In Sync


By: MusketeerAdventure

Summary: Although the bond between Athos and d’Artagnan is strong – no one could have guessed the absolute depth of their connection. Will that connection prove powerful enough to save them both?

Chapter 3: In Sync

It was such a crisp day; the early morning air cool and bracing – causing a slight tingle to his ears and fingertips. d’Artagnan blew out a breath and watched as frost expelled like fog before his eyes. He smiled widely as tears, provoked by the chilly weather welled in his eyes, and fell down his cheeks.

He swiped them away – breathing in deep to form another cloud.

He heard Porthos laugh quietly beside him and felt his cheeks burn red with embarrassment. He could not help it if mornings like this brought him such joy. The sun’s shining rays through the trees reminded him of Lupiac and riding with his father in the early hours, on their way to market. Such good moments they were – quiet, peaceful – shared instances of love and gratitude for their time together.

It was rare that he thought happily of his father and reflected fondly on the small moments they shared together. Most times, his memories fell to blood – death – rain; and caused him great pain and melancholy. But today, this ride through the woods brought back a good memory, that made him smile; blow frost from his mouth and think of home.

And like Porthos – his father would laugh at his antics – and scold him with little heat; to stop daydreaming and keep his eyes on the road.

How he missed his father. Not a day would go by that he did not think of him. He laughed softly with his brother; and was glad that his grief today was tempered with happiness. Perhaps he was now turning a corner, and his memories from here on would be colored with moments like this, instead of the heavy weight of guilt.

If this was the case – he only had to look to the three men riding beside him – to know where it stemmed from. Their unwavering brotherhood had saved his life and given him purpose. He owed them everything; and would do anything for them.

Today, they were on the pathway that led to the encampment site of one Emilie of Duras. Word was that she had led thousands here to the outskirts of Paris – gathering an army in King Louis’ name to destroy the anti-Christ – who she envisioned as Kind Phillip of Spain.

And though today’s purpose was important – to assess Emilie’s degree of threat – d’Artagnan observed his brothers worriedly and thought how lately something had changed between them.

Ever since the massacre at Place de L’Eglise; and the loss of the cypher – he had noticed Aramis’ distracted behavior; the strain between Porthos and Captain Treville; and Athos’ reserved air– quieter than usual – as if he was in perpetual thought.

He loved these men – but recently they had shut him out of their personal musings – leaving him to guess at their concerns.

When pressed to share – they only smiled and dismissed his worries as either his imagination; nothing to stress over; or in Athos’ case, and in his own words – “his burdens were his own.” So for now he would watch and wait; help unobtrusively when he could; offer support when warranted; and most of all not be a nuisance – stay out of trouble; so as not to add to their difficulties.

So far, he had been able to do this; and vowed to continue in this vein.

But sooner or later – as grievances do – they rear up to cause torment and strike when least expected. He watched his brothers closely and promised silently that on the day this happened, he would be ready.

However – for now – in this moment; all was well; their camaraderie – a welcome balm to his own spirit that brought him peace.

d’Artagnan smiled then and thought of Constance. Things had been different with her also. Recently they had taken to conversing as friends – going for walks on the palace grounds; speaking about things of little importance; but glad to be in each other’s company.

This was good. If she would not love him – then a friend he was willing to be. At first, talking with her had been awkward – he had felt betrayed; and abandoned. But now – he understood her point of view; and had let his resentments of their circumstances go.

He would love Constance always. No other woman would capture his heart and soul as she had. If friendship was what they were now relegated to, then he would be the best of friends, for as long as it could last.

He smiled at this thought and heard Aramis say at his shoulder – with a twinkle in his eye, “I see you think of Constance”.

d’Artagnan raised an eyebrow and returned the mischievous glint, “How did you know?”

Aramis chuckled lightly, “And how do I not know d’Artagnan. You wear your heart on your sleeve; and she is easy to read on your face.”

“Then I must learn to harness the Athos in me”, d’Artagnan laughed heartily – putting on a serious expression.

And just as he imagined Constance’s blinding smile – Athos came to a halt at the top of the rise – his horse braying and stomping his hoof in deference. Joining his side, d’Artagnan looked down – and there below them thrived a massive tent city that spread out for some distance.

Aramis and Porthos pulled up beside them, and all four musketeers surveyed the astonishing scene below. This was indeed a city – and not just in name. The amount of organization it would take to move this amount of people from one township to another was impressive; and would take great leadership.

And there, in the midst of thousands riding among them on her white horse was that leader – a small, diminutive woman dressed as if for battle; speaking in a firm, commanding voice. Not a sound could be heard from the crowd of people surrounding her – which included men, and women – who were young, old; healthy, infirmed; with a smattering of small children and babies – running carefree among the tents and around the legs of their elders.

Her voice could be heard clearly from where the musketeers sat above them on the rise– her message booming with certainty. Her bright red hair – gleaming in the sunlight – standing out among the throng, “I have looked on King Phillip of Spain in his true self”, she pronounced, “the anti-Christ, the enemy of God.” Her reverence was palpable – her belief tinged with a slight hysteria.

Silence met her declaration; and all eyes were on her – everyone holding their breath, while she spoke of marching on Spain and destroying the devil – lifting her eyes to the heavens and reaching her hands up, as if to greet God himself.

She was spellbinding. d’Artagnan watched as Emilie of Duras looked out over her people and grabbed her heart to show her love.

The crowd of thousands erupted in cheering and adoration; the level of noise penetrating the quiet forest – now a cacophony of chanting. Her name bounced off the trees and echoed up through the branches; causing the birds to take flight into the clear sky.

d’Artagnan looked to his brothers, his own thoughts of love and brotherhood now drifting away – replaced with concern for the scene below, “She is mad”, he thought aloud.

Athos turned to him and frowned, “And dangerous.”

The four all nodded in agreement and rode forward to meet Emilie of Duras.

Hidden among the multitude of thousands – Bertrand could not believe his eyes. There moving toward them on horseback were the musketeers who had ruined his life.

He lifted his hood, and covered his features – hoping to remain unnoticed by the four men.

If the one called Athos saw him here – he had no doubt his life would be forfeit in an instant. What were they doing here? Certainly they had not come looking for him.

The last time he saw Athos – the man had escorted him and his brothers out of Paris; and had made it clear that if he ever saw him again – he would kill him. Bertrand had no illusions that Athos was a man of his word. Even now, he could feel the strength of the man as he moved through the crowd, announcing his purpose as that of the King’s business.

It had taken him weeks to recover from the beating the musketeer had inflicted on him; his brothers feeding him broth by spoon; and stitching the now permanent scar that ran from the top of his right eye down to his chin, in a ragged pattern. Since the beating, he had experienced debilitating headaches that had altered him in some way. He was the same, but somehow different – causing his brothers to look on him with fear.

When he had gotten better – improved enough to stand on his own- they had pleaded with him to leave and go with them to La Harve, and find passage to somewhere else- away from France.

He had accompanied them to La Harve, but refused the journey, knowing they would be better off without him; that he could not leave France while hatred still festered within him. Even now – when the headaches assailed him – he could think of nothing but revenge and violence. The pain came on him like waves and would not recede until he hurt someone or himself.

Yes, they were better off without him. When he said goodbye to them on the docks; he knew they would not meet again – the best of him lost forever.

Quite, without meaning to, he had stumbled upon this group as they wound their way to Paris – recruiting followers by the hundreds wherever they stopped. He thought, among these people, he had found a way to vent his anger. Emilie’s crusade meant nothing to him. Her visions were fanciful; and these people were fanatics; mindless drones following a wisp of a girl to their own detriment.

But for him, her cause had given him an outlet. If he could not destroy the musketeers who had dismantled his life, then perhaps he could do this instead – rain terror down on the Spanish; sanctioned rioting and intimidation by way of the prophet, Emilie of Duras.

But now, things had definitely changed. Here they were – the four of them – but most notably, there sat the boy – the one who had begun his downward dissent into this hell.

Perhaps now he could find a way to have his revenge. He peered through the crowd at Athos and thought of the man’s promise to him. Yes, he would find a way, even if he must lose his life to have it.

d’Artagnan watched Constance leave the noisy tavern and felt sad to see her go. It had been good to stand next to her – talk to her and be close enough to feel the heat of her body.

The day had been a long one. Emilie actually believed her visions were from God, and that she was the chosen one to lead France to victory over Spain. When he told Constance this, she had stared at him in disbelief, wondering at the young woman’s sanity – but glad that he shared his work with her; as friends do.

While she stood so close, restraining himself from reaching out to touch her; to declare his true feelings had been incredibly hard. She seemed so sure, so self-contained. He did not want to upset her; and open old wounds, by bringing up things that would estrange her. So, he stood with her gladly and kept his feelings to himself.

The tavern had been unusually crowded tonight; with nowhere for them to sit; but standing next to her amid the noise and closeness wasn’t so bad. It was as if they were alone – no one else around mattered. He only had eyes for her.

Talking of Milady and her affair with the King held little interest for him. Milady DeWinter was who she was – a liar, a manipulator and a cold blooded killer. The only person he cared about when it came to her was Athos.

He would not let her hurt him again. That she had the King infatuated was what she did. Eventually she would self-destruct and the King would see her for who she was.

He tried to tell Constance as much, and hoped he had convinced her to let things run its course.

When she left his side, he felt her loss instantly. God, how he did love her; what would he give to tell her so, and to have her reciprocate. But that wasn’t going to happen.

He sighed heavily and turned to leave himself; and ran right into Athos standing behind the very pillar where he and Constance had just stood talking. He must have heard everything. d’Artagnan covered his face, “Did you hear all that?”

Athos nodded his assent, his face unreadable. When he asked if he’d like to drink alone, d’Artagnan was surprised, but pleased to hear him answer, “No.”

So he tracked down some wine – and by some miracle commandeered a table just abandoned by two patrons – signaling for Athos to, “Come sit here” - waving his arms in triumph and grinning from ear to ear over his coup.

Athos wound his way through the crowd, reached the table and smiled genuinely at d’Artagnan; his eyes crinkled with mirth. Only he could lift his spirits so deftly after hearing Constance’s reveal of Anne’s latest illusion. And if he were honest with himself, she had been on his mind well before this night – dragging him through painful memories; and interrupting his sleep with murder and betrayal.

Athos was glad to be in the company of his friend; nursing a drink and sitting in companionable silence. Words were not needed between them; so they could each think the same but divergent thoughts in peace.

d’Artagnan looked down into his cup of wine and thought of Constance – how despite all they had been through; her choice to remain with her husband – he still loved her deeply. He pinched the bridge of his nose and forced himself to push thoughts of himself aside. He looked across to his friend and noticed his distant gaze staring across the crowded room, and wondered what his thoughts were on Milady. But he would not ask. He would not pry; but instead sit here with him, provide company and if asked give his point of view. He took a sip from his cup and waited patiently.

As Athos twirled his cup, and watched the wine swirl in circles – his mind settled on Anne; who he had promised to kill on sight. But when he did see her again in Evreux, was instead glad to find her alive; grateful she had chosen to save d’Artagnan’s life; and surprised to feel the ache in his heart that remembered her beauty; the silk of her hair; and the blush of her lips.

He had turned from her that day – startled at his reaction. Where was his disdain? He should have drawn his sword those months ago and pierced her heart – instead she had pierced his, and even now he was bleeding out from that strike; waiting for her to staunch the flow and save his life as well.

He could not deny it, he felt something for her; and knew it would lead to nothing good. She only ever brought him pain and misery. But there was a time when what they had between them was so special that he had vowed to let nothing ever tear them apart - to love her always. But then he saw Thomas dead at her feet; d’Artagnan used and Constance in her clutches, and he closed in on himself all over again.

When was he to be free of her?

He lifted his cup and downed the wine in one gulp; swiping his mouth with his hand; shaking with emotions he had not experienced in five years. When he looked over to d’Artagnan, the boy stared back at him with a similar look of confusion – a mirror image of his anguish.

There had been a time, not too long ago, when he sought oblivion from more than the bottle to escape such anguish; when he had looked for numbness – to be void of all thought and all feeling when it came to her, his past, and his shortcomings.

Such escape had almost led to his destruction – and he would have gladly let himself be destroyed, if not for Aramis and Porthos, who had found him, loved him, and brought him back to life.

God help him, he had come here tonight to find such numbness, but d’Artagnan had been here; reached out and pulled him from the edge of making a horrible mistake.

Being here in this tavern, at the right time; in the right moment; could not be a coincidence – this boy had saved him once again – and did not know it.

“We should go”, they said in unison; pushing their cups to the center of the table; standing and moving away.

When they finally weaved their way out of the crowded tavern – still overflowing with men and women, looking for solace and companionship, d’Artagnan and Athos stood together, took a deep breath and filled their lungs with the fresh evening air of Paris.

Athos then turned fondly to his friend, and in a rare show of affection placed his arm about his shoulders and squeezed lightly, “I want to thank you d’Artagnan for having that drink with me and keeping me from…”

d’Artagnan continued, “drowning my sorrows in alcohol. Yes – thank you too Athos”, and he reached up and grabbed his shoulder also.

After a brief shared moment of gratitude, they released each other and walked back toward the garrison, side by side; shoulders bumping lightly – glad to have each other just at the right moment.

d’Artagnan smiled to himself and remembered his silent promise only just hours before, “I won’t let her hurt you again you know”, he said with conviction; his eyes earnest and words heartfelt.

Athos stopped in his tracks, gazed at his brother, and knew he would try; but wasn’t sure his oath was at all possible. “Promise me you will follow your own advice. Leave Anne to her own devices. A scorpion cornered will strike with malice and kill without thought.”

d’Artagnan stared hard into Athos’ eyes, heard the words and saw his true concern for his safety. Milady was a dangerous woman after all. “I promise”, he said aloud, watching Athos’ shoulders sag with relief, and silently vowed to keep his own.

Outside Ambassador Perales’ residence, Bertrand felt the bands of constraint lifted from his shoulders as he screamed obscenities, threw rocks, broke windows and threatened the life of that “Spanish dog”.

Roaming the streets like feral animals – they had found Perales’ lodgings; the goal to make noise, protest, and to frighten the Spanish Ambassador out of France.

Bertrand’s headache was receding and this mindless violence felt liberating. But he would only free himself from this maddening pain when he put his hands on someone and beat the life out of them – as he had done the other day, when he and others from the camp had come upon the lone Spanish carriage in the street.

They had commandeered the carriage quickly – his talent for brutality pulling the mob into his vortex. He could still feel the man’s fear as he dragged him through the door of the carriage; beat him to the ground; stripped him of his outer garments and mutilated him with his bare hands. Release had been divine; his headache melting away bringing him tranquility.

Now, if they could just get inside the residence, Emilie would no longer have to worry about the Ambassador’s threats toward the tent city; its people, and her cause. He would gladly take care of it on her behalf.

And just as he raised his hand to encourage the others to follow him; break down the door and drag Perales out onto the street – the musketeers arrived on horseback – pushing the crowd back, yelling for them to “Get back in the name of the King!”

And then, there he was, right in front of him – he only had to reach out – place his hands around his neck and….

Then a shot rang out from atop the stairs to the home and the boy stepped deftly away – facing the mob; looking right past him as if he were invisible – bellowing above the melee; urging everyone to disperse.

Bertrand lowered his head; moved to the back of the frenzied crowd, the others of Emilie’s camp following his lead; sliding away from the mob and heading back to the tent city.

There would be another opportunity – the unrest in Paris would help see to that.

Emilie of Duras had been arrested. Escorting her by force to the Chatelet and then to her cell had been heartbreaking.

In between her curses aimed at them; she cried out and pleaded for her life; begging not to be burned. Her face flushed and eyes glassy with fear – she called out to God to save her and to strike down the musketeers and King Louis. Sputtering through tears and spittle she screamed and earnestly declared that her “dreams did not lie.”

Just yesterday, Constance and the Queen had been released from her camp, unharmed but suffering from the effects of their forced time there; Constance more so – plagued with dreams of the future – the death of King Louis; the Queen in distress; beheadings and chaos. She had told d’Artagnan how real they seemed – vivid – more than dreams. All caused by soup.

When Aramis had brought them safely to the garrison, d’Artagnan had reached for Constance; and hugged her without permission; holding her so close he could feel her eyelashes on his neck. He remembered now, how she had clung to him; weeping into his shoulder – she trembled so hard that he held her the tighter – whispering to her nonsense and then devotions of love.

Eventually she settled down; and let him embrace her until she pulled away of her own accord; swiping away her tears and smiling slightly for his benefit.

And now – here at the prison – she was to stay and help with Emilie; help to care for her as Athos worked to guide her in the expelling of toxins that invaded her body.

Aramis had said he had experience in such matters; and knew how to help. d’Artagnan didn’t understand; and when he questioned Aramis, his only comment was, “You must ask Athos. It is his story to tell.”

So three days had passed and each day he had paced outside in the prison yard, waiting for word of Constance – Athos and how faired Emilie. Aramis and Porthos kept vigil with him – if not; he would have rushed the cell many times over to see for himself. But Aramis cautioned, “This is tricky work – privacy is warranted here.” And so he acquiesced to his judgement and waited.

Now on day four, Aramis entered the cells alone – leaving him and Porthos to wait; and then emerging into the yard walked Athos and Constance – shielding their eyes from the sunlight – looking worn and exhausted.

d’Artagnan moved eagerly toward Constance – saw the dark circles beneath her eyes and touched her face. She grabbed his hand, and leaned her cheek into his warm palm. “All is well”, she greeted him.

He squeezed her hand and moved to address his friend – but Constance held him back, “He is beyond tired, and did most of the work in there. Let him go for now.” d’Artagnan looked to protest – but saw love in her gaze shining up at him, and could not refuse her. “He needs to be alone for while I think. He understood her pain too well.”

d’Artagnan nodded and watched as Porthos spoke softly with Athos; bring him in close and then clapped him on the back – letting him go slowly away from the yard toward the streets of Paris.

“Walk with me?” Constance asked, and together – hand in hand they made their way back toward the palace.

Hours had passed and the tent city was quiet now. Soon the Red Guard would come, and tear down what was left of Emilie’s army of the people.

The musketeers could still hear the echoes of distress from her followers as she first denounced her visions – pleaded with them to abandon the cause and then wept over her mother’s lifeless body.

They had swept through the tents, ensuring that everyone had gone; the city now occupied by ghosts, and forgotten visions. The four now sat on their mounts scanning the area – remembering the thousands and how quickly dreams can come to an end.

Aramis dismounted from his horse, “There is something I want to get from Emilie’s tent”, he announced walking away from his brothers – distressed at toppling her faith, driving him to find something of hers.

d’Artagnan dismounted also, worried at his friend’s state of mind – wishing to help in some way, “I’ll go with you”, and together they walked toward her large quarters.

Athos nodded and understood, “We will meet you beyond the bridge”, and he and Porthos set off to wait.

When they reached the flap of her tent – Aramis placed his hand on d’Artagnan’s arm to stop his forward movement, “Wait for me here?” he asked and stepped in alone.

Once inside Aramis stood still and let his vision adjust to the darkness and the small amount of light that peered through the seams and from beneath. After some moments, he moved toward where Emilie slept. She had been spartan – not having much in the way of material things – but there left behind on her pallet; he found what he was looking for. Her Bible lay nestled in the tattered blankets left on the straw.

He reached down for it; opened to the cover page, and there written in Emilie’s hand – faith is the only armor we need – was scrawled with confidence and purpose. He slammed the book shut – distraught he had taken away her God and her faith. Then suddenly he felt a sharp pain to the back of his skull; and then darkness.

Bertrand stood over the musketeer, holding the hilt of his knife over his victim sensing the bright lights of his headache spinning around him; the pain so intense, he almost leaned over and vomited. He took hold of Aramis’ legs and began to drag him further away into the darkness of the tent, his true enemy waiting just outside.

d’Artagnan heard a thump and then noise emitting from the tent, and entered slowly – not wishing to interrupt but wanting to be sure that all was well. He squinted into the darkness and called for his friend. After spinning around to look in all directions he then stood still puzzled – Aramis was nowhere to be seen. How could he have left here without him knowing?

As he turned to leave his legs were suddenly swept out from underneath him and he hit the ground on his back hard enough to lose all the air from his lungs. Wheezing, he looked up, and there stood Bertrand – the heel of his boot now at his throat constricting his air way.

d’Artagnan reached for his foot, and tried to dislodge it from his throat – but felt weakness creeping over him; and his vision blurring. He could feel Bertrand remove his sword and musket from about his waist and throw them further into darkened corners of the tent.

“It is fate that brings you here musketeer, for me to have justice for the hell I’m in now.” Bertrand winced and grabbed at his hair pulling with force, and spoke again through clenched teeth, “I have suffered enough by your hand I think.”

He then reached down, pulled d’Artagnan to his feet and struck him across the face – causing his cheek to split and flow blood. “A scar for a scar”, he growled – placing his hands around his neck and squeezing forcefully.

Stunned, d’Artagnan reached up and tried to pull Bertrand’s fingers from his throat – but his vision began to tunnel and he could not breathe – Bertrand’s strength growing every second – his face twisted in manic insanity. Gradually, d’Artagan felt his limbs go completely weak. He could no longer struggle; and out of the corner of his eyes saw flashing lights moving toward him. His mind fell to his brothers, and on Athos who would be disappointed that he had not fought harder.

At the bridge waiting for their friends to return, Athos and Porthos both stood as if someone had called urgently for them to come – but the tent city continued to wait silently to be dismantled. There was no noise – only a hushed breath of wind winding its way between the tents causing them to bend and sway.

Athos then took out his musket and took off at a dead run toward Emilie’s tent; Porthos close on his heels.

When they entered the tent; Athos held out his weapon toward the man strangling the life from d’Artagnan – he could see Aramis nowhere; Porthos was at his side – his weapon also aimed at the assailant.

Sensing others were in the tent with him, Bertrand released d’Artagnan’s throat; pulled his knife; grabbed the boy from behind holding him up with his arm and held his weapon at his throat – pricking the skin just under his ear ready to make quick work of this and rid his brain of its aching agony.

Athos recognized Bertrand immediately and moved slowly toward him, his finger ready to pull the trigger and finish what he had started all those months ago. Only this time d’Artagnan was being held as a shield, and he was not sure he could take his shot without harming him as well.

But then Bertrand made his move; blood flowed down d’Artagan’s neck – Porthos screamed and Athos shot him between the eyes – brain matter and blood rained down over d’Artagnan as he fell boneless to the ground still wrapped in Bertrand’s arm.

Aramis awoke to the sharp retort of a firearm; Porthos screaming and Athos standing rigid with his musket held out before him unmoving – his eyes fixed on a point in the distance. He pushed himself to his feet and saw Porthos extricating d’Artagnan from the arms of Bertrand – covered in blood.

He moved toward them – his head pounding with every footstep – falling to his knees listening and watching for any sign of life; and there it was a slight wheezing – d’Artagnan fighting to draw in a breath.

He gazed into Porthos’ eyes, “He’s alive. Help me get him on the pallet. We need water; cloth and my bag.” Porthos nodded; lifted d’Artagnan from the ground – and placed him gently on the nearby bedding. Aramis quickly taking a seat at his side pressed his hand over the wound at his neck – already slick with blood trying to stem the tide.

When he rose to get the other things Aramis would need – he saw that Athos had already exited the tent. He pulled left behind bedding from cots laid out on the ground, and threw them Aramis’ way; then raced from the tent for Aramis’ horse and the supplies he needed.

There running toward him was Athos with a bucket full of water from the stream – heading back into the tent. When he re-entered and placed the medic’s bag on the pallet he saw Athos standing over Bertrand – his sword in his hand ready to kill him all over again.

Aramis nodded at him, “I have this” and looked toward their friend with apprehension. Porthos took the cue and moved slowly toward Athos with his hands held out in submission knowing that the man before him was not the brother he knew at this moment.

Aramis studied the injury before him and knew he had to work fast. The wound at d’Artagnan’s neck was dire; and the boy was losing blood fast. He cleaned it out as well as he could with the water brought in by Athos, took out his needle and thread and began the task of closing the scar. d’Artagnan moaned at the pull and he stilled his hand, and watched as he forcibly willed his eyes open.

“Do not try and speak”, he commanded. “Let me help you and all will be well.”

d’Artagnan blinked his assent; and grabbed at the front of his coat. “We are all okay”, he answered returning to his task – conquering his own blurred vision to make neat tiny loops. “Try and keep still for me.”

Off to the side Aramis could hear Porthos trying to break through the haze Athos seemed to be caught in. “You can put that away now my friend. He is dead already. You have saved him; and now Aramis is going to fix him up good as new.”

Athos could feel his grip tighten on his weapon and his heart harden. If he could – he would will the man before him to rise up from the ground so he could stab him; then choke him; then beat him to death.

Then he heard a groan from the pallet, reason flooded his senses and he came to himself – relaxing his grip on the hilt of his sword; and looked to Porthos hearing him speak words, “He needs to see you Athos. Come and sit with him.”

Athos took a breath; and the tent snapped into focus – Aramis leaning over d’Artagnan; his legs moving about trying to retreat from the pain.

He walked briskly then to the pallet, knelt at his side and grabbed hold of d’Artagnan’s hand and placed another on his leg stilling it with his touch. Athos studied Aramis’ face – saw the pain etched behind his eyes, “He will be alright. Just hold him still so I can finish.”

Porthos then grabbed another cloth; kneeled at the head of the pallet, and staunched the blood as he bent over to finish.

d’Artagnan held tight to Athos’ hand, then slowly drifted down into unconsciousness.

When d’Artagnan woke again, it was to Athos sitting at his side, washing blood from his hair; face and neck. He searched his friend’s face trying to get a gauge on what happened; but it was unreadable. He remembered nothing beyond Bertrand strangling the life out of him. He frowned remembering flashes of light – he should be dead.

d’Artagnan grabbed a hold of Athos arm and stilled it from removing the blood on his face, but when he looked at the cloth he noticed something else, that was not blood; and pierced Athos with a stare that asked for an explanation. Only Athos was not talking; so he tried. But when he went to speak he could not utter a sound – and held a hand to his throat perplexed.

“Your throat is swollen. Aramis says your voice will be out of commission for a while. You are to rest.”

d’Artagnan frowned deeper – demanding to know what happened; grasping Athos’ shirt and pulling him down closer.

Athos sighed and placed the cloth in the bucket at his feet. “Bertrand is dead”, he spoke plainly, “and all is well. Aramis took a knock on the head, but has recovered enough to oversee the Red Guards in their duties; and keep Porthos from enticing them into a game of cards. The tent city is coming down as we speak. We leave for home within the hour.”

d’Artagnan relaxed; closed his hand in a fist and tapped it gently against Athos chest at his heart. Athos grabbed it and held on tight. “Your welcome d’Artagnan”, he whispered softly.

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