“Ah. I’ve heard of you. Your father speaks of you often,” Aile stared at me. He had the kind of face that stopped you in your tracks. I guess he must get used to that - the girls swooning all over him. My hate for the musketeers slowly faded when I looked into his calm brown eyes.
And then it fired back up as soon as my despise for the insects began to dwindle. How dare he make the words stick to my throat like flypaper? How dare he, the man who was about to murder my sister, even have the nerve to give me that overcompensating gaze with that grim smirk?
Yes, Aile Victomme was handsome. But on the inside, his heart wreaked of evil.
I hated to start fights, and the idea of speaking out in front of these people made me sick. However, no matter how scared I got, this was not right. And I would not stand for it.
“Oh, really? And what did he say?” I asked, dropping my dress to the ground. Its cloth landed in the mud, and I saw the other man in blue and silver, the one who had been holding me back, stare anxiously at me. I think I agreed with him; this could mean the end of both my reputation and my life. A lump formed in my throat.
“That your weakness is mercy. This woman was caught pi-”
“And this musketeer, gens de Paris, has been caught reigning terror on one of your citizens!” Mercy was not a weakness. Maybe a flaw of some sort; if a murderer were to have killed one of my servants, or my father, or my sisters, I wouldn’t have the heart to put him to death. Maybe jailed for life. But I could not make myself stop the heartbeat of another human being. It was hard enough to eat beef, pork, and chicken. Between my protesting death and my facing my death, I knew that some sort of bile was about to rise up from my throat.
As these thoughts sprinted through my head, I heard the people of Paris shout their agreements. Men and women alike threw up their hands. Those who normally stood in the shadows slipped into daylight, their pale faces lit by the sun as they protested.
“Let her go!”
“Vive le Château de Mistresses!”
“Would the Dauphin stand for this?”
“Now, tell me, musketeer. What makes you think it is proper decorum to hang a woman for a petty crime?”
“I may be a musketeer, sent to protect you,” Aile muttered, throwing his hat off into the crowd. Another man in the mob of people, one who looked just as painstakingly handsome as the one before him, caught it. It spun on his outstretched hand for a second before he spit on the ground in front of the peasants. “But that does not mean, M’Lady Corrine, that I won’t hesitate to inform your father of this incident.” The man who’d caught his hat stared at the back of my head. I instinctively fiddled with my curls and straightened my dress’s train. All at once, I spotted the four musketeers hiding out in the Jardin du Diable.
One dark haired man sat at the well, sword hidden in his tunic cleverly. Another, with only his hat identifying him as a musketeer in his peasant’s clothing. And then the one in front of me and the one behind me, both of which seemingly wanting to slap me across the face. I felt blush rise to my cheeks, the rest of me paling in comparision to my face.
“You wouldn’t dare tell her father. That girl on the ground is Colette Cadence Tripoli. And even though she has sunk as low as the rest of you, the Viscount Tripoli will have you shot for this!” A woman with a baby bundled against her chest screamed. Black hair, blue eyes, pale skin.
I immediately recognized her.
Caterinetta, my disgraced older sister, with Baby Advent wailing like a banshee, was leaning out the window, watching the whole scene.
“And who are you, Miss?” Each musketeer from their different positions looked up at Caterinetta. I could see the flash of their swords. They wouldn’t kill a woman with a baby, would they?
“Watch where you put those swords, gentlemen,” I muttered yanking the cuff of the musketeer’s tunic. He whirled around, glowering at me. His eyes reminded me of the old barn door on our country estate in Gascony; flecks of deep brown married with lighter hues, swirling into a vortex of soulfulness. Trying to ignore it, I continued, “You never know which royal has been disgraced in this life.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“So, what brings you here to the slums, my dear younger sister?” My evil musketeer bodyguards followed us through Paris. Caterinetta held Baby Advent’s head, shielding him from the rain that sprinkled over us like sugar into a bowl of oatmeal. We were nearing the market town of Meung. According to some maps, Meung was a bourg about an hour away from Paris by carriage if you didn’t meet obstacles on the road. But what most people don’t know is that the smaller part of Paris - the slums - had their own little Meung.
And it was not the market town that Parisians would have expected.
“Viscount Tripoli ordered all women out of Versailles,” one of the four musketeers answered, taking out a mirror from his pocket and checking over his hair. He had been the man in peasant’s clothes. He didn’t exactly travel light; from the thirty minutes that we had been walking through the cobblestone streets of Paris, he had taken out a bottle of ale, a flute, a comb, and a mirror. I was sure that if I gave him another hour, I would see more than I’d like to.
“And who exactly are you?” Colette asked, throwing her brown hair out of the way of her eyes. The anxiety that Colette felt all the time followed her around no matter where she hid. It sat below her smile, her green eyes, and every move she made. Even Baby Advent’s happiness couldn’t shield her from it for long.
Colette has always been this way. Looking over her shoulders at every moment of every day. My father’s moving her to the slums and then being caught by the musketeers only deepened her worry.
It made sense that she didn’t trust the men before us.
But our arrogant musketeer seemed quite offended about her not knowing who he was. Though he didn't show it. “J’mapelle Blaize, et tou?” My name is Blaize, and you?
“Ça ne vous concerne pas.” It is not your concern.
“And the rest of you?” I asked. Four pairs of eyes turned to examine me. Blaize’s stare was intentionally cold, his eyelids somehow lacking the ability to blink for minutes at a time. His eyes would rest on my shoulder, or my ankle, or my damp hair, and then hastily dart away. The others were a different story. Their gaze was analyzing, as though they were wondering why I, the daughter of a viscount, would ever want to know their names. Why me, even if I wasn’t a viscount’s daughter, would want to know them. They were the people who had been with my brother when he died, and I blamed them fully for it all. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t have the decency to know their names before having them given a scolding from my father.
“My name’s Juste. Juste de Batz,” Curly-Oil Hair sunk briefly to his knees, winking down at Caterinetta’s feet. She groaned in disgust, causing Baby Advent to gurgle. The musketeer who had been at the well almost belonged with the others. He wore the same blue tunic, with the same silver fleur de lis that was centered carefully in the middle of it. He was the only one to sport a gentle smile. But something about his eyes was criminal. Like inside of him, deep down, the flames of Hell burned strong.
With a feminine looking face, and a figure too curved to be a boy’s, I almost would have mistaken him for a girl gallivanting off in men’s clothing if it weren’t for his deep voice.
“Devereux, M’Lady Corrine. And those two -” he pointed his thin, long nailed fingers at the two men who had glared at me hatefully only a about forty minutes before. “-are the twins. Aile and Tennyson. Sons of Athos Victomme.”
"I know Aile quite well. Sub-head of the muskteers, and unlikely to be the main head as soon as I let my father hear of this," I muttered. The twins turned to me, almost in unison, and spat on the road. A gypsy woman, leading her caramel skinned children by the hand, jumped as she attempted to avoid the saliva. Giving them an ugly look and a filthy gesture, she hurried off, looking harassed. In her wake, she left dozens of gold coins.
I shook my head in disgust at their attitudes towards the poor. His glare sucked something out of me. I visibly exploded in anger before the twins even had time to utter a foul word. Even if they both had this job to protect the royals, they seemed to attack me even when they were silent. Their mannerisms brought the temperature down in my atmosphere every time they looked at me, always dusting some invisible bit of filth from their hands.
As though being near me put automatic dirt on their bodies and souls. Inerasable dirt. Colette noticed the look on my face and brushed her fingertips over my arm.
“I do hate to break up this meeting, Mr Juste, Devereux, Aile and Tennyson, but I simply must,” Caterinetta held out her arms, leaving Baby Advent hanging in the cloth around her neck. We all came to a stop, at the edge of Paris’s Meung. “Welcome to the Eagle’s Wing.”
And as I looked upon that old rickety building, the place that my sister called the Eagle’s Wing, I knew that something bad was going to happen.
I just didn’t know what.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The first thing that I heard when our voices ceased was the sound of dogs yelping and howling. I found myself struck senseless by terror. Although it only flowed through my veins and didn’t show on my face, I can say that everyone - even the twins - knew that something had happened.
A fear of mine has always been dogs. It doesn’t matter how big they are or what they look like. They could be a small ankle-biter, with the highest damage level being a small scratch on your toe, and I’ll be up against the wall, wondering if I will ever get out alive.
So when Caterinetta began to open the tarnished door of the Eagle’s Wing, I found myself slamming my body against it. I probably looked as wild as those zut dogs beyond the walls. But I was not willing to push my hair away from my eyes, or cease my heavy breathing. “Don’t open it! Please, PLEASE don’t open it!”
“What the hell is wrong with her?” Blaize apparently had an ‘impudent tongue’, as Roseria would’ve called it. I guess you cannot be both proper and self centered. But that was the least of my worries. The growling behind that door was harried, and I knew that those animals were just behind there, planning my death. Ceux terribles bêtes.
“Oh, non. I forgot.” Caterinetta’s mouth was an O. She didn’t even seem to notice Baby Advent’s chubby fists clawing at her hair.
“What did you forget?” Aile asked, his hand on his sword as he watched me. My eyes were crazy, burning. Every time I tried to block out the howls, it just seemed to get worse. The more I mulled the image of a dog in my head over, the more my brain became a spinning top, their yelps echoing in my ears.
Tennyson stepped forward, his hand reached out to open the door. It creaked open, and a wet nose shot out. Caterinetta lowered her arm in a strike, making Tennyson rip his arm away from the door.
"What is the matter with-"
"Fermer la bouche!"
Caterinetta’s fingers splayed out as she attempted to shut it again. But by then, I could see the glistening yellow teeth of a dog. My breathing sped up. Juste grabbed me by the shoulders, as though he was afraid that I’d either sprint away or faint if he didn’t get a grip on one of my limbs.
Colette looked at Aile. “The dogs.”
Caterinetta lost her grip on the door knob. “We forgot the dogs.”
And that’s when the nightmare began.