Evening from Europe!

Here it is my final chapter of "In the hour of need … I can count on you".

I never expected that it would take me that long to finish a story which I started last year in July. Following some themes from a fb page, which name I've forgotten (lol).

I tried to put in Athos, Aramis, Porthos, d'Artagnan, the Cardinal and Milady and focus on each character at least for one chapter. So the plot slightly changed with adding more and more characters and I ended up in writing several background stories.

From the beginning I knew that I wanted to write an Athos/Aramis friendship fanfic, but of course with Porthos and d'Artagnan being with them. They are a team, brothers and the title of my story should show that they stick together in dire situations and don't let each other down.

I want to say thank you to all of you who have read my story, who started to follow, who favourited it (and still stayed until the end) of this story. I have to thank all of you who have left positive reviews. Feedback is always very important for every fanfic writer and seeing that you are enjoying a story, encourages someone to continue.

Thank you so much to Mountain Cat without her help, her advice, discussing several chapters and ideas over and over I would have given up on this story a long time ago. It was fun to discuss with you Musketeers and I am looking forward to more of these chats.

Thank you to Beth for proofreading the first chapters of this story until December (I believe) and to Tricia who then took over and helped me along during the past months. I know that I have taken a lot of time from her and I asked her several times, if she wants me to ask somebody else, but each time she told me she will help me until the last chapter and she kept her word! I am sure I have learned from the both of you some more about English grammar and definitely new words, but I know that I repeated several mistakes over and over again in the following chapters. So thank you for your patience.


To Doubtful Guest: "And my thanks to you for writing this highly entertaining story. I'm looking forward to the Epilogue."

Aww thank you so much! I am glad you liked that story. Sorry for the delay with the Epilogue! xx Kira


To Debbie:

"I was right about it being Milady. Nice to know she isn't quite as greedy as she acts and only wanted to find out about Athos' condition. Papa Treville guarding his chicks as best he can warning her to not come back again for fear Athos would be hurt all the more from her presence.
I'm glad Athos finally, finally told d'Art about the lad's dagger. Also that it originally belonged to Thomas. It was a very interesting exchange between them and I really liked it. This was the end and yet you have an epilogue to come. So now I'm anxious for that. Great wrap-up though."

Thank you so much Debbie for this comment and for all your other reviews to each of my chapters. It means a lot! I was always looking forward to your reviews. Yes you were right about Milady, but she wasn't in the stable lol JTréville tries his best to protect Athos!

I am sorry for the delay with the talk between Athos and d'Artagnan. It was the toughest part for me to write. Glad you liked it! Enjoy the Epilogue xx

P.S. Not sure when I'll find the time to write another story, but I haven't forgotten about that d'Artagnan/Athos story, which I have started in February, nevertheless I will pause for a while, because real life is very demanding right now. xx Kira


To Barbara: "Very powerful and emotional chapter. It's good they are all back together looking out for each other. Nothing can break that bond."

Thank you so much Barbara for this review and all the others! It was the toughest chapter for me to write. I agree with you they stick together and are helping each other in their hours of need xx Kira


So here it is the final chapter 52!

I had the idea for this Epilogue in the very early stages of this story and I am happy to present it now really in my final chapter. Enjoy!

xx Kira


Epilogue

Several weeks later ...

The loud clashing of iron was one of the noises which usually filled the courtyard of the garrison. The sound echoed through the courtyard, but no one stopped what they were doing or looked up to check who was fighting – other than Porthos, who was leaning, relaxed, against a wooden pillar under the balcony which led to Tréville's office. He was enjoying the sunshine on his face and the fight which was going on in front of him - glad that it wasn't him who was having to use his sword.

The streetfighter admired the silvery shining blades, which cast long shadows on the ground while they were used by two experienced soldiers over and over again to attack, to try new fighting scenarios, to prepare them for the real fight. It looked more like a choreographed and elegant dance, rather than a training exercise. It was obvious to Porthos which of his brothers had the upper hand in this fight. After weeks of training, of helping Athos back on his feet and to return to his old form, it was good to see that he had re-gained not only the weight he had lost but also his strength. His arm had healed properly. Aramis had predicted that he might feel a dull pain within a sudden weather change or during winter, but, other than that, Athos had recovered well and - to their relief, - quickly.

Porthos was smiling, seeing this picture in front of him made him content and, now and then, he laughed out loud, watching his other brother made minor mistakes which made him stumble, throwing his arms in the air and making him look more like a harlequin than a Musketeer. Only one -if he counted Tréville- two swordsmen were that good. Athos knew exactly how far he could push, so that Aramis would still be able to continue the fight.

It was a hot day; the afternoon sun was burning on his comrades slightly flushed faces and both men were sweating heavily.

"Stop laughing!" Aramis shouted at Porthos, when he heard the outburst next to him. "I could use some help, here!" he added, panting for air, while grinning at Athos, who only raised his eyebrow, which meant that the medic should stop complaining and continue to fight.

"Why?" Porthos frowned. "I think Athos is capable of beating you."

The streetfighter mocked Aramis making it clear that he had no intentions of supporting the medic. Aramis turned his head around, just in time, to block Athos' new attack with his blade. Athos bowed his head respectfully, before he released his own weapon, taking several steps backwards and shouting "En garde!" thus forcing Aramis to start another round.

The marksman mumbled some words under his breath -probably some swear words- to himself, regretting that he had suggested practising with Athos after lunch.

"Finally!"

D'Artagnan exclaimed from the other side of the courtyard and made all three heads of his brothers turn towards him. The young Musketeer had just finished his last day of stable duty and was now holding a broomstick in his hand, which he leant against the wall near the entrance to the stable, stretching his long arms into the air.

"Care to join in?" Aramis begged him.

A bright smile appeared on d'Artagnan's face, and he walked quickly over to their favourite bench where he had put his weapon's belt earlier. Reaching for his sword and main-gauche, he drew his hand through his hair, removing some straw before joining Aramis and Athos.

"Porthos?"

Athos turned his head towards the big man, who still did not show any intentions of joining them. Instead of walking over to Athos, he simply reached for his sword, made sure that he had eye contact with the swordsman and through it over to him. Athos easily caught it by the hilt in his right hand. With a soft smile on his lips and a short nod, he thanked Porthos but now with two blades in his hands.

"You can't be serious!"

Aramis exclaimed, feeling exhausted, drawing his hand through his hair, only wishing to drop on the bench and drink some cool water.

"You wanted to fight." Athos said in his usual monotone voice.

His brothers knew that he was mocking the medic, who joined in easily with their banter. They were all glad that Athos was finally back to his normal self.

"Come on, Aramis." d'Artagnan shouted and before the marksman realised what was happening he was attacked from both sides.

"Hey, I thought you were helping me!"

Aramis dodged away, took several steps backwards ensuring that he had a few seconds to catch his breath and gather himself before the next attack.

"Yes, in training Athos." d'Artagnan grinned.

"It seems the both of you need more training than me."

Athos chided them with a fond smile. Enjoying the sun on his back, he felt better than he had in days. He was just about to launch his second attack, using both swords, one directed towards Aramis, parrying an attack from d'Artagnan with the other, when he heard an unusual noise for this time of the day. He concentrated on the sound and ignored Aramis' attack. The medic moved to strike, but paused when he realised that Athos wasn't paying attention. With a quick movement of his hand the medic brought d'Artagnan, who had more energy and was looking forward to the sword fight, to a halt.

Porthos, who was eating on an apple he had taken from a basket which Serge had left at the table, looked up, irritated when he didn't hear the sound of the swords clashing anymore.

"What?" he asked.

"Quiet!" Athos addressed them. "Listen!"

Now all four of them were listening. The chirping of the birds had fallen silent, instead they could hear the toll of a bell from Notre-Dame. Soon they could hear other bells from the smaller churches in Paris tolling as well, joining the sound of the big bell.

"Something must have happened!" d'Artagnan exclaimed.

"It's way too early for the bells to chime." Porthos confirmed.

"It's the sound of Emmanuel*!" Aramis shouted and they all realised immediately what that had to mean. The bell with the name Emmanuel was only tolled on special occasions like Easter or Christmas, or if something bad had happened, warning the people of Paris and calling the soldiers of the King to their posts and to serve and protect their King and Queen.

"Where's Tréville?"

Athos asked quietly. He was still on light duty and had not joined the others for morning muster by order of the Captain so that he could recuperate fully.

"Still at the palace - he left this morning for a meeting with the King." Aramis informed him.

"Gather the men, saddle the horses, we will be needed at the palace." Athos ordered, running towards his quarters to fetch his uniform.

They all knew exactly what to do. They had their instructions, had trained in case Emmanuel tolled - so many times. D'Artagnan and Porthos had no problems gathering the few other Musketeers who were still at the garrison. Aramis, who had gone to the infirmary to get his medical kit was stopped on his way back when he heard the clattering of horse hooves. Several seconds later he saw Pierre riding in haste through the archway which led to the garrison's courtyard.

"I have orders from the Captain! Aramis, Porthos and d'Artagnan are to go to the Cardinal's quarters and the other men shall help the Red Guards to guard the palace!" Pierre shouted, gasping for air, staying on his horse.

"What has happened?" Aramis asked curiously.

"Henri didn't say, He only told me that Tréville ordered that I should ride as fast as I could to the garrison and fetch you and the others." he explained.

"What about me?" Athos reappeared, dressed in his uniform, his weapons belt fixed on his hip, he had caught Pierre's last words.

"Henri didn't say you were ordered to come as well." Pierre explained. "I guess Tréville still wants you to take it easy for a while." He shrugged, knowing that he had said everything what was needed, he turned his horse and galloped back.

Athos put his right hand on his chin in thought, bending his head slightly for a second, his strategical mind already planning how to proceed, then he looked into Aramis' brown eyes, who stood directly in front of him.

"I'm coming with you." he announced in a firm voice which brooked no objection. But the medic ignored him, observing his brother closely and feeling concerned at what he saw.

"I knew you would say that, but perhaps, you should stay here. If Tréville didn't demand send for you, it's probably not that bad." Aramis answered him quietly. "The fact that he has sent Pierre means that he is not injured." he added reading Athos' thoughts.

"Hmm …"

Athos' mind was racing, thinking about what might have happened. The bell was tolled for the death of the Pope, the King or other members of the royal family, but Pierre would have known that. Rumours like this would spread fast. Maybe a fire, but he didn't smell anything and there was so black smoke in the air.

"Maybe the Pope is dead." Aramis offered, trying to read Athos' mind.

"How convenient, so soon after Richelieu is back in Paris."

Athos huffed, thinking about the moment when the Pope had tried to murder the Cardinal by poisoning him several months ago. Richelieu had returned late last night and Athos had still not figured out what they could do against him, besides being watchful in order to protect Aramis. Captain Tréville had announced that they would meet that evening in his office to discuss the whole matter.

"It could be. In that case, Tréville doesn't need all of us." Aramis suggested.

"No, the Captain wouldn't have sent then for all the remaining men." Athos shook his head.

"Maybe he fears tumult on the streets."

"Aramis, not because of the death of the Pope in Rome." Athos raised his eyebrow.

"You never know … it was just a guess." Aramis put a hand on Athos' shoulder squeezing it briefly.

"No, Tréville doesn't think that I'm already fit for duty or for whatever might have happened ..." Athos shook his head, falling silent again.

Aramis could sense Athos' disappointment and frustration.

"You are only back on light duty for about a week now, Athos. Maybe he simply wants to protect you." Aramis said calmly.

"I'm fine, Aramis!"

Athos said slightly unnerved searching his friend's eyes and waiting for his approving nod, knowing that they needed to go.

"Or he needs you here to coordinate everything from the garrison." Aramis added quietly, sensing that now was not the time to start a discussion about Tréville's decision and bringing their talk back to neutral ground.

"He would have given exact instructions, if this was the case. Come on Aramis, move!" Athos ordered.

The medic followed his Lieutenant, satisfied that Athos was fit for duty, otherwise he would have objected.

As the four Inséperables were riding as fast as the narrow streets of Paris allowed towards the palace, followed by their comrades, they were all deep in thought. Their instincts were wide awake, ready to draw their weapons to protect their King and Queen and wondering what might have occured for someone to order Emmanuel to be tolled.

XXXXX

Earlier at the palace

Cardinal Richelieu dropped, exhausted, onto the chair next to his desk. Feeling thirsty, he poured himself a glass of water from a tankard and emptied it in one go. He felt miserable. It had started that morning. After mass, he had hurried over to his office to drink and eat something and afterwards he was expected at a meeting with the King. His Majesty had expected a detailed report regarding his journey to the Pope in Rome. He had returned the previous night, later than he had expected, but one wheel of his carriage had broken and so he had to stay over in a small village in Italy before finally being able to travel back to Paris.

As expected, the talk with the Pope in Rome had renewed his belief that he did not have the interest of France at heart, but only money, power and his own wealth. For Richelieu the whole journey had been a waste of time, but King Louis had demanded him explicitly to go.

The throne room had been much too sticky and hot for Richelieu's liking and he had wanted to loosen the top buttons of his long dark garment several times to get more air. Giving a short report and trying to ignore the fact that Captain Tréville was attending the meeting as well, he had tried to hurry, but King Louis had wanted to hear every single detail, not only about the talk itself, but what the palace of the Pope in Rome, the Lateran, looked like. King Louis was considering redecorating several of his larger halls and wanted to hear how those rooms were draped in Rome.

With a grim smile and a slightly flushed face, Richelieu had given his report, suggesting that one of his servants, who had accompanied him, could describe these details to the King better than he, but Louis had insisted on hearing his impressions.

As soon as the meeting was over, Richelieu had excused himself, beads of sweat covering his forehead. Captain Tréville, who had stayed behind to talk over some other matters regarding the guard and the regiment of the Musketeers had looked after him, concerned. The Cardinal had looked pale and sick, more like a ghost. He assumed that the long journey had troubled Richelieu. It was the first time that they had met each other after their argument in his office and Tréville was already waiting for a second confrontation with him, but he was prepared for it.

Cardinal Richelieu had barely made it back to his office. Having suddenly breathing difficulties, he paused several times. When one of his Red Guards offered to help him, he shouted angrily at him, sending him away, regretting it instantly because he was gripped by a cough, that nearly made him pass out.

Now, he was leaning more and more heavily on his chair. He drank another glass of water, hoping that his skin would feel less hot and he forced his fingers to open several of his top buttons to get more air.

What's wrong with me? Perhaps I am developing a cold. It rained heavily on our way back. I probably only need to lie down for a few hours and rest.

The Cardinal tried to get up from his chair, to walk over to a second room to his bedchamber, but a sudden pain in his upper arm made him drop back on his chair. He felt hot and cold at the same time. With his hand he tried to massage the pain in his shoulder away and it seemed to help, as the pain lessened a little.

I should call for a doctor, maybe some medicine will help …

"Arghhh …!"

The Cardinal screamed out loud. Another, more intense pain, gripped his chest and nearly made him double over. He opened his mouth wide, catching desperate for more oxygen, while feeling hot and cold again. The pain lasted for several minutes and left him out of breath. When the pain in his chest finally subsided again Richelieu reached for the water tankard once again. With trembling fingers, he drank. The Cardinal felt as if his heart was bursting in his chest and he felt suddenly very weak.

I need to lie down. Now.

He struggled to his feet, his rapid heartbeat drumming in his ears. He took one step forward. The chest pain appeared again, even more intense than the first time.

What's happening to me?

He clutched his hand to the middle of his chest, trying to get rid of the stinging pain, while his heart was starting to beat like a galloping horse. He tried to catch a breath, but he couldn't. He felt his feet giving away under him. When he slumped forward his blurry eyes noticed a vase with blue flowers on his desk - forget-me-nots.

I didn't notice those this morning …

Richelieu's eyes widened in horror as realisation hit him.

Poison … Milady … A picture of the beautiful woman who had worked for him as a spy came into his mind.

"Hel …"

He tried to shout, but he could only make some undecipherable sounds. He fell over, taking the vase and tankard with him, which dropped to the cold marble stone floor just like him.

With eyes wide open and his hand clutching over and over at his chest he tried to catch his breath. He couldn't stop his racing heart, he couldn't move, the last thought occurred to him was that he was dying. He lay on the floor, with no one near him, nobody had heard him collapsing, he couldn't shout.

I was wrong … I am stoppable …

This was his last thought, then his heart stopped beating after pulsing heavier than before in his chest. His last breath left his lips, which turning them slightly blue. The hand he had pressed on his heart slipped loosely several inches over his chest. His eyes and mouth wide open, he looked in an odd glance upon the dark ceiling of his office, but his eyes couldn't see anything anymore.

Cardinal Richelieu was gone. He had died alone in his office! His heart had stopped beating in his chest.

Several minutes later one of his valets knocked on the door. After listening for a few seconds for any sound he opened the door and saw the Cardinal lying on the floor. A maid who was cleaning the corridor heard his scream and hurried over. More and more people came by. A Red Guard left to call for a doctor even though he knew that all help was too late.

Rumours spread quickly that the King was on his way together with Captain Tréville being alarmed that something had happened to the Cardinal. The maid stood stock still in the room next to the dead body of the clergy. When she heard that the King would come, she looked at the flowers and shards of the vase and tankard that were lying next to the Cardinal's head. Out of habit and fearing that the King would rebuke her that the floor was not cleaned she bent down and gathered the remains of the tankard, vase and flowers and took them away, before the King entered the room, unaware that she was removing the evidence that would have proven that Cardinal Richelieu had been poisoned.

XXXXX

Tréville had witnessed many strange, bizarre and odd occurrences during his time as a soldier and as the Captain of the Musketeers. He had seen many dead people, men dying on a battlefield, in the infirmary, nevertheless he wasn't prepared for what awaited him this morning at the palace.

All hell broke loose when a Red Guard had come running to inform the King that the Cardinal was ill. Louis insisted on checking on him immediately. Fearing for his advisor, he rushed through the long corridors, Tréville next to him, giving orders to two of his Musketeers to call for a doctor, not trusting the Red Guard had already done that.

When they arrived at Richelieu's office King Louis rushed forward, shooing some curious pages and valets away. Using his arms to pull them back, he reached the lifeless body of the Cardinal. Hoping against hope, he dropped next to him on the floor and cradled his head in his lap, his arms slung round the lifeless upper body, shouting his name and demanding to talk to him. Captain Tréville, and two other Musketeers who had accompanied him, had to use all their strength to pull the crying and distraught King away from the corpse of the clergyman.

"He cannot be dead! He just spoke to us! This cannot be true!" Louis shouted, tears running down his face.

"Your Majesty, I am sorry, but he is gone."

Tréville tried to reach the King using a calm tone, but he knew that Louis was not ready to accept or understand the loss of the advisor he had valued like a father, asking his advice and depending on him in so many decisions.

"He shall stand up, now!"

King Louis sounded more like a defiant child, than a grown-up man and the ruler of France at this moment, and Tréville searched feverishly for a way to bring Louis out of the Cardinal's office. At least they had managed to sit him on the chair, Cardinal Richelieu had rested on only minutes before.

The arrival of Queen Anne -in her last month of her pregnancy-, and much calmer than her husband was a blessing, after realising that the Cardinal was dead, she hurried over to her husband. Talking calmly and quietly to him and with Tréville steadying him, they helped Louis up and out of the room to his own quarters. Leaving Richelieu's office, Louis looked one last time at his First Minister and said:

"You have to ring the big bell, the bell from Notre-Dame. It has to announce the death of the First Minister of France." The King cried.

"Louis, this can wait." Queen Anne tried to reason with him, holding a hand to her belly, feeling her unborn child kicking.

"Now!" Louis shouted with tears in his eyes and Tréville gave a discreet sign to one of his men to fulfill this task immediately.

XXXXX

Hearing the tolling of the big bell in Notre-Dame told Milady that her plan had been successful. Cardinal Richelieu, the First Minister of France, was dead.

It's somehow ironic. Milady thought. He has taught me how to become an assassin only to be murdered by me. He deserved it! He threatened to kill me and not only me …

Milady justified herself, she shrugged, shook her head and tried to get rid of old memories, which laid in her past and started to haunt her lately.

After returning from the palace earlier that day, she had gathered all her belongings she wanted to take with her, a horse was waiting in a stable nearby. Everything was organised for her departure. Now she could finally keep her promise she had given to Captain Tréville that she would leave Paris.

It's time to say farewell. She thought.

She had mixed emotions about succeeding with her plan- satisfaction, relief, pride. Her thoughts wandered back to the moment when the news had reached her that d'Artagnan had killed Athos after she had begged him to do it. She had felt differently back then. Suddenly so empty …

Milady swallowed hard remembering her journey of vengeance. How she was obsessed to kill him, the love of her life. He had ordered to hang her, after the death of his brother. Cowardly he had rode away not able to witness her death. Oh, how she had hated him fiercely. She had felt so hurt, so lost … but when her day of revenge had finally arrived, the cruel deed was done, she wasn't relieved at all, but somehow very sad realising that now there was no way back. Her purpose in life had gone from one moment to the next.

Tiredly and angry about herself she wiped some tears out of her eyes, too proud to let them run over her face, too self-controlled to allow herself to break down now after all these months that Athos had had the chance to kill her, but had spared her life.

Stop swallowing in self-pity, Ann. You need to go! She told herself.

Leaving her room she had occupied over the past few weeks, she stepped out of the house into a small side street of Paris. The sound of the big bell sounded like music in her ears. With a smile of satisfaction and pride on her face she neared the stable.

She had patiently waited for the return of the Cardinal for weeks, had figured out a plan to enter the Cardinal's quarters without being seen and to poison his water tankard. She knew that it was risky, but she decided to leave the vase with a bundle of forget-me-nots on his desk, a sentimental notion, she admitted to herself- her sign that she was not so easily threatened - not by a previous patron - not by anyone! Richelieu should know who had finally stopped his evil doing – not that she was any better.

Again her thoughts started to drift. This time to the day when she had nursed the Cardinal after he had been poisoned by this weird clergyman from Rome who had tried to condemn Ninon de Larroque as a witch. She had laughed kind of bemused when Richelieu asked her, if it was her doing, while she had wiped his forehead with a cool wet cloth after the attack on his life.

When I'm going to poison someoneI know how to do it correctly. I've just proven that.

Her horse neighed impatiently and stamped with one of its hoofs on the dirty ground of the stable, such as if the brown stallion wanted to tell her that they needed to leave. She ignored the horse.

Months ago, she hadn't thought of poisoning or killing the Cardinal. He had been her benefactor, had paid her, so that she could live again to the standard she was used to have, when she was still married to Athos. She could pretend to be a noble woman, she could go to assemblies and balls of the King – not that she was keen to go there-, most of all with the Cardinal's support and protection she could follow her aim to kill her husband. But by being so obsessed with her plan, she had started to become careless and sloppy. She had failed to fulfill the Cardinal's order to assassin Queen Anne. In the aftermath Richelieu had threatened to kill her. She had become a risk to him and his power.

He has deserved to die. His plans are evil. He wanted to see me dead. Through his doing Athos was nearly killed. Do I still love him?

Milady wondered while finally mounting the stallion.

He spared your life, Ann. I am done with hatred, I am done with revenge, I am done with mourning over our past, Athos. She told herself over and over again. We cannot go back, but a world without you Athos, would leave me emptier than I ever had imagined. I couldn't help you on that day, but I can prevent that Richelieu will try to kill Aramis a second time and thus endanger you.

The horse neighed again, just as if it agreed to her thoughts:

No, Richelieu deserved to die!

Milady shuddered remembering how she had watched from the distance seeing Athos lying severely wounded in the grass. She had not been able to help him. This moment had made it more than obvious to her that she still had feelings for Athos. It had nearly broken her heart seeing him so vulnerable and defenceless.

Why do I still love you, Athos? Youhurt me yet I am still bound to you …

What is this between us? It will never be as it once was.

Forget him, Ann! She rebuked herself. Oh, I wish it was that simple.

I need to forget him and I can only do this when I leave Paris.

He's better, I trust Tréville's words.

Milady slowly rode through the small lanes of Paris near Notre-Dame, towards Pont du Neuf, towards the gates of Paris. The hoofs of her stallion clopped aloud on the uneven cobbles.

Now and then during these past weeks she re-vived her good times with Athos, dreaming of this one perfect summer, when he had fallen in love with her, not knowing who she really was. Her plan had been to trick him, to marry him and gain his fortune and power. No more hunger, no more being poor or living on the street, but she had not foreseen that this young Comte would steal her heart instead. She was not prepared for love. She wasn't certain of her love for him at first, but when his brother Thomas had found out about her past, she had been afraid of not losing her title and wealth but Athos.

I lost him nevertheless by killing his younger brother! Milady laughed bitterly.

Milady's thoughts wandered back from Athos to the Cardinal. By now he had been found, by now he was dead. It had taken her several days to consider what to do, but after listing to the talk between him and Don Fernando, she had come up with the plan to murder the Cardinal. She had wanted to do it weeks ago, but then Richelieu had travelled to Rome and she had to postpone her plans.

It had given her time to gather more money, to organise the correct poison. Everything should look like Richelieu had suffered a heart attack. She had met with an old apothecary whom she had heard of could deliver what she needed. When the old man turned out to be greedy, she didn't pay him at all, but knifed him down and left with the flask and her money. The old man's body was now dumped in the Seine and it would take some time until it would be discovered further down the river.

After this was done, she had started to reach out to her old contacts at the palace, here a Red Guard, there a valet, bribing a maid or promising a lady-in-waiting something she could only help with. She had been the spy of the Cardinal long enough to know about the secret, hidden entrances to the palace, secret doors and corridors, which made it possible for her to bring the tankard with the poisoned water and put it on Richelieu's desk, together with the forget-me-nots, without being seen.

Milady didn't regret what she had done. Now she was ready to leave. She had heard of a group of people kidnapping workers and selling them as slaves to ships heading to the new world. She would join them, offer them their service, to gain some more money, to travel to England and to finally fulfill Athos' last wish to leave and never come back.

Milady looked up and could see riders in blue coming nearer from the other side of the bridge.

Musketeers! Athos and his comrades … She held her breath.

She goaded her stallion, so that the men would not recognise her – Athos would figure out at once that the Cardinal's death was not an accident, when he noticed her now. While she galloped over the bridge their path crossed for the last time, only Athos was unaware of it, too concentrated to reach the palace as soon as possible. She watched him riding together with his comrades, hurrying to the palace.

If he can ride again, he's definitely better.

A smile hushed over her face, followed by a deep sadness she suddenly felt rising in her. Not ready to look back she urged her horse hurrying to the outsides of Paris. She wasn't aware what her devilish deed of killing the First Minister of France would soon provoke and that the love she just thought she had lost forever would enter her life very soon again. She was focused on the road in front of her, finally letting go of all her memories which only made her sad and concentrating on what might lie in front of her: England and hopefully a prosperous, new life there!

XXXXX

A little later at the palace

"The doctor has just confirmed it. Richelieu suffered a heart attack."

Tréville looked at the Inseperables, who had gathered around him in the Cardinal's office. The corpse of the clergyman had been carried away, before they had arrived, otherwise Aramis might have seen the blue lips and come to a different conclusion from) the doctor.

"I cannot believe that he is dead. A heart attack, really?" Aramis murmured.

"Probably the stress of the long journey to Rome and back." Tréville mused, still trying to convince himself that he wasn't dreaming.

"One problem less." Athos muttered, realising, that now, they did not need fear another attempt on Aramis' life.

"Athos!" The sharp rebuke from his Captain came at once. "Not here, not now." Tréville added more calmly and in a low voice. "Besides you shouldn't be here."

Athos shrugged:

"I'm a Musketeer and serve my King." He answered in a monotone, his face not giving anything away of his thoughts or feelings.

"What shall we do, Captain?" D'Artagnan interrupted the staring match between the Captain and his Lieutenant.

"Inform all your comrades. We will protect and guard the palace to reassure the King that he is safe. Other than that, we cannot do much."

"Aramis and I will secure his office. We'll make sure that no one will enter these and the other rooms of the Cardinal's quarters." Athos suggested.

Tréville nodded his agreement, figuring that it was a task that his still recuperating officer could fulfill easily, then he ordered Porthos and d'Artagnan to follow him. When Aramis was alone with Athos he looked at his brother curiously.

"What do you have in mind, Athos?"

"Now will be our only chance to see if Richelieu had some written notes …" He didn't continue, knowing very well that these walls might have ears.

"You are right!" Aramis slapped his friend's back and the both of them started to search the cupboards which were filled with books and papers.

"Do you think he really died of natural causes?"

Aramis asked several minutes later, while hurriedly going through documents. Still wearing his leather gloves, his fingers scanned the written lines quickly, but the texts he had scanned so far hadn't indicated any hints that Richelieu had written anything suspicious about the Queen or him down.

"Who knows … He's been to Rome. Maybe the Pope succeeded in poisoning him this time. He has tried it before." Athos crossed the room and sat down at Richelieu's desk. He felt exhausted and drained, but he didn't want Aramis to notice it.

"I guess it is not our business to examine his corpse." Aramis mumbled.

"Such an order must come from the Captain. I assume that he will follow the judgement of the palace doctor." Athos went through some more papers, but none of the documents had anything) to do with the Musketeer Regiment.

"He has to have some notes on the Musketeers somewhere?"

Aramis shook his head, dissatisfied.

"If … they are not here." Athos added as a knock on the door made them both look up. Henri appeared at the threshold of the door.

"Order from the Captain, you are to join him at his office in the garrison, as soon as possible."

"Thank you Henri." Athos nodded to him.

Aramis, who was nearer to the door, left first. Athos, who was still searching had found a hidden stash in Richelieu's desk, but it turned out that the notes were not about Musketeer business, slowly stood up.

"Nothing." He mumbled to himself and Aramis could hear the dissatisfaction in his friend's voice.

The tired swordsman passed the desk on the same side of the table where Richelieu had collapsed, dying on the floor. He heard some crunching which was caused by his boots when they trapped into something which he recognised as little bits of glass. Small shards covered the floor next to Richelieu's table. Athos' glanced at the floor. He noticed several small blue blossoms and a tiny green stem on the floor. He knelt down and took the green peduncle** with three blue blossoms on it in his hand.

Forget-me-nots. Athos frowned. Can it be that Aramis is right … that the Cardinal was murdered. Is this Ann's doing?

Athos looked at the blue flower, absent-mindedly.

"Athos?" Aramis had stopped at the threshold, realising that his brother wasn't following him.

"I'm coming." Athos shook his head.

I'm already seeing ghosts.

He let the small flower drop to the floor and followed the medic outside, feeling slightly relieved to leave that dark place - he had never liked this office nor the man who occupied it. Even though Tréville had rebuked him earlier about his words, he had meant them from the bottom of his heart. With the Cardinal's death Aramis was safe for now and he would do everything necessary to keep it that way.

The finale end!


That's it! Thank you for reading. If you want you can leave me a review! I am not sure when I will be back with another story. I have several ideas …

Anyway, writing in a foreign language is very time consuming, not only for me, but for a beta as well, and right now I won't find the time to do it, so you have to be patient with me xx Kira


Notes:

* "The cathedral [Notre-Dame, Paris] has 10 bells. The largest, Emmanuel, original to 1681, is located in the south tower and weighs just over 13 tons and is tolled to mark the hours of the day and for various occasions and services. This bell is always rung first, at least 5 seconds before the rest." Source: Wikipedia-article, Notre-Dame, Paris.

In the Wikipedia version I checked first it says that there was a previous version to this bell. Anyway Emmanuel was built several decades after my story takes place. Due to the fact that even Dumas and the TV show bent historical facts from time to time, I allowed myself to put it already in this story. It is tolled to Easter, Christmas and so on or to the death of the Pope and to other occasions. The bell is called with its second name Marie-Thérèse after the name of the wife of King Louis XIV.

** "peduncle": I looked that word up and my beta asked me what's the meaning of it and advised me to explain it. It seems to be a biological expression for "stem". I hope it is the correct word otherwise I am sure you will tell me.