Love's Musketeer --- Chapter Eight
The thundering roar of his name deflected the killing blow and Athos staggered back, his sword stained with blood. He fell into the strong arms of his oldest friend and comrade, Porthos. His black gaze remained centered on the Cardinal's motionless body, his eyes following the small crimson river that snaked across the floor.
Porthos caught his captain, preventing his exhausted collapse. He could feel the trembling of Athos' body as it fought to stay upright and he worked for several seconds forcing the Musketeer's tightly clenched hand to release its death grip on the sword. With his foot, he snagged a nearby chair and lowered Athos into a sitting position, his heart weeping for the man who crumpled into a defeated slump.
"He's gone, Porthos. D'Artagnan is lost to us."
A single tear fell unheeded down Athos' cheek. "My beloved is lost." He turned his jaded gaze to the wounded man at his feet, his jaw hardening with loathing. "That bastard refused to speak." Athos shook his head, droplets of sweat scattering through the air as he wearily reached for his blade, determined to try one last time to wrestle the information from the human abomination lying on the floor. "If he continues to remain silent, he dies."
Porthos, once again, removed the weapon from Athos' hand. "There is another way, my friend." The large Musketeer reached behind him and pulled a frightened young girl into view. "This is Aislin, the innkeeper's daughter. She has the information you seek."
Athos knelt at Aislin's feet, clasping her hands to his lips, begging unashamedly. "Please, sweet maiden. Tell me you know where they have taken my friend. Please tell me."
A delicate blush crept across the girl's cheeks as she knelt beside the exhausted Musketeer and watched the emotion of hope awaken in the eyes of the older man. "Monsieur, I was at the kitchen door when a lady and two men escaped into the night's gloom. The men were escorting what appeared to be your young comrade. His face was covered by a cloak but I recognized his uniform." Aislin tentatively touched Athos on the arm, her tears of distress genuine. "I'm sorry I did not come for you at once but I did not know they had taken him by force. It was not until your friend here was questioning my brothers that I realized the young Musketeer had been removed from the inn against his will."
Athos saw the small grimace of pain on the girl's face and realized he was crushing her hands. He forcibly relaxed his grip. "Is there anything else you can tell us? Anything at all?"
"As they climbed into the coach I heard the lady address the driver, directing him to go quickly to the coast. I then heard her speak to one of the men, informing him that his payment would come only after the young Musketeer had been delivered to the Duke."
Directing a question to the young maiden, Porthos helped Athos to his feet. "Did this woman have a name?"
Aislin nodded, her small hands nervously tangling in her skirts. "Earlier this evening I saw her with Monsieur Rochefort and he addressed her as Lady de Winter."
Athos froze, the only part of his body moving was his hands as they clenched and unclenched. Without a sound, the fire of hatred rekindled in his eyes.
Thanking the girl, Porthos escorted her from the room. When he returned, his eyes went to the empty spot on the floor. "Athos! The Cardinal! He's escaped." A trail of blood led the two men to a doorway that connected to the adjourning room. Porthos moved to follow but Athos stopped him.
"Later, my friend. Right now we have a ghost to track." Athos retrieved his sword. "It seems my deceased wife managed to cheat death and has now joined forces with the devil and his demon." The Musketeer straightened his tunic, his gaze turning inward to a distant memory. "I should have killed that treacherous Jezebel with my own hands."
Athos pointed toward the open window, the blade of his sword greeting the first rays of the dawn. He acknowledged Aramis' presence with a nod of his head. "We ride towards the coast, my friends. And if I understand correctly, our pursuit will take us to the shores of England. So gather whatever food and supplies will be needed. We leave at half past the hour."
Aramis and Porthos departed with great haste, their voices echoing down the stairs as they divided up the necessary duties for the journey.
Athos knelt at the open window, the hilt of his sword to his mouth, his lips pressing a tender kiss to the gold braiding. Images of his lover drifted across his mind, the vision of his soul remembering.
D'Artagnan on his horse, his features concentrated on the pursuit of the fleeing thieves. The long tresses of his beautiful hair whipping wildly in the wind, his strapping young body leaning low over his stallion, his voice tickling the animal's ear as he encouraged it to greater speed.
A shared joke in the local tavern. D'Artagnan's blue eyes sparkling with lusty humor, his hand sheltered in his lover's warm grasp. His body secure in the strong hold of his captain, his low husky laugh, quiet and content.
A stolen kiss on the stairs of the palace. D'Artagnan's mouth hungrily devouring, his fingers bunching the fabric of Athos' tunic. His body pressing close to his lover's larger frame, his knee slipping between legs, his thigh teasing Athos' sensitive groin.
The aftermath of a slow and gentle mating. His naked body sprawled across the bed. Sorrel strands of hair spilling over his furry chest. His legs tangled in the sheets, his sleepy erection resting on his thigh, a dribble of pearly white fluid staining his skin.
The Musketeer opened his eyes and watched as the sun slowly crept over the horizon. His heart safely hid the memories away as his voice whispered a fervent message to his young lover.
"Have faith, D'Artagnan. I will find you. You are the mate my soul has embraced and I will not be separated from you."
Athos stood and lifted his blade to the heavens. Two companion swords joined his and three voices resonated throughout the morning silence.
"One for all and all for one!"
Thrown back into the room he shared with Athos, D'Artagnan crumpled to his knees beside the bed, excruciating pain spreading throughout his body as a dagger imbedded itself deeply in his chest. The warmth of his blood as it soaked into his tunic confused him and he struggled to remove the cloak thrown over his head. The obscuring garment was ripped away suddenly and his blurred vision was filled with the vicious beauty of an unfamiliar woman. Her cruel laugh clawed at his tenacious grip on consciousness but the agony of his wound overtook him and he surrendered to the darkness, the woman's evil smile the last image his mind comprehended.
D'Artagnan stood alone, lost in a thick mist. Voices whispered to him, the cloaked words tormenting his sanity. He strained to listen, to understand but the hushed utterances escaped him.
His chilled body trembled as ghostly fingers and hands caressed him, their touch confusing, arousing. Strong hands, slender fingers slid across his face, his torso, mapping the contours of his youthful frame. D'Artagnan reached out, desperately trying to catch hold of the phantoms.
The mist shifted continually, teasing him with glimpses of friends, of lovers, of enemies, past and present. New, mysterious faces passed before his bewildered vision. Faces that instilled trust and faces that stabbed at his heart with an icy fear. And yet the one, who would calm his fright and embrace him with love, he could not find.
The young Musketeer stumbled through the thickening vapor, tendrils of disquiet and dread wrapping tighter and tighter around his confused mind. The sound of clashing swords caught his attention, the sparks from steel striking steel showering the mist before him. He rushed forward to join in the fight but only encountered emptiness and haunting silence.
The clatter of carriage wheels, the neighing of horses, the ringing of bells had D'Artagnan twisting around in circles as he chased after the elusive sounds. The frustrating futility of his plight had the junior Musketeer cursing loudly, his voice echoing through the white blankness. Fear crawled over his skin, a chill of impending doom seeping down deep inside him.
Tears escaped and fell down his cheeks as D'Artagnan reached out, his voice hoarse, his heart calling for his beloved companion.
Athos! Please! Help me!
D'Artagnan awoke with a cry, awareness of his surroundings slowly creeping in as the veil of unconsciousness lifted. All was dark, a blindfold obscuring his sight. He determined that he lay captive in a moving carriage, the air heavy with the salty scent of the ocean. Cocking his head slightly, he was able to discern the presence of at least two people and, without thinking, he slid across the seat, his bound hands furtively searching for a means of escape.
A blazing fire engulfed his groin and he struggled helplessly against his bindings, trying to escape the sharp talons that held his manhood in a bruising grip. His vision clouded over with a red haze of pain as his groans of misery strangled against the gag in his mouth.
A deep, gruff voice, heavy with contempt and loathing, spoke loudly, "I do believe our young Musketeer has finally awakened."
Rochefort! D'Artagnan shrank back against the wall of the coach. An enticingly sweet perfume invaded his nostrils as small hands stroked and fondled his abused genitals, nails biting into the cloth-covered flesh.
"My, my. He is indeed quite a healthy young swordsman. I do believe I need to personally inspect his equipment. Make sure it is worthy of a Musketeer."
Hearty laughter boomed out. "Not yet, my sweet lady. I feel the need to tell this youth a certain story."
A petulant sigh whispered into the obscure silence. "You are no fun, sir." The trouncing of petticoats did nothing to disguise the noise of hungry mouths feeding upon each other and soon another sigh broke the silence, this sound one of sexual displeasure.
Slender fingers returned to torment and tease the bound and gagged Musketeer. The leather bindings of his tunic were undone and nails scored across his chest, pausing to scratch at the nipples hidden within the thick pelt that covered his upper torso. A sharp bite and a crimson teardrop fell from one abused nub. Before the drop could get lost in the abundant chest hair, an insatiable tongue lapped it up. The fingers then returned, pinching and twisting the pale flesh of D'Artagnan's abdomen but before further injury could be inflicted, the unknown hands were slapped away.
"Behave, you harlot. It's time for a wondrous but sad tale to be told."
D'Artagnan struggled against his bonds, managing to fall against his kidnappers. His attempts were rewarded with a brutal blow to his injured upper chest, white-hot pain bringing tears to his eyes. He was thrown back into his corner of the carriage and held there by a dagger, the sharp blade nicking the hollow at the base of his throat.
"Another foolish move like that, young friend, and you will not live to see the sun rise."
The weapon was removed and D'Artagnan nodded wearily, acknowledging Rochefort. He leaned back, trying to control the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. Taking a deep breath, he concentrated on his surroundings, his senses stretching out, trying to seize on any clue that would help him to escape. A swift cuff against his head demanded his attention.
The dagger returned, again grazing D'Artagnan's neck before moving lower to lay a trail of nicks and cuts across his upper torso. "Do I have your full attention now?" D'Artagnan felt Rochefort's hand touch his groin, its light weight pressing down with a clear intent. Struggling briefly, the young Musketeer nodded and slumped back against the cushions, resigning himself to his present situation.
"Once upon a time, in this glorious country known as France, there was a man of state, a wealthy and powerful man. Yet, despite his position of importance, this man was very lonely. One day a young man in his employ caught his eye and his heart. He fell in love with the dark-haired youth. A passionate affair was embarked upon and the two were soon deeply in love with each other."
"The young man served his lover with absolute devotion, fulfilling his every wish and command. When his beloved's sanctuary was threatened by an imperial edict, the youth vowed to assassinate the evil one of royal birth. Alas, his plan did not succeed but his lover commended him and rewarded him with a personal visit to his humble abode. There the lovers enjoyed a night of great passion."
"Before the moon surrendered to the dawn, their reunion was abruptly interrupted by the untimely arrival of the evil sovereign's guardians. The commander of this force gravely wounded the youth's lover. Fortunately, a devoted servant was nearby and rescued his master, pulling him to a safe hiding place, preventing his recognition."
"The young man fought valiantly, knowing his beloved watched his every move. He parried thrust after thrust, defending his position bravely. But experience and age were against him and the lad was no match for the older swordsman. Before his lover could cry out a warning, the fatal wound was inflicted and the young man fell to the floor, the enemy's blade slicing straight through his heart. He died in that instant, his hand reaching for his beloved, his lips silently whispering the cherished name of his lover."
Rochefort tapped D'Artagnan on the chin with the tip of his dagger. "The lad's death was a major blow to the wounded man and he was overcome with grief at the loss of his one true love. On the day he buried the young man he vowed vengeance on the murderer." The one eyed man leaned forward, the stench of his foul breath causing D'Artagnan to jerk his head to the side. "The moral to this story, dear D'Artagnan is this...." Rochefort gripped the young Musketeer's chin and forced him to face forward. "Don't ever tangle with the Cardinal and never touch those he loves. Your Athos signed his death sentence the instant he killed young Rogert. And the moment he bestowed his love upon you was the moment you became a pawn in the Cardinal's plan for revenge."
The carriage lurched, its sudden movement jarring its occupants. A quiet curse was issued as Rochefort's dagger slipped, its edge cutting into D'Artagnan's flesh. The Musketeer felt the warm trail of blood trickle down his neck.
His blindfold was ripped off and his gag yanked out of his mouth but before Rochefort could touch him, the carriage swayed wildly and D'Artagnan tumbled off his seat. He looked up, the moon casting a sliver of light into the dark interior. His eyes collided with the woman's icy gaze of pure hatred and the young man's heart faltered, fear attacking his brave soul. With that one look he knew without a doubt his life had just been forfeited.
End of Chapter 8
Cast of characters featured in this chapter: Athos-Jim, D'Artagnan-Blair, Porthos-Simon, Aramis-Rafe, Rochefort-Lee Brackett, Cardinal Richelieu-Garett Kincaid, Lady de Winter-Carolyn Plummer, Rogert-OC