|An Unexpected Turn
Author: nevisveli PM
"Another story of Kings and Queens together with evil Dukes and Cardinals. An indecent proposal that had made ambition run through veins like poison, intoxicating the brain and envenoming the heart, and with it all the love and affection." 2011 Continuation.H/C.Athos/Milady/OC FULL SUMMARY INSIDERated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Milady de Winter & Athos - Chapters: 9 - Words: 18,248 - Reviews: 24 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 12-05-12 - Published: 11-12-11 - id: 7545205
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A thousand apologies for the delay, I just had a small inconvenience with my Beta.
My way of writing has been noted from you as unclear, so I've been working on it, and I hope this one satisfies you guys. As usual please enjoy, review and as always constructive criticism is welcome as is advice on writing.
Journey Back and Forth
He heard the grunts of the horses shudder as the driver's violent whips scourged through the night and realized they must be getting closer to the port of Calais. He could literally smell it. The unquestionable scent of the sea was fiercely piercing his nose, pushing through his lungs and leaving there an arid taste.
The tension kept hovering impregnable on the back of the carriage where the men were standing. The heaviness of the news had fallen on Porthos and Aramis' shoulders as much as it had on his, with the four of them, including D'Artagnan being lost for words.
Athos didn't bother searching through the darkness for his friends' faces because he knew what he would find.
Porthos and Aramis' expressions came almost naturally into his head.
The first one was throwing frantic glances through the window, urging the driver to go even faster or muttering swears that faded into Aramis' prayers. Before an important mission, Aramis would always stand aside and begin praying.
As if that would help, but it couldn't hurt either. And Athos thought that they would need any help they could get by every possible mean.
What he wasn't quite sure of was the look on D'Artagnan's face. He often forgot that he was merely a boy. Was it fear stamped on his eyes, or was it foolish anger for not being able to participate in such a mission? Athos understood him for the simple reason that he remembered being his age. He recalled the thrill that adventure and glory brought to the young hearts, so eager to experience new emotions, despite the risks and precautions. But this one was a beast of a burden D'Artagnan couldn't possibly bear.
And if it all went well, the meeting would have no need of his fencing skills. It would call for mental endurance, wits and diplomatic capabilities, faculties which he was too young and too short-tempered to posses.
The wheels of the carriage kept bumping on the road, as the town went by and the smell grew stronger, Athos couldn't help thinking of the abruptness of the last events.
The night of Louis' birthday celebration had been indeed one to remember.
It had started with him meeting her. Valerie, her name was Valerie.
Athos had been surprised as much as he had been amused by the occurrence. Not only was she delightful, but she was also sharp-witted and well, impressive. She was transformed from being a complete stranger, to someone who he would know more than he had ever hoped.
There had been things that he had been surprised to find out and other things that he hadn't had time to learn completely. He now knew that she was Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen, a position which she had acquired only recently. But as obvious as it seemed, she was more than that. She was her closest companion and friend.
Madame De Cuir was in quite good condition, having inherited her husbands' wealth as well as his well-known family name. And she was kind and gentle and—a person you could depend on. And what was more, she thought she could depend on him too.
She had made a clear demonstration of it that night, at the rose gardens, as she had held herself against his chest, lightly sobbing on his shoulder and unwittingly feeling his neck pulse. And in that sweet moment of weakness, as she had been about to reveal the thing that made her feel so at unease—
They had heard thumps coming from the road behind them and she had immediately left his arms, turning her back so she could wipe away her wet cheeks. He had ignored the noise, and offered her once again a handkerchief, recalling their first encounter. She had taken it without looking at him and as she unfolded it, her eyes had warmed and her lips muttered a low "thank you".
The thumps became more violent and they were associated with a voice calling out his name. Athos heard D'Artagnan's voice transformed into that of an adult, strong, loud and precarious. That surely meant that something was ill.
His head showed beyond the bushes and his face was barely stunned to find him in her company. He moved his eyes from her to him, making an alert sign with his head and saying slowly but seriously that the King had requested them for an immediate audience.
Athos had never seen the boy in that state. His features were tense and covered in sweat and he was grimacing almost in pain. He had looked the same way the time when Constance had been captured by Rochefort and his hounds.
"A moment." He dismissed D'Artagnan who was barely standing on one place and was surprised to hear Athos' response but still bowed courtly to the Madame and started walking away from them, still not so far as not to be seen.
Athos wished he had more time to excuse himself with more than a plain "Goodbye". He lightly kissed her hand with static drawing between them one more.
And as he was about to turn his heels and leave, he remembered: blue shining silver. He went over his pockets searching for her silver hand mirror, the one that Aramis thought might be quite valorous. Her eyes lit and her mouth brightened as she saw him take it out of his jacket. Aramis had been right after all.
He held it out for her but instead of reaching out her hand she shook her head in soft disagreement.
"No, keep it. As a token of gratitude—and affection." She smiled an innocent smile and Athos noticed that a rose color had gotten up to her cheeks. He felt mortified himself, thinking of responding that he couldn't possibly, but then—
She walked towards him with sure step and with her cheeks shining brighter than ever, rose on top of her toes and began giving him a tender kiss on the lips.
He was unresponsive at first, shocked to feel her mouth against his and tasting with his tongue the arousing scent coming from her.
It wasn't like when Milady would kiss him, Valerie wasn't impetuous or impatient. Like herself, her lips were sweet and gentle and they didn't lack for sensuality. Even so, having her wrapped in his embrace, he wished she was her, so he could pull her harder against his body. She would laugh and tighten her arms around him but he knew he couldn't do that with Valerie.
Valerie was the woman who, with her heart racing and keeping her eyes downcast, would begin slowly detaching from him. He knew her heart had been racing, it had been so close to his moments ago. She then smiled and bowed at him, taking her leave in the other direction. He kept watching her until she disappeared from sight.
The meeting following that had been deranged, its stinging still fresh in the men's memories.
Athos followed D'Artagnan blindly on the pathways of the garden, and then on the insides of the castle, during the whole time part of him turning over his mind what had happened and the other part chewing the curiosity about what was going to happen.
The Cardinals' watchmen that stood guarding every gate and passage stood aside each time for them, not fussing or requesting any permission.
After some time going through halls and long corridors, they found themselves in a wide opened, high-ceiled room, the most massive amount of indoor space Athos had ever been in, face to face with the King and Cardinal Richelieu.
The walls were decorated with white and golden ornaments and paintings, while the floor had been designed to picture an expanded world map. On it stood great metal sculptures symbolizing the nations' armies.
Throwing side glances at them, Athos noticed that the sculpture of England was not where it was supposed to be. It had been moved instead on the part that symbolized the sea, close to the frontier of France. That surely couldn't be a mistake.
The room—it was evidently Richelieu's study; only he could think of something this flamboyant and at the same time omnipotent.
And the self made man that had conquered during his lifetime one rank after the other, until holding the nation's future in his hands, that man rarely made mistakes. Except for the time he had had to choose for France's spy.
He was standing before them keeping his upright position with the arms folded over one another, looking calm and distant. With one hand he twisted his mustache, now and then throwing troubled glances at the King. Louis was two steps aside him, with the blonde hair and the pale blue eyes he looked even younger than D'Artagnan. Their young King was more nervous than ever, barely standing on one place, he encircled the entire study and left a purple trail of fabric behind him.
"Oh, that vicious—a thousand times cursed Duke! We had an agreement—proposed by him! The bloody traitor— damn it, Richelieu where are they already?"
The doors behind them shattered open and Athos had no need turning to know that the new footsteps arriving were those of Porthos and Aramis. They both joined him and D'Artagnan in their kneeling positions in front of their King, exchanging a worried glance over at Athos…
The carriage's wheels stopped abruptly with a crack and its doors were opened by the driver who urged them to get moving. He then put his hood back on and started the horses on the road back.
The men sheathed their swords and other equipment and headed towards the nearest place they could spend the night, the local tavern. It was dark and nearly empty, apart from some men who had fallen asleep over their plates and the fat landlady who was surprised to have any visitors this hour of the night. They ordered a plain dinner of bread and cheese and wine, and nobody broke the silence during the whole meal. D'Artagnan was having his second cup of wine when he slammed it over the table, causing the red liquid to fall all over the floor.
"This is madness, why can't I attend the meeting with you tomorrow?"
Athos sighed, raising his feet over the chair and letting his head fall on his hands. Porthos let out a bursting laugh and Aramis couldn't even be bothered to raise his eyes from his book.
"I thought we discussed this."
"No, we didn't. The Cardinal—he has bewitched the King with his—plots. That's why he's having him doing what he says and controlling him like if he had strings on the back of his head. The Cardinal arranged it—"
"And you agreed to it. We will all do our share of the plan, as we were instructed. And you too, you will stand ashore, waiting on us."
Athos looked around to find no one suspicious in the tavern and said: "This isn't a safe place to talk, let us go upstairs."
"We will need this!" claimed Porthos while grabbing the bottle of wine together with the cups and paying the landlady a sum of Suis. "Got any room for us, fair dame?"
"I'm afraid we're all filled up, Sir. Only if you agree to sleep in the stable—"
"Will do! Better than sleeping outside anyway—"
There was a harsh smell at the stables and the place was relatively small but it was dry and empty and with enough piles of straw for all of them. They adjusted as well as they could and Porthos gave them each his cup.
Athos continued his speech to D'Artagnan, who was drinking more than usual tonight: "D'Artagnan, you wanted to be a Musketeer, this is part of becoming one. Following orders, whether you like it or not. " His words were plain and straight spoken, and the boy couldn't help but nod and refill his wine cup.
Porthos was pointing at his cup with a disapproving face. "And that is part of being a Musketeer too. But you shouldn't take the hand of it, it ruins ability to focus."
D'Artagnan let down the cup. "It gives me headache too, and sleep."
"That because you're not used to it. Listen, young lad! You'll have all the time in the world to serve France and its leaders, fight the wicked and defend the widows and orphans and all of that crap—but look. This isn't a game, it's bloody mental sparring. We have to convince the bastard to withdraw his ships to that damp country of his, or else we'll have to throw him and his mob out to sea."
"—which is more likely to happen," cut off Athos in the middle of Porthos' speech to D'Artagnan. And then out of nowhere, Aramis' voice was heard coming from behind the pages of his book.
"He will, if he's rational."
"That's the point, George Villiers is not noted for that."
"He hates our guts!"
"I have a strong belief we will come to an agreement, after all, he knows what works in his best interest." Aramis tried to hear noises coming from outside, but failed and then he continued. "The conditions that we offer him are more than convenient. He gets to save his reputation in front of his King, and save most of his men from a certain death."
"France is not ready to face this attack," - disagreed Athos – "and that's why we were sent here. By Louis, the Cardinal or whoever. We've faced the man twice before, we know how he thinks—"
"More reason to believe that our mission will end successfully."
"Truth be told, I don't understand how you are going to make him draw back his ships." D'Artagnan was looking at them as if they were not speaking French. "The fair thing to do would be to gather the army and warn the people, so they can take measures, protect themselves."
"Don't get your head full of ideas, boy!" Athos' voice was severe, but his eyes meant the contrary. He knew that D'Artagnan was right, that that would be the just thing to do, but they had sworn a vow to honor and to obey their King while they had breath in their bodies.
"What Athos means, D'Artagnan," - Aramis was more gracious to explain – "is that if the news were to spread, chaos would rule. And besides, our mission wouldn't stand a chance. We're trying to impede a war between two powerful nations, the biggest one in decades."
"With a piece of paper—"
"It's more than just a piece of paper. It's a document revealing Buckingham's infidelity towards his King, how he has tried to grab more power for himself—"
Porthos burst out a childish laugh, from which the whole room shook, but he still didn't seem to mind.
"Tried—he has more than succeeded if you ask me."
"The point is, - continued Aramis, - that we're trying to play with Buckingham's game, and this is the card under our sleeve."
"So we— you are going to propose him a retreat, and in return you are not going to reveal this 'outrageous' discovery to King James. But even if he agrees, with what explanation is he going to face his Master? That doesn't make sense."
"Here comes the Cardinal's plot. Buckingham will justify himself by saying that attacking northwestern France would mean to kill hundreds of French protestants, and that wouldn't sit well with the English people."
"Thank God for the Cardinal—" said Porthos while sipping another cup of wine. "France would be ruined without him—"
Athos joined him in his laughter and wished that he hadn't had that much to drink. They would need all the sleep and lucidity they could get for tomorrow.
He somehow still believed that it hadn't really happened, the hurried summons with its dark plots and conspiracies, the tiring voyage in disguise and their presence here at the moment. It seemed very surreal; above all, by the fact that he was going to meet tomorrow the person he loathed the most. He didn't hate Buckingham, he loathed him for having taken the one thing he had ever wanted.
There was never an end to D'Artagnan's intrigued questions. "Why has the Cardinal never made use of these incriminating documents? And how did he come to posses them after all?"
Aramis and Porthos exchanged glances and then switched their look towards Athos, just for a moment, which was enough.
Aramis delicately commenced. "We have reasons to believe that he was having his good share of the profit in this matter and, personally, I think he was saving them for the right time. Well thought in fact, considering—"
"And how did they come into his possession?"
It was Athos' turn to talk after remaining silent for so long a time.
"With the help of France's ruin and salvation, and not only that of the country: Countess De Winter."