The sun was beginning to rise as the musketeers were getting ready to get back on the road again. However, before they could get underway, the band suddenly became surrounded by a large number of surviving bandits, just as they knew would happen eventually. What they didn't know was that one of the bandits was actually soldiers of Cardinal Richelieu's Red Guards. Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan quickly stood between their wounded companion and their assailants with their swords raised high and ready to defend their friend to the death, as they were once again outnumbered.
Swords clashed and muskets sounded once the latest fight came under way. The musketeers were holding their own, but it wouldn't be long before they fell and Milady was watching eagerly from the tree she was still bound to since she had woken from unconsciousness the night before, until several men on horseback swiftly came charging in to the musketeers' defense, striking the bandits down one by one until the few that remained standing either ran off or eventually surrendered.
"Your timing was impeccable, captain," Athos said as he walked over to stand in front of Treville as the man dismounted and looked around at the men on both sides who had fallen until his eyes finally stopped on Aramis.
"How did this happen?" the captain of the musketeers asked quietly as he walked over to kneel down beside him as Porthos made sure that Aramis was still doing okay for now.
Athos looked over at his wife as he answered coldly, "It's a long story. Unfortunately, Milady de Winter had a small part in it."
Treville looked over at the woman as well and then responded, "At least we can finally see her brought to justice like we should have seen days ago. I'll expect to hear the rest of the story later, but for now, we need to get him back home so that he can be treated properly. Louis' physician can take care of him. He's going to be fine."
"He'd better be," Porthos replied angrily, then stood and walked over in front of the bandits kneeling down in a row as d'Artagnan and a few of the other musketeers that came with the captain was binding their hands behind their backs to prepare them for escort back to Paris. "Which one of you is in charge of your merry little band of thieves here? You better not lie to us, or else…"
"Or else you're going to kill us?" one of them finished for the musketeer. "Your attack killed our people! We came after you to make you pay!"
Athos stepped in before Porthos could pummel the thief into the ground and said coldly, "We didn't attack you first and us sneaking in to save the life of our brother, whom you tortured and nearly killed, isn't what led to the battle that took place yesterday. Answer our question. Why did you attack us and then kidnap Aramis when you found him wounded down by the river?"
Another of the thieves answered, "We only allowed three outsiders carrying your friend with them in. We may not like musketeers, but we didn't attack you."
"I think they're telling the truth, at least most of them are, but not all of them," d'Artagnan stated as he walked over to stand on front of one of the men, who looked oddly familiar, as he was no longer wearing the covering used to hide his face. "This bandit isn't really a bandit. I've seen him among the Cardinal's guards."
"I do believe you're right," Porthos responded, then suddenly grabbed the man by his jacket collar and shoved him hard up against a tree behind them. "You were responsible for attacking us and the hell inflicted upon our brother! Confess that Richelieu gave you the orders and we may be able to help you, otherwise…"
It was then that another musket sounded and the soldier that was once the captain of the Red Guards suddenly collapsed into Porthos' arms, as a musket ball struck him through his back, killing him instantly. Captain Treville, Athos, and d'Artagnan quickly ran in the direction the shot came from, but they couldn't see anyone nearby. After looking around as far as the shot could have possibly been fired from, the musketeers walked back to stand with the others as they looked down at the body.
Athos spoke up in frustration saying, "Whoever made that shot killed him to make sure he couldn't speak any longer. The Cardinal sent another one of his men, if not Rochefort himself, to clean up their mess, but we're not finished yet."
D'Artagnan replied, "I can't believe that every time we get close to bringing down Richelieu, something happens and we're right back to where we've started. How can you be so calm about this?"
"Don't get me wrong, I am angry that the Cardinal seems to always be one step ahead of us, but he will fall," Athos answered angrily and walked back to Aramis, then finished getting him ready for the rest of their journey.
"It's too bad about your last chance for a confession," Milady said smugly as d'Artagnan came over and untied her from the tree, then led her over to his horse, which she was going to pulled behind like the rest of the surviving bandits. "You musketeers will never live to see Cardinal Richelieu brought down."
Captain Treville walked over to them as he responded, "You're wrong, Mademoiselle de Winter. I know my musketeers, especially these four. They will see to it that evil is struck down one way or another, beginning with you."
Milady leaned forward as she asked, "Don't you mean three? One of your most beloved soldiers is at death's door and it's only a matter of time before he crosses the threshold."
"You're wrong," the captain replied. "You just won't live to see it."
Without another word being spoken, Captain Treville, the musketeers, and their prisoners, all continued on toward Paris. The trip was long and tiresome, but eventually they arrived after night had fallen again after three days and Treville and the remainder of the soldiers escorted Milady and the bandits toward the Bastille where they would remain until their trials, while Porthos, Athos, and d'Artagnan brought Aramis to their garrison where he would be able to finally be treated by King Louis' physician, whom neither of them liked much as they considered him a fool, but as Aramis was the better man with medicinal knowledge, this man was the only choice they had.
As they lifted their friend from off the travois and carried him inside, they gently laid him in his bed, then continued to treat him to the best of their knowledge, taking their vigil at his side as they musketeers could see that Aramis' condition had only grown worse. Fear took hold of each of them as they could do nothing, but watch as their brother writhed from the pain that had been inflicted upon him. As tired as they all were, sleep was not coming for any of them any time soon.