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Bureau of Mutants, Superhumans, & Costumed Vigilantes


March 3rd, 2006

Untitled Musketeer Pastiche @ 04:23 pm

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This was supposed to have gone up in February, but I suck, so… behold my nod to Alexandre Dumas, probably the most prolific and successful writer of African descent ever, as well as one of the most entertaining (You didn’t know? His grandmother, Marie-Césette Dumas, was born a slave on a Caribbean sugar plantation. Who says somebody has to be American to be honoured during/around Black history month?).

Bits of this have been posted before, but now I’m putting up the complete piece. (Part of my Lent promise to write 500-1000 words a day until I finish all my WIPs).

Set during the second half of the book, between the musketeers' discovery of the Cardinalist plot to murder to Duke of Buckingham, and Milady de Winter's return to France. Some conflict with book continuity, but I maintain that continuity flaws are canon in Dumas’ novels:

Concerning Cardinalists and Seawalls


La Rochelle and its environs were cold, damp, and dreary; the sea breezes that usually moderated its weather were mysteriously in abeyance, and for the first time since d’Artagnan had arrived there with M. Des Essart’s Guardsmen, it truly felt like winter. The Rochellais had been quiet since mid-November, and the King was starting to complain of boredom and to talk of returning to Paris.

D’Artagnan had spent the handful of days since the musketeers’ breakfast in the St. Gervais bastion in a constant state of watchfulness, his nerves strung to the highest pitch. The Cardinal’s letter haunted his mind, until his imagination painted pictures of all of the immense power of the state arrayed against himself and his friends, and he looked for Milady’s assassins in every shadow. Already on edge, the gloomy weather served only to make his mood even worse. He dreaded the thought of being sent out on duties that might only be contrivances to get him out where he might more easily be ambushed, yet at the same time longed for some action to take place that might distract him from the constant strain of anticipation.

He was not the only one affected. Aramis had spent the past three evenings buried in a volume of St. Augustine, a sure sign of unhappiness, and Porthos had been even louder and more short-tempered than was his general wont. Athos, on the other hand, remained perfectly calm, ignoring the threat of Milady’s vengeance with an equanimity d’Artagnan could not help but envy.

“We have done all that we can,” he had said, with an expressive shrug. “Planchet is dispatched to London to warn Lord de Winter, and Bazin, to Tours with Aramis’s letter. The affaire is out of our hands now.”

D’Artagnan could not find it within himself to be so sanguine, however. Even the long anticipate promotion into the ranks of the musketeers did not bring the excitement it ought to have—though that was partly due to the fact that the transfer hadn’t been approved yet, Des Essart being currently occupied in Paris. He was technically a musketeer, even had a musketeer’s uniform borrowed from Aramis that was only a little tight across the shoulders, but until Des Essart returned to La Rochelle and signed all the proper paperwork, he was still a de facto Guardsman.

And, as a de facto Guardsman, he could be sent down to the trenches or out on sorties just like any other member of Des Essart’s company, which was how he found himself riding out of camp in the middle of the night, under the command of one of Des Essart’s lieutenants and with orders to inspect the seawall that had just been completed across the harbour mouth for any signs of damage.

The seawall, blocking as it did all access to the open ocean, was no more popular with the local fishermen than it was with the Huguenots, and Cardinal Richelieu had received word through one of his countless intelligencers that a party of discontented locals, possibly possessed of Protestant sympathies, were planning to sabotage it. Three Guardsmen were dispatched to investigate, and the lieutenant in command of the expedition, impressed by d’Artagnan’s participation in the bastion stunt, had specifically requested that he be one of them.

D’Artagnan well remembered the last scouting expedition he had participated in, and as he and his companions road out of camp, he kept a wary eye both on the surrounding landscape, and on his fellow soldiers, alert for any sign of treachery. Therefore, he was the first of the party to see the three horsemen waiting for them on the road.

The men and their mounts were indistinct shadows in the darkness, and d’Artagnan put a hand to the hilt of his sword—and another on the butt of the pistol concealed under his coat—before his eyes caught the glint of moonlight reflecting from the gold braid that trimmed the largest rider’s cloak and he recognised it as Porthos’s. Which made the other two riders Athos and Aramis.

“Excellent,” he said aloud, for the benefit of the other Guardsmen. “Gentlemen, it seems we have reinforcements.”

“Your musketeers, I suppose,” the lower ranking of the Guardsmen said sourly. “Eager for their share of the glory, are they?”

They were almost upon the others, and the Guardsman had spoken just loudly enough for them to hear him. Even in the dim light, d’Artagnan could see the offended grimace that took shape on Porthos’s face—and the dangerous little smile on Athos’s—and spoke up hurriedly.

“You forget, sir, that I am all but become a musketeer myself.”

“I forget nothing,” the man informed him coolly. “You’ve spoken of it often enough.”

“Well, there you are, then.” D’Artagnan smiled a smile that, though friendly, nevertheless held a certain menace. A fight now would be ridiculous, but it grated to allow this fellow to say slighting things about his Majesty’s musketeers. “I will not have you slighting my new company in my presence, any more than I would hear slights cast upon my current company.”

"Admirable sentiments, don't you think, Leroche?" the lieutenant asked. It was too dark to see his expression, but his tone of voice implied that the answer had better be in the affirmative. "Six can scout a seawall as easily as three. We will be happy to have you along, gentlemen, so long as you remember that this mission was assigned to M. Des Essart's guards and not to de Tréville's musketeers, and agree to follow my orders."

"If it will make you happy," Aramis said humbly, but with that special turn of inflection which somehow made his words sound condescending instead of mild.

"We will place ourselves under your command," Porthos added grandly, making a little half-bow from his saddle.

Athos said nothing, but shrugged in such a way as to show that he accepted the arrangement.

"Marvellous," the lieutenant said. "If we may ride now? I mean to reach the dike by morning." He dug his heels into the flanks of his horse and spurred it onwards, and the rest of them were obliged to follow him.

Aramis and Athos nudged their horses ahead until the two of them were flanking d'Artagnan, with Porthos guarding their rear. None of them offered a word of explanation for their presence, but then, none was needed.

"You must find the prospect of leaving your comrades in M. Des Essart's company terribly painful," Aramis commented softly, after a few moments had gone by.

"It tears at my heart dreadfully," d'Artagnan said dryly. Porthos snickered, and even Athos smiled, ever so slightly.

They fell silent after that, aware that too much noise might alert some hidden Rochellais sentry.

D'Artagnan rode though the December night, his eyes still scanning the surroundings for signs of hidden assassins. The shadows on either side of the road, he reflected, no longer seemed quite so deep.

Had he known what lay in wait for them, perhaps he would have revised this opinion.

The ambush was sprung upon them just after dawn, while the scouting party was still riding along the coast, some two hours distant from the seawall. So long as it had remained dark, D'Artagnan and his comrades had kept themselves alert for any hint of attack from the shadows, but with the brightening of the sky had come a certain easing of tension, so that the six of them rode around a bend in the shoreline and into the midst of a group of men gathered around a beached boat before either side knew what was happening.

There was a half-instant of surprise, and then d'Artagnan had drawn his sword and produced the pistol from under his coat, holding it in his left hand. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis had also drawn their weapons, and Leroche and the lieutenant were no slower in showing their steel.

One of the men by the boat shouted a curse in what d'Artagnan recognised as English, followed by something that was obviously an order of some kind, though, knowing only a few words of the other language, d'Artagnan could not make out its meaning.

"Morbleu," Leroche swore. "An English ambush!"

As he spoke, one of the Englishman raised a musket to his shoulder, and the loud report of its firing blotted out the latter part of his words. Guided either by superior marksman ship or considerable luck, the musket ball took Leroche squarely in the face, killing him instantly and sending his lifeless body tumbling from his horse.

Porthos shouted and dug his spurs into the flanks of his horse, charging towards the foreigners, and d'Artagnan followed him, firing his pistol as he did so. The bullet took the Englishman with the musket in the chest, but even as he fell, his companions were grabbing muskets and halberds from within the boat. D'Artagnan felt the wind of a musket ball's passage as it sped by inches from his ear, and heard a sharp cry from behind him. From the corner of his eye, he saw Aramis go crashing to the ground, to lie there in a crumpled heap.

Things became rather confused after that. The Frenchmen were outnumbered several times over, and their blades were not as effective against the Englishmen's halberds as they would have been against men armed with swords. D'Artagnan succeeded in wounding two of them, but nevertheless could tell that the fight was hopeless. The English, with the superiority of numbers on their side, must inevitably triumph, and much as it pained him to consider retreating, the native prudence that is as much a part of the Gascon character as is their vaunted stubbornness told him that it was the best course of action.

"We must fall back!" the lieutenant cried, echoing d'Artagnan's thoughts.

"Be damned to that," Porthos shouted. He had dismounted from his horse, and, having lost his sword in the body of one of the Englishmen, was vigorously beating one of the man's fellows about the head with broken-off staff of a halberd.

"He is right," d'Artagnan shouted back, disengaging his sword from an Englishman's halberd and wheeling his horse about. The riderless horses had fled, spooked by the sound of gunfire, leaving Porthos and Aramis--who had struggled to his feet and was wielding his blade with a grim determination that proved whatever injury he had sustained was at least not immediately fatal--without mounts. "Do you mount up with me, and Athos's horse can take Aramis."

"No," Athos objected, "someone must remain to guard our retreat. I shall-"

"Retreat, I said," the lieutenant shouted, seeing that none were responding to his order. "We must carry word of this to the camp!"

His shouts recalled them all to their duties, and Aramis ducked an Englishman's thrust, nearly losing his footing as he did so, and called out, "Ride for the camp, then. Porthos and I will hold them."

"Pardieu, this sort are no match for two musketeers." Porthos lashed out with his halberd staff once more, catching an English blade as it descended toward his head. "We will join you shortly."

"For God's sake, come on!" The lieutenant suited action to words and set spurs to his horse, and d'Artagnan followed, casting a regretful glance over his shoulder. Porthos and Aramis fought on, and d'Artagnan felt a great uneasiness at leaving them, whatever his lieutenant's orders. Athos, galloping beside him, wore a set, cold expression that gave away none of the emotions he might be feeling.

A volley of musket fire and one thrown halberd chased them as they made for the bend in the shoreline, and once they had rounded it and were well out of range of the Englishmen's shots, d'Artagnan drew rein.

"Should we not go back?" he began uncertainly. "The Englishmen are too many to defeat, but our duty-"

"Is to warn M. de Tréville and the King that the English are once more putting soldiers ashore," Athos said. "And inside the seawall."

"Which means," d'Artagnan continued, seeing where Athos's line of reasoning was heading, "that the Cardinal's spies were right, and the dike has indeed been breached by someone. Or else they have found a way around it. Yes, you are right. We must return to camp, though it pains me to leave our friends in such a position."

"I beg to disagree with you, gentlemen," the lieutenant said. He pulled a pair of wheel lock pistols from beneath his coat and aimed them at d'Artagnan and Athos. "I alone will return to camp and warn the Cardinal." A sort of smirk formed upon his lips, and his eyes seemed to light with an ironic humour. "I fear the two of you were killed in the English ambush."

D'Artagnan stared at his commander in amazement, feeling a hot blush of anger rising to his cheeks. The shock of this unexpected betrayal temporarily robbed him of speech. His hand grasped his sword hilt, but he did not draw; it would have done little good, with the barrel of the other man's pistol aimed at his heart. "You alone…" he spluttered. "But, our friends-"

"Are surely already slain." The lieutenant arched his eyebrows, looking bemused by d'Artagnan's surprise. "Come, you cannot have expected your treachery to go undetected."

"Treachery?" d'Artagnan repeated. Things were beginning to come clear now. The excitement of the skirmish with the Englishmen had driven all thoughts of Milady and the Duke of Buckingham out of his head, but now his expectations of an ambush, temporarily forgotten, leaped to the forefront of his mind again. "Yes, treachery indeed! How much did that fiend, Milady de Winter, pay you to assassinate us?"

"Pay me!" the lieutenant cried, his eyes flashing with anger, "She paid me nothing! I am loyal servant of France and of his Eminence the Cardinal, and I do not require bribes to fulfill my duties." His voice dwelt upon the word "bribes" with a wealth of disgust. "You and your silent friend there," he nodded at Athos, who was staring at him with a grim countenance, "thought to plot treason with our enemies, with the Queen and her lover, Buckingham. Do not try to deny it! I have been told all by one whose business it is to know, and who specially arranged this expedition in order to rid His Majesty's army of you and your musketeer friends. I thought it would prove a difficult task, but by insisting on going everywhere together, you have made my charge all the easier."

"You see, d'Artagnan," Athos said, a sad smile forming on his lips, "the vengeance of a women scorned is terrible." As he spoke, he looked significantly at d'Artagnan, nodding ever-so-slightly towards their captor. The lieutenant, carried away by the force of his words, had neglected to keep the pistols he held properly aimed at the two of them.

Seeing his opportunity, d'Artagnan lunged forward and made a grab for the nearer of the two pistols, snatching the weapon from the man's hand. At almost the same instant, Athos drew his sword and ran the lieutenant through the body. The remaining pistol discharged with a loud crack, the bullet narrowly missing Athos's skull, and the lieutenant collapsed from the saddle, blood spreading rapidly from the sword wound in his chest.

D’Artagnan and Athos dismounted and bent over the man. It was plain that he did not have long to live; his doublet was already saturated with blood, and a trickle of it issued forth from his lips.

“Should have listened to her.” The lieutenant coughed, expelling more blood. “She said...” another cough, “watch out for the quiet one.” He seemed about to say something more, but then his whole body seemed to shudder briefly, the breath leaving his lungs in a long sigh. He did not draw another.

Athos leaned down and used a corner of the dead man’s cloak to clean the blood off his sword, then returned it to its sheath. D’Artagnan, watching, suppressed a shudder, not at the display of coldness toward a defeated enemy, but because the corpse was one more reminder of how far the Cardinal’s webs of influence extended, and how deadly they could be to himself and his friends now that a vengeful Milady was using them for her own purposes. He imagined her crouched in the middle of a network of spies and assassins like some lovely and poisonous spider, needing only to crook a finger and whisper in an ear in order to condemn a man miles away to death.

Their plans to prevent Buckingham’s assassination, which had seemed assured of success only days ago, now seemed the thinnest of shields, sure to fail at the first blow.

“I warned her not to try this sort of devilry,” Athos said softly. “I should have known she would not be deterred.”

“Yes,” d’Artagnan agreed. “It makes me more uneasy than ever about Constance—About Mme. Bonacieux,” he corrected himself. “There may be further plans for her. Even a convent may not be safe.”

“Indeed, the woman has no compunctions about attacking those we love, rather than meting out her revenge on its true targets.” Athos shrugged, and made to remount his horse. “But there is nothing to be done about that now. This expedition may have begun as one of her schemes, but those Englishmen and their boat were not of her making.” He swung himself up into the saddle, and gestured for d’Artagnan to mount himself as well. “There was one grain of truth in our would-be assassin’s words. By this time, Porthos and Aramis have either defeated their opponents, or been slain. If the one, they will certainly catch up to us on the way back to camp, if the other, well, they will not. Either way, it is out of our hands. There is nothing for us but to ride on and deliver our news.”

The truth of this observation was so plain that d’Artagnan quickly moved to comply, stopping first to relieve the dead lieutenant of his pistols, which he pocketed with the pragmatism that is so essential a part of the Gascon character.

The sun was bright overhead by this point, a cheerful contrast to the dark shadows that had cloaked d’Artagnan and his comrades as they had ridden out the previous night, but the sunlight did little to improve his dark mood. Once again, he was riding to deliver a message and leaving friends by the wayside in the process. It was becoming an uncomfortably familiar course of action.

_______________

By this point in our narrative, the reader is no doubt as anxious as d'Artagnan for news of Porthos and Aramis's fate. Therefore, we shall endeavour to enlighten him.

As d’Artagnan, Athos, and the treacherous Guards lieutenant rode away, the remaining two of our four heroes were embroiled in a fierce struggle with the English landing party. The English soldiers, who had been in the process of sneaking supplies to the Rochellais, had not expected to find themselves battling musketeers, or indeed, battling anybody, but they nevertheless put up a determined fight.

Porthos did not for a moment doubt the outcome of the battle, but he could not help reflecting that, though he would have cheerfully placed a wager on himself and Aramis successfully overcoming two-to-one or even three-to-one odds, the two of them were currently facing eight Englishmen. The fact that Aramis was wounded and he himself was armed only with a large stick he discarded as immaterial, but there were still one or two more Englishmen than he would have preferred.

“These fellows grow tiresome,” Porthos announced, directing his words not so much toward Aramis as to the world in general. He dealt one Englishman a solid blow with his section of broken halberd and seized the musket of another of his opponents with his free hand, wrenching the weapon away from the man to prevent him from striking at his head with its stock. The man swore at Porthos in English, and Porthos punched him in the face.

“Indeed,” Aramis gasped, “I think our companions have had sufficient time to escape. Let us take our leave of these cursed Protestants and join them.”

Porthos glanced over at his friend and saw that a trio of enemy soldiers were pressing him hard; Aramis was surrounded on all sides by Englishmen, who were doggedly attempting to disarm him. Thus far, the swiftness of Aramis’s blade had preserved him, but his opponents easily blocked every blow with the poles of their halberds, and had only to wait until he tired in order to prevail. The spreading bloodstain that marred the shoulder of his cloak proclaimed to even a casual observer that the Englishmen would not have to undergo a very long wait.

Some men might have surrendered under such circumstances, but such men would never have been admitted into the ranks of His Majesty’s Musketeers.

The man whom Porthos had just stripped of his musket seized the opportunity provided by his momentary distraction and lunged at him, reaching for his throat. Porthos attempted to dodge this new attack, with only partial success; the Englishman’s hand missed his throat by an inch and closed instead on the earring that decorated Porthos’s right ear. Undaunted at missing his intended target, the man proceeded to pull with all his strength, tearing the jewellery loose along with a handful of fair hair.

Porthos let out a howl of pain and indignation; he had been fond of that earring, which had been costly - though not as costly as it would have been had the stone truly been the diamond it appeared to be rather than cut glass - and he felt an even greater fondness for his ear, which had previously been whole and was now torn and bleeding.

Threatening dire vengeance, Porthos raised his improvised club to strike the man again, with a rather vicious hope that, this time, he would succeed in breaking his attacker’s head open. Another of the Englishmen grabbed his arm, halting him before the blow could land. At the same time, Porthos’s ears - both bleeding and whole - heard a most alarming sound from his right. One of the Englishmen had screamed shrilly, but that was not an ominous noise - rather the contrary. It was the sound that immediately followed the scream that disturbed.

The sounds of wood impacting against steel and wood striking flesh are distinct and the experienced listener may easily distinguish one from the other. Therefore, when Porthos heard the dull thud and choked-off gasp that followed the Englishman’s scream, he knew immediately what had happened.

He forcibly withdrew his arm from his opponent’s grasp and turned toward Aramis, to behold one of the three Englishmen kneeling on the ground, hands pressed to a prodigiously bleeding sword wound in his belly, while the other two stood over Aramis with their weapons brandished threateningly. Aramis himself had fallen to the ground in a crumpled heap, and was clutching at his wounded shoulder, which one of the Englishmen had just struck with the butt of a halberd.

His fighting blood well and truly up now, Porthos shoved his way out of the group of Englishmen who were attempting to encircle him and went running to his friend’s aid. Aramis had picked up his sword again and was attempting to struggle to his feet, but had succeeded only in rising to one knee. The two Englishmen still standing fell back before him and the approaching Porthos nervously.

In the space of the past quarter hour, the Englishmen had been shot at by enemy soldiers who had appeared almost literally out of nowhere, threatened with swords by those same soldiers, and beaten with sticks, and all of this in a location they had expected to find empty of any but their allies. Three of them were dead, two more gravely wounded, and several were sporting cracked or broken bones. They still enjoyed the advantage of superior numbers, but the great height and impressive physique of the Frenchman with the stick, and the smaller Frenchman’s insistence on getting back up and fighting on no matter how many times he was shot or knocked down, made a powerful and fearsome impression upon them. Defeating these men would require even more pain and effort on their part, and they knew it well. Moreover, they were less than eager to continue risking themselves for the sake of a French city that, though nominally Protestant and therefore an ally, was essentially populated by inhabitants little different from the men who were currently attempting to kill them.

The remaining half-dozen Englishmen had the two musketeers surrounded in moments, hanging back just out of range of Porthos’s halberd-staff and Aramis’s sword. For a long moment, each side regarded the other in silence, and then Aramis, tiring of the situation, reached up and grasped hold of Porthos’s arm, using the grip to pull himself to his feet.

“You gentlemen are prepared to surrender, then?” he asked, with a politeness that stopped just short of mockery.

The Englishmen glanced at one another, faces blank, obviously not understanding a word he had said, save for one of them, who flushed angrily. He was very fair-haired, as is common among the English, and his face coloured all the way to the tips of his ears.

“Surrender?” he repeated in accented French. “There are many of us, and only two of you. I believe it is you, messieurs, who must surrender.”

“Unfortunately,” Aramis went on, forcing the words out through clenched teeth, “we cannot oblige you. You see, we were forced to allow ourselves to be taken prisoner by opponents once before, and vowed upon the occasion that we would never again permit ourselves to face our captain as conquered men.”

“You’ll have to kill us first,” Porthos elaborated helpfully. It had been months since the occasion Aramis spoke of, but he could still feel his face heat at the memory of the cold disappointment in M. de Tréville’s voice as he sarcastically asked them whether he ought to start recruiting musketeers from the ranks of His Eminence’s guards, since they had so obviously demonstrated their superiority by defeating and capturing his finest men. Aramis was right; there was no way they could possibly face their commander again if they surrendered to these foreigners, even provided they were not simply killed on the spot.

The Englishman blinked, nonplussed, and then ventured, cautiously, “You… do not surrender?”

“Of course we do not surrender,” Porthos told him, irritated by the slowness of the man’s understanding. “And if you could see fit to return my earring to me, I would appreciate it greatly. It is a very expensive diamond, a gift from a duchess of my acquaintance.”

“What, this?” The Englishman held the bloodstained piece of jewellery up and shrugged, a gesture almost French in its expressiveness. “Someone has cheated you, my friend. It is nothing but cut glass. Now, I see no reason why we cannot resolve this situation like reasonable men. You wish to avoid surrendering to us, we wish to get into our boat and leave this accursed French shoreline without further interruption, as we were attempting to do when you and your companions attacked us.”

“You are not seriously suggesting that we simply stand aside and let you leave?” Aramis asked, shocked to the core. His face was pale, and he did not look entirely steady on his feet, but his grip on his sword hilt was firm, and he seemed more than ready to launch another attack against their captors.

“If you prefer,” the Englishman said icily, “we could slay the two of you and take our leave after you are dead.”

“Do as you will,” Porthos cried defiantly. “But you will not find it an easy task!”

The Englishman swore loudly in his native tongue and flung up his hands, clearly deciding that it was useless to argue further with men whom he took to be dangerous lunatics. “To the devil with you French madmen! Can you not see when you are outnumbered?” He snapped out an order to the rest of the English soldiers, gesturing towards the boat, then added, in French, “We are leaving. If you try to prevent us, we will shoot you.” He glanced at Aramis. “Again. In some place more inconvenient than the shoulder.”

One of the Englishman’s fellows said something to his comrades, gesturing at the two musketeers with his halberd in a way that made his meaning as plain as if he’d spoken French.

Porthos tightened his grasp on his improvised weapon, preparing to sell his life dearly, and Aramis lifted his blade as if saluting their opponents. The expected attack never came. The fair-haired Englishman snarled something impatient and pointed to the tide line, where it could be seen that the water was slowly retreating. Indeed, during the course of the fight it had lowered by almost half a foot.

With evident consternation, the Englishmen resumed pushing the boat out into the water, firing a musket in Porthos’s direction when he tried to interfere. With a speed that spoke of long experience, the invaders pushed their boat out beyond the breakwater and climbed aboard, pulling their wounded comrades in after them.

Porthos picked himself up off the sands, whence he had thrown himself to avoid being pierced by an English bullet, and glowered angrily at the departing boat. “Misbegotten English cowards. They did not even have the grace to stay and finish the fight.”

“Had they done so, it is we who would be finished,” Aramis pointed out. He bent to clean his sword on the doublet of a fallen Englishman and then returned the weapon to its sheath. “I cannot speak for you, but I am not ashamed to confess that a few more minutes of combat would have seen the end of me.”

“Pardieu,” Porthos said, “for a moment I thought an English musket had done just that. One would think you had a contempt for your own skin, you have let it be pierced so often. First your sword cut at the Red Dovecot, and now a Protestant musket ball.”

“In faith, it is the same arm,” Aramis admitted, blushing a little. “And the very same shoulder I was wounded in on the road to Calais. I have the very devil’s luck with it.”

He spoke lightly, but it was clear from the strain that marred his finely-drawn features that the injury was a painful one. The left shoulder of his cloak and the sleeve of his doublet were stained quite liberally with blood, and Porthos, though not by any means a surgeon, knew that the wound would have to be bound up before his friend could proceed back to camp. The painful stinging of Porthos's own torn ear was nothing but the smallest of inconveniences--the most grave effect of his own injury, in truth, was the complete ruination of a new collar of Flemish lace, which, in light of Aramis's more difficult situation, did not seem worth complaining about.

“You do not guard your left side sufficiently,” Porthos said instead. “I have observed it often. You ought to fence with a dagger in your left hand, the way the Spanish do; it would prevent your being cut about the arm so often.”

“I do not think it would defend me from bullets,” Aramis countered mildly. “Now, come and help me get this confounded uniform cloak off.”

Aramis, unlike Porthos, dressed relatively simply and invariably wore his musketeer's cloak, as its deep blue colour displayed his fair complexion and dark hair to great advantage. At that particular moment, his plain attire was a blessing, reducing as it did the number of laces and buttons Porthos had to undo before he could inspect the hole the bullet had made in his friend's shoulder.

Once uncovered, the wound did not appear to be truly dangerous, though it was bleeding quite messily all over Aramis's shirt, doublet, and cloak. "Excellent," Porthos announced after a moment, with a cheer that was only partly feigned. "Nothing appears to be broken, and the bullet is still lodged in your shoulder, so it shouldn't bleed overmuch."

"I suppose a surgeon will have to pull it out," Aramis sighed. He had turned his face fastidiously away while Porthos prodded at his shoulder, and therefore appeared to be addressing the shoreline rather than his companion. "I hear these things fester if they're not removed. One of the Swiss mercenaries lost a leg last month. Ah, well, just tear off part of your cloak and tie it up. It should keep until we reach camp."

Porthos hastened to point out that Aramis's cloak was, after all, already ruined, and therefore the more logical source for bandaging, and Aramis stared at him in such a reproachful way that, before he knew what he was about, Porthos found himself sacrificing his own garment, new trim and all, in the cause of medicine. It was, he reasoned to himself, less painful in the long run than listening to the lectures on vanity Aramis would have felt duty bound to deliver had he continued to refuse. Though, in his private opinion, people who were known to use hot irons to curl their hair had no business lecturing other people on vanity.

Aramis sat silent while his wound was treated, waiting until Porthos had quite finished before carefully rotating his shoulder and pronouncing the bandaging satisfactory. "Only think," he said, with the air of one musing idly upon a subject, "if I hadn't listened to d'Artagnan, I might be in Holy Orders at this moment. In a nice, peaceful monastery where no one would dream of shooting me."

"Morbleu," Porthos swore, "be glad you listened. I always did say d'Artagnan talked sense."

Once Aramis's shoulder had been dealt with, the two musketeers debated their next course of action. Ought they to return to camp, in hopes that they might meet up with Athos and d'Artagnan on the way? Or should they carry out their original goal of inspecting the seawall?

Aramis, insisting that his shoulder was really a matter of no consequence, proposed continuing on to the seawall, reminding Porthos that the scouting party's original mission had never been accomplished, and that, as d'Artagnan's sworn comrades, his duties were their duties, even when he was performing them as a guardsman.

It was a compelling argument. Porthos was loathe to let it be said that musketeers had failed to carry out their mission (much less that they had allowed themselves to be routed by a pack of English rabble), and d'Artagnan was, as everyone knew, a musketeer in every way that mattered, which made his mission a musketeer's mission.

There was also the matter of facing M. de Tréville with a fresh defeat on their consciences--or something that smacked unpleasantly of defeat, as the English had clearly had the upper hand before departing. The forthcoming interview with their commander would seem a much happier prospect if they had vital intelligence regarding the seawall to share.

After making a few token protests, Porthos allowed himself to be convinced, vowing nevertheless to keep a close eye on Aramis in case he should prove unable to continue. He was well acquainted with the other musketeer's determination; where Athos would disregard an injury out of fatalism, and d'Artagnan, out of a desire to be brave, Aramis would simply refuse to acknowledge it because he had more important things to attend to. The end effect, however, was generally much the same

The sun was high overhead, or would have been, had it not been obscured by clouds, by the time the two companions sallied forth to inspect the seawall. What should have been a journey of not quite two hours on horseback required significantly more time to complete on foot, and the afternoon was well advanced by the time they drew within sight of the harbour mouth.

The massive earthenwork dam, built upon a foundation of sunken hulks, stretched over ten kilometres, extending from one shore to the other; a massive feat of engineering that had required many weeks and countless eccus from the Royal treasury to complete. Unromantic as it inarguably was, historians agree that Messieurs Metezeau, and Thiriot’s seawall contributed more to the defeat of the Rochellais than a dozen battles, cutting off the trade that was the lifeblood of the besieged city, and preventing any hope of real aid from their English allies. At high tide, it was all but invisible, but now, as the waters of the harbour drained back out to sea, the seawall was revealed in all its pedestrian glory.

Also visible was the breach someone had dug into it, a gouged-out section of missing earth just large enough to allow a small fishing boat—or a shallow-drafted rowboat of the sort the English had used—to slip over the dyke at high tide.

“I expected that we would find something like this,” Aramis said, with a satisfaction that bordered on smugness. “Trés bien. Now we can go home.”

“I don’t see how you could have,” Porthos complained. He did see now, of course; the Englishmen had come in through the breach in the seawall at high tide, and had been in a hurry to depart because their boat would not be able to leave once the tide fell too low. What mystified him was why, if Aramis had been able to puzzle this out beforehand, they had made the long trek out to this lonely spot to confirm it.

“A larger breach would have been detected some time ago,” Aramis informed him. “But I have been wrong before, and will no doubt prove wrong again in the future, so-“

“You wanted to investigate further,” Porthos interrupted. “That is all very well, but I really don’t think it has done your shoulder much good.”

This was something of an understatement. Porthos’s rough bandaging job had held, but Aramis was pale about the lips and had a distinctly worn look that boded ill for his ability to make the journey back to camp unassisted. When Porthos confronted him with this, he shrugged—a gesture that made him wince in pain—and said that the injury he had received on the road to Calais had been aggravated by riding, and that walking was, on the whole, a far less strenuous and more healthful activity, at least when it came to one’s shoulders. Something about this argument did not seem quite right to Porthos, but since walking was the only option their circumstances allowed, he did not dispute it.

The trip back to the French camp was lengthy and unpleasant. The dark clouds, which had been threatening rain for days, chose a moment when Porthos and Aramis were approximately midway between the seawall and the encampment to finally deliver their burden. Aramis, short-tempered because of his shoulder and impatient at how long the journey was taking, sarcastically inquired whether Porthos had not gotten them lost, an accusation which the larger musketeer hotly denied. The ensuing discussion was within moments of coming to blows when Aramis conceded the argument by fainting.

Porthos was therefore obligated to carry his friend the remaining distance, a task that taxed even his considerable strength; Aramis, though he was shorter than Porthos and slight of build, was not a small man. By the time the two companions were within hailing distance of the camp, it was full night, and a thoroughly soaked Porthos, aching in every overstrained muscle from supporting a half-conscious and equally wet Aramis and humiliatingly conscious of the fact that the sentries who were about to hail him would no doubt think him as bedraggled and ragged as a beggar, would have welcomed the re-appearance of the departed Englishmen. He burned for the chance to exact vengeance upon the English or the Rochellais, upon whom he placed the blame for his current plight.

He had entirely forgotten the threat of Cardinalist assassins that had moved him and his friends to accompany d’Artagnan upon this ill-fated expedition, and indeed, would have been too preoccupied to spot an ambush had one been set for him. So it is fortunate indeed that Milady had concentrated her vengeance on Athos and d’Artagnan and over-looked the necessity of sending assassins after Porthos and Aramis as well, and that the Guards lieutenant she had succeeded in suborning had had no accomplices, or two of our story’s heroes might have come to a premature end.

___________

Though relief at having escaped Milady’s trap had briefly raised his spirits, concern for his absent friends was never far from his mind, and by the time night fell, d’Artagnan had begun to be seriously alarmed at Aramis and Porthos’s continued absence.

Athos, his mood likewise affected by the assassination attempt, gloomily opined that they were dead, a prospect which filled d’Artagnan’s heart with a painful mixture of misery and guilt—it was his actions, after all, that had brought the Cardinal’s and, worse, Milady’s, wrath down upon his friends, and it was to protect him that they had accompanied the Guardsmen on their unlucky mission.

His reports to his superiors were concluded, and he had been relieved of sentry duty for the evening as a consideration for his participation in the scouting expedition, so d’Artagnan had no employ with which to distract himself while he awaited his friends’ return. He attempted to convince Athos to join him in a game of backgammon, but the older man, usually an inveterate gambler, had sunk into one of his black moods, and spent the evening steadily emptying a bottle of champagne and resisting all attempts at conversation. Perhaps he was brooding over their absent friends’ fate, or perhaps Milady’s looming shadow was preying upon his mind more than he cared to admit; either way, he was not cheerful company.

Apprehension had worked d’Artagnan’s nerves to a fever pitch by the time full dark arrived, and when Mousqueton burst into the hotel room he shared with Athos, shouting in excitement, he very narrowly escaped being skewered at the hands of his master’s anxious friend.

Mousqueton completely disregarded d'Artagnan's drawn sword in favour of imparting his news. Both d'Artagnan and Athos received his enthusiastic announcement that his master had returned to camp in the company of Aramis and was currently being interviewed by M. de Tréville with great relief.

At the news of his friends' return, d'Artagnan felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He remembered Athos's remark about Milady seeking revenge by attacking the people he cared for, a fear that had lurked in his own mind since the affair of the Anjou wine that had so nearly proved fatal for Planchet, and he knew that, had Porthos and Aramis failed to return to camp, he would have forever blamed himself for their fate. The fact that his friends would never for an instant think of laying any blame on him would only have made the burden of guilt worse.

Athos set aside his champagne and stood, clapping Mousqueton on the shoulder in a rare display of good humor. "Excellent, my good man. D'Artagnan and I will go to M. de Tréville's lodgings to meet them. You may stay here and help yourself to the champagne."

Mousqueton seized upon the offer of champagne with alacrity, and Athos started for the door, motioning for d'Artagnan to follow him.

D'Artagnan, realising that he was still standing in the middle of the room with naked sword in hand, flushed red and sheathed his weapon, hastening after his friend.

During the course of the siege, the inn where M. de Tréville's lodgings were situated had become a gathering place for his company of musketeers, in much the same way that his hotel in Paris had served as a headquarters for them. Despite the lateness of the hour, d'Artagnan and Athos found a good dozen of their fellows lounging about the common room, drinking, playing at cards, and trading stories of their exploits against the Rochellais. One of them was relating the tale of the "Inseparables’" breakfast at the St. Gervais bastion to an attentive audience, and when the two companions walked in, it was to find themselves the object of every eye.

Several men offered to share a bottle or a game of cards with them, overtures d'Artagnan politely declined. Athos ignored the crowd completely, until one musketeer caught his eye and gestured silently at the hotel staircase.

They nodded their thanks and began to climb the stairs. Halfway up, they encountered Porthos coming down.

He made such a grotesque appearance that d’Artagnan, still giddy with relief, began to laugh in spite of himself.

Porthos, normally so elegantly and fastidiously attired, was soaked through and as dishevelled as d’Artagnan had ever seen him. His clothes were disarranged, his cloak had been shortened by over a foot, until it resembled an odd kind of cape, and the diamond earring he had been boasting over for the past week had been torn from his ear, leaving a spatter of blood on his collar.

Porthos glowered darkly at his friends, drawing himself up straighter and adjusting the hang of his damaged cloak just as if it were whole and unmarred. “Very well,” he said hotly, “laugh. You would not be disposed to laughter if you knew the day I have had.”

D’Artagnan, still laughing, hastily apologised, knowing how touchy Porthos could be on matters of courtesy. “I am sorry,” he managed, “but you do look so very funny. Your poor ear. And whatever happened to your cloak?”

“Aramis is jealous of his uniforms even when they’re already ruined,” Porthos explained, without providing d’Artagnan any enlightenment. “The earring was stolen by a cursed dog of an Englishman, who had the ill grace to run away before I could fetch it back from him. I am sorry for the loss, most especially because, as you know, it was a gift from a lady.”

D’Artagnan made a show of sympathy. He had had his doubts about the true origin of Porthos’s earring, as his friend’s “rich noblewoman” had never been given to particularly expensive presents before, but decided not to mention them. Let Porthos believe someone had discovered his secret, and he would certainly be angry. He could not entirely resist a little fun at his friend’s expense, however, and added, “Perhaps it is for the best. I had my doubts, you know, about that diamond’s provenance. I fear some goldsmith has cheated your lady duchess most shamefully.”

“I suspected something of the sort myself,” Porthos confided. “When I return to Paris, I shall have to find the fellow and give him a thrashing.”

Athos smiled with quiet amusement, than inquired as to Aramis’s whereabouts, reminding his friends that there were still enemies pursuing them, and that it would be unwise to allow any of their number to be found alone.

“He is getting his shoulder seen to,” Porthos said. He took d’Artagnan and Athos by the arms and began to lead them both back down the stairway. “I am promised to meet with him within the hour, now I have finished my interview with M. de Tréville.”

“We will accompany you,” d’Artagnan declared. “The wound is not serious, I hope?”

Porthos assumed an expression of unusual gravity, and shook his head slowly. “I trust it is not, but I will wager he would be grateful for some of that miraculous ointment of yours. The surgeon said there was likely to be some fever. Nasty things, fevers. That Swiss fellow who was wounded in the leg last month nearly died of one.”

Athos and d’Artagnan agreed that fevers were, indeed, chancy things, and the three of them made their way to the surgeon’s to discover the health of the fourth member of their band. As they walked, d’Artagnan and Athos recounted their ambush at the hands of the treacherous Guards lieutenant, and how he had turned out to be Milady de Winter’s catspaw. Porthos was suitably impressed by this intelligence, and ventured to suggest that, in the face of such treachery from one they had presumed to be a comrade in arms, they should determine to trust no one but their fellow musketeers.

“We had already agreed upon something of that sort,” Athos said. “There is no telling how far that woman’s evil may reach. Now, we have told you our story. You must tell us yours. How did you come to lose your earring?”

Porthos dutifully related his and Aramis’s defeat of the Englishmen, whom he maintained had fled from them in fear after a prolonged struggle. He concluded with their discovery concerning the seawall, and looked quite crestfallen when d’Artagnan guessed the Englishmen’s method of ingress before he could reveal it. “The devil if I can discover how you and Aramis do it. I thought once that it was the benefit of all that Jesuitical training, and having learned Latin, but you speak nothing but French, like a sensible man.”

Upon reaching the surgeon’s place of business—a barber’s shop which had expanded considerably beyond it’s original set of customers over the course of the siege, until its fortunate proprietor had given up the hair-trimming side of his enterprise altogether—they found Aramis waiting for them, his left arm ensconced in a sling that bore suspicious resemblance to the missing segment of Porthos’s cloak. D’Artagnan, who after Porthos’s story had been apprehensively expecting to find his friend weak and broken down—and possibly calling for a priest to administer the sacraments—was greatly reassured to find Aramis on his feet. His face was flushed, and his black eyes held a febrile glitter, but he assured his friends that a few days of rest should see him recovered, and that he planned to buy a mass at the nearest convent for luck and swift healing.

D’Artagnan, who, though not irreligious, was of a practical nature, advised Aramis to keep his money and place his confidence in d’Artagnan’s ointment instead, and then, as the subject of convents naturally called to his mind an image of Mme. Bonacieux, which led inevitably to the thought of the Cardinal and Milady, he related for the second time the story of the Guards lieutenant’s treachery.

Aramis listened in silence, frowning in concern when d’Artagnan’s tale was concluded. “Treason does not appear to be a healthful profession,” he observed. “We ourselves had some trouble as well, as you can see.” The relation of events after the ambush, which he then delivered, did not entirely agree with Porthos’s, but no one commented on the differences. “We must all be more careful in the future,” he concluded.

“Indeed,” d’Artagnan confessed, “for my part, I was so occupied in watching out for the Cardinal’s assassins that the party of Englishmen found me disgracefully unprepared.” He was embarrassed to admit such a thing, especially in the company of the other musketeers, who all gave the impression of being very much the experienced campaigners, but the guilt he still felt over the entire affaire compelled him to voice his regrets.

“We were all unprepared,” Athos said gravely. “We underestimated His Eminence’s servants, and we forgot to take into account the English and the Rochellais, who are as much our enemies as he is.”

“Remind me again why we wished to prevent the Duke of Buckingham’s assassination?” Porthos asked irritably.

“Because the queen loves him,” d’Artagnan reminded him. His own worries over the absent Mme. Bonacieux made him sympathetic to the plights of parted lovers. “And any task that can ease that good lady’s burden of sorrow is a worthy one.”

“Because he who does good deeds stores up treasures in heaven,” Aramis said.

“Because it will inconvenience the Cardinal,” Athos concluded.

“Well,” Porthos said, clearly only partly convinced by this logic, “all I can say is, it has caused us no end of trouble already, and I hope it doesn’t end by causing more. I still think Athos should have killed the Countess de Winter and spared us the effort.”

“I said so during our breakfast at the bastion, and it is still my opinion,” Aramis agreed, “but there is no use regretting it now. For myself, I could do with a glass of wine and a bed.”

Seeing that their friend was tiring, d’Artagnan, Porthos, and Athos paid the surgeon for his services—declining his offer to let them take the musket ball he had removed with them as a keepsake—and escorted Aramis back to the lodging house, where they found that Mousqueton and Grimaud, taking shameless advantage of Athos’s impulsive generosity, had finished all of the champagne.

^_~


Ideally, this is/was intended to be a pastiche rather than “straight” fanfic, hence the more distant than usual pov and my (probably painful) attempts at sounding like a 19th century novelist. If I screwed up at either, don’t hesitate to call me on it. It was also supposed to be considerably shorter—once I started, I couldn’t make myself stop, even after I reached the appropriate ending point.
 
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From:elspethdixon
Date:March 5th, 2006 12:13 am (UTC)
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Thanks. ^_^ I tried to stick with complex sentences and relatively formal dialogue--the hard part was keeping the pov from becoming too close a third person. Well, that and trying to keep the slash vibes out.

I'm charmed by your musketeers
*grins* They are charming, aren't they? So noble and over-enthusiastic. I had a massive crush on all four of them as a middle-schooler.
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From:spiritsshadow
Date:August 24th, 2007 08:56 am (UTC)
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This is absolutely wonderful! Very much of what I was looking for at the moment, as I was unhappily finding Three Musketeers love. I loved your musketeers, and while I'm not very knowledgable about 19th century novelists, I loved the flow of your sentences. I don't normally add pieces to my memories, but this makes it! ^^

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