The Other Side

by Webmaster

2. The Morning After

The low morning sun shone directly into Dogtanian's face, making him screw up his eyes and aggravating his headache. He stood at attention with the other guardsmen, a head shorter than the rest. They had been drawn up for half an hour, awaiting Captain Widimer, and Dogtanian's legs were starting to wobble.

At last the stocky Captain came waddling over, puffing and mopping his brow. He began his inspection, examining each of his men minutely. Though he himself slouched and wore the remains of his breakfast on his front, woe betide the soldier whose dress or attitude fell short of perfection. When he reached Dogtanian, who had chosen a position in the hindmost rank, he started with surprise and his piggish eyes bulged. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, pushing his face into the pup's.

Bouton stepped forward with a snappy salute. "I recruited him last night, Sir."

Dogtanian knew he must not move, not even his eyes, but his whole body strained to leap on the speaker and attack him.

"I...see." Widimer stroked his chin, at a loss. He paused in front of Dogtanian for a long moment. "See he gets a proper uniform!" he snarled at last, before turning on his heel and marching to the front of the column.

It was a long morning. As the sun climbed higher and warmed the flagstones of the square, Widimer relentlessly drilled the Cardinal's Guards.
"Left...left...left-right-left. About...turn! Turn to the right, right...turn! No, no, no, you useless bunch of mongrels! We're not Muskehounds - we don't just wander about as we please, we march!"

At this, the latest in a string of insults to his beloved Musketeers, Dogtanian's lip curled. He was dressed in the blue tabard and white gloves of the Cardinal's Guards. The unfamiliar uniform was itchy and stiff, and it smelled. Without his red jacket and the plumed hat his father had given him, he looked and felt like a stranger. Even the boots were of a different design to his own and several sizes too large.

"At ease, men! Stand easy." Dogtanian was not the only one to shake himself and pant after the punishing exercises. "I have to see the Cardinal. You're all dismissed for half an hour." Widimer saluted and hurried away.

The guards sat or lay on the pavement. Some ate snacks they had brought, some strolled over to the fountain for a drink. Dogtanian sought out Bouton. He found him surrounded by a group of friends, and charged in with his usual headstrong abandon.

"You tricked me! Prepare to die!" His sword flashed as he began to slide it from the sheath, but before he could withdraw it four guards were on top of him.

"No fighting on the parade ground! How dare you draw your sword upon your comrade?" A burly sheepdog had him by the shoulders.

"He is not my comrade! I wouldn't be here at all if he hadn't taken advantage of me!" snapped Dogtanian, struggling to break loose. By now a crowd had gathered; many of the soldiers recognised Dogtanian and, like their captain, had wondered how he came to be here.

"Let him go, Boniface." Bouton spoke quietly. "Dogtanian - I was acting under orders." Before Dogtanian could ask who had ordered him, and why, he had walked away.

When Widimer arrived at the Cardinal's sanctum he found Count Rochefort already there. The two glared at each other, for they were old rivals; Rochefort despised Widimer as a simple soldier, while Widimer distrusted Rochefort's sly, underhand ways.

"Your Eminence, what is Dogtanian doing in my squad?" Widimer asked without preamble, forgetting even to remove his hat in the Cardinal's presence. Rochefort gave a pointed cough and pointed to his own bared head.

A humourless smile spread up the Cardinal's jowls, and his hooded eyes regarded Widimer with sadistic pleasure.

"I believe that one should keep one's friends close at hand, but one's enemies closer," he purred. "That boy has caused more trouble for me than the rest of the Musketeers put together. Under your watchful eye, Widimer, he will have less opportunity for mischief. And Porthos and his friends will be disconsolate at the loss of their little mascot." He glanced between his two henchmen. "The idea was Rochefort's."

Widimer snorted. "I might have known! Rochefort loves to make my life difficult."
"If Widimer cannot control one small puppy, perhaps he should not be in command of the guards?" Rochefort suggested, leaning back in his chair. The Cardinal watched them bicker. If he had not been so dignified a personage, an observer might have thought him amused.

"Enough," he said quietly. The raven on his shoulder shifted from claw to claw, chuckling to itself.

"Tomorrow the Musketeers parade through the streets of Paris to celebrate the victory at La Rochelle. The Cardinal's Guards...will line the route." Richelieu and Widimer shared a bitter look; it was a great slight that the Musketeers had been chosen to march in full battle uniform while the Guards would act merely as policemen to control the crowd.

"Second place again, eh Widimer?" The Captain squirmed and scowled at Rochefort's taunt.

"Treville's men will be in the public eye all day, so it is imperative that their behaviour be impeccable. If something should happen to make them break rank or otherwise act in a disorderly fashion, the Musketeers' reputation might never recover." The Cardinal's baleful yellow orbs fixed on Widimer. "My guards will be in the perfect position to ensure that something does happen."

"Yes, your Eminence!" Widimer smirked. This kind of trickery was one he well understood.

Rochefort leaned over. "Can we trust you, Widimer? Remember, the disturbance must not be traced to the Guards."

"Oh, I think I can manage, thank you Rochefort," Widimer said smugly. Then he remembered. "But hey, what about Dogtanian?"

The Cardinal smiled. "He will either obey orders, in which case the Muskehounds will disown him, or he will side with his old comrades, which will earn him expulsion from the Guards and mean he can never enter the Musketeers. Either way, his presence will add to the general confusion. If you could come up with some way to make him the scapegoat, that would be ideal. But make sure he knows nothing of what is afoot until it is too late to warn his friends, for that he will undoubtedly try to do. Now, Captain, get back to your men, for who knows what devilry they may be getting up to in your absence!"

The afternoon was taken up with weapons drill. Dogtanian had always used a sword; he knew nothing of the awkward pike and less of firearms. He tried his best for the honour of the Musketeers, but knew he was putting on a poor show. Widimer thought, or pretended to think, that he was going wrong on purpose, and the pup found himself doing press-ups in front of the entire company as punishment.

Nor did his torment end there. When the bugler had blown the dismissal and the troops had fallen out, Widimer's heavy paw fell on Dogtanian's shoulder. "I've never seen such poor drill in my life. You're on fatigues, young man!"

Dogtanian's puzzlement did not last for long. He was made to sweep the parade ground, clean the weapons and shine the officers' boots, then wash up the plates from which he and a hundred other hungry guardsmen had eaten their bread and cheese at dinner. At last he was done, and prepared to stagger away. The long day was over, and soon he would meet with Porthos, Athos and Aramis. Hopefully they would have come up with a plan while he was trapped here.

"And where are you going?" It was the orderly, a dour greyhound. "All cadets are confined to barracks. Quick now, or you're on a charge!"

Dogtanian sighed and trailed up to the barracks. He found an unclaimed place in the long row of iron bedsteads and took off his hat and boots. Then he crossed to the window and stared out between the bars. Somewhere out there his friends were drinking or playing cards. And somewhere out there was his beloved Juliette. As he watched the lamps of Paris light one by one he knew he could never, never last another day as a Cardinal's Guard.

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