Authors note: When I wrote 'War Stories', Athos was forced to recount some anecdotes of his life as a soldier. He tells several stories, this is the story behind one of his anecdotes.

The Message

Chapter One

Athos glanced across to d'Artagnan who was crouched over the mortally wounded man. The man was talking and d'Artagnan was listening intently. The information the man was giving was of vital importance, Athos hoped the man had the time left to pass it all on.

The whole mission had turned into a disaster as soon as they reached the rendezvous point. The tavern had not been too busy, a group of men at a table to the side of the bar and their contact sat on his own in the corner.

As soon as they crossed to the man in the corner the group of men had risen and charged them. One of the attackers had shot their informant in the chest. D'Artagnan had been the closest and knowing how important the information was, went straight to the man and pulled him off to the side.

The four men who were attacking them were well trained, Aramis had managed to take out the shooter with a reciprocal shot to the chest leaving them with one man each. The fight was quick. Athos took out his man when he became distracted by attempting to reach d'Artagnan. As he pulled his sword from the mans gut Athos turned to see Porthos finishing off his man and Aramis, with a characteristic flourish slicing across his opponent with his main gauche.

D'Artagnan was still with their informant. He turned to face them.

'He's dead,' he said simply.

Aramis crossed the room and knelt by the man, he checked for signs of life, finding none, he closed the man's eyes and crossed himself before quietly saying a prayer.

D'Artagnan rose, 'I have the information, we need to get back to Paris, I'll tell you what he said on the way.'

As Aramis finished his prayer and rose, the door to the Tavern burst open with six men spilling in, weapons out. Two gunshots went wide of their marks and a second sword fight began.

Athos glanced around and accounted for each of his friends. Porthos was taking on two of the men and had quickly pushed one of them backwards over a table leaving the man either stunned or unconscious. D'Artagnan, the freshest of the four of them was holding off a man of his own age with ease, his opponent did not seem as well trained as the others, Athos was confident d'Artagnan would deal with the man quickly.

Aramis was fending off an enthusiastic man who, although lacking in training made up for it with his shear bulk, each bruising swing of his large sword was slightly overbalancing the marksman, who would probably not begrudge some help, when it could be offered.

Athos was facing two men, one of which was easily dealt with, a swift slice across his side and he played no further part in the melee. The second man tried to take Athos out with an ill-advised stab of his sword, Athos easily parried it and hacked at the mans shoulder with the next swing of his arm, the wound would prove fatal in seconds.

A movement to his right caught Athos eye, the man that Porthos had pushed over was up and had darted around behind them, grabbing one of the spent guns as he did so. Athos saw what he intended to do and shouted out a warning, but he was too late. The man swept the weapon low to the ground hitting Aramis just below the knees taking his legs out from under him. The marksman crashed to the ground. Before he could regain his feet the two men had their swords pointed at his throat. Aramis would not be able to help the others any further.

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Porthos was about to land a killing blow on his opponent when he noticed several more men had entered the tavern, they had spread themselves out and were aiming guns at each Musketeer. He glanced around and saw first Athos then d'Artagnan drop their swords, he followed suit. He noticed two men pointing their swords at Aramis who was sprawled on the floor his hands out in submission.

Aramis was hauled to his feet and pushed to stand with them. They all glanced at each other silently asking if each man was injured. None of them were. Their weapons belts were removed, and their hands roughly tied behind their backs.

One of the men walked over to the body of their informant and kicked the mans leg ensuring he was dead. He grunted and turned back to face them.

'I take it he gave up the information?'

They all remained silent. Porthos knew where this was going. The man wanted the information as well, and he suspected, correctly, that they had it. What he did not know was if they all had the information or just one of them did. At the moment they were all valuable to him, but that could change.

'You are soldiers, you know what is going to happen. Why don't you save us all the bother and just tell me what I need to know, and I will kill you all quickly?'

Again, none of them responded.

'Very well, we will do it the hard way…take them.'

One by one they were grabbed and marched from the tavern. They were walked through the village towards the castle that dominated the area. Under normal circumstances Porthos would have enjoyed a visit to such a grand building. The villagers peeped out from behind doors and windows, mothers protectively pulled their children behind them. The man and his posse of thugs were clearly a source of fear for the poor villagers.

They reached the castle and were pushed through the impressive archway into a big courtyard. A large double doorway ahead of them opened into a welcoming hallway with a sweeping staircase leading to the upper floors. They were steered to the left of the doorway towards a smaller door. One by one they were forced down winding stone stairs. The man obviously did not want to disturb the rest of the household whilst he tortured his captives for their information.

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Aramis was at the back of the four as they were bundled through a corridor lit by torches along the wall. The man who had relieved them of their weapons lay the belts and his field medics bag on a large table at the end of the corridor, as each of his brothers was pushed into a room off the corridor. He watched as Athos was pushed over to a wall and chained by the wrists into place, Porthos and d'Artagnan received the same treatment.

As he entered the room one of the men, who he suspected was the leader, nodded towards a large table opposite the wall where the others had been chained. The man holding him pushed him towards the table. The ropes on his wrists were cut, but his arms were held back as one of the other men unbuckled his doublet. The two men roughly pulled the doublet off him and tossed it aside. Equally roughly they pushed him forwards onto the table hauling him across it so that he was lying face down. When he tried to push himself back up he found himself forced back and held there by several of the men. Aramis knew there was no point trying to struggle further until he understood the situation they were in and what was going to happen. Although he had a pretty good idea.

The position he was in meant he could not see his brothers. He had known them all long enough to know what they would each be doing though. Porthos would be angry and trying to pull at the manacles keeping him chained to the wall, probably cutting his wrists in the process. Athos would be glaring at the men, particularly the leader. And d'Artagnan would be glancing between his brothers and himself. D'Artagnan had the hardest job now. He had the information the man wanted, and he was going to have to watch as the men did whatever happened next without saying anything. Aramis felt sorry for the younger man. He also felt a bit sorry for himself. Being tortured was never pleasant, although he was not alone, so there was more chance of escape.

One of the men pulled at his shirt exposing the back of his shoulders, Aramis wondered what they were going to do. He knew they would want to cause him pain, if they were any good, they would be able to cause him pain without doing much physical damage to him. They may need to torture him for hours, or they would grow bored of torturing him and move onto one of his brothers. Aramis knew that both Athos and Porthos would be able to withstand a lengthy torture, but would d'Artagnan? And there was also the possibility that seeing him assaulted would make the young man talk in a vain hope of preventing further injury. He hoped d'Artagnan would hold out.

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Porthos had pulled at his chains when he saw Aramis being roughly pulled about. When they pulled his doublet off and pinned him to the table it had taken a lot of will power not to shout at the men. But he knew there was nothing any of them could do. All they could do was watch for a chance to escape. And much as he hated the thought, Aramis was their best chance at that moment. He was the only one of them who was not chained up. How long they would have to wait for an escape opportunity and how much pain Aramis would have to endure beforehand was something none of them could answer.

D'Artagnan, looked worried, Porthos could almost read his thoughts. The young musketeer was the only one of the them who could stop the torture that was about to happen. But the information was too important and sensitive to give up. They might have to watch as their brother was injured, possibly killed. Porthos hated knowing what Aramis was about to endure and hated having to watch as d'Artagnan's guilt overtook him. He wondered if it would be different if d'Artagnan had had the time to relay the information to them. If they all knew it at least Aramis would be keeping silent through choice. Porthos knew that Aramis, had he known the information, would not give it up through torture. In an horrific way it was probably lucky that the man had not chosen d'Artagnan to be tortured, they did not know how well the young man would hold out under duress. Although watching his brother being tortured may be just as hard for him.

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Athos had not changed his expression since being pushed against the wall and chained there. He was staring at the leader. The leader was ignoring him. Athos knew that Aramis would not break under torture, but he was not so sure about d'Artagnan. The recently commissioned man had not been in this situation before. If the leader decided that Aramis did not know anything and that the rest of them were not going to speak out to protect him from further pain, he might turn his attention to his youngest captive. Athos glanced across to d'Artagnan whose eyes were wide. He was trying to school his expression to not show the fear in his eyes, but he was not succeeding very well. The younger man looked at Athos, who very slightly shook his head. D'Artagnan had to remain silent whatever happened, even if Aramis was seriously hurt or killed, even if the men turned their attention towards the other captives.

Athos looked across to the leader who was standing beside the prone form of Aramis resting his hand on the marksman's exposed back. Athos could see that Aramis' breathing had quickened a little. He was glad, in a selfish way, that they could not see their friends face. Watching the marksman trying not to show pain and, no doubt, eventually failing would be harder to deal with than simply seeing Aramis being hurt.

'Now, tell me the information or I am going to hurt this man. I am going to cause him pain. He is going to scream with pain. He will not be able to help himself,' the man leaned over Aramis and spoke to him, 'if you would like a swift death for yourself and your friends I suggest you tell me the information…No?' the man looked back across to his other captives, 'no?'

The three restrained men remained silent, Athos glaring, Porthos straining slightly on his chains, and d'Artagnan trying to remain calm.

The leader pulled a small sharp knife from his belt, Athos recognised it as the sort used to skin animals. The man rested the blade against Aramis shoulder before slicing it gently, with no pressure across the skin, a thin line of blood trickled from the shallow cut. Aramis had not moved, but Athos could see he had tensed up slightly.

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The knife sliced across Aramis' back again, the leader of the men glanced across at them before returning to his task. D'Artagnan could not bring himself to watch. He had skinned rabbits for his mother when he was very young, he knew the process. But this was a living man, his friend, and he had the power to put a stop to it.

He was caught between ending the torture of his friend and being responsible for all their deaths or keeping quiet as Aramis was sliced up by the man with the knife.

D'Artagnan glanced across at Athos who was looking at him again. The look that Athos conveyed said more than he probably could have verbalised. D'Artagnan was to keep quiet. They would have to wait the torture out. But when Aramis, who had clearly been trying to hold back finally let out a cry of pain d'Artagnan found himself on the verge of talking.

Porthos was looking at him now, despite the mixed emotions crossing the big musketeers face d'Artagnan again got the message. Keep quiet.

Aramis screamed, he struggled against his captors who held him firmly down. The marksman writhed and squirmed but could not escape the man's ministrations. D'Artagnan could not quite see what the man was doing to Aramis, but it was clearly having an adverse effect on his friend.

D'Artagnan wondered how much longer the marksman could endure the torture.

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