I wake up. I’m still in the tent where Lady Vorana was. But she, the table, Mia, the other furnishings of the tent, they are all gone. All that is left is a lantern, which is the sole source of light in the tent. And it’s otherwise so dark that it can’t still be day out. How long have I been asleep? Or whatever it was that happened to me?
I try to remember what happened. I took the second sip of wine. Lady Vorana told me to stand up and follow her. And then it was like I lost all power of rational thought as waves of raw emotion erupted in my brain with frightening intensity.
My memories of everything that happened after are very confused. I’m not sure the human mind is made to remember exactly what we are doing when we have only strong emotions, no intellect. And that’s all I was experiencing, apparently. Experiencing with Vorana and Mia.
I have to shut down thinking about it. It’s too disturbing.
I shake my head and sit up. I check my wallet and bag. Everything is intact. Me, I’m not so sure about. I grab the lantern and head for the door.
I’m out the door. It’s twilight out. Good, I’m not out past curfew. I turn to look at the tent, to see what it looks like. There is no tent there. In fact, there is no land there. That’s the Unswondus Canal where the tent was. More magic, clearly.
I’m not going to get anything done here. So I make my way back to the palace, have my usual unpleasant encounter with the guards, and make a beeline for Sarton’s workshop. If he’s been waiting for the phoenix feathers all day, he is going to be enraged at the delay. Even though it is not my fault.
Sarton is just closing up. He’s coming out the door. I begin to compose an apology to him, but I don’t get a chance to say it. A torrent of words burst out of me, beyond my control, repeating what Lady Vorana told me about the assassination plot.
Sarton at first is baffled. And then he drags me back into the workshop, sits me down, and makes me tell him everything. Well, everything about the assassination plot. I leave the rest out of it.
Once I’ve told him often enough that he’s understood me, it’s as if I’m suddenly drained of energy. I sit back in my chair and close my eyes. And almost immediately jerk them open. Because in the moment my eyes were closed, it was as if I were reliving one of those memories I’m trying not to recall.
Sarton is looking at me, a bit puzzled. “What’s the matter with you, Tollon?”
I shrug. “Tired, I guess. Lapsed into a bad dream.”
Sarton still isn’t satisfied, but he switches the subject. “You got the phoenix feathers?”
I grab my bag, open it, hand it over to him. “Seven of the best.”
That pleases him, for a moment. Then he looks at me quite narrowly. “Vorena doesn’t do things without exacting a price. I would have expected her to take a phoenix feather. So what did she take from you?”
I try to think how to explain what happened, but can’t think of a way to put it that isn’t embarrassing. So I fudge. “I don’t remember very well.”
Sarton’s face turns grave. “She offered you wine.”
“Are your memories of what happened afterward clear or confused? Truly now, Tollon.”
“Confused,” I say with some relief. Sarton knows what happened. I hope he tells me!
“Good.” Sarton is looking me straight in the eye. “If they were clear, you’d never escape Vorana’s influence over you. Confused memories mean you’ll eventually be yourself again. Now listen to me, Tollon, man to man: avoid your girl for a few days. And don’t panic if you find yourself having disturbing visions. They will pass.”
“What kind of disturbing visions? I ask.
“Visions of things you did, my boy. I’m sorry I can’t put it any more gently. It doesn’t matter if she made you do those things, you actually did them. And you’re going to find them very troubling, even the ones that would normally be enjoyable.
“Now, that’s an experience no one should have to deal with, as part of a job. So you get the evening off. Tomorrow, too. Go back to your room, or do whatever you want to do. Don’t let the visions disturb you. And if it gets too much for you, come back here and knock on the door. I’ll come get you.”
From Sarton, this is almost an unprecedented level of concern. So I thank him, tell him I will be careful, and leave.
I’m fine until I reach the servants’ dining hall.