Stars Come Falling Down From The Sky by theredwagon
Summary; Four months have passed since the events that took place in the story "In Restless Dreams I Walked Alone' and our Musketeers are once again in peril as it's revealed that there is a spy in their midst. Aramis and d'Artagnan have been betrayed and captured by the Spanish while Athos and Porthos are unaware of the danger from within as they search for their missing brothers
Disclaimer; No money be made, no harm intended.
Title; Lovingly borrowed from the song 'Still I'm Sad' by the amazing Yardbirds
Henri Pierre Bernard does not consider himself a man who is easily frightened.
When he was a boy of just six he'd fearlessly killed the fox that had been terrorising their hen-house with only his wits and a slingshot. By ten, he was taking on the older boys in the village who'd taunted his cousin for being a bit on the chunky side due to his fondness for pastries, and at fifteen he'd used his father's ancient pistol and a broken broadsword to scare off a pair of intrepid thieves from his family's farm. He'd been chosen as a Musketeer cadet at twenty two and a full-fledged member of the regiment at twenty four and has seen many skirmishes and faced countless enemies in his service to the Crown. Now, at twenty seven, he's survived eight months of combat on the bloodiest battlefields this war had spawned, men against cannons, infantry facing cavalry, but he's never shirked his duty, never run away from the fight or turned his back on his brothers.
Today, however, Henri is not feeling particularly confident or brave. Just the opposite, today, he's properly terrified.
He's lost many comrades since they'd left Paris the previous spring, including one who he'd considered a brother from the day they'd met at the garrison as cadets and he'd almost lost another that he'd come to love just as dearly. He and Laurent and Marcel had been friends since their training days and they'd added d'Artagnan to their group when the younger man had received his pauldron and moved to the garrison and into their barracks. The three friends had known that d'Artagnan had a special place beside the so-called Inseparables - their current Captain and his trusted Lieutenants - but they were also aware of the fact that he was a great deal younger than his older comrades and the youthful friendship that Henri and the others had extended to the newly commissioned Musketeer had been appreciated and reciprocated.
A few months earlier, their small group of friends suffered their first misfortune; d'Artagnan had been badly wounded and had teetered on the edge between life and death for days, the entire regiment fearing for his survival, since his wounds had been sustained saving his comrades from a battle they could not have won. Just as d'Artagnan had begun to slowly recover, they were struck by another tragedy, the loss of Marcel, who'd been cut down in a surprise attack on their camp that had also left their Captain seriously injured. Thankfully, for the sake of the regiment and for the men who cared deeply for their Captain, Athos had made a full recovery, as had d'Artagnan after a long and arduous struggle to regain his health. But the loss of Marcel, Henri's very first friend in Paris, weighed heavily on the young man as well as upon Laurent, who'd become sullen and withdrawn for weeks after, and d'Artagnan, whose struggle with poor health had been further burdened by their shared grief.
As for Henri's current predicament, and the reason for his distress, well, the truth is that he's faced down the Spanish with less trepidation and fear. Inside the flimsy canvas walls of the Captain's tent, two of the most intimidating men in the entire French army are waiting for him to share the report he's received from the afternoon patrol. He hesitates just a few moments longer, trying to regain his composure since the news he has to impart has also affected Henri in a deeply personal way. It's freezing, the ground blanketed in a few centimetres of fresh snow, and the low temperatures in northern France are not what most of the regiment is accustomed to, but that's not why he's trembling, nor is it from fear; it's the thought of enduring more loss that makes his body shake like an autumn leaf dangling on the edge of an empty branch, just moments from falling from its perch to wither away and die.
The tent flap opens abruptly and Henri, startled, comes face to face with the intimidating figure of Porthos du Vallon.
"Are you waiting for an engraved invitation, boy?" he asks sharply and Henri doesn't reply, he just ducks into the Captain's tent, his face set in a grim expression.
He salutes Athos stiffly and his Captain, seated at the desk that d'Artagnan had somehow managed to have sent from Paris for his mentor, nods and indicates that he should be seated, and Henri gratefully complies.
"Out with it lad, I know you've been standing outside for near quarter of an hour, care to explain why?" Athos queries, one brow raised.
Henri swallows. "My apologies, sir," he says contritely. "It's just that the news I have to impart is not what you…or I…had hoped for," he adds quietly.
Porthos practically growls in reply and Henri physically flinches.
"Spit it out, boy, or I'll have you digging latrines for the rest of the war!" the big man says angrily.
"Sorry sir," he replies at once, thoroughly chastised, and clears his throat. "The afternoon patrol has returned from their search for our missing Musketeers. They found two horses, a pile of weapons and a…a substantial amount of blood in the snow," he says so softly he barely hears himself speak. He can't help it, the words are broken glass in his throat.
"Where?" Porthos asks abruptly.
"Three leagues northeast of here, just within our borders."
Athos' expression doesn't change, he's deceptively calm and it's very unnerving. "And were you able to confirm who the horses and the weapons belonged to?"
Henri nods slowly. "Yes sir, the horses are unfamiliar, probably changed at our outpost, but they carried regimental saddle bags with identifying marks and they contained items that were easily identified. The weapons, sir, they're personalised and distinctive to two particular soldiers of our regiment," he explains with dread and he clears his throat again before he continues. "As a result of the search and subsequent investigation, it's my duty to inform you that he horses, personal belongings and weapons belong to, without a doubt, Aramis and d'Artagnan," he says finally. Now that he's said it, it becomes real, the full force of the information he's just imparted hitting him like an avalanche and he feels like all the breath had been knocked from his lungs.
Porthos breaks the momentary silence with a sweep of his hand across the top of a barrel covered with tin cups and plates, sending the tableware flying across the tent in a shocking outburst of rage, the clattering of the metal hitting the ground followed by a string of curses that Henri has never even heard before. Athos is chillingly composed, his expression blank and his blue eyes cold.
"How much blood is a substantial amount, lad?" he asks carefully.
Henri can't meet the older man's gaze. "Hubert says enough to kill a man…but we can't know for certain whose blood it is or if there was a fight or even if it's human, it could easily be from an injured horse or from a wild animal…" Henri is saying, babbling somewhat incoherently, anything to make that cold, dead stare in the Captain's eyes disappear.
"Were there any other signs of a struggle or a battle, pistol wadding, shot balls, disturbed bushes or undergrowth?" Porthos demands to know.
Henri shakes his head miserably. "No signs that there was an extended firefight and there was very little in the way of undergrowth or foliage, it's rocky terrain sir, a convenient place for an ambush. Hubert was very thorough, he and Jacques and Bonet went over the entire area meticulously. They also searched a large swathe of countryside around the spot where they found the horses, for hours, looking for any possible signs of them, clothing, blood…bodies," he add much quieter, "but nothing sir, they've just…disappeared."
"Men don't just disappear! They're either killed or taken as prisoners but they don't just vanish! Were there no tracks in the snow or on the road?" Porthos asks with barely controlled fury.
"Yes, sir, but some ended at the river, others seemed to overlap as if they'd gone one way and then turned right back around….there was no clear trail to follow."
"The tracks could belong to anyone, Porthos, dozens of soldiers, bandits, refugees walk and ride along the borders daily. They could have doubled back to confuse us, or possibly had a vessel waiting at the river. They might even be holding them in any of the many ruins along the road," Athos says, mulling over the possibilities. "Henri, have Hubert give the scouts a full report and then have them sent to me at once. Also, if Aramis and d'Artagnan had changed horses then the dispatches have probably already been delivered and haven't fallen into enemy hands. We can't know this for sure though unless we send riders to the outpost to confirm," the Captain says, considering. "Send four men, our best riders, to the outpost outside of Arras immediately to make inquiries. I want to know every detail of their stopover there as well as anything suspicious that our forces may have seen in the surrounding areas. "
Henri nods and suddenly remembers the grain sack he's holding tightly in his left hand.
"Captain, Hubert told me…he said you should probably…that you'd want be given…" he stutters, not sure how to continue, when Porthos takes two steps forward and yanks the sack from his hand.
Henri watches, in utter despair as Porthos reaches into the sack and removes the blood-stained item within; Aramis' hat.
Porthos tosses the sack aside and handles the sturdy leather hat gently, probably searching for holes or tears that might indicate a head injury, but aside from the blood on the brim, there is no other damage to Aramis' beloved head-wear.
The Captain is still completely emotionless, his expression hasn't wavered even for a second but Porthos looks stricken and Henri feels the depth of his despair. Aramis is a well-loved figure in the regiment; quick witted and jovial, and he is also a man of God whose faith has been a source of solace and hope for even the most hardened soldiers amongst them, and Henri has a great deal of affection for the man. D'Artagnan on the other hand is not everyone's favourite, there are many who are jealous of the lad's position in the hierarchy, but to a man, he is revered for his loyalty and his bravery, the likes of which most of the men have never seen before.
"Very well, go on now, lad, you have your orders, tell Hubert to confer with the scouts and send the riders to Arras," Athos reminds him sternly, rising carefully from his chair. It's been nearly four months since his injury but there are moments that Henri sees a stiffness in the Captain's movements that indicates some amount of lingering pain; the injury, a slash across his torso, had been ghastly, and Henri imagines that the skin and muscle probably still feel the sting of mending flesh, but Athos does this utmost to hide his discomfort from his men.
"Yes, sir, I'll make all the arrangements immediately," the young man replies, suddenly feeling a fierce rush of emotion and the sting of tears, and he stumbles over his words. The ever-astute Porthos notices and rests one hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.
"We'll find them, boy, our scouts are the best in the army. They're not dead, that's for sure, the pair of them have more lives than a pack of stray cats combined, trust me, I know," he says reassuringly and Henri meets his gaze and suddenly feels hopeful.
"Yes, of course we will," Henri replies confidently, and he salutes his superiors and hurries to search for Hubert. The quicker the scouts are on the road, the faster Aramis and d'Artagnan will be safely returned to the regiment.
Aramis wakes to the oh-so-familiar ache of a battle-incurred injury, something his tired and battered body has sadly become far too accustomed to.
He opens his eyes slowly and tries to take stock; he's not in the infirmary in the French camp, the stone walls, heavy wooden door and tiny barred window near the ceiling attest to that. Night has fallen but lamps have been lit around the corners of the cell and Aramis can see well enough to take stock of his surroundings. Surprisingly, he's lying on a bed, a proper one with a straw stuffed mattress, covered by a clean-smelling blanket and his clothes are hanging neatly over the back of a chair beside him. Clad in only his drawers and an unfamiliar shirt, his jewelled crucifix still around his neck, he discovers that his shoulder wound, caused by a pistol shot, feels as if it's been stitched and cared for properly and is wrapped in a clean bandage. It takes a few more minutes for him to remember exactly what had happened, but when he does he bolts upright, a move he regrets at once since it leaves him breathless with pain, but he pushes it aside and calls out a name.
'D'Artagnan!" he cries, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, wondering if the boy is somewhere close, maybe in the cell beside him, and he prays that he will hear him call out and he'll answer, so that Aramis will know that he's alive and safe.
When no reply comes Aramis calls out his name again, louder, and he attempts to get to his feet, intending to dress himself, when the heavy wooden door swings open, startling him.
"There is no reason to be alarmed, Senor," a uniformed Spanish soldier says politely, entering his cell. The door remains open but it's guarded by at least four heavily armed men, Aramis notes, and he sinks back down onto the bed, knowing that he is in no shape to take on even one of them.
"Where is the lad I was with?" Aramis demands defiantly in perfect Spanish, his bare feet freezing on the cold stone floor.
The Spanish officer takes a few steps closer. "In the cell beside you. He's quite the menace, your comrade, fought like a lion protecting her cub when we separated the two of you, I'd not have expected it from someone so…unimpressive," the Spaniard says with a sneer.
Aramis wants to reply to that slur but he bites back a retort, fearing for the boy's safety. "Is he injured?"
"He attacked four of my men, he'll be sporting an considerable array of bruises for many days to come."
"If you're planning on a prisoner exchange, I assure you it's in your best interest not to harm him any further," Aramis warns sternly, knowing full well that he is far from intimidating, clad only in his underwear and with a serious injury to his shoulder, but that doesn't stop him from speaking up on behalf of his younger brother.
"My dear sir, I don't think you are in a position to be giving me advice or your opinion. Now, I have it on good authority that the pair of you were carrying important orders…oh yes, a spy in your midst," he adds when Aramis literally feels his jaw drop in shock.
"We carried no orders, and if we had you would have found them already on our persons or in our saddlebags," Aramis replies smoothly, composing himself after his unintended lapse in self-control. "You have been sadly misinformed I fear."
The Spaniard, a ruddy, heavy-set man of around fifty, nods slowly. "Or maybe you'd already delivered these orders before you were intercepted by my men. My spy is very reliable, Senor, I know for a fact that you and that stable-boy were carrying classified correspondence."
"Even if we were carrying orders, and I insist on my honour that we were not, how would we possibly know what was inside a sealed military pouch?" Aramis asks, grasping at straws.
"A spy, remember? Of course you would know, you are Aramis, lieutenant and second-in-command to the infamous Athos, Captain of the Musketeers, the Comte de la Fere, and that street urchin is d'Artagnan, the wretched boy who killed one of my finest officers. What a happy coincidence that it was the pair of you sent out on this mission, I couldn't have planned it better myself as I've been biding my time, waiting to get my hands on that murderous little bastard!"
"You have referred to him as a stable boy and a street urchin when your 'spy' should have informed you that he is one of the most highly decorated soldiers in our regiment, and more valuable than myself in a prisoner exchange," Aramis informs him proudly, trying his utmost to hide the horror he feels that the Spanish are aware of the boy's identity.
The Spaniard laughs. "That skinny, long-haired, unkempt…creature is a highly decorated Musketeer? He's a dishonourable ruffian who killed a titled Spanish officer in an unfair duel," he spits. "Truly, if I was a less patient man I would have had him on the rack the minute I was informed of his name."
"D'Artagnan fought fairly and honourably! A dozen of your men witnessed the duel and they brought no objection to the outcome!" Aramis counters angrily. "At any rate, even if I had the knowledge you seem to think I possess, what is my guarantee that you'll let us live?"
"My word is your guarantee. I think it's in your best interest that you share what you know and maybe we can come to some sort of agreement?"
Aramis narrows his eyes. "What kind of agreement?"
"Apparently you are of noble Spanish blood, and a man of God I'm told," the Spaniard says pleasantly.
Aramis raises one brow. "Your spy?"
The officer chuckles. "No, the boy, when you were unconscious and he was bargaining for your life. He told my men that you are the product of a marriage between a noble Spanish Lady and a French father, and that you'd dedicated your life to God and the Catholic church until you were taken, against your will, from the monastery at Douai and forced back into the King's service due to your skills as a healer."
Oh God, stupid, reckless boy, using half-truths to save his life…in exchange for what?
"And what did he offer as a bargaining chip?" Aramis asks tersely.
"Himself," the Spaniard sneers. "Brash fool, I already have him in my custody, and what I'll do with him aside from beat him till his skin peels off or hang him and throw his body to the wolves is beyond me."
Aramis feels all the blood drain from his face and he wills his entire body to remain utterly still; if he lunges for the Spaniard's throat he's sure to seal the boy's death warrant as well as his own. "So what kind of agreement were you going to offer me?"
"Simple. Give me the information I desire and I will set you free, unharmed. My spies will spread the word that it was the boy who gave up the French secrets, he was the traitor, not you, and that he died of dysentery or some other foul disease. You, on the other hand will have your reputation intact and your freedom, you need never spare the brat another thought."
Aramis feels disgusted and sick; that this man would think he'd offer up d'Artagnan like a lamb to the slaughter willingly makes him physically ill. But he continues to play the game, he must see where it will lead. "My other option?"
"Your only other option is to remain here in this cell, indefinitely, to be used at some point in time in a prisoner exchange. I won't be responsible for torturing a monk," he says, crossing himself as he does so.
"His fate is sealed, my dear compatriot, there is nothing you could possibly offer me would prevent that!"
"He's just a boy, surely if you had a son or a nephew his age you'd want a gentleman such as yourself to show mercy?" Aramis reasons. "He didn't even chose to fight that duel of his own accord, it was me who arranged it, you can ask any of the men who were present. If someone is to be punished for the death of your officer, it should be me."
"What an odd coincidence; the boy said the same thing, that he should be punished and not you, when I mentioned your part in that farce of a duel. You see, Senor, I already knew all the details, my men were very thorough in their report of the events of that horrible night."
"If they were so thorough why did they not tell you it was a fair fight?" Aramis challenges. By this time, his shoulder is throbbing, he's chilled to the bone and desperately needs to lie down. But not until they come to some agreement on d'Artagnan's fate. "Look, if you reconsider your plans for d'Artagnan I might be willing answering some of the questions you may have, say, regarding troop movement," he lies smoothly, in an attempt to buy some time for his brother. He's sure that Athos and Porthos have become aware of their disappearance; there is no way that the Captain will leave them, or any of his regiment for that matter, to die in a Spanish prison.
A soldier appears at the door carrying a tray of food, another behind him with medical supplies. Both await orders from their superior officer.
"No, that's out of the question. You have until tomorrow morning to consider both the options I have put forward. As for the brat, I'm sorry, you cannot bargain for his safety or his freedom, only for your own. He will be punished for his crimes, regardless of what you choose to do."
"Then take all that away. If he is to be mistreated I won't be catered to while he suffers," Aramis says defiantly, waving a hand at the two soldiers carrying the trays."
"Senor Aramis, staying alive and fit is not an option; you are of no use to me dead. Now, if you do not eat or you don't allow your wound to be treated I will take it out on your beloved comrade. If you cooperate, I will allow him some bread and water, if you don't he will receive 5 lashes for your stubbornness."
"You said you will punish him either way. What's another 5 lashes?" Aramis says bitterly. "I'll suffer alongside of him."
"Well, since he's unconscious at the moment I hadn't planned on getting started just yet, but if you insist?"
"NO!" Aramis cries out horrified and he berates himself for his foolish outburst. "I'll cooperate, please, just leave him be, and give him some food and water, I beg of you, as a Christian and a gentleman, surely you can look past your need for revenge and see him as he is; an orphaned lad, penniless and with no prospects, forced into the military when he had no other options."
"Good Lord, the two of you are quite pathetic, aren't you? Begging to take the other's punishment, pleading for each other's lives; do the French have no sense of self-preservation or self-respect?"
"We're Musketeers," Aramis replies proudly, "All for one and one for all is our motto, so no, we're not very big on self-preservation."
The Spaniard chuckles at Aramis' reply and waves the soldiers into the cell, indicating that they should put the trays on the small table.
"My physician will treat your wound and you will eat what you've been provided and I will see that the brat is given bread and water, agreed?"
"Agreed," Aramis says, feeling lightheaded from exhaustion and pain and hunger, but mostly from his fear for d'Artagnan.
"I will return in the morning for your decision, though I suspect that you've given me your answer already. I very much doubt you'll be giving up the boy in exchange for your freedom, so maybe I will take under consideration your counter-offer after all; information for better treatment of the wretch, we shall see how generous I am feeling after a good night's rest."
"I will pray for our Lord to offer you peace this night so you will show mercy to those whose fate you hold in your hands," Aramis bites out, struggling to sound sincere when all he wants to do it gut the bastard and leave him to die…slowly.
"I wish the same upon you, Senor Aramis, so that we might find mutual ground when the sun next rises," the older man said with false pleasantness, and he departs, leaving Aramis to be forcefully tended to while d'Artagnan suffers injured and alone.
D'Artagnan can't remember the last time he'd felt so cold.
They'd spent most of the winter on the frozen and muddy battlefields, in the rain and in the snow, but the adrenaline and the fact that they were constantly in motion, always running or fighting or moving on to the next bloody skirmish seemed to keep the cold at bay, and at night, in their tent, Porthos, the worrying fool, would pile all their extra clothing onto of his slowly healing body, his brother's thoughtfulness providing far more warmth than the flimsy pile of shirts he'd so carefully layered on top of him.
There's no Porthos and no blankets or extra shirts in his freezing cell, and only his doublet and his cloak for warmth and a pile of straw in one corner as a bed, his bruised and aching body shivering violently as the wind blows into the room through the small window with the broken glass near the ceiling, bringing bursts of snowflakes now and again, until the freezing stone floor is partially covered in a shiny white blanket of snow.
He barely remembers the attack on the road after they'd successfully delivered the dispatches that Athos had entrusted to them. They'd been heading south, away from the outpost east of Arras and back to the Musketeers camp; Aramis had been shot and he himself had taken a blow to the head when they'd been ambushed by at least 20 Spanish soldiers who'd been lying in wait for them. How they'd known where to find them, d'Artagnan has no clue, but it was obvious that they'd been expecting them or at least tracking them and somehow they'd been aware of their identities as well. It was inconceivable to even consider a traitor among his fellow Musketeers and d'Artagnan tried to think anyone from outside their regiment who could have possibly known of their mission.
Dragged off their horses, they'd been searched bodily, their saddlebags and saddles and tack thoroughly examined, and they were thrown into a cart, transferred to a barge and then forced to walk, Aramis barely conscious, bleeding heavily and d'Artagnan carrying most of his weight for the last half hour or so of their ordeal until they'd been deposited, together, in this cell somewhere deep within this unknown Spanish stronghold.
With Aramis in dire need of medical assistance d'Artagnan weaved a tale of half-truths to get sympathy from his jailers for his part-Spanish, almost-a-monk, devoutly Catholic brother and he'd succeeded and Aramis had been tended to by a proper physician, his wound cleaned and sewn shut neatly and carefully. When the physician was done a haughty officer with an expression similar to a permanent sneer entered the cell and informed him that he was aware of their identities, their roles in that blasted duel, and he gleefully imparted to d'Artagnan that they would pay their long overdue debt to the lash for killing a Spanish officer.
In a desperate attempt to spare Aramis a whipping, d'Artagnan had pleaded with the Spaniard to let the injured Aramis go free, reminding him that his brother was a holy man, warning the Spaniard of the wrath of God as well as all the other dire consequences his actions would have, anything he could remember from his catechism lessons and he offered to take punishment for both of them; Aramis would never survive the lash in the state he was in and d'Artagnan would die before he'd let them whip the injured and incapacitated Aramis for something that what entirely his responsibility. The Spaniard seemed to blanch when d'Artagnan mentioned God and hell and the devil and the older man had crossed himself and swiftly left them alone in their cell.
At some point they'd come to take Aramis away, and d'Artagnan had panicked, terrified and anxious for his unconscious brother's safety, and he'd launched himself at the guards, foolishly and recklessly, and he'd been given a thrashing that his body will not be forgetting anytime soon. One eye is swollen shut and his left shoulder is dislocated, the rest of his aching body littered with ugly, swelling bruises and he thinks some ribs might be cracked, he can't be sure though since Aramis is not at his side to examine them or put his shoulder back into its socket. Someone has left some bread and a small metal pitcher of what he assumes is water, but he is in too much pain to lift himself up to eat or drink, despite the persistent rumbling of his empty stomach.
The heavy wooden door creaks open and is immediately shut. A candle illuminates the pitch black of his cell but d'Artagnan can hardly muster the strength to care. Whoever it is, d'Artagnan is sure it's not a social call.
A uniformed figure kneels beside him and brings the plate of bread and pitcher of water closer to where he lies listlessly on the mouldy straw.
"I only have a moment," a voice says in accented French, "so tell me if there is something I can do to help."
Shocked, d'Artagnan opens his good eye and blinks, trying to make out the face of his benevolent visitor. It takes him a moment to place the face, but when he does, he is thoroughly surprised.
"I know you," he says slowly, his mouth dry and his voice rough. "You were there, at the duel, you were beside your Captain, you're the Lieutenant. It was you who told Athos about the poison."
The Spaniard nods.
"You saved my life, thank you, if you hadn't spoken I would be dead," d'Artangan says, grateful. "Do you know if my friend is alright?" he asks anxiously.
"The Spanish monk? Yes, he's fine, the General is a religious man, your friend is very lucky. Now, quickly, tell me if you need any of your injuries treated!" he hisses, his gaze darting to the door fearfully.
D'Artagnan swallows. "My shoulder, it's out of its socket, can you put it back for me?" he asks hopefully.
The other man appears horrified but he nods reluctantly and with great care lifts d'Artagnan up to lean back against the wall.
By the time he's seated, d'Artagnan in practically whimpering in pain, but he's doing his valiant best to keep as quiet as possible. "Do you have something I can bite down on?" he asks the Spaniard; if he screams he'll bring the entire stronghold down upon them.
The Spaniard nods and quickly removes a small, flat leather sheaf, meant to hold a dagger, from inside his pocket. He's obviously come unarmed, probably in case d'Artagnan would attempt to use his own weapons against him; smart man, he thinks.
"Thank you," d'Artagnan says gratefully and accepts the small, leather case. "Have you ever done this before?"
The Spanish officer shakes his head. "No, but I've seen others do it, many times. Should I try?"
"Yes, please," d'Artagnan replies and he puts the leather case in between his teeth. "Alright, on three?"
The Spaniard nods grimly and d'Artagnan bites down hard as the other man counts, evenly to three, and pulls d'Artagnan's misshapen shoulder forward and back into place.
The pain is so excruciating that all the air is punched from his lungs, the leather case falls from his mouth and his head flies back, slamming hard against the rough stone wall and he see stars, tears running in rivulets down his filthy face and yet not a sound escapes his dry and aching throat. The Spaniard takes a cloth, maybe a handkerchief, from the pocket of his coat and wets it from the pitcher and he cleans d'Artagnan's face carefully, wiping away some of the grime and dried blood until the fine white material has turned almost black and the officer appears satisfied that he's done his best.
"Listen, I must go. Eat, I don't know when you'll be fed again, the General is cruel and has no respect for the treaties concerning the treatment of prisoners of war. I'll try to come again tomorrow, alright?"
"Bless you, friend," d'Artagnan whispers harshly, still panting from his ordeal, sweat matting his hair despite the frozen air and the snow-covered floor. "Once again you've come to my aid."
"Tomorrow I'll find a way to close off that window from the outside, but now I must go," he says anxiously.
D'Artagnan nods in understanding, but he has an urgent question for the man before he goes. "Why are risking yourself to help me?" he asks softly, confused but extremely grateful.
The Spanish officer stiffens slightly. "You fought bravely that night, and my Captain wronged you, it's my duty as a gentleman to make amends," he explains with complete sincerity and d'Artagnan is thankful that the war has not stripped this young officer of his humanity, as it has done to so many men on both sides. "Now eat and rest, I must go!" he says and the door creaks open and shut, and d'Artagnan thinks the sound of the metal bar coming down on the other side sounds a bit like a guillotine falling.
He hopes that isn't a sign, foreboding his fate.