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October 7th, 2006

Porthos and Aramis in a Canadian Shack @ 11:40 pm

Current Mood: geeky geeky
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Because Richard White’s The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region plotbunnied me viciously. Viciously enough that I read my halting way through the official “Bibliothèque et Archives Canada” sight in French to provide supplementary details. And then said “fuck it” and went to wikipedia.

Disclaimer: The characters portrayed in this story were originally created by Alexandre Dumas, and are being used without permission but with complete legality. Because they're public domain. Ha! Take that, 20th century copyright law.

Porthos explained yet again that he was searching for a Jesuit, a man about half a head shorter than himself, with a slender build and delicate features and dark hair and eyes. The voyageur shrugged grimy, leather clad shoulders and announced that all fils de putain Jesuits looked alike and he wished the entire order to the devil.

Porthos contemplated the merits of strangling the man. The sea voyage had been endless and miserable, Montreal was the coldest and most uncivilised place he had ever been, with streets of frozen mud, and the portage down the St. Laurence River had been, if anything, worse than the sea voyage. They had travelled in narrow, open boats, keeping a constant eye out for Iroquois war parties, and the men he had hired to guide him had refused to take payment in eccus, insisting instead on being compensated with a pair of wheel-lock pistols and the gold braid off his cloak.

Every piece of clothing he owned was travel-stained and worn, and the embroidery on his boots was coming loose. The boots themselves were coming apart. It was a long way from Paris to Lake Ontario.

“Friend,” Porthos said, through clenched teeth, “your manners leave something to be desired, and it is past time someone taught you how to address your betters.”

Several entertaining minutes later, Porthos was nursing bruised knuckles and the voyageur was missing two tobacco-stained teeth. Properly chastened, he admitted that he did, in fact, know of a Jesuit who resided at the fort, and that the aforementioned Jesuit was, indeed, dark of hair and slender of build.

In Paris, the flourish of a musketeer’s cloak, or the handing over of a pistole, would have gotten Porthos the information with considerably less trouble. Here at the edge of the world, money that didn’t come in the form of beads or beaver pelts was of little use.

Aramis had better have a damned good reason for coming out to this godforsaken place.

D’Artagnan had shrugged and prevaricated and muttered that it touched on the King’s honour and the fate of the nation, and that he had sworn an oath of secrecy. Athos had said that a man’s penances were his own, and not to be interfered with. The former Madame Coquenard had had nothing to say on the subject at all, having passed away of a bad heart shortly after Aramis vanished from Paris.

With Athos off at his estate, D’Artagnan ever-more-immersed in his role as M. De Treville’s eventual successor, and an empty house to come home to, Paris had lost some of its attraction. Prolonged exposure to New France, however, had completely restored in Porthos’s imagination the charms of his erstwhile home.

Porthos shouldered his pack of belongings, considerably more battered now that it had been when it had served as part of his field equipment and he had served in the King’s army, and trudged wearily toward the log palisade of the fort, hoping against hope that there would be something resembling a real building inside.

His luck was in, for possibly the first time since leaving Montreal. There were several structures inside the stockade, including what might even have been called a barracks. And something that had probably been intended by its builders to resemble a church.

Porthos, observing it, decided uncharitably that it more closely resembled a shack.

The mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was five years old in the winter of 1644, and was to last only five more years before being burned to the ground in the Iroquois wars. While sturdily built of birch bark and clay, its buildings were not of a type to appeal to Porthos’s Parisian sophistication.

It was not merely a shack, our former musketeer amended to himself, but an ugly shack.

Everything in Nouvelle France was ugly, except for the landscape, which was green and unspoiled and seemed to go on forever.

The voyageur Porthos had travelled with from Quebec to Montreal, hoping to impress and intimidate his tall, handsomely-dressed employer, had told him stories about René Goupil, the missionary who had been burned to death by the Iroquois. The Iroquois, he went on to claim, had then proceeded to make a meal of his flesh

Porthos had not believed him—men did not go about eating other men, even in Nouvelle France—but even in Paris he had heard of Père Isaac Jogue, whose fingers had been cut off by a Mohawk war party and who had had to receive special permission from the Pope in order to say the Mass with mutilated hands.

Aramis, Porthos told himself, would be found inside the church, with the full compliment of fingers and a faintly sarcastical expression as he inquired into Porthos’s business in Ontario. Porthos would then ask with even more sarcasm what business Aramis might possibly have in Ontario, and he would blush, admit that he was being a fool, and come back to France.

Porthos smoothed his by now decidedly-ragged-looking moustache, tugged his shirt-points into some kind of order, and pushed open the door of the chapel.

The chapel was bare of furniture, save for a plain alter and log benches, and undecorated but for a wooden crucifix on the far wall. There were two men standing in front of the alter with their backs to Porthos, carrying on an intense debate.

The shorter of the two, clad in the long, black soutane which was typical of the Jesuit order in those days and, indeed, in our modern times as well, was illustrating his point with a graceful wave of one slim, white hand.

Porthos experienced an overwhelming sensation of relief, quite disproportionate to the actual circumstances. For a moment, he simply stood in the doorway and watched, resisting the urge to call out a greeting.

“They cannot possibly believe that we’ll let their man go free,” the other man, an army officer by his dress, was protesting. “He murdered two Frenchmen.”

“They believe that you will let him go free in return for a substantial gift,” Aramis corrected, in the pedantic tone that Porthos had heard so many times before. “It’s apparently customary among the Huron for murderers to make restitution by paying bribes.”

“Well, they’re in French territory now,” the officer declared firmly, “and it’s time they became acquainted with his majesty’s justice.”

Aramis made a diffident little cough. “Indeed, well, his crime is between himself and God. I was merely offering advice.” His voice, though soft, implied that anyone who did not take said advice was an idiot. “Under the circumstances, antagonising the Huron would not be politic.”

“Letting them think that Governor de Montmagny’s laws go un-enforced is even less ‘politic.’” The officer nodded decisively at his own words, and clapped his plumed helmet back onto his head. He elbowed Porthos in the ribs on his way out the door, and Porthos marked the man’s face for future reference.

Aramis turned to watch him go, and displayed no surprise upon seeing Porthos in the doorway. “Porthos,” he said simply. “It has been some time.”

“Aramis.”

“I go by a different name these days,” Aramis corrected him, in gentler tones than he had used on the military officer. He was thinner than he had been a year ago, unsurprising given the quality of the food that had been inflicted on Porthos since his arrival in the Gulf of Saint-Laurence, and there were two streaks of grey in his dark hair, framing his deceptively ascetic-looking face perfectly. Only Aramis could contrive to have his hair go grey in such a manner that it appeared deliberate.

“Ah, well then, good afternoon, Monsieur l’abbe,” Porthos made a sweeping half-bow, flourishing his hat, and remembered too late that doing so made it evident that his hair was starting to thin on top. “I came to discover what it was about the New World that you found so fascinating.”

“To tell the truth, very little, but one must obey one’s superiors.”

“You never found that task particularly important while a musketeer,” Porthos reminded him.

“As a musketeer, I took orders from M. de Tréville and the King. Now, I take them from the Society of Jesus and our Holy Father in Rome. There is somewhat less room for… debate.” Aramis made a graceful gesture with both hands, indicating the futility of said debate. Porthos was not so easily fooled.

“If you hadn’t wanted to come, you would have found some way to avoid it,” he said heatedly, striding across the room to Aramis’s side, where he could loom over the other man properly. “Is Paris so dreary that you would flee our company for that of savages and wolves?” What he was really asking was why Aramis had seen fit to forsake his company, but he felt that it would be beneath his dignity to say such a thing straight out.

Aramis shook his head, looking weary. “Porthos, I didn’t have a choice. There are intrigues in the French court deep enough to drown even a man of God, and I know too much about them. It was Nouvelle France, or my own cell in one of his majesty’s prisons, right next to the man I helped send there.”

After over a decade in His Majesty’s Musketeers, and at least half that long married to his ‘Duchess,’ during which time he had discovered that trade was, if anything, even more cutthroat than politics, Porthos should have known better, but, “What man?”

“D’Artagnan knows. He might be persuaded to tell you, but I shall not.”

“Fine,” Porthos snapped. “Keep your cursed Jesuitical secrets. If you had a man imprisoned, I’m sure the rascal deserved it.”

“His guilt is a matter I have thought much on,” Aramis murmured, softly enough that he might have been speaking to himself.

“That’s because you think entirely too much,” Porthos told him, trying for the teasing tone that had come so easily once upon a time. He hadn’t travelled this many miles solely for the sake of an argument, even an argument with Aramis.

“I have told you my reasons for being here,” Aramis said after a moment, looking up at Porthos with a challenging glint in his eyes and a familiar teasing quirk to his lips, “and more than I ought to have. What brings you so far from our native soil?”

There was a verse from the Bible Porthos had planned on quoting, on the subject of following one’s comrades wherever they might go—Aramis, like women, was fond of poetry—but now that the appropriate moment had arrived, he found that he could not remember it. Irritated with himself, he settled for a shrug and the words, “Paris was insufferably dull without you.”

Aramis looked away, and Porthos set one big hand on his black-clad shoulder, tugging the other man around to face him squarely. “Your wife-“ Aramis began.

Porthos silenced him by the simple expedient of clapping a hand over his mouth. “She never minded when she was alive, and I doubt she would begrudge me your company now. The eccus required to get here, certainly, but not your company.”

Aramis’s breath was warm and damp against Porthos’s palm. He pulled Porthos’s hand away and stared at it, tracing the sword calluses on his palm. Aramis’s own fingers were as roughened by fencing as ever—they had never been as soft as they looked. “I am supposed,” Aramis said, “to regulate my life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any,” he brought Porthos’s hand to his lips and kissed the knuckle that had been split by the voyageur’s tooth, “inordinate attachment."

“We’re a thousand miles from Quebec and the Pope is an ocean and two continents away,” Porthos mumbled against Aramis’s lips, exaggerating slightly for dramatic effect. “He’s never going to know.”



And then they done sex. French Canadian sex. The End.



Go here for a 17th century account of Jesuit missionaries in Canada (in English). There is an entire chapter devoted to the guy who had his fingers cut off.
 
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