. . . The lad turned his attention to the wet and disheveled musketeer. Thank God for small favors, and God’s small unexpected favors were welcome, this time. The man’s waterladened mantle proclaimed him a musketeer, and he possessed the demeanor of a true gentleman. Moreover, there was something about him that inspired more trust and more confidence than Christophe usually accorded anyone. “You need shelter for the night?” the lad inquired and Athos nodded. “And you are?”
“Athos,” the musketeer replied and sketched a bow. “In the service of his majesté, les mousquetaires de Louis XIII. . . .”
. . . Her soft leather boots, very similar to those musketeers wore, echoed off the cobblestones and blended in with the sounds of the busy port city. She darted around the corner and searched for her horse.
Stopping short, she pressed herself to the wall, flat. How had they found her so soon? Well, the horse was lost. Poor Rebelle, but there was nothing she could do for the faithful animal now. Those men obviously knew Rebelle was from the Marquis de Langeac’s estate. She took a fortifying breath and dashed back in the direction from which she had come.
At least she still had a hefty sum of money and one of her father’s basket hilts. Hopefully she wasn’t too out of practice with the sword, for she had a sinking feeling that she would have to be using it all too soon. . . .
. . . “Mon Dieu.” Laurel panted after sheathing her sword and leaning over to clutch her knees.
“Mon Dieu, indeed,” a voice interrupted her chaotic thoughts, calling her politely to account for her irreverance. “There is most certainly a God, and He seems to have looked favorably upon you today. However, I suggest that we do not linger here longer than necessary. . . .”
. . . “Mince alors, good grief, Christophe,” D’Artagnan said in a low voice, barely stopping himself from addressing the disguised woman as Laurel. “What are you doing here?”
“I cannot think that’s a conversation we want to be having in this room. It would be kind of hard to explain things to the satisfaction of all onlookers, now, wouldn’t it?”
Athos turned his attention to D’Artagnan and told him to go extract Porthos. After D’Artagnan had escaped from his chair and braved the crowd surrounding the large musketeer, Athos permitted himself a moment to take stock of the woman who called herself Laurel.
He’d be—she’d actually tracked them, and they never even noticed. Which could well mean they hadn’t eluded the cardinal’s Guard. Then again, the cardinal’s guards were rather inept. Laurel forestalled further action on Athos’ part by jumping to her feet and proceeding to inform him that since he was so reluctant, she would have to go retrieve Aramis herself. “Not to worry. I’ll be back for you,” she decreed and danced off to “rescue” Aramis.
Before he could stop her, she had inserted her body in the small space between the couple and forced Aramis’ attention to her. “Your friends have sent me to fetch you. It’s important, and I’m afraid it is a matter that must be discussed now and in private,” Laurel said, fending off the barmaid with ease, and unbeknownst to her, saving Aramis the problem of figuring out how to get rid of the girl.
“You are supposed to be in Paris under the protection of Monsieur de Treville,” Athos scolded Laurel almost as if she were a recalcitrant child, and his three companions looked on, disapproval plain in their stiff stances.
“I told you before that I am the only one who has the ability to contact my father, and that is a vital part of this mission. And,” she said raising her voice so that the men could not shut her out, patronizing sons of . . . “I did tell you that I had a great deal of experience in the field of espionage and that I would not be left behind. Nor will I be left behind again.”
“Please, Lady Laurel,” D’Artagnan broke in, “we would not have you destroy your life and reputation. We would not see you killed on a dangerous mission. Can you not go where it is safer?”
With those words Laurel lost her composure and ripped into the young man and his friends. “Perhaps all of you should let me be the judge of what is and what is not safe and proper for me. Who are you three to tell me that I am safer in Paris, near the cardinal whom both my father and I not only despise but also mistrust? Knowing that, you still have the gall to tell me what’s safe for me.” She paused to catch her breath, her eyes flashing in challenge. “I can quite well take care of myself, as well as any one of you. I am a very good rider and an excellent fencer, not to mention that you were able to lose the cardinal’s guard, but were unable to lose me.”
Porthos leaned over towards the man closest to his height and commented, “Nasty little temper there.” Aramis nodded. Almost as an afterthought the big man added, “Is she really any good at fencing?”