Three days and three nights d’Artagnan knelt in vigil by Mme Bonacieux’s side, her small cold hand in his. She lay so white and still that she seemed dead, and only the occasional shuddering breath showed that she was not.
But by the end of the third day, d’Artagnan’s hope was fading with the sun. If Mme Bonacieux did not waken soon, or at least unclench her locked jaw enough to drink, she would die of Milady’s poison after all.
“Constance,” d’Artagnan said softly, his voice rasping in his dry throat. He lifted her limp hand yet again to his cracked lips. “Constance, please…” And he lowered his head to press his forehead to the cool back of her hand.
When he lifted his head again, the sun had faded entirely, and a single guttering candle lit the room. He turned toward the source of light, and saw Aramis standing there, dressed all in black like the cleric he wished to be.
“D’Artagnan,” Aramis said softly. “You must come away.”
“I will not,” d’Artagnan retorted. His knees aches and his eyes burned and his head throbbed from his long vigil, but he would remain by her side – till she died… And at that thought, his breath caught in his throat. “Aramis, she is not – ”
“No,” Aramis said, and stepped swiftly forward, placing a hand on d’Artagnan’s shoulder. “But still you must come away for a moment, d’Artagnan.”
D’Artagnan tried to shrug him off. “Still I will not! If the lady lying here where your – your seamstress from Tours, Aramis, would you leave her?”
“My seamstress from Tours,” Aramis interrupted, “has arranged a visitor, who may be Mme Bonacieux’s only hope. But no one must see her here. You must come away, I say.”
“No,” said d’Artagnan, stubborn, and all but addled by three sleepless nights.
Aramis sighed. He made a little movement with his hand, and Porthos swept into the room, and lifted d’Artagnan from the floor as easily as one might lift a child.
“Put me down – ” But d’Artagnan had grown so weak in his vigil that he could barely struggle. His attempts slowed Porthos only enough that d’Artagnan caught a glimpse of a woman entering the room, all shrouded in her veils.
He would have cried out, because her grace and regal bearing reminded him cruelly of Milady. His fellow musketeers had assured him that they had chased her to her death; but had not Athos believed that he had killed Milady once before, only for her to rise from the dead? Could she not have arisen one more time and killed Athos, who sat vigil by her corpse to ensure that this time she was truly dead?
The shrouded figure knelt by Mme Bonacieux’s bed. She lifted a hand to Mme Bonacieux’s forehead, and in the simple gentleness of that gesture d’Artagnan saw that this woman could not be Milady, after all.
Then Porthos whisked him away behind a screen, so d’Artagnan could not see it when the figure pushed back her veil, and gazed down on Mme Bonacieux with an expression of sad tenderness. But he heard her voice when she said, “Ah, my poor child,” in a voice soft and yet firm, with a faint foreign accent that just touched the French words. He had heard it before, when he hid in the dressing room adjoining the queen’s chamber.
He ceased to struggle. Porthos set him gently down, and behind the screen the musketeers all stood close together, all but holding their breath in the darkness.
Then the voice spoke again, still gentle, but with a more commanding tone. “You said you were ready to die for me,” said Anne d’Autriche. “But I would not have it so, if there is any other way. Awake, Constance Bonacieux; awake and live.”
A tortuous silence followed. The night seemed entirely still, and even the stars beyond the high small window seemed to dim; and then there came a choking gasp.
A series of wracking coughs followed, and then a small and rasping voice. “My Queen?”
D’Artagnan shuddered. He would have run to her, if Porthos had not put up an arm as thick as the trunk of a tree to stop him; and d’Artagnan grabbed that arm, and clutched it as if it were the only thing that could save him from drowning.
“Constance,” said the queen, her voice gentle again and soft. “Truly you are well named. Come; drink.”
There was the sound of pouring water, and then a pause – and then a shuddering sigh, such as one gives only after a drink relieves a parching thirst. “There now,” said the queen. “You will be well, my Constance. Sleep now; and when you awake, drink again, and eat.”
Silence followed again, but a gentler silence this time, so that d’Artagnan could hear the rustle of the trees in the breeze outside. Then came the rustle of cloth – and d’Artagnan pushed past Porthos’ arm, but arrived only in time to see the last whisper of the queen’s long veil as she passed out of the door.
He did not attempt to follow her. Instead he fell to his knees in his accustomed place by Mme Bonacieux’s bed, catching her hand to his heart with a cry of joy. A faint color had come into her pale cheeks; her breast, which had been so still, now rose softly with her breath. He kissed her forehead, where the queen’s hand had rested, and found it warm as well.
“They say that the royal touch heals,” said Aramis, and bowed his head, as he did before all of God’s mysteries.
D’Artagnan tore his gaze from Mme Bonacieux to lift his shining face to his friends. “Aramis,” he said. “If there is anything I can do for your seamstress in Tours – anything, anything – I will die like a dog for her, in exchange for this life that she has helped save.”
“Let us hope it doesn’t come to that,” Aramis said. But he was smiling too.
“A drink!” Porthos said. He drew a flask from the recesses of his coat, and poured cups for all of them. “To the queen.”
D’Artagnan and Aramis raised their cups. “To the queen,” they echoed, and drank; and the wine went down d’Artagnan’s dry throat like the nectar of the Gods.
“To our queen,” he said, and drank again. “She has saved her loyal servant. Would that all rulers rewarded constancy so.”