It was a brisk autumn afternoon as Treville rode back to the garrison, though the cool weather was doing nothing to diminish his anger, which was burning like a red-hot wildfire. He had been excited this morning to be summoned to the Palace; he left frustrated and exasperated.

Two days ago, his regiment of musketeers, which had been in existence for three years, had successfully foiled a major conspiracy to assassinate the King. Treville had been very proud of his men. In his mind, it proved once again that the musketeers had earned their right to be the King's premier guards.

His Majesty had called the captain to the Palace and the insidious Cardinal had managed to turn the event from a congratulatory celebration to a lecture on the desultory manner in which the musketeers operated. By the time his Eminence was though poisoning the King's mind, his Majesty had been scolding Treville about his men's lack of discipline. At least the Queen had the decency to appear embarrassed about how the Cardinal had manipulated the situation. However, there was no arguing with the King once he made up his mind, or rather had it made up for him by the Cardinal. Captain Treville had slunk away from the Palace, publicly chastised, tail between his legs, and in a foul mood.

The captain would be the first to admit that there had been some small glitches during the mission, but did the Cardinal have to go out of his way to point out every little mistake made by his musketeers? The answer to that question was a resounding yes, and it had been that way since the musketeers' inception.

There was no love lost between Captain Treville's regiment of musketeers and the Cardinal's Red Guards. Treville, for his part, did try to convince his troops that they shouldn't go looking for trouble with the Red Guards. He was sure, however, that the Cardinal's instructions to his guards were the polar opposite. So inevitably there were clashes between the two fighting forces, some of which were quite public. Eventually, the news of the clashes got back to the King, who condemned the actions, usually finding fault with the musketeers. But with the Red Viper always whispering in his Majesty's ear, why would the captain expect anything else? His musketeers weren't angels by any means, but they also weren't the devils that the Cardinal implied.

As Treville rode back to the garrison, he was in deep thought about his men. His troops were still in need of improvements, but it took time and patience to build a cohesive regiment. The musketeers had started out as a group of elite soldiers chosen from the ranks of the noblemen of France. Mostly second and third sons of the nobility, there were only a few first sons in the musketeers and Treville felt they were merely biding their time until their fathers died and they would take over their respective estates.

When Treville built the musketeers, he was more interested in a recruit's ability to fight than his parentage and he expected and demanded loyalty and dedication to France from all his men. Too many of the noblemen's sons grew bored or didn't like the hard work required and after a few months left the regiment. This caused problems because the captain was looking for stability. When people trained together regularly, they became a better, stable, and more lethal fighting force.

To combat this issue, Treville had started experimenting with taking in other men, mostly from the infantry, who had good fighting skills, but weren't as noble of birth. It was definitely a work in progress with the hardest obstacle to overcome being the concept of rank and entitlement. It was bad enough that the sons of the nobles were always jockeying for position within the regiment. When he added 'commoners' to the mix it had made matters worse, with the nobles banding together and protesting against what they considered the riffraff.

It was taking time, patience, and threats, but slowly the regiment was gelling into a fighting force which got results. Though there was still tension in the ranks, their missions, overall, were a success. He was teaching his men to use their brains, and not simply brute force, to be the victor. Sometimes subtleness and stealth were the best way to win the day.

In the last three years, Treville had also begun breaking the musketeers down into smaller units. This was helping the soldiers get to know each other, and was leading to toleration and increased teamwork. Since they weren't in the midst of a war, the missions they carried out were generally smaller in nature. The musketeers spent half their time delivering missives and the other half guarding the King and Queen, or guests of their Majesties, which Treville supposed was the reason for their existence. But these duties required a different strategy than was followed by a regular army.

When it came to delivering confidential messages, smaller groups of men were much less conspicuous, something that often was required. Most of the time, he was finding that four musketeers were turning out to be the ideal number; small enough to not raise alarm, but large enough to defend themselves against would be assailants. He had formed a number of these four men teams and was finding it to be as much of an art as a science trying to figure out if the groups would click. By now, most of teams were doing quite nicely, though he was still struggling to find homes for some of his men.

One of the hard to place musketeers was the regiment's best close combat fighter. Treville had recruited him from the infantry, and when it came to hand-to-hand combat, Porthos was the man you wanted by your side. He was a big man, broad and tall, and his mere presence was often enough to intimidate people into submission. The warrior also had streets smarts, having grown up in a slum called the Court of Miracles, and could often outwit the so-called highly educated nobles. Porthos' plans were simple, direct and brought results, but because they were devised by a common soldier, the other nobles often refused to follow the tactics. They barely even acknowledged that the son a white man and a slave-women was actually one of them, a musketeer.

Captain Treville knew that most of the musketeers couldn't understand, no matter how good Porthos was at fighting, why the captain had brought him into the regiment. But Treville had his reasons and he felt no compulsion to enlighten any of them. As far as the captain was concerned, Porthos had earned his commission honorably, the same as any one of them.

The captain and the King may have accepted Porthos into the Musketeers, but many of the others didn't like his presence. The names they called Porthos to his face, as well behind his back, were highly derisive, yet he merely shrugged them off and did his job. The loyalty that he gave Captain Treville was unwavering and Treville wanted to find the right team for Porthos, one where his fierce loyalty would be put to good use. He was sure if he built a team that accepted Porthos without reservation, and if Porthos accepted them back, it would be an unstoppable combination.

Most of the men of the regiment refused to descend from their ivory towers and acknowledge that Porthos was their equal in soldiering. So Treville had partnered Porthos with one of his most tolerant musketeers, Aramis. Aramis could get along with anyone if he chose to, and neither Porthos' background nor his mixed heritage bothered him in the least. Porthos was a man, same as everyone else, in the marksman's eyes.

The two musketeers were as similar as they were different. Neither were noblemen by birth, though Aramis came from a more respectable family situation than Porthos and at one time had been headed for a profession in the church. However, life events led him down the path of soldiering for which he found he was suited. While Aramis had a reverent love of religion and was devoted to his God, he also took a more secular view on some things, such as women, which he seemed to love as much as he loved the church. And it was a mutual admiration, for the women of the world loved Aramis, especially the married and unattainable ones. Unfortunately, therein lay the problem, as Aramis often found himself in hot water, especially with the not so broadminded husbands.

Whereas Porthos was a great physical fighter, Aramis was hands down the best marksman of the regiment. It was almost magical what the man could do with a firearm. He was also skilled with a sword, more so than Porthos, who used it with much less finesse than Aramis. The marksman danced with his sword, weaving, stabbing, and slicing. Porthos used it more like a club, beating, hacking, and ripping. Between them, however, they quickly dispatched any opponent who opposed them, even with their disparate fighting styles.

Trying to build a foursome, Treville had formed Porthos, Daniel, Anton, and Aramis into a unit, hoping Aramis would be the glue that held them together. Aramis had already accepted Porthos and the two men were fighting well as a team. Anton and Daniel were identical twins, the fourth and fifth sons of a country nobleman. Both were easy-going and were perfectly happy with each other's company, but barely tolerant of everyone else. This had made it a bit hard to place them in a team, because the duo didn't try very hard to be part of any group. Treville knew it wasn't an ideal composition, but he was growing desperate and had few options left.

The four had served together for two months on a variety of missions. They struggled to become a cohesive unit and unfortunately, if one watched the foursome fight, it was apparent it was really two pairs of two, not four acting as a team. Try as he might, the captain was clueless as to how to remedy the situation. As it had turned out, his dilemma was solved for him in a rather horrendous manner.

It was their lack of teamwork, Treville thought, that had attributed to the deaths of Anton and Daniel on their last mission. Three teams of musketeers, twelve men, were guarding a shipment of gold as it traveled to Paris. The caravan had been attacked in the countryside by a large, well organized group of bandits. The twins, in their usual fighting style, got separated from the rest of the group and were slain by the rebels, overcome without backups to protect them. Both Porthos and Aramis took Anton's and Daniel's death hard, feeling they had failed, even though Treville had told them that it was the twins' fault for isolating themselves.

Bonding in sorrow and guilt over that incident, Aramis and Porthos became even tighter, becoming a duo to be reckoned with and yet Treville still felt they would be even more successful and safer with two more partners as part of their group. Eventually, he had managed successfully to add Marsac to the duo. Aramis and Marsac were friends, though Porthos seemed merely to tolerate the man more than anything, which Treville found odd. Porthos usually got along fine with anyone that would get along with him. It made the captain wonder if there was something going on between Marsac and Porthos of which he was unaware. However, as it didn't seem to affect the group's dynamics too much, he let it go. But as for the fourth man to make the trio a quartet, the captain had been unsuccessful in finding anyone.

All these thoughts were running through Treville's mind, distracting him as he rode back to the garrison. So it came as a total shock to both him, and his horse, when a man was pitched out the door of a tavern under the feet of his mount. Being a battle trained steed, the animal did his best not to stomp on the man rolling under his hooves, but the unexpectedness caused the animal to clip the man's right arm with his front hoof, while his left rear foot caught the man in the ribs. Once clear of the horse's hooves, the man continued to roll across the dirt until he smacked into a stone wall, which halted his progress.

"My God," Treville whispered, as he leapt from his horse and hurried over to where the man lay in a crumbled heap, face first, in the dirt. The captain noticed that no one from the tavern seemed the least bit concerned about the poor unfortunate soul's predicament.

Squatting down next to the man, Treville was nearly overcome by the reek of alcohol. With a grimace, he placed two cautious fingers to the man's pulse point on his neck and found a weak, but steady beat. Being as gentle as he could, he rolled the man over on his back and studied the drunk. The man's eyes were firmly shut, either unconscious or passed out from alcohol indulgence. It was obvious by his appearance and body odor he hadn't seen clean water or clothes in a while. Even through the grime, however, it was apparent that the clothes the drunken man was wearing, while filthy, were well made. The weapons belt, still around the man's slim waist, carried what appeared to be a high quality sword.

The two ripped areas on the man's shirt showed exactly where the horse had clipped him and Treville had no doubts the man's arm and ribs had sustained serious damage from the sharp hooves. While Treville had nothing to do with the reason this man had gotten thrown out of the bar, he was the one who ran over him with his horse and he felt a responsibility towards this man's well-being. Perhaps if he had been paying more attention, Treville thought, he might have been able to avoid him. His honor, not to mention common decency, wouldn't let him leave this injured man lying here in the streets and simply ride off.

Looking about, he spotted a young man he recognized and asked him to run back to the garrison and have them send a wagon. As he watched the boy hurry off, Treville glanced around and it seemed a sad commentary that no one else appeared to care. People simply walked by, absorbed in their own lives, not caring about their fellow man. When the wagon arrived, Treville directed his musketeers to load the man onboard and bring him to the garrison's infirmary. As the wagon drew away, Treville turned and headed across the street into the tavern.

Finding the apparent owner of the establishment, the captain asked him about the drunk he had just thrown out his front door. The owner wasn't very helpful, saying the man in question had come in more than once, always sat in a back corner and drank himself into oblivion. The owner went on to say if the man was left alone he never caused a problem and always paid his bill. However, he warned the captain, if the man was provoked, he would fight and it was quite a spectacular sight. It was a brawl, today, with the wrong men that had led to his expulsion from the tavern.

After the captain thanked him, he left, gathered his horse, and rode back to the garrison. Once there, he handed his steed off to the stable boy and headed for the infirmary. Walking inside, he found the stranger, still unconscious, lying on a bunk. Someone had removed the drunk's main gauche and sword and placed them on the floor under the bunk. As Treville stood there gazing down at the stranger, a shadow darkened the doorway, and Treville looked up and smiled. Aramis, the regiment's amateur medic, always seemed to have a sixth sense when someone was injured.

"What do we have here?" Aramis asked, as he strolled into the infirmary.

Honestly, Treville didn't know how to answer that, but his soldier's sense was telling him this might be the start of something very important.