100. The Guardian’s Spell

The table has been cleared, the earthen cups replaced with small goblets, and the pitcher of goat milk with a jug of strong liquor made, as Frithil explains, from the root of a flower common in the mountains.

Nevynne insists that she be given a taste, but when she smells the clear liquid, she wrinkles her nose and pushes the goblet away. Frithil and Garroth, on the other hand, both empty theirs immediately. A strong, almost overpowering aroma spreads through the air. Stellia can’t decide whether she finds it pleasant or offensive; it certainly smells more like medicine than something one would drink for enjoyment.

“Speak,” Garroth says.

The aromatic draught seems to have boosted Frithil’s composure. He still glances somewhat nervously around the table, but his voice is steady and confident. “I was in a chamber downstairs from the refectory, polishing the leather boots I had selected for Till in case Her Holiness should command his departure. I was well awake, and focused on my task, when all of a sudden—” He stops, and shakes his head. “I don’t know how to describe it. One moment, I was buffing the leather. The next, I found myself on the floor. The stool on which I had been sitting was overturned. Brush and boots lay scattered beside me.”

“A seizure?” Garroth reaches for the jug to refill his goblet.

“I’ve never had them,” Frithil says. “Nor was I ever prone to swoons or sudden losses of awareness.”

“How long did this senselessness last?”

“I can’t be sure,” Frithil says. “But not overlong, for the light in the room had not changed. A cup of sage tea I had set down on the windowsill was still hot. I was very confused, as you may imagine. It took me several moments, long moments, to remember who I was. Yet I was not, at the time, frightened or disturbed by this. In fact, I felt utterly serene, and filled with a calm unlike any I’ve known in my life. It was as if I had woken, though not fully woken yet, from a deep, restful sleep filled with the most agreeable dreams, though I could remember none of them. Odd as it may sound, I would not hesitate to call the state I was in one of complete and carefree bliss.”

“You were dazed,” Garroth says. “I still say you suffered some collapse. You have excellent physicians here. Did you consult one?”

“I did. None found anything amiss.”

“Perhaps they’re not so excellent, after all,” Nevynne says.

Garroth gives her an irritated look before addressing Frithil again. “So you were confused, and couldn’t recall your own name. Then what?”

“After a few seconds, or what I think were seconds, it all came back to me,” Frithil says. “And though I was relieved to be able to orient myself again, I also felt strangely dismayed, for with my self-awareness, the worries and myriad bothersome thoughts and memories of day-to-day life returned as well, and burdened me once more with their familiar weight.”

Garroth grunts. “You describe an experience most people find at the bottom of a tankard, my friend. Are you sure it was sage tea you took that morning, and not grog?”

“So far there are no stars in this story,” Stellia points out.

Frithil shifts uneasily on his chair. “I was getting to that.”

NEXT: Stars Like Luminous Birds


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