Love is the Most Selfish of All the Passions

Chapter 18

Twelve noon was fast approaching as two soldiers of the Red Guard led their prisoner to the square where she was to be beheaded before all of Paris. D'Artagnan followed behind to keep an eye on things, while Porthos remained behind at the palace with Athos, who couldn't watch her die, just as he wasn't able to watch her die the first time.

As she stood before the cheering crowd and then knelt down with her head hanging over the chopping block, Milady turned her head gently to look for the face of her husband, only to find d'Artagnan watching from a distance. As the executioner stood upon the platform behind her with his axe raised, waiting for the bells to chime, she kept her eyes on the boy she had once seduced, then noon came and axe fell hard. First silence and then screams filled the air. Milady de Winter was dead.

D'Artagnan walked away and rode back to the palace where his companions were waiting for his return, while talking with Captain Treville. As he approached them, Athos looked to the young Gascon for confirmation and d'Artagnan only nodded, which was all their leader needed.

"At last," Porthos spoke upon seeing the affirmation. "If only Aramis would wake, we'd be able to breathe easier tonight."

"Listen, I know that you three want to be with him more than here at the palace for the Duke of Buckingham's arrival, but the King expects his best men to be here," Treville stated as he looked between his men. "Duty must come before personal matters."

Athos looked at their captain as he answered, "We'll be here, Sir. Madam Bonacieux is with him and will send word if anything changes."

As the captain of the musketeers walked away, d'Artagnan spoke as he replied, "It doesn't seem right that we're here. Aramis should be able to endure this hell with us, not have to endure his own hell all alone."

"I couldn't agree more," Porthos responded as d'Artagnan dismounted from his horse, then together they walked back inside the palace to wait amongst the royals gathered around, excitedly waiting to meet the Duke in less than a half hour's time. "I've heard rumors of Buckingham's secret dealings with thieves and illegal traders, as well as pirates. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinal has a different treaty in mind for the man to sign behind the King's back."

"You're probably right, but until we jump straight to conspiracy, we need to just keep an eye out as we always do," Athos answered as trumpets sounded, indicating that the royal carriage carrying the man of the hour was about to arrive, earlier than expected.

D'Artagnan replied, "Oh good, he's here. At least now we can leave earlier than planned."

Porthos scoffed and then responded, "I say we just meet the man, make sure that a few other musketeers are here to take our place and then head back to our barracks where we belong."

"We gave the captain our word," Athos answered in frustration, growing tired of his friends constantly talking about going back to be with Aramis, which was where he really wanted to be as well. "We're going to remain here, for as long as it is required of us. I'm sorry. The last few days have been rough on us all and I think it's all been weighing us down too long."

"Duke Villiers, of Buckingham," Louis cried in praise as the carriage came to a stop and the King's guest stepped up to stand before him and Queen Anne. "It is an honor to have you here in France. My beautiful wife and I welcome you."

George Villiers bowed and then replied, "The honor is mine, Your Majesties. Paris is beautiful. Staying here for the next few days will be wonderful."

King Louis clapped his hands joyfully, then motioned for the Duke to follow him as he moved toward his musketeers, and said, "I want to introduce you to the three most loyal of my musketeers; Athos, Porthos, and the newest member of the band, d'Artagnan. If it wasn't for them, I am certain my enemies would have assassinated me a long time ago."

"We appreciate your praise, Your Majesty, but we are only performing our duty," Athos responded after they bowed before them. "And with all due respect, there are actually four of us, as our comrade was severely wounded and is still fighting for his life. Aramis is the one who really deserves all the praise for the success of our last mission, though we are only a few among a number of men just as loyal and worthy of Your Highness' praises."

"Indeed you are," the Duke answered cynically as he looked out among the many musketeers standing amongst the crowd of people gathered around the courtyard. "And I should very much like to meet this Aramis as well, should he be up to it before I leave."

As the Duke turned away from them, as did the King and Queen, though she turned back to look at them sadly, then walked inside the palace, Captain Treville, who was once again standing beside them, spoke up to his best men saying, "It's obvious that the Duke has no interest in the musketeers' affairs and I was wrong to think that the King will have any further need of you. Go back to stay with our friend until you are once again called for duty. You three deserve some time off for all you've done."

Athos looked between Porthos and d'Artagnan and then turned back to Treville as he replied, "Thank you, Captain."

As the musketeers arrived back at the garrison, then stabled their horses, and walked toward their barracks, Constance greeted the men and quickly ushered them inside, without saying much of anything. When they found that Aramis was still as unconscious as they had left him, they became confused as to why she appeared to be flustered and afraid of something.

"What's wrong, Constance?" d'Artagnan asked worriedly. "Are you all right?"

"While you were at the palace, a man broke in here and tried to kill Aramis," she quickly responded. "I fought the assassin off before he could hurt him anymore, but… I think that His Eminence is afraid Aramis may have learned one of his dirty secrets while he was being tortured too. Why else would Richelieu risk sending another assassin to kill his one bargaining chip against the Queen?"

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