Musketeer Space Part 16 – Cinquefoil For Beginners

gaslit085Happy Musketeer Day! In exciting book news, I just got the author copies of The Mammoth Book of Gaslit Romance, edited by Ekaterina Sedia, which includes a reprint of my story “Lamia Victoriana” from the Love and Romanpunk collection. I also have a couple of new stories out or due for publication soon! “Of War and Wings” appearing in the crowdfunded Clockwork Universe: Steampunk V. Aliens which has been posted out to backers in the last week or so, with only the signed copies still waiting to go out. The book will be available to the public on September 15 via Amazon and the Kindle. “The Love Letters of Swans” will appear in the Fablecroft anthology Phantazein which should be out in October in time for Conflux. It’s my ‘work through your issues with the Helen and Paris myth’ story and is a teeny bit smutty.

So hooray, more Tansy writing out there in the world. Not to mention all the amazing reviews coming in for Kaleidoscope. It’s wonderful to be part of a book that’s getting so much attention and buzz – I’ve been reading the other stories myself this week and they are SO GOOD.

Fleur de lis littleIt’s September now, can you believe it? I’ve been doing this Musketeer chapter every week thing since May! Everyone who contributes financially to Musketeer Space via Patreon, I love you dearly. Everyone who reads the book as each chapter goes up, I love you loads. And everyone who is saving it all up to read in one go at the end, I’m totally going to love you around this time next year. Brace yourselves for that.

Those of you who support Musketeer Space at the $3 or above level should have received The Pilot’s Slice, my official newsletter of the project, on the last day of August. Please get in touch if you don’t have your copy and you think you should have it! The latest issue includes a piece on the historical and literary role of Madame Chevreuse, as well as some insights into how my daughters are dealing with my Musketeer obsession.

This chapter’s all about blood sports, and how to avoid talking about feelings with your friends.


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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan has stumbled across a conspiracy involving Alek the Prince Consort, Buck the Duchess of Buckingham, and Chevreuse the mysterious former PR minister. Dana is far too attracted to her landlady’s husband Conrad, who is deeply involved in the conspiracy. Buck has a sinister man called Winter living inside her head, and she really shouldn’t have taken the Prince’s diamond-studded peacock coat back with her to the planet Valour. Oh, and Athos managed to get himself arrested instead of Dana, so that was fun.

NOW READ ON!

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Part 16 – Cinquefoil For Beginners

A week after the events that Dana D’Artagnan had mentally filed away as That Night, she came off a double transport shift at Paris Satellite only to find Athos waiting for her at the gate. When she caught sight of him, he tilted his head at her expectantly.

It wasn’t that she had been trying to avoid him, but she certainly hadn’t minded the excuse of extra shifts, and other day to day commitments that had…

She had been avoiding him, and he knew it. So there was that.

“I am so sorry,” Dana blurted out when she got close enough to speak.

Athos shook his head, took her arm and hauled her along the concourse, heading for Marie Antoinette Esplanade. “Not here. Practice rooms.”

Dana pressed her lips together, knowing discretion was necessary, but it was all she could do to stop herself from rolling out a dozen more apologies between here and their destination.

Finally they reached the entertainment hub, where Athos paid for a rec space with a credit swipe of his stud. Only when they were inside the sleek and empty white practice room did Dana realise that he had more than one baton hanging from his belt. What was the plural of a Pilot’s Slice?

“You want to fence?” she said warily as he tossed the second baton to her, and stripped off his Musketeer jacket.

“Porthos said you’d keep avoiding me until I let you get some stuff off your chest, and I thought that sounded like a ridiculous waste of time, but she’s generally right about these things.” He frowned at her. “If we do it this way, at least we’ll be doing something productive.”

Dana scowled. “Porthos should keep her nose out of everyone else’s business.”

“See, D’Artagnan? That is why you and I are friends now.” Athos called up a screen in the wall and tapped a few print commands into it. “Did you get fitted for the practice gear I told you about? You need your own pattern to print from.”

“I haven’t had time.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Preventing bruises saves on medipatches. Make the time. This will do for now.”

Athos’ own fencing jacket, pre-programmed into the system, printed first. A generic woman’s jacket followed, which he tossed to her. He had ordered water bottles and towels, too. “By next time, you’ll need your own strip and mask. For now, concentrate on not stabbing me in the face and I’ll resist the urge to do the same. We won’t go at full speed.”

Dana did not retort that she might have been better prepared for this session if he’d given her any warning. Though she was well aware that if he hadn’t sprung this on her, she might have kept dodging him for at least another week.

“I’ll do my best,” she said, struggling into the stiff jacket. She had been hoping for a lie-down and some dinner at the end of the shift, but she knew better than to argue with Athos in a mood like this. And besides… she owed him.

“Stop looking at me like you drowned my pet,” he snapped, setting his own Pilot’s Slice to the thinnest, lightest setting, with a blunted tip. The SmartMetal was springy that way, at its best for practice bouts. When Porthos played blades with Dana, she encouraged her to go for a heavier weight of sword, but Athos was all about technique.

“Athos, you went to prison for me.” Dana wouldn’t even have known about it if Aramis hadn’t let it slip. Athos had been furious that Aramis opened her mouth, and promptly stormed out of the bar where they had been drinking. Dana had been too embarrassed to look him in the eye ever since.

“Hardly prison,” he scoffed, doing a few experimental lunges with the sword. “The holding cell at the Armoury is an old friend of mine. I was only there a day or so, and it gave me a chance to catch up on the latest graffiti. Are you ready?”

“Just about.” Dana stretched first. Last time she had allowed Athos to lead her in ‘a little light sword practice’ she had spent the following evening massaging painful cramps out of her calves. Athos, it turned out, never did anything lightly.

He was waiting for her, sword at the ready. Dana faced him and they began with a few gentle taps, measuring distance, watching each other. “Besides,” Athos said finally. “I didn’t do it for you. I did it to piss off the Cardinal. Don’t take it personally.”

After that, there wasn’t much time to talk – not with his sword flicking at her, and Dana mustering up all her concentration to accept the lesson for what it was.

If fencing was a conversation, then Athos had all the nouns, adjectives and verbs, and it was all Dana could do to grab the occasional punctuation mark for herself. But whenever she failed to defend herself against one of his moves, he stopped and checked himself, then did it again at half or quarter speed, so she could work out what she could or should have done to counter it.

“This is so much better than talking about our feelings,” she said breathlessly when they finally paused to slug back water from freshly-printed bottles.

“Don’t tell Porthos,” said Athos, with half a grin.

“Did Amiral Treville really go to the Regent herself to get you freed?”

He shrugged with one shoulder, wiping the back of his neck with a towel. “Someone had to. The bastards were keeping me out of the system, so there was no trace of my ID.”

“Treville trusted Aramis and Porthos’ word that they had you in the Armoury?”

Athos reached out and tapped Dana on the nose with his fingertip. “Treville may be scary as all fuck, but she’s loyal to her pilots, and she knows we wouldn’t bullshit her about anything really important. Remember that, D’Artagnan. She’s worth letting into your confidence, if you’ve anything worth protecting. No one is more loyal to the Crown or the Solar System or the Musketeers than our Amiral Treville.”

Dana hesitated, but nodded. Athos didn’t trust many people at all, so this was worth knowing. “So Treville marched into the Palace…”

“And interrupted the Regent at her morning chocolate – with guess who?”

Dana laughed at that, a sudden shout of noise in the muffled practice room. “I bet that went down well.”

“Oh, the Cardinal knows which side her bread is buttered on. She’s always the first to suggest that her enemies be forgiven. It’s the quiet dig she slips in while agreeing with everyone that poisons the trough.” Athos flexed his sword a few more times. “Ready for another bout?”

“It doesn’t count as forgiving me if you take it out of my body in sweat and blood,” Dana groaned, but she dropped her water bottle to the floor and headed into the centre of the space again, sword in hand.

“Nothing to forgive, idiot,” he told her. “But if you haven’t got a touch on me three times by the end of this session, I will expect you to grovel.”

Then they were back into it: flick and slide, parry, defend, lunge, and endless footwork drills.

This must be what it would be like to have a brother, Dana thought as Athos corrected her stance for the fourth time, by literally kicking her feet into the proper position. She grinned stupidly at him, and he looked taken aback, then prodded her in the pit of her stomach with the blunt tip of his sword. “Again. Do better.”

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Aramis pounced upon them both when they emerged from the practice room, sweaty and exhausted.

“Kidnapping you!” Aramis announced, flinging an arm around Athos’ shoulders and making a face at him. “So wet. Bleh.”

“Can we go back to my place and shower before the kidnapping?” Athos asked, butting her with his damp head. Aramis squirmed and kept him at arm’s distance.

“Ugh, yes. Though that is against the philosophy of kidnapping, so there may have to be some kind of forfeit.”

“What are we doing now?” Dana sighed, giving into the inevitable, that her time would not be her own until the next work shift. Who needed sleep and food anyway?

Aramis shook her wrist, calling up three virtual tickets which glowed in the air before them and then disappeared back into her credit stud. “CINQUEFOIL!” she howled. “Serpentin versus the Mousers, it’s going to be brutal.”

“I would,” said Athos calmly. “Actually rather eat glass.”

“I know, darling, that’s why it means so much to us that you’re going to overcome your appalling bias against the game of champions and join us,” said Aramis. “Porthos has royal escort duty, which means three tickets going begging. And luckily, there are three of us right here.”

“Give mine to Grimaud.”

“She has her own, obviously. You bought her a season ticket to the Mousers last Joyeux, because you are such a selfless and thoughtful person and she would have dumped your arse years ago if you didn’t come through with the bribes.”

“I’m beginning to regret the error of my generosity,” said Athos.

Aramis ignored him, as she so often did. “Dana, are you in?”

Dana had not managed to see a game of cinquefoil in Paris so far, as Porthos’ preferences were firmly for fleur-de-lis. Athos’ distaste made her all the more curious. “Of course,” she said.

“You’ll regret it,” Athos warned.

“And you have spent far too long in your own company lately, my friend,” said Aramis lightly, her eyes back on him. “Did you think we wouldn’t notice?”

Athos strode ahead, avoiding her steady gaze. “Fine. At least with all the blood spatter and inane commentary, I won’t be expected to make conversation with either of you.”

“So what you’re saying is, I win?” Aramis called after him, then winked at Dana. “I usually win.”

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ARTOIS: And here we are back at the Triomphe for the local derby, both of Paris Satellite’s homegrown teams facing off for the first time of the season: that’s Serpentin in green and white, and the Mousers in grey. Your commentary team today is myself, Charlemagne Artois, sitting alongside three-times Solar Cup winner Renee Olympe, how are you this evening, champ?

OLYMPE: I’m excited, Artois, It’s always a grudge match between these two teams, but you only have to look at the lineup to know that this is going to be a tough game. Serpentin are playing their brand new chevalier, Thierry Degas, only months after his controversial transfer back from the Freedom League who poached him from the Mousers themselves two seasons ago for a record transfer sum of 28 million credits.

ARTOIS: Yes, Olympe, you can see from the banners that the Mousers fans are still furious that their former captain returned to Paris only to sign up with their most fierce local rivals. And the team aren’t any happier about it. We can see now before gameplay begins, that the current captain and chevalier of the Mousers, Samir Olivier, has refused to include Degas in his pole salute, that’s quite a snub.

OLYMPE: And who can blame him, Artois, Olivier was one of many young players who came up through the youth club with Degas, and it’s always a blow to find out that your heroes care more for financial incentive than team loyalty – not that I’m bitter, as a long-time Mousers fan myself.

ARTOIS: Not that you’re biased either, Olympe!

OLYMPE: Of course I’m biased, Artois, the Mousers are the best team in the Solar League.

ARTOIS: Five years without winning the Cup suggests otherwise…

OLYMPE: AND IT’S KICKOFF!

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Thirty seconds into the game, Dana was prepared to concede Athos’ point about cinquefoil. It had to be the most distressing spectator sport she had ever witnessed. There was a controlled chaos to fleur-de-lis, a dance between the Jousters and their opponents. There was technique and skill, a fierce elegance to the whole thing.

Cinquefoil appeared to have no actual rules. The large zero-gravity tank was the same size as was used for the other game, surrounded on all sides by the audience stands. The higher up you were, the more you could see of the game – and because everyone sat about thirty centimetres from the plexiglass walls of the tank, it was entirely possible for a player to crash into the wall right in front of your face, blood spiralling out in tiny floating globes.

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ARTOIS: That’s a beautiful leap from Henri of the Mousers, he’s got a fierce turn of speed on him as he propels himself directly in the path of Valentine.

OLYMPE: Always up the left side, of course, but even when they know it’s coming, he’s – and it’s first blood in the fourth quadrant, with both Serpentin pole attacks making a vicious double play against Bradamante!

ARTOIS: She’s made of nails, that player, it’s like she hasn’t even noticed that her nose is broken, look at that shoulder work as she shoves Valentine directly into Lola Chang’s path and OH THAT HAS TO HURT!

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Dana considered herself tough, but she had her hands half covering her face for much of the game. Athos was already several drinks ahead of the rest of them, having started well before they even reached their seats. Aramis, the optimist of the three, genuinely enjoyed the vicious mechanics of the game – or she had, right up to the moment she had spotted Captain Tracy Dubois sitting in a private box with her husband, on the far side of the tank.

Porthos might have lightened the mood, but she was in full uniform, alongside the royal box where the Regent and Prince Consort were enjoying the spectacle. They were accompanied by several friends and ministers, all of whom seemed to be enjoying more of a party atmosphere than Dana’s own friends.

Dana realised with something like a shock that the stately older woman who sat to one side of the Regent in a soft plum-coloured gown was in fact the Cardinal herself. She did not look especially religious, though there was a chilly gravity to her.

Dana shivered for a moment, when she thought the Cardinal had looked in her direction. The last thing she wanted was that kind of attention.

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OLYMPE: Believe me, Artois, a broken nose hurts just as much in zero gravity as it does anywhere else, but don’t take your eyes off the second quadrant, where Olivier has kicked his way past the pole challenges of St Girard and Serpentin captain Millefleur, I think we know where he’s going, don’t we?

ARTOIS: But Millefleur isn’t going to let her chevalier get grabbed that easily, look at her hauling Olivier back down into third quadrant and away from his target… and she’s used BOTH HANDS, that’s a foul. Meanwhile, Anjelique ‘the Angel’ Anjou just used St Girard as ballast to rocket her halfway across the tank, and she’s the first of the Mousers to get a tip challenge on Degas.

OLYMPE: They’re in formal jousting mode now, jet packs engaged, and OH THAT’S NASTY!

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Dana could not stop glancing over at the royal box, not only because it kept her eyes off the more upsetting violence of the cinquefoil, but because Conrad was there, wearing a bright sky-blue jacket that matched his hair. He sat with the Prince, the two of them watching the game avidly, pointing out every move and player to each other with grins and laughter.

Aramis sighed and dropped her head to Dana’s shoulder, still nursing her wounded heart from seeing Dubois on such good terms with her husband. Even in a morose state, she was far too observant. “I hope it’s not the Prince that you can’t take your eyes off, little one,” she said in a low voice, her mouth brushing Dana’s ear. “We only just finished cleaning up the last scandal in the making…”

Dana elbowed her, turning her eyes firmly back to the game, just as two Serpentin players slammed themselves hard against the Mouser captain, one from above and one from below. The entire audience sucked in a sympathetic breath in unison, and the Mouser supporters around Dana and the others started booing and yelling angrily, some of them physically banging their hands on the tank in protest.

“Of course not,” Dana hissed back at Aramis. “Don’t even think things like that!”

Aramis chuckled to herself. “It happens. Such pretty men, these New Aristocrats. Not my type, of course, but I see the appeal.”

“Can you stop right now?”

“I’m only teasing, Dana,” Aramis said seriously. “I know it’s the tailor you have eyes for.”

“I hate you!” Dana snapped, slumping lower in her chair.

Aramis reached over her shoulders to catch Athos’ attention by smacking him on the head. “Athos, Athos! Dana likes a boy.”

“They grow up so fast,” Athos said without missing a beat, though he was distracted by calling up another drink, and wasn’t properly listening. “Is the game over yet?”

“Quarter time,” said Aramis as the whistle went and the players retreated to have the worst of their wounds bandaged.

“Give me strength.”

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The second quarter was just as vicious, with both teams down to four players each by the end of it, and at least four poles swapped out due to breakages. The zero-gravity well inside the tank now had to be sluiced with air pressure to remove all the globules of blood and floating splinters before the next round.

Since Athos wasn’t interested in anything but drinking, and Aramis continued to dart searching looks back at Dubois and her husband, it was down to Dana to fetch supplies from the noodle stand down on the main deck. She returned with her hands full of damp paper containers and egg rolls, to find that the audience had been quietened for a royal speech.

“Just in time,” Aramis groaned, snatching at the food. “I will bury my heartbroken melancholy in sticky prawns.”

“There aren’t enough prawns in the world to bury your heartbreaks,” Athos drawled.

They hushed as the Regent stood and began her speech.

All over again, Dana was impressed by the Regent’s grace and beauty. Lalla-Louise Regent Royal had an extraordinary public presence, her charisma shining out of her face. It was easy to see how she had won the propaganda battle, and why the people had believed every promise that she made to hold the system together instead of allowing it to fracture into a series of planetary rulerships.

“You should know, my people, that I would never lie to you,” she said now, her low and melodic voice picked up and piped into every chair, every comm channel, so it was as if she spoke directly into every row of seats. “Many of my advisors have suggested that I deny the rumours that have arisen in recent days. Rumours that the Sun-kissed are on the move, and that several provincial attacks might well be the work of our old enemy.”

Dana felt rather than saw the reactions of Aramis on one side of her, and Athos on the other. Their backs straightened, and their chins lifted. This was them as professionals, she realised. They had a tension to them, as if they were about to be called to arms.

“…But no matter the distress and panic it may cause, I need you to know that I trust you all with this knowledge. If the Sun-kissed try to march against us again, let them come, for we are strong. Strong in faith and strong in arms. The Royal Fleet, whether it be the Sabres or the Musketeers, the Mecha Squads, the Red Guard, all serve the Crown and the Solar System, and we will always defeat the aliens who test our faith.”

The Cardinal stood with the Regent now, on one side, and the Prince Consort on the other. It was a powerful image, their strength united.

Dana felt something soft drift past her shoulder blades and she realised that Aramis had reached around her, so that one hand brushed lightly against the back of Athos’ neck. His eyes bore into the Regent and her supporters, a fierce and angry gaze. Dana had never seen him look so cold before.

Had either of them, and Porthos too, had they fought against the Sun-kissed in the war? It was eight years ago. She did not know how long it was since her Musketeers had joined up. They could have been in the service, fighting against the aliens who almost destroyed the Solar System.

Athos’ hands were shaking. Dana pretended she had not seen.

But the Regent was talking of other things now; she lightened the mood with a joke, and a merry smile. The audience relaxed around her, responding to her upbeat tone. Aramis drew her hand back, and Athos did not look at her.

“Because cheer is as important in times of peace and faith as it was in our darker times, I have a joyful announcement to share with all of Paris!” the Regent announced. “At her Eminence’s suggestion, we are to hold a ball for my wedding anniversary to my beloved Prince Alek.” She squeezed her husband’s hand, and smiled adoringly at him. “It shall be televised live to the whole populace, who I’m sure will be greatly entertained by our frivolities and our costumes. The theme will be Diamonds and Peacocks!”

Dana spat out a mouthful of her drink. Athos automatically confiscated her cup, and swallowed half of its contents.

The royal couple were besieged by applause and well-wishers, as their assorted hangers on demonstrated their pleasure at the idea of a ball, and several official media types began to ask questions about which celebrities might be expected to attend.

The Prince Consort’s smile, however warm it was as he turned it upon his wife, lacked something when he turned away from her. The cams captured everything about his faltering face, throwing it up on the larger screens. Conrad, sitting right next to the Prince, looked as if his world had just ended.

“Damn it,” Dana murmured beneath her breath.

Both Aramis and Athos turned to her. “Trouble?” asked Athos as if a distraction was exactly what he needed.

Dana nodded very slowly. It couldn’t be a coincidence. The Regent – or the Cardinal – or both of them, knew about the peacock coat and the diamond studs and the Duke of Buckingham.

“Trouble,” she said grimly. “But I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop it.”

“Haven’t you heard?” said Aramis lightly, tossing a food carton from hand to hand as if there had been no discussion at all today of aliens and war and a possible return to the darkest time that their people had ever faced. “We’re Musketeers. Trouble is our best thing.”

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