Sketch by JakartaInn. Click for full-size.
The regiment is kept in reserve for most of the Siege of Alès; the king needs protecting while he oversees the surrender of the town, bouncing up and down on the tips of his toes as he stares wide-eyed through the telescope Richelieu, teeth gritted, holds for him. The king is close to a complete surrender of the Huguenots and of the Duke of Rohan, and knows it – the Musketeers are there not to fight, but to decorate his triumph, and they know this too.
The town is left in ruins, of course, and the royal party moves on to the supposedly more important act of treaty-making at a local chateau, leaving Athos, Porthos, and Aramis to march through the deserted streets with their fellows, watching the last of the citizens straggle out into the countryside until an ostensible peace returns. It is mid-June, and heat hangs heavy over the mud-trodden fields; when darkness falls, though, it is still chilly, and they find a somewhat blasphemous shelter in a corner of the half fallen-down town church. Porthos and Athos sit; Aramis, however, paces, as he has done for most of the day, looking worriedly at the dirtied tapestries, such as they are, and the empty spots in the dust where the communion cups had sat before they were looted. It is a Saturday evening, they all know: there will be no service in the morning, no priests left to say mass, not even a Huguenot who could momentarily recall the old words.
Eventually Aramis sleeps, fingers tangled in his rosary rather than the triggers of his pistols, and Porthos keeps watch. As the sky lightens into a dull grey, Athos wakes, puts a hand on Porthos’s shoulder, and motions them both outside.
It’s easier than one would expect to climb as far as the roof, with the walls in such a state of disrepair that they provide ample hand- and foot-folds; the tower presents a little more of a challenge, but nothing to dissuade men of their experience. As they reach the top Porthos sees that the bell has been cracked, the unfortunate recipient of a cannonball or skipping bullet – it is large enough, still, and solid enough, that it will ring true, and so it proves. It takes both of them, balanced on opposite corners, and several solid pushes back and forth before it begins to peal, but peal it does, and ring it does, still, its clear tone bouncing off of the shattered and burnt roofs, over the ruined countryside beyond, and, Porthos fancifully thinks, beyond the horizon.
Aramis is waiting for them, staring upwards and dumbstruck, when they descend. “I can’t think whose saint’s day it is,” he says, eventually, twisting his hat between his hands. “To thank them for comrades such as these.”