Authors note: I wrote this a lot quicker than I thought I would, a few days leave from work helped!
It is mainly Aramis whump, with a little Athos whump/worry, some d'Artagnan whump/worry and an angst ridden Porthos.
This was not the way they had wanted the reconnaissance to go. They were supposed to observe from a distance. Find out the numbers and capabilities of the people. They were not supposed to be fighting five untrained farmers.
The men were armed with work implements, a scythe, a couple of hoes and three pitchforks were being used on them. They had not been given a chance to talk to the men, the men had simply started to attack them. Admittedly, thought Porthos, they had been taken by surprise. They had not been expecting to meet any resistance this far from the farmer's encampment.
He used his main gauche to push the pitchfork away again. Porthos was holding back, he did not want to hurt the man. If they could just wear the men down, force them into submission, then they could be reasoned with. But these farmers were determined. They were strong, years of hard labour had given them the ability to continue to fight. They were not disciplined in their actions, but they were holding their own.
Athos was facing two men, pushing one off as he fought back at the second. The lengthy improvised weapons forcing the swordsman to adapt his style. D'Artagnan was trying to reason with the man in front of him, a younger lad, about the same age as the Gascon, who did not seem as invested in the fight as the other farmers. Perhaps he was only with the other rebels from a sense of duty. Aramis was fending off a giant of a man who was using a hoe to thrust at the marksman. Aramis was being forced to jump out of the way frequently. Porthos guessed that his friend would have liked to have drawn his gun and shot the man. But that was not want they really wanted. They did not want to hurt the men, let alone kill any of them.
But it was increasingly looking like they would not have a choice.
As the pitchfork was again pushed towards him Athos was forced to take a step back. He was not enjoying the fight. Not that he should enjoy any fight really. But generally he would have the upper hand once he had got the measure of the man or men he was opposing. This however, fighting men who were untrained and had no place in a swordfight, was not something he wanted to do.
The second man swung his hoe around and managed to knock Athos sideways a couple of steps. Athos knew he had to make the difficult decision to kill one or both of the men. He did not think he would be able to wear them down and after a very quick glance around he did not think any of his brothers would be able to assist him soon enough to be any real help. The older of the two men left himself open, Athos pushed his main gauche into the man's gut, using his foot to push the man backwards. The man stared at Athos in shock as he fell to the floor, the pitchfork falling from his hands as he did so.
The hoe wielding younger man used the opportunity to shove Athos backwards. The farmer was a solidly built man, with a bigger build than the swordsman who could not stop himself from staggering back. He hit a low bush and tipped over it, his arms flailing as he did so, the movement caused him to let go of his sword which fell to the floor. He landed hard, it took him a few seconds to orientate himself. He could not find his main gauche and his sword was tantalisingly out of reach of his outstretched hand. Athos scrabbled for his gun, but it was caught under a small stout branch of the bush. He tried to scramble up, but his foot was caught in the Y of another branch. Athos was trapped. The more he tried to pull himself free the more the bush seemed to grab him and keep him in place.
The farmer that had pushed him smirked as he advanced towards his helpless victim.
Aramis jumped aside as the big man swung the hoe at him again. The man was showing no signs of tiring. If anything, Aramis was beginning to consider surrendering to the man, but he did not think the giant of a man would accept his surrender.
He had been turned around by the constant need to jump out of the way of the big man's reach. Aramis could see his brothers all still busy fighting. Porthos and d'Artagnan appeared on the verge of taking out both of their men. Athos had been forced to kill one of the farmers attacking him and had been pushed back into a bush. The swordsman appeared to be struggling to pull himself back up as his attacker advanced on him.
Aramis realised the farmer was going to attack his helpless friend. Quickly turning his full attention to the giant in front of him Aramis took a chance. As the man swung his implement to the side Aramis stepped in and thrust his main gauche into the man's chest. He hated having to kill the man, but if it came down to the life of someone attacking him or one of his friends lives he would always choose his friend first.
Aramis pulled his gun.
Athos was trapped and about to be killed by the advancing farmer. D'Artagnan pushed the pitchfork to the side with his parrying dagger, twisted his sword and stepped into the man he was facing, taking him by surprise. He smacked the hilt of the sword into the side of the young man's face. The man fell to the ground stunned.
D'Artagnan wasted no time in pulling his gun and firing at the man who was about to pull back his hoe and push it into Athos' chest. Simultaneously two other gunshots hit the man. The man twisted slightly with each shot before falling backwards, his hoe landing across his body a look of surprise on his face.
Porthos lowered his gun, before moving forward quickly to Athos who was panting and staring at the space where his attacker had been. D'Artagnan closed the gap between them. He bent down over the man they had just shot, he was showing no signs of life.
Porthos had pushed his way over the bush, holding its branches down with his boot as he leaned forward to help Athos up. D'Artagnan bent the Y shaped branch and pulled Athos foot away from it to assist him.
It took a few seconds to extricate their friend, but he was eventually stood upright in front of them trying not to look shocked at what had almost happened.
Athos looked down at the two bodies in front of him, blinking a few times. D'Artagnan had his hand resting on Athos shoulder, he was not convinced his friend was steady enough to stand on his own.
A slapping noise made them all turn.
Porthos looked in the direction of the noise his eyes widening as he realised what had happened. The giant that Aramis had been fighting was lying dead, with the marksman trapped underneath.
The man, broader and much heavier than their friend had fallen forward as he died and somehow caught Aramis under his bulk. The marksman was using his free left arm to try to get their attention, in the few seconds it took Porthos to work out what the noise was the slaps became weaker and stopped.
Porthos and d'Artagnan hurried forward, with Athos only a couple of paces behind. D'Artagnan skidded to the floor and grabbed Aramis' hand whilst Porthos began to heave the dead weight of the man off their suffocating friend. Athos bent down to help, between them they tipped the man off Aramis.
Aramis gasped for air and flailed around a little as he tried to get his bearings. D'Artagnan grabbed him around the shoulders and pulled him up to sit stilling the marksman's arms as he did so.
'How did you manage that?' asked Porthos as he crouched in front of his friend resting his hand on Aramis' leg.
'Had to make a choice,' panted Aramis, 'I knew...he was falling forward. I took a step back...stumbled to the floor...had to shoot the man...attacking Athos.'
Athos sighed, 'so you chose to save me at your own expense?'
Aramis shrugged. Porthos rolled his eyes.
'But we 'ad it under control, you're not the only one that can shoot straight,' said Porthos with mock admonishment.
Aramis managed a smile.
'Are you...hurt?' asked Aramis as he looked at Athos.
'I might ask you the same thing, other than my pride I think I will be fine and from the looks of you there are two prides' that need fixing amongst us.'
Porthos laughed as Aramis looked away for a moment trying to hide his embarrassment.
Athos and Porthos rose and took in their surroundings. D'Artagnan stayed with Aramis who was still trying to control his breathing.
'Weren't there five farmers attacking us,' said Porthos as he looked about.
'I think mine is missing,' said d'Artagnan looking over to the spot he had left the man on the ground, 'I didn't kill him, he might have only been stunned when I knocked him over.'
'A pity,' remarked Athos, 'it would have been useful to interrogate him.'
Porthos looked over the doublet that Aramis was buttoning up. He smoothed his hand down the side of it and brushed off some of the dust.
'I doubt it was pristine before the fight, a little dirt will not look out of place,' said the marksman with a smile.
Porthos did not like the idea of either Aramis or Athos going off on their own. Both men had come close to being seriously injured. But he had to admit that they were the only ones out of the four of them who would be able to pull off the brief infiltration they had planned.
Athos was looking longingly at his sword as he picked up the scythe.
'Farmers do not routinely carry soldier's swords,' pointed out d'Artagnan, 'I should be going, not either of you.'
'You are more likely to be recognised than either Aramis or myself...and Porthos, these doublets would be too small for you and that one,' Athos nodded towards the big man that Aramis had killed, 'his doublet is too bloody.'
Porthos shook his head, still unhappy with the plan. D'Artagnan had complained when Aramis had suggested that he and Athos walk into the farmer's encampment wearing the doublets of the deceased farmers. But Athos was correct, the man that had escaped when they were helping Aramis would likely recognise d'Artagnan if he were to turn up in the encampment.
'Just be careful, and don't stay any longer than you really need to. We're only here to observe,' said Porthos when he had finally decided that Aramis' doublet did not need any further brushing down.
'We will be fine my friend,' said Aramis with a smile as he put on one of the farmer's hats.
As the men walked away Porthos thought back to the briefing Treville had given them. Intelligence had been received that a group of farmers were massing a few miles outside Paris. Their plan was to march on the Palace and demand a decrease in the taxes that had recently been imposed on them. The Musketeers were to observe the group then return and report. Treville would then be able to assess exactly what he would need to disband the group of annoyed farmers peacefully.
The Musketeers all knew the only way to prevent the farmers protesting was not to increase their taxes. But that was not going to happen.
'Are you sure you didn't injure yourself in the fall?' asked Aramis looking down at Athos gait.
Athos glanced at his friend before replying, 'I have probably bruised my ankle, but it is not causing me any issues. You nearly suffocated, I do not think you can play the medic with me at the moment.'
Aramis chuckled. They continued walking in silence for a few minutes. Athos looked ahead for any sign of the encampment. They knew the farmers had several encampments. A large one and a few smaller ones scattered around. If the gathering were to last for too long the harvest would suffer which would have the knock-on effect of leaving people with little food over the winter. The sooner they could disband the groups the better.
As the large encampment came into view they slowed their walk slightly, the regimented walk of a soldier might have stood out amongst the country men. They entered the encampment, deliberately not making eye contact with any of the inhabitants, they wanted to avoid any conversations if they could.
The men had set up tents and several fires. A small pen had been created for goats, one was being taken for slaughter as they passed. The camp was well organised.
'It might help if we could find the leader. This much organisation did not happen without leaders,' remarked Athos quietly.
Aramis nodded and indicated a larger tent where several older men were gathered. The two Musketeers approached slowly, turning off to watch from between two smaller tents. Aramis faced away from the larger tent so that Athos could observe it whilst pretending to be in a conversation.
Two men were deep in discussion with others listening. They were not close enough to hear the conversation, but it appeared to be heated. A younger man, about d'Artagnan's age, was stood nearby he appeared to be the subject of the discussion as the older men indicated him several times. Athos looked at the younger man for a moment.
'I think the man who got away from us earlier has reported our presence. Our reconnaissance may have to be cut short,' said Athos as he steered Aramis away, 'even we could not hold off this many angry men.'
'We've probably learned all we can anyway,' replied Aramis as he walked hurriedly along with Athos.
As they progressed through the camp Athos noticed a couple of men look at them curiously. One man pointed at them both.
'I think we have been recognised as intruders,' he said as he pushed Aramis into a faster walk away.
They walked as fast as they could without breaking into a run. It was clear they had been seen and that the men knew they were not meant to be there. They were about two hundred yards from the rendezvous point when they found themselves surrounded.
Athos held out his hands in supplication. Aramis stood back slightly to let him take the lead, although he suspected they would not be able to reason with the men.
'Why are you wearing stolen jackets?' asked one of the men.
The young man that had escaped from them was standing close to the front of the group. The older farmer was with him, the man looked angry. The man also bore a striking resemblance to the big man Aramis had been forced to kill. The marksman suspected the older man was the giant's father.
'We found them,' said Athos, 'we found them along the road, we were cold. We have nothing.'
Aramis could tell none of the men believed Athos' hastily made up lie. They began to advance. Neither of them would be able to fight back. They were only armed with daggers tucked into their boots, it would have looked too obvious to reconnoitre the encampment armed.
Two men grabbed him from behind he tried to shrug out of their grasp, but as they had already found, the farmers were strong men. Aramis could not escape them. Athos took a couple of steps forwards but was pushed back by another man. When Athos tried to punch the man he was grabbed and hit on the back of the head with the handle of a billhook. Athos crumpled, if he were not being held up by two men he would have crashed to the ground.
Aramis shouted out in protest, but a hand grabbed him around the mouth muffling the sound. He could only hope Porthos and d'Artagnan were close enough to have heard the scuffle and know that they were in trouble.