"What are you talking about?" d'Artagnan asked in concern. "Why would you think that the Duchess would create all this? What has she to gain from killing so many of her own people?"
"It's no secret that the Duchess has no love for Savoy," Maude replied truthfully. "She makes it apparent any time she and the Duke come into the city for business. She is cruel and unsympathetic toward not only her servants, but also toward anyone she crosses paths with."
Athos appeared skeptic as he responded, "Most people we come across are cruel and unsympathetic. This doesn't mean that the Duchess would plan the mass murder of an entire city."
Porthos nodded in agreement, then added, "The Cardinal is the vilest man I know and not even he would plot to kill everyone in Paris."
"To what end?" Athos asked.
"You asked us who we thought capable of causing this," Bernard answered coldly. "You can choose to believe us or not, but I suggest you leave and never come back down here if you wish to remain alive. We have spared your lives so far out of courtesy to our past leader, but it won't last, I can assure you."
D'Artagnan spoke again saying, "We understand, and thank you."
As they walked away, back through the tunnel from which they entered, Porthos stated in frustration, "Well that certainly got us nowhere. Coming down here was a waste of time.""I don't think so," d'Artagnan replied oddly.
"What are you talking about?" Porthos asked the young Gascon in confusion. "You don't actually buy what they were saying, do you?"
D'Artagnan shook his head as he responded, "Not necessarily, but I cannot help, but feel that the woman only cares for herself and for Louis and her husband. After all, she had no problem with allowing twenty musketeers to be slaughtered in order to keep the secret that she is a spy."
Porthos shrugged and stated, "The lad has a point. The Cardinal may have come up with the plan the King decided to put into action, but she clearly had no objections."
"I understand what you're both saying, but it is no proof that the Duchess is capable of mass murder," Athos answered curtly. "Besides, we're all acting as though we know that the people have been poisoned. Until we hear otherwise… We need to come up with another course of action, while we keep our eyes on everyone. If they were poisoned and if it was the Duchess, she couldn't have acted alone. There's someone else involved."
"You're not settling my nerves any," Porthos grumbled. "What if our culprit has chosen to remain among the people he's poisoned, for kicks? Aramis is in far more danger than we ever realized."
Later in the afternoon…
Aramis was once again leaning over the young boy he first looked over when he arrived. Sadly, his condition only continued to worsen and the musketeer's administrations were no longer working, making him fear the boy would become the first of a great deal of casualties, despite his best efforts.
The boy's mother, who was sitting at the end of her son's bed while she kept her hand upon his leg, spoke up in frustration to Aramis saying, "You promised us you would help my boy. You promised us all that you would help us, but he's only getting worse. They're all getting worse!"
Aramis knew there was nothing he could say to ease the woman's pain, but he replied sadly, "I swore to you that I would do all I can for your son. As I have been trying to do for everyone who have fallen ill. However, I am no physician. If I knew what was causing this…"
"If we knew what was causing this, then we wouldn't need you," another man spoke cruelly. "Our loved ones are dying! Help them!"
"Peter?" the boy's little sister cried softly as she slowly moved in between her mother and brother and reached up to touch his face, feeling coldness, despite the fever coursing through his stricken body. "Peter! No, Peter please! Peter!"
Aramis quickly leaned over the young boy to check his vitals and when he found no pulse and no breath from his nose and mouth, the musketeer slowly pulled away and looked between the boy's parents, shaking his head sadly to indicate that their son was gone. Both the little girl and the mother laid over the boy as they wept openly, while the father cried in silence as Aramis stood and backed away so they could grieve. It was then that from a distance, more wailing sounded, which Aramis knew meant that another had died, only moments after the child.
Aramis spoke again finally, stating barely above a whisper, "I am very sorry. I… I don't…"
The father suddenly lashed out at the musketeer as he grabbed Aramis roughly by the collar of his under shirt and shoved him roughly up against the wall of the hovel behind him, while he shouted, "You killed my son! You've killed us all! I should kill you!"
"Please… I can only imagine… what you're feeling, but there is still… work to be done," Aramis pleaded, not for his own sake, but for the sake of those still looking to him for the only help to be found. "I am sorry that I could not save your son, I truly am, but the rest of you are still in danger."
"Go on then," the man responded coldly as he shoved the musketeer back once again even harder than the first time, then pulled him away from the wall and shoved him down to the ground as he finally released him, then punched him hard against his cheek. "Pretend to try to save whoever's still breathing, but don't think for a moment that this is over. When the others see that you have failed them too, I am certain that you will get what you've got coming to you."
When darkness fell again on the second night of remaining trapped within the barricades, Aramis was still working against time and despite all of his efforts, four more were dead and several more were in critical condition. Unfortunately, he was still no closer to figuring out the cause of the illness.
In the early hours of the morning, Aramis stepped away from the dozens of men, women, and children having fallen ill and when he was finally alone, the musketeer collapsed to the ground and began to weep silently to himself as guilt plagued him for failing to save these people, just as he had failed to save his brothers in arms during the massacre five years ago, and Marsac.
Despite the assurances from his brothers that he was not to blame for their deaths, or their pleas for him to forgive himself for being the only survivor, letting go wasn't something he could do then. And now, this circumstance was no different. Now more than ever, Aramis wished that he had been struck down in the snow covered forest along with the rest of his men.
The moment only lasted for a few minutes, but the rest was sorely needed as sleep had been lost to him since the moment he learned he and his comrades would be travelling to Savoy once again, not that they had had much more sleep than him, in any. When the minutes passed, Aramis stood again and slowly made his way back among the people to continue on, despite the objections from those that no longer wanted his help. He had failed the few who were already dead, but Aramis wasn't going to quit until there was nothing more he could do.
Unbeknownst by the musketeer, a man had been watching Aramis from within the shadows that kept him hidden from sight ever since he arrived and began to try to treat the people he had worked hard to make ill. When he saw Aramis break down, the man smiled and walked away to find the bag the musketeer carried with him, then began to search through his things when he found it.
When the poisoner saw the spool of thread inside the bag, which he had seen Aramis use to sew up a small wound on one of his victims earlier, he pulled out a small vile from within his coat pocket, stretched out a long strand of the thread, then carefully, but quickly began to dip the strand into the liquid within the vile and when he finished, he rolled the strand tightly around the spool again before placing it back into the bag. Finally, the man pulled a knife concealed within his boot, then sliced it across his cheek in order to create a large gash deep enough to need stitching.
When he saw the musketeer heading back toward the sick, the man quickly put the knife away again and called out to him in pain, pleading saying, "Please, help me. I need your help. I was attacked."
Aramis moved to help the man sit upon one of the cots now empty, due to the person lying there before having died earlier that night, then asked softly, "Who did this to you? And why did they attack you?"
"I don't know," the man answered coolly as he stared at the musketeer in front of him as he moved to pick up his bag, then sat down beside him and started to thread the needle he would use to stitch the wound, placing the thread in his mouth in order to wet it enough to get it through the needle's eye. "I was only trying to do my part to help the sick and someone ran up to me and attacked me, then kept on running. It was like he has gone crazy."
"This visit to Savoy just keeps on getting better," Aramis grumbled, then began to stitch the gash. "If you're willing, I could use your help to find the man that did this to you. We need to make sure that he can't harm anyone else, or himself."