A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Twenty-Three

Philippe had been to Paris before. A few years ago, when his father had still been alive, he’d taken his son with him to buy grosgrain fabric for his seamstress mother. On that long ago trip, his father had also shown Philippe where the musketeer garrison was. He still remembered gaping at the musketeers as they walked past them, admiring their leather uniforms, their shoulder braces, the rapiers. They’d seemed incredibly tall to little Philippe, taller than his father, and if being a musketeer had been a wish until then, it had become an ambition. He wanted to be a musketeer one day, he wanted to wear the uniform and the shoulder brace, he wanted to rest his left hand on the rapier, he wanted to be that tall, walk so confidently.

Today, he had the feeling he was taking one important step closer toward his goal. By delivering a message on behalf of the lady with pale eyes, a musketeer’s wife. He would step inside the garrison, he would take another glimpse into the world of the musketeers. He could feel the anticipation build inside him as he straightened atop his pony. They couldn’t afford a real horse, his mum and him, and he was too little, even if they did. But he wouldn’t be too little for long. His mum kept telling him he’d grow into his ears soon. So he would keep riding his pony until that happened. She hadn’t yet let him down, his Lune, and she didn’t let him down today, even though they’d never ridden this far yet. Or as hard.

He pulled back on Lune’s reins as they approached the entrance to the musketeer garrison. His heart was suddenly in his throat as he dismounted and led Lune into the courtyard. What if he was too late? What if they didn’t believe him? What if—

“Hey, you cannot be here, lad!”

Philippe froze and looked up, and up, and up, as a man, a musketeer approached.

“Are you lost or something?” The man’s voice turned soothing and Philippe gritted his teeth. People tended to do that when they really looked at him.

He straightened his shoulders and met the musketeer’s gaze straight on. “I’m not lost. I’m looking for Aramis.”

“He’s not here.”

The lady had thought of that possibility, giving Philippe and additional name. “Then I need to see Captain de Tréville. It’s urgent.”

The musketeer put his hands on his hips. “I’m sure it is.”

He didn’t believe him. Philippe gritted his teeth. Of course the man didn’t believe him. Why would a boy need to see the Captain of the musketeers about an urgent matter. “I have a message from Aramis’ wife.”

The man laughed. “Aramis doesn’t have a wife.”

Philippe stared up at the musketeer. Of course, this Aramis fellow had a wife. Philippe had talked to her just a few hours ago. “The lady with pale eyes.”

The musketeer opened his mouth, to send him on his way, no doubt, when another musketeer, with darker skin and curly hair, rushed toward them.

“What did you say?” he enquired, his eyes intense.

This one looked like he was willing to listen. “Aramis’ wife sent me,” Philippe quickly began, but never got to finish.

“Tiny? With pale green eyes and skin as dark as mine?”

Philippe nodded, yet they were once again interrupted before he could say anything by the first musketeer greeting someone behind him. “I didn’t know you’re married, man.”

Philippe turned to see three musketeers walking toward them. All three were of the same height, one younger than the other two. The one in the middle, with curly hair and a nicely trimmed beard and moustache, wearing a slightly longer doublet that probably made him stand out among his fellow musketeers, frowned. “What is going on, Porthos?”

The man who obviously knew the lady dropped his hand onto Philippe shoulder. “This boy claims Alexandra sent him.”

The man in the long doublet was in front of Philippe in a heartbeat. “You’ve seen her?”

This had to be Aramis, the one the lady with the lovely name sent him to. Philippe wanted to dance with joy. He’s accomplished his mission. “Yes.”

Aramis exchanged glances with his two companions and the man who’d first believed him, Porthos. “What colour was her dress?”

“Green,” Phillipe quickly said, then frowned. “Dark green and she only has one shoe.” He’d seen her bound foot when she’d sat down in the shade of his oak tree. Then he remembered he had one more proof that he was telling the truth. “Look, she gave me this.” He showed them the ring, belatedly realizing they might think he’d stolen it from her. “It was important to her, but she gave it to me as payment for delivering the message.”

“Get Buckingham,” Aramis ordered softly, and the younger musketeer ran off. Then he looked at Philippe. “What’s your name, young man?”

“Philippe.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Philippe. I’m Aramis.”

Philippe nodded. “She sent me to you.”

Aramis smiled slightly. “Smart girl.” Then he offered his hand. “Come on, let’s take care of your horse and you can tell me everything.”


Alexandra was bored. She wasn’t good at sitting idly by, and she wasn’t good at waiting. But that was all she could do. She couldn’t go wander off, because this was the rendezvous spot. Right here, underneath the oak tree on the edge of the field. She’d decided that, she’d told the boy to tell that to the musketeers, so here she must remain. Waiting. Sitting idly by. Besides, it was a rather good hiding spot. If someone decided to come look for her, someone she didn’t want to come looking for her, she could simply climb into the canopy and hide. Which was something else she wasn’t very good at. Hiding. But this time she’d have to swallow her pride and do it. She might be a match for someone larger and heavier, but if there was more than one, she’d be in trouble with just her dagger as a weapon.

She’d eaten, there was plenty of food in the forest if you knew what to look for. Trifolium, Cichorium intybus, Stellaria media, Rumex crispus, Thalspi vulgaris, Oxalis, and some berries for dessert. She’d drunk from the canteen the boy had left her, refilled it from the stream she’d found burbling in the woods. She huffed, and leaned back against the tree. Everything she’d eaten had been raw, because, although she was able to construct snares to catch a more hearty supper, she didn’t want to start a fire. Someone might see the smoke. But now she’d have to rethink her plan of having no fire. The sun would be setting soon and she had no other way of keeping warm.

If she built a small fire on the edge of the forest, it would probably remain undetected. Smoke wasn’t as visible during the night as it was during the day, but the glow of a fire was. She gained her feet, and dusted off her gown. She’d wait a little while longer before starting the fire, but she might as well gather everything she needed for one. Once night fell, it would be too late to do anything but wait. At least, building a fire, she was doing something.

She was foraging for kindling, when she heard the sound of hoof beats. She’d found the road earlier when she was exploring her surroundings. It was lower than the field, located down a gentle slope, with birch trees down one side of it. The hoof beats were growing louder and she debated what to do. Wait or go see who was coming? Friend or foe? Neither of the two? By the sound of it, there was more than one rider. Musketeers? Her brother?

She dropped the kindling, grabbed her skirt, and ran. She skidded down the slope, feeling her makeshift shoe become undone. It didn’t matter if her rescue was imminent. She shook off the binding, and peeked from behind a tree, feeling extremely thankful for having chosen a gown that helped her blend a little into her surroundings. There were four riders. She strained her eyes to see better, and a sigh of relief escaped her as they drew nearer and she caught sight of their uniform. Blue capes, leather doublets, and shoulder braces.

Musketeers.

She stepped from behind the tree and waved. Then her heart sank as they drew their horses to a stop. She didn’t recognize them. They weren’t here to rescue her, she doubted her brother would send her someone she didn’t know. And she knew every musketeer in the Paris garrison. She was debating what to say, how to say it, when one of them leered.

“What have we here?” he asked, his accent rough.

“Good evening, messieurs,” she greeted calmly. “Might I ask for your assistance?”

“Ye can ask for anythin’ ye want, madame,” the man with the rough accent replied. “Right, friends?” he directed his question to his companions.

“Aye, Athos,” one of them agreed. “Anything.”

She wanted to curse. “Athos?” she asked, her eyes darting toward the slope. “As the mountain?”

“What mountain?” the first man asked with a guffaw. “Athos as in the musketeer of the King.”

Alexandra darted up the slope, but she wasn’t fast enough. Not in a gown and not without one shoe. And especially not on foot while they had horses.

“I see my reputation precedes me,” the one calling himself Athos chuckled, as he looked at her squirming in his companion’s hold. “You heard of me.”

“I’ve heard of Athos,” she spat, delivering a rather solid kick to her captor’s knee, forgetting all about the pain in her foot as he grunted, and staggered a little. “I’ve never heard of you.”

He opened his mouth as if to say something, then his eyes narrowed. “Ye sayin’ I’m not Athos?”

“I know you’re not Athos.” Another kick, another grunt, another stagger. She was wearing the bastard down. “Where did you get the uniforms? Did you steal them?”

The imposter grinned. “It’s not stealin’ if the man you’re takin’ it off is dead.”

Murderers! Instead of voicing it, Alexandra gritted her teeth, blocked the pain, and kicked with all her might. Her captor lost his footing, and loosened his grip as they both went down. Alexandra didn’t wait. She rolled off him and onto her knees, using the momentum to gain her feet. But her element of surprise was short lived. A meaty hand tangled in her loosened hair, bringing her to a stop, hurling her around to face them. The man using Athos’ name lifted his hand and slapped her. She felt her lip split, tasted blood. He slapped her again, and she would’ve gone down if it wasn’t for the hand still claiming her hair.

“We were thinkin’ of taking ye to Pontarmé,” the imposter muttered, an unholy gleam in his eyes, “share ye with our friends, but it’s obvious ye need some breakin’ in first.”

They were Red Guard, murdering lapdogs to the Cardinal. Alexandra had no intentions of going back to being a prisoner. And she’d rather die than getting raped by the side of the road. She swallowed loudly, slumped her shoulders. Let them think she was afraid. She ran her palm down her bodice, took a fistful of her skirt, and started lifting it. Slowly...Slowly...Let them think she was more willing that she’d appeared to be.

“Well, well, she looks rather broken in to me,” one of them said, his gaze running hungrily down to her exposed legs.

Yes, let them look at her legs, let them salivate at the promise of bliss. Keep them occupied with her body so they don’t notice the dagger. The hilt firmly in her palm, she swung up and back, feeling it sink into flesh. A howl and her hair was free. She whirled, the hilt flush against her palm, the blade sticking out from the bottom of her fist, and swiped it in a short sweep toward the howling man’s neck. He gurgled, as blood sprayed her face. She whirled again, in a low crouch, sinking the dagger into the inside of a meaty thigh. The blade was in an excellent condition, tearing through leather, skin and sinew like it was butter. She pulled it out easily, slicing at the hand suddenly gripping her upper arm. An upward swipe tore open a cheek narrowly missing a bulging eye, another sunk the blade into a neck, blood erupted as she pulled it out again. Her wrist was suddenly caught in a crushing grip, twisted until she dropped the dagger. Twisted some more, until she feared her wrist would break. Then her hands were secured behind her back, and she was shoved, face first onto the ground, turned roughly onto her back with a vicious kick. Only to look into the bloody face of the man using Athos’ name.

“Bitch,” he hissed, wiping at the blood running from the gash in his cheek. “Ye’ll pay for this. Ye’ll pay for this.”

She was lying on her hands, her arms twisted painfully, her ribs hurting with every panting breath, her skirt wrapped around her legs. She tasted blood, the scent of it was in her nostrils, mixing with the smell of imminent death, and when he grabbed two fistfuls of her skirt and tore it apart, she knew she wouldn’t live past this night. She just wished it would be over soon.


« Previous chapter | Next chapter »

0 comments