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The Musketeer of Elohim

By Lily Bleu All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Action

Blurb

The Musketeer of Elohim is a historical and literary fiction crossover set in France during the reign of the Sun King, where a young musketeer, Claude Defoe, mentored by the great D’Artagnan has been entrusted by him to help with a secret mission to stop the Jesuits from unleashing the dragonnades, a ferocious military group within the Order whose sole purpose is to ensure that the Order’s plan to cleanse France’s streets through mass conversion is fulfilled even if that would mean through violence and fear. Meanwhile, Defoe is haunted by a suppressed past, the guilt of his father’s death along with an unquenchable desire to prove himself worthy of D’Artagnan’s mentorship. Yet, having cut off the ties to his family and his faith in God, Defoe faces many challenges that force him to let go of his pride and acknowledge that some things cannot be done alone.

Chapter 1

‘A sovereign establishes a land by right-ruling, but one who receives bribes throws it down.’

Mishlě 29:4


The sun rose quickly sending last night’s spectres scurrying back to the nearest shade. Their hiding places now reside in the comfort of everyday spaces. As the sun reached its zenith, Versailles became a beacon of light once again.

The sun sharply reflected off two clashing rapiers. The sound of steel meeting steel rang in the two opponents’ ears after every collision. The elder of the two lifted his arms and dropped his blade above the younger.

He blocked the elder’s attack, his arms trembling upon impact.

The two fighters kept their rapiers in place and pushed their weights forward, both trying to move their blades closer to the other. The younger tried turning his grip, but felt himself grow weaker under the pressure of his far more experienced opponent.

The young musketeer tried pushing the two blades but only managed to keep them centimetres away from his face. His opponent, with cavalier hat cocked halfway over his eyes, pushed forward and placed more strain on the young musketeer’s already weakened muscles. Tiny droplets of sweat began to run down the youth’s face. His arms were numb, but he needed every bit of depleting strength he could muster to push the blades back to the centre. The rapiers shook between the two of them. The sun’s piercing rays bounced off the blades and into the eyes of the younger. Everything suddenly went black and blue.

He pulled away. The sharp sound of screeching steel hummed in their ears. The young musketeer stepped back and shut his eyes for a few seconds, but his opponent quickly came at him with a vicious lunge to the chest.

The young musketeer blocked the on-coming rapier in a half-blind state before stepping to the side. The blue dots in front of his face were gradually disappearing and much to his relief, he could see, before his impaired vision could cost him the duel.

At a safe distance, a group of young musketeers were watching the sparring match with meticulous eyes. Many of them had abandoned their duties and training to witness this rare battle of student against master. Those clad in white shirts and red hoses were still freshly glistening with sweat, having just paused their training, and a few others were standing beside them in standard black fleur de lis emblazoned doublets and feathered cavalier hats, the uniform of the Sun King’s musketeers. At the far end of the line, a mixed bunch of more musketeers were huddled together, placing wagers on the duel. The odds were greatly against the younger, but that went without saying. The chances of a high-ranked musketeer, perish the thought a junior musketeer, to win against the Capitaine were astronomically below possible.

‘Come on, Defoe,’ a musketeer shouted from the side. ‘You’re not going to allow this old man to beat you, are you?’

Defoe ignored their bellowing jeers and snickers and kept his focus on his opponent. He refused to be distracted. This was his moment.

He held his rapier with both hands; the tip of his blade pointing toward his opponent. The furrow in his brow deepened, his face glistening with concentration. He held his opponent’s gaze and kept his form, despite his legs trembling out of control. His black locks cascaded with profusion over his shoulders and covered his neck like a thick warm scarf. Sweat began to trickle down his shirt. Defoe’s breathing was heavy and his heart was pounding. It’s all in the mind, he recalled his Capitaine’s words from his first day of training. If you can conquer it in your mind, you can conquer it in reality. Defoe was surprised he remembered it. After four years of service, it amazed him how his basic training was still fresh in his mind.

Defoe took one deep breath and balanced his weight equally on his legs in en garde. He proved his endurance but he was not ignoring his screaming body and pushing himself for mere show. Perhaps the Capitaine would then stop treating him like a low-rank recruit. Defoe felt it was about time the Capitaine looked at him not as a boy or even an ordinary man, but as a musketeer.

The Capitaine stepped forward at a slow and casual pace, his navy tabard flapping at his sides as he circled Defoe like a bird of prey patiently eyeing his next meal. For a man in his sixties, the Capitaine moved with the quick and rapid pace of a man at the peak of his youth, and neither Defoe nor any of the musketeers watching were surprised to see that the Capitaine did not even break a sweat.

It was a huge honour to fight against the Capitaine, more so than it was to work under him. That didn’t matter to Defoe. There was no doubt, he was up against a fearsome opponent. The stories of the Capitaine were the stuff of legends and most musketeers would do anything to work as close to the Capitaine as Defoe did – even being given the nickname ’the Capitaine’s man’, was proof of that.

The Capitaine’s hat was still pulled over his eyes, shading them from the sun. All that remained visible was his famous half-smile—the right corner of his mouth slightly curled upwards— which mocked Defoe from below the brim of his hat.

Defoe’s heart pounded. His blood pumped with anxiety. He kept his form, remained still, and refused to take his eyes off the Capitaine. Defoe knew he was waiting for him to make a mistake, but Defoe smiled on the inside, knowing that this time would be different. He breathed in deeply.

‘Are you tired, Defoe?’ A musketeer jeered from the side.

Tais-toi!’ Defoe shouted, but in that second the Capitaine took his distraction as an opportunity and lunged at him with graceful rapidity.

Their blades clashed as Defoe swiftly swung around and blocked his attack. Defoe immediately slipped away, his blade screeching as the metal slid from the Capitaine’s.

The young musketeer knocked the old musketeer’s rapier in the process, leaving the Capitaine’s chest unprotected.

Defoe had to strike. Without giving it a second thought, Defoe went for him. He stepped forward in a deep lunge with his arm fully extended. The tip of his blade touched the Capitaine’s chest.

There was dead silence as Defoe breathed the smell of victory. It all went well in his mind, but Defoe did not expect what followed. When Defoe stepped forward to attempt his lunge he stumbled over a rock that lay hidden in the grass and fell to the ground, rapier flying to the side as he tumbled face first.

A roar of laughter followed. For a split second they all thought Defoe may have actually stood a chance against the Capitaine, perhaps even win, but the very thought of considering that possibility made them laugh even harder.

Unbelievable. Defoe had never felt so humiliated in his life. Although the grass had cushioned his fall, Defoe wished he had landed on a ton of bricks instead; this way the pain would have made him think less of the humiliation. He decided to just lay there in the hope everyone would forget about him and what they saw, but he knew with his peers that that would be too optimistic and that later tonight he would not hear the end of it. He would to have to relive the experience for the next couple of days— at least Defoe had hoped it would last only a couple of days.

Defoe rolled onto his back and made no effort to get back up on his feet. He ruined his chance, maybe his only chance, to prove to the Capitaine that he was ready and that he could go with him to Maastricht. Defoe thought it best he stay on the ground where he belonged, he was not prepared to face the world just yet. The bellow of laughter gradually died down and was replaced with tense silence, so conspicuous Defoe could almost feel it from where he was lay.

He heard the faint crunch of grass get louder. Suddenly, it was a lot quieter now than before and the air of tense anticipation, Defoe felt earlier, quickly changed to a slight uneasy sensation at the pit of his stomach. Defoe felt a presence beside him, a dark shade covered his face and the young musketeer opened his eyes to a sun-framed silhouette standing over him. Slightly bemused by the bright light, it took a while for Defoe to realise that the figure had his hand stretched out toward him. The figure then bent down and he saw the faintly visible Capitaine D’Artagnan offer him his hand.

Defoe took the Capitaine’s hand and found his feet. After lying in the sun for too long, everything around him went a shade of blue. He rubbed his eyes, regained his composure and hid his humiliation behind a mask of indifference.

D’Artagnan crossed to the side, where Defoe’s rapier had landed. He placed his foot directly under the blade and scooped it up, catching it in mid-air.

The musketeers silently watched in awe.

D’Artagnan studied the rapier before he flipped it, catching it by the blade and handed it over to Defoe.

‘Well played, Defoe,’ said the Capitaine before raising an eyebrow as he looked at the spot where Defoe had fell. ‘Despite that mishap, you did well.’ D’Artagnan turned to the rest of the musketeers. ‘Now, the point of this duel was to show you all how to act in a situation where you, a young inexperienced musketeer, face an opponent,’ he pointed to himself, ‘who is far more advanced not only in age —’ a couple of snickers came from the crowd of musketeers — ‘but in combat as well.’

The word inexperienced echoed in Defoe’s mind. He stared at his feet.

‘So, we all should fall flat on the ground and pray your opponent thinks you’re dead?’ one of the musketeers asked in a mocking tone where more laughter then followed.

‘Enough!’ D’Artagnan scolded.

The laughing immediately stopped. A long and uncomfortable silence followed as their smiles disappeared and the once amusing scene abruptly slipped from their minds in fear the Capitaine may scold their thoughts as he did their actions. They gave the Capitaine their full attention.

D’Artagnan’s serious demeanour and exceptionally intense countenance gave him that natural air of authority, a trait he eventually grew into from his boyish arrogance. Defoe remembered a conversation he had with D’Artagnan a few years ago about how his arrogance would often get him into trouble. If a fight broke out D’Artagnan always had to finish it, even if he had started it. D’Artagnan laughed at the amount of times his mouth would always get him into life-threatening situations – even meeting Athos, Porthos and Aramis had been one of those occasions.

‘The lessons I’d learned from those circumstances were invaluable, Claude.’ D’Artagnan had told him. ‘They were idiotic, mind you, but invaluable nonetheless.’

He’d told Defoe that he had no regrets, only he could have handled things a bit better. ‘You don’t want to be like me, Claude, and acting on impulse can only endanger those closest to you.’

Now an old man, the dangerous life he had lived was deeply etched on his face; the frowns of battle and smiles of victory were carefully carved onto his features. He had a hard face, once black hair now dominated by the silver streaks of age and harsh hazel eyes, which could force the truth out of any man who gazed upon them. He was a rare breed of musketeer and the last of his kind.

D’Artagnan glared at the musketeer who had made the previous half-wit comment and then turned away. ‘Petit, why don’t you and Rochelle come here and demonstrate, to all of us, what you have learned by watching Defoe and me?’

The musketeers murmured to one another as their eyes darted from the left to the right, from Petit to Rochelle. For a minute they all thought the Capitaine was jesting. Both musketeers eyed each other from where they were standing. Petit then looked at his musketeer companions with raised brow as if he had just been insulted, whereas Rochelle glanced at the Capitaine with eyes going white with panic.

Jean Rochelle was the first to step forward, although he feared he may regret it later. He was the scrawniest musketeer in the service with the same amount of body fat as a piece of string. His uniform hung from his body as if he was sinking in it, like a child wearing his father’s attire. Despite his weak appearance, Rochelle was quick and could shoot and reload a musket in a heartbeat. His sword skills were average and hand-to-hand combat wasn’t exactly on his list of his strengths. The Capitaine knew this well enough. He also knew that Benjamin Petit, a strong and towering giant of muscle, thrived in hand-to-hand combat and had impeccable sword skills. He was in his element, an unfair advantage by Rochelle’s standards. Yet, as the Capitaine ordered, Rochelle stood in front of the Capitaine with his back turned toward his musketeer peers, awaiting his opponent.

Rochelle turned to find Petit standing right behind him. He wasn’t startled; he could sense that towering gorilla’s air of intimidation from a mile away. They looked at each other. Petit began to snicker as Rochelle unsheathed his rapier, stood in front of him and shifted in an en garde position.

Petit flashed his teeth in amusement, already thinking to himself that this duel will be over very quickly. Like Rochelle, Petit stepped a couple of paces down the line and turned to face his opponent, with his rapier unsheathed, and in position.

D’Artagnan stepped away from them and stood beside Defoe, facing the duelling musketeers. Everyone looked at them more out of curiosity than eagerness. Two opposites up against each other, one with the clear upper hand and the other perhaps possessing some hidden talents they were unaware of.

Prêt.’ D’Artagnan shouted from the side.

Both Petit and Rochelle stayed in their en garde positions, their rapiers pointing toward each other waiting for the Capitaine to start the duel.

Allez!’

Petit struck first. Rochelle, acting on instinct, blocked Petit’s attack. Their blades clashed. The force was so strong Rochelle let go immediately and swung around trying to avoid Petit’s slicing blade.

The musketeers watched the duel intently, some waging a couple of livres against Rochelle. Yet, it was evident in the way Petit fought that he was fooling around, showing off more than putting any real effort into the duel. He lunged in slow motion, laughed most of the time, knocked Rochelle’s blade to and fro and tapped the musketeer on the shoulder with the tip of his rapier to entice him.

Petit then lunged at Rochelle, this time he was not playing, but the scrawny musketeer crossed in the opposite direction, avoiding his attack. The smile on Petit’s face suddenly disappeared. Now he was getting annoyed.

Rochelle trembled at the fury in Petit’s eyes when he turned around. Lucky for Rochelle, Petit’s over-sized body made him slow and a bit clumsy, giving Rochelle a little bit of an advantage as he attempted to tire him out.

That was it, Rochelle thought. It was exactly what the Capitaine was trying to tell them. When you are facing an opponent who may be stronger, even better, than you are, the best thing one could do is wait it out. And that is exactly what he was going to do, wait it out until he is given the perfect opportunity to strike. Rochelle then wondered if the Capitaine chose him for this demonstration because he knew he was paying attention to his duel with Defoe. Whatever the Capitaine’s reason was, Rochelle had to stick to the safest option: simply surviving.

Petit had to admit he was just fooling around at first, poking fun at the scrawny musketeer whom he knew stood no chance against him, but now he was getting aggravated. Rochelle had avoided every move Petit had made and it was starting to get embarrassing. He turned, with his rapier firmly grasped in his right hand, and launched another strike. Again, Rochelle moved away and he missed, almost staggering to the ground. He scowled at the snickers that came from his companions, too distracted to see the blade coming straight at him.

He blocked it immediately and glared at the small musketeer who had the audacity to strike at him, even if it was simply an attempt. Petit’s face went red and his blows became more ferocious with each passing minute. He couldn’t take this game any longer, he had to end it.

Sweat began to trickle down Rochelle’s neck and his wet shirt felt like ice against his back. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up. Petit was getting angrier and his blows were only getting stronger. He was stuck in vicious cycle, trying to avoid the inevitable.

One huge knock was all he needed to finally end this game of cat and mouse, but this mouse wasn’t making it easy for Petit. He countered every attack he made until eventually Petit just snapped.

‘ENOUGH! This child’s play ends now, you twig!’ His nostrils flared. There was no way he was going to lose this duel, especially to someone who was the same size of his rapier. He then went for Rochelle with all he had.

It was as if the beast was unleashed. All Rochelle could see was Petit’s blade coming at him from every angle. One blow after the other, Rochelle held his rapier close to his body and gave the every little bit of strength he had left to block the gorilla’s swiping fury. Rochelle was trapped. It was as if he was caught between a bear and its prey, every blow a reminder of who was dominant. His arms began to tremble after every brutal slice. The metallic clang rang in his ears and his face reddened from strain.

Rochelle started losing his concentration. He had to get out of this, but how? Petit seemed only to be getting stronger with every blow, and Rochelle’s rapier was only getting heavier as his arms were gradually dropping to the ground.

It was too painful to watch this duel any longer. Defoe couldn’t see a way out for Rochelle. Petit looked like someone who was busy chopping down a tree and Rochelle grew weaker as he was slowly being chipped away. Defoe admired Rochelle’s determination, despite how tired he was, and looked, he kept going. He was not the only one who had noticed, when he glanced at the musketeers beside him, Defoe found it difficult not to snicker because none of them even attempted to hide their astonishment. With a slight smile curving up at the edge of his mouth, he turned to face the duel, nothing had changed.

This insect wasn’t getting squashed. Petit’s face was red and his short brown beard caught bits of sweat like a string of pearls. His rage was gradually subsiding as his arms began to tire out along with his endurance. No, he thought. He refused to let this puny-excuse-of-a-musketeer get the better of him. This was no longer a matter of winning a casual duel, his reputation was at stake now. His muscles were tense and cramping, every hit became more difficult, but he knew that weakness is only in the mind. He wasn’t weak. Rochelle was getting more tired than he was. If he could hang on long enough to strike, it would be over, and he would win. One hard hit was all it took.

One hard hit was all it took, and Rochelle knew he was finished. But the pace of Petit’s strikes were slowing down and, like the light of hope streaming from the ajar door of opportunity, Rochelle had an idea.

Defoe wondered if D’Artagnan foresaw this. He, for one, did not. For a while the same routine went on: Petit delivered heavy blows from every angle and Rochelle did his best to block the attacks, making no effort in countering or striking at all. However, Defoe started noticing a change in Rochelle’s routine. He wasn’t just receiving blows anymore; he now used Petit’s consistency as a distraction against him. Petit’s strikes were slower now and more predictable. Although Rochelle was tired, he appeared to have some hidden strength still left in him. The scrawny musketeer started taking one step back after every forceful swipe that Petit delivered, but Petit was too caught up in the attack to notice that he was moving forward as Rochelle stepped back. Defoe couldn’t work out what Rochelle was planning to do.

It was working. All Rochelle had to do now was time it perfectly. For the past hour Petit came at him in the same pattern: the left, then the right, then the centre and then left, again. It was predictable now, and Rochelle had one chance to either end it successfully or lose dismally. When Petit came from the right, Rochelle immediately went to the left and pulled away from the trapped cycle he was in before. Petit nearly tripped in the process, but staggered to his feet trying to regain his balance. The giant was stunned at this sudden change and was slow to react whilst Rochelle took advantage of this confused state. He lifted his rapier with every last bit of strength he had left, and, as quickly as he could, he lunged at the over-sized musketeer stopping immediately when the tip of his rapier poked Petit’s back.

It was almost predetermined that Petit would win this duel. All those watching were too shocked to even utter a single word, let alone laugh at Petit for losing against someone almost half his size. They stared at their comrade who, more flabbergasted than anyone else, stood before them completely paralysed.

D’Artagnan broke the silence. ’Merci, messieurs.’ He stepped forward, ‘you’ve proven to me exactly what I was trying to show earlier.’ He addressed the rest of the musketeers now, and all eyes were on him. ’You see, messieurs, patience is the real key here. What you should have taken note of, from the first duel, is Defoe’s endurance and determination.’

Defoe looked at D’Artagnan with a confused furrow in his brow and some musketeers stared at one another with the same puzzled expression on their faces. They were all under the impression that Defoe had done nothing right in that duel.

D’Artagnan carried on speaking. ‘It isn’t a cowardice act to abstain from attacking your opponent. By simply waiting you can open many doors for yourselves.’ He paused, glancing at Defoe. ‘It was evident to Defoe, as well as to the rest of you, that he could not defeat his opponent that easily, even from the beginning the duel was predestined at a loss.’ He paused. ‘However, he did not allow that stop him from fighting.’

As D’Artagnan spoke he walked up and down with an exceptionally straight and noble posture. The young musketeers group were around the same age as Defoe, each in the early stages of what may be decades of loyal service to the Crown. They all had a lot more to learn and took to heart anything D’Artagnan could teach them.

D’Artagnan continued, ‘he carried on, played it out until I gave him an opportunity to strike — yes, he failed to execute his attack but he saw an opportunity, nonetheless, and he did not hesitate in taking it.’

Defoe’s heart sank the moment he heard the opportunity he took before was one D’Artagnan had merely created. He clenched his fists, he needed to do better. He was convinced that D’Artagnan was not impressed, and the disappointment ached deep in his chest. All he could hear from then on was the familiar voice echoing in his mind. Not good enough.

’What I want you to learn from this, messieurs, is the importance of observation.’ He paused, paced a couple of steps, and continued speaking. ‘Take the last duel for example,’ he gestured to Petit and Rochelle, ‘we saw a similar matter happen between Petit and Rochelle. Petit: a big, excellent fighting, strong-on-his-feet musketeer up against Rochelle: a small marksman who’s fighting skills are not nearly at the same level as his opponent. But,’ he raised his voice slightly, ‘despite Petit’s size and abilities, his arrogance and pride got the better of him.’ D’Artagnan caught Petit’s gaze and raised his eyebrows in warning not to be so foolish again. ‘As His Majesty’s guards, a musketeer should emanate the Crown,’ he added with emphasis,’ and deny himself and his vices.’ D’Artagnan picked up on the attentive stares he received from the musketeers and nodded, pleased that they were paying attention. ‘Now in Rochelle’s case, his size may be his greatest advantage,’ a slight half-smile appeared on the Capitaine’s face noting the confused glances he suddenly received. ‘One look at him and the odds were immediately against him.’

Some musketeers shifted uncomfortably. They didn’t think that D’Artagnan was paying attention to their gambling.

‘Rochelle, based on what we saw, thought he wouldn’t stand a chance either, hence he focused more on defence. But, as in battle, he made surviving his main priority. Petit allowed himself to be driven by his pride, which blinded him and then, later, turned against him. All Rochelle had to do, and did, was wait it out until the perfect opportunity rose for him.’

D’Artagnan pointed out many other flaws from both parties. He mentioned to the group despite how good Petit was, he allowed his pride, his vice, to thwart his abilities; despite the fact that Rochelle won the duel in the end, he took too much time because he undermined his own abilities from the start. Then he came to mention the first duel again, and Defoe immediately felt his stomach clench with embarrassment. He saw D’Artagnan look at him from the corner of his eye, but he kept his head down and just listened to him speak. He didn’t feel like acknowledging, adding to the disappointment, that he failed. D’Artagnan spoke again of Defoe’s fighting spirit, but all that Defoe heard was that echo of ’not good enough’ replay again in his mind. He agreed. You either had to be the best, or you were just as good as dead. He had to do better, after all, being a musketeer was all he had.

As D’Artagnan spoke, Defoe stared at him with a familiar sense of admiration. Suddenly, he was a young boy of twelve again, standing by the gates of Versailles, eyeing the army of musketeers that stood in the courtyard of the Château: a sea of black and red-feathered plumes, aligned in one straight line. Then D’Artagnan came trotting down the line on a snow white horse. A surge of excitement ran through Defoe’s body when he spotted the Capitaine. He watched D’Artagnan from a distance, fingers curled around the bars of the black gate trying to stick his head through the gaps, realising only then how close he actually was yet, at the same time, how incredibly far away he was, too. He rarely came to Versailles, almost never. Only when his father came to speak with clients of the court or to fetch supplies for his store would they venture out so far from Vézelay. To be one of the best blacksmiths in France can take you almost anywhere. Defoe often boasted the fact that his father created most of the weapons used by the King’s musketeers. As a child, Defoe felt he was the envy of every boy in his Vézelay because of it. His once childlike admiration for D’Artagnan had fluctuated over the years and his frustration with the Capitaine’s lack of approval slowly began to replace it.

When D’Artagnan had finished speaking he concluded with one last remark. ‘Vanity. Pride. Arrogance...’ he shook his head, ‘these are not the traits anyone should have, especially a musketeer. They are nothing but an unwanted force weakening a strong foundation – but never let anger guide you either, for a battle waged in anger is one destined for loss.’ He added, ‘don’t allow it to break you.’

With that being said, he dismissed the musketeers and they all returned to their training and duties. Defoe, likewise, was on his way back to his post when D’Artagnan asked him to remain where he was. Defoe did not protest but kept his composure despite the many curious glances he received from his peers.

If D’Artagnan was going to speak to him about his failed attempt to impress him or even his lack of improvement, he did not want to hear it. It was displeasing enough he had to face that humiliating duel, he did not want to hear a lecture about it too. Although, Defoe had hoped D’Artagnan would talk to him about Maastricht. Initially,

Maastricht had been conquered by the Spanish before it was taken by the Dutch in 1632 and the King deemed it was his right to take what belonged to him, since his wife, the Infanta, was heiress to the lands of her father, the Hapsburg King. According to His Majesty, France needed to reclaim what was rightfully hers and he had planned on extending the French borders to the Rhine.

The French army, known as the grey musketeers, had already set out for Maastricht but the King had demanded more men to better their chances of taking over the city.

However, Defoe could see earlier in D’Artagnan’s face that their group of young musketeers weren’t ready for a battle of that calibre. They were all far too inexperienced for it and today’s training only confirmed that fact. Despite this, there had been rumours amongst the musketeers that D’Artagnan was considering assigning Defoe to the siege with him. Defoe had hoped that was true, although he was not going to set his heart on a rumour.

‘Claude,’ D’Artagnan called Defoe just after he had finished speaking to one of the musketeers. D’Artagnan always called Defoe by his first name when they were alone, a habit he’d started after Defoe’s first year as a musketeer. ’Oui, Capitaine.’ Defoe walked toward him.

D’Artagnan straightened his hat, before looking impassively at Defoe with those piercing hazel eyes of his. Defoe recognised that stare anywhere: it was cold yet, at the same time, infuriated; the same stare a father would give when disciplining a son.

‘What happened out there, Claude? I thought you were better than that.’

Defoe averted D’Artagnan’s gaze ’I know, Capitaine,’ he paused. ‘You took me by surprise.’

‘Don’t go putting blame on your opponent, Claude,’ he said sternly. ‘That won’t save you in battle—’

’I tripped, Capitaine,’ Defoe interrupted. ‘It is not as if I did it deliberately.’

‘Be that as it may, why did you not get back up? What was the lying around all about?’ D’Artagnan frowned, the dint between his brows deepening, as he shook his head.

‘I’m not criticising you because you tripped, Claude.’ He said in a soother tone. ‘I’m criticising you because you stayed down and felt sorry for yourself. I thought you were better than that. I thought you would’ve at least gotten up to redeem yourself, regardless of what pulled you down.’

Defoe lowered his head. He was afraid of this. Nothing Defoe ever did seemed good enough for D’Artagnan who always expected better from him. It might have kept him on his toes and pushed him to do his best, but it didn’t matter if he improved, for D’Artagnan never noticed.

‘I don’t know who is worse,’ he said in a low voice, ‘you or Petit.’

Defoe kept a frown from appearing on his face. He felt slightly insulted at that, for how could D’Artagnan, in his right mind, compare him to Petit? It was like comparing apples to peaches, if peaches were large Neanderthals.

D’Artagnan carried on speaking as if he had read his mind. ‘You may be complete opposites, but you are two sides of one coin. Both of you allowed your ego and pride get between you and your opponent. And this isn’t the first time this has happened, Claude.’ D’Artagnan added after a slight pause.

Defoe kept his eyes fixed on the ground, recalling every training session he had ever had, afraid to admit even to himself that D’Artagnan was right. The worst of them all happened a couple of years ago, one Defoe could never forget. It was a basic training session and Defoe was doing well, until he missed a basic step which caused him his victory, similar to his last duel with the Capitaine. His opponent took the opportunity with a quick lunge and, with the tip of the rapier touching Defoe’s chest, he won. Completely humiliated Defoe acted on sheer impulse and he quickly pushed the blade away with his rapier, knocking it out of his opponent’s hand, slitting his throat in the process. Only when the blood came streaming out did Defoe realise what he had done.

Fortunately enough, the King’s physicians said that the wound hadn’t been that deep for it to have caused too much blood loss. Much to Defoe’s relief, the musketeer survived and since that day Defoe had tried to be more careful. However, his pride had gotten in the way many times before, and after. Only now did Defoe react differently, although not for the better. Despite his arrogance getting in the way from time to time, he couldn’t help but wonder why D’Artagnan was picking on him when his fighting abilities surpassed all his peers. Needless to say, Defoe was afraid of where this conversation was going, and he had a feeling it was leading up to one crucial point.

D’Artagnan didn’t give Defoe any time to respond. ‘As you are well aware of, Claude, some of our men are in Maastricht with our English allies, preparing for the siege. I, myself, will set out later tomorrow for Maastricht—but before I do, the King has assembled a meeting with a few officials which I must attend, right now.’ D’Artagnan said this quickly. ‘I know you were expecting to join me in Maastricht, but I am afraid I cannot allow you come with me.’

Defoe felt his heart drop to the pit of his stomach. He could not say he did not expect it, but he did not expect the disappointment to hit him so hard. ’Capitaine,’ he said under his breath.

But D’Artagnan interrupted his plea, ‘no, Claude.’ He said sternly, ‘don’t try and change my mind. I have made my decision.’ With that, he strode off with his final words still hanging in the air.

Defoe clenched his fists, trying to keep his composure. He wished he could just punch a wall right there and now. How could he have been so stupid? He’d ruined his chances of finally being taken seriously and even his chances at redemption. Again he heard the phrase echo in his head, not good enough. Defoe pressed his eyes shut for about a minute, anger was boiling inside him, and hand blistering as he tightly clenched his fingers around the hilt of his rapier. In the distance, about ten metres from where he was standing, Defoe spotted two musketeers beside a large target in front of the wall by the musketeers’ quarters. His eyes focused in on the target, muscles tightening, as he unsheathed his rapier, lifting it over his head. Your father would be so disappointed. And with one heavy pull, Defoe pushed all his fury into one strong force that catapulted his rapier to the sky. It spiralled swiftly, cutting through the air, in one straight and forward motion until it struck the target, right in the centre.

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