to Monsieur d'Artagnan he slapped the man heartily on the shoulder. "I've been told I'm a good judge of character. Well, sir, I see greatness in young d'Artagnan here and I have plans for him."

Worn out from the heat of the day, and fixing that wheel, Alexandre didn't know what to make of the king's words. Catching bemused expressions his wife and son both wore told him he had missed a great deal. Alexandre was sure they wouldn't keep him in the dark indefinitely.

"I will add my thanks along with the king's." Saying that, Richelieu followed His Majesty out the door. Young d'Artagnan quickly followed, rushing past them once back outside, to lead the way to their carriage.

++++

Enroute to Paris

"The apple does not fall far from the tree, Cardinal."

"And you think this particular apple will be the top of the crop?" Richelieu mused.

"Indeed," King Louis chuckled delightedly. "D'Artagnan will make a fine addition to my Musketeers. So our mishap in Lupiac ended up being most beneficial."

"I'd rather say that the boy would make a fine Red Guard instead, Your Majesty."

"Are you deliberately trying to be disagreeable?" Annoyed, King Louis glared at his companion.

"Non," Richelieu grinned wickedly. "I am warning you as of this moment I intend to steal that lad away from you."

"Duly noted, Cardinal. Duly noted." Laughing at what King Louis thought was a jest he said. "Still, why waste your time? I feel it in my bones that d'Artagnan will become a Musketeer and a great one at that."

"Red Guard."

"Musketeer."

"Red Guard."

"Really, Cardinal?" Huffing, King Louis' ire rose again. "Care to make a small wager on that?"

Slumping in his seat, Richelieu should have seen this coming. "If I must, Your Majesty."

"Give me but a moment, Cardinal, to make up my mind how many livre to steal from your full pockets."

Observing the rolling hillsides once more go by, Richelieu vowed that he would be the one to make the king's pockets lighter.

The End

Chapter Text

A year later...

Mid morn - Royal Palace, King Louis' chambers

"Are you still anxious for your farm boy to present himself, Sire?" A devilish expression crossed Richelieu's features. "I think the lad's rustic upbringing would not have prepared him for the rigors of a Musketeer life." Lying through his teeth, he hoped the young monarch fell for his own change of heart toward the promising young Gascon.

Attempting to appear bored, with a quirk of a lone brow, King Louis shot back, "or a Red Guard eh, Cardinal?" Two could play at this game. "I don't believe you've changed your mind about Charles. Have you forgotten that just last week you kept harping about how the boy would look better draped in a red cape."

Grimacing, Richelieu belatedly remembered that conversation. So much for showing the king an about face.

It was then that Treville had entered the room, albeit silently so that neither man had noticed his arrival.. Young Louis had given him the barest run down on what happened when the king's royal carriage had broken down in Lupiac. But ever since then His Majesty's been bouncing around like a happy puppy over something that had taken place back there. Neither had Treville received the full story from Cardinal Richelieu either. They were both hiding something from him and that bothered Treville greatly.

"Oh there you are, my old fox." Motioning for Treville to draw closer, King Louis smirked. The look was meant for the cardinal, knowing that he had outsmarted the older man. Gazing into the captain's curious face, he smiled.

Suspicious upon how His Majesty was acting, and the strange looks being passed between Richelieu and the king, Treville's eyes narrowed all the more. "Sire, are you sure there isn't something I should be made aware of?"

"To what do you refer, Treville?" Knowing Charles d'Artagnan had already turned eighteen years of age a few weeks past, King Louis had been on pins and needles since then. Having not told the youth to write and let him know of his arrival, all he could do was assume the boy would soon be en route to Paris. Wanting to surprise the captain of his Musketeers, King Louis had kept silent on the subject. Something to which he and Cardinal Richelieu had agreed upon.

"Last year when the both of you were in Gascony," Treville said somewhat dryly, knowing full well that both men knew what he was talking about. Something interesting must have occurred because Treville noted Richelieu covering his mouth. It appeared His Eminence was hiding a grin.

"Just that I've arranged," throwing Richelieu a pointed look, King Louis' expression grew smug once more, "and rather nicely too even if I do say so myself, for a prospective cadet to arrive shortly."

"What's this man's name, if I may be allowed to inquire?" Waiting for the answer, Treville caught a strange expression spread over the cardinal's features.

"Mmmmm." Humming to himself, King Louis made a show of studying his fingernails. "You'll know it when he arrives."

Now Treville began to think this was a huge joke being played out for Richelieu's benefit and that there wasn't anyone to be expected from Gascony to grace the Musketeer regiment.

"Two thousand livre I believe was the bet, Cardinal." Dark eyes alight with mirth, showing off a full set of white teeth, King Louis grinned with delight.

"I do believe that was the amount, Your Majesty." His voice dry as dust, Richelieu sighed.

"Your coffers will thank you when the time comes." Jesting with Richelieu was always a joyful experience for King Louis. Especially when it was he that expected to gain from it.

Listening to them Treville had to admit that it sounded like they truly were expecting someone but he had other matters of grave import occupying his mind. Treville had no time to be concerned upon this mysterious person that was to arrive. He had come to discuss a worrisome accusation being raised against the Musketeer regiment. Someone had been robbing citizens pretending to be one of the king's finest. In some cases murder had been involved. It was enough to make Treville sick to his stomach that such deeds were being carried out. "Sire, I have things we need to speak upon."

Waving his hand in dismissal, King Louis waited for Cardinal Richelieu to depart. Just as the guards opened the doors for His Eminence, King Louis shouted out, "Two thousand livre, Cardinal!"

Not daring to turn around, Richelieu's back stiffened at the reminder. He vowed that it would be the king whom would need reminding. Having plans already set in motion, what the young monarch didn't know wouldn't hurt him until King Louis was the one two thousand livre lighter.

++++

Lupiac, Gascony

"I don't understand," tutted Francoise. "I thought you were going to Paris with Alexandre." Clucking her tongue, she was confused. "Instead the cardinal sends a royal carriage for you."

"The Red Guards that came with it told me I was to present myself to His Eminence instead of the king." His belongings had already been packed since yesterday since d'Artagnan had thought to be traveling with papa by horseback today. Telling the guards that he wasn't about to leave his horse behind, one of them tethered Zad to the back of the carriage.

"Charles, if you are determined to be a Musketeer then you must put your foot down to the cardinal," advised Alexandre. "You have to go on as you mean to."

"Does one put one's foot down upon Cardinal Richelieu's?" Thinking it a reasonable question, d'Artagnan waited to see if papa had a reasonable answer. When the older man shrugged, giving him a rueful look, d'Artagnan sadly shook his head. So much for saged advice.

"I thought we'd have a few more hours with you before you left." Her eyes shifting from the one guard who planted himself inside their home, and back again to her son, Francoise felt like pushing the soldier back outside. Going up to Charles she threw her arms around him. The two clung together for a few long minutes.

Kissing maman on both wet cheeks, d'Artagnan had to admit his own eyes were beginning to sting. "I shall write as often as I can."

"Remember my words, boy," Alexandre gruffly snorted. "Don't let the cardinal bully you into joining his company of guards." Because that's what Alexandre knew lay behind this elaborate charade of Richelieu's. His Eminence was showing off by sending his own private carriage to pick up Charles, even throwing in a few Red Guards.

"I won't, papa." With a cheeky wink, d'Artagnan happily reminded his parents. "I look horrible in the color red."

++++

Slightly over two weeks later, past noon - Palais-Cardinal

With the carriage slowly coming to a halt, d'Artagnan poked his head out the window to gaze upon the grounds. Red Guards were stationed all over the palace like flies. Pensive, he stepped out of the carriage to retrieve his belongings. The one guard told him that Zad would be placed in the cardinal's own stables until d'Artagnan had need of him.

During the entire time d'Artagnan was being escorted to Cardinal Richelieu's office, he kept complaining. "Really I was ordered by King Louis to present myself to Captain Treville... not the cardinal!" His words fell on deaf ears, it would seem. Pulling a letter from the pocket of his jacket d'Artagnan waved it in the air like a flag. "I even have His Majesty's note of introduction!"

"Just doing as commanded," the older guard told him. He had been in charge of the mission to pick the boy up.

"I'm going to be in trouble with the king -" d'Artagnan's words were cut off when the guard's hand sliced through the air.

"Not our concern. Cardinal Richelieu wanted you here and here you are."

"Tell me something I don't know," d'Artagnan snapped. Really he shouldn't be mad at this soldier. As the other man said he had been only following orders.

++++

Having done as Captain Treville had asked, by dropping off papers of some import that the cardinal urgently needed, the inseparables had observed the arrival of a young man. Going by the boy's coloring, similar to their captain's, they assumed he hailed from Gascony. The olive-tone complexion was a telling sign as, apparently, was the temper. It amused them overhearing the lad's repetitive words to the Red Guards.

"Wonder who the kid is."

"Doesn't sound like he wants to see Richelieu," Aramis mused. He was as curious about the newcomer as Porthos.

"Who in their right man would be looking forward to an interview with His Eminence?" Lips curled upward, Athos went over to where he had left Roger. "Anyway tis non of our concern."

"But the boy said that King Louis had ordered him to see the Captain Treville." Mounting Belle, Aramis exchanged puzzled looks with his brothers.

"We have enough upon our plates to worry upon what with all the robberies blackening the good reputation of the entire regiment." He should not have had to remind them of that. Upon gaining his own mount, Athos led the way back to the Garrison.

++++

Cardinal Richelieu's office

"Charles!" Getting up from the chair, walking around his desk, Richelieu went to greet the young Gascon. "You look well. How was your journey?"

"Long and boring since I was trapped inside the carriage most of the time, My Lord."

"How refreshing to hear such open honesty." Richelieu didn't know whether to be pleased upon that facet of Charles' character or not. "Tis not a commodity practiced by the courtiers that hang about the royal court." Pleased that the lad's spirit was the same as when they had first met, he studied the youth. "I suppose you were surprised when my carriage arrived, mmmmm?"

Hands under his arm pits, d'Artagnan rocked back and forth upon the balls of his feet. "You could say that."

"I truly want for you to seriously consider joining my Red Guards."

"All due respect, Your Eminence, my dream for years had been of becoming a Musketeer ever since I was old enough to listen to papa's old war stories." Smiling, an impish light entered his brown orbs. "Besides blue has always been my favorite color."

Pressing his lips together, Richelieu decided to take the young man on a personal tour in hopes of persuading the boy to change his mind. Perhaps when the lad sees how well trained his Red Guards were Charles would capitulate. Richelieu even tried to sweeten the pot. "I believe you'll turn out to be a man of many surprises and talents. You could rise far under my tutelage. Perhaps one day even becoming captain of my guards."

Realizing what the cardinal was attempting to do d'Artagnan simply nodded his head and hummed in all the correct places, without commenting one way or the other.

"Come." With a light hand upon the boy's back, Richelieu guided Charles outside.

++++

More than an hour later found Richelieu back in his office pinching the bridge of his nose. Having let Charles go off with one of his guards to take the lad to the Royal Palace, Richelieu couldn't believe what he had witnessed today. It had been a miserable showing, as far as he had been concerned. A dressing down of his own captain would be coming shortly and woe be it to that officer.

Instead of finding his men practicing their shooting skills, Richelieu discovered several of them enjoying a game of cards. The few that were attempting target practice missed their marks by a wide margin. Listening to Charles snickering hadn't done much for Richelieu's temper either. After soundly berating his men, he told them they'd all be put on report. As for the ones that were poor shots he went to find the guard in charge of them, giving that man a thorough chewing out.

Coming back to where the Gascon stood, Richelieu shrugged his shoulders. "Tis to be hoped there will never be a repeat performance of this again." The amused light still shining in Charles' eyes began to irritate him. At least the young man hadn't said anything derogatory. If he had Richelieu didn't know how he'd react.

When both of them eventually ended up at the stables, it was to find utter chaos. Several of the horses were creating havoc, knocking down posts and kicking out at his men. Three of whom were now face down on the ground. About to yell at them, he found the lad's hand upon his arm. Charles indicated, with a wave of his hand, where he wanted to go so Richelieu let him wander over toward the unsettled horses. Amazed, he observed the boy grab their reins and whisper something in their ears. Running a hand from their foreheads down to their muzzles in a repetitive motion, followed by doing the same thing to their flanks, the horses began to calm down.

One Red Guard exclaimed, in stunned amazement, "You did not just do that!"

"Non? Watch I'll do it again." These guards weren't exactly bright, d'Artagnan thought. Then spotting a whip being held by one of the men, he had a few choice words to dish out. Oh and look... apparently one of the older soldier's took exception to d'Artagnan telling the other guard off for hurting the horses. He so did not want to get into a fight. Not that d'Artagnan couldn't handle himself but it wouldn't leave a good impression with the cardinal. Even though he had no intention of joining His Eminence's regiment, d'Artagnan didn't want to make an enemy of the first minister.

Noting after the horses had settled that Charles began snapping at some of the Red Guards, Richelieu decided to step in before a fight broke out. Which began to look a likely proposition.

"My thanks, Charles." Dark eyes skimmed over the horses looking for any signs of what would have caused their distress. With a question upon his lips, he turned toward the young Gascon.

"Someone had whipped them." Pointing to some slash marks on their flanks and the Red Guard holding the whip, d'Artagnan caught the flash of anger in the cardinal's eyes. Once again he had been witness to soldier's behaving badly. This didn't speak well of the Red Guards in his eyes.

"I hope what you have seen thus far doesn't turn you against joining us." Muttering under his breath, Richelieu murmured a quick prayer. Before leaving the stables he had words with one of his men that was in charge of the horse's care. By the time he was done reaming the man out, the guard was red with embarrassment.

Hoping to do better, Richelieu took the lad over to where a group of more soldiers were practicing sword play. This would be more appealing to Charles than anything he had shown him. Observing his men, and every once in awhile watching the boy's reaction, Richelieu found himself frowning at the faces the young Gascon was making. Wondering if Charles were ill he asked, "Something wrong?"

Upon watching the messy footwork and mishandling of the swords, d'Artagnan couldn't stand it any longer and looked away. When Cardinal Richelieu had asked him if he were sick, he snorted. "Your men need better teachers. If they ended up in a sword fight they'd come out the losers."

Lips tightening a fraction, Richelieu didn't know whether or not to take Charles' words seriously or berate the younger man for his audacity. The boy was only fresh off the farm to begin with. Still Charle's père more than likely taught the lad how to handle a blade with skill. "Care to show them how tis done then?"

"Thought you'd never ask." Laughing, d'Artagnan sauntered over and talked to the Red Guard who appeared in charge of the lessons. But the other man wasn't pleased to have a total stranger take over. D'Artagnan tried to explain that Cardinal Richelieu said it would be fine. Unfortunately the Red Guard got even angrier and shoved d'Artagnan away.

"Do you want a piece of my mind?" the Red Guard growled at the upstart.

Arms folded, a smirk dancing about his lips, d'Artagnan retorted, "Oh non, I couldn't take the last piece."

When the Red Guard's face flushed bright red, d'Artagnan noted that the soldier glanced back at the cardinal. Whatever the guard saw in His Eminence' face must have changed his mind as he relented. When the older man stepped aside to let d'Artagnan take over, he began showing the younger guard how to hold the blade properly. Then he began on the footwork and so forth.

Knowing the Gascon youth was in his element, Richelieu continued to patiently watch. Crooking a finger at the guard who had been in charge of training, he smacked the man upside the back of the head.

By the time d'Artagnan had finished the lesson, the young guard was on the ground dazedly staring back up at him. With a rueful shake of his head, d'Artagnan resheathed his blade and helped the other man up. Rejoining the cardinal, giving His Eminence one of his eyerolls, he asked, "Do I have your permission to leave for the Garrison now, Cardinal?"

Angry with how things had turned out, Richelieu couldn't think upon words that would make this turn out in his favor. "I believe Captain Treville is at the Louvre today. Something about clearing up a case of mistaken identity. I'll have one of my men show you the way." The rest of his words stuck in Richelieu's throat and so with a jerk of his head he dismissed the boy.

"Oh, merci, for the tour, My Lord. It was quite illuminating."

Grimacing at the words of a farm boy, Richelieu wearily hung his head, realizing that two thousand livre would shortly be out of his pockets and into the king's.

++++

Royal Palace - Royal Throne Room

"Boring!" Voice ringing out loud and clear, King Louis' eyes skimmed the crowd gathered in attendance. "Facts!" he pounded his fist down hard upon the arm of his chair. "Is that so much to ask for?" He pointed a finger at the man accusing Athos, his brave and loyal Musketeer, of robbery and killing of innocent Parisian citizens.

This had been going on for quite some time now and King Louis was beginning to become impatient with it all. Leaning back against his chair, he looked straight back at the room. Noting the doors open and close to admit someone, he instantly stood up as if a fire had been lit underneath him. "Finally! You have arrived!"

Confusion set in as not a person there, least of all any of the Musketeers, understood to whom the king was addressing.

Stepping down from the dais, King Louis practically ran over to greet Charles. Engulfing the lad in a tight hug, until the boy began squirming, he began peppering the young man with questions. Finding out about the sneaky tactics of the cardinal, King Louis began furiously thinking how to get back at His Eminence. Ignoring all else in the room, he continued to speak with the Gascon.

Puzzled as to what was going on, Treville stepped forward. "Sire, we're not done here."

Glancing over his old fox's shoulder, King Louis noted that every person in the room was staring expectantly at him. Airily waving a hand he announced, "Tis over! Musketeer Athos is cleared of all charges! The man was never guilty in the first place! Now everyone go away do!"

Scratching their heads, the inseparables could only dumbly stare at one another closely followed by Captain Treville's questionable look. Something was afoot and they weren't privvy to it nor was their commanding officer.

The more Treville studied the boy, something nagged at the back of his mind. "The lad looks familiar for some reason." Tapping his chin in thought, he glanced at his men.

"Is it just me," Aramis interjected, "or does anybody else panic when somebody says 'you look familiar'?

Ignoring the marksman's words, Treville remained focused on the young stranger. If he hadn't known better he'd have said that the lad had the look of Alexandre d'Artagnan about him. When the youth turned to look his way, Treville's mouth fell open in shock. "You can't be!"

"Can't I, sir?" Knowing that this was his papa's old friend, d'Artagnan felt somehow humbled to be in the man's presence.

Clapping his hands together, King Louis danced around his old fox. "I've managed to keep this a secret from you for an entire year, Treville," he chuckled. "I had forbidden the cardinal to say anything either. Though it was naughty of him to try and steal you away from me, Charles."

"Oh to that," d'Artagnan's eyes landed on three soldiers standing close to the captain, "His Eminence's Red Guards have nothing on Your Majesty's Musketeers."

Placing his hands upon the lad's shoulders, Treville's eyes roamed over the youth's face. "Charles d'Artagnan, as I live and breathe." Pulling the boy in for a quick hug, he chuckled. "So your the reason the king's been acting so strangely."

"He has?" A peek at the young monarch's gleeful reaction gave insight to d'Artagnan as to how the year had passed around here.

"Do I assume that you've come to train with us?" Throwing an arm about the lad's shoulder, Treville brought him over to the inseparables.

"I turned eighteen a few weeks ago and Paris was my destination after that."

Holding out his arm, Treville introduced his men to the boy. "These are my finest soldiers and my most troublesome ones too."

Each man stepped forward wearing a grin, all except Athos. The latter's blue eyes studied the Gascon, trying to figure out what all the fuss was about.

King Louis was still dancing about the room crowing upon how he had won the bet.

Thinking back, d'Artagnan remembered Cardinal Richelieu mumbling something that he probably thought went unheard. Not only had d'Artagnan heard but he had understood. "Two thousand livre I believe wasn't it, Sire?"

Facing the young Gascon, King Louis clapped his hands again. "Exactly right and I'm going to personally see to collecting it myself right now. Pardon me while I make arrangements to drop in on His Eminence." Practically skipping through the doors King Louis suddenly remembered something. "Oh, Charles, you and I will talk more once I return."

Upon the king's departure d'Artagnan, slightly bemused at His Majesty's behavior, turned to face the inseparables. "Is it going to be like this all the time?"

It was Porthos that answered the young Gascon's question. "Whelp ya 'aven't seen anythin' yet."

The End

++++

Notes:

Mysteryfan17 gave me the idea of Captain Treville being suspicious of the king because of the young monarch's words to the cardinal and how His Majesty's been acting this past year. He gets King Louis to admit that a promising young man is coming to be a recruit. But since the king won't tell Treville the name, the captain doesn't really believe him. Meanwhile Richelieu tries to downplay his interest in the young Gascon they met, while secretly trying to get the boy to Paris without the king finding out. There will be a point where the inseparables see d'Art being taken to the Palais-Cardinal complaining he was to have been presented to Treville.

Love This' idea was for when King Louis was listening to the trumped up charges on Athos, having been accused of killing and robbing citizens, to drop all charges upon seeing the young Gascon enter the royal throne room. He would be so pleased to see Charles that he could care less about anything else and so dismisses the charges against Athos.

Quotes: "You did not just do that! / No? Watch I'll do it again." - from Sarcastic Quotes & Sayings at www.coolnsmart.com.

Quote: "Do you want a piece of my mind? / Oh no, I couldn't take the last piece." - from Sarcastic Quotes & Sayings at www.coolnsmart.com.

Quote: ""Is it just me or does anybody else panic when somebody says 'you look familiar'?" - from Aunty Acid.