Musketeer Space Part 29 – The Husband of Athos

bottles3It’s Musketeer Day!

I won’t deny I’m excited we’re at this part. The creative use and withholding of backstory is such an important part of the Musketeer story and, you know, it makes me sad when D’Artagnan and the Musketeers are apart from each other.

I kind of feel guilty about how often my characters get stupidly drunk, but it’s kind of impossible to tell the story of the Musketeers – and Athos in particular – without getting a whole lot of booze involved.

Don’t be like Athos, kids. Drink responsibly over the silly season, or you might end up spilling all your tragic secrets in a cellar. This has been a public service announcement.

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana wants to be a Musketeer pilot, but instead she’s managed to acquire three of them as her new best friends. After losing them all during a mission, she’s trying to collect the set all over again: with Porthos and Aramis back in action, there’s only Athos still to find. Unfortunately he was last seen on a planet he hates, in the wreckage of his crashed spaceship.

NOW READ ON!

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Chapter 29 – The Husband of Athos

“And I thought my ship was in bad shape,” Aramis said sadly, looking at the crumpled heap of metal that remained of the Parry, Riposte. Planchet had tracked the salvage code to a shipyard in the city of Amiens, to the north of the lake with which Dana had recently become so intimately acquainted.

“What are you doing?” Dana asked in surprise as Porthos actually climbed up on top of the nearest charging hub, planting her booted feet astride it.

“I’m noting all the drinking establishments that are visible from this yard,” said Porthos, her eyes slowly sweeping the area from her new high vantage point. “He wouldn’t have walked any further than he had to.”

“Grimaud was wounded,” Dana said, feeling that someone had to defend Athos at this point. “I’m sure the first thing Athos did after getting credit for salvage wasn’t to buy a drink.”

Aramis and Porthos simply looked at her.

Dana sighed. “Fine, okay. But what makes you think he’s still nearby, and still drunk? It’s been a week.”

Porthos patted her arm as if she was a child. “It’s not that we’re deliberately thinking the worst of him, Dana. But we know him really, really well.”

“We’d better spread out, take a street each,” said Aramis, cuffing Dana lightly across the back of her head. “I only hope he hasn’t run out of credit. Athos shouldn’t have to deal with this planet sober.”

“Hell,” said Porthos. “If we have to deal with Athos dealing with this planet, I don’t want to be sober.”

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Athos being sober was,as it turned out, the last thing they had to worry about. Dana was assigned to the Rue de Souveray, which sounded far grander than the cobbled alley that it turned out to be. The surfaces in this city were cracked and uneven, another aspect of dirtside life that Dana was glad she would never have to get used to.

It was mid afternoon in this time zone, with the sun already starting to lose some of its enthusiasm for the day. There were a couple of bars that were evidently not open yet, catering for the nightlife of Amiens. Dana did find a bakery which turned out to be not much help because they didn’t serve wine, and then went further up the street only to discover that what looked like a promising place was actually a dance club that she knew Athos would rather cut off his arm than enter.

She frowned, staring back down the street. To find Athos in this city, surely she had to think like Athos. And though she didn’t want to admit it, there was something credible to Porthos’ theory. The question was not whether Athos would have bought a drink with the credit he received in exchange for his barely-salvaged wreck of a ship, the question was where he would have chosen to drink.

Dana returned down the sloping street to look more closely at the establishments that were not open. What about that pub down on the corner? It looked shabby and comfortable; the kind of place where people didn’t ask too many questions about who you were and where your credit came from.

More to the point, it shouldn’t be closed. A place like that got half its income from serving hearty lunches and letting customers linger at tables long into the afternoon. The Gilded Lily was scrawled on a sign that swung off an iron hook on the corner of the street.

As Dana watched, two customers actually approached the doors and knocked, bemused at the place being unavailable to them. They shouted some kind of protest someone through a panel in the door, and eventually sloped off, looking unhappy.

Dana pressed her lips together. There was something strange going on.

She headed down again and knocked for herself, peering in through the panel in the door. Was that actual glass set into the antique wood? Fancy. There was nothing else especially glamorous about this place – it looked worn and badly lit. Perfect.

A man with a broom passed in front of the door and made a vague ‘fuck off’ gesture at Dana, then ignored her.

She knocked again, more forcefully.

Finally, the landlord came to the door, holding his broom as if he was about to pull a sword out of it. “Not open!” he grunted through the still-closed door. “Can’t you read?”

Dana cupped her ear, pretending she could not hear him.

He opened the heavy door about four inches. “We’re not bloody open, okay? Not today, not tomorrow at this rate. I’m fucking ruined, and I don’t want…” He paused, staring at Dana’s jacket. “Are you one of them?”

Dana had considered shoving her foot in the door to prevent him from slamming it in her face, but with the size of the landlord and the vibrating anger coming off him, she realised that would be a good way to lose a foot. She backed up from the door. “Am I – one of what?”

“You’re a bloody Musketeer,” snarled the landlord.

Dana squared her shoulders, tired of correcting the world. “Yes, I am,” she lied between her teeth. “I am a bloody Musketeer.”

“Thank Earth and Fire for that.” He reached out and seized her, physically lifting her inside the pub. “Get that sodden, wine-soaked bastard out of my cellar before he destroys everything I have left.”

Ah. A clue. “Wine-soaked bastard?” Dana said innocently.

The landlord shoved at her shoulder. “He’s yours, aye? The maniac with the sword and the woman who looks like a good religious sort but is basically as bad as him?”

Dana could sense that tact was called for here. Tact and subtlety. “Does the wine-soaked bastard have a beard, by any chance?”

The landlord grabbed her around the arms again, propelling her across the floor. “You have to get him out of here. I don’t care any more, I just want him out. I can’t run a business like this. Can’t even sleep because I keep expecting the arsing sot to set fire to my pub in his ravings. Get him out.”

Dana found herself facing a large, barred doorway. “I can do that,” she said, trying not to sound hesitant. She should call in Aramis and Porthos. She knew that. And yet – she was the one who had left Athos on this planet. It was up to her to rescue him.

The landlord wrenched the bar off the door. “You’ll be settling his bill before you leave,” he growled.

“Consider it done,” said Dana confidently, though she wasn’t sure there was enough credit left for that even with the funds she had received from both Treville and Buckingham. Porthos had cost a lot, and Aramis had insisted on leaving a generous donation to the abbey as well as getting the Morningstar out of hock. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“Church guards,” the landlord said, and then spat on his own floor. “Never liked letting that sort in, especially in red uniforms and spouting Paris accents. But when they give me orders, I know better than to do otherwise, you know?”

Dana didn’t like the sound of this. “Go on.”

“When your man came in, he was quiet enough – the kind who doesn’t want anything to get between him and his glass. The lady wasn’t any trouble either. But then a couple of them churchies came in, shouting about how they’d caught him – claimed he was a credit fraud, and the governor himself wanted him in custody.”

Dana nodded grimly. It made sense.

“Well, he went fierce, and the lady too – they fought off the guards and killed them right here on the floor, then barricaded themselves in my cellar. I sent word to the governor about it all, expecting him to send some more men to dig the criminals out of my place.”

Dana looked from the door to the landlord. “How long ago was this?”

“Three, four days.”

“And he’s still down there?”

“The governor didn’t know nothing about it,” the landlord stuttered. “Local enforcement took the bodies but no one wanted to claim them – they weren’t churchies at all, turned out, let alone from Paris. The credit fraud they’d been talking about, he was arrested three provinces from here.”

“So Athos – my friend – was innocent,” Dana said darkly. “And you’ve kept him imprisoned down there for days!”

“Imprisoned!” the landlord protested. “I’ve tried to give him his damned freedom. I’ve offered it to him on a silver platter. But he and that engineer lady of his, they refuse to come out even after I told them it wasn’t a trap no more. Tried to shoot me last time I put my head around the door, and ordered me to bar it closed.”

Dana did her best not to smirk. “And uh, he’s all right down there? Does he have access to food and medipatches and -”

The landlord turned a furious face upon her. “Food? He has all my bloody printers. My stores. My wine. And I can’t open up without them. He’s going to ruin me.”

Dana clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’m taking him home today.”

“Raving nutter, he is, I reckon. They go funny sometimes, you know. Them who fight in the wars. It’s not good for a person.”

“Open the door,” said Dana, steeling herself for the worst. “I’m going in.”

The landlord obediently took the bar off with a loud creak. “None of your shooting!” he yelled down into the darkness. “Brought a mate of yours, gonna take you home!”

There was a long silence. Then the bright white light of a pearl stunner flashed in the darkness. Dana ducked fast, going down to her knees.

“Don’t think I trust you, little man,” called Athos, his New Aristocrat accent ringing out clearly from beneath them.

The sound of his voice made Dana’s stomach tighten. She felt exactly as she had looking upon Aramis’ face for the first time, back at the Crevecoueur Abbey, and then at Chantilly Station when she saw for herself that Porthos was alive.

It was all going to be okay now.

“Athos,” she yelled down the stairs into the blackness within. “What did we agree about you and pearl stunners? Stick to the sword, and maybe you won’t hurt yourself.”

There was a silence, and a soft choking sound. “Is that D’Artagnan?”

She was glad it was dark down there so that he couldn’t see the stupid smile that broke out across her face. “Are you going to invite me into your creepy little mancave, or what?”

“Come on down,” Athos called out, faking the same cheerfulness that she was. “Mind the stairs in the dark, don’t want you breaking your fool neck. Grimaud took my last med-patch. But no one else, D’Artagnan. I don’t trust anyone else.” His voice trembled a fraction on that last line, and it chilled Dana for a moment. He sounded far from okay.

“Close the door behind me, but don’t bar it,” she said softly to the landlord. “I’ll have him out within the hour and all this will have been like a bad dream.”

“A very expensive bad dream,” muttered the landlord, but he did as she asked.

Dana descended the stairs in the blackness, her hand trailing along the wall to keep her steady. “Have you been in the dark all this time, Athos? Are there no lights down here?”

“Didn’t want to waste candles,” said Athos. A light flared somewhere in the cellar, and she watched his face swim up to her, illuminated by an actual flame in a lantern.

“Kicking it old school,” Dana said, her eyes drawn to what she could see of his face beyond the yellow blaze of lantern light. He looked like shit. “What have you done to yourself?”

She heard a clink of several bottles rattling empty together, and Athos raised a half-full one in an uneven salute. “Gave myself too much time to think.”

A shadow moved in the centre of the cellar and Dana turned towards it. Grimaud moved into the circle of yellow light, throwing a blanket off her own shoulders on to Athos’ lap. “And on that note,” she said, her eyes holding Dana’s for a brief moment. “I’m going for a bath. I presume you can keep him from offing himself for an hour or so? I’ll meet you outside.”

The engie stomped up the stairs and let herself out. “You,” she called sharply to the landlord beyond the door, just before it shut behind her. “Hot water. Now. This is an emergency.”

Dana sank down on her knees beside Athos. She had to move a couple of bottles out of the way to sit down. “Want to tell me what she meant by that?” she asked softly.

“She was joking,” he said, his hand still circling the neck of the bottle. She wanted to take it off him, but even as a wreck like this his reflexes were always better than hers.

“I don’t actually think she was,” Dana sighed. She reached out an arm, giving him a rough hug around the neck. He smelled like sour wine and engine oil. To her surprise, he didn’t shrug her away, but leaned into her neck for a moment, like he was actually willing to take comfort from her touch.

Valour had broken him, then.

“You came back,” Athos sighed, sounding half asleep.

“Someone had to save you from yourself.” She shoved him a little with her hip. “I told you I would. Porthos and Aramis are here, too. We’ve been looking all over. Should I get them in here?”

“No, not yet.” He actually shuddered under her arm.

Dana curled around him, her other hand smoothing over his until the tremble lessened. “Athos, you’re a mess,” she sighed. “What’s wrong? Can you tell me?”

“They don’t know. Never wanted them to know.”

“How is there anything that those two don’t know about you?”

Athos shoved her away, then, putting space between them. He rocked up on his heels, disappearing into the darkness, and then stumbled back with another bottle. Not wine this time. It smelled like some kind of brandy, when he uncapped it. When he staggered down to the floor again, he pushed the lantern between them so Dana was forced to keep her distance. “They don’t know that I’m not worth saving,” he said flatly, and necked the bottle.

Dana resisted the urge to smack the bottle away. At this rate, getting him to drink himself unconscious might be the only way to drag him off this bloody planet.

She considered her options. Porthos and Aramis were nearby, both capable of flying everyone home between them. There was no one else right here in this cellar to tell her that she had to do this sober.

Dana held out a hand for the bottle of brandy. “Give,” she ordered. At least this way she could ensure that he paused between swallows. Athos handed the bottle over to her, and she took a deep swig. It had a smooth heat to it that warmed her all the way down. She couldn’t remember when she had last eaten anything. “Bullshit you’re not worth saving,” she added, and held on to the bottle as long as she could before Athos motioned for it back. “I call double bullshit on that.”

Athos looked defeated; even more so with the bottle cradled back between his hands. “You’ve been running towards the Musketeers for your whole life, D’Artagnan. Arms outstretched. Haven’t you noticed that the rest of us got here by running away from something?”

She let him take a mouthful, then dragged the bottle back for herself. “What makes you so special, Athos? What makes the thing you’re running away from so much more dramatic than everyone else’s demons?”

He made a noise and she thought for one minute he was crying. Then she realised he was laughing and that was actually worse. The Athos she knew smiled from time to time, but apart from the weird manic energy he embraced when there was a fight on, most of those smiles were so small that they were easy to miss if you weren’t looking for them.

Dana didn’t think she had ever heard him laugh before, not properly. She would be quite happy never to hear it ever again.

“I am worse,” he said. “You saw it when the ship came down. You must have seen it too.”

Hair tousled over the back of a neck. Bare feet on soft grass. “The happy memory that made you sad,” said Dana.

“My beloved husband,” said Athos, with an edge of sarcasm hovering around the word ‘beloved.’ “Before I killed him.”

Dana looked at him for a long moment, and then handed him back the bottle of brandy. “You know you don’t get to leave the story there, right?”

He huffed out a long breath, his fingers curling and uncurling around the neck of the bottle. “You’re welcome to stay and drink with me. But you’re not entitled to anything else.”

This was the time to call in reinforcements, to contact Porthos and Aramis and Bonnie and Bazin and Planchet and gang up with them to drag Athos’ sorry drunken carcass out of here. It was amazing Grimaud had lasted as long as she had in this cellar without using the pearl stunner on him and dragging him out by his feet.

But the words ‘my beloved husband’ were still hanging in the air and Dana knew, she knew that once they left this cellar, he would seal himself up again like a barrel and refuse to acknowledge that he had revealed anything of himself.

The mystery that was Athos had been nagging at Dana for a long time, and the revelation that there was a story from his past that even Aramis and Porthos did not know about… that was too intriguing to be ignored. It was selfish, perhaps, but she wanted to know.

So she drank. They drank together, swallow after swallow, and Dana told him of the adventures he had missed, of Buck and the replacement diamonds and the mysterious Milord de Winter who she had found quite by accident on a train with his chatty sister-in-law.

As the brandy dipped low in the bottle, she confessed about Conrad and his mysterious disappearance, and the odd, ominous conversation she had shared with Rosnay Cho. Her voice broke as she repeated the words, “I’m sorry, buttercup, but you’re not getting him back.”

Athos shrugged.

“Seriously?” Dana howled at him, snatching back the bottle just as he was about to drink. “That’s all you’ve got?”

“Either the lad got cold feet and went back to his wife, or his own meddling in politics got him killed. Not sure it matters either way. If you want sympathy, Aramis will hug you until the end of time. Porthos is particularly good at tea and kind shoulder-patting. I don’t actually give a fuck.”

“Are you dead inside?” Dana snarled.

Athos gave her a thin smile. “Basically.”

“Because you killed your husband.” A low blow, but she was losing patience with him.

“Not even that.” He reached for the bottle, and Dana held on to it stubbornly. Athos growled. “But I’ll admit it turned me off any interest in epic love stories. Even yours, sweetness.”

“How did you end up on that mountain, miserable out of your skin?” she challenged him. “What happened to you here on Valour?”

“It didn’t happen to me,” Athos said, pulling more forcefully on the bottle. Dana held on to it, using all of her muscle strength to keep the bottle in her lap. “It happened to someone else.”

Dana felt the cellar tilt around her. She had let herself get more drunk than she meant to, and she wasn’t sure about anything any more except that she was not going to let Athos drink another mouthful. “Who?” she asked.

Athos gave a last desperate lurch at the bottle, and Dana tugged it back with such determination that the glass cracked between their fingers, and the brandy leaked out over their boots.

“It happened to the Count de la Fere,” Athos snarled, barely seeming to notice that the glass had slashed a bloody line into his palm. “He’s dead too, and good riddance to him.”

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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.

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One reply

  1. Faith says:

    ATHOS! I missed his mean sense of humour so much. It’s like you want to hug him and kick him in the shins at the same time. Steal all his booze, Dana, it’s for his own good.

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