The four musketeers rode along as Athos, d'Artagnan, and Porthos spoke quietly amongst themselves, while Aramis kept his eyes trained on the road ahead in silence. His comrades were worried about him, but they left him alone with his thoughts for the time being because they knew that he wasn't ready to share with them what it was going through his mind just yet.
They travelled until the sun finally disappeared beneath the horizon on the second day and it was then that the soldiers decided it was time to stop and rest for the night at an old, worn down inn several hours away from home, where nothing, but the inn and an even older stable to house all travelers' horses stood.
The innkeeper stood from where he was sitting as the musketeers entered after tying up their horses for the night, a large jug of whisky sitting on the table in front of him. The men could tell that it had been a long time since anyone's passed through this area and that he clearly wasn't up to helping anyone that night unless he was willing to sober up, which clearly would be a challenge. So, Porthos moved forward and swiftly knocked the man unconscious when he tried to raise a weapon to fire upon them. The drunkard wasn't any trouble at all.
Porthos spoke up smugly saying, "That was easy. It looks like we're having free drinks tonight."
As the larger man walked behind the bar where the whiskey and wine was kept, then began to hand out a few jugs to his friends, all of whom took some except for Aramis, d'Artagnan spoke up asking in confusion, "Why is this inn and area so deserted? I mean, it is along the road to Savoy, which is small, but a wealthy city."
"It's because it's not far from where the massacre took place," Aramis answered despondently.
"Everyone knows of the brutality that went on there and therefore try to avoid travelling through the woods at all costs," Athos continued for their friend when Aramis simply turned his head downward and walked away without another word spoken, up the stairs to find a room to sleep. "Now it's a graveyard. Most people choose to go around the long way, which takes at least another day and a half to get to Savoy. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of time we can afford to take on the way to the city, only on the way back home so that the duchess and her son will not have to travel through what's nothing more than a graveyard."
Porthos shook his head, then looked in the direction Aramis had disappeared from and responded, "Why couldn't the King ask Richelieu to send his men? He knows about the massacre as well as we do and he trusts the Cardinal more than he does us. Why should we be forced to travel here?"
Athos replied sadly, "Because these are our orders. We should all try to get some rest while we can. There won't be much starting tomorrow. The Duchess will wish for us to get her safely to Paris as soon as possible."
"The woman may be a spy for the King, but she also truly loves her husband, even though he is a murderer," Porthos stated curtly. "It's clear naivety runs in the royal family."
"Not to mention a simple lack of concern or compassion for all others, but themselves," d'Artagnan answered in agreement.
"I don't disagree with you, but we shouldn't be speaking badly of our King or his sister," Athos responded. "I'll take first watch, after I try to speak with Aramis."
With that said, Athos walked up the stairs after Aramis, followed by the other two as they found an unoccupied room to place their things and two beds to sleep. When Athos found their friend, he saw that Aramis had only dressed down to his under shirt, but was still wearing his pants, boots, and gun belt, his pistol resting within his hands while he simply stared ahead, as Athos has seen him only two other times, once after he had been forced to kill Marsac and the second time when he had first arrived back home from Savoy, wounded and lost.
Athos spoke first as he said out of concern, "You shouldn't have to be here with us. Why didn't you take our Captain up on his offer to choose another of the men for this mission?"
Without turning to look at him, Aramis replied softly, "If I can't stand to be here, then I don't deserve to be a musketeer. You three are my closest friends. If you can complete this mission, then so must I. I'll be all right. Besides, I should have come back to Savoy long before now in order to pay my respects to our men who lost their lives. I just couldn't…"
"You needn't blame yourself for our men's deaths, or for Marsac's, Aramis," Athos answered sadly. "You aren't responsible for your friend's actions and especially not for the Duke of Savoy's."
"You may not blame me, but if I had tried harder to convince Marsac to stay, then what he did wouldn't have happened and I wouldn't have had to kill him," Aramis responded angrily as he finally turned to look at his brother. "I may not have been able to save any of our men's lives, but I am the lone survivor from that night's vicious attack and I shouldn't have been! I was no more important than any of those other men. So because I survived, I need to do whatever I can to make it up to them. That is why I'm here, not at home, a coward. I owe it to them, to do my duty as a musketeer as well as to protect you three for as long as we are brothers in arms, as I always will. Please, just leave. I wish to be left alone."
Aramis turned away again and upon doing so, Athos reached out and gently squeezed his friend's shoulder, then replied, "You may not believe so now, Aramis, but you survived because you have far more to give. Porthos and I believe it, as does d'Artagnan and all of the rest of our men, including Captain Treville. If I ever had a prayer to give, it would be that you somehow learn to see that you deserve to be alive and to be one of us."
When he finished speaking, Athos left the room as Aramis requested, then walked down the hall, only to stand in the doorway of the room that Porthos and d'Artagnan had chosen to sleep in and when he turned to look at them, seeing clearly that they had overheard most of their conversation, Porthos smiled sadly as he said, "The charm and wit he shows day in and day out is nothing more than a mask he wears to hide his pain. I should have seen through it long before tonight."
"You have, Porthos, as we all have," Athos answered. "But it's that mask that keeps him going. By noon tomorrow, we will reach where the massacre occurred. Aramis wishes to stop in order to pay his respects at long last. It won't be easy for him, which is why he will need us to remain strong throughout this mission, so try to sleep."
"Did you two know Aramis long before Savoy?" d'Artagnan asked curiously once Athos left and walked back downstairs to the main room.
Porthos thought back as he responded, "Both Athos and I knew him a little more than a year before the massacre. I came to like and respect Aramis very quickly, due to that charm and wit of his, as well as his lust for life, which we both have in common. Athos was a little slower to come to like either of us, as I'm sure you can imagine, but in time we all came together and became inseparable, a force to be reckoned with. When we heard that all of those men sent on that training exercise had all been slaughtered, Athos and I grew angry and felt a thirst for revenge, the likes of which we had never felt before, though we did not know then, who it was responsible for the attack on our brothers. We were incredibly relieved when we found Aramis alive, though just barely as he had nearly froze to death on top of the raging fever that had taken hold of his body. We brought him back from death's door."
D'Artagnan looked at the larger man and placed a hand down on his shoulder as he replied, "I'm honored that the three of you have taken me under your wing and brought me in as one of your own. You're lucky I didn't kill any of you back when we first met."