Good day, lovely readers. I do apologize for the long wait, but It feels amazing to know how much you all care, and how much you enjoy my stories. To apologize for the long wait, I am posting a shorter story along with the next two chapters of my other two stories; "Bullets and Bandages" and "Writing on the Wall." I hope you all enjoy.
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An Honor to Serve
Chapter I

The winter was only just beginning, and yet the city of Paris was preparing for another colder than usual day. The king, in all his wisdom, decided that today of all days, poachers had become a problem in the royal hunting grounds. So, he ordered Treville, his Captain of the Musketeers, to take care of the problem before retreating to his inner chambers where the climate was considerably more agreeable. Treville, wanting this problem taken care of as quickly and quietly as possible, ordered his four best men to take care of the poachers. Not knowing that this would set off a chain of events that could cost him the lives of two of his best men.

~§~

"Remind me again mon ami why we are out here," Aramis asked, shivering as the wind blew harshly around them.

"Poacha's," Porthos answered, pulling his coat tighter around his body, trying to retain his fast escaping warmth.

"I don't see why this is a problem," D'Artagnan moaned, coming up to ride beside their leader, who had yet to say a word since the beginning of their journey. "It's probably just a poor farmer trying to provide for his family."

"It is our duty to carry out the king's orders, no matter the circumstances," Athos stated.

"Ah! The statue finally speaks," Aramis laughed, coming up to ride next to his friend. Athos turned to glare at the Medic before returning his gaze to focus on their quiet surroundings.

"Well, we've been out here for hours and 'aven't seen a bloody thing," Porthos whined.

"Patience my friend," Aramis soothed. "If we don't find anything soon, we can go home and tell Treville there were no poachers."
A gunshot in the distance caught their attention and brought an eerie silence to the forest. They were immediately on guard and making their way to search for the source of the noise.

"Bloody 'ell," Porthos muttered, as he followed his brothers into the trees. Each man on the alert, looking for any signs of danger. Their quiet search came to a halt when they came upon an old forest road that split into two directions; each path bearing the marks of recent activity.

"Porthos, D'Artagnan, you two take the road to the left," Athos ordered. "Aramis and I will take the one on the right. We will meet back at this spot in one hour, do not be late."
With that command, they split up. Each group taking their assigned path, being careful not to make any unnecessary noise that would alert anyone to their presence.

~§~

Porthos and D'Artagnan rode in silence for what seemed like forever until Porthos leaned over and tapped the young Musketeer on the shoulder.
"Oy, ya see anythin'?"

"No, I don't see or hear anything," D'Artagnan sighed. "How long has it been? I have completely lost track of time."

"I say it's been an hour," Porthos answered, shivering as another blast of cold air heralded an oncoming winter storm. "Looks like a bad storm is comin anyway, if there is a poacha' out here, he's probably 'alf way home by now. If 'e knows what's good for him."

"You're probably right," D'Artagnan answered. "Let's go back and wait for Athos and Aramis." The two Musketeers quickly turned their horses and started heading back to the head of the trail to wait for their comrades.

"Looks like we're the first ones back," D'Artagnan observed.

"Yeah," Porthos agreed. "I'm gonna 'ave fun tellin ol' Athos he needs to follow 'is own rules," Porthos laughed.
A sudden explosion in the distance broke the two men from their laughter and sent a spike of fear through their hearts.

"Isn't that the direction Aramis and Athos went?" D'Artagnan asked in fear, looking over to see the same fear reflected in his friend's eyes.

"Yeah, it is," Porthos answered, dread evident in his voice. D'Artagnan ran a shaky hand through his hair and looked up to the sky.

"It looks like a bad storm is about to blow in. If we don't find them fast, we'll all be in trouble," D'Artagnan continued.

"You're right there pup," Porthos replied as he turned his horse in the direction they had come. "We need to go tell Treville what happened. These aren't regular poacha's we're dealin with, we might need backup."

"What are you saying?" D'Artagnan gasped. "We can't just leave them there!"

"I know how you feel lad, but with a storm blowin in and an unknown enemy ahead, we could be walkin into a trap, we need more men. D'Artagnan huffed under his breath, knowing his friend was right.

"Well, let's hurry back, I don't want to get caught in this storm, we need to find them as soon as possible."
With that, the two Musketeers quickly turned their horses and sped back down the trail to bring aid to their missing brothers. Each man silently praying they would find their two friends in time.

~§~

The two Musketeer's road in silence until the frustrated medic could not take it anymore.

"Athos my friend," Aramis asked. "Why are you quieter and grumpier than usual?"
Athos sighed and turned an annoyed gaze towards his friend.

"Well if you must know," He huffed in annoyance. "It is my birthday," he answered. Turning his attention back to the task at hand, as if that was the end to their quiet conversation.

"What?!" Aramis answered annoyed with himself for forgetting such an important date. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because all of you would have made a big fuss over nothing. I do not like to celebrate such things, it only brings back memories I would rather forget."

"Your birthday isn't nothing!" Aramis exclaimed. "It is a day to celebrate another year of life and the company of good friends. We could have had a grand party, had some good food and maybe some target practice with a few melons."

"That is why I didn't tell you," Athos sighed. "I am not worth the trouble," he thought.
A noise up ahead ended their short conversation and stopped them in their tracks.

"Did you hear that? Aramis asked, jumping off his horse and moving off the trail.

"Sounded like another gunshot, only much closer," Athos answered, jumping off his horse and moving off the road to stand next to Aramis.

"Let's leave the horses here and move forward on foot," Athos ordered. Aramis nodded in agreement and tied his horse not far off the trail.

They quietly made their way through the trees and deeper into the forest, intent on learning the source of the noise without being discovered.

They walked in silence before they exited the forest and came into a small clearing. The clearing was deserted, covered in a thick layer of snow from the previous days' snowfall. On the far end of the clearing, there was a large cavernous opening in the earth, leading to who knows where. They stayed back and hid in the safety of the shadowy trees, waiting for movement, waiting for any sign of trouble. Suddenly, on the far end of the forest, a group of men and horses pulling wagons emerged and stopped near the opening to the cave.

The men on horses jumped off their mounts and came around to unload the contents of the wagons. Aramis and Athos watched as the men unloaded crate after crate and carried them into the darkness of the cave. After they finished a small group of men left with the horses and the wagons, disappearing into the tree line. The remaining few men exchanged a few words then retreated into the darkness of the cavern, leaving a man behind to watch the entrance.

"We have to see what is in those crates," Athos whispered.

"Agreed," Aramis quietly replied. "But how do we get there without raising an alarm from the lookout?"

"We move along the tree line and get as close to him as we can, then we disable him," Athos replied. Aramis nodded in agreement and followed Athos as he made his way through the trees and close to the opening of the cave. When they neared the spot where the lookout was waiting Athos turned and motioned for Aramis to wait. He quietly made his way to where the lookout stood, drew his harquebus from his belt and brought it down on the watchman's head, rendering him unconscious. Athos caught the man as he fell and dragged him back to where Aramis was waiting.

"Nice work," Aramis laughed. "Remind me not to get on your bad side."

"What makes you think you're not already on it?" Athos replied, turning to look at Aramis. The ghost of a smile lighting up his features, bringing a mischievous twinkle to his eyes. Just as fast as the smile appeared it was gone and replaced with the countenance of a man who was considering their next move.

"Grab any supplies you can from our surroundings, we might need them.
After they had scavenged the required supplies, they met at the opening of the cave, peering inside but seeing only darkness.

"How deep do you think this goes?" Aramis whispered.

"I suppose we will find out," Athos answered, giving Aramis a comforting squeeze on the shoulder before entering the dark cave, Aramis took a deep breath and followed his friend into the darkness, unable to fight the feeling they might be walking to their doom.

~§~

They made their way into the cave, stopping only to light a torch from their scavenged supplies before moving forward again. They walked until the cave split into three different directions, each path as dark as the night. Athos lowered the torch to inspect the ground, looking for any sign of the men who had come before.

"Look here," he whispered. "This is the direction they went," he continued, using the torch to point to the path on the right. They quietly made their way into the dark tunnel, the walls growing closer and closer the deeper they got.

"Look at the markings on the walls," Aramis whispered, his voice echoing off the cold stone. "These tunnels are manmade, why would they dig so deep into the earth?"

"Perhaps they're trying to hide something," Athos answered.

They continued in silence until the small tunnel exited into a large room filled with crates, with another tunnel opening on the far end of the room. Aramis pulled a small tool from his pack and went to open one of the crates. Inside he found items of gold and silver bearing the kings seal. The next crate was full of weapons of various sorts also bearing the mark of the king.

"I do believe we have stumbled upon a smugglers den," Aramis whispered. "We need to get out of here and tell the others," Aramis hissed, making his way to the tunnel entrance they had come from. As they were about to leave a voice coming from the dark tunnel across the room stopped them in their tracks.

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that," The voice continued as he stepped into the light, revealing a man with a weapon pointed directly at them. "I should have known you pesky Musketeers would find me eventually," he hissed as more men poured into the room surrounding the two musketeers.

Aramis, who was standing closer to the weapon, made a move to grab the firearm, but a blow from behind sent him to the floor unconscious. Athos moved to aid his fallen comrade but was restrained and held from behind.

"Restrain him and move the rest of the merchandise, can't have your friends finding us can we."

"You won't get far," Athos replied with an almost uninterested tone to his voice, while inwardly fearing for the safety of his unconscious brother. "We have men outside ready to rush in at the slightest hint of trouble."
The other man laughed as he turned to stand in front of Athos.

"You know," He laughed. "I haven't gotten to where I am in this business by being stupid, I know you're lying. I have eyes everywhere in this forest. Your two friends are nowhere near here and when they finally find you, there won't be anything here but the two of you."He laughed as he turned away and headed for the tunnel on the far side of the room, before partially turning to look at Athos with an evil smirk on his face.
"That's if they find you," he stated with a laugh before leaving the room, signaling to his men to continue their work.

Before the Musketeer lieutenant could make a move, a blow to his head sent him into oblivion and he knew no more.