They traveled through material barriers as a man strolls through a ground mist. They passed through thick outer walls, through locked doors; they passed beyond cornices and curtains—and as they came, the Magus showed Cyrano visions of the future. They shimmered through time and space, until Cyrano found that he had fetched up in a high-ceilinged, ornate corridor, outside a large, beautifully carved, closed door.
“Surely this is a palais,” Cyrano said, looking around at fine tapestries and golden candelabra, as Alcandre appeared at his elbow. “I have never seen quite such splendor, though I have been a guest in some very fine mansions.”
“Yes. In our time, just a few years ago, this wing of the palace was still being completed.”
“A few years ago? I had thought we were traveling some distance into the future, to some faraway time, but—”
“Silence! Would you go back to submit to that block of hard wood?”
“I have no desire for the Sword of Damocles, wooden sword or no, to descend upon me—but I must know—”
“Bah! Enter and see the tyrannical malefactor for yourself!” And with that Alcandre reached out to the knob in the center of the door, turned it, and pulled the door, creaking, ajar.
Feeling odd and unreal, Cyrano loosened his sword in its scabbard, licked his lips, and stepped through into the chamber. The Magus followed, closing the door behind them.
This was an antechamber to a bedroom, Cyrano supposed—candelabra on wooden tables stood to either side of the doorway to the inner room. But two men in finely figured helmets and cuirasses stood beside the candelabra, each man tall, and neatly bearded, each leaning on a long pike, and each wearing the livery of the king.
They looked at Cyrano with astonishment—then they rushed him, pikes lowering as if to doubly spit him.
“Intruder!” one of them shouted.
Cyrano reacted instinctively. Jumping to the right he snatched the nearest pike, just under the blade, as it slashed past him, jerked it from the astonished man’s hands, and slammed its butt into the guard’s forehead. The guard fell over backwards, quite unconscious. With the same motion Cyrano had blocked the other pike, but now the second guard made as if to rush past him out the door, to cry the alarm.
Cyrano swept the pike under the second guard’s feet, and tripped him. The guard’s helmet banged to the floor, rolling away, and Cyrano, reversing the pike, slammed the flat side of its blade expertly down on the back of the guard’s head.
The man gasped, and went limp.
Cyrano dropped the pike. “Big cumbersome things. Not a weapon for a real man—a weapon to keep real men at bay!”
“But you used it very well, monsieur,” the sorcerer remarked, sounding impressed. “Your skills have not been exaggerated.” He licked his lips. “Perhaps we should take a moment to cut their throats? Just to see that they remain quiet.”
“By no means! These are doubtless good, faithful men, only doing their duty!”
Alcandre shrugged. “As you will. And now—we proceed—for there is one who must undoubtedly die this night—”
“Who goes there?” interrupted a deep voice, from the inner door to the bedchamber.
Cyrano looked up to see the silhouette of a Musketeer stepping through the doorway. Beyond the Musketeer, in the light from a stub of candle in a silver holder, a slender male figure, of no great size, was visible sleeping in the largest bed Cyrano had ever seen. Stirring restlessly, but still asleep. The Musketeer closed the bedroom door behind him.
“There—you saw the tyrant! He sleeps!” hissed the sorcerer. “Win past this ruffian and kill him and all will be well!”
Cyrano’s gaze had fixed on the Musketeer—though he was dressed as a Musketeer, no musket was to hand. The man was armed with a scabbarded sword and dagger. His hat was rather like Cyrano’s, white plumed, but far less battered. His breaches and weskit were of blue silk, burnished by the candlelight, and his coat the finest cut; he wore the ribbon of a high officer. At his cuffs and ruffled about his neck was the finest white lace. His face was in the shadow of his hat brim.
“An assassin!” the Musketeer burst out, drawing his sword. Then—he hesitated. “But—do I not know this man? Were we not together at Arras? Did I not see your splendid duel at the Hotel de Bourgogne, in which you extemporized perfect rhyme even as your sword sought your enemy? How could I mistake that…profile? Are you not known as Cyrano de Bergerac?”
So speaking, the Musketeer stepped forward into the candlelight. Despite his finery, he had the lean, weathered face of a warrior. The bristling black mustaches and pointed goatee did not conceal two long scars on his face, nor an expression as severe as the beetling clouds of an approaching thunderstorm.
It had been some years, but Cyrano now recognized an old acquaintance: Charles de Batz de Castelmore, Count d’Artagnan. Once the fabled companion of Porthos, Athos and Aramis, d’Artagnan had put aside his roisterer’s ways to serve the Premier Ministre and the crown.
They had not been friends, Cyrano and this Musketeer—d’Artagnan was not of a literary bent, and had not always appreciated Cyrano’s sense of humor nor his notoriety for free-thinking, which d’Artagnan, in his middle years, had come to regard as mere anarchism. Nevertheless, they had a powerful mutual respect, forged at the siege of Arras.
So it was with regret that Cyrano de Bergerac drew his sword.
“Monsieur,” Cyrano said formally, standing en garde. “I ask you to stand aside. For several good reasons, I am bound to destroy the tyrant who sleeps in yon chamber, and would not destroy you also.”
Charles d’Artagnan snorted. “Did you really think I could step aside? You would not think of me in such low terms?”
“Not at all, sir. The request was a matter of form, merely.”
“And may I ask who is that who stands in the shadows behind you? What influence does this figure have upon your actions?”
“That is my own affair, Monsieur d’Artagnan. And now…”
Cyrano saluted him with his epee, d’Artagnan returned the salut—and Cyrano thrust testingly. d’Artagnan parried easily and riposted, with coup droit; Cyrano performed a contre-riposte, to which the Musketeer returned a contre-attaque; Cyrano parried with a false attack that became a feint, then a coup lance; d’Artagnan performed a grazing froissement and then lunged; Cyrano parried and for a moment they were grappling corps-a-corps. Then a degagement initiated by d’Artagnan and they were apart, again en garde, involuntarily grinning at one another.
And then Cyrano lunged. Count d’Artagnan parried…