This story is set immediately after the end of episode 1.10.

Richelieu's Revenge

Chapter One

Darkness gathered in the room. The candles barely chased away the gloom, banishing it only as far as the edges of the ornate oak desk. The man in the chair, his robes hanging loosely around his thin body, did not even acknowledge the transition from day to night. A pen was held in his right hand, the ink on the tip long since dried. With his left he drummed his fingers on the polished surface. The steady beat kept time with his thoughts. Any other man might be accused of sulking, but this was the First Minister of France, the mighty Cardinal Richelieu and he didn't sulk. He plotted and schemed to ensure that he always came out on top.

It had been a strange day. At the start of it he had high hopes of luring the young man, d'Artagnan, away from the Musketeers. He had also hoped to reclaim written evidence of his complicity with Gallagher in the assassination attempt on the Queen. That evidence, as it turned out, didn't exist. He had been tricked into admitting his crime in the hearing of the Queen and, for a split second, had believed he was doomed. However, instead of denouncing him she had given him the same freedom granted to a dog on a leash. He could continue his work on behalf of France but the threat remained always in the background.

Then had come the announcement of her pregnancy. A startling development after years of barrenness. The King, of course, was delighted and, while she carried his precious child, would deny her nothing. His brows drew together in a frown. Was it though the King's child? He had stumbled across an unusual scene of the Queen giving a private audience to the Musketeer, Aramis. He had been one of the soldiers who had guarded her life at the convent. Was it possible that they had been indiscreet? The timing would certainly make sense. It was a proposition that required a lot more thought.

That brought him back to the subject of the four meddlesome Musketeers who had ruined all his plans. They could not be allowed to escape unpunished. The Queen was beyond his reach; they were not. He considered each in turn. All had a weakness which could be exploited. Athos was a known drunkard and Richelieu had no idea why Treville tolerated him. Aramis could not turn down a pretty face and had already crossed him once in the matter of Adele. He missed Adele. She had been a skillful mistress and, he had thought, trustworthy. He didn't for a second regret ordering her execution.

Then there was that great brute of a man, Porthos. He was nothing other than a common thug who had crawled out of the Court of Miracles. Such a man wasn't fit to wear the pauldron of the Musketeers. He had a reputation for cheating at cards and joyously throwing himself into every fight that came his way. Well, in fights, accidents could happen. Finally, there was the newest member of their group, the young Gascon, d'Artagnan. The Cardinal had hoped to reel him in using Milady who had been confident that he couldn't resist her charms. He had proved her wrong and seemed to be more attached to some insignificant merchant's wife. He had summoned Milady hours ago and her failure to appear was just another tiny pin prick in a day of irritations.

Somehow. he would find a way to destroy each of these men. He pulled a fresh sheet of parchment towards him and began to write.

TMTMTM

The tavern was warm and smelt strongly of spilt beer. The noise levels had been steadily rising as men called in on their way home from work. At a table towards the back of the room sat two of the men that had caused Richelieu so much trouble. A third sat close by engrossed in a cut throat game of cards. Their fourth, and youngest, had excused himself and gone back to the garrison. He was taking the loss of Constance very hard.

"So," Aramis took a swallow of wine. "The Queen is with child."

Athos looked around irritably. "This is not a conversation to be had here. It hasn't yet been announced." He had, of course, other reasons for cutting off this line of thought.

"She looks well," Aramis persisted.

"She's the Queen. She always looks well."

"Athos…"

"We're not discussing this. Not now or at any time in the future." He beckoned to one of the serving girls. "Bring us some food."

"She's very happy. Surely you don't begrudge her that."

"Everyone is happy. You can be happy from a distance."

Aramis sighed and gave up. "Everyone except d'Artagnan."

"That is unfortunate, although it avoids many complications. To set a married woman up openly as your mistress is a dangerous thing."

"True. Constance would have lost her position in society and would have no protection if d'Artagnan were to get himself killed." He smiled automatically as two bowls of stew and a plate of bread were placed in front of them.

"He's young. He'll get over it." Athos picked up his spoon and regarded the greasy concoction in front of him with some misgivings.

"Ah, puppy love. It's always your first love the hurts the most." Aramis' face fell as he realised what he had said. Athos had been forced to tell them about his marriage to Milady. From the little that he had said it had been clear that the marriage had been a happy one until the death of Thomas. Now Aramis felt as if he was rubbing salt into the wound. However, Athos didn't seem to have noticed.

The stew turned out to be flavourful enough and the bread was fresh so they ate in silence for a while. They could hear Porthos' laughter, loud even above the normal din of the place. He seemed to be having a good night.

"I was surprised that the Queen was so lenient with the Cardinal," Aramis said after wiping his mouth. "She could have utterly destroyed him."

"He's the one governing France. Take him out of the picture and who do you have left? The King has neither the interest nor the ability and there is no natural successor. I believe she made a wise move. She has checked his power without sending the country into turmoil."

"That is a sad reflection upon our present state of affairs."

"I would wager it is none so different in other countries. And, it is none of our business. We are soldiers, not politicians, and it's time we got back to doing our job. We have interfered far more than is prudent in matters of state."

"We had good reason."

"I am not disagreeing with you but now things are stable again. We are soldiers, sworn to protect the King and uphold the law. That should be enough." It wasn't enough for Aramis, he knew, and never would be. The coming child in all likelihood was Aramis' which meant that the complications were only just beginning. It didn't occur to him that Richelieu might stoop so low as to seek revenge on them and neither did he foresee the damage that would be inflicted. The skein was tangled enough without that.

Tbc