Aramis opened his eyes. He did not know where he was. It was dimly lit where he was and it was not particularly warm and it was a bit damp. He was not wearing his doublet. He worked out he was lying on the floor, a stone floor. And his head hurt. Why did his head hurt? He had no recollection of how he had come to be wherever he was. And why was he looking at Porthos' boots? He realised he was lying on his side with his head on Porthos' lap and that the big man's hand was resting on his shoulder.
'Why am I lying on you?'
'You were unconscious and I wanted you to be as comfortable as I could make you,' came the slightly gruff reply.
'Well now that I am awake might I be permitted to sit up?'
The hand on his shoulder moved and Aramis was able, with some help, to sit himself up and lean against the wall next to his friend. Porthos looked at him intently for a few seconds until satisfied that he was not going to keel over.
'You don't remember?' replied Porthos, worried.
'The last thing I remember was being in the tavern watching you play cards.'
Porthos did not reply. He looked straight ahead. Aramis thought for a moment, although he still did not remember what had happened a few things occurred to him.
'Were you cheating?'
Still no reply.
'Did you get caught cheating?'
Even in the dim light Aramis could see that Porthos had a rather guilty expression.
'Did we get into a fight with whoever you cheated…and they won…and now they have us here?'
'Yes,' sighed Porthos.
'At least tell me there were plenty of them, I don't want to think I was beaten easily?'
Finally, Porthos turned to Aramis and with a slight smile said, 'you were hit from behind, no way you could 'ave avoided it.'
'And then they threatened to kill me so you just let them take us prisoner?'
Another sigh, 'yes.'
'Any idea where we are, or who you cheated?'
'No. Blindfolded on the way here, I couldn't keep track of the turns, but it wasn't a long journey so we must still be near the centre of Paris. I don't know who he is. But I think he's rich. He 'ad enough men to take us out easily.'
'Have you tried to escape?'
'You were unconscious.'
'Was I supposed to carry you out?'
'You could have left me.'
'No,' Porthos replied firmly.
'Well let's see if we can get out now then shall we?' said Aramis as he began to stand up. A wave of dizziness coming over him at the sudden movement causing him to topple over, only just being caught before crashing into the hard floor.
'Woah…you need to take it easy for a bit,' said Porthos as he eased his injured friend back down. He kept hold of Aramis for a few seconds until the marksman had regained his equilibrium.
'At least try the door?' asked Aramis when the room had stopped spinning.
Porthos got to his feet and walked over to the corner of the room. He climbed the five steps up to the door and tried the handle. It remained closed. He looked back at Aramis as if to ask if he was satisfied with the escape attempt. Aramis shrugged his shoulders and smiled. The door looked heavy and reinforced, even Porthos would not be able to shove it open.
'At least we know now.'
Porthos sat back down heavily by his friend.
'I'm sorry,' he said glancing at Aramis before returning to stare at the opposite wall.
'Getting you hurt and captured.'
'So you are admitting that this is your fault?'
They sat in silence for a few minutes, until Aramis spoke again.
'You know, you don't need to feel too guilty. It's not like I've never landed us in trouble before.'
'But you are allowed to feel a bit guilty.'
Porthos bumped Aramis with his shoulder slightly in reply.
Treville looked down on the sparring cadets. He was impressed, there were some promising men. A few were going to be as good as his best Musketeers in a few years.
Thinking of his best Musketeers he glanced around trying to spot them. He knew none of the four were on guard duty today and should be cajoling the new recruits, imparting wisdom or beating them to the ground in the case of Porthos.
He spotted two of them sat at the bench, both looking towards the garrison entrance. Athos and d'Artagnan looked a little concerned. Their concern sparked Treville to feel the same. He walked down the stairs and over to the two musketeers. They stood as he approached, he waved a hand for them to sit back down.
'Where are they?' he asked, not needing to explain who he meant.
'I have not seen them since last night,' said Athos not even bothering to hide his concern, his eyes returning to their constant vigil on the entrance.
'Last I saw of Aramis was after dinner, he said he was off to the tavern to join Porthos. Something about a good game Porthos had going.'
Athos turned to d'Artagnan, 'cards,' it was more of a statement than a question.
They were all well aware of Porthos' love of card games and gambling. He won and lost with equal pleasure. But when he wanted to win he would cheat. More than once he had been caught and then got to enjoy a brawl, or the occasional retreat. And generally, where Porthos was getting into trouble Aramis was not far behind, or vice versa.
Treville sighed and rolled his eyes, they were incorrigible.
'Go and find them,' he said, sweeping his arm in the direction of the garrison gates in an invitation for them to leave.
Athos and d'Artagnan did not need to be told twice.
He had been sat in silence for some time, lost in thought. Aramis was dozing beside him, probably still suffering with at least a headache, if not a concussion. He thought back to the brief fight in the alley by the tavern. They had been doing well until, the other cheated card player had callously hit Aramis from behind, it had been all over in seconds after that. The brief distraction had been enough for Porthos to be disarmed and several swords pointed at him whilst the man that had been so upset to be cheated pointed a gun at Aramis' as he lay unconscious on the ground.
They had made Porthos carry the injured man to a carriage. Porthos had been relived to feel his friends steady breathing as he did so. After rather unceremoniously dumping his friend on the floor of the carriage he had been blindfolded, his weapons removed, and had his hands tied behind him. They had manoeuvred him into the carriage and the short journey had begun.
He had tried to keep track of where they were going but it had been useless. When they pulled him out of the carriage he had no idea where he was. He had been roughly walked a short distance and stopped for a few minutes. He could hear other men walking passed him and into a building down some steps. A gun had been pressed to his neck with a warning not to try anything as his hands had been untied and doublet had been roughly pulled off. The blindfold was removed and he was pushed forward only just spotting the steps in time to prevent himself from falling down them.
The door had been shut behind him. In the dim light, he saw Aramis lying where he had obviously been dumped on the floor, also divested of his doublet and weapons. Realising he could not do anything until his friend regained consciousness he had resigned himself to the wait, making Aramis as comfortable as he could in the meantime.
Now they were sat side by side waiting. For what he did not know. Cheating at cards just came so easily, having lived in The Court of Miracles he had picked up all the tricks he could. Normally it was the Red Guard, they were so stupid they rarely even suspected. But every once in a while, someone noticed. Usually, a swift retreat or a quick fist fight would be in order. Not this time. This time he had clearly cheated the wrong man. And now Aramis was injured because of him. And they were both being held in a dank room somewhere.
The sound of the door being unbolted caused Aramis to awaken with a start. They both watched as the door opened. Daylight flooded in causing them both to blink at the sudden brightness. Several men entered the small room. Porthos recognised some from the night before, including the man he had cheated.
'Get up,' said the man. He was tall and well dressed. His features conveyed only anger. A scar crossed his face from left to right, it was an old scar, the man was lucky to still have both eyes.
Neither Porthos nor Aramis moved.
'I said: Get up!'
Four of the other men stepped forward and pulled both the musketeers to their feet. Porthos looked over at Aramis, worried he may not be ready for such rough handling, but the marksman remained upright shaking off the two men who had pulled him up. He stood at attention, Porthos did the same, staring straight ahead.
The tall man walked further into the room standing before his captives who were now flanked by two men apiece. He sneered at them.
'Do you know who I am?'
They did not reply.
'I am Monsieur Mollet, and I do not expect to be cheated by the likes of you,' he glared at Porthos, looking down his nose.
Mollet had spoken in such a way that Porthos thought he was supposed to know the man. He did not. He glanced over at Aramis who looked just as blank at the name. The man clearly thought he was a big deal.
'I do not expect to be cheated by the lower classes who should respect their betters. And I especially do not expect to be cheated by your kind, you are from the gutters and should have been done away with years ago,' he paused, the man was so full of rage he could barely breath, 'you do not remember me, do you? Years ago, you robbed me and gave me this,' he indicated the scar across his face.
Porthos was still none the wiser, he had no recollection of the man. He had done many things that he was not proud of during his time at the Court but he did not recall causing anyone such a horrific disfigurement.
Mollet continued, 'And now Porthos of the Kings Musketeers,' he spat, 'I am going to have my revenge. I am going to do to you what you did to me…I can see that simply slashing you across the face will make no difference, I am going to thrash you, I am going to hurt you, you will know what it is to be maimed as I have been at your hand.'
Porthos did his very best not to react, he remained stoic and still. What worried Porthos was how Aramis would react. His friend had already tensed up and without looking at him Porthos could tell that Aramis was ready to take the man down single handed. When Aramis spoke, it was with such venom that Porthos shuddered.
'How dare you treat us like this. We are the Kings Musketeers and you will release us immediately. You have clearly wrongly accused this man, what proof have you that he attacked you years ago?'
Mollet looked at Aramis surprised at the outburst. After a few seconds, the man composed himself. He looked behind Aramis and nodded slightly. A swift movement followed by a cry of pain and Aramis crashed to floor, the man guarding him had kicked him in the knee. Porthos stepped forward but was grabbed by the men either side of him and forced to stay still despite trying to shake them off.
Aramis was already trying to stand, the man who had kicked him grabbed his arm and pulled him up. It was clear to Porthos that Aramis was favouring his right leg and trying to keep his expression defiant despite the obvious pain. Porthos sighed inwardly, when would the man learn to keep quiet. The amount of times his outspoken nature had brought trouble was getting ridiculous.
Mollet was seething. He stepped up to Aramis and poked him in the chest several times saying, 'I had been planning to put you somewhere more befitting your class. But as you are so keen to defend that,' he pointed at Porthos, 'you can share his fate…although you clearly need to learn your place as well.'
Mollet paused and looked at the men either side of Aramis, 'see to it that he learns his lesson…but bear in mind we will have to return him alive.'
Porthos struggled against the men holding him, but they had too good a grip on his arms. They pushed him back against the wall and held him there firmly.
The man holding Aramis up kicked him in the knee again, causing him to fall to his knees. The second man pushed him over and proceeded to kick him several times in the chest. The assault was too quick for Aramis to do anything but try to curl up and protect his head with his arms. The kicks continued for a few seconds before Mollet raised his hand. The man stood back. Aramis remained where he was curled up and breathing hard. At least he was breathing thought Porthos.
Mollet came to stand in front of Porthos, who did not even look at the man, keeping his eyes on Aramis.
'I shall have you both flogged before I let you go, consequences be damned.'
Mollet turned to leave, but turned back and spat at Porthos. The spittle landing on his face. Porthos, with difficulty remained still, his focus on Aramis. One of the men trained a gun on Porthos as the others trailed out of the room following their master, once everyone else was out the man with the gun backed out as well. Porthos was moving before the door had been shut and bolted again.
D'Artagnan and Athos left the garrison with no real plan, as they walked through the street towards the tavern. The city was already busy with street stalls laid out and people buying and selling and going about their daily business.
Heading towards the tavern they walked passed a few people who gave them filthy looks. Normal behaviour for certain members of the city. D'Artagnan had found it quite disturbing to begin with, but now he barely noticed. Most people respected the Kings Musketeers. Most people. Those that had issues generally had something to hide, some nefarious scheme they needed to keep shady.
The tavern, The Peacock, was one that they frequented often. The landlord was amiable and knew that any breakages would be paid for. Athos generally saw to it, even paying up when he had not been involved. D'Artagnan was always amused at the way Athos did not complain about using his own money to tidy up after his comrades.
The room was nearly empty at this time in the morning. A couple of regulars, who never seemed to leave, slouched in the corner or bent over a table. D'Artagnan wondered if they slept at their places and just existed on ale.
The landlord, Clavette, looked up as they entered. He was a swarthy man, used to dealing with wayward drinkers. He had been a soldier and understood the need for the men to let off steam but was always ready to throw them out if they went too far. He tolerated the Red Guard, as they were loose with their money but he welcomed the musketeers, not just because they always paid their debts, at least Athos did, but they were the ones that he admired the most. He respected them and enjoyed their company.
'Monsieur Athos, Monsieur d'Artagnan, you are in early today,' he said brightly before he noted their expressions.
'Have the other two got themselves into trouble? I can assure you when they left here all was well…as well as could be expected.'
'What do you mean?' Athos asked placing his hat on the bar. D'Artagnan took up a position where he could watch the room but also take in the conversation between Athos and Clavette.
'Porthos has been playing with fire with his card games lately. And I warned him.'
This peaked their interest, Athos leaned in closer listening keenly. D'Artagnan had expected the landlord to say that their missing friends had stumbled off drunk and were sleeping it off in a doorway somewhere.
'He'd played a few games with a man who I didn't like the look of,' continued Clavette, 'a couple of night ago this man, great scar across his face came in asking about musketeers, particularly Porthos, he was able to describe your dark-skinned friend so I knew who he meant. At the time, I couldn't see any harm in saying that Porthos frequented here often to play cards. The man seemed amiable enough and paid me for my time. The next night he came in again, but as Porthos wasn't here he became angry and accused me of lying to him. But last night when he returned Porthos, and Aramis, were already here. Aramis was sat over there,' Clavette indicated a table by the wall, 'and Porthos was already well into a game with one of my regulars at that table.'
'And this man joined them?' asked Athos thinking ahead trying to guess what had happened.
'Yes. Of course Porthos was cheating, he had lost a bit last time he was in,' said Clavette with a fond smile, 'the scarred man caught him cheating and made quite a scene. Aramis stepped in and it got a bit heated…so I threw them all out,' he paused looking at each of them in turn, 'perhaps I did the wrong thing?' when Athos did not respond he continued, '…I don't know…but that was the last I saw of them.'
D'Artagnan sighed, they were no closer to finding their friends. But there could still be an innocent explanation. At least he hoped there was.
The door opened, a slight man entered, he looked around. When he saw Athos at the bar talking to Clavette he stopped. He looked over towards d'Artagnan and took a step back, a brief look of shock on his face. D'Artagnan took a step forward, the new arrival took another step back reaching for the door.
'There's the other man, who Porthos was playing with, hey, Geron…,' called Clavette.
Geron tuned, pulled the door open, and disappeared outside. D'Artagnan did not waste any time, he tore off after the man. He guessed that Athos would be following.
Geron was just turning left into a smaller road, d'Artagnan pursued. He was confident he would catch the man. Geron had quite a ratty look about him. He was skinny and looked unkempt.
As d'Artagnan turned the corner he saw the man disappearing around another corner a little further along the road. He sped up, not wanting to lose the man. He was aware of Athos' footsteps behind him.
He reached the corner slowing slightly to make the bend. As he turned the sun was in his eyes and he did not see the piece of wood swung at chest height. He fell, hard, on his back, the wind knocked out of him. His sword clattered out of his hand. He had not even realised he had drawn it. The action so automatic.
As he took a gasp of breath he squinted up, the sun still blinding him. He made to get up only to find the point of his own sword at his throat. The sun was blocked out, the ratty man standing above him menacingly.
D'Artagnan felt the tip of the sword pressing into his flesh.
Aramis could do nothing but wait out the assault. The kicks were forceful, but he was aware the man was holding back a little. He stopped and Aramis could breathe again, although it hurt. It could have been a lot worse. He heard the door close and was aware of Porthos by him in the same instant.
'Aramis?' Porthos said softly, his hands gently pulling him out of his curled up defensive pose.
He hissed in pain as Porthos started moving his hands around his body looking for injuries.
'Porthos stop, I'm fine, well not fine, but not as bad as you seem to think I am.'
'You're an idiot.'
Porthos gently pulled the marksman up into a sitting position and helped him back over to the wall and leaned him against it. Aramis tried to protest as Porthos began feeling his chest for any broken ribs.
'Nothing is broken, bruised yes, but not broken.'
Porthos sat back, 'what about your leg?'
Aramis tried moving his left leg and again hissed in pain despite trying not to.
'I don't think anything serious, but yes it does hurt,' he admitted.
'Can it bear weight, if we need to run I need to know if you'll be running with me?'
'Help me up.'
Aramis held out his arm and Porthos grabbed it and eased him forward before putting his arm around his shoulders and slowly pulling his friend up. Aramis knew it would hurt but he needed to placate Porthos by proving he could at least stand up on his own. His bruised ribs protested at the activity, but he made it up.
Putting weight on his left leg, now that was a different proposition entirely. Just resting it on the floor was painful, he gradually put more pressure on it, shaking as the pain grew steadily. Porthos shook his head, clearly angry.
'Well you did say this was your fault,' said Aramis with a grin.
Aramis did not expect the anger on Porthos' face to intensify at the remark, he thought Porthos would take the comment as he had intended; something to break the tension. No, Porthos took the comment completely the other way. Porthos stood very close to Aramis.
'My fault? This is not my fault, this is your fault. If you learnt to keep quiet occasionally we wouldn't get in anywhere near as much trouble as we do. If you learnt to think before you acted we wouldn't be in this situation, where we can't escape because you're injured.'
Aramis was quite stunned at Porthos' sudden anger towards him. He agreed with what he was saying but did not think it was the time for his friend to be berating him. He opened his mouth to speak only to find himself pushed hard into the wall by the big musketeer. He could not help a sharp intake of breath as his bruised ribs protested at the sudden and forceful movement.
'This. Is. Your. Fault.'
With each word Porthos pulled Aramis forward then pushed him back into the wall, hard. Porthos was so angry he seemed to have forgotten their predicament and Aramis' injuries. Aramis knew that Porthos did not really mean to hurt him but he could not stop the furious man's assault.