Jacqueline was weary the first time she met Queen Anne. She’d spent a night flying in a strange machine, she’d saved her brother and sent him away, and she’d made herself a brother in arms to three men she had never met before, one of whom held a secret that would kill her if he told it. For all she knew she was doing what she was meant to do, she wanted time to breathe before Captain Duval and D’Artagnan started with the training to make her a true musketeer.
Still, when the Queen called, even an untrained musketeer had to answer, and when Jacqueline returned to the barracks to find a summons to the palace with a royal seal, she squared her shoulders, cleared her throat to be sure of her voice, and reported to the receiving chamber she’d been ordered to. “Monsieur Laponte,” said her Majesty, acknowledging Jacqueline’s bow with a nod and a gesture to allow her to straighten. “I wished to introduce myself. I do try to know the faces of all the young recruits to the musketeers. They were something of a special project for my husband, you know, and my son is fond of them as well.”
“I’ll do my best to be worth their interest,” said Jacqueline, tripping over the phrase, hoping it was enough. Her mother had taught them manners, more than most country children ever learned, but no one ever expected that they would meet royalty someday.
“I’m sure you will.” Queen Anne sat back and smiled, as though something had pleased her. “Laponte, you say. All the musketeers must be of noble blood, and I confess I don’t recall meeting your parents.”
Jacqueline was warier, when D’Artagnan had already found her out so easily, and it was obvious the Queen knew something. Jacqueline wouldn’t betray her secret on an unspoken accusation, though; to do so would be no better than suicide. She chose her words carefully, until they could almost ring true. “My parents were simple country folk, your Majesty. They preferred that to the court.”
“I’m sure they did. Good day, Monsieur Laponte. I’ll be watching your career with great interest, I assure you.”
When Jacqueline left, it was with the strong feeling that she’d had a reprieve.
“I will have to send a letter to your niece, Captain—Mimou, is it? It’s important to thank France’s children when they acquit themselves well in her service.” Captain Duval, by his grateful stammering, was overwhelmed at the Queen’s words. Jacqueline didn’t keep her eyes on him for long, though, busy looking between the Queen, who’d stopped them to thank them personally, and Ramon, who was standing at attention but still seemed more subdued than Jacqueline had ever seen him. Thus she was surprised when Queen Anne addressed her next. “And well done to you, Monsieur Laponte, I hear that you and the girl alone were the ones who remained unenchanted by the sorceress.”
Jacqueline would rather that people stopped thinking about it, and honored her and her friends as a group. It was bad enough that Mimou had guessed her gender, not to mention that D’Artagnan already knew, so she kept her answer as vague as possible. “I think she wanted us to turn on each other.”
“No doubt she was hoping one of us would kill Jacques and that when unenchanted we others would kill the one that did it and then fall to fighting,” D’Artagnan said, joining in the conversation with one of his brightest smiles and getting the Queen’s attention away from her. “Mimou was really the heroine of the day, for preventing it.”
“Modesty becomes you, Monsieur Laponte.” Queen Anne gave her one last nod and turned her gaze back to Captain Duval. “You will have to tell me what words would do best for your niece, Captain. If you would stay back a moment, I would appreciate it. The rest of you are dismissed.”
Jacqueline left once again with the feeling that Queen Anne suspected something of her but was willing to let it be for a while to see what she would do. When D’Artagnan jerked his head at her as they walked away, she was willing to fall into step with him and fall behind the other two, where Siroc was offering a trip to the Café Nouveau and winning a wan smile from Ramon for it.
“We’ll have to be careful,” D’Artagnan cautioned her as they walked, keeping his voice low. “Queen Anne might begin to suspect something. She’s taken an interest in you.”
“I’m always careful,” she said, and then: “I don’t think I have anything to fear from her Majesty at the moment.”
D’Artagnan looked dubious, but Jacqueline remembered the Queen’s searching looks and easy dismissals and wondered if she ought to tell him that it was less a matter of suspicion or more whether she already knew and wasn’t telling.
Jacqueline wasn’t quite surprised when she met the Queen in a corridor the day after surrendering Charles into the care of the palace and her Majesty gestured that she ought to stop before she could make her bow and depart. “Your entry into the musketeers has been quite eventful, has it not, Monsieur Laponte?”
“No more than D’Artagnan’s, or those of any of my other friends, I would suppose, your Majesty.”
“I would have to take your word for that.” She paused. “It may please you to know that this King Charles has settled very well into the palace.” Jacqueline swallowed and tried not to duck her head. “My son is quite pleased with him. You know how it is, two young men—two young kings—together, talking of all manner of things.”
“I do, your Majesty. I’m glad the King has someone to talk to.”
Her Majesty waved a hand. “At least until Charles has mustered his forces to return to England. He cannot seem to be swayed from that course. Though perhaps he may have a few regrets—I had not known you have a sister, Monsieur Laponte. I must extend an invitation to the palace. The sister of one of our best new musketeers is not to be slighted.”
When Jacqueline swallowed again, it was due to worry rather than dim regret. She didn’t know how much Charles had said, and wasn’t willing to risk it. “She was only passing through, your Majesty. While your invitation would have been an honor, she is already on her way back to my family’s estate.”
“Of course. Just as well, I would think. It wouldn’t do for the poor girl to have her heart broken, after all.”
At the Queen’s raised eyebrow, Jacqueline struggled for an answer, and made it as truthful as she could. “I don’t think her heart is broken. Every girl may dream of a prince, but they are only dreams. There are other things that are more important to—to my sister, especially.”
“I am glad to hear it. Royal men, I am afraid to say, are known for their caprice in matters of the heart. It’s good to know this one has not done any permanent damage to the maidens of France.” Queen Anne smiled. “Do send my best to your sister, Monsieur Laponte. If you are any indication, she must be a formidable woman.”
“I will, your Majesty,” said Jacqueline, and finally took the opportunity to bow and be on her way.
The Invincible Sword
“You hit your head quite hard, I’m told,” Queen Anne mentioned a few days after Jacqueline threw the sword she still couldn’t help thinking of as No-Tongue into a lake where no one would find it. “When you attacked that ruffian, I mean. I hope you have been well looked after?”
Jacqueline nodded. “Siroc always looks us over when it isn’t bad enough to call a doctor, your Majesty, and he says I’m recovering well.” He looked as though he’d wondered if her throwing a good sword away might have something to do with her brief bout of unconsciousness, but he hadn’t mentioned it out loud, anyway. It was hard not to say something about Ramon’s recovery, but then—Ramon hadn’t had a recovery to make. For all she knew it was a dream, not even a vision, Jacqueline would not and could not dismiss it lightly.
“If you’re certain. I am always willing to send our physician to tend to my son’s musketeers, especially those who so recently saved his life.”
“It was nothing, your Majesty. Nothing any musketeer would not do.”
“And you are turning into one of our faithful musketeers, Monsieur Laponte. I swear a week doesn’t go by when you and your friends are not being lauded for noble deeds.”
“We do our best, for his Majesty and France.”
Queen Anne nodded, with one of her tiny, smug smiles. “You are a musketeer, after all. I’ll look forward to seeing what your next adventure is. There seem to be no shortage of them where you are concerned.”
Jacqueline bowed. “I can only hope to do what good I can.” It was what she clung to, even in the wake of seeing how easily such ideals could be twisted. The sword had not been magical, her friends and life had not been endangered, but she would watch herself better in the future.
“Of all people, I think you have least to worry about. You’re dismissed, Monsieur Laponte. Do take care of yourself.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.” The Queen couldn’t know what Jacqueline had seen, and it would sound foolish even if Jacqueline had a fit of madness and told her, but her easy dismissal of Jacqueline’s worries was a bolster.
If the dowager Queen of France believed in Jacqueline’s honor, she could do no less than live up to it.
To Heir is Human
Jacqueline went to Marcel Le Rue’s grave because, in the end, his family could not. She intended to go, say a few prayers for Marcel and his mother, and leave, but when she arrived there was already a figure standing over the grave.
The woman was wearing a cloak, hood up over her head, but Jacqueline recognized her anyway. She didn’t know what the Queen was doing there, other than perhaps to see her rival, but she didn’t dare interrupt her at the grave, and would have left if Queen Anne hadn’t turned around at the last moment. “Monsieur Laponte,” she said, not sounding surprised in the least.
“I apologize for interrupting, your Majesty. I’ll be on my—”
“Did you know the boy?”
Jacqueline paused and blinked. “No. I met … his wife. And his brother.”
Her smile was thin and bitter, not the usual serene expression or smirk that Jacqueline was used to seeing on the occasions when their paths crossed. “Yes, I suppose you must have. Captain Duval thought me harsh, I suppose, but in some ways women must be harsher than men.” She jerked her chin at Madame Le Rue’s grave. “She would have understood. We take what power we can. Sometimes we take it at the expense of those who have never harmed us. It was a useless display this time, though. I may as well let a family stay together.”
There wasn’t, Jacqueline knew, anything she could say that wouldn’t be overstepping bounds or betraying secrets, and she had no desire to do either. “His family must be glad to know he’s with his mother,” she said eventually.
“What, no opinion on the matter?”
“None that matters. It isn’t my business to have opinions on.”
Sometimes, it was as though Queen Anne was trying to see through people when she looked at them, right to their very souls. Perhaps, as she had said, another man might not notice it, but Jacqueline did. The Queen was more than she seemed, and more than Mazarin reckoned for. It was a warming thing to know, that perhaps more people were on their side than they thought. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Monsieur Laponte.” Her smile picked up, became something a little more like usual. “You are looking on our city with fresh eyes, after all, coming from the country as you do. It’s a valuable trait in a musketeer, seeing things that others cannot.”
“Thank you for your faith in me, your Majesty. It means a great deal.” Jacqueline stole a look at the grave. There would always be other nights to come back. “I’ll leave you in peace with your thoughts.”
“Thank you.” Just when Jacqueline thought she was safe from more uncomfortable conversation with the Queen, there was one last sally. “Looking for things others don’t see isn’t a trait exclusive to musketeers, Monsieur Laponte. You may wish to consider that.”
There was no answer she could make to that, or at least none aside from alarmed questions about her secrets and whether the Queen knew them. Jacqueline’s problems and secrets didn’t need to intrude on Queen Anne’s thoughts, though, so she left the graveyard and let her Majesty have her peace. She could always pay her respects to Marcel Le Rue another time.
Jacqueline was running, one last sprint through the palace after planting the seeds of Mazarin’s destruction and before she met D’Artagnan and they left the city. Even if her goal was reached, her family avenged and Mazarin’s evil about to be exposed with enough evidence that he couldn’t defend against it, it would still mean her death to stay. Even saving the King’s life and keeping Mazarin from making him into a puppet would not keep her from execution for daring to masquerade as a man and a musketeer for so long.
The warning bell was already ringing when there was a shout behind her. “Jacques Laponte!”
Jacqueline turned with her hand on her sword, only to find Queen Anne striding towards her, chin tilted high. “Your Majesty, I must—”
“I know what you must, Monsieur Laponte. Or should I say Mademoiselle Roget? The cardinal took great pleasure in telling us all about the viper in our nest.”
If it were for treason, or for any dishonor other than doing what she’d had to in order to avenge her family and protect France, Jacqueline might have apologized, or even offered herself up for justice. There was, however, work still to be done, even if it could not be done in the place she had come to call her home. Even if it must be done as an outlaw. “I’m sorry, your Majesty,” she said with as much sincerity as she could.
“I am terribly shocked by your behavior, of course.” Queen Anne took out a fan and began to wave it, a smirk growing on her face even as Jacqueline could hear the cardinal’s men coming in the distance. Perhaps even Captain Duval and her friends, who had so recently comforted her over her brother’s death but who now must hunt her down like an animal or find their own necks on the line. “I may even swoon, I’m afraid to say. Why, to think of such a criminal in our midst! A woman protecting my son, fighting our enemies … I cannot think of it without feeling a little faint. It may be many minutes before I can gather the strength to call for the guards, and by then I am afraid I will not be able to say what direction you went in.” She snapped her fan closed. “Do you understand me, Mademoiselle Roget?”
Jacqueline nodded, her heart in her throat. “I won’t forget this.”
“Nor will I. And, more to the point, nor will France. I wouldn’t say your work is done yet.”
There was nothing to do but bow, as deep and sincere as she could. “It won’t be as long as there’s breath in my body,” she promised, and began running again at the sound of feet too near.
Queen Anne’s voice was just loud enough to carry. “Isn’t that always the way of a musketeer?”
Jacqueline was already around the corner, but she was smiling.