A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Six

Alec was riding through the woods, contemplating the next step of her plan. The fact was, she didn’t have one. At least not one involving just her. Despite what she’d told Tréville, she’d always planned to have help in finding rescuing Robert. It was a fool’s endeavour to attempt this on her own. She didn’t know the castle of Roquetaillade, she didn’t know the surrounding area...

So what was she doing, riding alone, in the middle of the night, toward Bordeaux if she knew she had no hope in succeeding? Because she had to try. She had to do something.

She wished the others were with her. For company, for backup, for taking her mind off the mission. But it wasn’t to be. They were back in Paris, probably already forgetting about a lad called Alexandre Reynaud.

Not that she blamed them. The situation was entirely her fault. She should’ve told them the truth, or at least come as close to the truth as she could. Yet she hadn’t. Not even after, rather quickly, determining, King Louis had nothing to do with her brother’s disappearance. The King had absolutely no clue about a diplomatic emissary from England.

It hadn’t been the King that had issued an invitation to the court of England to send negotiators for the peace treaty. Louis had no idea about any peace treaty with England, or anyone else for that matter. That had become painfully clear to Alec. So if it hadn’t been King Louis to lure Robert to France, it had to be the Cardinal. For reasons yet unknown, one of them to prevent any kind of deal from being signed. She feared the other reason was war. What better way to ignite a war with a country than by making a diplomatic emissary disappear? And reappear later when they were no longer breathing?

She could’ve told the truth about why she’d joined the musketeers then, but she hadn’t. Because she’d feared Tréville might kick her out of the corps, but most of all she’d feared the others’ reaction. She’d envisioned something akin to what had happened earlier. It would’ve been milder, she was sure, if she’d come clean earlier. But that was hindsight speaking.

Alec sighed. It’s been less than half a day, and she missed them already. The easy camaraderie between them, a camaraderie they’ve included her in. The banter, the laughter, the shared stories, the utter devotion to one another as friends and brothers in arms. They were willing to die for one another if need arose, and they were willing to live for one another. She’d only spend a few weeks in their company, but it had become quickly apparent that it was the “living for one another” that was keeping the four so united.

No matter what hardship life threw at them, neither would succumb, because they had each other, they had to keep each other sane. All were looking up to their leader apparent, Athos with his brooding, taciturn nature that hid so much pain from his past life. Yet a spark still lived inside him thanks to his friends, a spark that kept him going. He would be the first one to lay down his life if it meant their survival. Although not much older than Aramis and Porthos, Athos was the one everyone went for advice, Athos was the one who knew the most about each of them. Athos, who has become quite a father figure for the youngest of the four, d’Artagnan.

The young Gascon had been the easiest to figure out for Alec. He was still young enough to keep a cloak of youthful optimism surrounding him, still unspoiled by the harshness of life, no matter what he’s been through since joining the musketeers. He still held the conviction he could make a difference, that he would make a difference alongside his friends. Alec shook her head. He would learn soon enough the only people who made a difference were the ones with money and power. And they made a difference only when and if it suited them. Once d’Artagnan realized that, it would change him, as it had changed Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

Alec smiled. Porthos was also quite an open book. There were no tragedies in his past life as in Athos’, but there was weariness in his eyes that spoke of the fact, he’d realized what d’Artagnan still failed to. No matter what they did, no matter how many times they bled, how many of them lost their lives, they wouldn’t make much of a difference. Porthos knew that was his lot in life, and he’d accepted it. He lived his life to the fullest, each day as if it was his last, enjoying all that’s been given him. Despite the weariness and jaded acceptance of what could never be changed, he had a joie de vivre, the other three lacked.

D’Artagnan because he was still too young, Athos because of his past, and Aramis...Alec’s smile disappeared.

Aramis was the most mysterious of them all. One would think a carefree personality who could glimpse a touch of humour in everything, who could lighten up even the gloomiest mood with a glib retort, would be easy to read...Not when it was all a mask. It was what had probably drawn Alec to him in the first place. The mask. She’s always loved mysteries, uncovering layer upon layer to get to the truth. She wanted to uncover what he hid behind that mask of his. She wanted to get to know the man who never looked away from her gaze.

She’d been drawn to him like moth to a flame, and like any moth she’d gotten burned. Because once she looked beneath the mask he presented to the world, she was unable to look away. Although at the core, all four of them were rather similar in their beliefs, honour, and steadfast loyalty, it was Aramis that’s captured her. That inspired feelings inside her, she’d never felt before. She hadn’t known what those feelings were, until the day someone took a shot at him. It’s probably happened before, and will most likely happen again, so he hadn’t seemed much perturbed about the occurrence.

Unlike her.

As she heard the hammer cock, as she glimpsed the muzzle of the pistol pointed at Aramis, images of him—smiling, thinking, laughing, angry, fighting alongside his friends, alongside her, walking down the cobbled streets, holding a baby in his arms—flashed before her eyes, followed by images of his broken and bloodied body lying in front of her, of a life without him in it. It hit her like a lightning bolt, she loved him. She loved Aramis. Not as she loved her brother, not as a friend, as she loved the other three musketeers. She loved him as a man. She loved him as a woman loved a man.

Her heart hammering in her chest in fear she might be too late, she’d pushed him out of the path of the bullet. She hasn’t been the same since, their relationship hasn’t been the same since. How did someone go back to the way thing were before after a revelation like this. She’s spent her life pretending to be something she was not, yet she couldn’t pretend things were the same between her and Aramis. He knew it, too. Or at least had felt something had changed, because he’d kept looking at her strangely, he’d appeared angry whenever she was near, and things had grown even more strained a few nights later, when she’d followed him to a tavern, suspecting what might be between him and the Queen, knowing it would hurt, yet wanting to know the truth nonetheless.

He’d never looked away from her eyes that night when he’d told her everything. She wished he had. She wished she’d been able to look away as well. Instead she sat there, looking at him, listening to his voice, forcing herself not to betray anything, as her heart slowly broke. The Dauphin was his son, born out of a moment of weakness and passion when they’d all thought they would die. There was nothing between him and Queen Anne anymore, there shouldn’t and couldn’t be, but it didn’t matter. What mattered, what mattered to her, was the fact Aramis loved the Queen. Not only as a musketeer sworn to protect her, but as a man. He loved the Queen the way Alexandra loved Aramis.

Tears threatened to flood her eyes, but she fought them back, as she’d always done. Tears never solved anything. As didn’t wishes and hopes. Nothing would come of her tears, nothing would come of her wishes and hopes. Aramis wasn’t for her, his heart would never belong to her.

Steeling her heart, and her resolve, Alec straightened in the saddle. Tears and wishes might not solve anything, but actions did. She’d saved the life of one man she loved, now it was time to do the same for the other. The one who was hers, the one who did love her back.

Contemplating the problem at hand, she didn’t notice the men flanking the street until it was too late.

Aramis brought his horse to a halt. He’s heard something. What was it? The other three were still riding behind him. He couldn’t hear anything over the thundering of their horses’ hooves. When they stopped beside him, Athos opened his mouth to enquire as to the reason for the stop, but there was no need.

The clash of steel against steel echoed in the silence of the night.

Aramis rammed his spurs into the horse’s flanks, and took off, the others close behind him. There was only one reason for a sword fight on a country road in the middle of the night. Ambush!

The sound of clashing steel became stronger as they approached the bend in the road. So did the grunts and curses. They dismounted, and took a shortcut through the forest.

The sight that greeted them brought a proud smile on Aramis’ face, and a fearful squeezing around his heart. Six men in black gear surrounded a lone, leather-clad figure, swords drawn, sneers on their faces. Sneers that failed to mask their apprehension.

Which was understandable under the circumstances, since an outnumbered Alec Reynaud meant a vicious Alec Reynaud. Aramis and his three friends had learned that the first day. The boy parried and thrust, kicked, and swung, used elbows and knees freely and abundantly. He never stood still, constantly circling, never offering more than a flimsy opportunity of attack to the men surrounding him.

Aramis’ smile grew. The sight was magnificent. A tiny, lithe figure moving like a wraith, his movements almost dance-like, mesmerizing, as he kept his attackers at bay. Alec was magnificent. He was also getting tired. And that always spelled trouble.

He drew his sword, saw his friends do the same, and stepped onto the path. “Six against one? That’s hardly fair.”

Alec deflected a sword-swing, the blade grazing his shoulder pad. “I’m rather busy, right now. Go away.”

Aramis chuckled. “Why should you have all the fun?”

Alec slammed his elbow into the face of the man behind him. “Because they attacked me.”

“Don’t you have better things to do than fight six idiots in the middle of nowhere?” Aramis ignored Athos’ grunt, he was having fun. Although he suspected his friends were probably rolling their eyes. Yet none made a move, so he guessed they were all enjoying the show.

Alec ducked, pivoted. “Apparently having a conversation with an idiot in the middle of nowhere,” he panted dryly.

Instead of chuckling again, Aramis sprung forward, parrying a thrust directed at Alec’s neck with his own sword. The other three joined the fray. It was time to finish this.

It hadn’t taken long. It took even less to search the bodies, and discover they were members of the Red Guard.

“Either these went rogue, or Richelieu knows,” Athos said, brushing a speck of dirt from his doublet.

“How could he possibly know?” Porthos enquired.

Athos shrugged. “You know he has spies everywhere.”

“Not among the musketeers,” d’Artagnan protested.

“And why not? No one is immune to money and power,” Aramis corrected. “Or maybe he just suspects and doesn’t want to take any chances.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Alec said, wiping the blade of his sword against his breeches. “Thank you for your help, now you can go back.”

Aramis glared. “Go back?! Who do you take us for?”

Alec simply levelled his icy glare at him, and Aramis felt a blush warm the back of his neck. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “I might be a bastard, but I don’t abandon friends.” He looked at the other three who nodded. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with us, kid.”

“What if I don’t want to be stuck with you, grandpa?”

Grandpa? Aramis gritted his teeth, contemplating turning the boy over his knee. And the thought shouldn’t be a pleasurable one. “Tough,” he snapped. “We’re coming with you.”

“Following Tréville’s orders?”

Athos placed his hand on the boy’s shoulders. “Sometimes following your heart works just as well.” He took two steps back, presented his sword, point down.

Porthos, d’Artagnan, and Aramis followed suit, placing their blades on top of Athos’. Aramis met Alec’s gaze and arched his eyebrow.

A heartbeat passed. Another. And another. Then Alec huffed, rolled his eyes, and placed his sword on top of the others. “I guess that makes us all idiots.”

Athos nodded. “One for all and all for one. United we stand, divided we fall.”

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