“Sabine…” he breathed her name as he kissed her breasts, tracing a line down to her navel. She did not make a sound when he parted her thighs. She lies limply, staring at the rafters. When he penetrated her soft folds, he fancied he heard her moan and clench around him, just as she used to when they were newly-wedded.
In, out, in, out… No conversation was needed. She would not talk, lying there passive as he thrusts into that wet centre between her spread thighs.
It had been a miracle she had lived through that leap off the cliffs. He had not believed it possible when he saw her outside the inn, dressed in peasant rags and churning butter. The innkeeper and his wife, both kindly souls, explained that she had been found wandering the nearby beach in a ragged dress, injured and greatly confused. She had had no speech and no memory of who she was or how she came to be there. They figured her gentle-born and a foreigner. The kind souls gave her shelter and board for over a year in exchange for the few simple chores she could be taught to carry out.
Athos immediately announced her as his wife, thought lost at sea, and took her away to his castle, rewarding the hospitable folk. It was fortunate that the brand on her shoulder had been mistaken for a scar or birthmark of a different kind. Grimaud looked at him askew but held his own counsel. It was Sabine but not his Sabine. Some damage had been wrought and she would only stare vacantly at the world around her.
He had his wife set up in a tower room furnished with the very best he could afford. The servants were to tend to her every need. She asked for nothing. Fine dresses replaced her peasants’ wear and luxurious unguents and lotions to soften hands coarsened by hard labour. He dressed her in jewels, silks and furs. He combed out the tangles in her hair every morning after spending the night. He knew he would have to resign from the musketeers to care for Sabine and so he did to the puzzlement of his friends. He could never tell them why of course. He ceased his over-indulgence in drink and threw himself into his estate, ensuring that it would prosper for the sake of his son and wife.
In the day he would leave her in the care of her personal attendant, a mute matron. Athos needed to see to his estate and the education of his son Raoul. Raoul was not hers and he saw no need to involve him in her care in any way. With an aching heart, Athos knew that he would never acknowledge Raoul for his, not when he has a wife beside him who might be slighted. He barred Raoul from that wing of the castle. Raoul might wonder about the mysterious lady in the tower room but he was not going to risk a thrashing venturing where he should not. Only Grimaud need know the entire truth of the matter and Grimaud would not tell.
At night he visited her in the tower room and lain with her as a husband with his wife. Sabine was always a beauty and that aspect did not suffer despite her trials. However, where it had been lively and vibrant, it was now akin to the beauty of a pretty doll. Her attendant stated that she would sit by the window for hours on end, still and silent. Perhaps he clung to some faint hope Sabine would return to him completely. The body might remember the motions. He kissed her on lips which were unresponsive and caressed flesh cool to the touch. Only in the depths of her folds did he feel her warmth. Never once did she return his ardour even though she never fought his advances. Perhaps one day, Sabine would recover her wits.
Soon he recognized it as a lie. Each time he had lain with her, it felt like a part of him died. Each thrust, each caress and each sloppy kiss. He had tried to be gentle. He had tried to be rough and play the robber bridegroom like they used to play in the early days of their union. He had the bed covered with rose petals and took her amidst their sweet scent.
Perhaps he hoped for the conjugal act to spark her memories of happier times. Perhaps he was simply claiming her as her lawful husband. Or perhaps he was simply sating his lust. Athos knew that she was the only woman for him. He had tried to ease his loneliness with willing whores and wenches but each encounter only left him feeling hollow inside. Now that he is lying with Sabine, the nagging ache still persisted in his heart.
Aramis probed in his letters from Varennes. He had heard some whispers of a comtess returned at La Fere. Athos paid him no heed. D’Artagnan came sniffing once like the bloodhound he was and Athos showed him the door. His hot-headed friend swore that their friendship was over as he fled with the hounds nipping at his horse’s hooves. Sabine was his wife and his secret. Let the world think her dead. It was safer for her thus.
It was not surprising when his wife’s belly started to swell. A midwife known better for her discretion than skill was tasked to deliver the child, a healthy girl. Poor Sabine had suffered through the birthing although the midwife claimed she never once cried out. The childbed fever had her bedridden for days during which he neglected his duties to sit by her side. The ordeal damaged her womb such that the midwife warned the Comte that he must never expect another child of her. Yet he had returned to her bed.
The children grew up strong under Grimaud’s care, both his unacknowledged son and his daughter. He had no energies left to expand on the pair’s upbringing. When little Annette turned seven, he looked at her and was terrified by what he saw. Sabine was etched in every fibre of the little girl’s being. The way she laughed, the way she walked. She had her mother’s beauty. He had to pass her off as another foundling to conceal the truth of Sabine’s fate. The next morning he made arrangements to send her into a convent until she was old enough to be married off. Never once did he visit her although he paid generously for her upkeep.
The years flew by. Raoul ventured forth to seek his place in the world. One day he woke up next to his wife and saw in the cold harsh light how her beauty had faded. That morning, he left her dressing to her maid. Grim news had arrived from the convent. Annette had run away with a young man. Athos went back to the tower room where Sabine sat. For the first time in their second life together, he struck her in rage and she did not flinch. She only continued staring placidly into space even when her cheek was bruised with the print of Athos’ hand.
Athos returned to the solace of his wine that night.
Months flew by and spring came. Sabine caught a cold which did not lift. Within the week, she was dead of lung fever. Her widowed husband did not feel any grief, only a dry numbness of his soul. Perhaps she had died when she threw herself off that cliff so many years back and what he had been bedding in that tower was only her corpse. Now only drink was left to Athos. Grimaud, old and bent now with age, came running with news. He looked pale and ashen. Master Raoul and his wife were back, with their infant son. The pair had eloped and married and the bride wished to seek her guardian’s blessings for her child.
Athos’ heart seized up when the happy young family stepped into the room. Raoul, a dashing young man, was the splitting image of his father in his youth. His smiling wife stood with him, a mewling baby in her arms. It was no other than Annette and she looked exactly like his Sabine.