Lesser Evil

Chapter Ten

Jacques was sitting under a tree nearby where she and her companions had tied their horses up days earlier when they had first arrived at Pinion's slave camp, while keeping watch for D'artagnan to come back from sneaking inside the camp. After being gone for almost an hour, D'artagnan finally came back on foot and from the look on his face, his news was not good.

"What's wrong?" Jacques asked anxiously.

"Siroc can't hold on any longer," D'artagnan answered. "He'll die if we don't get him some help soon. He's barely conscious. We cannot wait for Ramon and Captain Duval. You and I will have to find a way to break him free ourselves."

Jacques nodded and responded, "Agreed. What is taking them so long to return? It has almost been twelve hours since Ramon left. What are we going to do?"

D'artagnan solemnly replied, "I'm not sure. Once you and I get close enough to Siroc to cut him down from the post and begin to fight against the guards, I hope that the other slaves will step in and help us after all Siroc has done for them. We can only pray that Ramon will arrive in time before we are overrun. If Siroc dies, he will die as a musketeer fighting for what's right; not as a slave, who has been chained up to pole to be humiliated."

"I doubt we will be able to get close enough to Siroc while carrying our swords," Jacques said.

"Which is why we'll ride into the camp with all our gear on our horses and ask to speak with Pinion," D'artagnan responded as he suddenly got an idea. "Leave the talking to me. You'll know when to fight."

Jacques understood and answered, "It's a good thing Siroc got the idea to hide our swords inside these hollowed out staffs."

A short time later…

Pinion and Messina were conversing inside his tent as they ate supper and shared a bottle of wine. The two of them talked business, while most of Messina's men and some of Pinion's worked to load the crates full of weapons onto the wagons Messina brought with him. They were enjoying each other's company until they were suddenly interrupted by two of Pinion's guards as they escorted in both D'artagnan and Jacques.

Pinion was the first to speak as he asked, "Gentlemen, I thought we settled our deal earlier?"

D'artagnan pulled out his money purse from around his neck and answered, "We did, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be wrong to accept any of your money. We came here believing we were handing our slave over to you to work, not to be tortured and humiliated. If I accept this money, I won't be able to sleep at night. I am not a heartless slave owner as you are."

"That is very noble of you," Messina replied. "I have never known a slave owner who cares about what happens to a slave. Are you certain you are not here for something else?"

"Only to return the money," D'artagnan spoke again. "Excuse the interruption."

He and Jacques turned to leave the tent as Messina and Pinion stood and followed the musketeers out, but stopped outside the tent. The musketeers walked over to pick up their horses' reins and walked them through the middle of the camp and slowed down as they got closer to where Siroc was still chained up against the pole. Jacques looked to D'artagnan and waited for his signal to pull out her sword.

He suddenly shouted and together they both pulled down their staffs from their horses, knocked down the guards nearest to them, and when they had a moment before more of the men were upon them, they pulled their swords from out of the staffs and began to fight as musketeers. Pinion and Messina shouted for their men to kill them and within a few minutes saw that the two were about to become outnumbered.

However, the moment of anticipation of their deaths were short lived when they suddenly heard shouting and the sound of hooves coming from above them in the direction of the woods. Everyone looked up and saw dozens of musketeers storming in on horses, racing into the camp. Some of the guards slowed their attack in fear, while D'artagnan and Jacques fought harder against them.

As the battle was happening around them, most of the men, the women, and their children began to run toward their tents. Those who did not run for cover stayed to fight against Pinion's men alongside the musketeers for payback, using whatever weapons they could get ahold of, for the pain and suffering they caused them and their families.

Both Ramon and Duval stormed into the middle of the camp and joined their friends against the guards surrounding them and Siroc. Pinion waddled back inside his tent and began to gather as much of his stashed money and food that he could into a large, single bag, while Messina joined in on the fight.

When he saw that his friends had a handle on things, Ramon turned to Siroc and broke through the chains holding him against the pole using his sword. They were old and rusted, therefore easy to break through with the right pressure. As soon as Siroc was loose, the youngest musketeer collapsed into Ramon's arms and as gently and quickly as he could, Ramon lifted his friend and guided him through the chaos toward one of the slaves' tents. Siroc was conscious and trying hard to keep all of his weight from falling onto Ramon, but he was weak and in severe pain.

"You did not think we would abandon you, did you, My Friend?" Ramon asked lightly, trying to ease their situation. "Just hold on. You will be fine in no time. You may hate the man, as do I, but Doctor Maloraux has been dragged along to help you. We had to find someone, seeing as you are the better physician. He was not too thrilled to join us."

Siroc wanted to say something in response, but was too busy concentrating on staying conscious. Just as they were about to get out of the crowd and make their last few feet to the tent, Siroc turned his head just in time to warn Ramon of a danger coming up from behind them. The inventor suddenly pushed Ramon away from himself and collapsed to the ground, so that Ramon could pull up his sword in time to fight against Messina as he attacked.

"I will not allow you or your friends help Siroc escape from me again," Ricardo snarled angrily. "Not after what he did to me."

As Ramon stood his ground preparing for Messina's attack, he replied, "I believe you were the one who made the first offense when you attacked and murdered his parents, as well as countless offenses since. That scar suits you."

Messina attacked Ramon and together they fought with their swords as Siroc continued to lie on the ground and fought his own battle with consciousness. He kept his eyes so focused on his friend, as well as on Messina, remembering that Messina was more skilled with a sword than Ramon was, that he failed to notice two of the slaves exit the tents and run toward him until they began to lift him up from off the ground.

Ramon saw this as he fought Messina and shouted at the men to help his friend inside the tent. Siroc weakly fought against them, but they did not stop until they all heard Ramon suddenly shout out in pain. Siroc collapsed back down to the ground as he watched Ramon stumble backward after Ricardo slashed his sword across his chest. Ramon was in trouble.

That was until Ramon heard his friend shout out, "Ramon, fall back!"

Ramon did as Siroc said, just in time to avoid being overpowered by smoke bomb as it exploded at Ricardo Messina's feet. Messina cried out as he was startled by the attack and then struggled to see through the smoke, when he suddenly felt a sword enter through his back and exit through his chest, then felt it being ripped out.

As the man with the long scar across his face fell to the ground himself and turned his head to see D'artagnan holding his bloodied sword in his hand. He looked down at the large wound and then back up at D'artagnan, Ramon, and Jacques, both of whom joined their leader at his side.

As he struggled to breathe, Messina angrily asked, "How did you…?"

Ramon answered, "Siroc is no slave. He is a musketeer. As well as one heck of an inventor and he has bested you once again."

As Messina died, Ramon raced over to Siroc, who was now unconscious in the two slaves' arms. Ramon helped the men gently lift him from the ground and carry him inside the tent, while D'artagnan and Jacques followed close behind. They lay him down on his stomach on one of the cots and stood back until Ramon shouted for them to get him some water and clean rags. Then, he looked up to his friends, who knew exactly what he was about to ask before he had to ask it. Jacques ran from the tent to go find the physician whom Ramon, Duval, and the other musketeers had brought along with them.

"What did happen before?" D'artagnan asked. "As soon as we saw you were in trouble, Jacques and I raced to get to you in time, but where did the smoke come from? It gave us the distraction we needed to kill him before he finished you off. Did you manage to throw one of Siroc's bombs?"

"Siroc threw it," Ramon responded solemnly. "He must have pulled the smoke bomb from my coat pocket as I struggled to get him to the tent before my fight with Messina. Siroc must have known the monster would come after him to try to finish him off and that I would be too busy helping him to pay attention to my surroundings. He used up his last bit of strength to save me."

D'artagnan looked down at his friend lying unconscious on the cot and replied, "As you would have done for him, as well as the rest of us."

Ramon banged his fists against the side of the cot and angrily answered, "This never should have happened! It wasn't supposed to be like this! We were supposed to protect him."

"You're right," D'artagnan said. "We failed to figure that something like his previous owner showing up could happen, but he would be the first to tell you that our plan was the right thing to do. We saved Jeremiah and reunited him with his son, with minimum casualties. Believe me, I am just as angry that Siroc had to be one of them."

Before Ramon could say anything else, the slaves came back with the water and rags and carefully set them on the ground beside Ramon, who then began to wipe a wet rag across Siroc's forehead. Soon after, Jacques came running back inside the tent, followed by Captain Duval and Doctor Maloraux, who grudgingly knelt down beside Siroc and began look him over while Ramon continued his vigil.

"How is he?" Duval asked.

Maloraux answered, "Many of the lashes only caused minimum damage to his back. However, many of them also cut deeper, not only through his skin, but into his muscle tissue as well. He's lost a lot of blood and he is severely dehydrated, I'd say it would be because he was forced to be chained up outside in the sun all day long. I don't think…"

Duval interrupted, "Just do whatever you can to save him. You owe him for saving your position as the King's physician."

The doctor nodded and continued to take care of Siroc, while Duval pulled both D'artagnan and Jacques away to speak with them in private. He wanted to know what happened while they were making their way to the camp.

"Why did we arrive just in time to keep the two of you from being overpowered?" Duval asked.

"Siroc needed help and we had no idea how much longer it was going to take for you to arrive, Sir," Jacques replied.

D'artagnan continued, "We didn't count on Messina coming here to collect weapons from Pinion. A fight was going to happen no matter what, Captain. Speaking of Pinion, where did he disappear to?"

Duval responded, "If you mean the fat man trying to escape while carrying a heavy bag full of coins and a handful of food, a few of the men, who were forced into slavery by him, dragged him back into the camp and tied him up to the pole in the center of camp. From the amount of blood I saw there, I assume that is where Siroc was tortured?"

"Yes, Sir," Ramon said as he joined them. "I will take great pleasure in making sure that that pig pays for what he has done; for Siroc."

"We will drag him before the King to stand trial for his crimes," Duval replied. "I doubt he will receive nothing less than the punishment of beheading. And I shall convince Louis to grant Siroc a full pardon for his deceit and the proper ceremony due to him of becoming a true musketeer."

Ramon answered, "Thank you, Captain."

A little over three weeks later…

The musketeers and the entire kingdom gathered together to watch and listen as the King officially made Siroc a musketeer. Siroc was still recovering from his ordeal and though he still struggled with not just the pain, but the humiliation and torment of once again becoming a slave and facing his worst fear, Siroc was finally at peace knowing that it was all worth it. He no longer had to hide his painful past from his friends and his King and he had saved the lives of a number of men, women, and their children. He would be all right.

"Siroc, as King of France, I hereby grant you the honor of becoming a true musketeer, for your honor, your valor, and your strength to go above and beyond your call of duty to protect my people and to fight for justice and peace with my kingdom," King Louis declared before the people of France while Siroc knelt down before him as Louis gently tapped his sword across both of his shoulders. "You have always been faithful to me and a fabulous inventor. I am glad to have you remain here in my court to go on doing so. Rise, Siroc and join your comrades in arms."

Every musketeer joined in shouting, "All for one and one for all!"

Later that evening, Siroc, Ramon, D'artagnan, and Jacques left the celebration in order to speak alone as Ramon asked, "So Siroc, how does it feel to be the reason for this joyous celebration?"

"I've never felt better," Siroc answered. "Except of course for when I am inventing. It is who I am."

"Yes, we know," D'artagnan responded. "It is because of you that we were able to save those people. We do not know what we would do without you and your skill."

Jacques added, "We don't want to even imagine. Just promise us that you will never keep a secret so big from us again. You know that you can tell us anything."

Siroc nodded and replied, "As you trust us with your secret of being a woman, I know that I can trust you with mine. Thank you for saving my life."

"The honor was ours, My Friend," Ramon answered. "The honor was all ours."

The End