The Highwayman Strikes

By François-Louis Gaillard

Originally posted at www.panhistoria.com in the now retired novel, Murder Most Royal, in the Tales of the King's Musketeers thread.


“Whssst!”

Gaillard signaled to his lieutenant, who was one of five men driving a large oxcart full of straw. Earlier they had blocked the road with several large tree branches that had fallen during the rainstorm. A light rain was falling now.

“Pierre! Prenez garde! They are coming!”

His lieutenant nodded and he and the other four gathered near the fallen branches and began to argue as to how to get rid of them. Gaillard smiled behind the scarf tied around the lower half of his face. He pulled his hat lower onto his forehead so only his glinting green eyes were visible. He looked around at the various hiding places where another dozen or so of his men lay in wait.

When the Queen’s progress was in sight, he leaned forward and whispered into his horses ear, calming the excited beast. “Soon, mon beau, soon.” He listened and watched as the first cadre of musketeers approached the ox cart.

“Ho, what is going on here?”

“These branches are blocking the road! We have been trying to remove them, but they are heavy. Jacques here thinks we should somehow use the oxen.”

The musketeer nodded. Gaillard recognized him as the musketeer he had talked to in the churchyard. “Good idea. We will help.”

The musketeers dismounted and set to work. Meanwhile, the Queen’s carriage rumbled up and stopped. The rear guard of musketeers came forward, distracted by the activity with the tree branches.

Gaillard gave a whistle that sounded like a songbird. Suddenly, a dozen armed men jumped out from the straw in the ox cart and took the musketeers by surprise. Gaillard spurred his horse forward and raced to the carriage, which was mostly unguarded now.

Upon reaching the carriage, he jumped off his horse and sprang to the door. He threw it open and looked inside.

“Bonjour, mesdames!” he greeted cheerfully. “Excusez-moi, one moment.” He fought off a musketeer, deftly disarming him and knocking him out cold. Then he returned to the carriage. “If you will be so kind as to remove your jewelry and put it in this kerchief.” With a leather gloved hand, he handed a black silk kerchief to the young woman nearest him. When she hesitated, he winked at her and smiled. Although she couldn’t see his mouth, the smile caused his eyes to wrinkle with mirth. She gasped and took the kerchief. “Ah, I will be right back.” He fought off yet another musketeer, much the same way as before. When he returned to the carriage, the kerchief was full. The young woman held it out gingerly, cupped in both hands.

With skill due to much practice, he scooped up the kerchief from her hands, grasped her arm and pulled her toward him. “I ask only one more thing of you, mademoiselle.”

“Oui?” the girl said breathlessly. The others in the carriage looked on, fascinated and horrified at the same time.

“A kiss.” He pulled down the scarf covering the lower half of his face, smiled, and then kissed her. She looked at him, shocked but not frightened. He pulled the scarf back up over his nose, shut the door, and ran to where his horse waited for him in the trees.

“Allons, les gars!” he called out from astride his horse. His men immediately changed tactics and ran for the forest, disappearing like rabbits.

Gaillard laughed, and then spurred his horse to follow them, leaving a very surprised corps of musketeers—and a carriage of flustered ladies—behind.

© 2005 François-Louis Gaillard