The four musketeers left the inn early the next morning, hoping to make it into the city before noon. If they didn't remain at the sight of the massacre for too long, as they suspected they wouldn't, they would arrive in Savoy sooner than expected. The closer they came upon the eerie clearing in the woods, now the home of those twenty dead soldiers, Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan couldn't help, but notice that Aramis subconsciously slowed his horse more and more.
"I'll only be a moment," Aramis spoke wearily as he dismounted from his horse, then slowly walked past his comrades, who came to a stop at the clearing's opening, each of whom dismounted their own horses as well, and waited patiently for their brother.
"I don't think I've ever felt so cold in my life," d'Artagnan stated quietly as he crossed his arms after he began to feel the chill in the air. "I thought I understood Aramis' fear to come back here before, but now…"
Athos interrupted grimly, "If you remain with us long enough, d'Artagnan, you will come to feel this coldness far more than you know. It's one of the more difficult prices we pay for our service."
In regards to Aramis, D'Artagnan watched one of the men he had come to admire so quickly as he spoke again asking, "Is there nothing more we can do for him?"
"Unfortunately, no," Porthos replied sadly as he watched Aramis kneel down before a number of the graves before him, then lower his head to rest it upon his hands and knee in a silent prayer. "We're here to support him. Right now, that all he wants from us. He'll let us know if he needs anymore from us."
"Why weren't the two of you sent on the training exercise as well?" d'Artagnan asked curiously.
Athos looked over at Porthos, then back at the young Gascon and answered, "Because Porthos and I had other business to attend to at the time, a private mission for the Cardinal, one of which we discovered to be no longer necessary as we arrived too late, at no fault of our own. When we arrived back at the palace, that was when Treville informed us that we were being sent out to survey the scene, bury our dead, and to bring back a complete list of all the men who lost their lives."
Porthos grumbled, "We should have been there. If we were, then Aramis wouldn't have been left alone and we could have stopped Marsac from running and becoming the traitor that he was, even if Aramis refuses to see it that way."
"Or, you both could have been killed as well," d'Artagnan retorted. "And we never would have met."
"Nor would you have likely become a musketeer," Athos responded cockily. "If it weren't for the circumstances that we came together, you would have remained a farm hand in Gascony and you wouldn't have had the privilege of knowing us."
Finally, Aramis rose back to his feet, gently lifted the gold cross that hung around his neck, kissed it, and offered a brief final prayer as he held the cross to his lips, then whispered softly, "Forgive me my brothers, and be at peace. One day the man responsible for your deaths will be brought to justice and you will be avenged. I swear it."
When Aramis walked back over to his friends once he finished, Athos spoke up as he asked his long time friend, "How are you feeling? Are you ready to move on?"
"I'm fine," Aramis replied shortly. "And yes, I'm ready to enter into the city and confront the bastard responsible for our friends' deaths once again."
"Should we be worried that he may try to strike out against the Duke?" d'Artagnan asked quietly as Aramis walked past them once again to remount is horse.
Porthos shook his head as he answered, "No, Aramis is stronger than that and he understands the consequences if he were to strike out against him. I can't make any promises in regards to myself though. If the man so much as looks at us funny, I'll punch him where he stands. At least Athos got his own licks in. If only it were me who had the opportunity to make him look like a fool in front of the court."
Athos smiled as he responded, "That was a pleasure."
"There you are," the Duke stated angrily when he finally found his wife as she walked down one of their palaces large staircases carrying a small bag, while two of their servants carried down the rest of her things she and her handmaidens had packed for herself and their son for their trip to Paris. "You never should have gone behind my back by writing your brother to send his musketeers to come and fetch you."
"Surely you learned long before this morning that I had and yet you're just now coming to confront me," the Duchess replied calmly, though it was clear she was upset with her husband. "I'm leaving because I can't remain here while our people are ill and you refuse to do anything to help them."
The Duke became irritated and answered, "I had business to attend to until this morning and the people in town are only ill because they don't take proper care of themselves. I have provided them with plenty of food to live on and have given plenty of charity. You know how much I hate your brother's musketeers, ever since they tried to have me killed those years ago, and yet you invite them into my own palace."
His wife responded, "Nevertheless, I refuse to have our son around to listen and to watch the people as they grow more and more desperate and cruel in order to help themselves. I warned you and you didn't hear me. Now I am doing what I have to in order to get us both somewhere where we can be happier and remain without fear of catching whatever illness is spreading among them. When all this passes, we will return. I'll look forward to your letter requesting us to return home."
"Fine, but I suggest you both leave as soon as those musketeers arrive," he said in frustration. "I do not want them here any longer than what is absolutely necessary."
"If that is what you want," she stated, undisturbed by her husband's foul temperament. "I'll go see to our son now, to make sure he is finishing getting ready for the long road ahead of us. I hope that you do help our people, my husband. I wouldn't want to come home to find that this situation has only come to be worse. I can forgive you for almost everything because I love you, but not if I you allow this suffering to continue on without any effort to help them."