The Other Side
3. The Grand Parade
Dogtanian woke knowing something special was happening today. Without opening his eyes he snuggled cosily into his blankets, trying to remember what it was. From the colour of the light on the inside of his eyelids it was another beautiful day, which was important because...because...
Of course! The Parade! The Musketeers were to march through Paris in full dress uniform, to celebrate the King's victory at La Rochelle. Athos, Porthos and Aramis would be up at the front, having been important figures in the campaign. Although he would not see them he would be part of the same parade, marching proudly with the other cadets at the very back of the procession.
Then he sat up and looked around, and immediately unleashed a howl of despair that brought startled heads grumbling out of their own sleep. He was not in his attic room at the Bonacieux house, but the long barracks of the Cardinal's Guards. And he would not be marching with Treville's cadets, because he was one no longer.
Life had never seemed crueller to the young pup than it did on that glorious, sunny morning. As he toyed with his porridge he could already see the parade in his imagination: sunlight gleaming off polished buttons, baldrics bright with brass, boots polished so each toecap was a mirror. The Guards had been told at breakfast that their duty would be to line the Musketeers' route and keep the crowds in check. Would his friends smile and wave as they passed him, or would they look glassily to the front, ignoring the shabby little guard dog in his ill-fitting uniform?
Several of the Guards, he noticed, bore a secretive look this morning, and some nudged each other and pointed at him. He supposed they thought it hilarious that he was going to miss out on a treat; the downfall of a Musketeer was cause for great pleasure among their rivals. Well, let them laugh. He would be out of here soon enough - he trusted the grave, intelligent Porthos and quick-witted Aramis to come up with some scheme to rescue him. Too bad they couldn't do it before today, but they would be busy. He knew his friends had not forgotten him.
Indeed, Dogtanian was at that very moment the subject of discussion between Monsieur de Treville, Captain of the Musketeers, and his three favourite officers, Porthos, Athos and Aramis.
"My only worry is Dogtanian," Treville was saying. The Three Muskehounds nodded in agreement.
"We can trust the Musketeers not to break rank if the Guards try anything. They have been told to ignore any low tricks that are played; if it becomes necessary, the three of us will split off as if it were part of the show, and deal with whatever arises." Porthos stroked his chin. "If no one responds to whatever they try to pull, Richelieu's men will look ridiculous. However, Dogtanian is certain to react fiercely if anything occurs to disrupt the parade, and he may be more hindrance than help."
"I agree," Aramis joined in. "I wish there were some way we could warn him what's likely to happen. Discretion is not young Dogtanian's strong suit."
"I know, what about Pip?" Athos beamed.
"Pip? The mouse who lives with Dogtanian?" Treville frowned.
"Yes, he can get anywhere. He'll take a message to Dogtanian for us. I'll go to Dogtanian's house; Planchet will know where to find him."
"Excellent idea, my friend!" Porthos nodded his approval. "With that worry out of the way, we can concentrate on putting on a good show for the citizens of Paris this afternoon."
Positions for the parade were being given out. Dogtanian was pleased despite himself to find he had been assigned to the broad Champs Elysées. It was an important post, since it was here that people were most likely to surge forward and try to touch the heroes and their horses. It was here, too, that the Musketeers would spread out and perform a series of drill exercises. It might break his heart to see the spectacle and take no part in it, but at least he could gladden himself by watching his friends' glory.
He was standing at the tail end of the line - they were arranged in height order - when Dogtanian felt something tug at his sword. He looked down in annoyance, and was amazed to see a large grey mouse hiding between his feet.
"Pip my friend! How wonderful to see you!"
"No time for that, Dogtanian!" rasped the mouse. "Athos sent me to tell you that the Cardinals' Guards are gonna try and disrupt the parade this afternoon." He continued speaking, but his next words were drowned by a shouted command from Widimer. "Do you understand?" he concluded.
Dogtanian nodded grimly. He understood all right.
"Good! I got to go before I'm caught. Don't want to get you into trouble. Good luck, Dogtanian." In a series of bounds and scurries, Pip had left the yard.
Dogtanian frowned as he stood in rank. So the Guards were going to pull one of their rotten stunts to disgrace his friends, were they? Good job he, Dogtanian, was around to put a stop to it. Whatever they did, he would be ready. He resolved to spring into action as soon as anything suspicious happened...
The Cardinal's Guards were in their positions by ten in the morning. There were two hours to wait before the parade started, but already crowds were forming in the squares and standing two deep along the roads. Dogtanian knew the great love and pride that the people of Paris felt for their Musketeers, and he rejoiced for his friends. The Guards, on the other hand, were the butt of many a joke, and he had to withstand the crowd's abuse as he held them back from crossing the street.
"Madame, you and your baby cannot cross here, for at any moment the Musketeers will come by on their horses and you could both be trampled!" Dogtanian spread his arms to prevent an indignant woman from passing.
"Good work, Dogtanian," said the sheepdog Boniface. "Often civilians are their own worst enemy!" Dogtanian smiled back instinctively; this was the first word of praise he had had from the mouth of one of his new allies.
There was a stir in the crowd, a murmur travelling from one to the next. The procession was approaching! Dogtanian stood straight and tall, hand snapped to his brow in a stiff salute, and watched with awe as the full splendour of the parade came into view.
They were led by a band: trumpets and pipes sounded a victory hymn, while drummers kept the marching dogs in step. Not that they needed this cue, for they moved as one unit, keeping perfect time.
A cheer went up for Monsieur Treville, a splendid sight on his grey war-horse with a long plume nodding from his hat of rich purple felt. He raised his sword high in his right hand, acknowledging the people. Behind him rode the Three Muskehounds: Porthos, Athos and Aramis in line abreast, so perfectly parallel that even the noses of their horses were exactly level with each other and the three sets of hooves clipped down as one. Porthos and Aramis looked straight ahead, eyes on the horizon with a noble air. But Athos gave Dogtanian a cheery wink, which the pup gratefully returned.
The rest of the corps followed closely on their horses of chestnut, dapple, black and dun. At the very rear of the procession, Dogtanian knew, though they had not yet come into sight, would be the cadets, on foot. And he would have marched at their head, for he was easily the best swordsman among the recruits and the only one already to have distinguished himself in the service of France. He allowed himself a tiny sigh.
That was when he saw a movement in the crowd opposite. His eyes flicked instinctively to the minute gleam of metal; though it was probably a brooch or a tin tankard, a soldier is always alert to the possibility of a drawn weapon.
Dogtanian gave an involuntary yelp, like a cuffed puppy. "An assassin!" he yelled. Without thinking, he broke rank and ran towards the man who had brazenly produced a gun and aimed it at Porthos' head - almost as if he had wanted Dogtanian to see him. He somersaulted into the air, growling as he went, crashed into the unofficial leader of the Muskehound trio and bore him to the ground. Aramis' horse reared as the spaniel hauled on the reins, desperately trying to avoid trampling his comrade as he fell.
"Au secours! The Cardinal's Guards are attacking us!" The Musketeer cadets were pushing forward, uncertain what was going on but thoroughly indignant and spoiling for a fight. First one, then another darted to the side of the road and pitched into the guardsmen, hate figures of old and the obvious suspects when anything was amiss. The cavalry dismounted and tried to separate the combatants, but soon found the temptation to settle old scores too strong to resist and joined in with a will. Within moments the dignified splendour had degenerated into an ugly brawl. Many of the spectators fled; others took sides and encouraged the participants with cheers, some even placing bets on the outcome.
Porthos, kneeling on the cobblestones, flung an arm over Dogtanian to protect
him. "What is going on?" he hissed angrily. His young friend struggled to get up.
"I saw a man about to fire on you, Porthos!" he protested.
"Even if you did, we will never find him now." Porthos sighed. "This smells like a trick to me. Didn't you get our message to be on your guard?"
"Yes, I did - that's why I was on the alert to stop any attempts to disrupt the parade!"
"Oh, good work, Dogtanian! Look around you!"
Seeing that the Gascon was on the verge of tears, Porthos relented. "It wasn't your fault. You're not the first person to fall victim to the scheming of the Cardinal and you won't be the last. I must help Monsieur Treville restore order - can you keep out of trouble if I leave you here?"
"Yes, Porthos," promised Dogtanian meekly. The Muskehound nodded and dashed off into the melée.
Dogtanian gazed at the spectacle. He was the direct cause of all this. He must do
his bit to stop it. Seeing a Musketeer and a Guard rolling on the ground in each
other's clutches, all but biting, he rushed over.
"Please stop it, sirs! Now is not the time to fight!" They looked at him.
"You!" both said together. Dogtanian had succeeded in uniting them - in their hatred of himself.
"Let's get him!" snarled the Muskehound.
"Yes, let's!" the Guard agreed. Getting to their feet, they lunged at the pup as one. Dogtanian ran; he had at least restored harmony to a small section of the Champs Elysées, if not in the manner he had intended.
Next he found two cadets, his former companions, pressing down upon a single Cardinal's man. "Hey, that's not fair! Leave him alone!"
He recognised both cadets: the sharp terrier Lepince and the stolid Dupond. They turned with expressions of surprise.
"Dogtanian! What are you doing in a guard dog's uniform?"
"And why did you attack Porthos?"
"It's all Cardinal Richelieu's doing. This chaos is exactly what he wants. Do please stop fighting!"
Dogtanian was a natural leader among Treville's youngsters, and in the strangeness of the situation they obeyed him without question. "We'll tell the others to quit," volunteered Lepince, and the pair trotted off.
The Guard was getting to his feet, brushing the dust from his cloak and feeling his limbs for injuries.
"You! I should have let them kill you!" It was the Dalmatian, Bouton. His right arm dangled limp, there was a bloody cut across his forehead and he had lost his hat and one of his boots.
"Dogtanian - you saved my life." His eyes were full of shame. "I did not lie to you at the inn; I really do admire you. But when the Cardinal picked me to recruit you into his guards, I dared not disobey."
"Why did you trick me?" Dogtanian demanded.
"It was hoped you would be so upset at the way the King treated you that you would be willing to join us. A swordsman such as yourself would be a most valuable asset. But if you were still loyal to the Musketeers, Richelieu wanted to get you away from them by deception, to distract Porthos, Athos and Aramis and spread alarm and confusion. You were also most useful today." The Dalmatian winced. Dogtanian sat on the pavement, his head in his hands.
"Oh Bouton, I've been so foolish! What have I done? The Muskehounds will disown me after this, and I am sure to be thrown out of the Guards."
"Listen." Bouton took a seat beside Dogtanian and leaned in to him, though with the battle still raging around them he was unlikely to be overheard. "I'm sorry for what I did, and I owe you a favour. I may have a way to get you out of this."
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