A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Twelve

No wonder there had been no guard. They’d left the poor bastard to die. Locked him in a cell with no food or water, and only a dead, rotting body for company. Unfortunately, they didn’t count with the willpower of the man. It was sheer willpower that had kept him alive long enough for them to find him, and get him out of that stinking dungeon.

He’d been dirty, stinking, and emaciated, but he’d managed to walk out of the prison on his own two feet, and climbed on a horse under his own power. It was only after Alexandra had vaulted on the horse behind him, that the man had leaned back, exhausted. She’d quickly put her arms around him and leaned her chin on his shoulder, closing her eyes with a small sigh. And Aramis had experienced a bout of envy so visceral it felt like a hot poker passed through his insides.

They hadn’t spoken a single word, not as they departed, not as they rode through the countryside, avoiding any roads or lanes. They hadn’t spoken when they’d arrived at a small farm on the outskirts of Podensac owned by d’Artagnan’s great aunt, and left the Englishman in the care of a quickly-fetched doctor. D’Artagnan and Porthos had left on reconnaissance, and Aramis and Athos warmed up in the kitchen.

“Did you know?” Athos asked as he lowered himself to sit at the hearth beside Aramis.

“Not until last night,” he replied quietly.

“I see.”

Aramis lifted his head at his friend’s tone. Athos was studying him intently for a few heartbeats, then his forehead smoothed out, and understanding shone in his eyes.

“Damn it, Aramis.” Athos sighed. “You’ve been strange since he...she joined us. You could’ve talked to me.”

Aramis gave him a sardonic smile. “And tell you what? That I was sick? That I harboured an unnatural attraction for a boy?”

Athos closed his eyes. “It’s easier to share a burden.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“I wouldn’t have judged. You know that. Damn it, man, you probably weren’t the only one. She makes for a pretty lad.”

“Careful,” Aramis warned in a low voice.

“What happened last night? How did you find out?”

“I found her bathing in the pond.” He’d never look at a pond the same way.

“Jesus,” Athos muttered and Aramis swallowed at the memory. “Then what?”

“I asked her why she did it? Dressed as a man. And she told me it was her only option.”

“Hard to believe that,” Athos retorted sceptically. “It was a very desperate move. Great lengths for...I see.”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell us, Aramis? Why didn’t you tell us this morning that she was a woman?”

“She asked me not to, that the ruse wouldn’t last much longer.”

Athos took a deep breath. “She was right about that. Then what happened?” Aramis merely looked at him and Athos cursed under his breath. “Damn it, Aramis. No wonder you looked like you’ve been clobbered over the head all day. What were you thinking? Are they lovers?”

Aramis shrugged.

“You didn’t ask?”

“I didn’t want to know.”

Another curse. “Damn it, Aramis.” A look heavenward, then back at his friend. “What are you going to do?”

“Nothing.”

“Damn it, Aramis.”

D’Artagnan peeked into the kitchen. “The roads are clear, and Porthos says no one followed us. They don’t yet know he escaped.”

Athos nodded. “Good. Maybe they’ll think he died on the road.” Then looked at Aramis. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m heading back to Paris.”

Athos met d’Artagnan’s questioning gaze, and closed his eyes at the younger man’s nod. “Paris it is.”


Alexandra followed their host down into the kitchen, having been talked into eating a light supper. She kept expecting the elderly woman to ask questions, but the lady refrained. All she needed to know, she said, was that they were d’Artagnan’s friends. She didn’t even look askance at Alexandra’s attire which still constituted her shirtsleeves, the shirt’s hem falling to mid-thigh, and man’s breeches and boots. She’d gotten rid of the faux beard, and her hair was unbound, brushing her shoulders. There’d been no time to think about changing, about washing...all that mattered was getting Robert comfortable.

She’d breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor had pronounced him rather healthy for the condition he was in. He was dehydrated and malnourished, but there were no indication of more serious conditions, no unhealed wounds, breaks or open sores. With the proper care, and plenty of food and fluids, Robert should be able to travel in a few days. Alexandra had no intention of extending their stay beyond that deadline. He’d be as comfortable on a ship than he was at a farm house. She’d send a message to Sebastien Reynaud first thing in the morning to arrange for anything necessary to go back to England.

Her heart squeezed.

They’d go back to England. She would leave France. She would leave...She mentally shook her head. Of course she would leave, there was nothing keeping her here, not matter what had happened. And Robert needed her, her allegiance lay with him.

As she followed the lovely owner, who’d gone to great lengths to provide for someone she didn’t know, on d’Artagnan’s word alone, Athos straightened from his perch by the hearth, and approached them.

“A friend of mine is a ship’s captain from Bordeaux,” he told her quietly. “I can send word to him, if you want.”

Alexandra shook her head. “It won’t be necessary. I’ll contact Reynaud.”

He inclined his head. “I wish you a safe journey, then.” He quietly thanked d’Artagnan’s great aunt, and quickly strode through the open door leading to the courtyard.

Alexandra swallowed. They were leaving. They were leaving without saying goodbye. What did she expect after deceiving them for so long? They’ve done what she wanted them to do. End of story.

The farm’s owner clucked her tongue and glared at her. “What are you waiting for, mademoiselle. Don’t you want to say goodbye?”

Alexandra took a deep breath through her nose, let it out through her mouth, and followed Athos. They were leading their horses out of the stable, when they saw her. Stopped. Another calming breath, that unsurprisingly worked even less than the first, and she took a few steps away from the doorway. While the other three didn’t move, Aramis turned to his horse, and fiddled with the bridle.

She swallowed to dislodge the lump in her throat. He wouldn’t even look at her. That said more than a hundred words could. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “For everything. And I’m sorry,” she added. “For everything.”

Athos looked at the other three, glared in Aramis’ direction, then nodded at her. “It’s what we do, madame.”

“Still—”

“Your reasons are your own,” he interrupted her. “No explanation needed.”

She inclined her head, wishing Athos wouldn’t be as magnanimous. He made her feel even worse.

“It’s been an honour,” he continued, smiled slightly as she blinked, surprised, at him. “My compliments to your teachers. And to you.” He touched the brim of his hat with two fingers, turned, and mounted his horse, Porthos and d’Artagnan following suit.

She watched in silence, her fingers fisted by her sides, nails biting into her palms, as Aramis brushed his hand down his horse’s mane, wishing for him to turn. To say goodbye. To look at her one last time. Her heart plummeted as he snarled a curse, took off his hat, and turned.

Expression determined, he reached her in two strides, pulled her close with one arm around her waist, cupped her face with his other hand, and kissed her. This was no tender, cajoling, seductive kiss. It was demanding, furious, and devouring, his tongue delving deep. Her head slanted backward under the assault, Alexandra had to grab his waist for support. But as she did, the kiss was over as quickly as it began. He turned without a word, donned his hat, and mounted his horse, leaving her bereft and cold without his embrace, her lips tingling.


On the upper floor of the house, Robert watched the man who’d kissed his sister ride away without a backward glance, his three companions quickly following. He watched as Alexandra lifted a trembling hand to her lips, her gaze on the arched entrance to the courtyard. He sighed as he leaned his forehead against the wall, and closed his eyes.

“Damn it, what have I done?”


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