Treville had never been so angry with his nemesis before. 'How dare he?!' he thought to himself.

Moments later, he was admitted into Louis' presence, and began to boil all over again. Richelieu had already gained the King's ear, leaning in to say something to him, probably hoping to cement his views with Louis before he got there, Treville's thoughts continued. 'We will see about that,' he thought.

"Treville," Louis said, and the Captain began to smile, before forcing it back so that Louis would not see.

Louis had a strained expression on his face, obviously ill-at-ease with wht he no doubt had been hearing. Good, Trevile thought Very good. This might be easier than I thought. 'Louis definitely is not liking what he is hearing. He was so excited to join me in executing justice, and probably feels like it is being taken away from him'. Treville knew how hard it was for Louis to deny Richelieu anything, and Richelieu knew it too.

Coming forward, he said, "Are we all ready to go witness the event?"

Louis, plainly relieved at Treville's presence and feeling more confident now, started to reply when Richelieu intervened.

"Your Majesty, I do not think ...," but that was as far as he got.

When Louis was in a situation that threatened something he was very much looking forward to and then relief appeared, he could, and sometimes did, become very autocratic and assert himself.

He turned back to Richelieu, not quite letting the smile reach his eyes, and said, "I am sorry, Cardinal, but Treville and I are on our way to witness justice done. You may have our ear again when we return."

Richelieu, for once in his life, was speechless, all his carefully thought out arguments blown away by his sovereign's abrupt dismissal.

As he slowly left the room, he thought to himself, 'that is one for you, Treville.' Pausing, he then continued, 'But there will be others.'

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The Musketeers got to the site they had chosen well before the agreed-upon had chosen a place outside of Paris, a large empty meadow right at the edge of a forest. Louis and d'Artagnan had walked into the forest a short ways, Louis having seen a young buck and wanting a closer look. He was seldom free of the coterie of attendants and noblemen, the latter always hoping for favors from him, that he was relishing the short spell of freedom to let himself enjoy his ever-present curiosity.

Aramis, who had insisted on coming and who had been standing with them, still got a little tired easily. He graciously their invitation to accompany them into the woods, and leaned back against a tree trunk with his arms crossed, enjoying the mild weather and serene beauty surrounding them, and watching Athos and Porthos checking out the grounds where the duel would take place. They wanted to examine the ground to make sure there were no clods of dirt or small stones lying about, as they wouldn't put it past Philippe to play dirty to get an unfair advantage by flinging something at his opponent.

Philippe was now late by at least fifteen minutes. He was still showing his anger and resentment with Treville, as he felt the Captain was far beneath himself in rank, and that he shouldn't have had to follow his instructions.

His verbal protests had petered out when Treville had handed him a folded paper with the royal seal. Opening it, his heart had nearly stopped when he had seen Louis' sprawling signature at the bottom, having immediately looked to see who had sent it.

The note was short and to the point.

'Consider yourself lucky that you are not hanging from a gibbet for your deeds.' Glancing up, he saw the Musketeer captain watching him with great interest as he read the missive. His eyes looking downward again, he continued reading. 'When you attack my personal guards or my property, as you have done, you attack myself. You are to meet Athos in a duel at noon tomorrow. If you win, you will be banished from France for the rest of your life. If you lose-a likely prospect-you die. This is a duel to the death. Louis.'

He had blanched as he had read his fate, both as winner or loser. He was both seething and feeling the unfamiliar sensation of fear inside. 'Life was over for him, he thought, but I will not go out without a fight. And at least, one of the Musketeers has felt my wrath, remembering his satisfaction at hearing several of the Court gossips relaying the information that one of Louis' elite Musketeers was on his deathbed.' It had given him immense satisfaction when he had heard.

What he hadn't known was that Treville, knowing who some of the most well-known gossips were, had planted the information into their ears in the first place, ensuring that Philippe would hear it. He knew how whispers flew through the Court.

xxxxxxxxxxx

The Musketeers looked up as Philippe finally made his way across the meadow half an hour late, strolling towards then as if he had all the time in the world.

He was dressed like a peacock, bright crimson doublet, the ruffles at his neck and wrists outrageously long and embroidered with peacocks, his boots shining so much he could probably seen his own reflection in them, his hat sporting a very wide brim with a ribbon of matching crimson around it, and with peacock feathers jutting out at an angle on the side. the man still clung to his arrogance, it was plain to see. Either that, or he was masking his fear at the coming encounter.

He had almost reached the middle of the meadow when something caused him to look towards the edge of the forest.

"You!" he exclaimed, his voice at once both shocked and angry, and directed at his focus-Aramis, rapidly heading in his direction.

Before Athos or Porthos had time to close the distance between them, Philippe had swiftly reached Aramis, grabbing the front of the startled Musketeer's doublet and yanking him towards himself. "You are supposed to be on your deathbed. How dare you..."

That is as far as he got, as an imperious and furious voice stopped him.

"How. Dare. You." Louis and d'Artagnan had emerged from the forest just as Philippe had grabbed Aramis.

"How dare you assault my Musketeer again!"

Philippe was frozen. He had been caught by the King himself! His hands dropped woodenly to his sides, as he bowed low to the ground.

Louis was not mollified, however. "You animal! You are not fit to be a member of the ancient, esteemed noble family whose name you bear. You are again very lucky that I allow you to carry on with the arranged duel."

Seeing that Philippe was about to speak, Louis forestalled him with an imperiously-raised him, saying, "Enough! Let this duel commence!"

In silence, Athos and Philippe took their places. Philippe, looking into the sharp green eyes and cold expression of his opponent, felt like someone had just walked over his grave, struggling to swallow the overwhelming feeling of fear flooding him now. This was the finest swordsman in all of France facing him, the man whose guard he had been unable to even break through even once when he had tried to prove his skills to be accepted into the ranks of the Musketeers, despite having had the finest tutor in the skill that his father's money could buy. He had dreaded being banished if he himself won, but looking again at the man in front of him now, he knew he was looking at the face of his own death.

Once their duel began, Philippe could tell Athos wasn't even using all of the skill he possessed. It was like his opponent was toying with him, as a cat might play with a mouse. He shivered and tried to banish the thought so that he could concentrate.

A few minutes into the duel, Athos began delivering small flicks of his sword, here a slight nick on the shoulder, there a cut on the thigh. Soon, he had caused a dozen of them, letting Philippe know that, in reality, he was at his mercy.

Athos was taking his time, knowing full well that Philippe was no match for him. He next began moving the cocky nobleman around in various directions, letting him stew wondering why he was doing it. The look on the man's face told Athos it was working like a charm. He was very confused now. So Athos went back to nipping at Philippe's body in different places!, barely enough in all to even show any blood, though.

Philippe by now was most unpleasantly aware of what Athos was doing, finally knowing wihtout a doubt that he had no chance whatever of winning. So far, he had been unable to figure out a way to stop him.

Then, his devious mind thought of something. He had coins in his pocket!

As covertly as he could when his back was to the onlookers, he slowly reached down into his pocket as he got ready to fling the coins in his opponent's face. But he had reckoned without the one person from whose angle he could clearly see what he was doing. As soon as his hand had begun to withdraw from his pocket, Louis shouted, "Beware, Athos! He has something in..."

Athos' sword went right for Philippe's arm, and this time the touch was a lot deeper, blood appearing on his sleeve immediately. Philippe screamed, and dropped his rapier.

Athos lowered his sword a few inches, saying, "Pick it up!" Now!"

Philippe, his hand now holding his upper arm, reluctantly bent to pick up his sword. He was barely standing upright again before Athos attacked once more.

Gone was the detached expression of a few moments ago. In general, his face didn't betray his inner disposition fully, but looking into his angry face now, Philippe knew he was meeting his end.

Philippe was driven rapidly clear across the field, unable to use his weapon for anything but a desperate attempt to protect himself. But he knew in his heart that the only reaason he was able to do even that was because his opponent was permitting it for the time being.

That all changed when Athos suddenly stepped close and grabbed the front of Philippe's expensive crimson doublet, yanking him up close as the nobleman had done to Aramis a few minutes before, and holding him there.

"You misbegotten cur! You have finished the miserable life you have led," tightening his hold as Philippe attempted to squirm out if it.

"You have led a life where whatever you have wanted has become yours. But you made a fatal mistake when your wish became the death of my brothers. For that, it is now forfeit."

At these words, Philippe once more wildly attempted to pull free, and Athos unexpectedly opened his fist and let him go.

Philippe turned and ran a few steps, then knowing that he wouldn't be able to escape, turned back and charged, sword pointed at Athos' chest.

Athos, having expected something of this sort, easiliy evaded the blade, then swiftly drove the point of his sword deep into Philippe's heart.

The young nobleman sank to his knees clutching his chest and staring up wordlessly into the face of his executioner. Then, his eyes rolled skywards and he toppled to the groun, dead before his body even reached it.

His brothers and Louis joined Athos, looking down silently at the foe who now lay motionless in the grass.

Louis was the first to speak. "Excellent! Well done, Athos! We are very pleased that justice has been served. We will see that his father is informed straight away. Gentlemen!" and turning, he headed back towards the palace, d'Artagnan accompanying him.

Porthos clasped Athos on the shoulder, and then Aramis pulled his brother to him in a very emotional hug. Then, they began the long walk back to the garrison.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Next morning, Athos, Porthos and d'Artagnan waited for Aramis to join them for their morning meal at their table, but he didn't show. Figuring he was getting a little more sleep, which they didn't begrudge him after all that he had gone through , they went ahead and ate, putting in a word to Serge to save some of the porridge with apples for their brother for later. He would do it too for his acknowledge favorite, they knew.

Porthos thought he would just poke his head in Aramis' door a moment later, a habit he wasn't ready to give up quite yet until his brother looked a little more energetic and back to his normal self.

But when he opened the door and looked around, he yelled, "Athos! D'Artagnan!"

They both came running, wondering what was up.

When they reached him, Porthos said, "He isn't in there. He is still tiring fairly easily. Where did he go?"

"We know Aramis." Athos said drily. "We should have expected this. He may not be cooped up in bed any more, but he may have felt a little restrained when he was only allowed to 'roam' the garrison-aside from out escapade yesterday morning. He may have just gone to check on his friend."

Moments later, they were headed out of the garrison gates. It didn't take them long to reach their destination.

The partially-burned down house and chapel appeared ahead now, and they could see some of the neighborhood men working away reparing some of the damage. Greeting them, they kept moving, almost sure they knew where he might be.

Quietly opening the door, they beheld their brother and Fr. Luc side by side kneeling in the chapel, their heads bowed in silent prayer.

All three of his brothers stood quietly at the door, smiles having replaced the concerned expressions they had worn just a few moments before.

When Aramis and Fr. Luc finally rose from their prayers and turned, Aramis grinned and said, "Didn't I tell you they know me well?" clasping the priest's shoulder briefly before striding forward as he spoke.

Reaching his brothers, without a word he hugged each one of them before saying, "Thank you for my life, mes amis. I've probably said something like this before. I don't know what I ever did to deserve it, but I know I am loved, and the love I have for each of you rests in my heart always. Let's go home, brothers."