Hello, and Merry Christmas, to anyone who's reading this. :) This little fic came about as a challenge response (I've been sneak-reading in the forums, yes) where the writer picks a word at random from a dictionary and writes a drabble based on that. As you may have guessed, my word was "scream". I'm a little surprised at how this turned out, but nevertheless I had great fun doing it, and I hope at least that much will show in the story! Please enjoy it, and happy holidays!
(Disclaimer: I own nothing except the stray plot bunny which planted itself firmly upon my head when I got my word.)
~ Scream ~
Night had descended upon Paris. The streets lay silent and snoozing, breathing the calm and chilled breath of October. Even the clocks were asleep, time seemingly having lost its way somewhere on the pleasant acres between dusk and dawn. In a set of apartments near the heart of the city, the ashes in the hearth had long since settled and cooled; for once the inhabitants slept dreamlessly, without the aid of a wine too strong. All was calm.
That was, until a shrill howl sliced through the darkness, resounding in the entire building and beyond.
Athos, the lightest sleeper of the musketeers, was first to appear in the common room. Having neglected his boots, he moved soundlessly across the floor, poniard at the ready as he scanned his surroundings. A slight, hardly perceivable creak had his every sense on edge, but it was only their young ward, the Gascon, stumbling into view.
'D'Artagnan,' said Athos lowly, voice still laden with sleep, 'was it you who just screamed?'
The young man shook his head, meeting Athos's questioning expression with his own. His hair was sprouting in all directions, and the shirt which clung to his slender frame was both inside out and backwards. The older musketeer would later appreciate (albeit reluctantly) that the boy seemed to be sleeping well and soundly at their quarters, but there was no time for such reflections as they stood, bewildered, in the deathly silent apartment, willing their tired eyes to get used to the dark.
'Neither was it me who screamed,' boomed Porthos, as silently as he possibly could, when he appeared on top of the staircase. The colossus was the heaviest sleeper of the quartet – his presence, if nothing else, at least indicated that they had not falsely imagined the terrible howl.
For a moment the three men stood like statues, straining their ears to hear from where the sound might have come, and where it was now hiding, but in vain. No burglars flew upon them from the obscured corners; no assassins descended upon their heads from the beams in the ceiling; no Cardinal's guards came barging in through the door to arrest them for invented crimes. Nothing. Then their gazes met in a moment of sudden realisation. No-one but the three of them was there…
As one they went to Aramis's room. Porthos made no ceremony of opening the door – had the missing musketeer indeed been at home, he would have scolded him for not knocking, but the room was vacant. Tidy as it was (with the exception of rumpled bedclothes the former priest could never be bothered with, and a few papers strewn across the floor in memory of poetic outbursts) they could determine so at first glance. Porthos still made sure to look underneath the bed, just in case.
'The window is open,' d'Artagnan observed. He walked over to it and leant outside, inhaling sharply the cold autumn air. The street below was veiled in shadow and completely deserted as far as the Gascon could see. He turned back to face an expectant Athos. Porthos was busy investigating the armoire.
'I don't see the faintest trace of him,' he admitted.
'Ah!' said Porthos, 'that is the usual amount you see of Aramis at night.' He looked at Athos for confirmation that nothing, indeed, was out of the ordinary, but the latter seemed inclined to disagree with him. He said therefore nothing more. Leaving the more complicated trains of thought to those who were better suited to follow them was, decided Porthos, the best idea at the moment. Even if he'd much rather have dismissed the matter before it became a problem, and gone back to bed.
'The scream must have come from someone,' said Athos.
'And there is only one "someone" out of us four who is not present,' concluded d'Artagnan with a frown. 'Suppose something has happened?' He looked out once more through the window. He couldn't think of any sensible reason to leave it open in October. Cold air was rushing in with every little gust of wind, and whatever warmth Aramis had previously enjoyed had been forcibly pulled out of the room. Could the same fate have befallen their friend, if someone had broken in and…? D'Artagnan tried to rid himself of the thought as soon as it appeared in his head. Aramis was neither a lady nor a cripple; even startled from his sleep, he would not yield to anyone without a proper fight, only to be abducted like a child. No, whatever had happened, it must have been something else.
'Gentlemen, seize your swords.' Athos, a man of action rather than words, nodded to each of his two friends, relaying the rest of his plan in a look. 'We shall bring clarity upon this mystery.'
The three friends had soon discovered the reason why the streets were deserted; the ill wind was ruthless against every inch of unprotected skin, leaving their faces and hands reddened and aching with cold. Nevertheless, they had walked on, close together and with steady grips around the hilts of their swords, and with a lantern lighting their way. First of all they had searched the close vicinity of their home, but as that had yielded no result, they had strayed farther and farther away, almost reaching the bridge where Porthos insisted he had once thrown a horse from one end to the other. Athos had then decided that their hunt was finished – walking aimlessly in Paris at night was never an agreeable idea, and even less so when they had left their home unguarded and maybe targeted – and so they turned back again, heads hanging low.
'We can't fail him, Athos,' Porthos mumbled then. Even a man of his size was an easy victim of brain spectres and what ifs, when the weather was bitter and the hour late. 'He could be…'
'We know nothing of what happened,' Athos interrupted. His voice was, as always, like that of a general, but now it sounded unusually soft and resigned. 'And we cannot possibly find out tonight. It is dark and freezing, we haven't the slightest notion of where to look, and Aramis would have all of our heads if we caught cold because of him.'
'He is even deadlier than we give him credit for, Porthos. He will be alright; it is his opponents who have everything to fear,' d'Artagnan added. But his and Athos's efforts did little to ease their friend's worries, and even less to ease their own. They walked on in silence.
When they at last were in sight of their apartments once more, Athos stopped dead in the middle of a step. D'Artagnan was quick to mimic him, and hissed for Porthos to do the same. Athos nodded straight ahead, towards their home.
'The wall,' he whispered.
The others followed his gaze and saw, to their sheer horror, a silhouette in process of scaling the wall beneath Aramis's window. The perpetrator! It should have been a slow process, the wall lacking any sort of foothold, but whoever was climbing it must have done so before. He had reached a full third of the way up in one agile heartbeat.
Without a moment of further hesitation, d'Artagnan set off running. Hearing footsteps behind him, he knew Porthos had followed suit. Together they bounded down the street, eyes fixed upon the mysterious figure, sword sheaths tapping frenziedly against their thighs. In a matter of seconds they had flown upon their enemy.
'Down with you, phantom!' d'Artagnan growled, pulling hard on the cloak of the silhouetted man. The latter lost his footing entirely, and fell.
'Ouf!' he emitted as he landed in the arms of Porthos. He struggled to right himself, but was held still by his captor as if stuck in a vice, and with the tip of d'Artagnan's sword hovering just over his face. Admitting defeat, he stopped wriggling and looked up at his captors. 'What in the name of…? D'Artagnan?'
'Oh!' said Porthos. 'It is Aramis.'
'Upon my word, who else would be expected to climb up to my window? I would not much like being him!' He slipped out of his friend's loosened grip and stood to straighten the cloak d'Artagnan had almost pulled off of him.
'Although,' he continued, 'I feel very fortunate to have such a well-guarded home.'
'We could not find you in bed, thought something might have happened, and decided to search for you,' explained the Gascon, a little dumbstruck. 'We were just returning home, fruitless, when we saw a silhouette on the wall. Thinking it was your abductor, we captured him.'
'But it turned out to be you,' added Porthos, helpfully.
'Ah! It was an excellent catch, Porthos,' said Aramis, and the colossus swelled with pride. 'I thank you for worrying, but as you can see, I have not been abducted, and all is quite well. Why were you searching for me to begin with, pardon my ignorance?'
'We heard a scream,' said Athos. The eldest musketeer had taken his time to arrive, having realised, perhaps, the identity of the climber already from afar.
'Yes, and it woke all three of us,' continued Porthos. 'It was high-pitched, too. I first thought it must be that of a woman, or a ghoul.'
'A woman or a ghoul, you say?' Aramis arched an eyebrow. 'Which one of these alternatives led you to think of me?'
D'Artagnan attempted to stifle a smirk, but failed horribly, while Athos turned away with a renewed interest in the shrubbery.
'Well, you were the only one missing,' said Porthos. 'Where have you been at this hour?'
The former priest went about righting his cloak again, as if it was a most urgent matter. Only after making doubly sure it hung the way it should did he answer. 'I had a premonition that my poor, sickly cousin was in need of me, and wasted no time in visiting her – I mean him! It was well, and I thank the Lord for it, for he was in urgent need of someone to reapply bandages to her – excuse me, his – wounds.'
Porthos twirled his moustache, partly hiding a grin as broad as his shoulders. With the other hand he held up the lantern, and nodded towards Aramis's neck, where a red mark showed above the collar. Even before anything was said, the ex-priest's face coloured considerably.
'Was it this effeminate "cousin" of yours who presented you with that? I believed they mostly gave you handkerchiefs for your… services.'
D'Artagnan felt as if he was about to choke. Aramis himself rather looked as if he was about to do the same, but for very different reasons.
'Gentlemen,' interrupted Athos, with a graceful smile directed at the former priest, who blossomed even redder, 'shall we step inside? The mystery of the scream might not yet be solved, but all four of us are at the very least safe and sound. I propose we leave it be until morning, when we have slept.'
'Well spoken, Athos!' laughed d'Artagnan.
The four friends heaved contented sighs upon stepping inside, where it was still relatively warm. Athos set about warming some wine over the rekindled fire as the others, exhausted, sat down around the table to let their clothes dry, and their limbs thaw. Any attempts at a conversation quickly died down, partly because they were too tired to speak, and partly because words are not always necessary in the company of close friends. D'Artagnan fiddled with his cup on the table. Porthos studied the buttons on the doublet he had crawled out of, and Aramis sat with closed eyes, leaning against Porthos's shoulder. Athos, with his back turned to them, was going through a cabinet for a bottle of wine he was certain should be there. They all nearly jumped out of their skins as a shrill, almost deafening howl was heard.
'What in the name of the Lord was that?' whispered Aramis, eyes now fully opened.
'The ghoul!' hissed Porthos.
'Chut! Listen…' Athos gripped his bottle tightly, having nearly let it fall. The others obeyed his command immediately, but not for long. The young Gascon was first to break the silence with a shout.
'Mordioux! The balcony!'
D'Artagnan and his companions watched as a hand rose in the air and struck against the windowpane. It struck again and again, sending trembles through the very walls. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped, and vanished in the darkness outside.
Athos held onto the bottleneck with a firm hand. His companions all rose soundlessly from their seats. Porthos had his sword at the ready, having wiped it clean upon arriving home. Aramis carried two poniards, one of which he gave to d'Artagnan. The quartet inched slowly, slowly towards the balcony doors, avoiding every floorboard they knew creaked under pressure. Without a single misstep they arrived at the doors, and Athos laid his free hand against them. He paused, mentally steeling himself for whom- or whatever they would be facing. No danger was unthinkable. Not even her, though she had fallen…
'On three,' whispered the youthful voice of d'Artagnan, bringing the older musketeer back to the present. Who was Athos to hesitate, if the youngster would not? They counted, weapons raised. Then he shoved at the doors.
What met them was a man lying flat on the floor. A collective exclamation of surprise was all they could muster.
The servant shot up into a sitting position, wiping at his eyes in order to appear awake and prepared to serve his masters at any given hour. He smiled to disarm them, but was continuously distracted by something on the floor, to his left. He glanced at it nervously.
'What is the meaning of this, stupid?' growled Athos, fully capturing his attention.
'Oh, messieurs!' said Planchet. 'Forgive me, if I have woken you, but we seem to have a minor infestation problem. You see, I have been greatly disturbed throughout the night by this persistent cockroach, though I have done my best to protect your noble selves…' He dared another glance towards the floor, and was so startled by a minuscule black speck coming towards him that he flew into the arms of d'Artagnan, howling like a wounded animal.
Athos pushed past him and grabbed the little speck. He held it up for Planchet to see. It was an old, scrunched up leaf.
'Is this your persistent little critter?'
'Shut up, Planchet,' they said, and slammed the balcony doors shut.
Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan all went immediately to bed, eager to get at least a few hours of sleep that night. Thankfully, not another scream was heard. At least, not until daybreak had descended upon Paris, and Aramis discovered that someone had gone through his armoire. But the scream of the former priest reminded them nothing of a ghoul, or a lady.
~ Fin ~
And that's my first musketeer fanfic officially done! I hope that didn't come out as terrible as I think it did… Any nitpickings are welcome, as English isn't my native language and I have a tendency to make pretty hilarious mistakes sometimes, and as I'm also new to the whole musketeering world. Thanks for reading; I can only wish it was worth your time! :)