Welcome back to Musketeer Space! This is the first chapter with a non-Dana POV scene, and there are going to be lots more of these from now on, as Dumas started changing things up quite a lot in the original, and I’m going to match chapter for chapter as much as I can.
Also, exciting! New characters are introduced here, my gender-swapped versions of King Louis and Queen Anne of Austria. Still quite a few weeks before any diamonds turn up, though.
This week, I sent out the first newsletter, The Pilot’s Slice, to all Patreon supporters of the $3 level or higher. These will be monthly. If you should have received one and didn’t, please let me know. The spaceship names have started rolling in, too, with at least one featured substantially in this chapter!
Finally, this is a red letter week because it’s the first time I’ve had to make a substantial retroactive change to a story detail so far – Treville is now ranked as an Amiral, not a Commander because I messed up her title before. And yes, the missing ‘d’ is intentional, because I like the French word better. In case you were wondering, our Musketeers remain ‘Captain’ as casual address, because they each have their own ships, but their actual rank is Captain-Lieutenant.
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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana learned an important lesson about not getting involved in random swordfights in bars when drunk. Well, no, possibly no one learned any lessons. But at least Athos agreed to get rid of his beard, because that was an accident waiting to happen.
Now Read On…
PART 7: A Royal Reception
Lalla-Louise Renard Royal, Regent of the Solar System, awoke in a haze of perfumed sheets and the musky scent of her husband.
Even with her thoughts already turning towards the business of the day, she always enjoyed the performance art that was the morning ritual of Prince Alek of Auster. It was really the only reason she had not suggested separate bedrooms after their first night together.
The prince was slim like a cigar, and he had an endless supply of suits which were every bit as beautiful as himself. Alek’s eyes were modified emerald this season, to match his shoulder-length emerald hair. A man built for jewel-tones, if ever there was one. She might have enjoyed the effect more if she didn’t know it was chosen to honour his TeamJoust colours.
This morning, Alek selected a suit of mint and silver, dressing himself slowly and with great deliberation. A long streak of metallic scales traced a line directly from his temple, down his neck and the side of his torso, over his bare hip and all the way down to the soft underpad of his foot. It was a common mutation for the inhabitants of the warm, desert climate of Auster.
“I hear they fuck dragons,” was a common slur, a drunken joke, and one that Lalla-Louise had steeled herself against when the betrothal was first mooted. But she liked her dragon man, and from the few times they had touched each other, she knew that his skin was soft where it was not scaled. As the metallic streak disappeared beneath layers of silk and cotton, she found herself even more fascinated by the phenomenon, peeking out as it did at his throat and ankle.
This morning, Lalla-Louise lifted herself on one elbow to watch the dressing process through lidded eyes. Oh, men. Why were they so much more attractive when their angular lines and curved muscles were covered in pretty things?
“I suppose you can’t come to the match today,” he said when he reached the cravat, his fingers hovering in the act of a careless knot as if he wondered whether to bother. More scales disappeared beneath that whisper of silk so that the silver flecks on the side of his face were all the more stark and surprising against his beige-gold skin.
Such a question was rare for him; she was as disinterested in the game he played as he was in her own work, and her favoured recreations.
Oh, how she longed for the Hunt. There were three opalescent ampoules awaiting her in her dressing table drawer, awaiting a moment of leisure. But there was never enough time.
“I’d adore to, dove,” Lalla-Louise said lightly. “But I have Amiral Treville to meet for morning chocolate. Some of our pilots have been misbehaving.”
Alek gave her a twist of a smile. “Oh, your marvellous Musketeers. Are they making you look bad again?”
He was sharp, her husband. She had not expected intelligence or wit from this planet-born New Aristocrat of the wrong religion, who only came alive when he was playing that ridiculous team sport in zero gravity, but Alek had proved to be a pleasant conversationalist with occasional moments of incisive commentary. Keeping her side of the contract was hardly a chore at all. If only Lalla-Louise enjoyed the embrace of his body as much as she liked looking at it, they might actually have a marriage to speak of.
Another eight years. It seemed like an eternity. Ten year contracts were rare these days, even among royalty, but Lalla-Louise and her advisors had wanted to make a statement to the solar system: that the Church of All was not the only source of moral stability. By the time this marriage contract ended, Lalla-Louise would be secure in her position, but Alek? She had no idea what he would do or want or need when their time as husband and wife was done. She barely knew those things about him now.
“You have hit the nail on the head, darling,” she said. “There are times when I seriously consider letting the Cardinal’s blades take over once and for all. Let the Musketeers disappear like the anachronism they are.”
Alek winced at that, she noticed. Hardly surprising. If the Cardinal gained more power than she already held, life would become much harder for those who followed the Elemental faith of the planet-dwellers. “Not really?” he said.
“No, not really.” Lalla-Louise rose naked and crossed the room. A quick bath was all she had time for, with Treville waiting. At least Treville wasn’t nearly the stickler for punctuality that the Cardinal was. “I do like to dream sometimes, of a life free from responsibility. Can you imagine how splendid it would be to have nothing to do all day?”
The bathroom door slid shut between them, and so if her husband replied to her tactless remark, she did not hear a word of what he said.
Lalla-Louise wore formal silks and a wrapped star-scarf over her sleek black hair when she greeted Amiral Treville in the breakfast room, less than an hour later. She preferred modesty when discussing the Musketeers for exactly the same reason that she chose scandalous outfits for discussing Church business with the Cardinal – she liked to keep them all on their toes.
Theirs was a fractured and fragile ecosystem. If either Amiral Treville or Cardinal Richlieu believed for a moment that the other had lost all credibility with her, she would be vulnerable. Lalla-Louise Renard Royal had been taught by experts since the age of five: if nothing else, she was a sleek weapon of the diplomatic arts.
“My dear Jeanne,” she said as the fearsome commander of the Musketeers stomped into the breakfast room in full uniform. “What a week you’ve been having! Sit down, please. I’d hate you to overdo it.”
“My job requires a steady state of overdoing everything,” Treville grunted, and then gave Lalla-Louise a wary look. “As does yours, of course, your Royal Highness.”
“Indeed,” said Lalla-Louise with a very small smile upon her lips. Her maids bustled around them in starched-perfect uniforms, presenting steaming cups of chocolate with cream and pastries.
Lalla-Louise knew for a fact that Treville detested sweets, but was always too polite to say otherwise. It made these breakfasts so much more entertaining. “My dear,” she said as she inhaled the fragrant spices from her cup. “What are we going to do about your poor broken Musketeers?”
Treville gave her a flinty look across the delicate breakfast table. “Who said anyone was broken, your Royal Highness? My gals are as robust as they ever were.”
“Ah yes,” said Lalla-Louise with a secret smile that suggested that wasn’t the ringing endorsement that Treville might have hoped. “But the current calamity is beyond the pale, you must agree. I spent simply hours placating the Cardinal last night. The poor darling has made herself quite ill with the strain of it all.”
Treville’s expression did not alter. “I had no idea that her Eminence was so frail. Perhaps she needs an ocean holiday to blow the cobwebs away.”
That was going too far. Lalla-Louise frowned. Witty side-stepping of the issues was expected at a meeting such as this one, but she was only prepared to allow a certain amount of wilful ignorance. “I don’t think her Eminence is the one falling down in her duty, Amiral. How does it reflect on me to have the Royal Fleet brawling in churchyards and bars?”
Treville leaned in, giving up all pretence at drinking her chocolate. “How am I to do my job when the Cardinal’s Sabres and the rest of the red guard are allowed to run rampant across Paris Satellite and beyond, claiming rights of jurisdiction where none exist, and picking fights with my pilots?”
“If only the Musketeers and not the Sabres had won the war against the Sun-kissed, the Cardinal should not feel so entitled now!” Lalla-Louise bit into a lemon-dusted croissant the size of a peach, allowing the powder to explode prettily across the tablecloth. “This nuisance behaviour helps no one.”
“I quite agree, your Royal Highness,” said Treville. She reached for what appeared to be the only unsweetened pastry on the plate, and chewed vigorously on it until she reached the gooey centre of plum jam and almond creme. After an almost imperceptible pause, she kept chewing as if the pastry had not horribly betrayed her.
Lalla-Louise licked lemon sugar off her lips and fingertips. “Tell me about the girl. The one who was taken into custody with your gallant troublemakers.”
Amiral Treville blinked. She did not look suspicious, but Lalla-Louise knew that it was best to proceed as if Treville was thinking the worst of her at all times. “Dana D’Artagnan. Daughter of one of my best pilots from your mother’s reign.”
“A new recruit?”
“Hardly,” Treville scoffed, then realised that Lalla-Louise was not joking. “Oh, no, your Royal Highness. Not with our recent budget cuts. I’d have liked to offer her something, though. The kid has guts, and a good flying record.”
“Perhaps her Eminence could use a new Sabre…” Lalla-Louise teased, knowing that this was a sore spot with Treville, that the Cardinal’s pilots had not been subject to the same degree of budget cuts. Then again, the Cardinal largely funded the Sabres herself, thanks to the ample finances of the Church of All. It was hardly the Regent’s fault.
“I am on your side, your Royal Highness,” Amiral Treville said sharply, out of nowhere. “You remember this, don’t you? My Musketeers serve the Crown first in all things.”
“Are you suggesting that the Cardinal and her Sabres are not equally loyal to me?” Lalla-Louise countered. She met Treville’s angry eyes and sighed. “Oh, my dear. You know how it is. The balance of power is a tricky thing, and we owe the Cardinal so much.”
“You don’t owe her your throne,” Treville snapped. After a far too long pause, she added, “Your Royal Highness.” The rebuke still stung.
“As I said in the beginning,” Lalla-Louise said, dropping the game. “Let us see what can be done. Captains Athos, Aramis and Porthos have been released from the Cardinal’s custody and returned to their quarters. No charges are to be laid this time, given the faults on both sides for the – ruckus.”
Amiral Treville’s eyebrows rose almost completely up into her closely-shaven scalp. She had come prepared for a greater fight than this. “I had no word of this.”
“The matter was handled about thirty seconds after you entered this room,” said Lalla-Louise. “Keeping them overnight has been enough to assuage her Eminence’s outrage… for now.”
“But let us speak of the young Gascon. I believe she felled five red guards in the fight at the Abbey.”
“Five and a half, according to my reports,” said Treville.
“That suggests that she is very loyal indeed, to the Crown,” said Lalla-Louise. “She had only just met these Musketeers, and yet was prepared to fight against impossible odds to defend their honour. I like that.”
Treville’s mouth twitched as if she had almost thought about smiling. “I like that too,” she admitted. “A year ago, I’d have put her in the blue and white already.”
“Is it true that she fought Captain Jussac to a standstill, and wounded her in the arm?”
“After the Cardinal’s favourite knocked Athos unconscious with a wine bottle,” Treville confirmed.
Lalla-Louise sighed. She would rather have liked to see that. She had been at school with Claudine Jussac, and found her a most irritating creature. “I think we’re going to need to start putting security cameras inside the bars, Amiral.”
“As you say, your Royal Highness.”
From the look of her face, Treville thought she had won. But Lalla-Louise had a card she had not yet played. “I think I would like to meet these Musketeers, Amiral. And their new friend also. Arrange it, if you please.”
Dana had no idea why she was doing this. She had worked for so long to reach Paris Satellite, and after a single night spent in the custody cells of the red guard, she was leaving Paris already.
Groundfall had never agreed with her. Even the joy of being allowed to ride pinion in Porthos’ simply beautiful Musket-class dart, The Hoyden, was not enough to compensate for Dana’s alarm she felt at descending towards the moon.
Paris Satellite had been in her head for years, and Dana had not once thought about how near that would bring her to Luna Palais, the Royal Moon of Honour.
The Hoyden was several generations newer than Dana’s old dart (which she would never now think of anything but “Buttercup”), but that didn’t make it new. The midnight blue paint job was less than pristine, and there were several meteor dents along the outer frame. Like all Musketeer ships, there was an elaborate and artistic tattoo splashed over the tail-fin – most of these were monochrome, but The Hoyden’s tail was decorated with a multi-coloured mural of a spiral galaxy.
Inside, the surfaces were gleaming and bright, better tended than any ship Dana had seen before. She could not help thinking of the heavily studded belt that Porthos had been showing off when they first collided with each other. Was it professional pride or personal vanity that led her to keep her ship in such good condition?
She shouldn’t judge, though. When Dana saw the scratches and battered interior of Athos’ dart, the positively antique Parry-Riposte, she had been a bit relieved that Porthos extended the invitation first.
“Here we go, pet.” Porthos leaned over her controls with a fierce grin, guiding the dart down towards the moon as if it was nothing to her. The helm covered her shaven head neatly, with cables webbing out from it in all directions.
It was all Dana could do not to drag the helm off Porthos, and take the ship for herself. Being a passenger made her knuckles tight, and her heart beat too fast.
As they fell into the final descent and the landing gear flicked out, Dana felt the moon’s gravity kick her hard in the spine. She knew in reality that this was nothing – the actual gravity of the moon was going to have far less wear and tear on her body than the grav on any given space station.
And yet, and yet, this was real. Dirtside. Dana could count on the fingers of one hand how often she had set foot on a moon or planet. There was a wrongness about solid ground that she could never quite get over.
Put me back in space where I belong.
Porthos let her breath out in a long, satisfied hiss as she completed the docking procedure, and the dart finally stilled. She plucked the various cables out of her head with a swish, and removed the helm. “Don’t worry, peanut. Once we’re under the dome, the air will be just as fake as anything else you’re used to breathing.”
Dana scowled. “I’m fine.”
“You can let go of the seat now,” the older pilot smirked. “Don’t fret yourself. It’s only the Regent. She’s a doll. Well, most of the time.”
“Only the Regent!” Dana was wearing her best flight suit, but she felt shabby for such fancy company. “Do you think she’s going to arrest us?”
“It’s hard to tell with her Royal Highness. Could be a right telling off or a big wet snog.” Porthos shrugged, stretching her arms and legs as she eased out of her own seat. “She pretends she doesn’t approve of our bad behaviour, but secretly she’s all over it. She’d be duelling herself if the protectors would let her out more often. Still, she’s unpredictable. It depends who has annoyed her more, recently: Treville, or the Cardinal.”
“Wonderful,” Dana groaned. Still, part of her was wondering – secretly hoping – that maybe the Regent could overturn Treville’s decision.
Maybe Dana D’Artagnan was going to get to be a Musketeer after all.
Lalla-Louise had been working all morning, appointment after meeting after public appearance, and she was worn thin. When she retired to her rooms for a late lunch, she did not eat a bite, but instead stretched out on the large perfumed bed, emptied an ampoule of nexus under her tongue, and plugged The Hunt directly into the port in the back of her neck.
The forest of Valour embraced her, dark and delicious, and she ran so fast she nearly flew. She could smell her prey nearby, a blend of fear and alien pheromones. Her bow flew into her hand as she tracked him, step by step, scent by scent.
Nothing could compare to this. Not her beautiful husband with his silk suits and muscles, not the thrill of politics, not food, not sex.
There was only this.
An hour later, the alarm wrenched her out of the game, sweating and shuddering at the return to reality. She used to let a servant awake her, but her reflexes were too violent when she was fresh from the Hunt, and it was so inconvenient to wash blood from her knuckles before going to her afternoon meetings.
She had not eaten, but that hardly signified.
If Lalla-Louise had only been able to stay inside another fifteen minutes, she was sure she would have destroyed the beast once and for all. It was infuriating.
On the other hand, she had already been running late for her appointment with Amiral Treville and the Musketeers when she first went under, so at least she wouldn’t be the only one who was annoyed.
Lalla-Louise rose and tidied her hair away again, beneath the rich blue star-scarf. Walking at an unhurried pace, she made her way along the long balcony that led to the Crown Gallery.
She could hear a slash and twang of metal against metal, and halted at the very edge of the balcony so she could observe without being seen.
They had obviously given up on her ever arriving. Other subjects might have stood to attention even into the second hour, but Treville and the Musketeers had always had a touch of irreverence about them, and this was not the first time their Regent had kept them waiting.
Athos and the others had dropped their formal jackets on the polished floor, and were giving their new friend a sword lesson.
Dana D’Artagnan, if this was she, was a lithe young woman with deep brown skin and a pilot’s buzz cut. She concentrated, frowning as Porthos demonstrated a move on Aramis. Athos leaned in and corrected Dana’s grip on the pilot’s slice, and then her stance.
Treville, watching them from the sidelines, glanced up and saw the Regent. Lalla-Louise lay a silencing finger against her own lips, and Treville nodded reluctantly.
The sword lesson continued. The three of them made surprisingly good tutors, and the young newcomer had grit. Every mistake only made her more determined to work harder.
Lalla-Louise had never understood what it was that drove people to be pilots. The thought of flying through the cold of space, bound to your ship with implants and cables, had nothing like the appeal of taking game drugs in her own bedchamber.
But this – the clash of metal on metal, the elegance of duelling your way past another person with a sword. The Regent could understand why it was that her pilots never stopped fighting each other.
She cleared her throat, to let them know of her presence, and descended the stairs. By the time she reached the polished floor below, they had all scuttled back into their formal jackets, and were standing at attention with the blades nowhere in sight.
“Your Royal Highness,” said Treville, clearing her own throat. “Can I introduce you to…”
But Lalla-Louise was already standing in front of the new recruit. “D’Artagnan,” she said in her most musical, seductive voice. “I’m always glad to meet young people who are eager to serve the Crown.”
D’Artagnan met her gaze with a wary deference that Lalla-Louise was used to seeing in the faces of her subjects. “Your Royal Highness,” she said. “There is nothing I want more.”
“Good.” Lalla-Louise smiled, and clapped her hands. “Commandant Essart, I think, is looking for new blood in the mecha squad. It will be an excellent training ground for you. And perhaps one day…”
She let the words trail off, pretending not to enjoy the look of crushing disappointment on D’Artagnan’s face. Someone as young and energetic as this girl needed to learn that your dream did not simply fall into your lap because you had friends in high places.
“Perhaps one day, the Musketeers,” the Regent said finally. “But not quite yet, I think.”
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, visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. My next funding milestone ($200 a month) will unlock a special Christmas story.