A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Twenty-Two

Robert Hamilton-Burke, the Duke of Buckingham, strode into the musketeers garrison the next day, and marched straight into Captain’s office. Ready to demand Tréville fetch Aramis, he was fortunate enough for the musketeer to already be there. With his three friends in tow.

“Can I help you?” Tréville demanded, jumping to his feet, but Robert had already grabbed Aramis by his doublet.

“Where is my sister?!”

Aramis shook him off, one look quelling his friends. “I don’t know.”

“She didn’t return to her chamber last night, her bed was untouched. If you know something, please, tell me.”

Aramis paled under his tan. “I left her in the garden.”

Robert nodded, his heart racing. “I know, the Queen told me, I just thought—”

“I didn’t see her afterwards,” Aramis murmured. “Are you sure she didn’t return?”

“She wasn’t in her bed this morning. What do you think?”

Tréville placed his hand on his shoulder. “Who knows about this?”

“Me, you, her maid, but she won’t tell a soul, and the Queen.” Robert shrugged sheepishly. “They left the ballroom together.”

“Then we should check the garden,” Tréville supplied, “if that’s the last place anyone had seen her last night. Or had you already done that?”

Robert gritted his teeth. “There’s no sign of her.”

The musketeers and their Captain exchanged glances, and Robert knew what they were thinking. The worried expression on Aramis’ face confirmed his suspicions, but he refused to believe it. He refused to believe he’s put Alexandra in danger. Again.

A young boy scrambled into the office. “My lord, are you the Duke of Buckingham?”

“I am.” Had Alexandra been found? Was she all right? Had they found her body?

“Her majesty demands your presence at once.” The boy looked at the musketeers. “And the one called Aramis.”

They found Queen Anne in the garden, pacing back and forth by a low hedge. When she saw them, she frantically motioned for them to move closer.

“Thank you for coming,” she said and nodded to Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan, who’d decided to tag along. “I found something.” She pointed to a dark shape half hidden under the hedge.

It looked like a slipper. He picked it up, felt the fabric, the softness of the sole, saw the expertise with which the shoe had been made, and cursed under his breath. “It’s hers.”

The Queen nodded. “Yes, she was wearing those last night. She showed them to me, when I remarked she didn’t make any sounds while walking.”

Aramis echoed his earlier curse. “She’s been taken.”

A young man in the palace livery approached them with a little tray in his hand. He bowed to the Queen. “A message for the Duke of Buckingham, your majesty.”

Robert took the offered folded piece of parchment and exchanged glances with Aramis. The musketeer was close enough to see the letter had been sealed with a plain seal, there was no monogram or crest, it was utterly anonymous. As the servant hurried away, he broke the seal, read the words. And felt like roaring with rage. Rage directed as much at himself as toward the bastards who’ve taken Alexandra.

Aramis snatched the parchment from his numb fingers. “Treaty or your sister.” He crumbled the letter in his fist. “What is it with Richelieu and this blasted treaty.”

“You don’t know it’s Richelieu,” Athos said calmly.

Aramis glared at him. “Who else? He abducted Buckingham—”

“What?” Queen Anne interrupted. “What are you talking about? Oh, that’s why she posed as a musketeer,” she whispered, looking at Robert. “To save you.”

“And when that failed,” Aramis continued as if she hadn’t spoken, “he’d gone after Alexandra.”

“What is it with this treaty that bothers him so?” d’Artagnan asked.

Queen Anne shrugged. “Knowing the Cardinal, he probably has a treaty of his own in the works. With someone else.”

“A treaty that will benefit mostly him,” Porthos finished.

“I don’t care for his reasons,” Aramis snapped. “He has Alexandra and we need to find her.” He turned toward the palace.

“What are you going to do?” Athos called after him.

“Find out where she is,” Aramis shot back over his shoulder. “Even if I have to beat every Red Guard to a pulp.”

Robert knew how the musketeer felt. He felt guilty for not following Alexandra into the garden, for not protecting her. He couldn’t have known someone would kidnap her, but it would be pointless telling him that. Aramis needed to do something. He needed to feel useful. And he needed to keep busy, lest he start thinking. Because once you started thinking...Robert shuddered.

“She can take care of herself, right?” Porthos was obviously trying to be optimistic, but Athos would have nothing of it.

“She’s alone, a woman against who knows how many, and she has no weapons.” He looked at Robert. “No offence to your sister, but not even fighting dirty can get her out of this mess.”

Actually, it was. As long as no one expected it, fighting dirty helped quite a bit. It had helped her escape the castle. Or whatever it was. She didn’t turn to look at it, she didn’t care. All she cared about was putting as much distance between herself and her would-be prison.

She’s woken up on a cot when the sun was rising over the horizon, missing one shoe and her ribs hurting, but otherwise unharmed. She hadn’t known how long she’d remain that way, so she’d needed to get out quickly. Which had proved rather difficult since the door had been locked, and her tiny cell bare of anything that might be useful to unlock it. So she’d proceeded in searching the walls for any loose stones to use as a weapon. She’d almost given up, when she’d encountered a stone in the corner beside the cot, just loose enough for her to be able to wiggle it about. It had taken her a while, but she’d worked the stone loose. It had been heavier than she’d anticipated and too large to hold in one hand, but using both hands, it proved to be just perfect.

When someone had banged on the door, yelling if she was awake, she’d kept silent. When the key had turned in the lock, she’d jumped onto the cot, the stone hidden underneath it, and pretended to still be unconscious. Then the door had opened and a man, judging by the thread of footsteps, had approached her, grumbling about weak females. Obviously satisfied with her still breathing, he’d turned to leave, only to be conked over the head by the stone-wielding weak female.

She’s decided against taking his sword, since it was rather conspicuous, and taken only his dagger which was rather easier concealed in the folds of her skirt. Then, still armed with her stone, she’d locked him in her little cell, and gone in search of an exit. She’d taken a few wrong turns before finding a staircase, but she’d gained her freedom with nary a problem. They’d probably all thought her a weak female, safely locked in her cell, probably still unconscious, or better yet, weeping and praying for someone to save her.

She scoffed, dropped her rock, and scurried away from the door, her back to the wall. She rounded her would-be prison, and grinned upon seeing the thick woods at the back of the property. Taking a deep breath, she listened intently for any sign that she wasn’t alone, that her escape had been detected, then when no sound came, she sent a quick prayer to the Heavens, and darted into the forest. Now, came the hard part. Find a road, follow it to a village, find out where she was, and send word to Paris. Or walk to Paris if she was near it.

She lifted her gown, and used the dagger to cut off her petticoat below her knees. She folded the fabric and twined it around her bare foot, further securing it with a few dead vines. As a shoe it had much to be desired, but it was better than being barefoot. She stabbed the dagger through what was left of her petticoat to secure it against her thigh, and dropped the gown back in place. Now she had a shoe and a makeshift sheath for her dagger. She looked up, judged the position of the sun, and took off in a more or less straight line. Sooner or later she’d stumble upon a road or at least a river she could follow.

It wasn’t a road or a river, but a field that intersected her path. She breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted a boy, no more than ten or twelve, lying in the shade of a large oak tree, whittling a piece of wood. His eyes widened as he saw her emerge from the woods.

She waved a little and smiled reassuringly. “Hello,” she greeted him. “I took a little stroll and I’m afraid I’m lost. Where are we?”

“Close to Thiers-sur-Thève, madame,” the boy replied.

That told her absolutely nothing. She had no idea where she was.

“It must’ve been quite a stroll.” The boy’s eyes darted to the woods behind her, then back to her, and he frowned. “You came from the château.”

Her ears perked. Maybe she’d recognize the name of the castle. “What château?”

“Château de Pontarmé.”

Alexandra sighed with relief. She knew of Pontarmé. It was a few hours ride from Paris to the north.

“You don’t look like a courtesan,” the boy interrupted her train of thoughts.

“Should I?”

The boy shrugged. “The only women frequenting the château are courtesans. It’s not a suitable place for a proper lady. Or so my mum says.”

“Your mum sounds like a smart woman.” Alexandra nodded sagely. “And I’m not a courtesan, they abducted me and took me there, but I escaped.” He looked at her sceptically, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “My husband is a musketeer,” she fibbed. “He taught me some moves.”

“A musketeer,” the boy whispered reverently, his eyes wide. “I want to be a musketeer when I grow up. Is that why the Red Guard took you?”

Red Guard? Alexandra gritted her teeth. So it was true, the Cardinal was behind all of it. “Yes,” she lied some more. “They abducted me to force my husband to forfeit a duel.”

“Bastards,” the boy spat.

Alexandra nodded enthusiastically. “Now, tell me, is Thiers-sur-Thève close? I need to send a message to Paris.”

The boy shook his head. “The Red Guard is crawling all over the village. Probably looking for you. It’s not safe during the day, I’ll take you to there at sundown, my mum and I will hide you until help arrives.”

She couldn’t wait that long. “Can you take a message to Paris?” she asked, clasped her hands together as if in prayer, when he shook his head again. “Please, it’s important he knows I’m not harmed. Please.” She had no money, but she had something of value. Her heart heavy, she pulled off the ring her father had given her. “Take this as payment. It’s real gold and turquoise.”

He was staring at the ring, yet shaking his head feebly.

“I know it doesn’t look like much, but the stone itself is worth a little fortune. Please, help me.”

She had no idea if it was the ring, the mention of the fortune or the plea that swayed him, but a few minutes later she was alone in the field with nothing but her own company. She only hoped the boy got to Paris in time. There was no doubt in her heart he would indeed go to Paris as directed. It was the force of positive thinking, as her mother, Lady Mary, used to say. If you thought good, positive thoughts, they became reality. So she knew the boy would make it to Paris and the musketeer garrison—she didn’t dare send him to the palace. And she hoped her brother would be made aware of her fate before he did something rash like not sign the bloody treaty.

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