Chapter Nine: The Road Home
Jacqueline was unsure how long she and d'Artagnan had stood on the docks kissing, but the thought of his kisses still made her stomach flutter. She couldn't help but feel happy. She was going home, to Paris, to the garrison and with the three men she cared for, two as brothers and one as something much more. Isabel had been right; family was much more than blood and her friends were as dear to her as Gerard.
Jacqueline was dressed as a musketeer again, but it didn't matter; her attire was a means to do what she loved and to be with the people she loved. She no longer felt the need to trade it to feel free. They would be in Paris soon. However, the foursome was taking their sweet time, extending their vacation a bit.
Jacqueline's head occasionally would throb and she scratched at her throat where the knife had nicked her. But it was minor compared to the warmth she felt. She felt her cheeks flush as her mind wondered back to d'Artagnan kissing her. She could feel his eyes on her as she rode. She looked out of the corner of her eyes at him, a coy little smile on her face, and their eyes met. He lifted his eyebrows and smiled back. Jacqueline turned away quickly. He made her crazy, but now the feeling wasn't aggravation but complete desire. She would definitely have to tame that.
She could tell her friends were glad to have her back. Siroc and Ramon hadn't treated her any different now that they officially knew the woman behind their friend. But one thing still puzzled her about her friends. They had known that she was Jacqueline. But how? She scrunched her face. "Siroc," she called. He rode just in front of her, d'Artagnan and Ramon, who rode side by side. He turned around in the saddle at the sound of his name. "How did you know that I was a woman?" Her lips where pursed together in thin line.
Siroc smiled. "I've known since the first time we met." He turned back around.
Jacqueline kicked her horse and caught up with him. "How?" she was staring hard at him.
"Because I see the world different than most." He started laughing hard. He tried to stop, but his face turned red. "My observations were confirmed about a month later when I heard d'Artagnan flirting shamelessly with you just before you told him to jump in the river with a canon ball around his neck."
Jacqueline's expression changed to a look of horror. She looked over her shoulder at d'Artagnan, who was trying to fight his laughter and glared. "I told you that you shouldn't be speaking to me like that. Someone else could have heard."
He looked at her apologetically, but couldn't hold it. He started laughing with Siroc.
"You know my friends," Ramon said, trying to control his own laughter. "The only thing you're going to have to worry about now is making sure Captain Duval doesn't catch you kissing."
Jacqueline looked over at Ramon, who was now receiving the glare that d'Artagnan had just received. D'Artagnan had also stopped. The thought of Duval catching them kissing was enough to fill them both with terror, both for Jacqueline's life.
Ramon continued. "Love is a grand and wonderful thing, but catch two musketeers kissing, oh what a scene," he rhymed. Jacqueline and d'Artagnan both groaned, but Ramon and Siroc were laughing uncontrollably.
Jacqueline turned her gaze back to Siroc and narrowed her eyes. "Speaking of kissing," she said. Siroc's usual, serious expression returned to his face. "Will you be seeing Lady Isabel much?" she teased. One side of her mouth curved up in a half smile.
Siroc looked at Jacqueline. His face was slightly red but this time from embarrassment. "A gentleman does not kiss and tell," he said stoically. This time it was d'Artagnan and Jacqueline's turn to laugh. Siroc tried to hold his expression, but finally smiled, his face still a little red.
"And how about you, Ramon?" d'Artagnan asked. He was well aware of Ramon's early suspicions.
"Well, at first I just thought you were a strange one," Ramon said, addressing Jacqueline. She was looking over her shoulder at him. "But in the end, it just finally came to me."
Jacqueline eyed Ramon for a moment, but it was d'Artagnan who finally said what they both were thinking. "So, in other words, you asked Siroc?"
"Yes, I did," Ramon admitted after a short delay.
Jacqueline rolled her eyes but d'Artagnan and Ramon had started laughing again.
"I told him to mind his own business," Siroc interjected, as Jacqueline's gazed fell back on him.
As the laughter died down, Jacqueline's attention turned back to the road. They had reached the spot she had left her friends on the way to Le Havre. She was near her home. She felt a sadness creep over her, much like the one she had known when she thought she needed to leave. She bit her lip.
D'Artagnan watched her expression change from one of happiness to sadness. He brought his horse forward next to her and put his hand on hers. She jumped slightly then turned and gave him a weak smile. "What's wrong?" he asked. He squeezed her hand gently.
"I have something I need do." She swallowed before stopping her mare. D'Artagnan pulled his hand away. She could see the concern in his eyes. Her friends had stopped with her; there eyes focused on her. Each slightly puzzled as to what had caused their friends mood to change so significantly. She guided her horse past her friends and into a grove of trees before entering a field with tall grass that brushed her legs as she rode.
D'Artagnan, Siroc and Ramon followed a short distance behind Jacqueline. Each confused as to where they were going, but they could see a small structure in the distance. They stopped their horses and watched as she dismounted at led her mare up to the structure. She had stopped, letting go of the reins and knelt down, disappearing from view.
Jacqueline stepped passed the gate that surrounded her parents' graves. The graveside and area around the house were fairly kept up, but not well. Monsieur Arnaud had done his best, Jacqueline thought. She knelt down and traced the letters carved into the headstone, tears forming in her eyes.
D'Artagnan sat for a moment before he dismounted his horse and walked toward where Jacqueline had disappeared. Siroc and Ramon looked at each other and Ramon shrugged before they too dismounted and followed d'Artagnan. As they approached they could see the structure clearly now. It was a farm house, modest but homely.
As they cleared the grass they could see Jacqueline. Her back was to them, but they could see her fingers trace the lettering on the headstones. Her body blocked the names from their view, but d'Artagnan already knew where they were. This had been her home. They stood just outside the gate. No one dared say a word, not wanting to disturb her.
She slowly pulled her hand away from the lettering and stood up, biting the inside of her lip. She missed them so much, but the longing she had felt the last time she had stood there no longer plagued her heart. She would always miss her parents and the home she had grown up in. But this place was only a memory now, a pleasant memory that she would cherish forever. It was no longer home and would never be again. She turned around wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her coat. She had not heard her friends approach but she had known they were with her.
"This is where you were? Where you went?" d'Artagnan asked. She knew what he meant.
"Yes," she paused before forcing herself to smile at the one she loved. "This was my home."
D'Artagnan stepped forward and pulled her into his arms and held her. He could feel her sadness but at the same time he also could feel her letting go of her old life. As she pulled away from him, his hand went to her cheek. He ran the back of his fingers along her cheek, tracing her jaw line. They did not speak, but they both knew each others thoughts. His eyes communicated compassion and hers the peace she finally felt.
"We should go," she said, pulling her eyes from his.
As she reached Ramon and Siroc, Siroc put his arm around her shoulders and gently squeezed. "You still have family, Jacqueline. So do not worry," Siroc spoke softly.
"I am not worried, Siroc." The smile that had graced her lips since leaving Le Havre had returned. "Not at all."
Jacqueline was the first to mount her horse, followed by Ramon and Siroc. D'Artagnan pulled at the horse's bit, tightening the straps, and fidgeting with the reins, before he retook his saddle.
"Shall we go home, compadres?" Ramon asked, waving his hand through the air like his words were poetry.
"Let's go home," Jacqueline answered as they headed back to the road that would lead them back to Paris.
Jacqueline ran into her room and locked the door behind her. She stood with her back against the door, clutching a piece of parchment. She had waited so long for this moment and had barely contained herself when the messenger had handed her the folded paper. She bit her lip and slowly unfolded the sealed scrap, holding her breath. As she read the words, My Dearest Jacqueline, she could feel the tears rolling down her cheek.
Her brother was alive.