The Truth Will Set You Free
"Keep going, Philippe." A young man stumbled down the stone hallway, muttering encouragement to himself in between barking coughs. He was pale and soaked in sweat, clinging to the walls was the only thing keeping him upright. His fever bright eyes seemed to take in everything yet nothing. He was aware of his surroundings from the habits created out of the hard life he lived as an orphan and thief. The weak and unaware didn't survive long. He needed to escape, but he couldn't recall what he was escaping. His mind felt fuzzy. So he just kept putting one foot in front of the other until he was free. He was an expert at running away.
"Open, dammit!" He pulled against the closed door trying to find an escape.
"For pity's sake, Boy!" A voice shouted from behind him. He jumped in fright; lifting his arms, covering his head against harm.
Imperius softened his tone, "What are you doing out of bed?"
"It just so happens I've decided to leave," He rubbed at his runny nose with his sleeve.
"I should tie you to the bed frame," The Priest grumbled irritably.
"I'd just escape," He grinned, "I even got out of the Captain's wicked knots."
"Stubborn young imp!" The Priest slowly moved and took his arm. He was still learning all the ways Philippe could be startled, from loud noises to sudden movement the list seemed eternal. When he was well the fear was not so readily seen in his dark eyes. But as the fever began to ravish his skinny body his mental walls began to crumble. His actions were dictated by his fear and pain.
He gently deposited his young charge back into bed, "This time, stay in bed."
The boy popped right back up, gasping his words out between coughs, "Wha' happened to me?"
"Swimming through that filthy water did neither your wounds nor your lungs any favors." The older man answered as he pushed him back horizontal.
Philippe seemed to fall asleep. The priest was getting worried about the fate of his young charge. Fluid had built up in his lungs, refusing to break up and be expelled. He also had a fever that refused to break which led to his restless wanderings. It used up the lad's strength that he was ill afforded to lose. With his memories and emotions all muddled up from his illness he proved to be almost impossible to comfort and keep calm when he actually stayed in bed.
Imperius was just putting together a new herbal tea when his charge was once again causing trouble. The lad had jumped out of bed wide eyes looking around in fright, "Where's the Captain and Lady Hawk?!"
"They are fine," He reassured the boy, "The curse is broken."
"But...I…," Philippe looked around confused, "They left me."
The priest's heart broke at the anguished voice. The boy clearly had no family, but he'd imprinted on a wolf and hawk. "We will see them again soon. They needed time together after so long apart." He guided his patient back into bed; gently wiping away his tears. Philippe refused to look at him as he tucked the blanket around him. He buried his face into the thin pillow before falling into a fevered sleep. Carefully turning him so air could more easily reach his struggling lungs he placed his palm upon his head. His fever had risen, again. Philippe needed more help then one old priest could give him or he'd leave this world thinking he was all alone. Making up his mind he went to find a bird.
Navarre woke to the sight of a bird. It had been a week since the curse placed upon him and his true love had been broken. He was just getting used to waking up each morning next to a woman. He and Isabeau had retreated to his family home. After two years they wished to wait a little longer before rejoining the human world. As soon as the investigation of the death of the Bishop of Aquila had settled, they planned to get Navarre reinstated as Captain of the Guard.
After days of peaceful bliss becoming reacquainted, the appearance of the bird on his window sill proved to be a bad omen.
It wasn't a hawk.
Navarre arose and slowly moved to the messenger bird. He felt his beloved's eyes on him, watching his every move. The message attached to the small bird's leg carried grave news. But it wasn't from Aquila as he'd feared. It was worse. It was from Imperius. Their Little Mouse was dying.
They rode hard. Goliath faithfully carried his riders, racing across the countryside. Salvation lay in an old castle in the hands of an old priest once again.
Imperius met them at the gate. He looked worried.
"Where is he?" Navarre demanded.
The priest sighed looking old, "I don't know."
Before he knew what he was doing Navarre had him pushed up against the wall. It was only Isabeau's hand on his arm that stilled his continued violence. He released his captive, turning in disgust, watching him fall to the ground. His love was quickly beside the fallen man's side.
"Where is he, Father?" She asked in quiet urgency.
"I can't keep him in bed," He confessed.
"I thought he was dying," The blond man challenged.
"That boy is burning up so that he can't tell what is real or not."
"Why did you not tend him better," Navarre asked bitterly.
"Why did you not control your wolf to not wound him so?" The priest asked back in rage. The Captain looked as if he'd taken a fatal blow. His hand had already been the cause of the death of a dear friend. His sword had plunged into Francisco while he held it in his hand. Now his dear Mouse's blood would stain his hands as well.
Isabeau gasped in pain and sadness for the whole situation.
"I'm sorry, I spoke in anger," Imperius laid a hand on the man he wounded so badly.
Navarre shrugged off his hand stalking into the castle, "You only spoke the truth."
The remaining two shared a look of despair before following after. They had a friend to find. All wounds would be tended in time. But right now Mouse's need was greatest.
Isabeau found herself wandering a dark hallway alone. How she wished she had her bird vision, just for a moment to help her find Mouse. It was taking too long to find him. The whole ride she was worried that he would be gone when they arrived. This was not how she pictured him being gone, hiding in a fevered stupor, somewhere she couldn't find.
She heard a terrible coughing sound and followed it. She was sure it was their poor suffering Mouse.
She found him standing in the middle of the hallway, swaying on his feet, "Philippe, why are you out of bed?"
He just shrugged, "It has been a terrible night."
"Mouse, you are too sick to be up," She lightly scolded, "Everybody is worried about you."
"Sometimes I can never tell with you, Lady Hawk." He gazed up at her wonderingly "Are you really flesh or are you a spirit?"
"I'm here," She brushed back his sweat-soaked hair, "You are just burning up too much to know for sure."
She grabbed his hand gently and began to pull him back the way she came. He needed care and he wouldn't get it standing in a dark hallway. He went along willingly at first. But then he just stopped, refusing to move forward.
"Please My Lady," He begged with tears in his eyes, "Please let me go."
"Remember I told you that you are my truest friend," She spoke gently, "And a true friend would not let you leave when you are so seriously ill."
"I feel fine," He wheezed in between coughs, "I swear it on my life."
"No, I don't want to hear you swearing on your life again," She reprimanded, she'd had enough talk of life and death.
It almost seemed God had finally struck him down for lying. She watched in horror as her young friend collapsed. She screamed for Etienne. She cushioned his head in her lap until her love came to carry her young friend to bed.
"Thank the Good Lord, you've found our lost lamb," Imperius praised as he checked his patient, who laid so still in the Captain's arms, "Quick, bring him back to bed."
Navarre carried his precious load after the muttering priest. Carefully he laid the Little Mouse back into his nest. It was unsettling to see the young man so full of energy and words so still and silent as death. His struggles to breath were the only sign he still lived.
"When I said I wanted to meet you at the pearly gates, I didn't mean for you to go to them so soon," Imperius muttered to his patient as he spooned water between his slack lips. For a time the only sound in the room was Philippe's labored breathing.
Suddenly, he began to choke.
The Captain quickly lifted him into his arms, as the man of God began to bang upon his back. The Lady lifted a bowl to catch the mucus being brought up. The three worked in harmony as they tried to help clear their young friend's lungs. Delirious and in pain, Philippe weakly fought Navarre's hold. He hacked up gunk from his lungs in painfully wet coughs that left him unable to catch his breath. The ordeal proved to be too much for the ailing Mouse. He dissolved into tears begging them to stop hurting him.
Mercifully, as suddenly as it began, it ended.
They stood frozen for some time after the attack subsided, just watching his chest move as he took in air. Isabeau eventually left to dump the bowl. It may have been wishful thinking but it seemed to the room's occupants that the young thief's breathing sounded better than before.
"Hold on, child," Imperius gently cleaned the tear-stained face with a wet cloth.
"Child?" Navarre asked as he gently rocked the form still encircled within his arms. He'd always known Mouse was young but he'd never thought of him as a child. He'd seemed to world-weary, able to take care of himself for the most part. Too knowledgeable about things children shouldn't know. He lived in danger and was able to talk himself out of most situations or at least escape mostly unscathed. He was imprisoned to be executed for pity's sake. None of that screamed child. Yet looking down at his sick stricken face it was all he could see. From the fever spots high on his cheeks to the snotty nose to the sweat-soaked hair, his appearance screamed child.
The Priest had been his confessor, what felt like a lifetime ago, yet he could still read Navarre like a book. He'd seen the stricken look dawn upon the blond man's face. "Yes, he is younger then he pretends to be."
"I never really thought about his age. Just that he escaped Aquila." Mouse squirmed in his arms. Navarre rubbed circles on his back soothing him back into a deeper sleep.
"He's no man, even if experience has tried to make him one before his time."
Another attack against Mouse's weakened lungs commenced. Isabeau rushed down the hall at the sound of the renewed battle to clear his lungs and save her dear friend's life. They alternated beating him black and blue and wiping down his fevered brow as his fever rose throughout the night. They continued the losing battle of trying to feed him water and broth. What little they could get down him, tended to make a quick reappearance. Navarre finally sent his wife to bed after she fell asleep standing on her feet. He hoped she'd get at least a few hours of rest before she came back to nurse their Mouse back to health.
Navarre bowed his head, laying it against the fevered one and called out to God like the one he prayed for often did, "I beg you Lord- save him."
"Have you ever considered this is what God intended all along. He sent an angel, albeit one with a crooked halo, to save you and Isabeau. And now he calls him home."
"No, I will not accept that. He is in this position because of my actions."
"Do not make light of his sacrifices," The Priest spoke harshly, "He made his own choices."
"I put him onto his deathbed." Navarre subconsciously pulled the lithe body closer to his as if he could protect him just by holding him tight, "He should have left me to die."
"That boy has more honor and loyalty than all the guards in whole of France."
"Yes, although he'd never admit it," Navarre huffed in fond exasperation.
Imperius gently lifted his burden from his arms before depositing Mouse back into bed, "You need rest. Go to Isabeau."
He tried to resist but the hard ride there, adrenaline-fueled search for their missing patient, and finally the level of care being rendered had sapped him of his strength. With one more reassuring glance, he went to find his love.
He hesitated at the door, "You will come get us if anything changes?"
"Of course, now off with you."
They were awakened sometime later by Imperius' bellow, "That imp would try the patience of a Saint!"
The Priest opened their door looking for his once more wayward patient. "The vexing lad has done it again!"
Isabeau thought it had to be a good sign that he was well enough to keep escaping his keepers. They arose to help with the search, "Let's go find Philippe."
Navarre found him tucked into a dark corner. His spirit was willing but his body had finally refused to aid him in his escape attempts. He knelt next to the small shivering form. He gently laid a hand on a trembling shoulder, yet still, Mouse jumped in fright. The older man was unable to do more than rub his back as he fell prey to another bout of coughing.
"How did you find me?" Philippe asked hoarsely.
"I will always find you," The older man pulled him closer worried he'd catch a chill sitting on the cold stone floor.
Mouse was not having any of it. He pushed Navarre away angrily, with what energy he had left, "Liar! You left. You and Lady Hawk left me behind."
"Never again, Little Mouse," Navarre cupped his head pulling it close against his shoulder. The boy's burning flesh burning through his shirt, so that he could feel the heat upon his skin. The fever was playing havoc on the young man's emotions. As he broke down in tears, no longer filled with rage.
"I did this to you, Philippe," He whispered into the boy's ear, "Forgive me."
"It wasn't your fault," The boy clung to him, trying to make him see the truth.
Navarre was not ready to let go of his guilt but he refused to let go of his young friend, "Hush, we will talk more when you are feeling better."
"I don't feel so good," Philippe confessed quietly as he broke into a coughing fit.
"No, I imagine not," Navarre looked into Mouse's vulnerable dark eyes with a gentle smile, "You do look a little pale."
"It always pays to tell the truth," Mouse muttered into his shoulder as the older man picked him up and started walking back down the hall.
"Back to bed with you, my sick Little Mouse."