A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Nineteen

He watched her as she made her way slowly to where the royal couple sat. She was beautiful, the deep emerald of her gown making her hair gleam and her skin glow. She stood out in the crowd. The simple cut of her dress made her into an elegant and artful masterpiece in the sea of fluttering, decorated, and puffy peacocks surrounding her. He couldn’t look away, and neither could the other guests. But, Aramis noted with a puzzled frown, the gazes were quickly turning from surprised and admiring to speculative, disdainful and amused as faint whispers followed her progress through the ballroom. Whispers that fanned out through the crowd like a wildfire. Whispers she was probably aware of, if her meekly downcast eyes were any indication. Buckingham wasn’t as inconspicuous. His face was a mask of barely contained fury, his body vibrating, probably with the need to hurt someone.

Aramis’ heart skipped a beat. Was it his fault? Were the whispers about them? Had someone seen him sneak into her bedchamber that night? Had he utterly ruined her reputation? Was he the one her brother wanted to hurt? If it was so, Aramis was more than willing to give him ample opportunity.

Without realizing he’d moved, he was standing on the edge of the crowd, watching her curtsy, her small hands balled into fists as she held her gown. Then her eyes rose for just a heartbeat and he could see it wasn’t embarrassment or mortification that was keeping her chin down, it was restraint. Her eyes, reflecting the deep green hue of the dress, were blazing with fury.

Before he could think of a possible explanation for the fury, or for the mouthed apology to her brother, the whispers reached him. Bringing with them more-or-less horrified gasps, cackles, and disapproving glares.

“...no wonder...”

“...she looks nothing like him...”

“...her colouring...”

“...that explains it...”

“...not related...”

“Lord only knows where she came from.”

“...not a drop of noble blood...”

“...bought from a brothel as a child...”


“What went on in that household?”

“...brought his mistress in front of our King...”


“...no shame...”

“...no place for her...”

“...no lady...”

“...a mere whore...”

Blackness descended on his eyes, his vision concentrating on a single point. The portly man standing on the other end of the ballroom beside a horse-faced woman, surrounded by courtiers. Courtiers that were giggling and gasping as they absorbed every single word coming from the gentleman’s mouth. Judging by the mocking and disgusted glares the man’s entourage kept shooting Alexandra, Aramis knew, the man was the cause of all the gossip. How dare he?! Like a large beast stalking its prey, Aramis prowled alongside the edge of the crowd, moving closer and closer to his target. His vision narrowed even more as he closed in, the roar of his blood in his ears drowning every other sound.

One moment he was ready to make his move, and the next three pairs of arms were restraining him as someone hissed the order of calming down into his ear. He couldn’t calm down, he wouldn’t. Not until the bastard stopped spreading lies about Alexandra. But his three friends wouldn’t let him attack a royal guest, something akin to suicide for a musketeer, and as they dragged him away, none in the crowd the wiser as to what had almost befallen one of their own, he suddenly met Alexandra’s eyes. Her eyes were wide and startled, then mortification slowly crept into her gaze, and she looked away.

It was all over. Her brother’s effort was for naught. He’d suffered in captivity, he’d suffered even more in convincing King James to give him another opportunity to reach an agreement with France, he’d succeeded in negotiating the treaty...Only to fail because of her. Because of the people’s sick need to gossip and spread rumours and half-truths, the same half-truths and downright lies that were still keeping the English court entertained even after all these years. And that were now keeping the French court entertained as well, keeping her brother from accomplishing his goal.

Alexandra trembled with the impotent rage boiling up inside her, bit her lower lip to prevent herself from sending the Duke of Cumberland to hell, kept her hands clasped tightly in front of her instead of slamming her fist into the Duchess of Cumberland’s unsightly face.

It always ended like this. Once people got wind of the “truth” according to the Cumberlands, they severed all ties. She had no friends, thanks to the Cumberlands, no one wanted to come near her in fear some of her taint might rub off, leaving them as ostracized as she was. Everybody abandoned her. Everybody except for her brother, and her cousin, the only family she had left. And now Aramis. Heavens above, he’d looked like he was going to run the Duke of Cumberland through. God only knew what would’ve happened if Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan hadn’t dragged him away. Luckily no one had seen the hasty retreat. Why had he done it? Why had he been willing to risk everything for her? For all he knew, what was being whispered around the ballroom was all true, and she was tainted beyond redemption. Yet he’d been prepared to spill blood. His eyes had been murderous as he was being dragged away, and she had to look away. For the first time in her life, she’d been unable to hold someone’s gaze. She hadn’t been able to hold his gaze, for fear of seeing condemnation in them. Or worse, pity.

Whispers continued, she could see the disgusted gazes from the corner of her eyes as she held her head high, staring into nothing, a point in the far corner of the ballroom, above all their heads. She felt her brother move closer and the whispers swelled. He was offering support and comfort, not that she needed them, while they thought and invented who knew what. It didn’t matter, nothing they said could touch her. Nothing they said could hurt her, but it hurt others. It hurt her brother and continued hurting him. And his efforts. Guilt by association. She wished she could spare him that at least. She would do anything to spare him that.

A deathly hush descended on the ballroom as the Queen suddenly rose from the throne. With a look of mild disgust, she gathered her skirts, and made her way toward Alexandra whose heart froze. This didn’t bode well.

“Lady Alexandra.” The Queen’s lilting voice echoed in the silence. “The air in here is stifling. Would you do me the honour of accompanying me on a stroll through the garden?”

Alexandra blinked as the woman presented her arm, while it should’ve been the other way around. It should be the Queen to loop her arm through Alexandra’s. “As your majesty wishes,” she murmured, and took hold of Anne’s arm.

The Queen patted her hand, and, as the sea of people parted before her, their gazes surprised and perturbed, they made their way toward the terrace. “If there’s something I abhor,” the Queen said loudly, “it’s gossip. And those who spread it.” And before they slipped through the door, delivered her parting shot, “No matter their status.”

« Previous chapter | Next chapter »