CHAPTER ONE: THE HOSTAGES
Hello, Dear Readers!
Can you believe I haven't posted a story since May, but I have been a busy bee. I just finished my first Young Adult novel; it has been read/reviewed/scrutinized by 3 wonderful readers; I have edited/rewritten/deleted unnecessary parts/edited again… well, you get the gist. This new story was a welcome break from my original work; I actually started this chapter back in May when a dear Friend, Christina (newbeginning15), asked that I write her a story for her birthday (in June). I'm only off by 5 months, but I never break a promise. So, Christina, I hope you believe in the old saying, "Better late than never." Happy (very belated) Birthday, my friend.
This story takes place sometime in S2. I hope that you all enjoy!
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Klingon Proverb, Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn
"Hurry up and hide, damn you," Philippe yelled. "Someone's coming!"
The three bandits hid behind large trees, waiting until the two horsemen were just in front of their location before jumping out onto the road with guns drawn.
"Hold it right there! Where you off to in such a hurry, eh?" Gerard cackled as he pointed his loaded pistol at the horsemen. "Why don't I see what you're carrying on you."
"Take it easy," said one of the riders. "You are welcome to our money, though we are not carrying much. We are on official business for the king; we do not want any trouble."
"Oh, you're already in trouble," Gerard said, grinning. The bandit pulled the hammer back on his pistol and aimed it at the horseman's chest. The man nodded approvingly as his companions trained their muskets on the second horseman. "How about you both get down from your horses—that's not a request. If you try anything sneaky, we'll shoot you both dead before. . ."
"Holy hell," Philippe cried out, cutting off his companion mid-sentence. "Do you know who we have here, Gerard? We have ourselves some Musketeers!"
"Well, I'll be damned," Gerard laughed, "looks like we just struck it rich, boys. We just held up some Musketeers."
"Look, we're not carrying anything of value," said one horseman. "We have nothing on our persons that would interest you, gentlemen."
"Mon Dieu," gasped the third bandit as he stepped from the shadow of the trees. "These men are more than just Musketeers! My friends, we have here the captain of the Musketeers and his ever-loyal lieutenant; I present to you, Captain Tréville and Athos, Comte de la Fère."
"How do you know so much, Jean-Marc?" Gerard asked, as he continued aiming his pistol at the horseman. "Just how do you know these boys, eh?"
"I know these men because I used to be one of them. Remember me, Captain?" Jean-Marc snarled angrily. "I've been waiting for this day for four long years. . . and, by God, here you are. This is better than my finest expectations. Oh, I'm going to have fun with the two of you!"
"Jean-Marc, you filthy thief," Captain Tréville spat. "I thought you fled to England with the gold you stole from His Majesty."
"Stole from His Majesty?" Jean-Marc growled. "That money was due me; I was owed that money! The king and his Musketeers cost me my leg; I swore then and there I would seek compensation from His Majesty. I paid a heavy price and, well, today is payday."
"Bloody heat!" Porthos growled, as he took his handkerchief to wipe his sweaty brow. The summer sun burned in the mid-afternoon sky, scorching the dusty garrison courtyard. The large Musketeer took a long drink of cold water, then poured the rest over his head. He shook the excess water from his dark curly hair before replacing his floppy hat. "What time did the cap'n say he and Athos would return from Versailles?"
"They said they would be back before dinner time," d'Artagnan replied. The Gascon shielded his eyes as he glanced up at the blazing sun, noting its location. "It looks to be about two in the afternoon, I'd say. They still have a few hours yet, Porthos."
"We still need to finish trainin' the new recruits, but this heat has drained away my energy; I want to do nothin' but sleep," Porthos grumbled.
"I'm too tired to move. . ." d'Artagnan replied sleepily. The young Musketeer draped himself across the top of the picnic table and rested his head on his outstretched arm. "I think I'll take a nap."
Aramis frowned as he studied the sleepy, young Musketeer. He watched as a droplet of sweat ran from the Gascon's brow then dripped onto the table. "Come on, little brother, up we go," the medic said, as he pulled d'Artagnan upright. "We had better finish our work before the captain gets back, which is only a few hours. I think moving around will do us all some good."
"If I don't get up now, I never will," Porthos said, yawning. "Let's finish wit' the recruits so we'll be done when the cap'n comes back." Suddenly, a bright smile spread across the large man's face as a thought came to mind. "When Athos gets back, we can quench our thirst at the Wren, since we don't 'ave to work tomorrow."
"Sounds like a plan," Aramis said, as he clapped his two brothers on the back. "Let's get to work then, shall we?"
"You make one move for that pistol, lieutenant, I'll blow your captain's head off," Jean-Marc threatened as the two Musketeers dismounted. "Now, slowly, put your hands up in the air where I can see them."
"You won't get away with this, Jean-Marc," Captain Tréville snarled. The Musketeers stood with their shoulders touching, glaring defiantly at the bandits. "I'm the one you have an issue with, Dubois, let Athos go."
"No, I have an issue with Athos too," said Jean-Marc. "I should have been your lieutenant, Tréville; I should have been your second-in-command, not this drunkard! I had more years of experience than this former comte did. How much did he pay you for the position, Captain? That was my promotion that your drunkard stole from me! I am going to take from you everything that you took away from me; I am going to make you pay!"
"After you lost your leg, Jean-Marc, your career as a Musketeer was over and I'm truly sorry for that," Tréville countered. "But the attack on your team was unexpected; no one is to blame. As a Musketeer, you knew this job was dangerous, but you agreed to that risk when you swore an oath to His Majesty!"
"Oh, don't give me that 'for king and country' propaganda, Captain. I've heard it all before and I'm sick of it," Jean-Marc screamed. "If you think that I feel honored to have lost my leg for king and country, well you're sorely mistaken. What did the king give me as recompense for becoming a cripple in the line of duty? Nothing! The king has riches beyond compare and he owed me. . ."
"The king owes you nothing!" Athos spat. As quick as lightening, the Musketeer lieutenant grabbed his own pistol and shot Gerard, hitting him square in the chest and killing him instantly.
Philippe swung his musket, clubbing Athos in the back of the head with the stock of his weapon. The Musketeer lieutenant fell forward into the dirt in an unconscious heap.
"Athos!" Captain Tréville cried. The older Musketeer drew his sword, pointing the sharp tip at Philippe's throat before the man could even react. "Make one move and I will slice your throat open."
"Drop the sword, Captain," Jean-Marc snarled as he pointed his pistol at Athos' head. "Drop it, or he dies now. Do as I say," he paused, "or I will shoot your lieutenant, I swear!"
The captain had no choice but to drop his sword to the ground and raise his hands up in surrender. Philippe took advantage and punched the unarmed Tréville in the stomach, doubling him over as he gasped for air.
"That was a stupid mistake, killing my man like that," Jean-Marc said. The sadistic bandit kicked Athos' leg out of the way as he coolly strolled toward the captain. "Your second-in-command didn't learn to take orders very well, did he? If he had just listened to me, he wouldn't be lying in the dirt, bleeding like a stuck pig. Most importantly, my man wouldn't be dead. So, how are we going to rectify this situation?"
"This stunt you've just pulled, Jean-Marc, will be the last mistake you'll ever make," Tréville growled. "My men are expecting us back at the garrison very soon; when we don't show up on time, they'll come looking for us."
"Oh, I wouldn't expect anything less from your Musketeers," Jean-Marc laughed. "Hell, I look forward to seeing the looks on their faces when they realize who it is that has taken their mighty captain and noble lieutenant down. I am rather looking forward to it, indeed!"
"I say we take them over to the lodge so the rest of the boys can meet our new guests," Philippe suggested.
"Yes, let's head on over to the lodge," Jean-Marc agreed. "We can set up a protective perimeter around the property so when the cavalry comes looking for their captain, we'll be ready for them."
"You will never get away with this!" Tréville yelled. He struggled as Philippe grabbed his arms from behind in attempt to tie his hands together. The captain used his shoulder to knock the slender bandit to the ground and then reached for his main gauche. Before the captain could retrieve his weapon, Jean-Marc slammed the butt of his pistol into the side of the Musketeer's head, knocking him unconscious.
"Damned wily bunch, these two," Jean-Marc said, shaking his head. "Let's get these two tied up and on their horses; we'll take them to the lodge before the rest of the garrison comes looking for them. I plan on having a little fun before we make our demands with the king. If His Majesty wants his men back alive, he'll pay the ransom that we demand. He will also provide us safe transport out of France, or his Musketeers die!"
Musketeer Garrison, Later:
"Get your stew while it's hot!" Serge called to the three Musketeers sitting at the picnic table cleaning their weapons after a hard afternoon of training.
"Thanks, Serge, but we'll eat when Athos and the captain get back," Aramis said, waving off the cook.
"Stew's hot now, boys," Serge said, motioning his head toward the mess hall. "You're worried about them, aren't you?"
"Well, they did say they'd be back by now," d'Artagnan added, anxiously. He stared at the arched entryway to the garrison grounds, as though willing his superiors to ride through the gates at his command. "Where could they be?"
"Now, c'mon boys, the cap'n and Athos probably just got delayed in Versailles," Serge said, wiping his hands dry on a towel. "Diplomatic matters are not so easily resolved in an afternoon's time… but your stew is getting cold."
"Give our portions to the men," Aramis stated. The medic stood, jamming his feathered hat on his head with steely resolve. He strung his weapon's belt around his slender waist and then attached his newly-cleaned pistol to the leather belt. "Something is not right; I can feel it."
"Me too," d'Artagnan agreed. "They said they'd be here by now, and the captain is never late."
"Well, we're wastin' time sittin' here talkin' about it!" Porthos stood and set his hands on his hips. "Let's go find the cap'n and Athos."
"Hold on, boys," Serge held up his hand to stop them. "What if they were just delayed by the king and you're ridin' out there for nothing?"
"Look, it's going to be dark soon and we have no idea where they are," Aramis replied. "If Athos and the captain need our help, the darkness only adds to their troubles… and ours." The medic turned to follow his brothers toward the stable, but stopped short. "If we're not back by noon, send out twenty men toward Versailles in search of us," he said, nodding to the cook.
"I'll send out twenty plus one, because I'll be comin' with 'em," Serge said, returning the nod. "Good luck, boys," he called out to the departing men. "Bring back Athos and our captain!"
"We won't be comin' back without 'em, that's a guarantee." Porthos tipped his hat to the old cook before disappearing around the corner.
"What if we don't find them before nightfall?" d'Artagnan asked, as he mounted his horse.
"Well, let's just pray that we do," Aramis said, as he guided his horse out of the stall. "If we don't find them before nightfall, then we'll continue searching by the light of the moon."
"Bloody hell," Porthos gave a throaty growl. "If someone's taken the cap'n and Athos, they're gonna regret it. Dammit, I had stakes in the card game tonight at the Wren."
"Maybe we'll meet them on the road and all our worry will be for nothing," d'Artagnan called to his brothers as they raced toward the city gates. "We can hope, anyway."
"If only it was that easy, but it never is," Aramis grumbled. The medic galloped ahead of his brothers, racing toward the city gates and the road west to Versailles. He prayed they would meet the missing duo along the way; they would all laugh as Athos playfully chided them for stressing and worrying over nothing. But he had a bad feeling that something had gone terribly wrong and his friends were in serious danger. Time was of the essence, as death waits for no one.
Hunting Lodge, Somewhere near Versailles:
"Athos… Athos, can you hear me?" Captain Tréville called out. The older man twisted in his seat, turning as far as his restraints would allow in attempt to get a better look at his lieutenant tied to the chair behind him. "Oh no, Athos. . ."
Athos' head hung limply, obviously still unconscious. The captain winced as he saw the tracks of dried blood caked down the lieutenant's neck, disappearing underneath his doublet. His dark hair was matted with blood; clumps of bloody hair plastered to the side of his head and his ear.
"Aw, Athos," the captain moaned. "Dammit, I shouldn't have let you come with me today. If I had gone to Versailles alone, you wouldn't be hurt. What happened with Jean-Marc wasn't your fault, it was mine. I was his commanding officer; it was my decision to send him on that mission. If only I had known that I was sending my men into a trap. If only I had known…"
Captain Tréville turned back around in his chair to stare with disgust at the dirt floor. He looked around the dark, dank room and frowned at the stone walls, glistening with moisture; he wrinkled his nose at the musty smell and shuddered at the chill in the air. The captain ignored his misgivings of the situation and continued talking to Athos, though he was still unconscious.
"For the last four years, I have felt regret for what happened to my men at the hands of the Spaniards," Tréville lamented. "As captain, I felt responsible for Jean-Marc's injuries, but he was one of the lucky ones; though he nearly lost a leg, he lived to see another day. I lost three good men that day!"
"However, after what Jean-Marc did to you, I take back the regret, and any remorse I've ever felt for…"
"Cap'n?" Athos whispered hoarsely. "Where, where. . . are we? What… happ'nd?"
"Athos! Athos, are you alright?" the captain asked with concern. "You were hit pretty hard on the back of your head," he explained. "Do you remember anything, before you were hit?"
"I 'member… we were… we were heading home…" the lieutenant paused as he tried to think. "I 'member… My God, Jean-Marc… Captain, what does he want with us?"
"What we want, Athos, is for the king to acknowledge the mistake he made in sending us to the border in the first place," Jean-Marc interrupted. "And I want compensation for the king kicking me out of the regiment because of my wounds…"
"Your leg was nearly severed at the knee, Dubois!" Captain Tréville retorted angrily. "The king had no choice but to release you from his regiment; you were no longer physically capable of soldiering! I had no choice but to discharge you of your duties at the king's command."
"There is no shame in… retiring early due to… injuries rec'vd in the line of duty," Athos added weakly.
"I've learned to walk on this bum leg," Jean-Marc countered. "And though I walk with a limp, I can still handle a sword pretty well for a cripple. You and His Majesty never gave me a chance to prove myself; you just threw me out on the street like a damn dog."
"Oh, come on, Dubois, are you so delusional to believe that you could still keep up with an opponent in a sword fight?" Captain Tréville asked. "Do you honestly believe that you could still soldier as well as the rest of the men under my command?"
"Footwork is part of the strategy… in a sword fight," Athos drawled. "Any savvy opponent, who caught on to your disability, would certainly use it to their advantage. They would skewer you through with their sword… the first time you stumbled."
"You always thought you were the expert swordsman—that you were better than me," Jean-Marc sneered. "With more practice, I could have bested you."
"Not in this lifetime…"
"Why, you sanctimonious bastard!" Dubois growled. The ruthless man circled around to Athos' front and gave the lieutenant a swift punch to his belly.
Athos coughed as the air was forced from his body with a sudden whoosh! Panic washed over him as he gasped for air, but found none. It felt as though cold, steely fingers had wrapped themselves around his throat, constricting and cutting off the oxygen from his lungs.
"Diable!" Captain Tréville cursed. "Jean-Marc, stop it now!" The captain twisted around to watch as his lieutenant gasped for air, writhing in his chair as he struggled to catch his breath. "Athos had nothing to do with my decision to let you go!"
"Maybe not, but wasn't he always your favorite, Tréville?" Jean-Marc sneered. "I have dreamt of punishing you for kicking me out of the regiment; what better way to hurt you than by hurting your golden boy, Athos."
"You always were jealous of Athos," Captain Tréville countered. "You never could accept the fact that he exceeded you in every manner possible as a soldier, as a Musketeer. You envied his skills as a swordsman above all else; and you envied his innate skill as a leader—something you could never be."
"I was never given the chance!" Jean-Marc yelled. "Your blatant favoritism for your boy, Athos, blinded you."
"Oh, come now, Dubois, do you really believe that?" Tréville retorted. "You never could accept the fact that Athos outpaced you at every level of soldiering; but worse, you couldn't accept that he was promoted over you as lieutenant!"
"I was a Musketeer for five years longer than Athos was," Jean-Marc snapped. "That promotion was mine!"
"You really are delusional," Athos grunted.
"Athos, quiet!" the captain warned.
"Now, isn't this sweet—the captain is protecting you," the angry man mocked. "Too bad he couldn't—or wouldn't—protect me when I needed him most. You should have to suffer the same as I suffered."
"If you're angry with me, then take it out on me like a man," Tréville challenged. "Let's sort this out, like gentlemen."
"Like gentlemen?" Jean-Marc repeated with surprise. "You want to talk about honor and chivalry, after you threw me away like damaged goods? No, I am going to hurt you just like you hurt me… right in the heart."
Suddenly, the man moved to Athos' chair and viciously punched the lieutenant in his side. The sickening sound of a bone breaking was heard just a split second before Athos' pain-filled scream.
"Salaud!" Tréville yelled out. With unbridled rage, the captain moved his chair with his body and slammed it into Jean-Marc; the force of the collision knocked the man off his feet and sent him sprawling to the floor. The angry man's shoulder impacted with the dirt floor, eliciting a howl of pain in chorus with Athos.
Philippe and Étienne ran into the room, stopping short at the unexpected mayhem before them. The two men rushed to assist their leader, helping the furious man to his feet. Jean-Marc jerked away and then charged at Captain Tréville; he grabbed the Musketeer roughly by his collar and shook him mercilessly.
"That was a stupid mistake, Captain," Jean-Marc paused, "you will pay for that blunder." Before Tréville could react, the bandit slammed his pistol into the side of the Musketeer's head, knocking him out instantly.
Athos bounced his chair sideways in attempt to intervene on behalf of the injured captain, but Jean-Marc kicked out a leg of the chair, sending the Musketeer falling backward to the floor. The lieutenant screamed in pain as his arms took the initial impact of his weight when hitting the floor, sending stabs of jarring pain shooting up his body.
The excruciating pain in Athos' arms lingered only fractions of a second before his head impacted with a dull thud on the hard, dirt floor. The Musketeer lieutenant weakly lifted his head and tried to speak, but the darkness was too powerful. Athos let his head drop back to the floor and he moved no more.
I will post a chapter every other day, so my next chapter will appear on Wednesday. I hope that you enjoyed the beginning of this tale; let me know what you think!