A Rose By Any Other Name Would Still Smell As Sweet


1662, the Court of Versailles, Paris

"Mother?" Anne turned from her lover's grave, to gaze into the eyes of her son. Her darling son, whom had been stolen from her, and imprisoned, by his own twin brother, and now had been restored to his birthright. She blinked back the fresh tears that still threatened to fall, staring into the same compassionate yet piercing eyes that D'Artagnan had possessed. The eyes that had captured her heart and soul. In that moment, Anne was grateful for the mourning veil she wore, since her usual veil of serenity had been torn away with the news of her beloved's death.

"Yes, my son?" she asked as she turned to him, the silken black skirts of her gown swishing with the movement. He held out his arm, and Anne took it. In the lane that ran through the woods back to Versailles, the Musketeers waited, Aramis, Athos and Porthos watching the King and the Queen Mother with world weary eyes. D'Artagnan's death had taken its toll upon them all. Anne took one final look at the marble plaque glimmering in the early summer sunlight, the red rose she had laid over its surface scarlet against the white.

Goodbye, D'Artagnan…

"Mother….." Philippe started again, as they walked slowly down the leafy avenue back to their awaiting horses.

"Yes my son, what is it?" Anne repeated stopping and turning back to him.

"I realise how close you were to Fa-D'Artagnan. And I am grieved, both by my own loss and yours…." He trailed off, his 'Louis' manner falling once they were beyond earshot of the Musketeers. They had agreed with Aramis that it would be best for Philippe to continue the charade for a little longer. Anne noted the slip up, when he had nearly named D'Artagnan as 'Father'. How she wished it could have been acknowledged so! "Mother, I know that D'Artagnan was my father, and that he told me so before his death, but I wish-I wish I could know the whole story. I know that Aramis, Athos and Porthos would wish to know also, and yet I hesitate to ask you. I don't want to intrude or to cause you pain, or…."

"Philippe, my son. I know what you ask. If you so wish it, I will tell you our story," Anne interrupted, placing a gloved hand on his smooth cheek. She thought for a moment, and then nodded decisively. "Come to my rooms tonight. Bid Aramis, Porthos and Athos to join us there. And you shall find out our story,"

"Thank you, Mother," Philippe turned to mount his horse. As he swung into the saddle, Anne felt a flash of sadness. He looked so much like his father on horseback.

"Oh, my son. Your father would be so proud of you, if he could see you now. The King he always dreamed you'd become," she smiled through her tears.


Later that night…..

Anne settled herself in the chair before the fire in her rooms, and slowly raised her eyes to the four men who sat opposite. Her dear son and her most trusted friends. She took a deep, shuddering breath.

"Before I begin, I want you to know….I loved D'Artagnan with all my heart and soul. He was the light in the tunnel of misery that my marriage brought me. Do not misunderstand me; Louis was a kind enough husband, but our bed was barren. He married me for the alliance with my father and with Austria. Eventually I despaired of ever finding the love I so desperately craved, nor the child I desired. I remember when I first met you three," she inclined her head to the three musketeers, "The famous Musketeers. And then there was young D'Artagnan. He was so handsome, full of vigour and life. I could not forget him, even if I had never seen him after that day. I remember, after that attempt on Louis's life, you were assigned to be my personal guard. And, slowly but surely, as my days were no longer passed in loneliness but in suffocation by my husband's guards, my feelings for D'Artagnan grew. I mistook them for animosity, for frustration at being so sequestered, and then that all changed. It was in the August of 1639, the day I went riding, accompanied as always by my husband's guards. Aramis and D'Artagnan. It was a hot summer's day and I was determined to ride out, as had been my habit for so long, but a thunderstorm was drawing ever closer. D'Artagnan and Aramis tried to dissuade me, but I refused….."

"Quite vehemently, if I recall correctly," Aramis interjected with a reminiscent smile. Anne sent him a fond one back.

"It was quite an argument," Anne conceded, "Well, where was I?"


1639, The King's country estate, The Somme valley

"Your Majesty! I must insist you do not go out today! With the thunderstorm drawing closer, riding today is suicide!"

The young Anne rolled her eyes as she swept down the stable block towards her waiting horse, the skirts of her emerald green riding habit swirling around her booted feet. Her long raven black curls hung loose down her back, a riding cap planted jauntily amongst the trailing curls. She ignored the protests from the men who followed her doggedly. Her lapdogs, she called them in moments of private irritation. Always barking at her skirts.

In her heart she knew they only cared for her protection, but her stubborn mind and sense of independence refused to concede gracefully. She mounted the frisky black that awaited her, not even looking down at the two men who stood by her stirrup, clothed in the coat of the Musketeers.

"Do not be ridiculous, Aramis. I will be perfectly safe. That storm is still some miles off, I will be back in plenty of time," she said dismissively, flicking her dark curls over her shoulder. Finally she met the eyes of the men whose job it was to protect her.

Aramis was the elder of the two, and handsome in an unsophisticated way. Waves of burnished brown hair brushed his shoulders, framing a chiselled face with shrewd eyes and a neat beard above a thin-lipped mouth. And then there was D'Artagnan.

D'Artagnan possessed dark waves of hair that trailed to his collarbone, strong patriarchal facial planes of a classical beauty, piercing eyes that seemed to convey both great compassion and a candidness that would never serve at court. A trim moustache sat above a sensual mouth, one that Anne had to admit was attractive. But for all his physical attractiveness, D'Artagnan was arrogant and dismissive, which grated on Anne's temperament. They rarely saw eye to eye.

"My lady, at least take one of us with you. For safety, if nothing else," Aramis came close to pleading.

"Aramis, I do not require a chaperone for a simple ride through the countryside. I will not be turned on the subject. Now I shall be back within an hour," she said firmly. Without looking at the Musketeers, Anne wheeled her horse and galloped out of the courtyard.

D'Artagnan watched the young Queen ride away and exhaled a sigh through gritted teeth.

"Patience, D'Artagnan," Aramis sighed, but there was a warning edge to his tone.

"That girl's a damned fool. She'll get herself killed one day," D'Artagnan retorted heatedly.

"That girl's a Queen, D'Artagnan. Remember that," Aramis clapped him on the shoulder before he walked away. D'Artagnan barely registered the gesture; all his senses were centred on the woodland that Queen Anne had disappeared into. With a muttered curse, he flung away and disappeared into the tack room to fetch a saddle.


Anne raced through the countryside atop her stallion, revelling in the freedom. The forest flashed past in a blur of emeralds and browns, the sound of the wind through the trees and the thud of her mount's hooves the only noise in the peaceful woods. Not an animal moved in the undergrowth. The quiet before the storm. She halted her horse and took a deep breath.

Freedom.

How she longed for it, just a taste of everything granted to lesser mortals, who weren't born with the burden of being royal. To love and be loved not for her royal blood, but for herself. Loneliness ate at the heart of her.

The King had sent her away to one of his Chateaus, so he could be free to pursue his many mistresses without interruption. For her health, he had said.

Ha, Anne snorted derisively to herself, for my health my foot!

Now she was stuck in some draughty castle, with only Musketeers for company! At least she had her maid and confidant by her side always. At least that was some consolation.

With a sigh she set off again, emerging from the woodland onto the plains and the cultivated farmlands. She set off at a hard gallop, letting her hair fly wild and free. She didn't see the iron-grey storm clouds already massing ever closer, the flickering of silver lightning in the distance. Her mount jibbed at the bit, pulling at the reins. For a moment, Anne lost control, but she reined in, hauling the animal to a halt. She caught her breath whilst the stallion fidgeted and fussed beneath her. Suddenly the sound of hooves sounded on the plains, and Anne turned her head to find a rider approaching swiftly on a strong bay. She recognised the emblem of the Musketeers and she sighed through her teeth. Furious, she whirled her mount and dug her heels in, galloping as fast as she could in the opposite direction. Let's see if the Musketeer can catch up, she thought with a wry smirk. But then the thunder started. Great rolling crashes of sound, as though cannons duelled in the heavens above. Relentless, terrifying…..

Anne's horse bucked and reared, Anne only just managing to keep her seat, as it bolted, terrified by the sound. Anne could only hold on.

D'Artagnan crested the rise, and saw her. Glorious and beautiful in the declining light, he felt his heart skip a beat. Ignoring it, he let his irritation rise, as he began to gallop towards her. He saw her turn her head, and even with the distance between them, he could imagine her grit-teeth sigh and furious expression. He had been seeing enough of it in the past few months. He cursed as she turned and bolted away in a wild gallop, but then the thunder started. Fear clutched his heart as he saw her lose control of her mount, as it bucked and reared before it bolted uncontrollably. He set the bay after her, praying he would make it in time. He couldn't think, not for anything beyond the tiny figure bouncing as she fought to retain her seat. Side-saddle, she had no room for error, and jouncing as she was, she had no hope of controlling the beast. The downs were uneven, the horse's pounding strides would jar through her, wrenching her arms and weakening her hold on the reins.

Until she fell.


Anne gritted her teeth, desperately trying to stop her breath being slammed out of her with every stride the black took. The dips and folds in the land meant little to the horse, but to her, they meant her arms being wrenched from their sockets and still the horse continued to fly, panicked by the encroaching storm. Only her boot in the stirrup and her leg locked around the pommel kept her in her seat.

She couldn't hold on any longer.

The thought flew through her mind, but in that instant, Anne heard the slow, heavy thud of horse hooves pursuing her. Closing, excruciatingly slowly closing…..

"My Lady!"

The bay drew alongside, and Anne risked a glance sideways. D'Artagnan.

Relief flooded her, for once, until she looked ahead. Panic clawed at her throat, as she saw a series of folds on the green. Up, down, up, down- she would never hold her seat through that. Already the black's stride jolted the breath from her lungs, preventing her from taking a deep breath. She hauled on the reins, but to no avail. Her tired arms didn't have the strength to fight the horse any more.

"My Lady, kick your legs free NOW!" D'Artagnan commanded one hand on the reins, another reaching for her. Anne forced herself to ignore the fact that she would surely fall, and did as he bid, for once.

The instant her feet were free, D'Artagnan swept her into his arms, as she pushed away from the saddle. And reached for him.

He swung her over and pulled her to him, steadying her in the saddle before him. Anne, giddy with relief and exhaustion, clung to him, fighting back the hysterical tears. She curled herself into him, her head tucked into the hollow of his collarbone, her boots and skirts flowing over one hard thigh. She had never imagined how stone-like D'Artagnan's limbs felt. But she was safe.

D'Artagnan felt the soft reality of the woman in his arms, closed his eyes and drew her scent in deep, that of lavender and lily-of-the-valley. She was safe in his arms. He had saved her.

The image of her, sprawled over the coarse ground, eyes shut and unmoving, was enough to make him tighten his arms protectively, a strange emotion coursing through his blood. He slowed the bay gradually, knowing that a showy stop would only unseat Anne more. When the bay was walking calmly, despite the thunder crashes, he looked down at his charge.

"My lady, are you alright?" he asked, his voice strangely hoarse. At such close quarters, he was overwhelmed by the beauty of her face, etched with vulnerability. His gaze unconsciously dropped to her lips, before he brought them back to her enthralling eyes.

"Yes, yes I am fine," she breathed, crushed as she was against D'Artagnan's body. But she was as enthralled by his eyes as he was by hers. "What about the black?"

"He'll come in of his own accord. Or I'll send one of the grooms out," D'Artagnan replied, his warm breath fanning her lips. His arms still had not loosened their hold on her. This close, she breathed in his scent. The smell of boot polish and some unknown fragrance she had never encountered.

"Thank you," she whispered, her eyes searching his. In an instant she saw the shutters come down over his eyes, keeping her out. The barrier was down; they were Queen and protector once more.

"You're welcome, Your Majesty. You should be a little more careful in future," he said coldly, gathering the reins and looking ahead. Anne stared at his profile, indignation flooding her veins.

"You have no right to preach to the Queen, D'Artagnan," she replied, easing out of his arms, holding her head erect. But his grip did not loosen.

"I have every right, my lady. How can I and the others be expected to protect you, if you ride neck or nothing in the middle of a thunderstorm?" D'Artagnan continued calmly, despite the impulse to fly at her, but she was the Queen.

"My life is mine to do with as I please-"

"It is not. You are the Queen; your life is not your own to be risked," D'Artagnan cut her off.

"Do not lecture me, Musketeer!" Anne barked, before she muttered to herself, "The King would probably be relieved at the chance to take another wife,"


D'Artagnan heard but didn't reply. He knew, as did the others, that the royal marriage was nothing but a sham of convenience. And his heart beat in pity for her, when she wasn't enacting the role of a reckless thorn in his side.

But his thoughts were interrupted as a rain shower drenched them, just as they reached the forest. He cursed quietly and spurred his mount into a canter, careful on the muddy paths. When he took a left turn on the way back to the chateau, Anne roused herself to say loudly.

"You're going the wrong way!"

"No. This rainstorm will last some hours. We can't have the royal head catch a cold, now can we?" D'Artagnan said irritably.

Anne couldn't help but smile. She riled at the comment nonetheless.

"Your impertinence will land you knee-deep in trouble one day, D'Artagnan," she remarked.

"And your recklessness chin-deep in trouble, one day," D'Artagnan muttered. Anne didn't deign to reply. He broke the frosty silence to say, "There is a huntsman's cottage a few yards from here. We can take refuge there,"

The rain lashed at them as they approached the cottage. D'Artagnan slid to a stop on the marshy ground, as he dismounted. He turned back to the horse to lower Anne to the ground, taking her weight easily in his strong arms. The feel of her waist between his hands sent a shiver through him, which he determinedly ignored. Anne's breath fled as D'Artagnan held her so tightly. Warmth blossomed from the area his hands touched, although muted by heavy silk and her corset. He lowered her slowly to the ground, and the barriers came down once more. She stared into his eyes, and felt her heart skip a beat. The rain poured down, yet they could not feel it through the heat blossoming in the both of them, the spell holding them enthralled.

Anne suddenly shivered, and the spell was broken. D'Artagnan shrugged off his coat and draped it around her shoulders.

"Go inside. The door should be open," he indicated the door to the rustic cottage, the windows shuttered and empty. Anne nodded and turned away. When she gained the door, she turned and watched as D'Artagnan began to draw the horse towards the makeshift stable alongside the cottage. His hair was plastered to his skull by the rain, black and heavy with water. His shirt was drenched to the skin, displaying the strong muscles of his back and upper arms. Anne caught her breath and hurriedly went into the cottage. Inside, the cottage was basic at best, but warm and dry. Firewood was stacked in a corner by the fireplace, beside a metal kettle and stool. Before the hearth stood two armchairs, deep and comfortable, a dresser by the side wall, and another door led through to what she guessed was a bed chamber. Anne explored, and found cloths and a packet of tea in the dresser. She filled the kettle and put it over the fire, and began to stack firewood in the hearth. She was utterly absorbed in her task when, suddenly, a muscular hand caught hers, and she turned her head to find herself looking straight into D'Artagnan's eyes. She felt her breath leave her abruptly, as she straightened, and D'Artagnan's hand left hers.

"Let me, my lady," he said, gesturing to the stack of wood. Anne's eyes narrowed.

"I'm perfectly capable you know," she muttered. D'Artagnan's eyes flashed.

"I never implied otherwise, Your Majesty. But let me, regardless. I insist," he forced out through gritted teeth. Anne reluctantly conceded and drew away to one of the armchairs. Sitting, she covertly examined D'Artagnan as he worked.

His hair was still soaked to his skull from the rain storm, whilst his shirt had, thankfully for Anne's peace of mind, dried. A rapier hung from his hip, and she noted the elegance and balance of the design. Not a sword found on many Musketeers.

"It belonged to my father," D'Artagnan's smooth baritone suddenly interrupted her thoughts. She looked up into his eyes.

"He was a Musketeer?" she asked, suddenly curious about this young man, who served her husband so diligently and devotedly. D'Artagnan, sensing her curiosity, nodded.

"He served His Majesty's father. He died to protect him,"

"I am sorry," Anne whispered. D'Artagnan shook his head.

"Don't be, my lady. He died as he would have wished. I can think of no better end than his," he assured her. He took a seat in the opposite armchair, as Anne stared dreamily into the now roaring fire. The warmth penetrated her sodden skirts, washing over her like a hot bath. She sighed contentedly. D'Artagnan looked over at her, still swathed in his black Musketeer's cloak.

"You should try to sleep, my lady. The storm will take some time to blow out. There is a bed in the next room, if you wish," he said, settling down in the comfortable armchair.

"No thank you, D'Artagnan. I would prefer to remain here. Besides I am not tired," Anne replied haughtily, stifling a yawn. D'Artagnan smiled to himself, amused by her stubbornness. Anne's eyes narrowed. "You know, D'Artagnan, that smile of yours is very revealing. What do you mean by it?"

"Nothing, my lady," he stopped smiling hastily. Anne sat up straighter.

"The smile has gone. I demand to know what I said which was so amusing," she continued, a small smile of her own on her lips.

"Very well, my lady." D'Artagnan sighed, "I was just…..thinking on the stubbornness of royal heads, my lady,"

Anne laughed.

"Forgive me, my lady, it was but an errant thought," D'Artagnan looked quickly at his Queen, but she did not seem displeased. Indeed she seemed amused. Her face was vibrant with her laughter.

"Do not apologise, D'Artagnan. You can redeem yourself by telling this stubborn Queen of your home. I-I have never been to Gascony," Anne suddenly felt awkward. The atmosphere had visibly thawed between them, and Anne did not wish to make him uncomfortable. She knew from overhearing the Musketeers' conversations, the origins of her guards. She was curious about this man, so unlike the court fops and sycophantic advisers of her husband. She wanted to see behind the shield he employed in her presence. She wanted to know him.

"Very well, my lady. Gascony is a great, rolling country of lush vineyards and leafy forests. In summer, when the sun shone through the leaves, they would shine with so many splendid hues of gold and green, lovelier than any stained glass window. We would run, as children, down to the vineyards in the wine-making season, to pick the earliest fruits. The farmers would run out, shouting and gesticulating with their pitchforks, and we would run away, laughing and stained with grape juice. We would play hide-and-seek in the meadows. They were like undulating oceans of grass, the lonely, open spaces echoing with songs of the crickets in the evening. Oh to ride in the lonely lanes of Gascony was to experience true freedom; there was never many people in the woodlands," D'Artagnan dredged up memories of his childhood, his voice hypnotic in the warm cottage, the sounds of the storm kept at bay, for the moment. Anne observed him openly.

"You sound as though you miss it," she said softly, remembering her own childhood, growing up in the royal courts of Austria. There had been no simple pleasures there, no fun in the vineyards, or games of hide-and-seek in the meadows. Just endless boredom.

"I do, sometimes. But I am content here and in Paris. Indeed I do not regret my decision to join the Musketeers. It gave my life purpose," he replied.

"You are so lucky, D'Artagnan. To have such wonderful memories, of such freedom and happiness," Anne sighed wistfully.

"Do you not have such memories, my lady?" D'Artagnan forgot his station, and hers, forgot that they were mistress and servant, in talking to the woman behind the crown. He had seen her fiery temper and stubborn independence firsthand, and now he was discovering the gentler, human side of her.

"No. My life at court was all about duty, and preparing for a life I had no choice about. And, please, D'Artagnan," she impulsively asked, "Please call me Anne. At least in private, like this,"

"I do not know if that is wise," D'Artagnan began, before he saw her expression and softened. "If you so wish it, my la- Anne. But only when we are private like this," he conceded. He very much doubted he would ever be private with the Queen again, so it couldn't hurt to breach decorum, just this once.

"Thank you," Anne whispered, as D'Artagnan's eyes rose to hers. What he saw in the shining jewels was an unguessed at lifetime of loneliness and deprivation. She might have had the best silks and satins, toys and books money could buy, but she had had nothing else. Love she had never felt, friendship a foreign concept, affection an unguessed at dream. He felt true pity for her.

"What are you thinking, D'Artagnan?" she asked, watching his expression with a smile. D'Artagnan smiled and looked down at his boots.

"That, Anne, maybe you are not so much of a spoiled brat as I took you for. Forgive my blindness," he joked, greatly daring. Anne laughed.

"And you are not so much of an arrogant, conceited braggart that I took you for." Anne retorted.

"Touché,"

"I will forgive you, if you forgive me, my friend," Anne continued, holding out her hand. After a moment's hesitation, D'Artagnan took it.

"Then it's a deal," he smiled, as their hands entwined. He felt an electric shock jump through him at her touch, and felt the same tremor run through her. Their eyes locked, and Anne felt her breath leave her abruptly.

"Thank you, for saving my life, D'Artagnan," she whispered softly. Eyes focussed on hers, he raised her hand to his lips.

"I would do anything for you, my Queen. Anything," he whispered back. Anne smiled.

"I know. And it's Anne," she reminded him gently.

"Anne. Anne." D'Artagnan found he liked the feel of that single syllable on his tongue. He nodded once and released her hand. "You should sleep. We're going to be stuck here awhile,"

As his hand brushed the palm of hers, Anne hissed slightly in pain. The reins had rubbed the skin raw, where she had held them so tightly in her fight to control the black. D'Artagnan's gaze sharpened and he was out of his seat in a moment.

"What is it?" he asked, turning her palms over. Underneath, the skin was pink and shiny, calluses already forming on the silken skin.

"My hands are just sore. From the riding," she explained, her cheeks burning slightly with embarrassment. He, no doubt, had suffered far worse.


Unaware of Anne's discomfort, D'Artagnan examined her hands gently, his large thumb stroking the rubbed flesh. Anne could feel her tension relaxing at the comforting movement.

"There should be some salve in the dresser," he said. He released her hand, and disappeared behind to search the dresser. Anne sighed and relaxed back into her chair, her eyes closing wearily. When she opened them again, it was to find D'Artagnan kneeling in front of her, a small pot of salve in his large hand. Without a word he massaged the cooling mixture into her skin, and Anne could feel herself beginning to drift off. Her head fell back on the wing of the chair, as she slipped into slumber, D'Artagnan's soothing baritone the last sound echoing in her head.

Anne awoke to glorious sunlight streaming through the windows. She stirred and groaned at the ache in her neck.

"I told you, you should've taken the bed," a voice said from the side of her. Anne turned her head, and a nondescript plaid blanket fell from where it had been tucked around her shoulders. D'Artagnan knelt by the hearth, stoking the embers.

"Oh don't be so smug, D'Artagnan. And don't say 'I told you so'," Anne groaned, shrugging the blanket away. D'Artagnan straightened from the hearth and proffered a steaming cup of tea.

"Here. And I would never dream of it, Anne," he smiled. She accepted the mug gracefully.

"Is the storm over yet?" she asked. D'Artagnan sighed and turned to the door.

"Yes. It blew out by dawn," he replied. Anne sat up, alarmed.

"Dawn? You mean it is tomorrow?" she said, cupping her hands around the warmth of the tea.

"Well, I suppose it is today, really," he caught sight of Anne's face and stopped, "Yes it is the day after, my Lady. The rain has stopped, and the sky is clear. We can return to the chateau, as soon as you're ready, my lady,"

"Oh. Yes," Anne turned away from D'Artagnan, reminded of their positions, and the reality that awaited them beyond the walls of the little cottage. For a blazing moment, she didn't want to leave the cottage and return to the dry world that awaited her. They would return, and the slight friendship that had grown out of the animosity she had borne D'Artagnan until yesterday would be forced to dissipate. They would become strangers again. And to her surprise, the thought brought tears to her eyes.

"Anne? Is anything the matter?" D'Artagnan knelt in front of his Queen, and impulsively took her hand. He saw the tears just beginning to sparkle in her eyes, and felt something within him seize. He couldn't stand to see her cry.

"It is silly," she muttered, looking down at his strong hands, entwined with her small one.

"Please. Tell me, Anne," he whispered, tilting her chin up again, his eyes intent on hers. Anne took a deep, shuddering breath.

"I-I find myself….unwilling to leave this little cottage, and return to the outside world. Do you never feel like that, D'Artagnan? Wishing for a simple life, when all you have is an extravagant misery? Do you not wish for a simpler life than you have been given?" she said, turning away to hide her tears. D'Artagnan caught her arms and turned her back.

"No I do not. But I cannot bear to see you cry, my lady. I promise you I would do everything and anything in my power to make your life bearable," he said earnestly, achingly aware of the slender arms encased in emerald silk beneath his fingers. Anne smiled up at him through her tears.

"I do not think anything can make my life bearable, D'Artagnan. But thank you,"

"What for?"

"For allowing me one glance at a life I have craved. For not treating me as your Queen, but as an equal and a friend. I wish that would not change," she sighed, her voice a painful whisper. D'Artagnan placed a gloved hand on her cheek.

"My lady that will not change," he replied passionately, "I can do nothing about how I behave and act around you in the company of others, but if ever we are private, I will not treat you as anything other than an equal, if you so desire,"

"I do. With my whole heart, I do," she said, a smile lighting up her features. D'Artagnan smiled back.

"Your smile is back, my lady. And it is good to see it," he whispered. Anne placed one of her hands on his cheek, opposite to his hand on hers, and put on a mock-stern expression.

"I thought I told you, it's Anne," she reminded him gently.

"Anne. Anne," he murmured, a gentle smile on his lips. Anne's eyes darted down to them, her breath hitching. She felt the atmosphere tense, like a thunderstorm, as she softened, her breath coming short through parted lips.


"D'Artagnan! D'Artagnan!" the shout came from outside, tearing the spell which held them apart. D'Artagnan released Anne quickly and turned to the door, which was blown open by Porthos.

"D'Artagnan! You are alright!" the large Musketeer barrelled into the room and embraced D'Artagnan rambunctiously. Anne moved out the way quickly. Aramis and Athos, a tall fair-haired Musketeer, followed.

"Your Majesty, when your horse came back to the stables rider-less, we feared the worst. It is good to find you safe and sound," Aramis said, his eyes on the Queen.

"You have D'Artagnan to thank for that," she inclined her head gracefully, a chilly cloak of hauteur draped over her.

"We should return to the chateau. Come," D'Artagnan extricated himself from Porthos's grip and met Anne's gaze. Taking a deep breath, she nodded.

"Let us go," she inclined her head, and swept out of the cottage.