"Hi, you must be Terzin. My name is Duncan, I'll be performing the operation on you today. If you'll please have a seat. Would you remove your shirt, and explain to me exactly what it was that happened?"
"Of course." He told Duncan all about the zombie.
"It does look like you have some ligament damage here," the surgeon observed. "Looks like it knit up fairly well. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to--lie back down--do some cutting, in order to--move your hands?"
"Yes, sir." He moved them reluctantly.
"You're very lucky in that when the sword traveled through your abdomen it did not actually hit any of your internal organs. You lost a decent amount of muscle here, but it seems that you've been moving enough while it was healing to take care of that. Remarkable recuperative abilities. Would you like a chocolate?"
Terzin gave him a blank look. "A what?" Duncan was holding up a bowl of small, rounded objects.
"It's candy. Sweets."
"Oh. All right." He took one. Ate it. Passed out, thinking I fell for it....
He woke up in a different room, in a very plush bed, with a wide bandage around his midsection. He was vaguely aware of not thinking clearly. There was an angel standing nearby.
She was by far the most beautiful being he had ever seen, about his own height, dressed in silk, about three or four feet away. When she saw that he was awake she stepped nearer and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"No, don't sit up."
He fully intended to not only sit up, but to sit up and kiss her. Halfway there the concept of pain reintroduced itself to him rather brusquely, and he fell back. She hadn't moved, no doubt reading not only his intention but the most likely result.
"You will only be sore for a little while," she told him.
"Yes, I will," he averred. "Even if I wasn't going to, just for you I would be."
"You are an adventurer?"
"We understand there were ettercaps, zombies?"
"Yes, and lizardmen too. Don't forget the mysterious figure that Harrick saw, we don't know what that was. I remember the hexagonal room, and the fires, and zombies dropping down like rain. Mortimer." He was vaguely aware of babbling.
"You should rest."
"Rest? Yes...." He went back to sleep. When he woke again, he wasn't certain that it had happened at all.
A page standing by asked, "How are you feeling, sir?"
"What day is it?"
"The 22nd, sir."
He'd lost a day. "I had the strangest dream...."
"That's common with the anaesthesia, sir. I'm supposed to escort you back to your room."
"Duncan said that you'd be well enough to walk?"
That seemed to be the case. "I'm fine," he said, wincing a little at the first few steps.
"Duncan says that that should be healed up within a couple days."
They returned to the visitors' chambers. Someone had been through his things, Terzin noted; unpacking clothes (such as they were), sharpening weapons, and so forth. Two clean suits of clothes had been laid on the bed, one of the same modest cut as his current set, the other somewhat nicer. Someone had mended his torn cloak.
During his absence, the others had made short exploratory forays through the castle and gotten some idea of its size. Robin and Harrick had seen their first mounted combat practice, watched through a window.
That's not what I want to do with my life, thought Harrick fervently, while simultaneously Robin thought, I want to DO that!
They saw a good many courtiers, who looked them over with barely or unconcealed disdain. Almost everyone they saw was armed, the pages with knives, both male and female courtiers with rapiers, the guards with heavier weaponry. They also started to get an idea of how things worked in the keep: the courtiers behaved as if the guards didn't exist, while the guards kept an eye on the courtiers without showing any real interest. Pages were invisible. They didn't see any nobles, and discovered that none of the hangers-about they saw at close range were even armigers. These were people, technically, of their own class--just slightly better circumstances. Once in a while, at a great distance, they did spot someone with the same general air that Kenneth had, that of bearing a greater share of the responsibilities of the world than ordinary folk did.
Each of them also received a visit from a pleasant, middle-aged woman who spoke with them briefly, asked if they needed anything, and generally took their measure. A man stopped by with suitable clothes for Jared. Hardly courtier's garb (no tights), but a step above what he had been wearing on the river. They ate dinner in the communal hall; very good, solid fare, but nothing extraordinary.
Early the next morning, Terzin reappeared."
"How you feeling?" Robin inquired.
"Recovering. It was interesting; they gave me a drug and I had the strangest dream... a woman, and I was talking to her about our adventures. Maybe it wasn't a woman, it was an angel. I don't know, what do angels look like? She looked like an angel."
"Okay...." Trust Terzin to come up with some weird story no matter what.
Confused, Terzin pondered the visit, or dream.
Before noon, Jessep appeared and informed them, "The Countess has requested your presence. Come this way?"
"Should I be wearing my sword?" Robin asked uncertainly.
He gave her a puzzled look. "Why not?"
"It doesn't go with the dress." Not that she wasn't feeling self-conscious enough in the seldom-worn rustic print.
"Oh, you should have said something. We'll try to have something by the time you actually make it there. Micah!" he called to one of his fellow pages. "We need a scabbard to go with this."
They walked slowly out of respect for Terzin's injury, and sure enough as they reached the antechamber Micah came panting up with an attractively tooled swordbelt for Robin. After some debate the pages decided that over the shoulder was best; it wouldn't interfere with the fall of her skirts that way. Jessep opened the door for them with a slight bow.
A modest receiving room awaited them, full of attractive worked stone and a very large desk, with a very nice chair behind it. Sitting in that chair was someone who, judging from the fact that their bodies had already decided to kneel without any need for thought, could only be Anne herself. Her nobility was palpable.
"Please, rise," she told them. "There are chairs there."
They seated themselves gingerly. Terzin could swear he'd seen her before, but this was not his angel; she had been younger.
"You have a letter?" she asked.
"Yes, my lady." Robin handed her the somewhat battered parchment.
The Countess read it quickly and put it down. "Kenneth has been an excellent servant to the Crown the entirety of his life. He speaks very highly of you in this. Do you believe that this complex poses a threat to the safety of Mignonet County?"
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers