"Ah, musketeers," Louis stated as Athos, d'Artagnan, and Porthos walked inside the main hall where the King was sitting upon his throne while he spoke quietly with the Cardinal before they came in. "I am glad you're here. However, I believe I asked for all four of you?"
"Yes, but I am afraid that Aramis had some business to attend to and had left the tavern before I arrived to inform the others of their next assignment," Captain Treville answered for the bravest men under his charge. "They will fill him in before they leave for wherever they are being sent."
The King nodded and then began to explain saying, "I have been informed that a small troupe of thieves have been plundering from and murdering travelers coming to and from the country. I have reason to believe that they may be planning on something much worse such as an attempt on my life. I want you four to ride through the woods and find these thieves before they can accomplish this."
Athos stepped a few feet forward and bowed before the King, as did the others, and then responded, "We'll do all we can, Your Majesty. Do you have an idea who these men might be or is there something that may help us to identify them?"
"Cardinal?" Louis asked as he turned to look at his most trusted advisor standing at his side.
"I am afraid not anything that will make them stand out from ordinary travelers, though my new captain of the Guard informs me that he has reason to believe that several members of the band are runaways that once lived in the Court of Miracles," Richelieu replied coolly, making the musketeers each suspect that there was indeed more to this mission.
D'Artagnan stared at the Cardinal as he asked, "You've hired a new Captain of the Red Guards already?"
He smiled as he answered smugly, "Yes, I believe that at least three of you musketeers will remember Count de Rochefort?"
"It's good to see you again, old friends," the Count said as he walked out and then moved to stand beside the Cardinal.
"How is this possible?" Athos asked coldly as he glared at the newcomer, who only continued to look back at them with a smugness about him. "Rochefort murdered two musketeers in cold blood and nearly killed Aramis as well years ago during his last mission as a musketeer. He was supposed to be executed before he managed to escape."
King Louis responded, "I have granted Count de Rochefort a full pardon and allowed the Cardinal to hire him into the Guards because the Count risked his life by coming back here to Paris when he thwarted an attack against me and Anne. An assassin had been hired to kill us and would have been successful, had it not been for this man's bravery. Now enough! You three and Aramis must leave and bring these thieves and murderers to justice. Do not fail me."
The musketeers each bowed down again before the King, then turned and left the main hall as d'Artagnan spoke up again saying, "I don't know this Count Rochefort, but I couldn't help but feel a chill in my bones as he spoke with that smugness across his face."
"Rochefort is just as evil as the Cardinal and twice as powerful when it comes to his skill as a soldier," Porthos replied in frustration as they continued walking toward the palace's exit to go and find their missing friend. "He's almost as good as Athos. I should have known we would see him again eventually. I am positive now that he and the Cardinal are planning something for us. I hate that we must give Aramis the news that Rochefort's back on top of whatever is going on with him now."
"I agree," Athos answered worryingly. "But first, we need to convince him to open up to us about what is wrong. I have a feeling I know where he'll be. It's where he always goes when he is struggling to deal with something terrible that happens; the church."
Just as Athos had said, the three musketeers found their friend in the front row of the chapel, sitting on the bench in front of the burning candles with his head down, though they could see that he wasn't praying the closer they got to him. He looked terrible, almost as if he was on the verge of tears. He was deeply troubled by whatever it was in that letter he received.
The three sat down beside him, Athos on his right, and Porthos and d'Artagnan on his left, then their leader spoke up saying softly, "Whatever it is that's happened, the three of us will help you through it, together, as we always do."
Aramis scoffed and then responded quietly, "You can't help me with this. What has happened is my fault and my fault alone. I was a fool. I was selfish."
"You're wrong, Aramis," Porthos replied in objection. "You may be a fool when it comes to the women you choose to love, but…"
"That's just it!" Aramis said more vigorously. "Because of me, Adele is dead! The letter I received says that she was murdered by a group of bandits on her way to the Cardinal's estate in the country. When I went to see her before I found out she had left Paris, Richelieu's housemaid handed me my pistol that I had left there that morning. I didn't realize it then because I believed that she had chosen Richelieu over me, but because of this, she's now dead and I have a feeling that the Cardinal is behind her murder, though I cannot prove it. If Adele wanted to give me my pistol back, she would have given it to me herself and not to the housemaid to do it for her. Richelieu must have found my gun, which allowed him to find out that I had seduced her in order to get her to betray him."
Porthos spoke again saying, "You didn't seduce Adele. The two of you fell in love."
Aramis shook his head and lifted the gold cross that hung around his neck to look at it as he answered, "Just as I have fallen in love with Anne."
"You're in love with the Queen?" the young Gascon asked in surprise. "The Queen of France?"
"The child she carries within her is ours, mine and hers, though I will never reveal this to another living soul," Aramis responded with shame. "I have told you three now because I trust you more than anyone I have ever trusted or could possibly ever trust. I know that to love Anne is a treason against France, but not to love her is a treason against my heart. However, for her protection, for our child's protection, and for each of yours, I shall bury it down deep and never speak of this again so long as I shall live. I cannot and will not be the reason for any of your deaths as well, as I was with Marsac."
He stood and turned his back to his friends, then Athos stood behind him, and gently placed his hand on his shoulder for comfort as he replied quietly, "Marsac died because of his own actions and if Adele's death was indeed ordered by Cardinal Richelieu, then we will somehow find a way to make him pay for his crime. This letter is not signed, which means that it could be nothing more than another of the Cardinal's ploys to make you feel guilty. This anonymous witness to her murder may not even exist."
Aramis shook his head and asked, "What does it matter? She's still dead."
"No matter what you think or feel, Aramis, we do not blame you for any of this and we never will," Porthos answered. "You will not be anyone's downfall, except for your own unless you allow us to help you. Please, do not allow yourself to suffer alone, in silence."
"Believe me when I say, I know how it feels," Athos responded sadly.
Aramis nodded and replied, "I know that you do. I wish that I could believe you, but I can't, not right now."
He finally turned and looked between his companions and dearest friends, who all looked at him with sincerity, then he said, "However, I shall forever be grateful to you all. All for one…"
"And one for all," Porthos answered as he reached out and pulled Aramis into a friendly hug and then D'Artagnan and Athos each reached out to shake his hand. "Now, are we ready to go off to find us these criminals?"
"I am more than ready," d'Artagnan responded eagerly. "If we can find proof that Richelieu is indeed behind whatever we may find out there, then we will finally be able to bring him down for good, as the Queen said that should he commit treason again, then she will report him to the King."
Athos felt less confident than the youngest member of their band, as did Aramis, but despite the feeling that something sinister was still to come, he spoke with confidence as he usually did saying, "Then, let us ride and find us these supposed killers and thieves the King wants us to find, hopefully before they can strike again. They may be the very ones who murdered Adele too."
Aramis followed after them, then realized he didn't know what they were talking about as he finally stated, "I do hope you three plan on explaining to me what exactly is going on; Athos? Porthos? D'Artagnan!"