Love is the Most Selfish of All the Passions

Chapter 20

At the palace, King Louis was busy introducing the Duke and his mistress he had brought with him from England to all of the guests as they arrived for the celebration the King had planned for that evening in the Duke's honor. The Cardinal stayed by Louis' side for support, while Captain Treville and several other musketeers stood amongst the crowd in order to keep an eye on the proceedings, should trouble arise. When the ball finally got underway, Richelieu turned to leave the main hall, until he caught sight of Athos amongst the crowd.

The darkly dressed musketeer made a motion indicating that he would like to speak with the Cardinal in private and after he spoke with a few others in the room, including briefly with Count Rochefort, Richelieu followed after Athos, who had disappeared from sight, then found him again standing outside of the Cardinal's study. The musketeer remained silent as he walked inside ahead of the man he had come to see and as Richelieu closed the door, a dagger was suddenly thrown an inch to the left of his head, becoming embedded deep within the wooden door behind him.

Cardinal Richelieu turned and glared at Athos, who spoke up coldly saying, "If I came here to kill you, you would be dead on the floor. Aramis survived all that you did to him, despite you trying to weaken him before we left on the mission. You failed, Your Eminence. This was a warning. If you strike against our brother again, if you have him harmed in any way, we will kill you no matter what the consequences are to us. We are willing to die for each other, for our King and Queen, and for all of France. What are you willing to die for?"

Richelieu turned his chin up haughtily and replied, "Well said, musketeer. But seeing as you know that you can't prove any of what you claim I have done, I'd say that I've won myself a small victory. King Louis trusts me, more than he trusts anyone else, except for his beautiful wife and she has a dark secret that will severely affect you musketeers. I still have the upper hand and always will."

"Enjoy the celebration," Athos responded as Count de Rochefort entered and stood beside the Cardinal, then turned to leave the room.

"I could have Athos arrested for threatening you life if you wish," the Count stated coolly as he noticed the blade still stuck within the door.

Richelieu shook his head as he answered, "No. He had no intention of killing me. Another opportunity will come for us to finally get rid of the musketeers, Queen Anne, and King Louis once and for all and then, I will rule over France. And Rochefort, next time I give you an order, do not fail me. Captains of my guards do not tend to live for very long."

Six days later…

Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan walked inside their barracks after returning from seeing the Duke of Buckingham off and found that Aramis, who was on leave as he was still struggling to heal after the torment he had endured, was no longer resting as he should have been. They walked out and began to search for their friend and finally found him not far away in the arena where the musketeers did all of their training. Aramis was holding his pistol in his right hand, trying to shoot at the targets in front of him, as his left arm hung weakly at his side instead of in the sling as it should have been. He fired off a shot and the musketeers all saw that the musket hit wide of the bulls-eye, which was rare since Aramis was the best shooter of all the King's musketeers. Aramis shook his head, then transferred his weapon into his left hand and fired again, though more slowly as he struggled to keep it steady. This time, the shot missed all together and Aramis was forced backward while he dropped the pistol, crying out as he quickly grabbed his arm in pain.

Porthos rushed forward and grabbed onto their friend to keep him from collapsing to the ground, then Aramis stated wearily, "Thank you."

"You should be inside resting, not out here training," Athos replied in frustration as he looked down at Aramis resting up against Porthos. "You're never going to regain your strength, if you force yourself too hard too soon."

"It isn't too soon," Aramis responded as he slowly got up with his friend's help. "It's been days and I can't just lie in bed any longer and take it easy while the rest of you are busy carrying out your duties."

Porthos shook his head and answered, "There is no shame in taking the time given to you to rest and recover. This will not help you to rebuild your strength, especially if you only manage to damage your arm further."

D'Artagnan quickly added, "Besides, you look like hell. You won't be much help to anyone if you don't allow yourself to sleep."

"I can't sleep," the wounded soldier replied sadly. "When I close my eyes, I see Milady's and the villagers' faces as I am being tormented, I see Adele crying out my name as she's being murdered, and I see each of you dying… because of my indiscretions."

"I thought we've been through this," Athos responded sadly. "You did nothing wrong, Aramis. We do not blame you, for anything."

Aramis looked between his friends as he shouted, "You may not blame me, but I do! Another woman I cared about is dead because of me and if the Cardinal reveals what I've done, King Louis will sentence me and Anne to death and the three of you will die trying to save us out of loyalty."

Porthos answered firmly, "It will never come to that. I'm certain of it. We will protect you, protect you both."

"And therein lies the problem," Aramis replied as he reached his hand out and picked up his sword that he had laid on a table nearby as he began his training session, then motioned for d'Artagnan or any of the others to fight him, all of whom simply remained where they stood without giving to their comrade's demand. "Please, help me. You saved my life, so all I have is my duty to try to make right my wrongs. I can't just wait… I need to fight."

"Things will get better," Athos responded as he and his friends moved to stand around Aramis once he lowered his sword again. "But you do not have to go out seeking death after we've fought so hard to keep you from it."

Before Aramis could object, the sounds of horses and a carriage could be heard growing closer and closer and it wasn't long before Captain Treville could be seen as he led the musketeers surrounding the King's and Queen's royal carriage as it approached. They all came to a stop and walked inside the training arena, while the musketeers bowed before them. Anne's eyes stopped on Aramis and she was relieved to see that he was awake again and finally beginning to heal.

She spoke first saying, "You all may stand, please. Aramis, it is good to see that you are well again and that you are on the road to recovery. Your comrades informed my husband and I when you had awoken, so we have come here to today to reward you, each of you, for your bravery, as you all have once again performed your duties nobly and with great cost to yourselves."

Captain Treville picked up a wooden box and opened it as Louis continued, "Yes, it is indeed an honor to have the four of you as my most loyal and brave of all my musketeers. And so, I wish to reward you all with medals, as well as with fifty gold pieces each. And finally, my gratitude. Thank you, thank you all for your continued service."

"The honor is ours, Your Majesties," Athos answered as they bowed again once the medals were hung around their necks. "What more do you wish of us?"

"Nothing more for today," the King replied. "The Duke has finally left and the treaty has been rewritten and signed. All is well again. Go and celebrate tonight for a job well done. Then, report back to me in the morning at the palace."

As Louis turned and began to walk back toward the carriage, Anne looked over at Aramis once again and saw sadness in his face, as he turned his head down in shame, then noticed her cross she had given him long ago, once again hanging from around his neck. She looked to the others, who all nodded, indicating to her that they would help the father of her child, then she turned and followed after her husband, as did the rest of the musketeers, except for Treville, who remained with the four.

The captain looked at his men and said, "Well done, all of you and Aramis, I am glad to see that you are better. How are you feeling?"

The wounded soldier looked at him as he responded, "I am healing, Sir. Thank you."

"Good," Treville answered shortly. "You will be back to duty in no time, but do not try to rush yourself. Only come when you're ready. You deserve time to heal properly."

"We will see to it that he obeys your orders, Sir," Athos replied as he looked at his friend, who only glared at him in return. "How was the rest of the time with the Duke of Buckingham? Do you suspect foul play?"

Captain Treville responded, "From Buckingham? I believe that he and Richelieu have indeed come up with a pact between them that will come to light down the road. We must be ready for them."

Aramis looked between his friends and their leader as he answered determinedly, "Then, we'll be ready. I will not fail you again."

The End

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