This is the final chapter. Thank you to everyone who has been following along and for all the lovely reviews. Unfortunately I have run out of inspiration for further stories so let me know if you have any plot bunnies you would like me to chase.
By the time they reached the inn Athos could no longer hide the fact that he was sick. Nonetheless, he insisted that they got Aramis settled before he would accept any assistance. Aramis was in a lot of pain which prevented him from resting comfortably so he decided to focus on Athos as a means of distracting himself. In truth he was very worried about his friend who was shivering convulsively with the red tell-tale signs of fever on his cheeks.
The innkeeper brought food, ale and a large bowl of warm water with several clean rags. Aramis, sitting on the mattress and propped up against the wall, accepted a bowl of rabbit stew from d'Artagnan. Despite the pain he was ravenously hungry. In between mouthfuls he dispensed instructions.
"The wound must be thoroughly washed. D'Artagnan, we need dried yarrow and elderflower leaves to brew into a tea. They will help to break the fever. We also need Calendula flowers to make into a poultice."
"I'll see what I can find," d'Artagnan said.
"Anyone with a herb garden will know what you're talking about."
D'Artagnan left on his quest. Porthos helped Athos remove his ripped and filthy shirt before unwinding the equally dirty bandage.
"How deep is the cut?" Aramis asked.
Athos bit back a hiss as Porthos probed the wound. "About a quarter inch deep and eight or nine inches long. It's very red around the edges and there's some green pus."
"Not surprising. It's been neglected for too long." Aramis couldn't bring himself to scold Athos. After all, his friend had only compromised his health in order to stage a rescue.
Porthos dipped a rag in the water and used two fingers to pry the wound apart. Athos gasped and went alarmingly pale. Porthos hesitated. "Might be better if you lay down."
"I'm fine," Athos said through gritted teeth. "Just get on with it."
The process of cleaning the wound was unpleasant. Athos held onto the chair so tightly that Aramis was surprised the wood didn't splinter. By the time Porthos finished Athos was taking in great panting breathes and was covered in sweat.
Aramis pushed aside his own considerable discomfort. "We need to wait for d'Artagnan. We'll apply the poultice to draw out the infection and then bandage the wound. Stitches can come later." He acknowledged Athos' silent look of gratitude. None of them enjoyed getting stitches. "Come and lie down while we wait." Aramis shifted over on the mattress, grimacing when the movement jarred his leg.
Athos lay down and Aramis could feel the violent tremors wracking his brother's body. He exchanged a concerned look with Porthos.
It seemed an eternity before d'Artagnan returned carrying a sack. "I've got everything you asked for."
"Good. Tear up the yarrow and elderflower leaves and steep them in boiling water for twenty minutes. The Calendula needs to be ground up until it is moist and then applied directly to the skin."
While d'Artagnan saw to brewing the tea Porthos begged a mortar and pestle from the innkeeper and started to enthusiastically pound the flowers into a paste. Through it all Athos remained silent with his lips clamped together. Once the poultice was ready Athos returned to the chair, staring into space while Porthos applied the herbs to the wound.
"Spread it thickly," Aramis instructed. "Then bandage it in place."
D'Artagnan carried over a mug of the tea and handed it to Athos. He steadied his hand as much as he could and took a sip.
"It tastes disgusting," he said, wrinkling up his nose.
"Some honey will help," Aramis said.
Porthos left to ask the innkeeper if he had any honey, returning minutes later with a small jar and a spoon. He poured out the thick, sticky, liquid and stirred it into the tea. After that the tea went down easier.
"You will need to take it every four hours," Aramis said. "Now, come and lie back down." He knew that the concoction would also work as a soporific to allow Athos to get some rest.
After Athos had settled Aramis asked for a cup of ale. He had found that if he kept still his leg only ached but, if he moved, the pain was mind shattering.
"How are you feeling?" Porthos asked.
"I have definitely had better days, but I'll survive."
While d'Artagnan went to check on their prisoner Aramis finished the ale and maneuvered himself into a prone position. The pain spiked and then receded as he got into a comfortable position. Athos was dozing and had started to mutter to himself. Aramis felt his forehead again. "The fever is worsening," he said worriedly.
"What can we do?" Porthos asked.
"Wait and pray."
It wasn't long before Athos began to move around, inadvertently touching Aramis' leg. Aramis gave a cry of pain which roused Athos from his stupor. He was dripping with sweat and looked around blearily.
"Where are we?" he asked plaintively.
Aramis' worry increased. "We're at the inn. You were wounded and need to rest."
"Wounded?" Athos moved his arm, moaning as he pulled on his injured shoulder. He turned his head to look at Aramis and his eyes widened when he saw the splint. "Your leg?" He tried to sit up but was too weak and sank back onto the mattress.
"It is nothing to be concerned about. Sleep and let the medication do its work."
Four hours later Porthos roused Athos for more tea. He still seemed muddled but obediently drank what he was given before falling back asleep.
Aramis lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. Every time he tried to sleep he was pulled back into the waking world by his injury. Porthos, sitting beside him, noticed.
"Is there nothing I can do to make you more comfortable?"
"Alas not." He sighed. "At least Athos is resting easier. When the fever breaks he will be very weak. I doubt if we will be able to return to Paris for several days."
"You need to see a doctor."
"I will come to no harm. The fracture is braced and there is little more a physician could do for me. Besides, I'm not looking forward to the journey," he admitted.
When it was time for the next dose of tea Athos seemed more lucid. His shivering had decreased and his eyes were clearer. D'Artagnan wiped the sweat from his body with warm water before bringing him a clean shirt.
"Before you put that on Porthos should check the wound," Aramis said.
Porthos unwrapped the bandages and washed the poultice off. "It looks better. The redness has definitely decreased."
"Put a fresh poultice on and bandage it up again. Athos, how do you feel?"
Athos considered that. "My muscles feel like jelly. Other than that I feel better than I did before. How are you?"
"Sore and tired but grateful for your recovery."
By morning Athos' fever had passed. He spent the day in bed, eating what he was given and dozing off and on. Aramis, tired of lying flat on his back, insisted on being moved to a chair. He kept his injured leg propped up and found that he was reasonably comfortable. That comfort would all evaporate, however, when he had to lie in a cart for the journey home. Their prisoner had become belligerent, complaining about his confinement in the inn's cellar. Porthos dealt with that.
Three days after the cave in Athos was well enough to ride. D'Artagnan thanked the innkeeper for his hospitality while Porthos helped Aramis to make his slow way out to the wagon.
"That was quite some adventure," Porthos said. "Don't ever worry us like that again."
"I will do my best." He settled into a bed of straw and tried to mentally prepare himself for the journey. Fortunately they were less than a days ride away from the garrison.
Porthos collected their prisoner and tied him onto his horse. D'Artagnan took the lead rein while Porthos climbed up onto the seat of the wagon.
"Ready?" Porthos asked.
Aramis, who was far from ready, gave an abrupt nod. Athos, riding by his side, leaned over. "We'll take it steady. Just let me know when you need a rest."
The horses took the strain and they trundled out onto the main path. Aramis twisted round to look at the distant hills and gave silent thanks for the grit and determination of his brothers who had saved him from a slow and solitary death.