This little idea has been bubbling away for a while and I’ve never written any fan fiction before so I thought it was time to give it a go.
As the Comtesse said to the Musketeer, “I am feeling indulgent.”
So please indulge me and ENJOY!
The woman stopped abruptly when she reached the gates to the Musketeers quarters, she’d not seen her husband for almost sixteen years and she was unsure of the reception he would give her.
Smoothing an imaginary wrinkle from her skirt, she wished for another life. Her dress had become badly worn over the years although it was unlike her to care for such trivial matters. Her daughter had always taken priority and it was thoughts of her beautiful Estelle which now gave her courage.
With a deep breath and head held high she stepped into another world.
“I’m looking for Captain Treville.” She enquired of the first soldier she met. Her voice came out clearer than she expected it to giving her another boost of confidence.
The man tipped his hat at her and indicated to the stairs. She could sense him staring at her as she went but not unkindly as most men stared, more out of curiosity.
She knocked boldly on the door.
“Enter.” Came a shout from within, she pushed the door open, stepped in and faced the man who had deserted her all those years ago…
She was the last person he expected to see. They both stared at each other taking in the people they had become over the years. He looked inevitably older but incredibly smart and handsome in his uniform, she lowered her gaze suddenly ashamed.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice barely a whisper, a vast wave of guilt overwhelming her.
“Why are you here Celeste?” Her name on his lips after all this time made her shiver.
“Estelle…” her voice trailed away as she struggled to find the words.
“Is she dead too, like her brother?” His direct words were harsh piercing her brittle heart.
Did she deserve them?
When the twins were born, one girl, one boy, their son was already frail. It had been a long drawn out labour and with not enough milk to feed them both he favoured she should care for his son; but Laurent was a fractious baby who wouldn’t latch on properly and showed little interest in living. Instead she fed the stronger of the two, delighting in her daughter’s zest for life.
She had to give one of them the chance of life or risk losing them both. Yet she still lost two people she loved that day.
It was the most difficult decision she had ever made. Thoughts of cradling her dying baby boy in her arms haunted her still.
Treville left her soon after unable to bear watching his daughter thrive. The loss of an heir too much for him. Celeste forgave her husband as he walked away. She understood his pain but never truly forgave herself.
“He was too weak. He was always too weak to survive, you just couldn’t see it. You didn’t want to accept it to be true.” Celeste argued, “Would you really let one of your musketeers fight in a battle he was sure to lose?”
He was not prepared to talk about his men with her, they were his family now.
“And what of Estelle?”
“She’s gone missing, since two nights ago. There have been stories of girls in the neighbourhood being taken. I’m worried Treville. Please I’m begging you. I don’t want to lose her too.”
“She’s no longer a concern of mine.” He turned away. Those broad shoulders once such a comfort to her were now a huge wall between them.
“You don’t honestly mean that. I don’t believe you do. She’s your daughter too!”
“I can’t help you Celeste.” He kept his back to her so the pain on his face wouldn’t betray his words. Looking out of the window at his soldiers below he wondered once more what sort of man his sixteen year old son would have become.
Slamming the door behind her enraged she blinked back the rush of fresh tears. How foolish she had been to think he would help her. He had risen to the important rank of Captain of the King’s Musketeers in her absence while she lived the life of an impoverished “widow” who took in laundry to put food on the table. She really was nothing to him.
In her haste to leave she slipped on the wooden steps, her legs gave way beneath her and she found herself tumbling into the arms of the Musketeer who had watched her arrive. His strong arms steadied her and she dared for a moment to look up into his eyes.
They was something about them mirrored her own. This man had lost someone too, his sorrowful eyes searched hers, somehow he seemed to understand her pain, the dilemma of life and death she had faced alone.
When she could bear his empathy no longer she shook herself free from his firm but gentle grip but as she tried to walk away she realised she had twisted her ankle in the fall, she winced in pain at each hurried step.
“Stop!” It was Treville shouting from the balcony. His voice was thunderous and she wondered what her crime was now. Would she never be pardoned?
Two more musketeers advanced. One was hardly more than a child in her eyes, too young to really be a soldier. The other had a darker complexion and towered above her ominously blocking out the sun.
They shared a furtive look between them and lifted her up, each carrying her under her arms with such ease she felt like a tiny bird about to be caged. What little fight she had left disappeared as they carried her backwards and sat her down on a barrel at the bottom of the steps.
“Celeste, I will help you. I will find her.” The voice called down benevolently.
Looking upwards she saw Treville, his face betraying no emotion as if this was like any other piece of business.
She tried to utter a thank you but her mouth was dry, besides he was no longer looking in her direction.
Instead he called a musketeer up to his office. It was the man she had crashed into on the stairs. She half-heartedly prayed he was the most trusted man to undertake the search, although she knew God had already been gracious to her that day.
Satisfied she had done as much as she was able she tried to get down from her perch to walk away.
“Please let me look at that ankle, Madame…?” The sentence turned into a question that hung in the air and she dare not speak the answer.
“Madame Treville.” So he was still looking down at her after all. “Celeste Treville. My wife.” It sounded like a warning. Only then did she hear the door bang shut.
“Well Madame,” the musketeer said brightly with a dazzling smile that reached all the way up to his eyes, “that was a nasty fall but with a bandage you should be able to walk a little way.”
He knelt at her feet and removed her shoe. She flinched even though his touch was tender.
“Does that hurt?” he asked as he twisted her foot first one way and then the other.
She nodded, biting her lip hoping more tears wouldn’t fall.
“I will go and fetch some bandages.”
“No please,” she begged grabbing his shoulder as he was about to rise, “just tear a strip from my petticoat. I don’t want to take anything from you. It is really too much to ask.” The colour was rising in her cheeks betraying how uncomfortable she was beginning to feel.
He looked up at her in wonderment. “I can tell you are a practical woman and used to being independent. I won’t ask any questions.”
Lifting the top layer of her skirt he found the tattered petticoat beneath, tore a strip clean across and wrapped it expertly around her foot.
“There. Try and rest it as best you can.” Placing his hands securely about her waist he lifted her down, she shuddered.
“Thank you,” she just managed to say as she tested the weight on her ankle all the while looking at the floor to see that it would hold her.
“I don’t know who you are looking for but if the Captain says he will find her, he will. And may God go with you Madame Treville.”
His parting blessing made the tears spring up once more, God really was listening.
She hobbled away convinced she had met an army of angels today. How could these men be mere mortals? It had been a long time since she had been shown such love and compassion.
Standing in the office Athos raised an eyebrow quizzically at the captain.
“Yes she’s my wife. Is there anything else you need to know?” the answer was blunt.
“Probably not.” He replied in a similar matter of fact manner. Treville would tell him everything necessary, he wouldn’t pry. He was a man used to keeping confidences.
Treville paused before he spoke next, carefully considering what he was about to say. He wasn’t proud of his past and knew the whole story would come out eventually but if any of his Musketeers would understand it would be the man stood before him now.
“What do you know of these girls that have been going missing?”
“D’Artagnan knows more than I do, some rumour Madame Bonecieux has picked up. Young girls around the age of eighteen disappearing. We’ve not got much to go on.”
The captain looked troubled the lines on his face suddenly more pronounced, showing his age.” My daughter is barely sixteen,” he mused, “and I don’t even know what she looks like.”
“Then I suggest we visit Constance immediately and see what she can tell us.” Athos nobly laid a hand on the captain’s shoulder.
Constance was in the workroom sewing by the window but her thoughts meandered elsewhere. She was shocked to look out and see the Captain approach with Athos. The Captain looked particularly worried. She bit her lip wondering if there was something wrong with d’Artagnan.
She rushed to open the door, “Is everything alright?”
Athos smiled instinctively as he nodded in reply. Of all the secrets he kept the affair between Constance and d’Artagnan was the most widely known about although Monsieur Bonecieux remained blissfully deceived.
“We are looking for information about the young girls who have gone missing.”
“We believe my daughter Estelle is among them.” Treville disclosed.
“Your daughter?” Constance was caught off guard and saw the man before her in a new light. She had so many questions bubbling up that she wanted to ask but refrained. Instead she told the men all she knew.
“Mostly its rumour. My husband was talking to man who said her daughter had been sent out on an errand and never returned. The man wasn’t terribly concerned, said it was one less mouth to feed but then my cousin told me of a richly dressed woman wandering the streets at night who enticed her friend away with her with promises of fine clothes. Someone has been buying up fine silk and lace in the area but we are not getting the business. My husband is annoyed at that.” She added making a show of her married status, although in front of these two it wasn’t necessary. Even Captain Treville knew about most of his men’s dalliances.
“We need to be vigilant and patrol the area. It might be helpful if perhaps your cousin would act as a decoy for us.” Athos looked at Constance.
“No I forbid it. No one else’s daughter is going missing!” Treville answered sharply.
“But Captain we would be watching and guarantee her safety. We need to catch these people in the act and follow them to find Estelle.” He deliberately spoke her name.
“My cousin wouldn’t mind. And I trust your men to protect her.”
Treville shook his head, “I don’t like this.”
“It’s the best plan we’ve got.”
But there was something else bothering Treville, these girls weren’t just abducted but appeared to be leaving voluntarily. He needed to speak to Celeste some more.
“Alright, you go back and fetch the others. I have someone else I need to see.” He picked up his hat and left.
“So Captain Treville has a daughter!” Constance exclaimed as soon as he had gone.
“And a wife too it would seem.” Athos didn’t see it as betraying a confidence to share such information with her; she was almost like his sister to him.
Still pondering these thoughts Constance returned to her sewing.
It didn’t take Treville long to find her, he guessed correctly that she had reverted to her maiden name after he had left. She was in one of the most run down parts of Paris, far removed from where they used to live.
“I didn’t expect to see you again so soon. Have you heard news?” she desperately enquired as she showed him into the small room she usually shared with her daughter.
“What are you not telling me Celeste?” His manner was brusque, his eyes searching for clues to the lives that were lived here.
“I don’t know what you mean.” She shuffled her feet on the floor, her ankle still throbbed and she longed to sit down but he stepped towards her grabbing her shoulders.
“Estelle ran away didn’t she?” Being so close he saw the lines etched on her face from age and worry. He had a sudden urge to trace those new marks with his fingertips. If he could he would erase them and turn back the wasted time. He remembered her complexion being soft and smooth.
With a hand on her chin he tilted her head up to face him and she finally held his gaze.
They both remembered happier times. The years had been harsh to them both, stealing a deep joy they once shared together but the released memories flowed between them now.
He suddenly loosened his grip frightened where the feelings that were overwhelming him might lead.
“Would you want to live here, like this?” she tried to hold back the tears as she slumped onto the hard wooden bed she had to share with her daughter. It gave her relief for her painful ankle but she hated him seeing her like this, so broken.
“I’ve tried so hard, given her everything. It’s not been easy. She’d been talking for a while about leaving but I never thought she would until this woman turned up and filled her head with nonsense. Perhaps she did go freely but I worry about the life she will have. She talked of travelling to London. She’s going to end up a prostitute in a strange city. Is that life so much better than this? Is that where you want your daughter to end up?”
“And you? You never…?” He had no right to ask her such a question but he had to know.
She laughed nervously, still understanding him after all these years. “Did I ever prostitute myself for money? Is that what you are too afraid to ask? Do you think we would live here among the sewer rats if I had? There has never been anyone else for me.” She looked him straight in the eye the truth of her answer pierced his heart like an arrow.
“And what does Estelle know of me?”
“She believes her father is dead. I thought it was for the best and never told her otherwise. I didn’t want her coming to find you. You see I’ve been a fool and watched you all these years from afar, I actually wept when I heard the news that you’d won your commission, I was so proud of all you had achieved. There were insane moments when I’d imagine my life married to a Captain in the King’s Musketeers. But I soon realized you didn’t need us in your new life. I didn’t want to be a burden or hinder your career. And I didn’t want Estelle frittering her own life away on dreams that won’t come true.”
“So why come to me now?”
“Because I need you. You are the only person who could possibly help me find Estelle. And without Estelle I have absolutely no reason to live at all.”
This woman before him was so capable yet so fragile at the same time. He’d always wanted to protect her, make a home for her, not like this, she deserved so much more and he’d left her out of stupidity. They’d both lost a child and it tore them apart but she had been the strong one, strong enough to raise Estelle on her own. Every day she had put their child before herself. Suddenly he saw that she had given all she could to Laurent too. Celeste couldn’t withhold her goodness it wasn’t in her nature.
“I came to you because you loved me once.” She risked whispering as he turned towards the door.
“Perhaps I still do.” He thought but he dare not say it. Not until he had put things right.
The Musketeers gathered at the Bonecieux household where they met the young Suzanne and briefed her on their mission.
“This is most irregular but it’s what I’ve come to expect from you.” Monsieur Bonecieux sat at the head of the table eating his supper weary of the Musketeer business that always came to his door.
Constance refilled his cup with the best wine, she smiled sweetly at him, affectionately patting his shoulder. He appeared to grow taller with her kind touch, a satisfied smirk on his face as he greedily pushed another forkful of food into his mouth.
D’Artagnan glared at the scene of domestic bliss until Porthos kicked his boot to get him to focus on the task in hand.
“We will follow you Mademoiselle from a distance keeping to the shadows but if at any point you get scared we will call it off and find another way.” Athos spoke calmly, aware of all that was going on in the room. He needed his men alert, there was a lot at stake and he had never seen Treville so visibly concerned.
“Constance said this was the only way.” The girl seemed completely unconcerned with the possible dangers that lay ahead. She had the foolishness of youth on her side.
Athos hoped they had made a wise decision, he had a sense this wasn’t going to be as straightforward as he first suspected.
“But we don’t want to put you in a situation you are uncomfortable with.” This was Aramis unnecessarily reassuring her.
Suzanne looked up directly into his eyes beneath fluttering lashes and smiled.
Good grief, thought Athos, he had seen women look at Aramis that way before. It was destined to be a long night.
It was a cold night too to be wandering the streets of Paris. Suzanne pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders. It was the cold that made her shiver she was sure of it. How could she be afraid when those brave musketeers were watching her every step. Sensing their eyes on her she tried to move seductively, after all she was no longer a child.
But the other night she had been frightened, the night her friend Marie-Claire had wandered off into the shadows. There was something scary about that woman who promised so much.
She had to admit she was tempted by the lure of precious jewels and pretty dresses. A life away from the squalor and dirt that clung like a filthy blanket. But she had something Marie-Claire didn’t, a family who loved her and she would miss them desperately if she were to leave.
Thinking of her family made her feel secure but that ended very quickly when she was grabbed from behind and a small cold knife was pressed against her throat.
“I thought you weren’t interested in grown up games the other evening.” The woman’s voice purred.
”Yet tonight you are strutting around like a proper little whore.”
“I’m… I’m … just looking for my friend. Where did you take her?”
“I’m not sure that’s a concern of yours. Tell me why I shouldn’t just slit your throat here and now?”
“I made a mistake the other night. I should have followed you too.”
“So you wish to join us now?”
“You might just be in luck, we leave for London tonight.”
The woman removed the blade from Suzanne’s throat and surveyed her potential protégé carefully.
“You are much plainer than your friend but you certainly have some spirit. Perhaps we could use a girl like you after all.” She laughed then, a laugh which echoed portentously through the dark deserted streets.
As Athos watched the scene unfold from the shadows he felt a coldness spread down his spine that had nothing to do with the air temperature.
Just observing the way the older woman walked around her victim was enough to know who she was but the boldness of her laugh made something inside him snap.
Silently, swiftly, he removed his pistol and took aim. The last night they met he had promised her he would kill her if she ever returned to Paris and once again he had a clear shot of his prey. He was a man of honour and principle, this time he must not fail. But in the time it takes a heart to beat his finger hesitated on the trigger and that was all it took for d’Artagnan to spot what was happening.
Forcing his friend’s hand downwards he shook his head. “Athos you can’t,” he whispered with great urgency.
Athos glared angrily at d’Artagnan although mostly he was annoyed with himself, he had played a part in making Milady de Winter the woman she was today and he would never truly be free of her.
“We have to keep her alive to be able to follow them. It’s the only way to track down Estelle and get her back.”
Conceding his friend was right he gave orders for d’Artagnan and Porthos to follow the women on foot while he and Aramis went back to report to Treville and fetch the horses. Depending where the girls were being held they might need to ride towards Calais.
Milady de Winter had caused too much pain and misery, if she was behind this Estelle was in very grave danger indeed.
“I’m coming with you.” Stated Treville as he mounted his horse.
“But we agreed you were too emotionally involved in this.” Retorted Athos as they prepared to set off.
“And you are not?” His look was stern. “If Milady de Winter is involved in this escapade it has gone way beyond anything either of us imagined.”
“So you don’t trust me now?”
“I trust all my men but each of us has weaknesses that can compromise the situation. We are stronger together; there are some battles we should not fight alone.”
Athos turned to Aramis who nodded sagely in agreement. Musketeers always stuck together.
And with that the men set off to join the others.
They caught up with d’Artagnan and Porthos on the road leading to Calais.
“What took you so long?” Pothos smiled as he mounted his horse trying to lighten the mood.
Treville ignored him. “So what’s the set up?”
“Two carriages with five or six young women in each.” Replied d’Artagnan.
“Hardly a fair fight four of them and five of us!”
“Do you want to go home now Aramis?” Treville was not in the mood to joke.
“No Captain.” He apologised.
“What about Milady de Winter? Is she still with them?” Athos couldn’t let her escape yet again.
“Then leave her to me.”
“We must also remember some of these girls want to get away, they may fight back too.” Porthos reminded them.
“You take on the men Porthos,” said Aramis, “and I will take care of the women.”
Porthos laughed heartily knowing his friend would be a match for them all!
“We are wasting time.” Said the Captain sternly, “Once they reach Calais and set sail for England they are beyond our jurisdiction.”
They galloped for miles before they spied the carriages, they were now so close to the sea they could smell the salty air.
The carriages stopped and one by one the girls alighted. Each woman was dressed in fine clothes, all except one.
Aramis looked through his spy glass and noted that it was Constance’s cousin Suzanne. He prayed their plan had not put her in danger.
She thought it was just because she had been the last to join the party, there had been no time for her ablutions; Milady had hurried them out of the house desperate to leave.
Marie-Claire and the other girls had all bathed and smelled sweet, some girls even wore flowers in their hair. They had giggled on the journey and somehow Suzanne knew some of them were sniggering at her.
Now they had stopped she looked forward to taking a stroll and breathing the fresh air but as she stretched her arms wide and faced the morning sun Milady stood in front of her.
“A maid’s job is to fetch some water not stand idle and enjoy the view.” She thrust a jug at her and pointed to a stream nearby.
It would be pointless to argue so she took the offered vessel and went about her business. No one was watching her as she scanned the horizon for the Musketeers. They were supposed to be following, keeping her in their sights. What if they had abandoned her, perhaps she should try to escape on her own?
Following the stream a little way she weighed up her options as she pretended to look for the best spot to fill the jug.
She almost dropped the jug when she heard the man’s voice whispering her name.
It was Aramis, so he had come to rescue her after all, her heart skipped a beat.
He held a finger to his lips and she made no sound.
“Call one of the men to help you?” He said softly and she smiled in reply understanding his plan when she saw his sword in his hand.
“Help! I need some help!” she shouted.
Milady heard her calling and dispatched one of the men. “Go and see what the silly girl needs.”
It had been a mistake to bring her; she should have just cut her throat in the alleyway. But she didn’t want to stir up too much trouble in Paris. If Athos caught her there she might not be spared again. Yet she knew as she walked the familiar streets she was all the time anticipating another meeting. Her desire for him was still so strong; at times it almost overwhelmed her.
He had told her to go to England and she had obeyed like a faithful wife. In London she had met a man with a proclivity for Parisian girls and for a price she promised him a good selection to choose from.
The operation was risky getting so many girls out of France at once. Perhaps her plans had been a bit audacious but they were nearly there without a hitch.
The man approached Suzanne with a scowl. He’s been promised a night with a woman of his choosing and this one was last on his list. She still looked like a street urchin, he could have stayed in Paris for one like her.
“I’ve got my foot stuck.” She smiled up at him helplessly. As he bent to free her foot she lifted up a rock and smashed it on his head.
Aramis stepped out from behind a tree his sword now redundant, “Well that will work as well as this I suppose!”
He checked for a pulse and muttered a prayer for the departed.
“I just killed a man?” The colour drained from her face and she looked as if she would faint.
Aramis nodded and wrapped his arms about the frightened child.
Her small frame shook as she sobbed.
“Hush now, you have been so very brave.” He soothed her hair and taking her by the hand he led her back to his horse. All the while watching, making sure they had not been seen. She needed to be taken back to where the other Musketeers were still in hiding. He had to uphold his promise to keep her safe.
“One man down, one lady freed.” He exclaimed to Porthos when he returned and helped Suzanne down from the horse.
“Are we keeping score? Do you want to make a wager?”
“Now is not the time.” Athos pushed past them and stood beside Treville. He was looking through the spyglass for Estelle, frustrated that he had no idea what she looked like.
It was Marie-Claire who gave Suzanne away.
“Where’s Suzanne?” She enquired of Milady, “the one you sent for water?”
Looking over towards the stream she saw the man slumped on the ground, the girl nowhere in sight.
“I’m so thirsty.” another girl whined.
Turning around Milady slapped her hard across the cheek with the full force of her anger. She wasn’t putting up with this aggravation.
There was a faint rumble of horses’ hooves getting stronger.
“Get in the carriage.” She yelled.
“But the horses aren’t rested Milady!”
She pulled out a pistol from the folds of her skirt and waved it at the driver, “Get the horses harnessed we leave NOW!”
A shot was fired.
There was screaming from some of the girls and the panic spread. As she took in the scene she saw they were down to just two men now, one lay rolling on the floor in agony clutching his side.
Her heart quickened when she spied the blue cloaks of the Musketeers billowing in the wind as they approached. The thought that Athos may be so close almost left her breathless.
Quickly regaining her senses she stepped up into the carriage, four sensible girls had indeed clambered in and were eagerly waiting, they were pretty enough she supposed. She could leave the others behind to fend for themselves.
“Drive.” she yelled and they set off at speed. She fired a parting shot through the window. It hit the whining girl and she was glad, it would add to the confusion and slow down the Musketeers. They would always stop to help a damsel in distress, it was the honourable thing to do.
Treville was the first to reach her; he jumped off his horse and brushed the hair from her face searching it for some familiar features.
“Estelle?” he enquired tenderly.
“No Monsieur she is Severine. Is she badly hurt?”
But Treville had already turned away. “Estelle!” he called frantically.
“But what about Severine, will she be alright?”
Aramis bent down and he too looked at the girl. She was badly shaken but the wound on her arm appeared superficial.
“She will be fine.” He assured her. “Now over there by the stream you will find a jug. Can you bring me some water?”
“Is that where Suzanne went?”
“Yes. Are you Marie-Claire? Suzanne is safe, now if you do as I ask we can help Severine too.” His calm voice gave instructions and Marie-Claire was glad to be of service.
Porthos went to check the injured man, he needed to make sure he was unarmed and couldn’t cause them any more trouble before helping Aramis with the young women, it was only fair.
Athos watched as a bereft Treville asked each girl where his daughter was. None remembered Estelle. Had they come all this way for nothing? He re-mounted his horse and rode on.
“Aramis, you and Porthos stay here and sort out this mess. D’Artagan you come with me and the Captain.” He gave his horse a kick and they followed after Treville.
They caught up with the carriage at the docks and the ship was waiting.
At the sight of three Musketeers with swords drawn the men scarpered. This was supposed to be an easy job. They had delivered Milady de Winter to Calais and didn’t want to get entangled in her business affairs any further.
Milady stepped out of the carriage and faced him.
“We’re not in Paris anymore Athos.” Her voice was seductive, “And we are leaving. I am taking these young ladies to London.” One by one she helped the girls from the carriage, she hoped the men wouldn’t cause a scene.
“I forbid this.” It was unlike Treville to be out with his men she thought.
“On what grounds Captain? I’ve not kidnapped them, they are here of their own choosing, running away from families who don’t give a damn about them. I am giving them a life, a chance for a new start. Don’t we all deserve a second chance?“ She looked directly at Athos as she spoke.
“That’s very altruistic of you. I’ve never seen you as the maternal type.” He replied.
“Perhaps you bring out the best in me.” she simpered taking a step towards him.
They could have had their own children by now if life had turned out differently.
Treville addressed her, “Some of these girls do have families that care for them. Which one of you is Estelle?”
“I am Estelle.” The young woman removed the hood of her cloak and shook out her auburn hair. The sunlight danced on her curls reminding him of Celeste on their wedding day.
“Cel…,” he began but decided better of using her name. “Your mother has asked me to bring you home.”
“Tell her not to worry. She’ll be better off without me. She spends her days working and her nights crying over my dead brother. After a little while she won’t notice that I’ve left. Besides I’m not staying in that stinking pit a moment longer.”
“But you are coming back with me.” He moved towards her reaching out his hand, wanting so much to hold her but frightened of pushing her away.
“Who do you think you are? My father?”
Milady looked between father and daughter and figured it out. She grabbed the girl. “She really is your daughter isn’t she? Estelle Treville, daughter of a Musketeer. I have got myself a prize catch.”
“Leave her alone,” Athos commanded.
“No, she is my guarantee of safe passage out of France. But then again as you have already shown you cannot kill me can you Athos?” Her eyes sparkled as she taunted him.
His anger intensified.
“You can’t be my father. He is dead,” said the girl but looking carefully at him now she wasn’t so sure.
She had a memory of a day with a picnic and a parade, watching the Musketeers pass by in their blue cloaks. Her mother the happiest she had ever been and yet in bed that night she wept so hard that Estelle worried she was dying.
From that day on her mother pushed them both harder. Working and hoping to escape but they never seemed to be able to lift themselves from their dire predicament.
Estelle started to cry, suddenly frightened for her life.
“I said leave her alone.” Athos held back the Captain with his arm and moved closer to Milady. ”If the other girls want to travel with you that is up to them. Maybe you are right and they will have a better life, more refined and comfortable. But Estelle stays. She has a family who loves her. A family who need her.”
As Athos got nearer and nearer Milady’s grip loosened on Estelle and she was able to break free into the arms of her father.
Now Athos and Milady were standing so close they were breathing the same exquisite air.
He didn’t want to kiss her but there was a deep longing to taste her again and their lips collided almost out of habit.
Their kiss was passionate, vital, each of them taking from the other. Knowing this would be their last but knowing they could never truly break free.
“Now go.” He said quietly not looking at her anymore.
“You are free to join her.” D’Artagnan spoke to the other girls who all looked bemused at what had just happened but they dutifully followed Milady onto the ship. “So you think they will really have a better life with her?” He asked his friend but Athos just turned and walked away.
They stayed in Calais that night. Aramis and Porthos joining them with the other young ladies. Not all were eager to get back to Paris but most of them had seen enough adventure to last a lifetime.
Athos joined them the next morning and no one asked where he had been. They knew it was a dark place full of regret and recriminations.
However Captain Treville took him aside and dared ask him one thing. “Do you forgive her now?”
“I will never forgive her.” He answered without a moment’s hesitation. “ But you should forgive Celeste. You have so much more to lose than I do and everything to gain.” They both glanced over at Estelle standing beside d’Artagnan.
Treville thanked God for the second chance he’d so graciously been given.
While Athos’s heart cracked a little bit more knowing that he would never experience such joy but as ever he kept his emotions to himself.
Celeste’s steps didn’t falter this time, she walked straight through the gates to the Musketeer’s quarters with no fear.
“Good morning Madame Treville.” Athos gifted her with a rare smile as he spoke, he was pleased the Captain was making amends for his past.
Her own smile was beaming as she greeted all the Musketeers assembled.
“How is your ankle now Madame?” enquired Aramis.
“Much better thanks to your expert attention.”
“Ah he has a magic touch.” added Porthos and they nearly all laughed.
D’Artagnan spoke next, “Madame Bonecieux says Estelle is being a great help to her with her sewing, she has several extra orders I believe.”
“Oh I don’t like to get involved in the affairs of others,” she replied with a knowing look. “But Estelle is blossoming and enjoying her work. Constance is a great teacher and becoming a good friend to us both.”
Treville watched his wife talking to his men as he walked down the stairs. The years seemed to have lifted from her and her eyes sparkled. She looked just like the girl he had married all those years ago.
“Haven’t you lot got work to do?” He admonished them cheerfully.
“Come on,“ said Athos, “I’m sure we can find some useful employment elsewhere.”
However once they stood alone, face to face, both of them was unsure where to begin.
“Is that a new dress?” He finally said admiringly.
“Constance made it for me but when I enquired as to the cost she said the account had been settled.”
“Ah.” He said.
“I thought perhaps I should say thank you.”
“For the dress?”
“And what will you do now, stay with Madame Bonecieux?”
“Because you could come and live with me as my wife. If you wanted. It’s not unheard of for a captain of the Musketeers to be married.”
She looked at him hardly able to take in what he was proposing. It was more than she had dreamed of and she was lost for words.
He filled in the silence.
“But, I’ve said this all wrong. I should have apologised first. I am so sorry for, for everything I put you through. For not trusting your judgement, for leaving. You have been such a wonderful mother to Estelle and I have been such a fool. Can you forgive me?” The words tumbled out quickly, how could he put right the last sixteen years? Could they live as man and wife again with all that had happened between them?
She lifted her finger and placed it gently on his lips, “Shush, there really is nothing to forgive. It was a dark time for both of us. Let the past stay in the past and let’s live for now.”
He softly kissed her finger and she moved her hand to catch the sprinkling of grey hairs that now framed his rugged face. They had wasted too much time.
Then his hands found her hips, the new fabric of her dress firm to touch, unblemished by stains, a symbol of a fresh beginning.
He gently drew her towards him. “I still love you Madame Treville.”
These were the words she’d been aching to hear him say from the moment she first saw him again and pleaded for his help. She loved him too, her heart soared and she felt like she was flying on the wings of an eagle.
Leaning in towards him she felt his warm breath on her face and then unsurprisingly he kissed her!