The course of true love never did run smooth
Following duty guarding the royal residence at the Louvre, King’s Musketeer Riordan O’Neill returns to the hôtel de Tréville to speak to the captain-liuetenant of the musketeers about the strange events days earlier – Tréville says he will make inquiries about the mysterious duelists and urges O’Neill to be cautious in the meantime.
Haunted by the image of the lovely Italian actress he met at the Foire Saint Germain previously, O’Neill, accompanied by his boon companion, Charles Duran, a greffier at the Palais de Justice, returns to the fair to seek out the enchanting performer. The fair is beginning to wind down as Easter approaches in a couple of weeks – nearly half the vendors’ booths are empty already and the rest will be gone soon. The pair seeks out the actors’ wagon parked not far from the permanent stage overlooking the fair; O’Neill is warmly greeted by the impresario, di Onda, and by the charming Tomasina, and the two men are invited to stay for the troupe‘s performance. The actors perform with skill and wit, and afterwards O’Neill returns to the wagon while Duran takes in the sights of the fair. Duran, as a young gentleman with prospects and mindful of the importance of seeing and being seen, strolls the grounds, checking out the wares of the remaining vendors, such as lacemakers, painters, goldsmiths, and such feeding the bottomless desire for luxuries among the élite of Paris.
O’Neill locates Tomasina and presents here with a small favor, a lace stachel purchased at the fair during his earlier visit. She accepts the token with seeming genuine affection, but she looks troubled when the musketeer asks if he could see her outside of the fair. “Signor di Onda has my keeping,” she says in her heavily accented French. Seeking out the impresario, O’Neill asks the actor if he can court Tomasina; without missing a beat, di Onda comes straight to the point, replying, “Thirty livres .” As the implications of the relationship between the actor and the actress become clear to the musketeer, di Onda presses on. “Believe me, you’ll have a night like you’ve never experienced,” he says smoothly. Muttering imprecations, the musketeet withdraws and rejoins Duran, guzzling the glass of wine in the latter’s hand. For his part, Duran, after learning that di Onda is Tomasina’s pimp, suggests that O’Neill chastise the impresario, but O’Neill rightly notes that this is below his station; both are actors, and therefore not worthy of his scorn.
O’Neill invites Duran back to the hôtel de Tréville to spar a bit, to work off some of the frustration and disappointment. The pair meets Ferusac, another sergeant of the King’s Musketeers; after relating the tale of the actress to the bluff Gascon, Ferusac once again reminds O’Neill that women are a curse to be avoided, then suggests that perhaps the Irishman take up di Onda on his offer, as prostitutes offer the fewest complications. O’Neill responds by punching Ferusac in the face. The older Musketeer recovers from the blow; his eyes flash for an instant, then he laughs, knowing that while the Irishman threw the punch, the Gascon scored the hit.
Ferusac says he’ll be at Le Trou Perrecte later, and invites the two men to join him. Duran and O’Neill agree, then set about practicing with their swords for awhile.
A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger
Le Trou Perrecte – “Perrecte’s hole,” named for a long-dead prostitute – is one of the more notorious gambling-hells of Paris, attracting a debased and dissolute clientele of gamblers, bravos, and whores. On arriving in the tavern, O’Neill and Duran find Ferusac shooting dice on the butt-end of a keg – and Ferusac is losing, badly, to a wiry scoundrel with a livid rope-scar around his neck. Ferusac begs for a stake from either the musketeer or the bureaucrat, and O’Neill advances him a few livres which Ferusac promptly loses; Duran wisely keeps his coins in his purse. In a hoarse whisper the scar-necked gambler inquires if O’Neill or Duran are interested in playing, but both beg off, and the rogue bids them a good evening, settling in at a table with a low woman and another bravo.
O’Neill, Duran, and Ferusac ring another table. Over mugs of cheap wine they study the assembled company, watch an argument between two villains turn to blows – and notice an odd couple sitting in one corner of the tavern. Two men, dressed in the style of merchants, huddle at a table. The older of the two is very handsome, with an almost feminine beauty, his mustache and beard precisely trimmed, his hair carefully drawn back with a ribbon. The younger is fair-haired with luminous eyes and a small mustache and a tiny goatee; both O’Neill and Duran realize that the younger man’s beard and mustache are fake.
Apparently the musketeer and the bureaucrat aren’t alone in noticing the pair; the scar-necked gambler and his companions are watching them as well. Whispered orders result in two more bravos joining him at his table while a third is dispatched into the frigid darkness outside. When the odd couple get up to leave, Scar-Neck and the others follow; one goes out the front door while Scar-Neck and the other disappear into the tap room behind the bar. O’Neill and Duran don’t hesitate; alerting Ferusac that the two merchants may be headed for an ambush, the three leave by the front door of the the tavern.
Stepping across the threshold, O’Neill, in the lead, is set upon by a hanger-wielding bravo. In a single move the King’s Musketeer slides his rapier from its scabbard and slashes the ruffian across the torso, dropping him to the ground before the raised hanger can descend to find its mark. As the ruffian collapses, a voice can be heard yelling, “Guards! Guards!”
Following the call, the musketeers and the gentleman race around the corner to find a confused melee of shadowy figures in the darkened street. Duran makes out at attacker and lunges forward, as does Ferusac, but O’Neill, still adjusting to the darkness, is unable to tell friend from foe at first. As the gentleman and the musketeer engage, the handsome merchant calls out, “Protect the duchess!”
Duran finds himself set upon by two of the bravos, one swinging a club and the other stabbing with a long dagger. Ferusac’s opponent slahes at him with a dagger as well moves to defend the disguised woman, while the Handsome Man fights with a rapier against a fellow slashing at him with a longsword. O’Neill can do nothing for long seconds, unsure which shadow is which; finally recognizing the Handsome Man, he lunges at the bravo with the longsword; at the same moment, another rogue swinging a hanger joins the fray.
Duran struggles to bring his blade to bear against his opponents, but when the dagger-wielding rogue slips and falls to the ground, he doesn’t give the man a chance to rise before wounding him with his sword. The gentleman is buffeted on the arm in return by the thug with the club.
In the fight at last, O’Neill drops the bravo with the hanger, but not before the Handsome Man takes a vicious cut to the torso and falls to the ground unconscious. Ferusac battles his man as well, grunting when he is wounded by the dagger.
O’Neill next stabs the man with the longsword, sending him to the ground as well, and Duran does the same with is dagger-wielding foe as Ferusac’s man and the man with the club attempt to withdraw. O’Neill spins to attack the bravo with the club, wounding him in the arm and forcing him to drop his weapon; the musketeer points his sword at the man’s throat and orders him to surrender, which the bravo does. Ferusac is content to let the last scoundrel flee as he protects the disguised woman. At that moment a shot rings out from down the street, striking the wall scant inches from Ferusac; O’Neill races up the sidestreet to confront the pistoleer, finding nothing but shadows.
Returning to the small party, O’Neill grabs the prisoner. “Who hired you?” he demands in the commanding tones of the sergeant of musketeers. “No one hired me,” the prisoner replies sullenly. Before the interrogation can go further, the woman, kneeling over the Handsome Man unconscious on the ground, speaks up. " I am the duchesse de Chevreuse, " she says, “and we must be taken to the Louvre, immediately,” she orders, in the tone of one clearly used to being obeyed without question. The Handsome Man, looking only slightly less handsome in a slashed and blood-stained doublet, is carried and two prisoners, the rogue with the club and the unconscious bravo with the longsword, are brought in tow as the party makes its way in darkness across the Pont-Neuf toward the royal palace. As they approach, the duchess speaks again. “We cannot be seen entering the palace,” she commands.
The instruments of darkness tell us truths – William Shakespeare