The Cardinal advanced towards the restrained Athos, finger outstretched, proclaiming, "This man stands accused of highway robbery," Athos didn't even blink at him, so he turned back towards the royal couple seated on a dais at the head of the courtroom, "assault, and murder."
Renée stood just in front of the King and Queen, Treville beside her, as they listened to the Cardinal's claims in outrage. The Cardinal came and pointed at them, his voice taking on a disappointed tone, "While Captain Treville and the Lady Renée look the other way, their men riot in the streets."
"This is absurd," Renée expostulated, turning towards the King.
Treville was in agreement. "The charges are false, Your Majesty."
"There are witnesses," The Cardinal calmly retorted, and Renée's jaw clenched.
"Well these 'witnesses' must be mistaken!"
The Cardinal gave her a patronising smile and gestured towards a man at the side of the court. "You!"
The balding man stepped forward, hat clasped in his hands and the Cardinal directed him to tell the King what had happened.
Renée watched the man with narrowed eyes as he stated, quite confidently, "I own an inn. The Musketeer named Athos, and his men, robbed me and murdered two of my guests, Michel Fournier, and a Gascon named Alexandre D'Artagnan."
Athos's face took on an expression of bewilderment. "I have never seen this man before in my life!"
The Cardinal's only response was to call forward yet another 'witness', this time a nervous looking boy with a sallow complexion.
He bowed before the royals, eyes darting across the room, and his voice was equally as nervous. "I was driving my master and mistress home. We were attacked by a bandit. He said his name was Athos. He shot them both."
"Yes, because criminals often tell the truth regarding their names," Renée put in sarcastically and Treville had to shoot her a warning look.
The Cardinal's answer to that, though, was clear. He pointed at Athos and asked the boy quietly, "Is this your assailant?"
Renée held her breath. Surely, he had to say no? It couldn't have been Athos.
The boy pulled a face, clearly indecisive. But he turned back and replied, "Yes, I believe so. He wore the same uniform."
What. Renée's eye twitched.
Treville, now just as worked up as Renée, scornfully declared, "Oh, this is a mockery of justice!"
"There is not a word of truth in this!" Athos yelled. "These men are mistaken!"
"What can a uniform prove?" Renée added just as harshly. "One could easily steal that!"
They were all ignored, as the Cardinal strode towards the King, professing, "Musketeers are not above the law." Then his voice quietened. "Remember, Sire. The King's judgement is infallible."
That was a snide comment to remind them all that Louis' decision was final and yet another way of buttering him up to rule in the Cardinal's favour. Renée could feel her stomach turning, knowing in her gut that this wasn't going to end well. The Cardinal was just too good.
"Quite right," Louis inclined his head, eyes still on Athos. He then announced to the whole court, "An example must be set."
"No," Renée whispered, eyes widening, hand subconsciously finding Treville's wrist and grabbing it tight.
Louis carried on, oblivious to her torment. "Take this Athos to the Chatelet. He will be executed at dawn."
Renée gasped silently, helpless eyes begging Treville to do something, anything. She felt as though she'd been punched in the chest, a heavy weight rendering her speechless, crushing her heart.
Athos couldn't die.
Louis had stood and the whole court bowed. Renée was frozen so Treville had to jerk her body down. His grip caused her to jolt back to herself, casting him a wild look. How could Louis do this?
The King strode out of the room and Treville cast Renée a meaningful look. She nodded and the two quickly chased after him.
She had to get him to change his mind.
"Sire!" Renée called.
He stopped and turned to them with a sigh. "The matter is closed, cousin," Louis' voice was final but she simply wouldn't have this.
"Please! Athos is a good man; he is not capable of what he is accused!" Her voice was desperate and Louis had no choice but to take sympathy in her panicked state; her eyes were wild, almost terrified, and she was taking juddering breaths.
"Your personal bias is clouding your judgement," he said quietly, almost kindly. "I am sorry."
"Careful," he pointed a finger at her. "You sound too attached to that man. You cannot afford another scandal." The warning tone caused her mouth to slam shut.
"I didn't cause a scandal last time," she reminded him, her voice sounding a little dangerous. "And this is different. I am not attached to him in that way."
"Regardless. The matter is closed."
Her eyes fell shut and her head bowed. "Fine."
He looked at her with saddened eyes and squeezed her shoulder. "I am sorry."
Renée shook her head, refusing to meet his eyes. "Not sorry enough," she muttered, pulling her shoulder out of his grasp and storming away. She passed Porthos on her way out but didn't even look at him.
Treville and Louis both watched her go, the King letting out a long-suffering sigh. "Not you too, Treville," he warned, looking pointedly at the Captain.
"No Sire," his voice was quiet. "It's about Captain Cornet."
As soon as Renée was out of the building, her fight left her and she nearly keeled over, having to stagger over to a wall to support herself. She put one hand against the wall, arm stretched out, the other clutching at her stomach as she took deep shaking breaths. Her eyes were burning but she refused to cry. No, she could fix this. She had to. What would they do without Athos?
A pair of boots entered her field of vision.
Her eyes followed the boots upwards to see Porthos in front of her, eyes sad as he watched her.
"You alright?" he asked gently.
She let go of the wall, straightening down her skirts and sniffing. "Fine."
Porthos looked unconvinced but didn't push it. "Treville says we need to find Cornet. It's our only chance to save Athos."
Renée nodded her head slowly, her resolve growing. Yes. Now she knew what she had to do. They would save Athos. "We'd better get going then."
"Where'd you wanna start?" Porthos asked.
Aramis wandered over, hands on his weapons, face grim. "I have an idea."
It turned out finding D'Artagnan was not a difficult task. Renée knew his female companion and her rather irritating husband; he had tried to sell her a number of items of clothing on occasion. Unfortunately for him, Renée was rarely in the market for new clothes and, if she was, she tended to steer away from the smarmier merchants. It was a wonder that Constance put up with that man… The three arrived outside Bonacieaux's house minutes later and stood, staring at the building.
"Sure this is the place?" Aramis tilted his head at Renée.
She nodded, "Positive," then strode towards the building, her friends at her heels.
The door swung open with a clatter, the three not bothering to be quiet as they made their way through the house. Renée soon picked up the sound of voices.
One voice in particular.
She looked smugly at Aramis and Porthos, raising an eyebrow in an 'I told you so' manner as she pointed down the hallway. Aramis rolled his eyes and gestured for her to lead the way.
"I came to kill the man that murdered him, but all I've found are more questions," a mournful voice floated down the corridor. "I can't rest until I know the truth."
"Well that's good," Renée announced, making her entry into the kitchen. "Because rest is certainly out of the question for you."
Three figures jolted to look at them; the Madame, the irritating merchant, and D'Artagnan himself. The latter was having his chest bound by Constance, sitting in front of the fireplace, but jumped up when the Musketeers entered the room, drawing his sword.
Renée didn't take her eyes off of the boy, fixing him with a harsh stare. It was Porthos who moved to calm him down, saying placatingly, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. We're not here to fight."
"He's right. We already beat you," Aramis smiled charmingly, causing D'Artagnan to advance towards him menacingly. He stopped when Renée pushed him back with a hand to the chest.
"Would you recognise those Musketeers that attacked you?" she asked, getting straight down to business.
"They all wore masks," he shrugged.
Renée felt a weight settle in her stomach. She turned to see Aramis and Porthos' hopeful expressions drop.
Well, there went that.
"I shot one of them."
Renée 's head snapped towards the boy. D'Artagnan's face had suddenly turned determined, a steely look entering his eyes as comprehension dawned on him.
"You did what?" Renée breathed, not daring to get her hopes up just yet.
"I shot one," he repeated, his voice becoming surer. "His body might still be there at the inn."
Renée's eyes lit up, and a grin played on Aramis' features.
"Alright. Saddle up," Porthos commanded. "We're leaving."
The four moved, almost as one, towards the door, but were stopped by Constance's incredulous, "This morning you try and kill them, and now you're best friends?"
"Athos' life is at stake," Aramis answered grimly. D'Artagnan brushed past him towards the door, weapons belt slung over his shoulder. "He's to be executed in the morning for crimes he didn't commit."
"And we'll be damned if we allow that to happen," Renée finished, casting Constance a look that told the woman it was best not to argue. She saw the fervid expression on the faces of these Musketeers and knew there was little they wouldn't do to save their friend. Renée followed D'Artagnan out of the door, leaving Aramis to bid their farewells.
He doffed his hat and smiled, almost patronisingly. "Forgive the intrusion, Monsieur."
Renée could almost feel the clock counting down to Athos' demise. Every thrum of her heartbeat was another moment closer. Another second lost.
It was running out.
The man lying in a shallow grave in the snow in front of her was practically blue: long since dead. He wore the unmistakeable Musketeer garb yet she had never seen him before.
"He's no Musketeer," Porthos declared scornfully, with Aramis humming in agreement.
"Look at his clothes," D'Artagnan pointed out, "there are two bullet holes."
Three heads swivelled in his direction.
"So?" Aramis prompted.
Comprehension dawned on Renée a little quicker. "You only shot him once, didn't you?"
Porthos dropped down into the grave, yanking the man's jacket open, revealing a bloody gunshot wound on the man's side. "This is the shot that killed him. And this hole," he pointed to the second hole by the man's collarbone, pulling back the clothing to reveal unblemished skin, "Doesn't match any wound." He looked up, confusion marring his features.
"It means he wasn't wearing the uniform when it was fired," Aramis concluded grimly.
"But the man that was likely died too," Renée added quietly. It must have been a member of Cornet's troop, if not the man himself. She closed her eyes briefly in grief. How could this have happened?
"Cornet?" Porthos looked at them, clambering out of the grave.
"You chose well," the serpent-like voice of the Cardinal remarked as he heard the swishing fabric of his female agent's dress signalling her arrival. "Athos is held in the highest regard by his fellow Musketeers. His disgrace and execution will strike a deadly blow to their morale."
He swivelled to look at her, in her elegant crimson gown with a hood draped over her hair, still partway in the shadows.
"The Lady Renée was almost beyond herself in the courtroom. Perhaps the King will have little option but to remove her from her post, especially if she descends into hysterics," he continued gleefully, oblivious to the pained look that suddenly flitted across her eyes.
Then he halted and frowned. "But why him?"
She stepped forward into the light, removing her hood. "I have my reasons."
The part of the road to Chartres the four found themselves on was covered by a thick canopy of trees.
Porthos, leading the four with Renée just behind him, called, "If I was planning an ambush, I'd do it here." Renée surveyed her surroundings and hummed. It was fairly secluded; perfect for an ambush, "Plenty of cover, good sightlines. Cornet wouldn't have suspected a thing."
And he hadn't.
"Let's have a look here then," Renée instructed and the four found an appropriate place before dismounting.
It wasn't long before they came across what had remained of Captain Cornet and his men. The trek through the snow was silent and tense, but the sight of the dead bodies spurred them all into action. Birds were already hopping over the bodies which lay splayed in the snow, crimson blood seeping into the surrounding whiteness. The stark contrast was enough to make a person sick.
They walked mournfully towards the dead, crows carking irritably at them.
Renée's eyes zeroed in on the man they had been searching for. "Oh, Cornet," she breathed, dropping to her knees in front of his body.
Aramis removed his hat and Porthos' head bowed but there was anger clearly simmering in his veins. These had been their friends and they had been slaughtered.
Renée took a deep breath, running a hand through her hair. She pulled herself to her feet, turning to the men with her eyes blazing. "We have to find who did this," she hissed.
Porthos' anger only increased as they trudged back to the horses. He finally boiled over as they clambered down the short incline by the horses, letting out a seething, "They shot them like animals and then stripped them of their uniforms!" His voice had been getting slowly louder with each word until he was practically yelling in their faces.
Renée tried to calm herself. The callous death of her friends only fuelled the fire in her belly, but she could not let this cloud her judgement. They had to bring these people to justice but they couldn't do that by going in half-cocked. The anger she felt had to be channelled towards those responsible; of that, she was determined. No use losing herself to a red mist.
She nodded at Porthos. "We'll make them pay, Porthos," Renée reassured him, grabbing his shoulder and looking fiercely at him.
"I know," Porthos returned, nodding equally as severely.
Renée looked over to Aramis who seemed to be coaxing D'Artagnan into helping them further. She missed Porthos looking at the mulchy ground beneath them and seeing a glinting in amongst the dead leaves. He leant down and picked up the piece of gold. Renée only looked back when she heard a huffed chuckle.
"What?" she frowned, seeing Porthos grinning at something in his gloved hands. He held up the gold to her, turning to include Aramis and D'Artagnan in his discovery.
"Was Cornet carrying Spanish gold?"
"Possibly," Renée muttered, eyeing the gold as she could not bear to meet Porthos' gaze. She knew, for a fact, that he had been carrying the Spanish gold and for a specific reason.
"You can go a year in Paris without seeing a new Spanish doubloon," Porthos remarked, turning it over in his grip, the other hand digging into his coin purse and pulling out an identical piece, "and that makes two in a week."
"Where did you get that?" D'Artagnan asked.
A dark-haired moustachioed man popped into Renée's head. "Dujon," she murmured incredulously, looking at Porthos for confirmation.
He returned her gaze and nodded, before moving back towards his horse. Aramis and D'Artagnan, however, both looked confused.
Renée sighed and elaborated, "He won it in a card game with a Red Guard."
Louis was in ruins. He stared mournfully at his First Minister, eyes red-rimmed and puffy, having confessed that the letters containing information about France's foreign policy and desire for a peace treaty had gone missing on their way to the King of Spain.
The Cardinal was obviously disappointed in him, sweeping around the library as he lectured the King on how damaging it was for the King to allow one policy to be pursued in public whilst sneaking around behind everyone's back and doing the opposite.
There was a certain irony in this, but Louis could not have known that. He was oblivious to the deceit of his First Minister, only knowing the one thing the Cardinal wanted him to: that the only person he needed was the Cardinal himself. Treville had gotten him into this mess, Renée had not prevented it, and the Queen was too opinionated (and full of the wrong opinions in his eyes) so all he had left, just as the Cardinal had planned, was Armand.
The Cardinal continued his manipulations, stating sadly, "It is clear," he fiddled with some papers on the King's desk, "I must withdraw from public life immediately." He then turned and strode away, eyes narrowing in glee as the King's desperate call followed him.
"I will give you whatever you want, Armand. Just get me out of this mess," he begged, practically sobbing through his next words, "I should never have done anything without your counsel!"
That was all the Cardinal had wanted to hear. A fleeting smug grin appeared on his face but disappeared just as quickly as he turned to the King, the image of the self-sacrificing First Minister ready to go.
He started taking meaningfully slow steps back towards the helpless figure of the King, his voice taking on a tone Louis did not recognise as patronising as he asked, "How were these letters conveyed?"
"Treville arranged it," Louis admitted. "With the Lady Renée's help. And then their Musketeers made a mess of everything."
The Cardinal stopped halfway down the gallery and leaned on the back of a chair, face in fake contemplation.
"Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it," Louis pleaded. He knew his next words would hurt his cousin but she, in his eyes, had failed him. Renée hadn't prevented the mistake with Cornet's men, yet she claimed to be an integral part of the Musketeers.
He loved her but she had failed him and failing the King would never end well. Louis was, sadly, at this point in his life inherently concerned primarily with the image of the Crown. And the Crown had been embarrassed.
"I'll disband the entire regiment if that's what it takes to make you happy." He didn't want to, but he was prepared to.
The Cardinal waved a hand coolly. "Well. In due course, possibly."
Inwardly he celebrated. Oh, the destruction of the Musketeers had begun.
Retrieving Dujon was not a difficult task in the slightest. Porthos emerged only a short time later from the tavern he and Renée had spent the morning in with a man slumped over his shoulder, head hanging at a funny angle signalling his unconsciousness.
Porthos grinned at the other three, pointed his hand at Dujon and huffed, "Well that was easy."
Renée snorted, rolling her eyes affectionately. "Come on. Let's get him somewhere safe."
Dujon regained consciousness not long after and, when the sack was removed from his head, he was met with the sight of two very stern looking men and a woman standing between them, arms crossed over her chest, as they all stared harshly down at him.
"Huh?" he moaned, frowning at the sudden onslaught of pain in his head.
"Time to pay for the reckoning of Cornet," Aramis told the man grimly.
"And I bet he's gonna say 'I have no idea what you're talking about,'" Porthos muttered in disgust. Dujon quirked his eyebrows in what seemed like agreement.
Renée pulled a disappointed face. "And then we'll have to hurt him."
Dujon's face fell and his eyes widened.
"At which point, he'll suddenly remember he killed him," Porthos hummed.
The Red Guard shook his head viciously, muttering incoherently.
The three exchanged looks.
"Why wait?" Porthos shrugged.
"That is a very good question my friend," Renée mused, eyes on Dujon as if trying to weigh up the pros and cons of hurting him.
"Let's just hurt him now."
All three looked at their captive, Aramis with a slightly creepy grin on his face before he crouched before the man and said, coaxingly, "It could go like that. Or we can just skip to the confession part."
"I suppose it would save us time," Renée pointed out.
"And you pain," Aramis added to Dujon. Then he leant in closer to the man, right in his face, eyes boring into his and whispered, almost conspiratorially, "A lot of pain."
Dujon seemed desperate now. "I was just following orders."
"He was just following orders," Porthos repeated to Renée and Aramis as he straightened up.
"Oh, that makes it all alright," Renée announced sarcastically. "We best just let him go."
Porthos rubbed his ear, clearly agitated. He shot forward and grabbed Dujon by the collars of his jacket, hauling him roughly to his feet.
"I…I can't tell you!" Dujon stammered, "They'll kill me!"
Aramis extricated him from Porthos' grip and gently pushed him away. "No need for that," he said chidingly. "We're not brutes…"
Dujon sighed in relief.
"…We'll just shoot him."
"What?" Dujon squawked, watching as Aramis pulled away to load his gun. "No, listen, you can't, please…"
"I think you'll find that we can," Renée snorted, pulling a face as if to say 'this guy'. Porthos chuckled, pushing Dujon up against a wooden pillar and tying him against it.
"You know," Aramis mused, returning with a gun and shot in hand, "People say I'm quite good with these."
"Good!" Porthos smirked by Dujon's ear as he finished securing him to the pillar. "He's the best. He's so modest."
"The musket isn't the most reliable weapon though," Renée frowned.
Aramis pointed at her in agreement before swivelling back to Dujon. "That is true. From 100 yards, I'll probably miss as often as I hit." He lit the fuse. "From 50, well, I rarely miss." Then he dropped the powder into the barrel. "From ten," he sighed, "well, it's just a matter of which vital organ do I choose to hit first?" This he punctuated by shoving the ramrod harshly into the barrel of the gun, now glaring at Dujon. The flippancy with which he had been speaking was gone.
"No, no, no," Dujon begged, "please, listen, listen…"
Porthos jerked his head at the Red Guard, looking at Renée and Aramis. "Heart?"
Aramis shook his head, "Too swift."
Renée hummed. "Liver?" she supplied, coming to stand next to Aramis.
"Ooh. That could work."
Dujon squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head as it slowly dropped. Porthos chuckled darkly.
Aramis had finished preparing the gun, which Renée took as a signal to move back to where the reluctant looking D'Artagnan was standing.
"Or a stomach shot," Aramis hissed, almost manically, as he raised the gun to fiddle with the catch. "Death is inevitable, but you'll bleed out for hours first."
"You can't," Dujon insisted. "This is murder."
"Oh, and what you did to Captain Cornet wasn't?" Renée raised her eyebrows at him pointedly. "Dujon, come now," she tsked, shaking her head in faux disappointment.
"We won't tell if you won't," Porthos offered.
Aramis raised the gun to his shoulder, taking aim. His target starting struggling against his bonds, wild eyes focussed on the gun right in front of him. Renée cast a glance at the nervous looking D'Artagnan beside her: he looked as though he was about to intervene. She grabbed his arm harshly, causing his head to turn from the scene in front of them to her, eyes questioning. Renée shook her head and mouthed, "Don't."
He frowned but said nothing.
Aramis blew on the fuse and looked down the barrel. Dujon whimpered and closed his eyes.
Aramis pulled the trigger.
"Bang," Porthos whispered loudly in Dujon's ear, chuckling as he backed away.
Dujon sighed, eyes snapping open. "Oh-oh!" He sagged against the post, taking deep shaking breaths.
Aramis pulled the gun down, as if in realisation. "Oh!" He reached into his pocket and brought out the ball. "I forgot the ball!" He smiled, throwing in gently into the air and catching it without looking. "This time," he brought it up, showing it to Dujon, then put it slowly into the barrel…
"It was Captain Gaudet!" Dujon gasped.
Renée smiled in satisfaction, looking up at D'Artagnan with raised eyebrows as if to say 'you shouldn't have doubted us'. He blew out an aggravated breath, but conceded quietly.
"Of the Red Guards?" Porthos asked.
"He told us to do it," Dujon snapped. "He said he wanted a few men for a special mission. Something unofficial. An ambush to steal the King's letters." Renée and D'Artagnan inched closer towards the man.
"That is treason, you know?" Renée pointed out quietly.
Dujon's wild dark eyes looked at her. "Gaudet went mad. He killed them all." His eyes darted around, looking at each one of them in turn. "None of us knew it would be murder," he insisted.
Porthos pulled out a piece of Spanish gold and held it in front of the Red Guard's face. "You stole this from Cornet?"
He nodded. "His saddlebags were full of Spanish gold." Porthos inclined his head, satisfied, before stepping out of the way which allowed D'Artagnan to advance towards the man. "Gaudet said we could share it between us. I just…"
He was cut off by D'Artagnan violently grabbing his face and throat. "Who murdered my father?" he demanded. Then his voice rose. "WHO?"
"Gaudet. It was Gaudet," Dujon choked.
Porthos and Renée forcefully pulled D'Artagnan off of the man, but he went unwillingly, furious eyes still glaring at the Red Guard.
"He did it to blacken Athos' name," Dujon continued. "I'm not like him," he whined, almost sobbing, "I'm not a killer. I'm a solder, like you."
This time it was Porthos that grabbed his throat, pushing him upwards and frowning at him.
"Where is Gaudet now?" Renée asked, standing just behind Porthos.
"He's camped in the old ruins, outside the city gates," Dujon wheezed.
Renée grinned and signalled for Porthos to let him go. "Much obliged."
The four with Dujon in tow crawled quietly on their stomachs up the incline just outside Gaudet's camp, settling just behind a ridge to survey the camp. Renée, next to Aramis, watched as he looked down his spyglass.
"Gaudet keeps his camp well-guarded, Dujon informed them quietly. "You'll never surprise him." He was quietened by a harsh thwack from Porthos and a hissed, "Shut up!"
Renée saw Aramis' face drop and whispered, "What do you see?"
"The bridge is the only way in and out," he muttered. "There's too many of them for a frontal assault."
"Aramis, you and I could take a couple out from here," Renée offered but Porthos shook his head.
"By the time you've reloaded, the rest will be long gone."
Renée grimaced. "You're right."
"Now, if we're going to capture Gaudet alive and get back those uniforms," Porthos frowned, "it'll have to be by stealth."
"We need a distraction then." Renée rubbed her forehead as she thought. "But what?"
D'Artagnan slid backwards off the ridge and announced, "I know something that might work." Then he looked back at Renée, eyes widening slightly. "But I don't think you're going to like it."
She sighed. "What is it?"
"Bloody idiot," Renée huffed as she and Constance practically staggered down the icy path towards the camp, clad in what could only be described as the clothing of prostitutes. This was D'Artagnan's brilliant idea. For them to be prostitutes.
"I'm going to wring that scrawny neck of his," she ground out, nearly slipping on the ice. Constance grabbed her arm to keep her steady, to which she shot her a grateful look.
"You're not the only one," Constance muttered, pulling up her strap as it had slid down her arm as they continued advancing, clearly incredibly uncomfortable, down the path.
Two guards came into view, causing Renée to take a deep breath. "Alright. Time to be seductive." She threw Constance a nervous look, smoothing down her hair whilst Constance threw her out her chest and picked up part of her skirts.
The two guards on the bridge raised their guns at the women approaching. The one on the right called gruffly, "What do you want?"
Renée simpered. "Gentlemen, I think the better question is 'what do you want?" She twirled a strand of her hair, looking expectantly at them, lips slightly pouty.
"Fifty sous," Constance looked them both over, "and we'll take you to heaven."
"You two a couple of those religious nutcases?" One of the guards wasn't convinced.
Renée blinked. "What? No."
"It was a metaphor," Constance ground out.
The guard that had spoken shrugged, clearly having no idea what was going on. The one on the left, however, took on a lecherous grin. "Nah, mate," he smirked. "They're not religious at all," he advanced towards Renée and she had to do her best to maintain her flirtatious smile, "They're prostitutes."
Renée was beyond uncomfortable now and couldn't trust herself to speak so she just nodded, eyes wide in agony. "Mmm hmm."
"That's right," Constance's voice was far smoother and she pushed her guard onto the bridge. "We're all yours."
Her guard looked her up and down appraisingly. "Alright. Five sous."
"Five?" Constance hissed.
"Alright, ten, but that's it."
Renée rolled her eyes and turned back to her guard, eyebrows raised. He grinned at her. "No, you're worth more than that," he whispered, suddenly leaning in very close. Renée stiffened but kept her smile. He took a deep breath through his nose, inhaling her scent. She had to resist the urge to recoil. "Twenty sous," he murmured, right in her ear, probably in what he thought was a seductive way but it only made Renée's skin crawl.
Instead, she purred, "You are too kind, monsieur," placing her hands around his neck.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Porthos quietly wrap his arms around Constance's guard's neck. She snapped back though when she felt something very unwelcome.
The bastard had put his hands on her behind. And squeezed.
Renée's hooded seductive gaze dropped and she removed her hands from his neck. "Alright. That's enough," she hissed, kneeing him unceremoniously in the groin.
He gasped, dropping to his knees, hands cupping his privates in agony. Porthos, who had knocked out Constance's guard, threw her her belt with her rapier and pistol. She smacked the butt of the gun across her guard's face, knocking the twit out.
Renée instantly dropped to her knees when they saw movement across the bridge of another soldier walking past. She and Porthos propped Constance's guard over her as though he was kissing her neck, using the man as a shield to hide themselves.
"Oi!" the other soldier called jovially, "My turn next!"
Porthos raised the man's arm in a waving action.
The soldier walked on.
Renée's slowly rose, head peeking over the unconscious form of the guard, to see if the coast was clear. Empty.
She nodded sharply at Porthos and they pulled the man off of Constance, Porthos taking the full brunt of the man and almost walking him across the bridge and throwing him off.
Aramis and D'Artagnan followed them over, Aramis passing Renée her jacket with a conciliatory smile as he passed her. She only glared at him but took the jacket, grateful to cover herself. When D'Artagnan reached her, she slapped him upside the head.
"Ow!" he hissed, hand immediately going to the afflicted area.
"You ever make us do that again and we'll rip out your intestines and make you eat them," she hissed.
"Fine, God!" he muttered, moving on to Constance and whispering his thanks.
Renée passed him, leaving him alone with Constance, and following the other two over the bridge. D'Artagnan joined them a short time later, finding the other three with their guns cocked as they hid in an alcove, watching the men milling around the camp. Renée had attached her belt around her waist and stood, rapier sheathed and pistol loaded. D'Artagnan stuck his head between the other three as Aramis nodded his head at a man who was striding across the camp, drinking gaily from a cup, "There he is. That's Gaudet over there."
"That weasel," Renée muttered, loathing lacing her words.
"He thinks no one can touch him," D'Artagnan muttered snidely.
"Wait for my signal," Aramis commanded. "Surprise is everything -"
- D'Artagnan shot forward, a warning cry escaping his lips as he practically bolted across the camp.
The other three blinked.
"Or not," Renée commented dryly.
"It would have been everything," Aramis muttered as shots came their way. The three jumped into action, Renée withdrawing her rapier and shooting with her pistol in her left hand. Aramis, Porthos and Renée moved as one, keeping close to each other as they shot and sliced their way through Gaudet's camp.
D'Artagnan's war cry had told them that he was headed straight for the man himself and they couldn't let him kill him. Best to have the bastard alive. After all, who had commanded Gaudet to do what he had?
The three ducked behind a large rock to reload. Porthos ducked out to aim, Renée crouching and pulling out just in front of him to do the same. More soldiers advanced towards them and the men abandoned their guns completely, all three now using their rapiers primarily.
Renée parried a blow from one soldier, ducking from his oncoming blade and swiping at his stomach. The man fell with a grunt and she moved on, turning to face another behind her. This one she took out with a blow to the chest. She had no idea where the others were, only knowing she had to focus on the moment. A fist caught her across the face and she stumbled, blood welling as she had bitten her cheek. Renée spat out the blood, dropping her gun as she wiped her mouth, and grinning at the man in front of her.
He advanced towards her with a yell but she blocked him easily enough, feinting and catching him in the side. He hissed in agony as he fell.
Then she ran. Have to find Gaudet. Have to find D'Artagnan.
And there they were.
Renée jolted to a stop, seeing D'Artagnan hovering over the struggling Gaudet, two rapiers crossed over each other at the man's throat. He raised a sword as if to strike the killing blow but was stopped by a yelled,
He looked up to see Aramis, Porthos and Renée all advancing towards him.
"We need him alive," Renée called.
The boy's eyes were wild and he was taking shuddering breaths. Aramis shook his head.
D'Artagnan clashed the swords at Gaudet's throat and hissed, "Death in combat is too honourable for you. I'd rather see you hang." He withdrew the swords, throwing Gaudet's away and turning his back on the man, walking away.
Which meant he didn't see Gaudet pull out a dagger and advance towards him until he heard Renée's shriek of, "D'Artagnan!"
He swiftly turned and before they knew it his sword was through Gaudet's chest. The man dropped to his knees, groaning, before falling flat onto the ground. Dead.
Renée and Aramis walked over, both re-sheathing their swords which they had drawn when they saw Gaudet advance. They looked at the body of this man that had ruined so much and sighed.
Porthos whistled, prompting Renée and Aramis to look at him. He held something up, "The stolen uniforms. They're all here."
Renée exhaled deeply and Aramis smiled in relief. "With Dujon's confession, that's all the proof we need."
"Thank goodness for that," Renée breathed. Aramis patted her on the shoulder as he walked over to Porthos and the stolen uniforms.
She glanced at D'Artagnan and, noticing the forlorn look on his face, called, "Are you okay?"
He nodded. "I think so."
She smiled comfortingly and nodded, before pointing at the figure of Constance staring at the dead bodies. "I'd see if she's alright if I were you." She frowned, knowing how the woman likely felt, before joining the others.
It was going to be okay now. It had to be.
"Just SHOOT, damn you!"
"Hold your fire!"
The four had gotten to the Chatelet as quickly as they could, in just enough time to prevent Athos' execution. Just.
Aramis led the way down the stairs to where their friend was standing opposite the firing squad, calling, "If I were you, I wouldn't be in such a hurry to die." He held up the rolled scroll, "Your release, signed by the King."
The guns were removed.
Athos sagged against the wall, chest heaving.
"Get these chains off," Renée commanded.
Athos looked at all three of his friends in turn, before commenting, "I thought I'd finally shaken you three off."
Porthos chuckled, "Oh, believe me, there are easier ways."
Renée smiled but it didn't quite reach her eyes. The others didn't seem to notice though so she followed them out silently.
He had been so close to dying. Her chest still felt tight, as though it wasn't over yet, as though she was expecting someone to suddenly say 'Just joking! We have to kill him after all!' She closed her eyes briefly and shook her head. It was over. Athos was going to be okay.
From a concealed window above Milady de Winter's eyes narrowed as she watched the girl. Poor child. She saw the fear in her eyes, the relief when the chains were released.
Was that love?
…possibly so. She would have to watch out for that one.
The evening found the five of them in the same tavern as before, four seated around a table as they shared in the drinks.
"You come to Paris to kill Athos and end up saving his life," Aramis commented to D'Artagnan, "After a few drinks, I'm sure he'll appreciate the irony." The Gascon chuckled.
Renée pushed forward her glass to be refilled by D'Artagnan and grinned but, again, it didn't reach her eyes. She hadn't spoken to him since he'd been released. None of them had really. And now he had retreated to the corner of the room to brood, just as he always did, only this time she had decided not to join him.
D'Artagnan looked over at Athos, who was well on his way to full out drunkenness. "What's wrong with him anyway?"
Porthos didn't even look to what he was referring, answering gruffly, "Ah, woman trouble."
D'Artagnan frowned. "Woman trouble? But I thought-" He looked at Renée in confusion. Her sharp gaze returned his.
"You thought what?" she prompted, frowning.
"I thought that- well, that you and he were- you know, a thing," he bit his lip, hand nervously running through his hair. The air around the table suddenly grew tense.
"And what made you think that?" She sounded almost disbelieving but her voice was deceptively light compared to the hard look that had entered her eyes. D'Artagnan regretted voicing the thought and almost didn't continue.
Yet he did. "Well, just the way you look at him- a-and the way you were acting when you thought he was going to die."
Renée's face dropped and she swallowed, a sadness entering her eyes. "Well, you were wrong," she muttered quietly, eyes darting away from his. She stood, dusted down her skirts and murmured, "Different woman," as if to herself before walking away from the table.
Renée vaguely heard Porthos and Aramis explain that the woman in question had died and that that was all Athos had ever said. She knew more though. What the woman had done. What Athos had done. He had told her once, though she doubted if he remembered. He was still cut up over it, still in love with her. And that was that.
She made a beeline to the barkeep, quietly requesting a flagon of water which she brought over to Athos' table. He didn't look up as she approached but was startled by the sudden sight of the flagon on the table, following the hand on the handle up to her face. He blinked.
"You'll thank me in the morning," she smiled, noticing the hazy look in his eyes. He nodded, almost as though preoccupied.
She was about to leave but something possessed to blurt out, "Athos?" The man looked expectantly up at her. "I'm glad you're not dead."
His gaze dropped. "I'm not."
He had said things like this before to her, always in the clutches of alcohol, so she shouldn't have been taken aback. And she wasn't. It was the surety in his voice and the brokenness of it that caused her heart to shatter though.
She swallowed, not knowing what to say. In the end, she settled for a gentle squeeze of his shoulder before making her departure.
He wouldn't remember this in the morning. But she would. She always did.
Renée watched herself in her looking glass as she loosened her hair in preparation for bed. Her reflection was tired, with a lingering sadness present in its eyes. She wondered if only she could see that, or if it was obvious to everyone else as well.
She reached underneath her blouse and pulled up the chain sitting underneath, revealing a small pendant in the shape of a wren, and looked at it fondly. Renée closed her eyes.
'A wren, because your name is Ren.'
She laughed, and the sound was like bells, smiling at the reflection in the looking glass of herself and the man fastening the chain around her neck. 'That was awful!'
He placed a kiss against her neck and chuckled, the sound echoing through her. 'Shut up,' he grinned.
A slow tear slid down her cheek.