The sounds of the room definitely had a different quality about them, and the first thing he noticed was his swollen tongue and parched throat; he couldn’t remember ever having been thirsty before. He tried to open his eyes, through which he could only see the trickling reddish promise of light that let him know that the room was bright. Try as he might, his eyelids seemed too heavy to move, so he concentrated on other things.
The garbling continued, and some of it was words, though he couldn’t make them out. He wasn’t sure, but it seemed that more than one voice was nearby and they were arguing. His mouth was certainly open—he felt the air of his breath drying his palate even more—and he thought he ought to try to stop the argument if he could. A low moan slid over his teeth with all the impressiveness of a small child learning to pick its nose. What was happening to him?
Touch, that one worked, and he could undoubtedly taste the rank coppery slime that coated the desert just behind his tongue. He tried to move his hand, and the brief twitch that replied from that extremity seemed to laugh at him. His anger swelled to its limit, and he dimly registered panic in those voices he heard—there were definitely two different ones, one soft and light and the other lower in pitch. A cool hand touched his face and he felt something clink against his teeth just as a flood of something wet and putrid came pouring down his pitiful throat. The smell of this drink reminded him of the presence of a nose on his face, which made five senses all accounted for.
He was musing over the possible humor of the situation when drowsiness overtook him like a wave of….
Sometime later he awakened to the sound of a loud CLANG, and it took him a moment to notice that he had raised his head in response. This seemed to be a huge mistake because his head seemed to weigh at least five times what a head ought to weigh. He let it fall with an exerted groan and opened his eyes to light blindness, and the sound of not-too-distant words. “It’s true then, you’re awake little bobbit?”
His eyes trained in on the blurry image of a beaky-nosed, severe-faced woman well into her middle years. She was wearing white robes and holding a dripping bedpan that it seemed she had just dropped. He let his vision focus—there were two of her there for a moment—and when he spoke it was at least audible, if croaks count. She held up a hand to hush him and handed him a glass of water from the bedside table.
“Easy does it dear, you are in the hospital at St. Mungo’s.” She said in a very caring voice. “You’ve been here for quite some time now, in one of our long term wards for incurable patients. I’m afraid that it seemed hopeless to everyone that you might ever wake up and speak. They’ve had so many different healers in here to look at you, and none of them have ever been able to get any response from you.”
“But…” He began and stopped, her words gaining meaning for him. He continued in a hoarse croak. “What is it? Did something bad happen in one of my lessons? Where is the teacher?”
The lady’s brow wrinkled in sympathy for him as she raised a hand towards him but quickly thought better of it after noting the mess she was holding. With a quick wave of her wand the bedpan was cleaned and her hands made dry. She flicked the wand at him and uttered the words “Fris Palliatom”, conjuring a cooling mist that flowed over the length of him. Satisfied with her efforts she spoke again in a quiet tone.
“I’m not the one to be telling you all of this, boy. I’m only the night nurse, and I’m afraid it’s worth more than my job to share distressing news to patients.”
He struggled to get up, but she laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I won’t be distressed. I just...I need to know what is going on? Please, if you’d just tell me a bit of it I won’t tell anyone or get you into trouble or anything.”
The nurse, whose badge named her as “Iris” smiled at her patient as she breathed an obviously maternal sigh. When she turned to look around the ward, he was sure that she was going to tell him. She pulled up a chair with a wave of her wand and sat in it. She began speaking then, her eyes growing larger and more sympathetic with every word.
“I don’t know a lot but I’ll tell you all of it, little bobbit. See I only transferred to this post a few months ago, and most of what I know about your case comes from the lady on days.” She smiled at him apologetically as she continued. “Before I tell you anything I need you to tell me what you know. It would make it easier for me to fill in the holes for you, that way.”
Thinking quickly, he began telling her all of the important things he knew about himself. His name was Cada Flynn and he would be eleven years old in October. He was a wizard in training being taught by his teacher, Trillius, at his school on the isle of Mistdwell. He thought hard for a moment, trying to think of anything else that would be important to tell her. “Oh!” he said with a start. “I’ve not got my wand just yet because the teacher says I can’t have one until I go to my next school. I’ve only been using a training wand so far.”
There was a note of deep concern in her voice when she spoke next, and her words seemed grieved and hesitant. He was unable to immediately argue because of the sadness in her eyes. He merely sat there transfixed by her pity for him while she told him that everything he knew about himself was a lie.
“It’s worse than we’d imagined then, isn’t it. Poor child, you’ve been living in dreams all these years.” She clasped his hand tightly in hers. “I don’t want to be the one telling you all of this, but someone must. I just hope it’s not more than you can handle in your delicate condition. But the truth is that you’ve never been awake, not in all the years that you’ve been here. Not since an hour after your birth on that sad night, so long ago.”
She studied him, perhaps measuring the impacts of her revelations on him. “But they always knew that there something going on with you from the very start. See you’ve been speaking out in your sleep from early on, and even though your body was weak and slow to grow even with the potions and powerful spells they were using on it, your mind was busy the whole time. It just never seemed likely that you would wake up and come out of yourself because you wouldn’t respond to anything that was done to you. They eventually gave up hope and even told your people as much.”
“My people!?!” He croaked, forgetting everything else she had said for the moment.
Her eyes teemed with remorse for him, like rivers of sorrow, and he wondered if she was always like this. He had little experience with other people, having spent all of the time he could remember at the school. It seemed funny to him for a moment, whether or not all of those memories were real. He resigned himself to consider that later as he silently urged her to answer his question.
“Of course you couldn’t know about any of that.” She began thoughtfully. “This is the part I dreaded, because there’s so much you…well there’s just more to it than I think I’ve a right to tell you.” She was quiet for a second, looking from him to the rest of the ward and obviously conflicted about what she should tell him.
“It’s not a big deal.” He sought to put her at ease. “Just…just tell me what you can, I need to know this.”
She dried her eyes and smiled at him as though he were the coming dawn. Cada wondered how such an emotional person could handle working at a hospital. He considered asking her about this, but was interrupted by her answer to his more important question.
“I’ll tell you this one last thing and then I’ll have to return to my rounds.” She cleared her throat and seemed to collect herself somewhat. “You have family that used to come and visit you early on. Most of them don’t come as much anymore, but there is a man who comes on every Thursday; your uncle I believe. As this is Wednesday night, I think you’ll know the answer to that tomorrow at midday.”
She stood up and he sought to stop her. “Do you know his name? Is he…” He lost his thread there, unsure of what he wanted to know about the man who might be his uncle. She poured something into a glass from a brown bottle on his bedside table. She held the glass out to him, probably as much to offer it to him as to silence him from questioning her.
I’ve already said more than I should have. This is a sleeping draught that will help you rest until the morning. It also contains the things your body needs to build strength from your weakened condition.” She placed it in his hand before continuing in a soft voice. “I want you to drink it now as I’ve my rounds to see to. There will be someone here in the morning who can tell you everything.”
A sleeping draught! He had been asleep for nearly eleven years if this woman was telling him the truth. He opened his mouth tell her this and decline the potion, but the look on her face stopped him. He drank from the glass without saying anything, knowing that he already learned all that she would be able to tell him. The morning wouldn’t be too long in coming, and he could only hope that he would be awake when it arrived.