A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Three

Alexandra stood in the middle of Captain de Tréville’s office, staring steadily at the man across his massive desk. He might appear a bit worse for wear, but anyone foolish enough to underestimate Tréville would pay a heavy price, that was obvious. His frame was still muscular, not a speck of extra fat anywhere, his posture ramrod-straight, his hands almost perpetually clenched into fists, as if he was expecting a fight to erupt any minute. But it was his expression, and especially the look in his eyes, that worried Alexandra.

He was clenching his teeth as if to prevent himself from sending her to Hell, and his gaze was suspicious. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. He was looking at her intently, and it took some effort not to fidget. He looked like he knew she wasn’t who she was pretending to be.

“Alexandre Reynaud, eh?” he finally spoke, reading the name from the letter on his desk.

Her cousin had come up with that name. The given name was close to her own, making it easier to remember, and respond to when called. Reynaud was her cousin’s last name after marrying Sebastien Reynaud a few years ago. Christine had figured it would be easier to pass off as Sebastian’s relative since he was the one recommending her to Tréville.

Alec, as she’d insisted to be called for the past couple of days, was glad her cousin’s husband had agreed, and rather quickly, to the idea. She had explained what had happened to Robert, how she had had no other option but to try and save him herself, with Christine’s help they’d explained why and how Alec was more than able for the mission...Still, Sebastien Reynaud had agreed too quickly.

It worried Alec. It worried her what the man had written to his friend in that blasted letter. Just how was he asking for a favour? Had Sebastian written Tréville the truth? That Alexandre Reynaud was indeed a woman on a foolish mission to rescue her missing brother? That Tréville should send her home immediately? Or that she should join her brother in the Bastille never to be heard of again?

Alec once again had trouble swallowing.

Tréville looked at her again, cocked his head as if measuring her up. “Reynaud writes you’re four and twenty.”

“Indeed, sir,” Alec replied in a husky tone. She’d known she could never pass as a man speaking normally, and even less if she tried replicating a deeper tone, so she’d opted on speaking huskily, as if her throat was sore. Which it was becoming thanks to the strain she kept putting on it. All the better to keep up pretences.

“You don’t look four and twenty. You don’t even look old enough to shave,” Tréville snapped.

Alec shrugged nonchalantly. “Looks can be deceiving.”

Tréville harrumphed and leaned back in his chair. “It also writes here you’re exceptionally well trained.”

Alec didn’t say a word, simply looked at him.

“Although coming from Reynaud, that is high praise indeed, I’ll be the judge of that.” Tréville crossed his arms over his chest. “Why do you want to become a musketeer, son?”

“Honour and glory, sir.”

Tréville frowned. “If you want attention and glory, you better join the Red Guard. I have no need for the likes of you in my garrison.”

“I meant honour in life and glory in death, sir,” Alec explained. “I want to make a difference, I want to help any way I can. I want to be part of something greater, I want to be a part of the musketeers, I want to experience what “one for all and all for one” truly means.”

“It means laying down your life for your comrade, no matter what. Are you prepared to do that? Die for someone?”

“More than you know.”

Tréville straightened in his chair, his eyes conveying he liked what he saw. “Musketeers never leave a man behind.”

“I’m well aware of that, sir.” That’s why she was here in the first place. She refused to abandon her brother.

Tréville slammed his palm on his desk. “I trust Reynaud. He’s saved my life too many times for me to doubt him. And if he wants me to repay his favour by taking you into my musketeers, he’s more generous than I thought.”

Alec wanted to whoop, but she schooled her features to remain steady, and simply nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

Tréville rounded his desk, and slapped her on the back with such force, she stumbled forward, making him frown. “Don’t thank me yet, boy. You’re on probation.” He opened the door, motioned with his head for her to precede him. “I’ll let my four best men evaluate you. You pass their test, you’re in.”

Alec stepped through the door and resisted the urge to roll her aching shoulder. From now on, she’d need to be on her toes every second of the day. She couldn’t afford to get knocked over by a slap on the back. She needed to toughen up, anticipate her opponents’ moves, and duck at opportune moments. She squared her shoulders as Tréville fell in step alongside her. If there was something she knew well, was when and how to avoid getting hit. She’d learned that even before she learned how to fight.

When Aramis walked into the courtyard alongside Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan, almost all musketeers not stationed elsewhere were present.

“Oh my, who died?” he asked the closest musketeer, lounging against a wooden pillar.

“No one yet, but apparently we’re getting a novice today.”

His three friends snickering, they all knew how Tréville liked to greet their novices—that’s why they recruited so few musketeers, Aramis nodded sagely. “I’ll say a prayer for him.”

The barrack door on the other side of the courtyard opened, and Tréville appeared. “Men, we have a new recruit. Alexandre Reynaud.” He half turned. “What shall we call you? Reynaud?”

“Alec will do just fine,” came a raspy reply from the yet-unseen novice musketeer, and Aramis thought there wasn’t much substance there, if the kid—judging by the voice—couldn’t be seen from behind Tréville’s frame.

Tréville shrugged, probably already thinking about what possible nickname the men might come up with. “It’s your name.” Then he moved aside, and the musketeers got a first glimpse of their new comrade.

Aramis couldn’t resist a quiet chuckle. This one wouldn’t last a day. The boy, there was no other word for him, barely reached Tréville’s sternum, he was all legs, and didn’t look strong enough to wear the sword with the intricate handguard currently strapped to his waist. As Tréville motioned him forward, the boy, Alec, stepped from underneath the overhang and into the patch of sunlight filtering through the low-hanging clouds.

In full light, he looked even less of a musketeer than in the shade. And although the clothes fit him well, the hat looked too large for his head, making him appear rather comical, like a boy dressing up to be like his father.

A corner of his mouth curving up, the boy took his hat off with a flourish, bending forward in an exaggerated bow. “Messieurs.

He straightened, and a collective gasp rose among the musketeers. The boy’s black hair, with the sun shining down on him, shone with a muted reddish hue, like the dying embers of a fire. Although he didn’t look old enough to shave, a few days worth of scruff shaded his jaw line. It was more than d’Artanian could manage to grow. But what made the men gasp were the boy’s eyes. They appeared colourless, merging with the whites of his eyes. He looked blind. Then the sun hid behind a cloud, and Aramis saw his eyes were in fact pale green. Like the reflection of foliage in a forest pool, they contrasted sharply with the tanned skin on the boy’s face. And if the colour of the eyes wasn’t enough, the look in them did the rest. His steady gaze moved from man to man, never wavering, as if willing them to challenge him, silently conveying the message Alexandre Reynaud wouldn’t back down no matter what.

Man after man looked away as they met that pale, disconcerting gaze. Watching it unfold in front of him, Aramis vowed not to join them. He liked a challenge. He waited patiently for his turn, his smirk growing when in turn Athos, Porthos, and d’Artagnan squirmed and looked away. He reasoned one never knew his friends after all, because he’d never pegged them to surrender so easily. Quelled by a stare. Pussies.

Then those pale green eyes met his, and everything stopped. His breath hitched in his throat, and he felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach. He felt as if something inside him that has been askew all his life snapped into place. Everything inside him coiled, as if he was a cord pulled too tight.

He couldn’t look away even if he wanted to.

He saw those eyes widen, the boys lips parted as his breath quickened, and Aramis swallowed heavily, clenching his fists against the urge to take a step forward. And another. And then another.

What was this? What was happening to him? What was it about those eyes that affected him so?

It was Tréville that broke the spell by stepping in front of Alec once more, blocking Aramis’ line of vision. “Now, let’s see what you’re made of.”

Alec’s heart was still beating hard and fast, her breath still erupted from her lungs in quick, shallow gasps, her stomach was still rolling, her head swimming, when Tréville sicced one of the men, later she’d learn his name was Mercier, on her.

She didn’t know what hit her, since she was still reeling from the force of that last stare-off. People had problems with looking her in the eye, sometimes even people who knew her looked startled. Her brother often told her it wasn’t so much the colour, although she did appear blind in certain lighting, but the way she looked at people. Although women were supposed to look at the world from beneath their eyelashes, downcasting their eyes demurely, she preferred to look at the world, and the people living in it, squarely in the eye. The way she reasoned, was that if her straight gaze bothered people it was because they had something to hide.

So far, everybody she’s ever looked at, had turned their eyes away. Even Robert. It appeared she’d finally met someone who had nothing to hide, after all. The musketeer with intense brown eyes had startled her. He’d held her eyes as if it was a challenge, making her breath hitch in her throat, her stomach somersault, and spreading warmth throughout her body. She’d never felt like that before. It was heady, it was exhilarating...And it was disconcerting.

No wonder people looked away when she stared.

In that brief moment they held each other’s gazes, she felt like he could see inside her, see all her secrets. She felt exposed, naked under that intense scrutiny...And it made her sluggish, offering Mercier an opening, he used at a full advantage.

It wasn’t until her head connected hardly with the ground that Alec snapped out of the haze. Mercier grinned evilly down at her, probably feeling this was an opportunity for revenge, since he looked away immediately when she looked at him before. Others snickered, obviously enjoying the fact she was one the ground. From the corner of her eye, she could see Tréville shake his head in disappointment, and the musketeer that had held her gaze looked troubled.

What did he have to feel troubled about? She was the one on the ground. She was the one letting the one opportunity to gain access to the musketeers slip through her fingers.

Not today!

She lifted her pelvis off the ground, rolled backward over her head, and smoothly gained her feet. Mercier looked impressed for a moment, then his grin spread. He must’ve thought her easy prey.

Alec returned the grin. Mercier, Tréville, the brown-eyed musketeer, all the others...They had no idea who they were dealing with.

Mercier sprung forward, and Alec went dirty. She kicked him in the side of his knee, and when he was down, she sent her knee up under his chin.

Lights out.

She shook her head in disgust, looking at him lying in an unconscious heap at her feet. She’d expected him to last longer.

She looked up, and saw a spark of approval in Tréville’s eyes. Then he nodded, and sounds of rapiers sliding from scabbards sounded around the courtyard. Alec gritted her teeth, when she felt someone at her back. Before she could reach for her own sword, the musketeer that had held her eye, stood by her side, sword drawn, eyes forward.

A younger man with shoulder-length hair and just a hint of scruff on his chin flanked him, while two larger musketeers positioned on Alec’s other side. All three had drawn their swords, and neither looked at her, keeping watchful eyes on the other approaching musketeers, that have begun approaching a lot more cautiously.

“You might want to draw your sword,” the man at her right, his eyes alert under the brim of his hat, suggested.

“It’s the pointy thing strapped to your waist,” the brown-eyed man who’d held her gaze added helpfully.

It seemed the four were her backup. Alec rolled her eyes, pulled out her sword, and all hell broke loose.

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