Night fell upon them as the musketeers continued their search and it wasn't long into the night when it began to rain gently, making their journey miserable as they kept riding until they could go no further and finally pulled their horses to a stop so that they could relax for the rest of the night.
The four companions managed to build themselves a small shelter out of their blankets, as well as the trees, and fallen branches surrounding them in the opening of the forest so that could get out of the weather as much as possible, then Porthos got to work in building them a fire so that they would be able to cook themselves something to eat. Athos and d'Artagnan went off to try to catch their dinner from the river not too far from where they were camped, while Aramis took care of their horses, removing their bags and the saddles from off the animals' back, then gently began to stroke them, regardless of the storm growing worse.
Porthos watched his friend sadly as Aramis continued working in silence, knowing that he was still struggling with the guilt that was plaguing him, despite the little humor he showed earlier when they were joking back and forth. Each of them all had troubled pasts, but out of all of them, Aramis was the one who held the guilt within himself, without finding another outlet to help him to cope. Porthos and Athos drank when they were upset and d'Artagnan always went off to spar and practice his fighting skills. Aramis only drank when celebrating some kind of event and practiced his skills when they all practiced together in training. If upset, he would go to the church to think and maybe even pray. He was the religious one of their group.
Finally, Porthos finished lighting the fire and when he was confident that it would go out or burn their shelter down, he slowly walked over to where Aramis was stroking d'Artagnan's horse, then finally spoke loud enough for him to be able to hear over the rain saying, "These beasts ought to be mighty grateful to you for how well you're taking care of them. You should come and warm yourself up by the fire. It's a good one, if I do say so myself."
Aramis looked back at the blaze and smiled, then turned away once again as he stated, "You're right. I couldn't have done one any better."
"What can I do?" Porthos asked when he knew that his friend wasn't going to do much talking unless given the prompt to do so, as he was growing worried for him. "How can I help you to understand that you needn't blame yourself or give up on love all together?"
"I haven't totally given up on love, Porthos," Aramis answered sadly, still keeping his back to him. "I just realized that I can no longer love the woman that I long to be with more than I have ever thought possible. As for Adele, I… am not sure how to stop feeling the guilt I feel for her dying. I'm a musketeer and as such I am supposed to protect the people of France and I failed her. If only I hadn't have left my pistol… I thought I was only going to try to convince her to help us with the Cardinal. I never meant to make her fall in love with me. She paid for my indiscretions."
Porthos shook his head as he placed a firm hand on his friend's shoulder and turned him around to face him, then responded, "You loving her was not an indiscretion. She wasn't married to the Cardinal, only his mistress. I know that if she could, she would tell you to stop doing this to yourself. She would want you to be happy. As for the Queen, I may have tried to warn you to not fall in love with her, but the truth is that I was happy for you both. I always suspected that she doesn't love Louis."
Aramis finally looked his friend in the eye as he asked, "How did you get over not being able to be with Flea? You love her and yet you both live in two different worlds. As Anne and I do."
"I find solace in knowing that I am happy where I belong and that she is happy where she is as well," he replied sincerely. "You may not ever find that peace even though you are happy as a musketeer, but in time you will heal, as will she. Now, let's get under the shelter before we both fall ill. The others should be back soon."
"Thank you, Porthos," Aramis said as he followed the larger man beneath the cover he had made for them.
It was then that d'Artagnan and Athos entered the opening in the woods where they were camped and set down the fish they had caught before finally sitting down on the ground by the fire themselves. The two were both soaked through to their skin, but the dreary weather didn't seem to dampen their moods as the four friends soon began to enjoy each others' company while they cooked their food and ate, despite the rain only getting heavier through the night. They all found themselves fortunate to have come together.
Throughout the next day and night, the rain only continued getting worse, but on the morning of their third day out, the rain finally let up, making the musketeers' search more bearable. No one said it, but they all felt that this was one of the weariest missions they've ever been on.
As they made their way along the river and came to a clearing on a tall cliff overlooking the raging rapids below, Athos motioned for his companions to slow their horses as he cautiously looked around at their surroundings, sensing that something wasn't right. The others sensed the danger as well and then all swiftly drew their swords and their pistols as a large group of men and women, on foot and on horses, wearing masks over their faces, suddenly broke out from their hiding places and began to attack the musketeers.
Athos shouted, "Ambush!"
Aramis fired a shot from on top of his horse striking down one of the men as he moved up from behind d'Artagnan, as Aramis was the best with a pistol and musket, while the others quickly got down and began to fight their attackers with their swords. The bandits each used their own swords and weapons in the fight. However, the bandits quickly realized that they had underestimated the musketeers, as most of their opponents usually did. The four men were the best fighters, which was why they were Treville's number one team among the men under his command.
It wasn't long before Aramis gave up using his guns as he got down off his horse and joined his friends fighting on the ground using his own sword as well. The fight continued on as the musketeers caused their attackers to dwindle down one by one and eventually there were only a small number left while the rest lay dead on the ground. Once they realized this, the rest of the bandits finally gave up their attack and began to run away in retreat.
Aramis had just finished striking down another when he looked up just in time to see a man aiming a pistol toward Porthos, who was near the cliff's edge and unaware that he was about to be shot. Aramis reached down for his pistol, but quickly realized he didn't have the minute needed to reload it and so without thinking, he ran as fast as he could in front of his friend, just as the shot fired, striking Aramis in his left shoulder, the force causing both him and Porthos to fall backward over the edge.
Athos saw them fall out of the corner of his eye, but couldn't stop fighting until the few bandits that remained were taken care of. Once the battle was finished and the last of the men and women were either dead or had run off, Athos and d'Artagnan ran over to the edge and looked down, finding that Aramis was hanging onto a large, overgrown root hanging down from a tree above them, while Porthos hung onto his friend's legs and waist using Aramis' musket strap as leverage to keep himself from falling.
Seeing that Aramis was the only thing keeping them both from falling and that he wouldn't be able to keep hanging on for long with a wounded shoulder, Athos quickly lay down on the ground and began to reach out toward them as he called out, "Hold on, we're going to pull you back up! D'Artagnan, grab my legs and whatever you do, don't let go!"
"Gah… Why do you have to weigh so much?" Aramis asked in frustration as he struggled to keep from losing his grip, while Athos and d'Artagnan worked to get ready to help them.
"I don't know!" Porthos answered angrily, knowing that his friend didn't really mean what came out as an insult. "If we live through this, maybe I'll eat less!"
Aramis shook off the pain that was only getting worse as he looked down at his friend hanging below him and cried out, "Porthos, you're going to have to climb up in order to reach Athos. You can do it!"
Porthos slowly began to do so, putting a lot more strain on his companion the higher he climbed and when he was finally able to get high enough to reach Athos' outstretched hand, Athos grabbed onto him and held tight as they fought with all their strength to pull him all the way up.
Once Porthos no longer depended on him hanging on with both hands, Aramis suddenly let go with the hand attached to his wounded shoulder, as he no longer had the strength needed in that arm, but continued to struggle with his only good arm. As soon as Porthos managed to climb over the top, he swiftly lay himself down beside Athos in order to help his friends pull Aramis up too.
Porthos reached as far down as he could as he called out to him, "Aramis, you're going to have to reach us with your other hand! Come on, you can do this!"
He somehow managed to do as his friends asked of him, but as soon as he was able to barely reach the tip of Athos' fingers, he felt what little strength he had left disappear as his consciousness slowly faded, then he fell, without so much as a scream, into the raging river below as the three remaining musketeers were forced to watch the water swallow him and drag him away.
"Aramis!" Porthos cried in fear.
"No!" Athos shouted in unison with his friend, while d'Artagnan could only stare down in shock after their loss.
Porthos got back to his feet as he cried angrily, "Aramis isn't dead!"
D'Artagnan finally helped Athos stand as well and then responded, "There's no way he could have survived that fall, especially with a wound like that. Could he?"
"I don't know!" Athos shouted in frustration. "I don't… Aramis is strong. We have to believe that it's possible he did survive. We need to search along the river banks for as long as it takes until we find him, or… until we find his body."
"He's alive," Porthos replied stubbornly. "He has to be alive."