Happy Musketeer Day! It’s actually my birthday later this week, which means it’s a year since I started posting chapters of this epic banterfest. I guess the ’52 chapters’ thing gives that away, too. I totally meant to restrict my posting to 4 chapters a month instead of going entirely weekly, but apart from December (when I also posted the 7 part Joyeux novella) I couldn’t bring myself to slack off.
So 52 chapters in a year! Less than ten to go, I THINK – still have five to write and there’s a lot of plot and character to get through in that space. Thanks so much to everyone who has come on this ride with me, as a reader of my spaceships and sword serial – or as a supporter who plans to catch up at an end.
There’s a new Musketeer Media Monday essay up, this one about the first episode in the amazing and fabulawesome (if bonkers) K-Drama series of The Three Musketeers, which combines the original Dumas characters with the backdrop of Joseon dynasty Korean history. The horse acting deserves an Emmy, even Korean D’Artagnan has no hat (a reader had to point this out to me, I am ashamed I didn’t notice for myself) and the romantic entanglements are even more complicated than usual! Check out K-Drama Musketeers Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
If you’re not a Patreon supporter yet but you want the ebook when Musketeer Space winds up, there is still time to hop on board for as little as $1 a month ($2 if you want the essays too). Feed a book, and an author!
(oh and if the sudden focus on the villain’s POV for a couple of chapters is jarring to you, I want you to know that in Dumas’ original, this chapter was actually FIVE, one for each day of captivity. This one is, therefore, a model of restraint…)
PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE:
Milord Vaniel De Winter, AKA Auden D’Auteville, AKA Slate, AKA Winter, has been captured and imprisoned by his own sister-in-law, who is finally on to his criminal past thanks to a discreet call from the musketeer Athos. This is going to make it much harder – but not impossible – for Milord to assassinate the Duchess of Buckingham. No, the musketeers aren’t in this chapter either. Don’t blame me, blame Dumas.
NOW READ ON!
Chapter 52: Five Days of Captivity
Marshal Felton was a problem.
Milord had been imprisoned many times, and under many circumstances, but he was currently short on allies, and every guard on the island was aware that he had the ability to change his shape and his face.
His room, at the top of the tower, was locked and the once-promising windows had turned out to be sealed.
The glass would not break. Plexi-glass, of course, because even the New Aristocrats of Valour were willing to sacrifice history and traditional grandeur for security and convenience.
No, the only way Milord was getting out of here was with the help of a friend, and the only one with the clearance to make it happen was the flat-eyed, suspicious and thoroughly sulky woman that was in charge of security around here.
How to crack Marshal Felton? She appeared as dry and resistant as the grey rock that had been hewn into this isolated tower, on an island so far north that you could taste ice in the air.
But every soldier had their breaking point. She would crack, sooner or later.
On the first day of captivity, Milord did nothing but sit quietly and respond obediently to every order given. He did not try to scare Marshal Felton, or show her any face other than the one he had so carefully constructed for his identity as Vaniel De Winter, after losing his life as the younger and more cynical Auden d’Auteville.
Milord had won many hearts and opened many doors with this face. There was something about humanity and their susceptibility to a fine pair of cheekbones that he should really report back to his own people, sooner or later.
If cheekbones could be weaponised, conquering humans would be an easy task.
So Milord waited, and seethed, and composed himself outwardly while his inner heart burned with rage. Rage against D’Artagnan, against Olivier – no, Athos, it was Athos the musketeer who had brought him so low this time around. Olivier was as dead as the husband he had ruthlessly executed.
Finally, the security web on the door hummed in response to a code, and the door swirled open to reveal the implacable figure of Marshal Felton, holding a food tray.
Milord examined her through his sweeping eyelashes, considering the possibilities. “I really don’t think I can eat,” he whispered.
“No?” Felton banged the tray on the plain table in the corner. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I couldn’t begin to tell you.”
As Felton turned her back to leave the tower room once more, Milord made his move.
He slumped forward, and fell to the floor in a dead faint.
Unconsciousness was almost restful, except that he was angry even in sleep. Milord awoke, struggling through layers of tense, unhappy dreams to hear an argument happening over his head.
“What the hell kind of amateur are you?” demanded the dulcet tones of Vaniel’s sister-in-law. “Pretending to faint is literally the oldest trick in the book. I thought you were smarter than to fall for an actual slapstick routine.”
“He wasn’t pretending,” Felton said hotly. “The meditech confirmed that he was unconscious.”
“I told you no one was to enter this room except you and I, and it took him less than two minutes to compromise your instructions on the first day. What’s next? Am I going to find you braiding him an escape rope with your own hair? No more meditechs. No more unauthorised personnel. I shudder to think what he could have done with medical equipment.”
“There are rules on how to treat prisoners,” Felton replied. “I will not break those rules simply because…”
“He is not human,” Bee hissed. “He is not – he has betrayed everything about our race and our planet. You cannot treat him like some common or garden prisoner.”
“Spy, traitor, alien, whatever he is, we should treat him honourably,” said Felton, crossing her arms.
“Honourable is not the same as stupid,” said Bee. “Stop pretending, Vaniel, I know you’re awake.”
Milord opened his eyes and stretched lazily. He lay on the floor, with what felt like a bruise across the top of his face. He could induce his entire body into a legitimate faint, but to be convincing it had to be real. Hence the bruising. He ran his tongue over his lower lip and felt a soreness there, too. “What did I miss?”
“There will be no more pretending you are ill,” Bee said flatly. “We have been charged to keep you imprisoned until representatives from the Fleet come to collect you. It is the only way that the De Winter family will escape retribution for harbouring an alien spy.”
Milord winced, and rubbed his face. “When you say family, you don’t mean those cousins and hangers-on that you pretend to be polite to at parties, do you? You mean Morgan.”
Bee leaned in as if she were about to punch him. “Do not speak her name,” she snapped, and then stormed out of the cell. “Felton, if you disappoint me again, do not expect further employment by the government of Valour, or anywhere else in the Solar System.”
For the rest of the day, Felton brought every meal on a tray, and Milord said nothing.
But when he finally slept, his carefully-constructed face formed a soft smile.
On the second day of captivity, when Marshal Felton brought in the breakfast tray, Milord saw the star.
It was a tiny thing, tattooed on the inside of the wrist and all but concealed by the sweeping sleeve of the uniform. But it was enough.
The tray contained basic rations, a single glass of juice (only the supper tray included wine) and two Elemental bowls, one filled with earth and one with water.
“The Countess of Clarick insisted you have these,” Felton said quietly. “The prisoner’s charter requires you be provided with the basic tools of worship. I’m afraid she would not trust you with a flame…”
Milord shoved the tray away, so that the Elemental bowls knocked together, and nearly spilled. “She is mocking me,” he snapped. “She knows I do not share her religion.”
And there, a flicker of interest from the Marshal. A hairline crack in her armour. “Indeed? What religion do they follow, on your world?”
“Now you are mocking me, too,” Milord said angrily. “She calls me alien though she has no evidence but the lies of a man who wants to destroy me. I am as human as you are, Marshall Felton, and I follow the stars.”
Felton tilted her head to one side. “You belong to the Church of All?” There was a touch of sympathy in her eyes.
“Just one more thing that woman has taken from me. My wife is dead, and she would keep my daughter for herself. Let me never mention my own religion, or I might contaminate her!”
Felton’s face was unreadable again, but Milord knew, he knew that he had got to her.
“Did you know I have a daughter?” he asked in the gentlest possible tone. “I will never see her again. That is why I am here. Not war, not politics, not aliens. The Countess of Clarick has finally found a way to rid herself of her heir’s last surviving parent. I will never leave this tower alive.”
“You will be guarded and protected in accordance with the law,” said Felton, her chin set stubbornly.
Milord gave her a wistful, melancholy smile, and ate her breakfast. “I am sure you believe that, and I respect you for it.”
When Felton brought Milord lunch, and again when she brought supper, she interrupted the prisoner standing at the plexiglass windows, gazing at the bright blue sky and singing quietly of the cosmonauts who went to the stars, and the Church who kept them safe once they got there.
On the third day of captivity, Milord stayed quiet over breakfast, eyes lowered to the ground. It was a magnificent performance of humble melancholy.
He thought perhaps Felton was going to speak to him, but instead she pressed her mouth tightly closed and took the tray without a word.
It was Bee, and not Felton who brought the lunch tray.
“I heard you’ve switched religions,” she said cheerfully. “Was it your first spouse who put you on to the Church of All or is there some other husband or wife I don’t know about?”
It was tempting to snap back with sarcasm or violence, but Milord could not discount the possibility that Felton and the other guards were not watching the interchange.
“You are subtle in your interrogation methods,” he said calmly. Okay, maybe a small amount of sarcasm was warranted. “Why are you still here? Isn’t there a war to fight? I would have thought charging off to blast lasers at an imagined enemy is exactly your kind of sport.”
Bee gave him a frosty smile. “I have responsibilities here.”
“You know that I was sent on a mission of vital importance to the war effort,” Milord tried. “Her Eminence the Cardinal wished me to encourage the Duchess of Buckingham and New Aristocrats like her – New Aristocrats like you – to bring reinforcements to the battle zone of Truth Space. It’s brave of you to risk the wrath of the most powerful religious leader this Solar System has ever seen.”
Bee laughed at him. “You never stop, do you? I know who you are, Vaniel. And as for the Cardinal, I’m certain she has no more desire to be implicated in your crimes than I. No one is coming to rescue you. No powerful allies or sneaky secret agents are going to set you free. You are completely alone.”
“Ha,” said Milord, and gave her a wan smile. “You never said a truer thing, Bee. There’s no one coming for me, and I have no allies.”
I am alone. That’s what makes me dangerous.
Felton brought the supper tray. Once again she found the prisoner at the window, comforting himself with songs of the stars, and the early spacefarers.
“I can -” she said, and hesitated. “I have permission to bring you tools of worship. A book, perhaps?”
Milord turned his beautiful face up to her. “A knife,” he said bleakly. “If you would really help me, there is a small knife hidden in the hem of the jacket I wore when I was brought here. It has a sacred star pattern on the hilt. The Cardinal herself gave it to me as a gift. Bring me that.”
Felton laid the tray on the table and approached the prisoner as carefully as if she were a wild animal. “And what would you do with that knife, if I gave it to you?”
Milord allowed a tiny puff of a sigh to escape his lips. “I promise you, I will hurt no one but myself.”
That got to her. Felton shivered at the very thought of it. “You can’t think I’m going to let you commit suicide.”
“Why not? It’s what she wants.”
“Your – the Countess of Clarick wants to hand you over to the authorities of the Royal Fleet. Alive. She made that very clear.”
“Ah yes, the Royal Fleet. Not the Combined Fleet, and certainly not the Cardinal’s own. Telling, that.”
Felton’s eyebrows quirked, the first sign of humour in her face. “I have no love of Musketeers but you must know that they serve the Crown’s justice. They will be fair with you.”
“Oh yes,” Milord said hollowly. “Fair indeed. They shall be fair judges, fair juries and fair executioners all rolled into one – or rather, three. Do you know the three I mean?”
“Ha,” said Felton, rolling her eyes. “Yes, I think I have some idea, actually. I took a call from the Musketeer Aramis before I received my official orders to hunt you down. But while they might not be my favourite people, and in private life they barely have the morals of an alley cat between the three of them – I don’t think they would be a threat to an innocent man.”
“It depends on what you mean by innocent,” said Milord, and paused precisely so that Felton would encourage him to speak further. “Do you love the Cardinal, Marshal Felton? I believe you served her once.”
“I did,” said Felton. “And I do love her still. I left Paris for – personal reasons.”
“You know that the Musketeers have an unreasonable hatred for the Cardinal and everything she stands for. That is why I have ended up in this awful situation. The Duchess of Buckingham – you know of her?”
“I might have heard her name once or twice,” Felton said dryly. “She’s famous, you know.”
“She’s a monster. She seduced the Regent’s husband, months ago. And now – I can’t even speak of what she is doing now.” He stood, and stretched his legs. “I should eat, to keep up my strength. They will be here for me, soon enough.”
Felton waited with patience while Milord chewed methodically through the dull, rote-printed rations. Finally, she burst. “Of what do you accuse the Duchess?”
“I accuse nothing. It is not my place.” Milord gave her a wry look over one shoulder, letting his silver hair fall rakishly over one eye. “I am a secret agent, you know. I can’t give away all of my secrets.”
“But if the Cardinal is in danger…”
Marvellous how she had put the story together all on her own, with only a few steering hints from Milord himself. “Oh yes, grave danger. The Duchess of Buckingham has the Musketeers wrapped around her little finger. I don’t think they realise quite the extent of her evil, but their hatred of the Cardinal makes them blind. Buckingham is using them.”
Felton calmed herself down, stepped forward to take the tray. “I can’t – you know I can’t let you out. No matter what you say. You must wait and submit yourself to justice. If what you say is true…”
“There will be no trial,” said Milord, patting his mouth with a napkin. “I will be dead the moment that the Musketeers or their representatives arrive to take me. And by then, it will be far too late to save her Eminence.”
As Felton turned to leave, Milord caught her troubled gaze with his own. “You will never forgive yourself,” he said gently. “If I am right, and Buckingham’s conspiracy succeeds. But God will forgive you.”
On the fourth day of captivity, Felton brought Milord his knife.
“I can’t give it to you,” she said stumbling over her words. “I can’t – the Church of All does not condone suicide, and neither do I. But I thought – it has the sacred constellations engraved upon it, and I thought it might bring you some comfort to see it.”
Milord sat by the window, the model prisoner, hands folded submissively in his hands. “Perhaps I might hold it for a moment?” he asked. “You are a strong woman, I know you would stop me if I sought to do violence to myself. But – you are right. It has always brought me comfort.”
Felton hesitated for only a moment, then handed over the folded knife.
Milord squeezed it tightly to his chest, and traced the star engravings with his finger tips. “You are kinder than I deserve. I would not fear justice at all if you were the judge I were to face.”
“Would you like to pray?” Felton asked.
Milord gave her a sweet, melting smile. “I would be grateful for that.”
They held hands, and they prayed together for some time. When it was over, Milord handed the knife back to his jailer, and went to eat his breakfast.
Felton had not seen the tiny hidden compartment in the knife, nor the silver grain-like beads that Milord had poured secretly into his palm.
Now, at least, he had a plan.
He would not die here, on this rock.
“Shall I come again, to pray with you?” Felton asked.
Milord gazed at her, his face glowing warmly, as if he was the sun. “They’re watching us,” he said. “I worry about you. I think, once I am dead, they will think that I had too much opportunity to influence you. Why else would they let a single official have so much exposure to me, if not to have a scapegoat when I am dead?”
Felton’s face crumpled a little. “They’re not going to kill you,” she said. “We don’t execute prisoners, not on any planet in the Solar System.”
Milord gave him a crooked smile. “Why else do you think Buckingham wants them all to think I am an alien spy? Everyone knows that the only way to kill a “Sun-kissed” is to cut their head from their body.” He turned away, as if the expression on Felton’s face was painful to him. “Don’t pray with me again. I’m sure they’re watching. I don’t want you to suffer for sympathising with me.”
“I’ll come when they’re not watching,” Felton whispered.
Milord smiled at him. “Don’t. I’m not worth it.”
On the fifth day of captivity, the Countess of Clarick brought every meal to her brother-in-law, who refused to answer her questions, or respond to her taunts.
“You have been made a fool, Bee,” was all he said, as she left for the third time. “Buckingham is using us both – and the Musketeers too – for a plot that has nothing to do with this planet, or our family. When it is done, I will be dead and you will be left with blood on your hands and nothing else to show for it.”
“I knew you were poison when she married you,” Bee breathed.
“No,” said Milord, and the smile he gave her was very different to the one had had been using on MarshalFelton. “You didn’t. You always liked me. That’s why you’re so angry now. Don’t let them do this to our family.”
Bee hissed between her teeth, and banged his tray out of the room with her, leaving the wine glass behind.
It was later, nearly midnight, when Felton came.
Milord was ready for her.
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 “Seven Days of Joyeux,” a special Christmas prequel novella which was released in December 2014. My next funding milestone will unlock GORGEOUS COVER ART.