Musketeers actually appear! Important note: the Musketeers in this are based on the later Dumas novels (20 Years Later and 10 Years Later). Most importantly, the Musketeers are older, and this, importantly, makes for a somewhat different Athos than the one you might be used to. Don't worry, though – he is still just as awesome!

The episode recounted in this chapter is from 20 Years Later. Anything the Musketeers do or say is respectively a paraphrase or a direct quote of the original Dumas. I've put asterisks next to actual quotes. Oh, and historical information not found in the Dumas is from wikipedia :)

The four Musketeers try (and fail) to rescue King Charles I from execution at the hand of Cromwell. Young Maria was there, as it happens, but how was Dumas to know about that?

I do apologize for the lack of next chapter. Some real life must, unfortunately, be attended to. In the dream world where I am in fact the Comte de La Fere, this life involved another mission and perhaps teaching Raoul horse back riding.

In any case, the next chapter will appear by the end of Thursday, December 20th. At any rate, I will get one more chapter out before the world ends! (Yes, I am joking. No, I am not insane.)

How could she have forgotten? Maria did know French Heroes! At least, at age 11, she had thought they were heroes...

"Cromwell captured King Charles." His Majesty King Philip of Spain sounded somber, as befit the occasion, but Maria thought Father's tone carried a hint of disdain for the hapless British King. "They are planning on holding a trial."

The courtiers shifted awkwardly in their seats, unsure of what reaction His Majesty was expecting. Her Highness, meanwhile, stared at her Father the King in consternation. She remembered the oddly kind man called King Charles I. She especially remembered his young children, Charles and Henrietta. What would happen to all of them? Because... well... aren't trials for criminals? And... and don't people get executed if they're found guilty? Shouldn't Father be doing something? If the English King is in trouble, shouldn't Spain be doing something? That last sounded like more the sort of argument that might appeal to His Majesty, and Maria voiced it straight away, "Your Majesty..." Everyone turned to look. Oh hell, did she just mess up again? But this really is more important than silly etiquette! "Your Majesty, if the English King is in danger, should not Spain come to his aid?"

One of the slicker courtiers gave Maria a patronizing smile. "That would be most unwise, your Highness. We have no need to meddle in English affairs, and such meddling may lead to a war..."

The King nodded. Maria felt sick. Maybe "Spain" doesn't need to "meddle," but I care about Henrietta and Charles! The way forward was obvious, and, though Maria was terrified of the Plan she was hatching, she knew she had to do this. Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, age 11, was going to England to rescue the English King.

Nanny was not going to like this plan. But Maria could hardly go alone, and she also needed Nanny's help to make sure no one in the castle noticed Maria was away from her village.

… …. ….

Both, surprisingly, proved easier than anticipated. Maria grinned to herself as she stepped victoriously on English soil. Nanny, of course, thought they had literally no chances of succeeding with the rescue mission, but the stanch old woman was as angry as Maria at the prospect of King Charles' death and had wanted to see the trial with her own eyes. And Maria's next visit to the King her Father was not for another two weeks, so she and Nanny decided there was little risk of their trip being discovered. His Majesty and his courtiers had not visited the village in months: Philip had practically given up on his daughter at this point. He had some hope for another heir for the throne now, in any case.

Maria was sitting quietly in the audiences on trial day. She had promised herself she would keep her calm. But as the king entered and the trial began, the young girl felt tears rise in her eyes. His Majesty King Charles the First looked truly noble. Oh, she knew Mother Annette hated the world 'noble,' that she said nobility didn't exist, but that simple words was the was the best description for Uncle Charles, standing pale yet defiant before his self-appointed judges.

Noble, yet so helpless. He could affect a calm look, could respond with dignified silence to their parody of a trial, but he could not change the fact that the executioner's axe was already prepared and prominently displayed at the hall entrance. And they, these officious lawmakers and heartless, disloyal soldiers mocked him, fully confident of their own impunity.

And Maria couldn't do anything. She even tried to shout out at one point, just to let Uncle know she was there, but Nanny restrained her. The Infanta of Spain could not be seen at the trial of the English King, no matter how much Maria wanted to give her Uncle a hug. The young girl tried to concentrate. She had to make sure to never forgot what these people did to her Uncle and their King.

The first speech of the prosecution was winding to a close. The summary was full of insults and disgusting descriptions of Uncle's execution that started Maria's tears anew and that the King just ignored. He turned even more pale, though, seeing not a single sympathetic face in this sea of enemies.

The prosecuting lawyer concluded his speech with a final cruel thrust: "the present accusation is preferred by us in the name of the English people."*

How dare they? Maria nearly shouted in her anger. How dare they imply that the entire country hated the King, their King who worked so hard to govern well? How dare they ... half the jury for this trial did not even show up!

Maria wanted to jump up and yell at all of them till they stopped hurting their King. She wanted to run to Uncle and throw her arms around him, to show him he still had friends in this world. And she couldn't. She. Couldn't. Do. Anything.

"You lie!"* A voice from the back gallery rang out, interrupting Maria's self castigation. She turned to look. A French man had stood up clutching his clutching his sword hilt, with an anger in his face that matched Maria's. He hurled his next words into the room, as if challenging every participant of this cruel comedy: "Nine tenths of the English people are horrified at what you say!"*

Mayhem ensued. An officer ordered his musketeers to fire on the Frenchman's bench, and Maria closed her eyes as the muskets roared out. When she dared look again, the brave man was gone.

"He escaped." Nanny's voice cut short Maria's panicked cry. For a wild second Maria thought the older woman sounded almost amused.

"We must follow them." Maria stood up. The trial room was still in complete havoc, and no on would notice them leave.

"Didn't you want to see the end of the trial?"

Now Nanny's voice was definitely amused.

The older woman smiled at Maria, as if teasing. "If that man's bravely wasn't all used up just now, eh'll come to see the King leave this hall."

Maria's blinked. Twice. "Wouldn't that be dangerous?" She remembered another one of Mother Annette's maxims: "If you get away with a stupid thing once, you don't go doing it again!" Then again, it doesn't seem like the man knows much about mother Annette's wisdom... "Maybe he would come."

Nanny only smiled at Maria's emphasis and tugged the girl back onto her bench. The minutes of the trial stretched, the Infanta of Spain fidgeted, but at last the torture was over. And as Maria hurriedly let the hall, her eyes widened in happy surprise. Nanny had been right.

Maria found a place in the crowd, watching the unfolding events and especially the brave Frenchman in fascination. Some old soldier wanted to pay his last tribute to Uncle and spoke a soft "respect to fallen Majesty" to Uncle as he passed. The crowd nearly killed him. But her Frenchman slipped ten guineas into the soldier's pocket, as the poor man fainted from the mob's blows. Maria blinked again, confused. Why didn't he even write a note to identify himself? It's a lot more fun to do good things if people could thank you later and you can wave it off! It helps makes friends too...

Nanny's indignant gasp pulled Maria from her reverie. Someone had spit in the King's face. No. How dare he? Maria's eyes sought the Frenchman. Had he seen? Yes! He and three friends were quietly leaving the crowd to follow the offender, who was departing with a couple of companions.

Moving even more stealthily, Nanny and Maria followed the two groups of men. At length, the spitter and his friends noticed the Frenchmen and turned around, insults ready on their tongues. Nanny didn't let her charge see the confrontation, though. Or hear it. No matter how much Maria squirmed, she couldn't get away from the hands covering her eyes and ears. Finally, Nanny let her go, but, by then, the spitter and his friends had disappeared. Maria wondered if they'd run away. The cloaks of the Frenchmen were just roundign a corner.

As Nanny and and a very angry Maria set out to follow, the old woman gave Maria a proud, wry smile. "They did the right thing, but you aren't ready to see such things yet." Maria wanted to argue, but she couldn't whisper as quietly as Nanny. Meanwhile, the Frenchmen reached a tavern, and the two women followed them in, sitting as close to the four men as they could.

What Maria heard next made her forget all about Nanny's interference. The brave Frenchman and his friends were going to try to rescue Uncle!

She nearly laughed for joy as she listened. The would try to get all the executioners out of town, so they had an extra night. One of the brave man's friends said he'd do that. No, not friend. Son. Her Frenchman called that man his son, and the other two called his D'Artagnan. She eventually got a name for her Frenchman too. Athos. It was a bit strange for a name... usually only people from her village had simple names, and this man was clearly a noble. His other two companions had strange names too, Porthos and Aramis. Maybe the names were fake? But fake names or not, they were here to fulfill the insane mission she had taken up – rescuing King Charles from the revolutionary mob. She had to admit the four Frenchmen had a much better chance than she did. Looking at their determined faces, especially at that of Athos, she amended her thought: They won't just try to rescue Uncle. They will succeed.No matter what mother Annette might say about bravery never leading to ought but trouble. But should Maria offer these men her help?

As it happened, she never had a chance to. She had barely noticed when some man walked in and gave Nanny a letter; she had been too absorbed in the Frenchmen's conversation. But now Nanny sought her attention, and Nanny wasn't an easy woman to ignore.

"A message from Spain came through." Nanny's whisper was quiet, but urgent. "The King is planning to visit our village in less than a week. We have to be there! The man who brought the letter said we could use his ship, and that sails in an hour. We're going. Now." Nanny practically dragged Maria out of the tavern.

When Maria returned to Spain two days later, she couldn't talk to anyone about Athos and his friends. Not even Mother Annette was to know the Infanta had been to England. The young girl talked Nanny's ear off about them, but Nanny's teasing – the woman seemed to think Maria had feelings for Athos – eventually made the little girl stop ranting about her Frenchmen. She didn't know if what Nanny said was true or not, either. It was weird to be that confused about her own emotions, but she did know she didn't want to be teased about it. So she talked about her French heroes to herself, not confiding in anyone. Even finding out that they had failed, that Uncle was dad, did nothing to lessen her admiration. She was very sad about Uncle, she cried herself to bed every night for two weeks, but she also knew that Athos and his friends had done all they could. And she continued thinking of them with respect that bordered on hero worship.

Maria smiled softly. Weeks had passed. And then months. Eventually, the memories of the four friends dulled. She heard Athos' thundering voice less often in her mind; she stopped seeing their determined faces when she closed her eyes. Now, ten years later, she would have thought her Memory had long since erased the images of the four men. Except now it found them again, almost as soon as she started racking her brain for French Heroes.

Maria imagined her Memory as a waiter with a snarky voice: "Did someone order a Knight In Shining Armour? Four brave Knights coming right up!"

Great! So now I just need to find four men, three of whom likely have fake names. I have last seen them ten years ago, and all I know is that they are probably somewhere in France.

Her mouth stretched into a rueful grin. It seems that other parts of me have a snarky voice too – not just my memory. Also, finding them is going to be so hard.

But despite all the obvious problems, the young princess was elated. She had a Plan. She would find he four heroes, especially Athos, and ask them to teach her. It might be hard (she refused to admit it might be impossible), but she would do it eventually.

Meanwhile, she had to plan her life until she found her teachers. The future Queen of France felt her thoughts accelerate. I'll have to talk with ... and then … like in Regovia...

The rest of the journey to France passed in scheming, and, by the time the ship stopped moving, Maria knew what her next steps were and was ready to act her part.

The wedding was, well, uneventful. Maria was working so hard to hide her revulsion of both Louis and the very way her marriage was orchestrated that she couldn't even remember the names of those introduced to her. But she toed the line and played her part, with all the proper etiquette. And didn't faint when she had to kiss the King. This, Maria thought, was a small victory. The only moment Maria vividly remembered was her first sight of the Captain of the Musketeers. He looked strangely familiar. Unfortunately, the King did not bother to introduce him, but she made a mental note to find out who that soldier was.

She did panic for one moment when it seemed that the marriage would have to be consummated publicly. It would put a hitch in her plans, for one. She would have also possibly died of humiliation and disgust. As it turned out, however, the Queen Mother had arranged for a private chamber for the new couple. So, now newly wed and with a changed name, Marie Therese found herself confronting her husband, his Majesty King Louis XIV of France.

Marie took a deep breath and prepared to drop the bomb on her unsuspecting husband. As delicately as possible, she reminded herself.

Please review :D I know this chapter was somewhat less funny and more emotional than the other two. Don't worry – that won't be a permanent fixture. We'll keep doing emotion (fluff this way comes!), but I will continue to try to sound amusing. This was The Introduction of Athos, though, and I couldn't resist!

Also, remember how mother Annette didn't approve of the word 'noble?' Here's what she actually said about it: "Some people say nobility is dead, but they're all liars or silly. It was never born. Just plain doesn't exist!"