Siroc frowned at the sight before him. It was rare indeed that he was ever disappointed in his friends. He loved his brothers in arms; he truly did, but there were times such as the moment he was witnessing that he wished he neither knew them or their existence. "I hardly see the humor here," he said with a sigh. He was hoping that he could salvage what he could from the table, but it was impossible now.
D'Artagnan and Ramon were huddled around the large fire that had been created by yet another one of his minor miscalculations. Luckily, only the center of the table had caught fire at first, but the smoke had increased to such a degree that they had to carefully carry it outside before it could potentially spread throughout the lab. Moments later, the fire had branched out and engulfed the table as a whole. Two of the legs had crumbled, weakened by the hungry flames. Siroc and Jacques had left to fetch buckets of water while Ramon fled to the kitchen. Siroc heard Ramon muttering something about him not wasting "an opportunity".
When Siroc and Jacques had returned with four full buckets of water, they stared at their friends with dumbfound expressions. Both d'Artagnan and Ramon had weapons drawn, cast carefully over the fire. Raw meats and vegetables hung loosely from the tips of their rapiers, causing the morning air to fill with a smoky aroma. They carefully kept their lunches hovered over the blazing fire, waiting patiently for each piece to cook.
Ramon had two rapiers in hand. When he saw them, he called out, "Oy! Siroc! Jacques! I saved you one!" He held out the rapier in his left hand out for them to grab, but they stood in place, staring in disbelief. Jacques just shook her head. "I believe the chicken is almost done, amigo. You may want to wait for the onions to cook a bit longer…" Ramon brought the tip of one of the rapiers closer to his nose for inspection.
Siroc's eyes traveled from Ramon to d'Artagnan, and all the dark haired musketeer did was shrug. "Seemed like a good idea," he said. "And isn't you who always said use disasters to your advantage?" he gave Siroc a toothy grin before he bit into a piece of bread. "Sorry, Siroc," he said. "You know what they say, a hungry stomach clouds a man's mind."
An idea hit him. Siroc was never a man that sought or encouraged revenge, but he needed to get back at them somehow. He set down both of the water buckets and crossed his arms over his chest. "And what if that clouded mind was the reason why the stomach was empty?" he asked the guilty trio. When they looked at each other puzzled, he continued. "And did either of you think to save the rest of my documents when Jacques and I managed to drag this thing out here?" Again, no answer. "Well, then I guess you'll all have to wait for your pay increases because I'll have to start my calculations over again," he said with a smirk.
Siroc felt a swell of satisfaction when he saw realization dawn on d'Artagnan's face. "Wait, so you're saying…"
Ramon looked at the ashes that covered Siroc's singed table. Any document that was on the table was now a thin sheet of black ash that quickly deteriorated. "…that the King's approval to have our salaries raised…"
"Was on the table in my lab," Siroc finished with a smile. "On that particular table." He nodded toward the small bonfire that was slowly cooking their meals.
D'Artagnan and Ramon looked to each other in fear. Ramon immediately dropped both rapiers, food and all, on the ground and ran toward the buckets of water. D'Artagnan handed his to Jacques in a panic, and went to help Ramon. When the buckets were emptied and the fire was still burning strong, they both ran to the stables to fetch more water. Siroc grinned in victory when he saw them running back, spilling water all over the garrison grounds and on each other.
"Can you imagine how much more I can eat with that raise?" Ramon frantically asked, dumping more water on the fire.
"Can you imagine how many more dates I can afford with that raise?" d'Artagnan countered. A piece of enflamed wood broke off from a corner and landed near d'Artagnan, causing a section of his pant leg to catch fire. "Whoa! Whoa!" He kicked at it, trying to bury the flame in dirt and mud.
Jacques had made her way to Siroc's side, biting down on a well cooked piece of cow. "So when are you going to tell them that the papers were already sent to the captain for final approval?" she asked, also enjoying the display before him.
"I'm sure they'll figure it out when they see they have a few more coins in their purses next week," Siroc said. He grabbed hold of one of the juicy slabs of meat from Jacques' rapier and slid it off the tip before he bit into it. He and Jacques shared a knowing laugh then proceeded in enjoying their lunch.
Jacques felt a hand on her shoulder. "Excuse me, my good man," asked a young voice. She turned mid-bite and stepped back in shock, nearly dropping the rapier. "Oh! Um…" she felt her face flush with embarrassment. She found that she couldn't say anything to explain herself or the situation behind her. There was nothing she could do. Here she was, watching her friends put out a stubborn fire, and she was using the one weapon that bound her allegiance to the country as a fork.
Siroc kept his mouth shut as well, swallowing the last of a cooked tomato. He and Jacques cleared their throats, hoping to catch d'Artagnan and Ramon's attention. Jacques looked behind her to see Ramon breaking the table down into smaller pieces with an empty bucket. "Ahem!!" she cleared her throat just as d'Artagnan was about to dump another bucket on the dying flame.
D'Artagnan looked to Jacques, and she saw that his eyes shifted focus past her, landing on their guest. He, too, was surprised and stopped mid-swing, but the water was thrown from the bucket, splashing not only Jacques, but the young man as well. D'Artagnan dropped the bucket and saluted. Ramon did the same, and all was quiet.
Jacques glared at d'Artagnan, but held her tongue. She wiped her face with her sleeve and combed her hair back, hoping to come off as more professional than she looked. She turned her attention once more to the young man and bowed her head. "Our utmost apologies, your highness," she said, her voice slightly wavering. The young man stared at her, mouth hanging half open. She expected an outburst from the young king, but laughter filled her ears instead.
"And what, pray tell, type of training are you all practicing today?" Louis asked with a bright smile. He didn't bother wiping the water from his face or stop the droplet from falling from the curls of his wig. They all looked at him with wide eyes, not sure if he was serious in his question.
D'Artagnan recovered first. "Well, your highness, you see this is what we call a fire…drill… yes!" he said hesitantly.
Jacques stepped in with her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Yes, it seemed fitting that something would randomly catch fire, something that wouldn't cause the whole headquarters to go up in flames, we assure you…" she said mock confidence.
"To test our reaction skills, sir," Siroc intervened.
"And we have succeeded in our first test," Ramon chimed in.
Louis paced around the burnt table with amusement dancing in his eyes. "Ah, I see. And you have a little victory celebration going as well," he said gesturing toward Jacques rapier. He pulled off a small chunk of pork, and popped it into his mouth. He chewed loudly, and licked his fingers. "Could use some type of sauce…"
D'Artagnan and the others looked at each other, still unsure of what to do. "Your Highness, to what do we owe this visit?" he asked.
Louis grabbed the lapels of his shirt and puffed out his chest. "I have a special request for the lot of you. I may be huddled in the palace for days on end, but I do observe my people closely when I can. Especially my musketeers."
"Guard duty?" d'Artagnan asked. He breathed a sigh of relief when Louis shook his head. "Must be something pressing if you were to come down here in person, highness."
Louis kept his voice a bit lower this time. His charming façade had fallen, and he looked downcast. He looked troubled. "No… something of a more personal matter. And since Duval trusts you four the most, I see it fit to do the same."
"Something the matter, highness?" Jacques asked. She could feel her feminine concern surfacing. Usually, she could keep a level head, but when she saw one so young lost and afraid, she felt Jacqueline Roget push Jacques Leponte out.
"…m…n…ve," the young king muttered, ducking his head further.
"Come again?" Jacques asked.
The four musketeers came closer, circling their king. "No need to be afraid, highness," Ramon said. "You are among friends."
Louis looked at all four pair of curious eyes then sighed. "I'm in love."