. . The blond-haired woman struggled to push herself to her feet. Parbleu, she was weaker than a newborn babe even after all these months. Of course she supposed that she was incredibly lucky, to say the least, to have survived her plunge from the cliffs into frigid, rock peppered waters.
Soon, though, very soon she would be well enough again to resume activities. Only how she was going to pay for her lifestyle was something she cared not to contemplate-could be tricky. Well, maybe not. She sighed and immediately winced at the darts of pain shooting from her bruised but mending ribs. Apparently she would be going back into the service of the cardinal or whoever else would be requiring her unique and deadly skills of subterfuge.
Except, Athos could prove a very prickly problem. He and his three friends had foiled her mission and nearly ended her life. Athos. Definitely a problem. On so many levels. He was supposed to have died, but obviously those reports had been premature. Turns out he'd only turned his lands over to the king and lost himself in near anonymity. Now he had to be dealt with. Yet how? The woman chose not to examine that thought too closely.
She scowled, wrinkling her lovely brow. Blast his overdeveloped sense of honor and duty. They had brought her to this end and nearly killed her several times over. Nor was it at all unlikely that that same sense would get him killed before he reached his fortieth year. Actually, she amended her conclusion: it could well get him killed by his thirtieth year, and he wasn't far off that mark.
A door opened and a kindly faced woman in her early thirties, by all appearances a peasant, hesitantly entered the bedchamber carrying a basin of water. While humming, the lower-class woman set the cracked basin on the nightstand and dropped a cloth beside. A moment later she said, “Milady, you shouldn't be outta bed. You look as if you're ‘bout to fall over if you try to move a step. "
With a posture that would have done a queen proud, the injured woman leveled a supercilious gaze on the commoner but said nothing. A slight waver caught the peasant's eye. Her patient looked none too steady on her feet. A moment she paused, frozen by uncertainty. The patient wavered again, and that stumble made the peasant's decision for her. The kindly faced woman reached towards the injured woman and looped her strong arms underneath the other woman's shoulders in order to support her weight.
Slowly she led the patient back to the bed and asked, “Can I be getting you a glass of water?"
"Oui, s'il te plait, " the aristocratic woman replied condescendingly, not bothering to formally use vous to address the woman who was so obviously not of her exalted rank. For several seconds she labored to catch the breath her modest exertions had sapped from her.
The peasant carefully filled a glass with fresh water from the basin and handed it to the blond-haired woman, who gulped it down and set the empty glass on the nightstand before dropping back against the pillows. Sleep quickly claimed her, and the older woman whispered, “Sleep well, milady, " as she quietly crept from the room. Some things about the aristocracy never changed no matter how bad off they were.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The rhythm of horse hooves plitting on the road and wagon wheels rattling against the rugged ground grated steadily on D'Artagnan's nerves. Someone should have warned him that caravans moved with excruciating slowness and were trying on what little patience to which one could lay claim. Of course, it was his duty, and he really shouldn't complain. But what a lousy duty, especially since it was his first real duty since becoming a musketeer and a very tame task at that. Still, he refused to disgrace his uniform and his new friends by complaining.
If they could endure, so could he. Was definitely going to be a very long trip. Nothing but delays and petty quarrels. Already five days had passed, and they were scarcely more than halfway to Marseille. And that estimate could well be no more than wishful thinking on his part.
The young man glanced up as grey and black clouds rolled across the sky obscuring, the sun. Just what he needed, what they all needed, a nasty storm to make their travels even slower, more uncomfortable, and more dangerous. As if responding to his negative thoughts, the wind kicked up, and rain burst from the clouds, tumbling down in sheets and transforming the roads into mud-churned slop.
Each step became progressively harder than the last, and D'Artagnan's horse labored to lift its hooves and continue forward. A vicious gust of wind swept stinging rain into his eyes and face, and he struggled to see through the downpour, but could discern the path no more than a few arm lengths in front of him.
If he and his horse were having such difficulty, the wagons must be having even more; they had to find a place to shelter until the storm passed over and before late afternoon soon became night. The brim of his hat drooped under the weight of the cascading water, and the youth bowed his head in an effort to shield his face from the biting pellets of rain.
D'Artagnan glanced up as a rider pulled up alongside him. Both riders slowed their horses further, and Athos leaned closer to the younger man. “To the southeast, " the older musketeer said loudly and pointed, “there is a road that leads to a country estate. We should be able to appeal to the local lord for shelter and stay there for the night. " The younger man nodded in acknowledgment as Athos pulled away and took the lead. Taking a deep breath, he began urging his charges to follow his fellow musketeer.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The tall, lanky lad looked up from the horse he had secured just before the full fury of the storm had let loose and saw a small procession approaching the estate. “Ce n'est pas possible, " he muttered softly in tamer language than was his wont. “Not possible. " he repeated again to himself. Time and circumstance always did seem to conspire against him.
"This storm would have to bring travelers needing shelter. " Apparently even backwater country estates couldn't avoid all visitors, particularly during a nasty storm. He rushed from the stable and ducked in through the servants’ entrance. His wet body very nearly collided with the butler, who fixed the youth with a frown of disapproval. The lad hushed the servant before he could say a word. “No time now to lecture me on appropriate deportment. We've got guests, or will have guests, seeking shelter from the storm. They'll be here very shortly, and I can't receive them in this state. "
The butler asked stiffly, “What exactly would you have me do, ma-"
"Gerard, " the young master interrupted, “you must pretend to be my father and extend them assistance and hospitality. "
"I will not masquerade as your father, " the servant protested. Well he knew the penalties for one who tried to usurp a higher station than he had a right to claim, even if this headstrong child had forgotten-
Kat Jaske is an English and French teacher in Las Vegas, where her high school selected her swashbuckling, fiction novel, “For Honor", as the featured book for the 2006 Reading Incentive Program. This is an excellent example of creative fiction writing. If you cannot wait to read more of the story, order the book from the author web site http://www.forhonor.com .