It’s Musketeer Day! I can’t tell you why I’m particularly excited about this chapter without spoiling the hell out of it, so just assume it’s part of my usual excitement about train transport. Trains are awesome.
I’ve been meaning to write a special post about my adventures in Perth last week, but apparently that’s not going to happen (time why do you DO this to me) so I want to give a shout out to Linda and the CrimesceneWA crew who made me so welcome at their convention. The concept of the con – combining crime fiction writers and readers with actual forensic and legal experts – is brilliant, and I hope we will see Crimescene back in some form in the future.
I loved getting to meet up with my Perth people and to meet so many new crime authors and readers. It was also ridiculously exciting to get to visit Stefen’s Books which I have heard so much about. Thanks everyone who came to meet me and especially those who joined us for a lovely drinks & dinner hangout afterwards. It was the perfect way to finish up my trip to Perth – and that day also included 2 affogatos, cuddles with baby-of-my-heart Mackenzie, watching Dawson’s Creek in person with one of my best friends in the world and watching Doctor Who in person with one of my other best friends in the world so honestly, it is RIDICULOUS how good that day was.
It was also exciting for me to see pre-release copies of Drowned Vanilla, my new murder mystery (under the Livia Day byline). Early orders will be filled shortly, and there is an e-edition coming soon. The book will be formally launched at the Hobart Bookshop on 20th November by my good friend and awesome YA writer Kate Gordon.
I posted earlier today about the #Fight4Raphael campaign, to help the daughter of a good friend attend a cancer trial in Melbourne. Please donate if you can.
Now, a little later in the day than usual but still absolutely present and correct: the continuing adventures of Dana in a dress!
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan signed up for a mission to save the solar system by reclaiming a coat with diamond studs that the Prince Consort should never have given away to the Duchess of Buckingham. So far, Dana has lost her three best friends, crashed a spaceship, and helped a New Aristocrat drug herself into oblivion. Also she’s wearing a dress which is a thousand different kinds of wrong. This train trip she’s on, though, the people seem nice.
NOW READ ON.
23 – Something Political
Dana – or rather, her cover identity, Alix Charlemagne – learned more about her travelling companions over the next few hours than she ever needed to know about anyone. Unfortunately, the charming Bianca was just as interested in Alix’s story as she was in her own, which meant that Dana had to busily invent all kinds of details and then try to remember them.
Still, it kept her awake for the journey to Arguerinne, and the venturer that would take her off this planet and home to Paris Satellite.
Bianca, Countess of Clarick, paused only briefly after introducing herself, then laughed and forbade her new friend from ever referring to her title. She embodied everything that Dana had ever heard about New Aristocrats. Bianca was an elite hobbyist sportswoman with more money than sense who occupied her days attending parties, travelling for shooting competitions, and duelling in the back streets for kicks.
Here at least, Dana was in safe territory, and she confessed her own taste for the sword. The profile she had built up was one of a spoiled daughter of a wealthy family on a Grand Tour across the solar system, and she managed now to incorporate an unnamed Athos in her tales as an extremely grumpy swordmaster. Aramis, likewise not named, became her poetry tutor, and Porthos, mentioned only as ‘Madame Polly,’ was her governess.
After a while, she realised that she was actually enjoying herself. Bianca had a talent for card games as well as gossip, and it was the first time Dana had relaxed since she was last with her friends, back when the adventure began.
Vaniel, whom Dana assumed to be Bianca’s husband, was more of a mystery. Bianca described him as ‘something political in the city’ and he offered nothing to add to that, busily working away and ignoring them both. The only time he interrupted their conversation was when he threw himself half across Bianca’s lap to call up a newscast on the back wall of the carriage.
“Oh not now, Vaniel,” Bianca moaned. “Turn it down, at least. I don’t have the least interest in whether the Marquise De Wardes is running for office or if she’s been named Best Dressed Politician for the third week in a row. Your obsession is boring.”
“Put a cake in it, Bee,” was all her charming companion replied, then stood there in the aisle watching the newscast with an odd, burning hunger in his face.
Later, when their sumptuous supper was delivered, Dana nodded towards the other side of the carriage where Vaniel had exiled himself as part of his ongoing interest in the political ramifications of whatever it was that this Marquise de Wardes had said in her public address. “Will your husband want to eat as well?”
Bianca stared at her in open-mouthed shock and then all but killed herself laughing. “Oh, that’s PRICELESS, Lexie,” she bellowed. Somehow, ‘Alix Charlemagne’ had become ‘Lexie’ somewhere round about the third hour of the journey, just as Bianca demanded she call her ‘Bee’ in return. “Vaniel, she thinks we’re married! Isn’t that a kick?”
“How precious,” said Vaniel in a light drawl that almost, but not quite, reminded Dana of Athos.
“He’s my brother-in-law,” Bee said when she had herself under control. “Widowed, when my poor sister died a few years ago. But I keep him around since he had the good taste to sire the Clarick heir – saved me the trouble of having my own children! Who can be bothered with all that nonsense?”
Dana smiled politely and saved herself from answering by filling her mouth with a smoked salmon blini.
“Of course,” said Bee thoughtfully, eyeing Dana up from head to toe. “It would all make us very happy if he married again. I don’t suppose you’re in the market for a husband?”
“Bee,” said Vaniel warningly from the corner, which showed he was keeping at least half an ear on proceedings. “Don’t marry me off to strangers on the train.”
“Fine,” Bee said, then mimed ‘we’ll talk later’ to a horrified Dana.
By the fifth hour of the journey, even Bee had exhausted all topics of conversation. She collapsed against the window with a selection of fashion magazines she had managed to apply to Vaniel’s tablet. Only minutes after she started flicking through the images, she fell asleep.
To Dana’s surprise, Vaniel surfaced from his work long enough to order tea from the food printer, and offered to play a game of chess with her. “Clears my head,” he said with a smile that was almost charming.
He beat her twice in quick succession, all the while explaining to her why the political aspirations of the Marquise de Wardes were significant – she was a staunch loyalist to the Solar System, and she had announced today that she was in the running for First Minister. Her platform was currently unclear, but everyone knew she opposed planetary independence for Valour, supporting the continued rule of the Regent Royal.
Also, the Marquise’s talent for personal PR and her reputation as a fashion icon apparently gave her massive popularity among the all-important demographic of voters who hated politicians.
To Dana’s surprise, once she realised that the Duchess of Buckingham was the other proposed candidate for First Minister – running on a platform of planetary independence based on an upcoming referendum – she became rather interested in the whole matter, and was more than happy to listen to Vaniel’s spiel.
He in turn enjoyed having someone to bounce his thoughts off, and the two of them spent a pleasant hour or two batting politics back and forth.
It was very late at night when they finally arrived in the city, and Dana rose with her suitcase full of frocks and peacock coat and diamond studs. The venturer on which Alix Charlemagne had booked her passage would leave at midnight.
“Perhaps our paths will cross again,” said Vaniel with a brief smile, his political face restored and his hair combed neatly. “You’re on your way to Paris Satellite, yes?”
“I’ve always wanted to go,” said Dana with a smile that she didn’t even have to fake.
“I’m sure you’ll find many amusements there.” He shook Bee awake with a brotherly carelessness, and the other woman hurled herself at Dana with apologies and lipstick-smearing kisses and promises to keep in touch.
Dana had already half-forgotten the Claricks and the diversion they provided her as she stepped on to the platform. The sooner she got back to Paris and completed her duty to the Prince Consort, the sooner she could reunite herself with Porthos, Aramis, Athos and their engies.
A small delegation of secretaries and assistants were waiting to greet Vaniel and Bee. Several of them swiped wrist studs against Vaniel’s to share files instantly. “Milord de Winter,” said one. “The press conference has been pushed back an hour, but the Freedom delegation has priority depending on…”
Dana almost lost her footing and fell under the train.
“Goodness, darling,” said Bee, leaning back to clasp her elbow. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Dizzy,” Dana whispered. Oh God and All. Milord De Winter. Winter. This charming political obsessive was the man who had supposedly put a psychotic copy of himself inside Buck’s head, to spy on the prince. Worse than that. Milord. She knew who he was.
He had been dressed differently, and acting differently, that night on Meung Station: all silver hair and aristocratic drawl. But it was him, of course it was. The agent working with Rosnay Cho. You know there are two Winters? The silver and the brown. The silver lives inside my head, but the brown – he’s the dangerous one. You won’t even see him coming.
Dana had liked him. She had played chess with him, and his sister-in-law had tried to set them up and OH GOD she had the diamonds here in her suitcase, only metres away from him. She had escaped right under his nose.
He wasn’t even looking in her direction. She wasn’t remotely interesting to Vaniel de Winter now that he had people around him who actually understood the Valour political system. Still dazed, Dana exchanged a final air kiss with Bee and fled the station, heading across the city she didn’t know to reach her berth on the venturer.
Home, she was going home. Away from politicking Milords and drug-addled Duchesses and charming Countesses and the sodding planet that was capable of making Athos furious merely by raining on him.
Home, to Paris. Everything was going to be all right.
Lalla-Louise Renard Royal, Regent of the Solar System, bit into a peach. She was surrounded by peacocks, a host of beautiful people in bright, preening colours, and she had never been so bored in her life.
The Hunt called to her, as it often did. But she pressed down the urge to flee this crowd and bury herself in her beloved chemicals. She had a duty to perform tonight. She had to find out if the terrible thing that the Cardinal believed about her husband was true.
Not that Cardinal had indeed said anything at all to condemn the Prince Consort. A word here, a comforting touch there, a frown at the wrong time, a word or two more. Nothing solid, nothing concrete.
But a hint in the wrong place could bring down her government, and Lalla-Louise could not let that happen.
She had to trust that the Cardinal knew what was best. She had always believed that, even when ‘what was best’ meant taking power and funding away from the Musketeers who had always served the Crown so diligently.
Still Lalla-Louise maintained her independence. She shared breakfast chocolate with Amiral Treville as often as she did with the Cardinal. She listened to many advisors, not just the one woman who had been there for her since the beginning. She had married against the advice of the Cardinal, thinking that she knew better when it came to choosing the right alliance.
No, she had known better. She knew that having that connection with Honour and the Elemental faction was important, and those facts had not changed. Lalla-Louise still believed in her marriage. She had wanted her union with Alek to prove to the Solar System that she could unite them all, Church and Elementals, dirtsiders and space dwellers. She had wanted for once to make a decision that would not prove that the Cardinal was better equipped to rule than Lalla-Louise herself. If they had an heir by now, even the Cardinal would not be able to raise objections to the choice she had made. A baby would have been the perfect way to unite all of the most divisive groups in the solar system.
Lalla-Louise was going to have to put her foot down about that soon. She knew that Alek’s religious and cultural beliefs made it hard for him to accept such a natural process as capsule-born babies, but surely he must realise by now that they were not going to get an heir any other way.
Assuming, of course, that the Cardinal’s hints about tonight came to nothing, and Lalla-Louise was not going to be forced to put her entire marriage aside. Lalla-Louise did not want that, not at all.
On the other hand, the idea that the Cardinal might be wrong about something was deeply terrifying. If the Cardinal was wrong, then the universe did not entirely make sense.
But if the Cardinal was right about everything, then Lalla-Louise’s marriage was more of a lie than she had ever imagined. And Alek – her sweet, beautiful boy, was not hers after all, but another conspirator out to end her reign.
As if in a dream, Lalla-Louise heard the chime that indicated that the Prince Consort had entered the ballroom. She rose to stride through the crowd of masked beauties, all gleaming in peacock colours scattered with diamonds and diamante beading.
The ballroom was decked out as a glorious jewelled garden, with crystal hover-chandeliers lighting every corner. The hover-chandeliers were equipped with cam feeds, capturing the glorious costumes and dancing of the Regent’s chosen guests so that the party could be broadcast live across the solar system.
Lalla-Louise was garbed as a huntress of olden times, with a gilded bow strung across her back and long trousers made of deep green suede. Instead of her usual army of dressmakers, she had summoned Alek’s own tailor Su to make her a long silk coat that would perfectly complement the one he had made for her husband’s birthday.
She had taken the opportunity to examine Su’s face for any hint that he knew of a betrayal, but his hands had been calm and his manner perfectly pleasant during their fittings, as if he knew of no reason why that coat might someday cause her pain or public embarrassment.
Lalla-Louise cut through the crowd and finally, finally saw Alek. He stood in polite discussion with a group of political types from Valour. Of course, he was not surrounded by his friends. He had so few left on Lunar Palais, as most of them had been exiled for political reasons, or had chosen to distance themselves from him for their own protection.
He was as handsome as ever, a prime example of his world’s beauty. And yet, Lalla-Louise felt a chill taking over her body as she approached him.
He wore black from head to toe. His hair had been recoloured so that it fell in feathery locks of purple, green and gold like the fanned tail of a peacock, and he wore diamond beads that hung from each ear. But there was no sign of the peacock coat, nor the diamond studs. She was furious at him, so furious that it felt as if there were no air left in the room.
It was all true. She had made a terrible mistake with him. And the Cardinal would hold this over her forever.
“Husband,” she said, ice dripping from her voice. “How plain you look this evening.”
“Wife,” he said politely, taking her hands to kiss them both. “I hope you don’t mind that I chose to dress simply tonight. How can one peacock stand out in a crowd of hundreds?”
“On the contrary,” Lalla-Louise snarled. It was rare for her to feel any emotion outside her beloved game, but this made her so angry she couldn’t see straight. “I particularly chose the theme of this ball so that you could display the diamonds I gave you. I chose my own outfit to complement your own.” And now she sounded like a petulant child. If only she had a glass of champagne in her hand, she would throw it over him.
Alek’s face changed, as he realised how angry she was. “Oh, my darling, forgive me. It was a thoughtless jest. I did not wish to risk eclipsing your own appearance.” He kissed her hands again, more passionately. “I shall change at once.”
“See that you do,” she said, barely getting out the words. Her husband made his exit with a bow that infuriated her as much as everything else about this evening.
To make it worse, the moment that Alek was gone from her sight, Lalla-Louise turned to see the Cardinal regarding her with great warmth and sympathy.
She wanted to break things. Everything. But instead she smiled and nodded and accepted the congratulations of her guests as if this party was everything she had ever hoped it would be.
You have been reading Musketeer Space, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tune in next week for another chapter! Please comment, share and link. Musketeer Space is free to read, but if you’d like to support the project for as little as $1 per month, please visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. Milestones already unlocked include the Musketeer Media Monday posts, the Robotech Rewatch posts, and a special Yuletide prequel story to be released in December. My next funding milestone ($300 a month) will unlock ART.