"Nothing!" Porthos growled in frustration as he, Athos, and d'Artagnan finished searching the old dungeon lying beneath the palace floors after locking their prisoner within one of its cells. "Aramis isn't here!"
"Did you really expect him to be?" d'Artagnan asked as he looked over at his larger companion.
Porthos glared at the young man as he responded, "No, not really, but I was hoping. What are we going to do now? Where would those bastards take him?"
Athos shook his head and then replied worryingly, "I don't know. The Duke must have plans to make Aramis suffer before he kills him, otherwise he would have just killed him here, but why bring him someplace else?"
"Perhaps it's good that the Duke has taken him somewhere else," d'Artagnan stated. "I mean, otherwise we may have been too late to help Aramis."
"We might still be too late to save him," Porthos answered angrily.
Athos looked between his friends as he responded, "We still have time. Aramis will hold on long enough for us to find him. We all always have whenever one of us are in trouble. Otherwise, we all would have been dead a long time ago. I have a feeling that the Duke plans to let him die from the poison that's killing him because it's probably the cruelest…"
When their leader paused, d'Artagnan and Porthos stared at him in confusion as d'Artagnan asked, "Athos? What's wrong? What are you thinking?"
"No, the cruelest kind of punishment the Duke can force upon Aramis would be to take him back to where his suffering began," Athos responded coldly. "Back to the snow burdened field where our dead brothers lie in order to finish killing the men he believes came here to try to assassinate him."
"We need to get there, now!" Porthos shouted forcefully as he started to run through the palace halls, followed by the others, as they quickly made their way back to their horses. "Come on!"
In the early hours of the morning…
Aramis struggled as he slowly awakened within a dark, tight space. Not only did he find that he was bound with his hands restrained behind his back and his feet strapped together, but also that he had begun to feel feverish, its effects coursing throughout his body, and sick to his stomach. It didn't take much for Aramis to realize that somehow he had been poisoned just like the rest of the people he had been forced away from when a few of the Duke's soldiers came and struck him hard over his head to stop him from fighting against them.
At first Aramis struggled against his bindings, but then he finally stopped and lay still as he allowed himself to listen to the sounds surrounding him, as well as to feel the movements. The musketeer was able to hear the sounds of horses as they pulled a carriage across rough terrain. The ride lasted over twenty minutes, at least since the time he had awakened, but it didn't help him to know where he might be headed, as he didn't know how long he had been unconscious.
Finally the horses came to a stop and he could hear men move around as they spoke, though he couldn't make out anything that was said. A few minutes more passed and the space he was in suddenly opened and the soldiers who grabbed him earlier, roughly pulled him from what he could now see was a large trunk tied onto the back of the carriage. The men dragged him out into the middle of a field and dropped him carelessly to the ground, leaving him there to lie within the thin layer of snow as he struggled to look out at his surroundings, the darkness of the sky, despite the sun slowly beginning to rise in the distance, and the haze of his illness still making it difficult for him to see, though he finally recognized exactly where he was. Aramis' eyes finally rested upon the Duke, who slowly began to move toward him, followed by the man that always remained at his side, Gontard.
The Duke cruelly smiled down at him and then began to speak saying, "It's good to see that you're finally awake. When my men brought you back to my palace unconscious, and I saw that you yourself have fallen ill like the rest of my people, I feared that I wouldn't be able to enjoy the last few moments of your life before I thrust your own sword through your chest and into your heart."
Aramis wanted to be cocky, as he usually was with any of the musketeers' enemies, but he neither was in the mood, nor did he have the strength to be so, so instead Aramis bluntly replied, "Your people… are dying and you have not even ordered… your physicians to go down into the city to try to help them. I've tried to do all I can for them, but…"
"According to my men, your efforts were of no use and so it's clear that my men wouldn't have been able to do any better," The Duke interrupted snidely. "Many of my people have already died. You failed them."
"You're right," Aramis answered, finding more and more difficult to continue talking, as his strength was slowly fading. "At least I care… cared enough to try. I can still help them. There's an antidote… for every poison. I just need… to… find it. Do you not care?"
The Duke suddenly struck the musketeer before him across his face with as much brute force as he had, causing Aramis to writhe against the ground, then stood back and shouted, "I didn't bring you here to talk about my people! I brought you here, to finish what I thought I finished five years ago when I had each of you treacherous musketeers slaughtered like animals while you slept. However, I discovered recently that one of you assassins somehow managed to survive and it turns out, that you happen to be the very man who was very nearly successful in striking me dead, gave me a nice scar across my back. The question I want answered, is how is it that you're still a musketeer, still under Captain Treville and King Louis' protection, when you should have been hung for treason?"
Aramis didn't respond, knowing that he could not speak the truth as it would destroy not only the treaty between Paris and Savoy, but also destroy the secret that the Duke's own wife was a spy, putting her life and their son's life in jeopardy, as well as the lives of those that would die should the Duke strike out against all those that deceived him. Aramis would not destroy what twenty of his brothers gave their lives for.
When the captive didn't speak, Gontard stepped forward as he said, "He clearly has nothing more to say. Perhaps, My Lord, you should just kill him now so we can leave this dismal place and go home to where we will be warm again."
"I want answers!" the Duke cried angrily as he grabbed hold of Aramis once again as he thrust a dagger tightly up against his throat, hoping to force the truth from him. "You will tell me what I want to know!"
"I have no answers to give," Aramis responded boldly as he stared deep into the royal's eyes. "Kill me."
The Duke smiled smugly as he used the dagger to cut through the restraints holding his legs and feet together, dropped the smaller weapon on the ground beside him, then stood and took Aramis' sword from Gontard's hands and suddenly slashed it across his chest, creating a large, deep gash matching the very scar across his own back and causing Aramis to cry out in pain as he replied, "I won't make this easy for you, musketeer. You will fight me, now get up."
Aramis weakly backed away from the man holding his blade as he held his free hand against his chest, then struggled as he answered, "I wo… won't."
"Very well, then you will die like a coward, falling where the rest of your traitorous brothers in arms fell years ago," the Duke stated angrily as he raised Aramis' sword again for the final blow.
All of a sudden a rider came charging upon them and threw himself from off his horse on top of the Duke to knock him away from Aramis, while two more riders came charging from behind, one of whom jumped down and rushed over and pulled the musketeer into his arms as he firmly, but as tenderly as possible placed his free hand over the wound, not wanting to cause his brother anymore pain. Porthos, Athos, and d'Artagnan had come for him.
"I should have known that you three would come to try to save this coward," the Duke said coldly as he and Athos both quickly regained their stances.
Athos glared at the Duke as he responded steadfastly, "We never wanted it to come to this, my Lord, but we will not allow you to kill Aramis. I am giving you one warning. Stand down and go back to your palace or I will do what I must to make sure that our brother lives and that you can no longer harm him."
The Duke snarled as he replied, "I see the same look in your eyes now, that I saw when you and I fought once before. I saw the hatred you held against me and did not understand then why, but now I see to truth. I see that you learned it was I who slaughtered the rest of your brothers and arms five years ago here in this very spot."
"It's true I wanted to kill you then, just as I do now," Athos answered. "For your sake and for your wife's and son's, do not do this."
"I will not stand down!" the Duke cried as he boldly charged Athos with every intent to kill the musketeer standing between him and his fallen enemy.