Chapter Fifteen

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Waking up was like walking through chest-deep water. Farinka's mind struggled to put together more than two rational thoughts at a time, her limbs felt leaden and her mouth was dry, her eyes gritty and disinclined to open. She groaned softly as she turned over; none of the muscles anywhere wanted to do as they were told without complaining heavily about it.

She opened her eyes, rubbing away the sleep from her eyelashes, and looked out at the blurred interior of the house. It was empty apart from herself. It took real will-power to sit up, and she found herself feeling queasy and dizzy. She shivered and pulled her bearskin up to wrap it round her shoulders, but the coldness didn't go away.

I need a drink, she thought. And a wash. And a pee. She stood up, shakily, looking round for her jacket and hunching herself into it. The light from the doorway was blocked for a moment; Farinka looked up as Nemeth limped in.

Domina, you are swaying on your feet, he observed, looking at her.

She nodded and wrapped the jacket closer round herself, shutting her eyes against the light. He walked towards her and slipped his arms round her, resting his chin on the top of her head.

You are a wreck, he said. I should go back to sleep if I were you. Not that you've really woken up. He winced as her arms went round him. Farinka, gently with my ribs. They're pretty sore, he added.

Sorry. Forgot. Her Voice was hardly there. I need to go out. I need a wash. I need a pee. And I'm thirsty. What time is it?

– Around mid-day. Don't worry about time. Do what you need and come straight back, I'll get someone to sort something out for you to drink. They've just sent me back to rest, and Sherath will get pretty narked if I go back out. They wouldn't let me out for more than a couple of minutes the day before yesterday, and only let me sit by the fire for a meal yesterday.

She pulled back to arm's length, trying to bring his face into focus.

The day before yesterday? Nemeth, how long have I been asleep?

– Two and a half days. And nights, he added. There was a smile in his Voice.

It doesn't feel that long, she said, leaning against him again. And it doesn't feel long enough, either.

She felt the warmth and strength of his Awareness running through her, and felt him suddenly tremble as she unwittingly leached strength from him. She slammed the Control down on the Power drain and nearly blacked out – almost as if the use of Power was a muscle that had been torn. The pain hit her in the mind.

Aiyee! Mind my ribs, please, Nemeth whispered. And don't try to use Power. Not even Control, Domina. Get yourself sorted out and come back. He patted her gently on the shoulder and steered her in the direction of the doorway, then sat down abruptly on a roll of hides and ran his fingers through tangled hair.

Sherath? he called.

At the other end of the valley, Sherath handed Agouti's lead-rein to Jevann.

Yes?

– Farinka's back in the land of the living. Almost, Nemeth added with a grin. I doubt if her Voice could reach you if she tried. She's not really half-way with it, yet.

– Is she okay? There was worry in Sherath's Voice.

Very thirsty. She's gone for a wash. I told her to come straight back. Can you fix something for her to drink?

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