The Dark Embers
"Now what can I do for you two lovely gentleman," said the Lady d'Moise, smiling at the two musketeers standing in her salon. She kept one hand carefully treaded through the mess of curls pied neatly around her skull, absently playing with the long silver pins that kept it all in place. Porthos watched that hand carefully, his own itching towards his belt and empty space where his pistol had been until very recently. She was older than him and age had started to creep in at the corners of her mouth and eyes. She'd be in her fifties at a guess, perhaps older if time had been especially kind. But even so she was a lithe figure, grey eyes darting across the room from exit to exit, only occasionally landing on the two musketeers. Porthos thought back to the scores of armed men he'd seen dotting the house as Aramis and himself had been led towards her ladyship's quarters.
"Was it really necessarily to have us surrender our arms?" asked Aramis, his own stance more relaxed than Porthos'. Unlike Porthos who had remained by the door, Aramis had meandered his way across the room, complimenting her ladyship's taste the entire way and then taken up position next to one of the heavily curtained windows. He slipped one hand behind the drapes to find the windows thick with dust and grime from the streets below. Clearly her ladyship was not a fan of sunlight, or perhaps she simply didn't want anyone looking in.
"We live in dangerous times gentlemen," she answered, shifting in her seat just slightly but turning her allowing her eyes to finally settle on Aramis' face. She smiled softly but Porthos could still see the edges underneath. There wasn't a trusting bone in Lady d'Moise's entire body. Hardly surprising when you were involved in as many shady deals as she was.
A small smile flickered across Aramis' lips in response and he turned away from her gaze to place his hat down on one of the small side tables, leaving his hands free.
"And why would you think that the King's musketeers might wish you harm?" he asked.
"Did I say that?" asked Lady d'Moise, her smile twitched before smoothing out. "I think you must have misunderstood my meaning," she said.
"But why else would you disarm us so thoroughly?" Aramis asked, taking a step forward and allowing the curtain to fall back against the wall, his hands clasping behind his back. "We made no attempt to hide who we were. Surely there would be no need for concern towards our motivations in coming here?"
"And what if you were not musketeers?" asked Lady d'Moise. "Was it not just a few months ago that one of your brothers-in-arms was accused of murder when in fact it was an imposter who carried out the crimes in his name?"
"She's got a point," Porthos grunted, shrugging his shoulder when Aramis cast a look that clearly said stay quiet.
"But still," continued Aramis. "Why the need for such concern in regards to your safety."
"Why does anyone cause harm to another person gentleman. I am not a poor woman and as such certain requirements must be taken into account. What business is it of yours if I wish to protect myself." Her fingers moved closer to the silver pins.
"Of course madam," smiled Aramis. "You must protect yourself and your assets. Even if those methods may be somewhat unorthodox."
Porthos noticed the muscle along her jaw line leap beneath the skin.
"I do not know what you mean," she said, her voice and features tightening. "Are you insinuating something sir?"
"My apologies Madam d'Moise," said Aramis. "We're not insinuating anything. We're simply here to find out what you can tell us about the Dark Embers." He twisted sharply to his left as one of the silver pins from her hair sailed past him and embedded itself in the door.
"Gua-" The rest of her sentence was cut off by a muffled scream as Aramis' gloved hand curled over her mouth. He scowled as her teeth bit into the soft material, his free hand looping one of the curtain ties from the window around her wrists and pulling the noose tight so that she wouldn't be able to hurl any more pins at him or Porthos. Satisfied she wouldn't break free he ushered her back into her seat and leant in close so that only see could hear him.
"I am truly sorry for this treatment my lady," he said, watching as her eyes flashed furiously across his face and colour rose in her cheeks. "Once we are ready to leave we shall release you, no worse for wear and in the same condition as we found you. You have no need to fear us. That is unless you decide to keep some very important information out of our reach. You see a friend of ours has been poisoned, and he will die unless we find out what was used. So you are going to tell us which member of the Dark Embers has ordered our friends death and we shall demand answers of them instead. I am not a cruel person my lady, but I'm afraid that fear can bring out the worst in people and right now I am very afraid my lady. Absolutely terrified. So when I removed my hand you will not scream, you will not call for help and you most certainly will not lie. If you do any of these things I may be forced to commit an act of the likes for which I will never forgive myself for. But as I said, fear brings out the worst in people, and you do not want to see me at my worst."
Some of the colour has seeped from Lady d'Moise's completion as Aramis spoke, leaving an ashen grey colour in its wake.
"Do you understand?" he asked.
Lady d'Moise nodded slowly and Aramis pulled his hand an inch or so away from her lip. Enough space for her to speak, but easy enough to close if she decided to go back on her word.
"You have it all wrong," she spluttered. "I barely know the people you are looking for. I don't have any idea about the motivations of their group."
Porthos snorted loudly.
"We've been watching your house since yesterday afternoon," he said, crossing his arms across his chest. "I doubt the cardinal has as many little spies running back and forth."
"They're not spies," spat Lady d'Moise, turning her attention to Porthos for a moment before Aramis yanked it back to him.
"Then what are they?" he asked. "What do they do for you?"
Lady d'Moise hesitated, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth.
"I really should not say. Siren would have my head served on a platter."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that," Porthos grunted. "I was planning on doing something similar with her myself."
Lady d'Moise shook her head.
"But that's just it," she said. "Siren cannot be the one you are looking for. She's the one who ordered everyone in the order to steer clear of the musketeers!"
"And?" asked Porthos. "What's so special about Siren not wanting to get tangled up with the musketeers. I thought operating in the shadows was the speciality for your lot."
Lady d'Moise shook her head again, more fiercely this time.
"This order was recent. Around the same time as your brother-in-arms was arrested. The one by the name of Athos."
Aramis' hands pulled away completely and he took a step back, leaving Lady d'Moise shivering in her chair. She was not an easily frightened women but she knew desperation could twist the mind like nothing else, and while she would not call herself weak she knew that her own strength would not match up to that of the King's soldiers.
"The orders were given when d'Artagnan arrived in Paris," he said. "But surely that must be a coincidence. No one would have taken notice of a lone boy arriving in the city. How would that of drawn attention from the likes of the Dark Embers."
"They're linked," Lady d'Moise told him. "I was curious about it myself so I had someone look into it quietly. We may have been ordered to keep away from the musketeers but some of Siren's closest lieutenants were keeping tabs on the garrison. Keeping tabs on someone in particular. They never seemed to interfere which suggests that whoever Siren was watching was someone that she wanted to keep in the dark. It must have been someone important though because Siren would never deal out resources of those likes to just anyone."
"They were watching d'Art," said Porthos. "But why?"
"I'm not sure," said Lady d'Moise. "I'm assuming that he's important to Siren somehow. Very important."
"How could d'Artagnan be important to the leader of the Dark Embers?" said Porthos. "They have their hands in everything from smuggling to assassination. Before Paris, d'Artagnan was a farm boy from Gascony. There can't possibly be a connection."
"It doesn't matter if you believe me or not," said Lady d'Moise. "But I'm telling you that the Dark Embers cannot be involved in the attack on the boy. If anything they would have tried to prevent it before any of you even had an inkling of what was going on."
Aramis ran his hand through his hair and turned away from Lady d'Moise.
"Are you telling me, my lady, that really we are on the same side. That both ourselves and the Dark Embers wish to keep d'Artagnan safe?"
"I suppose, in a way." replied Lady d'Moise, her eyes narrowing. "Why?"
"Why?" Aramis laughed. "Because it seems that instead of telling us half the story you should be summoning one of those little runners of yours to give Siren a message."
"A message." Lady d'Moise repeated, her voice coming out in a whisper. "Why would I do that?"
"Because," said Aramis, "you are going to summon Siren here. Tonight in fact."
Lady d'Moise swallowed heavily, and for a moment Porthos thought she might faint in her seat.
"I cannot!" she squeaked. "She would never come herself and even if she did send someone in her place they would most likely be ordered to kill us for daring to summon her in such a manner."
Aramis remained where he was above her.
"I wasn't asking Lady d'Moise. I was giving you an order. If needs must I will write the words for you."
Lady d'Moise swallowed again, her frame slumped against her chair as Aramis loomed over her. She nodded once and Aramis glanced back at Porthos before waving in the direction of a desk sat against one of the walls.
"Now," he said, Porthos rattling around behind him. "Let me tell you what needs to be written."
Hey everyone, sorry it's been so long since the last update. Only two left to go and the story will be complete so there is really no excuse. I may stretch the story to six segments, but I'm going to see how the next two go first. Thanks for reading and thank you to all my lovely reviewers, especially the ones who are so lovely as to give me constructive criticism as well as praise. I adore you for it. Cheerio for now.