Summary: Once upon a time, Cardinal Richelieu was First Minister of France, d'Artagnan dreamed of becoming a Musketeer, and Amanda was known as Milady de Winter.
Challenge: Written for raine_wynd in the 2008 HLH exchange
Rating: PG for violence
Thanks to: To amanda_r, for a last minute beta in 3 formats.
Disclaimers: Davis/Panzer Productions claim that they own Amanda, and Alexandre Dumas got it all wrong in "The Three Musketeers." No harm, no foul, no money changing hands.
The four of them had polished off the last bottle of champagne some time ago. Amanda lay on the couch with her head in Duncan’s lap. He’d run his hand through her hair while telling them of the strange vision he’d experienced while under O’Rourke’s sword. Amanda recalled that Darius had been fascinated by such tales.
Joe lightened the mood from his place of honor in the armchair, giving Michelin-style reviews comparing the lodgings, food, and entertainment for the last three times he was taken prisoner. Amanda’s feet were bare, stylish shoes and shredded stockings long since abandoned.
“Your turn,” Methos said, thumbs pressing into the arch of her left foot with almost too pressure.
“Hmmm?” she asked, in that perfectly relaxed state that comes on the down slope of an adrenaline rush with a chaser of liquor, laughter, and tears.
“Your turn to tell a story,” Methos informed her.
“Oh.” Amanda yawned, tired but not ready for the night to be over. “All right. What sort of story do you want?”
“One about you,” Joe said immediately.
“I don’t know, Joe,” she teased. “I’m not sure if I want generations of impressionable young Watchers reading about –” Amanda paused for a moment, muscles tensing. Then she sat up on the couch with a fierce little smile. “Well, why not? I’m the only one left, and someone should get the story right. I won’t even change any names to protect the innocent.”
“There were innocents?” Methos asked skeptically.
Amanda turned her head and looked at him. He grinned and settled back against the arm of the couch, hands raised slightly in surrender.
Amanda stretched, positioning herself just so in the middle of the couch, and waited. Once the silence had the proper, attentive sound, she began.
“It all started as a favor for Rebecca,” Amanda said, her usual flat American accent slipping gradually towards an elegant lilt. “The times were troubled, here in France. We were beset in Flanders by the Spaniards, the Île de Ré was threatened by the English, and La Rochelle was in the hands of the Huguenots.” Amanda shot a glance at Joe. “You understand, yes?”
Joe nodded, intent. “Yes, all but … ‘Huguenots’?”
“The Protestants,” Amanda explained. Joe nodded once again, gesturing for her to continue. “Riots were a daily entertainment on the streets of Paris. Soldiers sworn to the Cardinal and the king battled each other to the death over a disrespectful glance or over-heard word, in clear defiance of the bans on dueling. A man might be dragged away to the Bastille in the middle of the night and executed a few days later, judged guilty of treason based on some stranger’s baseless accusation. The countryside was rife with suspicion and fear.”
“Rebecca had been playing the respected window for a number of years. But to pass on her estates to a female ‘heir’, in such times, would require a special dispensation from the Court. Luckily, I had an ally there. And he was in need of a favor.”
“It seems that a certain married woman had given an indiscreet token to her lover. Nothing exceptional, in those times. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered with a few diamond studs. But in this case, the woman was Queen Anne of France, and her lover was Lord Buckingham of England.”
Joe sat forward suddenly. Amanda tilted her head at him.
“This sounds familiar,” Joe said. Duncan nodded agreement.
Amanda’s lips thinned. “Does it,” she said flatly.
“No offense,” Joe said, hesitantly, “but you promised me a story about yourself, and I want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth. I mean, I’ve read Dumas in two languages, and –“
“Terrible swordfights,” Duncan interjected. Methos looked amused.
“In that case,” Amanda said, raising her voice over the both of them, “You know nothing at all about what really happened. Now, are you ready to listen?”
Duncan settled sheepishly back against the arm of the couch. Joe mumbled an apology.
“Right then.” Amanda patted her hair into place. “The Cardinal asked me to liberate two of the diamond studs from Lord Buckingham’s possession, as quickly and quietly as possible.”
“I drifted through the ball on a cloud of music, azure silk and admiring glances. In the palm of my gloved hand was a metallic button, sharpened to a razor edge. Three years ago, Buckingham had propositioned me while my husband Lord de Winter lay on his death bed. I approached Lord Buckingham, curtsied with a smile, eyes never leaving his face, and apologized for the harsh words we’d exchanged at that time. Soon my hand was on his arm. Buckingham might be willing to put two nations to the sword for a chance at Queen Anne’s favor, but he still appreciated the company of a beautiful woman. We danced, closer than was proper, his hand at the small of my back. Afterwards I shared a rough jest popular among sailors, and he laughed uproariously, shoulders shaking. The sharpened button in my hand neatly parted the fabric holding the diamond studs.”
“I slipped away with an excuse about the lateness of the evening and a glance that promised much, heart hammering an exultant beat, two diamond studs that could change the course of history clenched in my damp, silken fist.”
“Dangerous,” Methos said quietly.
Amanda took a breath, recalling the here and now. “Women,” Amanda said, raising her hand, palm up, and then dropping it back into her lap, “we were nothing more than birds to them. I couldn’t lay eggs, and I was quite done with being a caged songbird. So I paid for the freedom of the skies by accepting a man’s jesses, stooping for my quarry with precision, and returning to my master’s glove when he called.”
She sat silent and stone-faced for a moment. Joe cleared his throat.
“Times have changed,” he offered.
Amanda’s lips made a moue as she considered. “I suppose so,” she finally agreed. “But this was then.”
She shrugged. “The Cardinal sent me one thousand pistoles for the journey back to France, but the harbors were closed. They called it a preemptive move in the war, but I feared Buckingham had discovered that his love tokens now numbered ten rather than twelve. I offered bribes, tears – but not a single ship was sailing from England to France. After two days of this, I rode down the Thames estuary to Gravesend, where Corey had a very profitable smuggling business set-up. I spent the night on a pallet tucked between crates of valuables that French nobles were attempting to reclaim from England, rocked to sleep by the waves and the sea air. The next morning I was back in France. I delivered the studs to the Cardinal, but apparently some agent of the Queen, a young guardsman, had traveled to Buckingham and back ahead of me, for the Queen appeared in public with all twelve diamond studs on display.”
“The Cardinal, when he told me what had transpired, seemed torn between anger and admiration. He wanted to recruit the young man into his service, and instructed me to provide some … incentives.”
Amanda walked to the porthole and looked out at the lights of Paris. “The guardsman’s name,” she murmured, “was d'Artagnan.”
“What was he like?” Duncan asked.
“Oh,” she answered, turning around to face the room, “you would have liked him. The Gascons are the Scots of France, you know?” she said, with a wink. “D'Artagnan was very young. Romantic, recklessly brave, and terribly concerned with his honor.”
“It was easy enough to make his acquaintance – d’Artagnan had my brother-in-law, Lord de Winter, introduce us within days. There were other reasons, of course, ulterior motives for both of us, but I enjoyed his company. Flirtation and small talk can grow tiresome, eventually, but the touch of espionage added a delicious spice to it all. He turned out to be a surprisingly good liar.” Amanda laughed suddenly, eyes sparkling. “I’d been pursuing a certain Monsieur de Wardes for some time, and d’Artaganan suborned my maid to intercept my letters to him, and then pretended to be de Wardes just to get me into bed. It was rather flattering, actually,” she said, brushing a finger along her lips.
“I’m surprised you let him get away with that,” Methos said.
Amanda grinned. “Oh, I made him pay for it. Once d’Artagnan had tasted the fruit, he decided he wanted it in his own orchard. I pretended to be outraged when my maid delivered the forged letter in which de Wardes broke it off with me, and demanded that d’Artagnan duel de Wardes to avenge me. The look on his face,” she said, “was priceless.”
The smile slipped slowly from Amanda’s face. “We had a few very pleasant weeks together,” she said, “before things went awry.” Amanda walked briskly back to the couch and sat down between Duncan and Methos.
“D'Artagnan and I had just enjoyed a private meal at an inn just outside of Paris. The blanquette de veau was divine, and we were flushed from polishing off a bottle of Anjou between us. We were speeding home, his hand creeping up my skirts, when the carriage came to a sudden halt. I heard my driver call out, and then there was a shot.”
“A man shouted for d’Artagnan to come out. He sprang to the door, ignoring my plea to wait until we understood what was going on. ‘Four on one?’ I heard him say. ‘Won’t you be ashamed to fall with such odds in your favor? And in front of a lady, too!’ I heard the rattle as two swords met, and d’Artagnan laughed, fierce and joyous.”
“It was the laugh that did it, I think. I pulled my sword out of its sheath under the bench and moved to the carriage door. D’Artagnan was fencing with two men while two others were moving to flank him. One of them, a man with the nose of a drunkard, slipped past the door of my carriage without a glance. I took him out of the fight with a single thrust to the throat. He was choking on his own blood before he had a chance to cry out.”
“I emerged from the carriage, stood back-to-back with D’Artagnan, and saluted my next opponent, a slim lad in a guardsman’s uniform. I thought he might drop his sword, so astonished he looked as I stood en garde, but instead he lunged at me, awkward as a child with his first wooden sword. I pinked him twice in the chest, disarmed him, and then nearly tripped over my own dress as I advanced on him when he scrambled to recover his sword.”
Amanda gave him a cold look. “Fighting in full skirts is a perilous thing, as you’d know if you’d ever tried it.”
Joe sat forward and took a breath, as if to speak. Duncan shot him a pleading glance, and he subsided back into his seat.
“We’ll talk later, Joe,” Amanda said. “Now, the boy finally lost enough blood that he stayed down. D’Artagnan had taken care of one opponent and was slowly giving ground before the other. I was surprised to recognize him as de Vardes, another of the Cardinal’s agents.
“‘Have you degenerated to highway robbery?’ I taunted him, trying to give d’Artagnan an edge. De Vardes seemed to have the advantage of him. ‘I can’t believe that you failed to recognize my coach.’”
“‘You shouldn’t have been out with an enemy of the Cardinal’s,’ de Vardes said. ‘The roads aren’t safe for pretty young things.’”
“‘D’Artagnan,’ I purred, ‘Could you stop toying with him, and please kill the man for me?’ He grunted a reply.”
“The two men met and parted, met and parted again, but this time de Vardes was bleeding badly from a grievous thrust up under his ribs. He sat down heavily on the ground. ‘You’ve killed me, Milady,’ he said, staring up at me. ‘What sort of woman throws herself into battle? You must be a very special pet of the Cardinal’s indeed. What are you?’”
“The words seem to hang in the air. D’Artagnan offered de Vardes a sip from his flask, but he refused, and soon slipped away. D’Artagnan silently gestured me into the carriage, moved the bodies off to the side of the road, and drove me back to my townhouse.”
“My body was humming from the fight, and I looked forward to getting home with d’Artagnan and celebrating our victory. When we arrived, he didn’t say a word, just held onto my hand and pulled me up the stairs, down the hallway, into my bedroom. He slammed the door, shoved me down onto the bed. I thought he wanted a bout of rough love-making. Battle takes some men that way,” Amanda said with a ghost of a smile, “and I was certainly willing to play.”
“D’Artagnan ripped my dress, exposing my left shoulder and breast. And then he drew a dagger. I tried to pull away, but he was a big man, his weight pinning me down.”
“I asked what he was doing. He looked at me with eyes as cold as the north wind, and answered that he was testing a theory. He reached out and, with an artist’s precision, made a shallow cut along my shoulder. And then he waited.”
“It healed while he was watching?” Joe asked.
Amanda nodded curtly. “He’d been looking for it, but it still shocked him, I think. He jerked back, enough for me to throw him off. I grabbed a poker from the fireplace, screaming like a banshee, and went after him. He ran.”
Amanda tucked her feet up under her and leaned against Duncan. “By the time I’d pulled something on, to cover the blood, he’d already escaped from the house. And I ... I was terrified. He knew. He knew to look for my Quickening when he cut me. How did he know? What would he do, now that he knew my secret?”
“I made myself scarce for a few days, but there was no sign of d’Artagnan. I made some inquiries, and found that his regiment had joined the siege of La Rochelle. Suddenly I remembered de Vardes, waiting in ambush for d’Artagnan.”
“I had played chess with Cardinal Richelieu a handful of times. His favorite strategy involved ruthlessly hunting down and removing his opponent’s pieces from the board. It seemed that the Cardinal had tired of waiting for d’Artagnan to change sides. I might not need to worry about him for much longer.”
“Richelieu summoned me to meet him at an inn just outside of La Rochelle. And he told me, in the most indirect of terms, to arrange the assassination of Lord Buckingham.”
Duncan stiffened. Amanda shifted away from him. “I know what you’re going to say,” she said, staring down at her floor, “but it’s not as if I could turn him down. The Cardinal was infamous for not taking ‘no’ for an answer. So I asked for the most outrageous recompense I could think of, an open pardon. He sat down and wrote it out for me at that very moment. Once he left, I began pacing the room. The Cardinal’s demands and d’Artagnan’s threat to were too much, even to save Rebecca’s estate. I was right on the edge of throwing over and heading south to Persia.
“Then the door to my room banged open, and when I looked up, a man was pointing a pistol at my head. I recognized him. We’d been married, once.”
Amanda sat for a moment, biting her lip.
“I take it you didn’t part on good terms,” Joe offered.
“The Comte de la Fère? Sa mère était une salope,” Amanda said in an acidic sweet tone.
Joe coughed to hide his laugh at her language.
“When we first met I was visiting with Darius.” Amanda said rapidly. “Darius was spending the decade out of Paris, in a small Bayonne village. I was living in the village as his sister when the Count rode into town on a proud bay stallion.”
She smiled, distantly, at the memory. “He swept me off my feet. He was handsome, wealthy, a true nobleman. He didn’t even mind me fencing in his salle. I was happy with him for some years. Then, one day, we went out riding. My horse shied and threw me right into a tree. By the time I’d recovered my senses the Comte had pulled aside my bodice and was trying to treat the wound in my shoulder.”
Amanda sat, breathing in short little pants.
“He saw your Quickening?” Duncan asked gently.
Amanda nodded tightly.
“And he left you?”
Amanda bolted up from the couch and turned on him. “I thought you said you knew this story?” she snarled. “The Comte saw the wound in my shoulder heal itself, and before I could say a word, even try to explain, he punched me in the face. His ring broke my nose. My husband dragged me across the clearing by the hair, muttering about witches and Satan. He tied my hands behind my back and a noose around my neck. Then he threw the other end of the rope over a tree branch, tied it to the pommel of his saddle, and dragged me into the air by my neck, gasping and choking, until I was dead. Then he cut me down and left me to rot.”
Two points of color shone bright red in Amanda’s pale cheeks. “I’m just lucky he didn’t have enough of a conscience to try and give me a good Christian burial. When I revived, I managed to get word to Darius just before the Comte showed up with dogs, men and torches. I left for England that night.”
She spat on the floor. “And that was the man holding a pistol on me in that room. I hadn’t seen him for nine years. I thought he was dead. He was supposed to be dead. Then again, so was I. The Comte demanded that I hand over the letter the Cardinal had written me, the open pardon. It seems he was a good friend of d’Artagnan’s, and he thought I’d use it to take my revenge on the boy.”
Amanda spread her feet apart a bit, balanced as if heading into a fight. “I didn’t want to give it him. But I knew perfectly well that if I didn’t, he’d shoot me and rip the letter from my dead hands. I handed it over, inspecting him; enthralled by every tiny change the years had brought him. He threatened to drag me before the magistrates as an adulteress; to ship me to Spain to face the Inquisition. And then he walked out the door and left me there.”
“A few minutes earlier I’d been willing to give up my life as Lady de Winter. But I’d be damned before I would let that man take it from me. Not again. He and d’Artagnan were trying to protect the Duke of Buckingham, the queen? Well, they’d declared war on me. I’d not sought it out. But I wasn’t about to let them win.”
Amanda strode into the kitchen, pulled a glass from the cupboard, filled it with cold water from the tap, and drank it all down. Then she walked back towards them, calmer, and sank down onto the floor next to Joe’s arm chair. “You can take notes,” she said. “I don’t mind, and I’d rather not go through this twice.”
“No need,” Joe said, showing her the miniature tape recorder in his lap. “Standard Watcher gear, good for another ninety minutes before I have to change the tape.”
“Joe …” Duncan said, visibly upset.
“The lady said she wanted someone to get the story right,” Joe told him.
“That’s right,” Amanda agreed, nodding firmly. “Although it does make me wonder what else I might find in Joe’s pockets,” she said, half to herself. The she sat up, tailor-style.
“I set sail for France that night, but the very elements were against me. It took days to cross the Channel. As soon as my ship entered Portsmouth Harbor, we were greeted by a formidably armed cutter. A number of soldiers boarded. An English officer, rather than the harbormaster, demanded the ship’s cargo and passenger manifests from the captain. I did my best to appear harmless, just another English lady returning home on the tides of war.”
“The officer required me to accompany him to a hostelry across town that had been set aside for foreign nationals. I demurred, explaining that I was English, not French, but he insisted. He escorted me to a carriage, and joined me inside. The carriage sped out of town.”
“I asked where we were going. The officer shrugged. I worked myself into a state, even threatening to throw myself from the carriage, but he was unmoved. I felt the jaws of a trap closing on me, and examined my captor for any hint of my circumstances.”
“The officer was in his early twenties, dressed in a drab blue uniform without any regimental insignia. He watched me, alert for any attempt to escape, without ever once looking me in the eye. The carriage ride took over an hour, jolting over country roads. When we finally came to a stop I emerged to find an isolated castle by the sea.”
“The officer ‘invited’ me into my new quarters, a pleasantly furnished room with bars on the windows and a heavy wooden door that locked from the outside. I was left there for hours, with nothing to do but worry and listen to the pounding surf outside my window.”
“Finally my captor put in an appearance. It was my brother-in-law, Lord de Winter. He had some garbled tale from d’Artagnan or de la Fère, full of adultery, murder, and witchcraft. Most important, from his point of view, was the information that I’d already been married when I married his late brother. Therefore my marriage wasn’t valid; his brother’s estates and monies belonged to him. He flashed an order of exile and told me that Buckingham would sign it without qualm. I’d be aboard ship in a week, a penniless whore in the New World inside of three months.”
“I had to escape.”
“My only contacts with the outside world were with my gloating brother-in-law and the officer who had delivered me into captivity, Lieutenant Felton. Felton was a puzzle. Normally a man, when he sees me, takes a certain interest. But not Felton. I assumed, for a time, that his interest was in Lord de Winter. But there was no spark there, either.”
“I asked Lord de Winter for a book I might read, to pass the time. De Winter ordered Felton to bring me a Bible, and Felton dropped it in my lap as if it were an adder. The truth came to me, in a moment of golden inspiration. In a time where men considered peacock feathers a modest ornament to set off an outfit, Felton’s dress was plain to the point of austerity. He didn’t allow the men to curse or gamble on duty, didn’t attend mass, and his distaste for the Bible was clear. Lieutenant Felton was a Puritan.”
“I was familiar with the Puritans, of course. Gypsies, Jews, Puritans – any outcast group can provide a refuge if one knows their ways well enough to pass for one of them.”
Amanda shot a quick glance at Duncan. He nodded, letting her know he was fine. Methos seemed to be lost in memories of his own.
“I used what I knew,” Amanda said. “I lamented aloud that my brother, corrupt Catholic that he was, would so try to ensnare me.”
“From that moment I played the part of a virtuous young Puritan widow. I drew Felton in with simple Puritan hymns sung at night, brief hints at the wrongs I had suffered when he delivered my meals. I was a martyr for my faith, hounded by the sinful desires of Lord Buckingham and the greed of Lord de Winter. I begged him to provide me with a knife, so that I might end this persecution.”
“If he had, I might have risked it, too. I wasn’t sure how they treated corpses, but I’d no desire to end up as a convict in some rough frontier town across the sea.”
“One day de Winter announced that the time had come for my deportation. He’d sent Felton away, and there was no one left to save me. That night, a storm howled outside my window. Suddenly there was a tap at my window. Felton was hanging outside, suspended from a rope, his hair matted from the rain. He filed away at the bars and then carried me down the wall on his back.”
“We chartered a sloop to carry us to France, but Felton demanded that the captain put him ashore in Portsmouth. Lord de Winter had charged him with delivering the order for my transportation, and he intended to carry out those orders. There was a fanatic fire in his eyes, and I knew Felton sought Lord Buckingham’s death. The Puritans called Buckingham Satan for his libertine ways and their mistreatment at his hands. My tale had pushed him over the edge. Ironically, this was exactly the mission I had been sent to England to accomplish.”
“We put ashore and waited. One hour. Two, and the bells tolled the death of a great man. Three, and still Felton didn’t come. The captain set sail for France, as he’d been ordered.”
Amanda turned to Joe, up on her knees, and placed a hand on the arm of his chair. “I’m not proud of what happened with Felton,” she told him seriously. “My Chronicle needs to show that.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I’ll make sure, Amanda.” He squeezed her hand, and then let it go.
She swallowed and settled back on the floor to continue. “We reached France without incident. I sent a letter to the Cardinal telling His Grace the Duke of Buckingham would not be setting out for France, and that I would await him in the Carmelite convent in Bethune, as he had requested.”
“When I arrived at the convent, I carefully felt out the abbess and found that she was an anti-Cardinalist. So I portrayed myself as a victim of the Cardinal, taking refuge in the convent. She told me that there was another woman in the identical predicament. I met her, and once she opened up to me I found we had a common acquaintance. Constance Bonacieux was d’Artagnan’s mistress. The boy had been busy since he left the farm! She was a charming young woman, married to a toad of a man, her head so full of loyalty to the Queen and love for d’Artagnan that there wasn’t room for much else.”
“She prattled on about d’Artagnan over our needlework. A smiling novice brought us wine. It was a fine vintage. After we’d both had a fair bit to drink I felt a sudden, blinding headache just as Constance complained she wasn’t feeling well. I stood up, ran out the back gate of the convent garden, and managed to stagger as far as a nearby grove before collapsing.”
“When I revived some hours had passed. It seemed that the Cardinal had decided to put all of his troublesome female eggs in one basket and - drop the basket.”
I was through in France, but I needed my things. I slipped back into the convent and heard d’Artagnan’s voice echoing through the halls, filled with grief and rage. I could imagine my neck stretched across the executioner’s block, d’Artagnan and de la Fère watching with cold eyes from the crowd. I grabbed a bag of pistoles and a nun’s habit, quietly led a horse out from the stables, and rode for Persia.”
Amanda was pale except where she’d bitten her lips red. “I didn’t step foot in France for almost a hundred years. Rebecca was kind enough to meet me half-way, in Italy, and that’s where we ran into you, Duncan.” She stood up, walked across the room, and sat down on the couch next to him. “It was over two hundred years later that Dumas started publishing his story as a serial in Le Siècle. Darius brought it to my attention, and I wanted to smash the damned printing presses. He told me that it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, does it?” she asked Duncan.
“Of course it doesn’t,” he told her, reaching out to tilt her head for a long, gentle kiss.
“And no one will remember it in a thousand years?” she asked when it was over.
“Well, I might,” teased Methos.
Amanda made a gesture that was considered extremely rude in 16th century Bavaria. Methos grinned.
“You have to look on the bright side,” Joe said.
Amanda glanced at him questioningly.
“Sure, Milady’s got this reputation as a thief, an assassin, your basic seductive demoness. But she certainly made an impression. I mean, have you seen the movie? Faye Dunaway?” Joe let out a low wolf whistle.
Amanda brightened. “You say the sweetest things.”
“So,” Joe asked, pulling a second tape out of his pocket and deftly switching them over, “what happened in Persia?”
Amanda chuckled. “Now you’re just getting greedy, Joe. That is a tale for another night.”
And so it was.