Chapter 33 Hat

        Conley opened her eyes, saw sky. She raised her head slightly, realised it was rushing like a cavalry charge, glanced around. A young woman with short, dark hair was sitting cross-legged a short distance away, scribbling notes on loose scraps of paper, staring intently in a book. Roween? She seemed to hear movement, looked up.
        "Conley? You're awake?" Joy, disbelief in her words. She was by her side in a moment, one hand supporting her head, the other rotating the bundle of clothes that served as a pillow.
        "How long have I been unconscious?" She was surprised to hear herself, voice so weak, low-sounding from the mucus in her throat. She coughed, attempted to clear it. Pain tore deep within her chest; she must have been hacking all the while she'd been asleep.
        Roween looked concerned; strange, too, with her new-cropped hair, the Akrean bleach mercilessly sheared away. Her crossed eyes were red, bloodshot, like she hadn't been resting enough. "Six days," she replied.
        Conley closed her own eyes, so weak, everything hurt. "How bad am I?"
        She half-raised her eyelids; Roween's held tears. "That bad?"
        Roween nodded, lowered Conley's head to its resting place. "You have an infection, both lungs I think. You're coughing blood, you can't keep down food, and you're running a cinder-hot fever." She sniffled. "I don't know what to do, Con."
        Conley turned her head to face her companion. There was a sound in her ears, like a hand-bell, never seeming to end. She felt giddy again. "What are my chances, Ro?"
        More silence, then Roween, uncertain. "If we find a mage, they're good. I've decoded that spell-book, cooked something that should arrest the fever, burn it out, take the fluid off your chest."
        If she can do all that... "And if we don't?" Find a mage? Everything looked so blurry.
        Another pause. "There's a Message temple, they may have a healer..."
        "A what?" She tried to rise, failed as her arm buckled back. She noticed for the first time that she was no longer in the ruined monastery. "They'll take us, turn us over to the army. Imprison us, torture us." She felt so cold. How had she been moved? Did she remember a sledge? Roween's handiwork. She'd slept through it all? She was so hungry, tired, very tired.
        "Perhaps. You'd rather die?"
        Darkness fell. Did Roween kiss her forehead?

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif33.htm