Athos, d'Artagnan, Porthos, and Aramis finally arrived in the city making good time. As they made their way through the crowds of people, now begging for food and money, pleading for the soldiers to help them, the musketeers slowed their horses, but didn't stop until they were clear of their outstretched hands.
Athos spoke first, quietly so that only his comrades could hear him, saying, "Something bad is happening here. So many people are sick."
Porthos reached out and picked up a piece of fruit from a vendor's cart nearby and looked at it more closely, seeing spots and bruises, then responded, "It's no wonder, this food is rotten."
"And the bread looks moldy and stale," d'Artagnan added. "These people are starving."
"The Duke doesn't seem to care that this has been going on," Porthos continued as he looked around at the men, women, and children either staring at them sadly or crying out for any kind of help the musketeers could offer them. "I suggest we go have a talk with the man. To find out what's going on here."
Aramis dismounted once again as he stared out at the crowds, then replied worryingly, "I don't think these people are just ill from being hungry. I'm going to remain here, to try to help them if I can."
Athos stepped down as well as he tried to speak in objection, "Aramis…"
"Don't worry," the sharpshooter interrupted as he looked back at his friends. "I won't be far. Go and talk with the Duke and Duchess. Find out what's really going on."
"We shouldn't just leave him alone with them," Porthos stated in frustration as Athos remounted his horse and together the three remaining musketeers began to ride toward the palace.
D'Artagnan answered, "He'll be fine. He can help them and it will probably help to take his mind off of his troubles. This could be good for him. Not that these people being sick is good, but…"
Athos watched closely as several soldiers and guards walked past them through the streets, then he responded, "We know what you meant. We need to find the Duke before we find the Duchess and her son and prepare to travel back home."
When the three musketeers finally reached the palace, the Duke appeared before them as they walked inside the main hall despite the servants' objections to their disturbance, as did Gontard. It was clear that the man they had come to see was angry as they barged into the room, but he pushed aside his anger as he began to speak.
"My wife, the Duchess, and our son should be down momentarily," he said coolly as he crossed his arms. "This is an inopportune time for your visit, so I suggest you three leave as soon as possible, so that I can get back to my business."
"We will escort the Duchess and your son as planned, but we wish to speak with you about your people living downtown amongst the squalor and filth you call food that has been distributed amongst them," Athos replied just as coldly. "Why is it that you're having nothing, but scraps, rotten fruit, and stale loaves of bread delivered to them? Your people are sick and begging and some are even beginning to create disturbances. Is that what all those soldiers and guards have been summoned for, to keep the peace?"
The Duke finally was able to get a word in as he answered, "What goes on here in Savoy is none of your concern. I am doing what I can for my people, which is why I am far too busy to stand here and discuss my affairs with musketeers. I suggest you leave as soon as they come down."
Porthos was about to continue, until he was cut off by a nudge from d'Artagnan as the Duchess and their young son walked into the room, fully dressed in clothes fit for their journey ahead and stood beside all their belongs that they were taking to Paris with them, then Porthos leaned over so that only the Gascon could hear him as he grumbled, "Something is definitely not right around here and my gut tells me the Duke knows far more than he's saying."
"He may not be fully responsible, but he's certainly not doing much to help his people," d'Artagnan responded.
"My Lady," Athos spoke as he bowed down before their King's sister in respect, then looked toward his men in order to motion for them to follow suit. "My comrades and I are happy to be able to escort you and your son to Paris. If your carriage is ready…"
The woman before the musketeers smiled as she replied, "Thank you, Athos, isn't it?"
The soldiers' leader nodded, then motioned toward his friends and continued, "And these are my companions, Porthos and d'Artagnan. There is another of us as well, but he remained down in the city to try to tend to those that have fallen ill. He's no physician, but he understands medicines more than most and knows how to tend to the wounded."
"I suggest you go and fetch him, then leave the city immediately," the Duke answered curtly and then walked off, while Gontard remained behind to oversee the musketeers' departure.
"You heard our Lord," the Duke's right hand continued for his master. "Are you and your son ready, My Lady? Your carriage is awaiting just outside."
She smiled and responded, "Thank you, Gontard. Make sure that my husband gets some rest before he wears himself out completely. And do not let him forget about what I spoke to him about earlier. Is that understood?"
Gontard replied, "Yes, Ma'am."
"Has the Duke been under more pressure than usual, My Lady?" d'Artagnan asked as they all made their way out of the palace toward the carriage parked outside, currently surrounded by a couple of their servants to help them pack the carriage with the woman's and son's bags.
"Yes, he has been conducting a lot of business and trying to figure out what to do about our people," the Duchess answered as she allowed Athos up into the carriage, while Porthos lifted the boy and placed him inside beside his mother. "He may seem cold and unfeeling, but…"
All of a sudden, screams and shouting sounded from the distance, which the musketeers, the Duchess, and her son could all tell were coming from the city. Before they could explain, Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan all swiftly remounted their horses and rode as fast as they could back downtown to try to find out what was happening, as well as to find Aramis as quickly as they could, hoping that he was all right. It didn't matter to them that they left the royals behind to wait.
When the soldiers arrived, they found that the guards and the Duke's men were busy putting up barriers to surround the filthiest and most dangerous area of the city, much like the area where the Court of Miracles stood in downtown Paris, successfully quarantining the sickly people now becoming trapped within.
The musketeers raced forward and Porthos jumped down from his horse and roughly grabbed a hold of one of the Duke's soldiers, shoving him hard up against one of the walls as he shouted angrily, "What are you doing? Why are you forcing these people within these blockades?"
The soldier fought to shove the musketeer away from him as he responded, "We're only following our Lord's orders. If you don't like it, take it up with him!"
"We need to find Aramis," Athos said quickly as he dismounted, followed by d'Artagnan, and together the three men raced around the barriers in search of their friend, hoping that they would be able to find him and get him out before he becomes trapped with the rest of the people. "Aramis? Aramis!"
"Athos!" their missing comrade suddenly called out from inside a section that was already blocked off, though they could see him through the cracks of the blockade. "Porthos, d'Artagnan! Thank God, listen. These people aren't just ill from their squalor, the rotten food, or starvation. It's something much worse, quite possibly the plague and if I'm right…"
Athos cut him off replying fearfully, "The plague? We need to get you out of here. Hold on."
Aramis tried to shout out to his friends as they began to fight off a few of the soldiers while trying to break down the wooden planks and logs put up between them and their sharpshooter saying, "Stop! Athos! Porthos! Gentlemen, please! Someone has to stay here to help these people or most of them are going to die."
"It doesn't have to be you," Porthos stated in frustration.
"There's no one else," Aramis answered sadly. "I'm already trapped in here and right now, it's where I am needed most. The rest of you need to escort the Duchess back to Paris where she and her son can remain safe, where whatever this is cannot touch them. It appears to be spreading and I don't know if this quarantine will keep it insides these barriers."
D'Artagnan tried to object, but Athos stopped him as he interrupted, "We'll be sure to get the Duchess and her son to safety, but we're not going to leave you here alone, let alone go all the way back to Paris with you being stuck here amidst a possible plague. What do you need?"
The sharpshooter smiled wearily as he said, "Until I know what's causing this sickness or what it is, I won't know for sure. But I could use my bag and any other medicines, bandages, and rags, you can get your hands on. I'm going to do whatever I can to try to save these people and if you plan on staying, which I am grateful for, I need you to talk with the Duke again. There must be something he's hiding."