A few days later...
Back in his uniform, Porthos felt cleaner and better prepared to meet any enemy that threatened him or his friends. The fact that that enemy was the King did not surprise Porthos. The monarch was pacing up and down berating the four of them. He had been berating them solidly for ten minutes. Porthos was quite impressed the man had not yet grown board and sent them on their way.
The Queen was stood watching a few yards away, her ladies in waiting trying to look interested, but failing. The Queen, however, had listened intently to Treville's report of all that had happened to the four Musketeers as they had beaten the odds despite the assortment of injuries, they had all picked up.
'I thought you were the best of the Musketeers,' the King said.
He paced away a short distance stopping in front of a footman who was struggling not to react to the close proximity of his lord and master. Porthos noted the look of relief flash across the man's face as the King turned away.
They had been summoned to the Palace. Treville had said the King had wanted to see the four of them on the same day that they had escaped the devil worshippers. Treville had persuaded the King that his men needed to have their injuries properly seen to before they could be made presentable at court. Porthos knew their Captain was not lying, the four of them were all exhausted and three of them were injured. Porthos did not count the grazes and bruises he had suffered as injuries. He did still feel guilty about breaking Aramis' arm, despite his friend telling him, several times, that he did not blame him in any way. Aramis' dismissal of the issue did not stop Porthos from wanting to help his friend as much as possible during his convalescence.
When they had returned to the garrison it had taken a bit of persuasion to get the injured men to spend at least one night in the infirmary. Porthos had offered to stay with his friends. They had eaten well and talked late into the night, despite their tiredness, sleep seemed elusive for many hours. Porthos knew that d'Artagnan was a little worried about nightmares. It had taken the rest of them to point out that they had all come close to death before in many different scenarios.
They eventually retired to bed, falling into unbroken slumber until midmorning the following day, despite d'Artagnan's worry.
Now they were standing in front of an angry King, wishing they were anywhere else.
'You have a broken arm,' said the King pointing at Aramis who was obviously struggling not to take a step away from the accusatory Royal finger.
'How did you break your arm. You're the Musketeer marksman, what use are you now?'
'His arm will mend, your Majesty,' said Treville, before Aramis could say anything they might all regret.
'I broke his arm, Majesty,' said Porthos, who disliked seeing his friend being berated for something that was not his fault.
The King rounded on him, anger in his eyes. Treville again came to the rescue.
'Porthos hurt Aramis as part of their act. Porthos had to prove that he was willing to treat the lower classes in the same manner that the devil worshippers wanted to.'
The King glanced at Treville for a few seconds before looking at Porthos. Porthos stared straight ahead, keeping to attention.
'And you got yourself shot,' the King narrowed his eyes at d'Artagnan who had not been able to hide the pain he was still in.
'There was a melee in an enclosed space, Majesty,' said Porthos. 'We were outnumbered, but still, beat the odds.'
The King glared at Porthos before turning to Athos.
'And you were beaten on the street. And the pair of you allowed yourselves to be taken by the men in the first place.'
Tutting the King turned his back on them all and walked up to a sideboard. Arranged on the sideboard were four small blue boxes, each with a hinged lid that stood open. They could not see the contents of the boxes.
'I was going to give you each a medal to show my appreciation for your work,' he said as he looked at the small blue boxes. 'But I have decided you do not deserve them.'
With a loud click, he shut each box in turn, the sound echoing around the large room they were standing in. Porthos noticed the ladies in waiting jumping as each box was slammed shut. After the sound had dissipated the King turned back to face them. He regarded them with disdain for a few seconds.
'I do not want to see them again until they are all back to full duties. They do not deserve the honour of protecting the King.'
Without further ado, the King turned and walked from the room, the footmen rushing to open the door for him as he went. Most of the attendants in the room followed in his wake. Only the Queen and her two ladies remained. She was looking at the open door, her head slightly tilted as if listening carefully. As the flurry of activity that always surrounded the King died away, she looked at the Musketeers.
'I told Comtesse Beringer and Madame Roux what you did. I told them how you had all investigated the killings of their sons and the other victims. I told them what the four of you did in that horrible house with those horrible people…'
She paused and slowly walked to the sideboard where she gathered up the boxes. She crossed to stand in front of them, making eye contact with each of them in turn as she continued to speak.
'Comtesse Beringer and Madame Roux have lost their sons. They will never recover from that loss, I am sure. But they told me they are glad that the men responsible for so much evil have been dealt with. I am sure those that got away will have no inclination to return.'
The Queen walked up to d'Artagnan and handed him one of the boxes.
'You four acted with bravery to deal with the situation.'
She moved onto Athos who took the second box with a bow of his head.
'You could have buckled under the pressure, but you did not.'
Porthos took the third box with a smile of thanks to the Queen who smiled back at him.
'My husband does not understand true bravery…'
She paused in front of Aramis, her eyes lingering on his broken arm and the bruising that still marked his face.
'...but I understand. And I am grateful. Take these on behalf of the bereaved families. They have some solace now. The men that were responsible for the murders of their family members have been dealt with.'
As she handed the last box to Aramis, she glanced back at them all with a smile.
'Louis will not notice. He has probably already forgotten about this whole incident.'
She smiled at them all for a few seconds, before turning to go. The Musketeers all bowed, as well as they could, given their injuries as she left.
As the ladies in waiting disappeared after their mistress, Treville turned to them.
'It would probably be a good idea to not wear those when you are in the presence of the King.'
'I am sure it will not be too long before the King goes back to ignoring us,' said Athos.
'Yeah,' said Porthos, 'he only notices us when we've done something that annoys him.'
Athos watched as the Captain walked across the garrison yard and climbed the steps back to his office. He had given them strict instructions to take two days leave before even contemplating returning to work. And even then, he would only be giving them light duties.
Aramis had sighed dejectedly, the fact that he was carrying the worst injury of the four of them was weighing heavily on him. Athos noticed that d'Artagnan did not look much more enthusiastic about the enforced rest he would have to take for a few more days until the wound to his side had healed sufficiently for him to do anything even vaguely active. Athos knew that his own injuries, although unpleasant to look at, would fade quicker. He was stiff from the beating he had received but would be back on duty before his friends.
Porthos' guilt had not dissipated. The Musketeer had accepted that he had no choice but to cause Aramis harm, but that did not ease his self-loathing due to the act. Athos had watched as Aramis humoured his friend on the walk back from the Palace. Aramis' cloak had slid from his shoulder a couple of times causing Porthos to take the time to pull it back into place. Porthos had also been the one to gather Aramis' breakfast and had hovered close to him since they had returned in case, he needed anything.
D'Artagnan might not have been quite as physically affected as Aramis, the wound on his side was in no way as debilitating to him. He was having to take it easy and could not move as quickly as he would have liked. The mental scars were the ones that worried Athos. He knew he would have to talk to the young man at some point. He was not one to be open with emotion but to suppress the fear and worry that d'Artagnan had suffered was not something that could be encouraged. D'Artagnan had briefly told them about his time imprisoned in the pitch-black cell which was followed by his forced ordeal tied to the altar with no obvious escape. Athos had spoken to Aramis and Porthos and told them to keep an eye on their friend. They did not want him to suffer alone. Bottling up traumatic events did not do any of them any good. At that moment d'Artagnan was gazing off into the distance not really paying attention to his surroundings.
Athos returned his attention to Aramis who was starting to look exasperated with the continued fuss Porthos' was making. Athos was impressed with his friend's patience up to that point. But even Aramis had a limit.
'Porthos, I'm fine. It's a broken arm. I'm not a total invalid,' Aramis snapped at Porthos.
D'Artagnan, who had been lost in thought again, looked across at his friends. Athos wondered if the sudden tension between Aramis and Porthos was a welcome diversion for him from his retrospective thoughts.
'Just leave me alone,' said Aramis, the exasperation finally spilling over. 'I can do most things myself.'
Athos had not seen what Porthos had done to finally make Aramis react, it was probably not even a big gesture.
Porthos looked at Aramis, blinking a couple of times. Athos could not read his expression. He did note a look of regret cross Aramis' face as Porthos silently straightened up from whatever it was he had been about to do. He turned and walked away, heading towards the garrison gate and out into the city.
Aramis eased himself up from the bench.
'I didn't mean for him to leave,' Aramis said unnecessarily as he followed the retreating Musketeer.
Athos looked at d'Artagnan.
'We're not letting him go after Porthos on his own. He may not think he's an invalid, but he would be an easy target, despite being back in uniform,' said d'Artagnan as he slowly pushed himself up to stand.
Even if it was a temporary reprieve for his friend, Athos was glad to see d'Artagnan focused on something other than his incarceration and near-death experience. They followed Aramis who had reached the gate and was looking to see which way Porthos had gone before following him.
D'Artagnan was correct, that Aramis would make an easy target for any unscrupulous individuals who would like to pick on an injured soldier. They were all in uniform again and armed. But that did not make the invulnerable.
Walking as quickly as they could with deference to d'Artagnan's injury they managed to catch up with Aramis who was following Porthos with a guilty look. Athos hated the issues their most recent work had caused for them all, none of which were their own fault. But they were the ones having to pay for it.
'I know I shouldn't have had a go at him,' said Aramis as they followed Porthos.
Their friend was far enough ahead that they could not call out to him over the noise and bustle of the busy streets. He was not walking fast, but fast enough that they were not catching him up.
'I am impressed you put up with his mothering for as long as you did,' remarked Athos.
Aramis smiled; it had been endearing at first. He was sure Porthos finally accepted that he held no ill will towards him. He had not minded the help that was being offered to start with, particularly when it seemed to help Porthos with his guilt. But as the days had worn on, Aramis had found the continued assistance a little smothering until he had finally had enough and snapped at his friend, something he immediately regretted. But the damage was done. Porthos had taken the rebuke to heart and walked off. Aramis wished he could move a bit faster, but the bruising and other injuries, not to mention his broken arm were slowing him down. He wanted to catch his friend up and apologies, offer to buy him lunch and just do normal things together.
D'Artagnan was walking on the other side of him, he seemed more focused than he had been a few minutes before. Athos had mentioned that their young friend was showing signs of being more affected by his incarceration than he was letting on. Perhaps the distraction was doing him good. Aramis did not like the idea of any of his friends being affected by a mission in any way, physically or otherwise.
'He'll know you didn't mean it,' said d'Artagnan as they continued to follow Porthos.
'He knows you are in pain. We have all suffered,' said Athos.
Aramis was pleased his friends were with him as he made his way through the city. He was not worried to walk alone through the city, even with a broken arm, but there was a bit more safety in numbers, even if all three of them were not as fit as they could be.
He was surprised when d'Artagnan stopped dead in his tracks his hand on Aramis' left arm stopping him as well. Athos stopped a couple of seconds later, they looked at d'Artagnan who was staring ahead, his eyes wide. They followed his gaze and spotted when he had seen.
Joubert, the new leader of the devil worshippers and the missing guards were following Porthos. They had appeared from a side street. Aramis quickly worked out that they must have been watching the garrison. It would have been easy to work out where the trained men who had infiltrated their group had come from. They could have been watching the house when Treville and the other Musketeers arrived.
When Porthos left the garrison, apparently alone, the watchers must have sent word to Joubert that an opportunity for revenge had arrived.
Porthos was oblivious to the men following him. He had looked a bit distracted as he walked, Aramis felt even worse for snapping at his friend.
They watched as Porthos turned off the main street towards the river. The three devil-worshipping men followed. Aramis was sure he saw the glint of steel being pulled from a belt as they lost sight of the men.
The three Musketeers quickened their pace as best they could. As they reached the lane that Porthos had turned down they were in time to see the three men following him disappear around a kink in the road. They continued to follow. Aramis pulled his gun from his belt; it was primed and ready to be fired. It felt odd pulling the weapon with his left hand. It had taken some time when he put his weapons on that morning to work out how to arrange them. He had eventually realised there was little point in him carrying a sword. He had tucked one gun and his main gauche into his belt, doubting he would require either anyway.
Until he had seen men following his friend with evil intent.
D'Artagnan and Athos were walking beside him with equal purpose. They rounded the slight bend knowing there were only a hundred yards between them and the river. The area Porthos had been heading for was somewhere that on the very odd occasion the man wanted to be alone he would sit on the bank of the river and watch the world go by for a while. It was not often that Porthos became melancholy. Aramis was annoyed that he had been the reason Porthos had wanted to be alone.
The three men had caught up with Porthos. Joubert had grabbed at Porthos whilst the other two men were trying to push him forward, towards the river. Joubert had a look of pure hatred on his face as he shoved at Porthos. Porthos had managed to twist around, he had not had time to pull any of his weapons, he was pushing back with his hands, but the ground was slippery, his boots were not finding purchase, he was being pushed towards the river. If he were to fall, he would probably not survive. The river was fast flowing and the water cold where they were.
Aramis skidded to a halt knowing there was no point in him rushing forward, he raised his weapon. Without any plan formed between the three of them, they all knew what to do. D'Artagnan was standing beside him, arm outstretched, gun aimed in the direction of the struggling men. Athos surged forward, as the most mobile of the three of them he was the only one that could sensibly get hands-on with the gang members and Joubert.
Porthos did not seem to be aware of their presence, he was pushing back at Joubert, but the battle was one he would not win, he was mere inches from the edge of the bank.
Aramis yelled. The distraction caused the two guards to pause and look around, the move put them out of the way of Porthos, meaning they could easily be shot by the highly trained Musketeers without the worry of hitting the man being attacked.
Joubert was still pushing forward. Porthos' left foot slipped over the edge of the bank, forcing them both to the ground. Still, Joubert pushed forward, but only for a couple of seconds. Athos, his main gauche in hand sliced at the man's arms, causing him to yelp and release Porthos. Athos pulled Joubert back before lunging forward and grabbing at Porthos who had lost his fight with gravity and tilted over the edge of the bank.
D'Artagnan leapt forward with a feral cry of his own, grabbing at Joubert and pulling him further away from Athos and Porthos. Joubert tried to push d'Artagnan off him but failed. D'Artagnan clubbed him firmly with the butt of his spent gun, sending the man thudding back to the hard ground unconscious.
Aramis let out a sigh of relief as Athos pulled Porthos fully back onto the bank of the river. They all looked at each other for a few seconds. Aramis wondered if their ordeal was finally over.
'Thanks,' said Porthos, looking at them each, in turn, his eyes stopping on Aramis.
'Sorry,' said Aramis with a slight tilt of his head. 'I know you didn't mean to wind me up…'
Porthos managed a smile and raised his hand for Aramis to help him up. Athos hid a smile as without thinking Aramis proceeded to brush Porthos down and check him for injuries. Porthos stared at him. It took Aramis several seconds to realise what he had done. He stood back and looked at them all with a slightly embarrassed flush to his face.
'You can't help yourself, I'm not allowed to make a fuss… but you are,' said Porthos with a shake of his head followed by a smile.
D'Artagnan was looking at the unconscious man at his feet.
'Do you think he'll hang?' he asked without looking up, Athos could see a pensive expression on his face.
'I would imagine he will be beheaded, but he will be executed,' replied Athos, watching the younger man carefully.
D'Artagnan nodded to himself. Athos wondered what d'Artagnan was thinking. When he looked up from Joubert, his eyes were focused. He no longer had the slightly haunted look he had not lost since they had left the house where he had almost become a victim of the devil worshippers.
'I think,' d'Artagnan said, 'that now their new leader has been caught and will face the penalty for his actions, the rest of them will be directionless.'
Porthos nodded, 'most of them were followers. He'd been prepared to take over from Thibault, and now he's not going to be leading anyone anymore.'
'I will not be sorry to see him die,' said d'Artagnan decisively.
An hour later, d'Artagnan and his friends were sitting in a quiet corner of one of their favourite taverns. Aramis had insisted on buying them lunch, although d'Artagnan had noticed Athos slipping their friend a few coins from his own purse when they reached the tavern. The food was good, the wine was excellent. The company could not be bettered. They were all there. They were injured, they were out of commission for a while, but they were there. All four of them.
D'Artagnan had worried that he would struggle to recover from the ordeal. He had noticed the others watching him carefully, he had known they would help him through it. But somehow, now that he knew Joubert was safely locked away in the Chatelet, under the constant watch of two Musketeers, their ordeal was over. It was unlikely any of the other gang members would come after them. They were sure all the ones that had seen them were either with Joubert in the prison or had been killed. It felt to d'Artagnan that a weight had been lifted from him. He was relieved, he had not even realised how much the events had affected him to start with. The time spent in the dark room had gradually become all that he could think of. He would never admit it to his friends, but he had been unable to sleep in the dark since they got out. He was sure he would be able to blow the last candle out when he went to bed that night.
D'Artagnan smiled as Porthos plonked a fresh bottle of wine on the table and gave Athos the change, ignoring Aramis' outstretched hand.
'I know you haven't got any money,' he said, not unkindly, 'it's the thought that counts.'
Aramis smiled, 'well, you must have been very hungry to have been so upset by my words earlier.'
Porthos, who did not seem able to come up with a retort, slapped Aramis on the shoulder, forgetting his friend's injury.
Aramis gasped, clutching at the edge of the table as he rode out the pain Porthos had inadvertently caused. Porthos had his hand around Aramis keeping him steady, an awkward look of guilt on his face.
'Well you are responsible for causing him pain now,' said d'Artagnan with a chuckle.
Aramis had his eyes screwed shut but managed to pat Porthos' arm, 'it's alright,' he said, despite his voice sounding a little strangled by the pain.
'You deserved that one,' said Athos with a shake of his head and a smirk.
It took Aramis a few minutes to fully recover but he was soon back to his gentle teasing of Porthos who took it in the manner it was meant to be taken. There were no further incidents of note, and d'Artagnan was happy with that.
It felt good to be back to normal, mocking each other and telling tall tales about what they had been getting up to. Complaining about their assorted ailments and working out what they could do when they were allowed back on light duties.
It felt good to be back to doing what they did best. Not pretending to be something they were not.
Authors note: I hope you enjoyed it. Sorry for not replying to more of your comments but was being a bit odd and not allowing me.