A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Twenty-Five

Robert had spent the night nervously pacing up and down his chamber. He couldn’t sleep, not with Alexandra gone, not without knowing her fate, whether the musketeers had reached her in time. D’Artagnan had fetched him to the garrison the previous afternoon with the promise of news. It had been good news, his sister had escaped and enlisted the help of a young lad to deliver her message. Aramis had insisted they depart immediately, and Robert could not have agreed more, especially after seeing the man’s face. There had been something more than the need to get to the woman he loved driving the musketeer. There had been an urgency that spoke of life and death, and the thought of death, Alexandra’s death, had been what had prevented Robert from sleeping that night.

He had no doubt she could take care of herself, she’d escaped unscathed and unharmed, but much could happen to a woman alone in a field, in the middle of a countryside she didn’t know. Aramis had known it, despite having probably as much confidence in Alexandra as Robert had. A lot of things could happen. She could fall, she could be attacked by a wild animal, she could be apprehended again and forced back to Pontarmé or somewhere else , putting her out of their reach. Or worse, she could be dead already, and the message the boy had delivered had been a plan to draw the musketeers into a trap...No wonder he couldn’t sleep, thoughts and gruesome images warring inside his head.

He’d been ready to depart for the garrison and badger Tréville for news the man couldn’t possibly have, when he’d been summoned in front of the King.

He was ushered into the audience chamber where the royal couple awaited along with the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland. He gritted his teeth upon seeing the odious couple, but what had his hackles rising, was the view of Cardinal Richelieu. Who else could the man standing beside the King’s throne, his lips curved into a satisfied smile be if not the bastard who’d organized not only his, but his sister’s abduction. And for what?! For more power? To start a war with England? To gain an ally elsewhere? It took a veritably Herculean effort to restrain himself from running the cleric through with his sword, peace treaty be damned.

“Lord Buckingham.” Cumberland’s nasal tone grated on his nerves. The man was his equal in the hierarchy according to their title, but the Cumberland lineage was longer and older, and his status as the chief royal advisor unparalleled. He never missed an opportunity to prove his own superiority. Either by putting down him or his sister. “We’re waiting for your signature.”

His wife sniffed, disdain and disapproval written clearly in her eyes. She shared her husband’s view that it was preposterous that Robert’s signature was the one carrying all the weight in this treaty. That King James had chosen a young upstart with a tainted family name—adopting an orphan should prove the opposite—over his most trusted adviser and friend.

“Yes, your grace,” the Cardinal said with a wave toward the desk where a document was placed, “why don’t you sign?”

Robert merely stared at him in silence, thinking of all the possible ways of killing a man as slowly and painfully as possible.

The Cardinal smiled. “We haven’t been formally introduced. I’m Cardinal Richelieu, the premier ministre of France.”

“I know who you are,” Robert said with a calm he didn’t feel, bowing slightly. Lifting his head, he met the Queen’s gaze for the first time, seeing in her wide eyes all the apprehension and fear he didn’t let himself feel. He shook his head slightly at the question in her eyes. There was no news.

“The treaty should’ve been signed yesterday, but you were indisposed,” Cumberland whined, his eyes narrowed. “You look in good health now, so why don’t you sign the document so we can all go home.”

“You don’t find our hospitality to your liking?” King Louis enquired and Robert had the pleasure of seeing Cumberland’s face turn an unbecoming shade of purple.

“No, your majesty,” Cumberland sputtered. “Quite the contrary, I just want to deliver the good news to King James.”

“Quite understandable.” Richelieu nodded, looked at Robert. “It’s your turn, your grace.” His smile turned sly. “All you have to do is sign. Or are you reneging on your word? Your King’s word? Let me remind you, you were the one to approach us with the idea of this treaty. Pulling out now could prove to be disastrous.”

“Buckingham,” Cumberland hissed, “sign the bloody document.”

“Yes, Robert, sign the bloody thing.”

At the sound of the voice, every hair on his body stood on end. He turned and there she was. His sister. Alive. Bedraggled, her face smudged with something akin to mud, her hair undone, the skirt of her gown torn, her upper body covered with a musketeer cape. But she was alive. He breathed a sigh of relief. She was alive. He smiled and nodded slightly to Aramis, when he noticed the arm the musketeer kept around Alexandra’s waist. Part protective, part possessive, and probably the only thing keeping her upright.

“What happened to you, Lady Alexandra?” the Queen asked. “Are you all right?”

“I’m quite all right, your majesty, thank you,” Alexandra replied, her voice tired. “But there are people who obviously don’t want to see this treaty being made reality. I was abducted, but your musketeers saved me.”

“Thank God,” Queen Anne breathed, her voice conveying her relief.

“Who would do such a thing?” the King enquired.

Alexandra nodded slightly, her eyes trained on Richelieu. “Who indeed?”

“Abducted?” The Duchess of Cumberland chuckled. “She was probably somewhere in Paris spreading her thighs for all four of them.” She nodded toward the musketeers. “Just look at her.”

Alexandra placed her hand on Aramis’ chest, as the man, his jaw tightly clenched, made to move forward. “Yes, look at me,” she said softly, and shrugged out of the cape.

The Bitch of Cumberland blanched and Robert swallowed a curse. The entire front of Alexandra’s gown was covered in blood, her skin caked with it. What looked like mud smudges on her face, must’ve been blood as well.

“Look at me,” she hissed as the Duchess averted her face. “I’m covered in blood and bruises, but I’m alive. You should be thankful, who would you be gossiping about if I was dead?” She looked at him. “Sign already, so my abductor can rot in Hell for all eternity knowing he’s failed.” She glared at Richelieu. “In this, he failed.”

Robert nodded, winked at her, and strode to the desk where the treaty document lay. He scanned the parchment, and with a grim smile scrawled his name beside King Louis’ signature. It was done. Richelieu had failed.

“Huzzah,” Alexandra muttered. “Now, if you’ll excuse me...”

She offered an awkward curtsy, turned and grimaced as she stumbled. Before she could fall, Aramis sneaked his arm around her waist to steady her. Then he promptly picked her up in his arms, and with a bow of his head to the royal couple, carried her out of the audience chamber. She didn’t protest, merely leaned her head against his shoulder as Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan trailed close behind as their own protective escort.

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