“Is he dead?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well check to see if he’s breathing for Christ’s sake!”
“You fucking look! I’m not getting near that sword of his!”
The first man threw up his hands in frustrated defeat. “Fine, I’ll fucking look.” He took a cautious step forward and was about to bend down when something inside told him that it wasn’t a good idea. He straightened up and took a quick look at the other man before extending his booted foot and giving the man laying on the cobblestones a gentle nudge. He quickly retreated to the other man’s side.
“You do it this time,” the first man whispered.
“Not for a hundred gold crowns.”
“We have to wake him soon,” the first complained.
“Wake him? We don’t even know if he’s alive!” The second hissed.
“Oh, he’s alive.” The first man bent down his eyes squinting at the prostrate man. “Nothing in heaven and earth can kill him.”
“Did you see how much wine and ale he drank last night?” The second man shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like that before and I doubt I’ll ever see that again.”
The first man let out a big sigh. “Not the first for me,” he mumbled. “Mind you, he did overdo it a bit last night.”
“Your master’s a drunk.”
The first man reacted in a flash. He drew his rapier from its scabbard with blinding speed and thrust the sharp edge against the other man’s throat. “You’re my friend Rheal, but I swear if you ever say that again, I’ll cut your throat before you finish the words!”
“Okay, I’m sorry!” Rheal put his hands up and gently, slowly, pushed the blade away. “I’m sorry, Jonas,” he repeated, “but you are going to have to do something with him and soon. I cannot stay here all morning.”
“We could try carrying him to the baths,” Jonas suggested. “He might not wake up until we throw him in the water.”
Rheal paled visibly at the suggestion. “Even if he doesn’t wake up, he’ll probably throw up all over us.” He pointed at his uniform with a shake of his head.
Jonas looked at his friends uniform and then at his own. Both wore the fine blue tabards with the Musketeer crosses on their left breasts and the feathered wide brimmed hats that marked them for what they were. The King’s own body guard.
“I’ll not have his stomach all over my coat and I’ve no time to change. I’m on duty in another hour!”
“Fine!” Jonas sheathed his sword and looked around for something to throw. He found a chunk of wood and hefted it, wondering if it would be enough and if it was, was it the smartest thing to do. The sudden clanging of the church bells made the decision for him.
“I’m going to stand over here,” Rheal said quickly when he realized what his friend was going to do. He retreated behind a stack of crates against the far wall.
“Coward,” Jonas called over his shoulder. He gave the wood one more heft then tossed it toward the unconscious man. He watched with some dread as the wood arced almost gracefully into the air and then fall.
His aim was perfect. The piece of wood fell on the man’s stomach with a dull thunking sound.
The man reacted instantly. As the wood bounced away he drew his sword and swung with a speed and accuracy that even a fully awake and sober man would find impossible to block. The blade sliced cleanly through the wood cutting it into two pieces before it touched the ground.
“Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus,” Rheal breathed in awe and made the sign of the cross on his breast.
Jonas leapt back as the blade swung again, barely missing his waist. “Peace, Master!” He yelled frantically. “It is Jonas!”
The man had risen to his knees and he held the blade out, the tip moving in dangerous little circles as if it were searching for a target. The blade lowered only slightly at the sound of the young man’s voice.
“Jonas?” The man croaked hoarsely.
“Yes, my Lord.” Jonas answered quickly. “And Rheal stands with me.”
“Oh fuck, you had to mention my name,” Rheal groaned from behind the crates.
“Who attacked me? Did you see who it was?” The man sat down, letting his sword drop from his hand. He rubbed his eyes trying to get them into focus.
“No one attacked you,” Jonas answered. He finally worked up the nerve to approach the man now that he was awake and sat down next to him on the cobblestones of the street. “I had to wake you before it was too late.”
“Too late?” The man opened an eye and cocked the matching eyebrow at the young man sitting next to him. “Too late for what?”
“Your ascension ceremony.” Jonas shook his head. “You are to be risen to the rank of doorkeeper today.”
The man lowered his head into his hands and rocked back and forth. “I haven’t forgotten.” He raised his head and looked at the sky. “What time is it now?”
“It is just past the tenth hour,” Jonas replied. He waved a quick goodbye to Rheal who was still hiding behind the crates.
The Musketeer gave a quick bow and ran from the alley.
“Who was that?”
“My friend, Rheal. He was with us last night and I employed his service this morning in my hunt for your whereabouts.”
The man nodded and winced. “I remember,” he groaned holding his head again. “At least I think I remember. I thought I told you never to let me drink that much again.”
Jonas shrugged. “I am not your mother and besides, it was a special occasion.”
The man chuckled but there was little mirth in the sound. He cocked the same eye at the young soldier again. “You have no idea how special.” He held out a hand. “Help an old man to his feet.”
Jonas grabbed the hand and pulled. “Old man is it? Just how old? Twenty-six? Twenty-seven?”
“You know damn well I’m only twenty-five,” the man growled.
Jonas removed his feathered hat and flourished it as he bowed low. “Forgive me Master Moreau.”
Moreau stretched to his full height of six feet and looked down at his companion. “I guess the master part will be true enough after today.” He looked around and found his sword.
Jonas moved quickly, his hand stretching out and grasping the hilt of Moreau’s sword. He held it up watching the light glint off the flat revealing a pattern of swirls running the entire length. The edges were keen and razor sharp. “Why do you insist on hanging onto this relic?”
“That relic belonged to the very first David Moreau, my grandfather to some fucking degree and one of the original members of the Ostiary.” Moreau grabbed the sword and checked the edge to see if it had been damaged during the night. Satisfied that it was okay, he slid it back into its scabbard.
Jonas raised his eyebrows, impressed. “I never knew that.”
“There’s a shitcart full of things you don’t know about me.”
“Doesn’t seem fair if you ask me. You know almost everything about me and I know only scraps about you.” Jonas looked at the sky and saw rain in the clouds. “I’ve been with you for almost a year. You would think I’d know more.”
“You would think.” Moreau put his hands to the small of his back and stretched his body as tall as it would go, a small groan escaping his lips. “That’s the whole idea of being an initiate. We find out about you, not the other way around.” He shook his arms and legs to get the feeling back into them. The motions seemed to shake what alcohol was left in his stomach and he belched and vomited almost at the same time. He wiped his mouth with a corner of his cape. “My master and I needed to make sure that you were worthy and skilled enough to eventually become a full member of the Order.”
“Still,” Jonas frowned.
Moreau clapped the young Musketeer on the shoulder. “Don’t let it rankle. Besides, some of that was your own fault. You are the first initiate to actually have another job.” Moreau picked at the material of Jonas’s tabard. “And a Musketeer no less. You spent far too much time away from us and I had to convince my master on several occasions that you were worth keeping.” Moreau set off along the alleyway at a brisk walk.
Jonas looked shocked at information. “I thought Master Brendon liked me?” he asked, struggling to keep up with the long strides of his master.
“Aye, he did.” Moreau’s brow furrowed at the memory of his late master. “Two days,” he whispered and shook his head.
“It has only been two days since his death and now we race to fill his spot in the Order as if the sun herself would fall from the heavens if we did not.”
“Is this not the normal way?”
Moreau shook his head, a dark cloud passing behind his bloodshot blue eyes. “There is nothing normal about anything of the past few days.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the unlooked for summons of my master and me to Paris, his untimely death and this urgency to fill his position within the Order are I fear, planned events.”
The unspoken implication of what Moreau had just said stopped Jonas in his tracks. “You think Master Brendon was murdered?”
Moreau turned as he continued to walk down the alley and put a finger to his lips. “We are watched,” he said in the younger man’s mind.
Jonas had to jog to catch up to the tall man. “What makes you think that?” He whispered when he finally reached Moreau’s side.
“I don’t think,” Moreau whispered back. “I know.”
“Who would do such a thing?”
“Ah, the ‘who’ is something we must find out.”
“The ‘why’ my friend is more easily answered and shall be in due course.” Moreau sniffed at the sleeve of his cloak and grimaced. “But first I need a bath and a change of clothing.” He eyed the darkening sky. “And I fear I shall have a cold one if we do not hurry.” He quickened his pace forcing his smaller companion into a trot.
They finally broke out of the alley and into the wide cobbles of the street.
Moreau eyed his surroundings with a confused look on his face. The tall, narrow buildings crowded together in a jumble of wood and stone. He sniffed the air with a grimace. “God, I hate Paris,” he grated. “Stinks almost as bad as I do.”
A window above them opened and they both looked up in time to see a woman empty the contents of a chamber pot into the street. Jonas stepped sideways behind his master as the contents hit the cobblestones and splattered all over Moreau.
The big man looked down at the mess. “Putain!” “Whore!” He growled.
“That’s disgusting,” Jonas choked the words out over the stench.
“I notice you were able to spare yourself this disgrace.”
“It’s my only uniform,” Jonas explained as he checked his clothing for any spots. “Besides, you’re going to take a bath and change. I took a bath last week. I’ve no wish to catch fever of the lung.”
Moreau waved the excuse away with his hand. “Let’s just get this day over with so we can leave this shit pile they call a city.” He started walking again. “Where the hell are we?”
“On the Petit Pont.” Jonas answered. He pointed to the south. “There’s Notre Dame in all her heavenly glory.”
Moreau turned his eyes in the same direction and took in the huge towers that dominated the landscape for miles around. “They certainly tried to reach heaven.” He changed directions now that he had his bearings. “Thank God my apartments are nearby,” he breathed.
They walked on down the road until they reached a large squat building badly in need of repair. Moreau took the steps two at a time leaving Jonas to follow in his wake. He opened the main door and began climbing another set of stairs leading to the second floor. He stopped at the top and reached into his vest and withdrew a large, black metal key.
Jonas reached the top and followed his master across the landing to the only door on the floor. He waited patiently while Moreau fit the key into the lock and opened the door. As he entered he flung his right hand in an almost absent gesture. Five small flames sprung from his fingertips and raced in different directions around the room until each settled on the wick of a candle.
Jonas crossed himself as he watched the flames fly about the room.
“I wish you’d stop doing that,” Moreau complained as he began stripping off his cloak, vest and tunic. He unbuckled his sword belt and leaned the sword against the bed.
“Sorry,” Jonas said a little embarrassed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.”
“Well you’d better. You are after all gifted with the same power and as my apprentice I’ll be expecting you to practice.”
Jonas nodded. “Still, it is a bit unnerving the way you casually do things.”
Moreau laughed. “Master Brendon had the same complaint. He felt I was too cavalier about it.”
Jonas smiled. He saw that the candle light barely lit the room and he moved to open one of the shuttered windows.
“Leave them,” Moreau ordered.
“But it is day outside and the light in here is dim.”
“There is enough for our purposes and I have no wish for someone outside watching us.”
Jonas shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed. He watched as the big man began stripping off his undergarments tossing them into a pile on the floor.
“Instead of watching me strip, you could go down and fetch up that lazy landlord and his son.”
Jonas leapt to his feet and headed for the door.
“Have the boy bring water for a bath!” Moreau called after the Musketeer.
Jonas returned a short time later and entered the room without knocking. He waited in the open doorway with the landlord and boy at his back as he checked to see if his master was ready.
“Let them in,” Moreau said casually. He sat naked on the end of the bed his muscled and heavily scarred arms stretched out behind him.
Jonas stepped aside and allowed the landlord and his son into the room. The landlord was short and barrel chested with a wide girth but there was nothing fat about him. He worked hard at his living and Moreau’s master had known the man from years before as a military campaigner and a good soldier. He limped into the room, his eyes squinting to see in the dim light. His son, a small skinny lad of ten or eleven followed with two wooden buckets of water. The boy immediately went to the tub and dumped the water in and left to get more.
“Master Lapointe,” Moreau called out. “I have some news for you and an errand.”
The landlord bowed. “I am as always, at your service monsieur.” He eyed the big man for a moment before asking. “What am I to have first? The instructions for the errand or the news?”
“The news I think.” Moreau stood up and walked over to the only table in the room. He picked up a small leather pouch and hefted it a couple of times in his hand. “My master and I have always enjoyed your hospitality in the past and it was always a comfort to know that our apartments here in Paris were always at the ready should we be in the city.”
“You are kind to say, sir but your master paid me well enough to keep them empty for you.”
Moreau smiled at the man. “I think we both know that you would rather leave your own bed empty then a room but that is just good business is it not?”
The landlord shrugged his shoulders.
Moreau barked a laugh and tossed the small bag toward the man. It clinked as he caught it. “After today, my young apprentice and I will be leaving Paris.”
Lapointe took the news in due course. “When does master Moreau intend on returning?”
“We will not.”
Jonas’s head jerked up when he heard the words but kept his silence.
Lapointe stood speechless for a bit. “I do not understand, sir,” he finally managed. “Have I not provided a good home for you and your recently departed master?” He made the sign of the cross as he mentioned Moreau’s dead master. “Perhaps there was a problem with the food?”
“There was no problem,” Moreau answered quickly. “We will not be returning to Paris.”
“This is sore news to my ears.” The landlord saw a chair and quickly slumped down into it.
“You will find others to fill the apartment.” Moreau tried to use a consoling tone but realized he had none.
“It will be harder than you think,” Lapointe complained. “There is rumor that the King will be moving his court to Versailles soon.” He cast an eye at Jonas for confirmation.
The young Musketeer held up his hands as if to say he had no news regarding the matter.
“You would think a King’s Musketeer would know such things.”
“You would think,” Jonas answered back.
The landlord let out a sigh. “What is the errand?”
“Go to the tailors and pick up two packages he has for me,” Moreau said gently. “Then go to the smithy at the end of the row and you’ll find another package there.” He pointed at the pouch now gripped tightly in the landlord’s hand. “There is enough money in that purse to pay both and enough left over to cover the rent on this apartment for one more year.”
The landlord’s eyes brightened a bit. “Many thanks to you good sir.”
“You have been a loyal and trustworthy man to my master and myself these many years. Master Brendon would want you rewarded for your troubles.”
“I was saddened at his passing.”
“We all were.”
The door opened and the landlord’s son entered carrying two more buckets of water.
“I will attend to your errand now.” The landlord stood and waited for his son to empty the buckets before leaving the room. Jonas walked to the door and closed it, making sure the latch was secure.
Moreau went over to the now full tub and stuck his right hand into the cold water. Lines creased his forehead as he concentrated and soon the water around his hand was steaming. “That should be enough.” He sighed as he lowered his body into the hot water. “Hand me some soap would you?”
Jonas found a cake of lye soap and tossed it at Moreau who caught it deftly and began rubbing the white bar over his chest.
“Is the King really moving the court to Versailles?”
Jonas nodded. “We are not allowed to openly speak of it but within two, maybe three years the palace there will be ready.”
“That does not bode well for the denizens of Paris.” Moreau began soaping his arms and legs. “Why Versailles? Last time I passed through there it was mostly forest and marshland.”
“It is partly because of the people of Paris that the King is moving. There have been too many riots and he fears an uprising would be better dealt with at a distance.”
“There is some merit in that.” Moreau paused to dunk his head under the water, his fingers working quickly to clean the tangled locks. “If I know Louis, the new palace will be as grand as his ego.”
“Perhaps too grand,” Jonas muttered. “It is said that several thousand laborers have already lost their lives preparing the land and I’ve no doubt more will follow.”
“Do I detect a hint of dissatisfaction with your King?” Moreau cocked an eye at his companion. “I find that strange if not treasonous coming from a King’s Musketeer.”
“He’s your king too.”
Moreau shook his head. “No, I’m England born and my allegiance to that majesty ended with my apprenticeship as will yours after today.”
Jonas looked at his uniform and frowned. “It is a shame,” he said quietly. “I’ve enjoyed my time as a Musketeer and all the advantages that went with the title.”
“Don’t worry,” Moreau consoled. “You will be able to wear the emblem of the office if not perform the duties to which they were intended.”
“I do not understand.”
“The whole idea of the Ostiary is to be invisible. Many in the Order still hold claim to their old titles and rank as a way to move freely about the world without drawing attention to themselves or the Order.” Moreau dunked his head one more time before rising to his feet and stepping out of the tub. Water dripped and puddle at his feet.
“You should have asked for towels.”
Moreau smiled and as he did a flame began at his feet and worked its way up his legs to his waist. Soon his entire body save his head was encased in a flickering blue light that died quickly leaving Moreau’s skin dry.
“I tried that once.”
Jonas’s face reddened slightly. “My balls were itchy for a month while the hair grew back.”
“Concentration,” Moreau chuckled. “You just need practice and you’ll get plenty of it soon enough.”
“Good.” Jonas sat down on the chair recently vacated by the landlord and frowned. “I was going to wait until you decided to return to the subject but I see you have no intention of it so I’ll have to bring it up.”
“What subject would that be?”
“The one where you tell me about the murder of Master Brendon.”
“Ah, that subject.” Moreau went to the bed and unfolded a clean pair of trousers, socks and a white, long sleeve linen shirt. “That is a long story with many winding turns and I fear is far from finished.” He sat down and pulled the socks over his feet. “But I promise you this my young apprentice, by tonight you will know most if not all of the story and may God give you the strength to decide if you should stay by my side.”
“That decision has already been made. I have no intentions of leaving you.”
“Perhaps. It will certainly be a huge test of both your strength and resolve should you stay.” Moreau stood and first pulled the pants over his legs and then the white shirt over his head.
There was a knock and Jonas strode quietly to the door and held the latch. “Who is there?”
“The landlord returning with your master’s packages.” The voice of the landlord was muffled but clearly identifiable.
Jonas lifted the latch and stepped aside as he allowed the door to swing in revealing the man, his arms laden with three bundles. He was sweating profusely from his errands.
“Thank you, Lapointe.” Moreau pointed at the bed. “Just place them here.”
Lapointe lumbered across the room and dumped the packages on the bed and bowed before leaving.
Moreau tied a leather rope around the top of his pants making sure they were secure before going to the bed and opening the packages. The first he unwrapped carefully and the room filled with the light tinkling sound of fine metal. Moreau picked the garment up by the shoulders and held it aloft at arm’s length.
Jonas let a gasp escape his lips. Even the dim light from the candles was enough to set the steel rings glowing.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Moreau smiled at a distant memory.
“I’ve never seen its like.”
“It also belonged to the first Moreau.” Moreau eyed the chain mail shirt with satisfaction. “I’ve had the smithy shorten the body and remove the hood before dipping the whole thing in a silver wash.” He slipped the metal garment over his head and pushed his arms into the sleeves. When he was done the shirt fit like a second skin.
“One doesn’t see chain armor these days,” Jonas said as he eyed the silver rings admiringly. “Are you expecting trouble today?”
Moreau nodded. “Not only today, but in the days to follow.” He gave the young man another appraising look. “I’m afraid I’ve pulled you into a strange and complicated and very deadly war.”
Jonas shrugged the concern away. “I’ve been in enough border skirmishes to know I can take care of myself.” He smiled at his own bravado. “Besides,” he added. “You only need the mail if you let them get past your blade.”
“This happens often enough to be a concern for both of us.” Moreau reached into the open package and pulled out a second mail shirt. “Regardless of your superb and widely known skill with the sword, I’ve had one made up for you.” He tossed the shirt to the younger man.
Jonas caught the mail and was surprised at how light it was. He tossed his hat on the chair and quickly pulled off his tabard and put the mail over his head. He pulled at the sleeves and body until the metal settled. He pulled the fine Musketeer’s colors over the shirt and lifted his arms in a ‘look at me’ pose.
Moreau nodded his approval. The big man opened another package and unfolded a fine white tabard of his own and held it high for the other to see. At the center of the front and back was a red Maltese cross.
“I’ve seen that crest before, master but I’m not sure where.”
“It is the crest of the Knights Templar.”
Jonas made the sign of the cross with a trembling hand. “Master,” he breathed. “The Templars were outlawed and executed by the church.”
“The order may have come from Rome, but it was a French King who did the executing,” Moreau growled. “A treachery so far reaching that I believe it will eventually touch us all.”
“Aye, I say true. A whole Order of the most noble of Knights betrayed for money.” Moreau let the garment drop over his head and settle on his shoulders. He seemed to straighten and become even taller than his already towering six feet. “Or almost a whole order. One escaped and hid among the brothers of an even stronger and more secretive Order.” He buckled the sword to his waist as he spoke.
Moreau nodded. He quickly ripped open the third package and unfolded a beautiful long and hooded cloak of fine wool dyed almost black. He tied the cloak at his throat with a silver clasp shaped like a dragon.
“Is your sword ready, young apprentice?”
Jonas bowed low. “Ready as always my master and pledged to your side until my dying breath.”
Moreau sighed and took a last look at the room. Their belongings had long been packed and sent ahead to another Inn on the outskirts of the city to await their arrival. “Let us get this farce of a ceremony over with.”
Jonas strode to the door opened it and walked through. Moreau took a deep breath and a final look around. The pile of ruined cloths he would leave behind for the landlord to clean and sell. He drew the Damascus blade from its sheath and turned the point to the floor and knelt down, his right hand making the sign of the cross and said a brief prayer before following his young charge out of the room.