“Come on, come on.”
D’Artagnan was squinting into the fading light, muttering to himself as he watched the empty fort wall; flakes of crystalline snow were settling on the bridge of his nose, he blinked, and one melted on his eye lash.
Dusk was making it harder and harder to see, and his tired muscles were screaming for movement. He was lying flat on his stomach, braced on his forearms, the harquebus steadied and loaded in his hands, ready to dole out its shot of death.
D’Artagnan shifted slightly in the wet mulch. In his peripheral vision, he could just make out the shape of Aramis’ hat beside him, his own gun at the ready. He was posed like d’Artagnan, but the relaxed lines of his body seemed completely at ease.
Aramis turned his head slightly, smiling at the young Musketeer.
“Ready? It shouldn’t be too much longer.”
D’Artagnan nodded, trying not to show his nerves. They had to make their shots count; it was either a chance to free Porthos and Athos, or, a chance to miss, creating a tricky mess and condemning their brothers for another day.
He heard them before he saw them. Their approach was obvious in the silence; the snowfall had turned the forest glen into a muffled cathedral of trees; their dark green spires reaching up like coniferous statues into the grey sky.
From this distance, they were more shadow than men, but d’Artagnan would know those figures anywhere. Athos’ shaggy hair, the silver chain around his neck catching the light of the lantern that the captor held; the slim frame radiating resistance.
Behind Athos came Porthos’ heavier frame, and it was bowed, the broad silhouette of his shoulders was collapsed on the right side; some kind of injury.
D’Artagnan brushed aside internal worry; Athos was there, and Porthos was strong.
They shuffled along wearily, their hands tied in front of them, and a length of rope connected them at their feet.
D’Artagnan waited until the leader of the procession was in range. He was trying to remember the various pieces of his shooting training; a myriad of suggestions and advice competing for attention in his brain.
Mentally he began to run through instructions, but there was so much to remember, so much advice about positioning, and sightlines, and then he couldn’t quite recall what he had been told about the trigger: was he meant to pull it, or squeeze it?
His mind completely blanked: was there even a difference?
The pressure mounted as the grim lineup trudged past below them, and d’Artaganan tried to suppress his building panic: he was a decent shot, after all, it was just all the things he had to remember.
At a slight tapping of Aramis’ fingers’ in the leaves between them, the two Musketeers fired into the darkness, the gunfire whipping sharply into the silence, angry sparks hissing into the snow beside them.
Aramis’ bullet found its mark, and the guard at the end of the procession dropped like a weight.