THE PRICE OF MAGIC


PART FOUR: QUESTIONS OF DEATH


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


     The statue of Queen Joi of Vorti which adorned the palace courtyard was a lifelike representation of Sor's first wife. Chancellor Jav, like most of the population born after Joi's death, had spent little, if any, time contemplating that sculpture - until today. Suddenly, there was a reason to look at it more closely than the other pieces of stone artwork dotting the grounds. And what he saw when he gazed upon the statue was amazing.
     "I can't believe it," muttered Jav. "I simply can't believe it."
     Rim, who stood by his side, laid a hand on his arm and indicated the small crowd that had gathered. It was unusual for the chancellor and former chancellor of the city to wander around the palace grounds, and curiosity-seekers were loitering to see what the occasion might mean.
     "Better to wait until there are fewer ears," said Rim quietly. "We don't want word of this getting around. At least not yet."
     Together, they returned inside. On the way to the little throne room, where Rim's charge was waiting, Jav spoke at some length of his incredulity.
     "They're identical - that girl and the statue. If I didn't know better, I'd say they were the same person."
     "I do know better, and I'm not sure what to think," admitted Rim. "In all my years, I've never encountered a situation like this. Because it's so unique, I feel uneasy."
     "Is it possible for a person to be re-incarnated into the same body, with some memories intact?"
     "You have as good a chance of answering that question as me. My field is healing the living, not understanding the dead. That's why I think we have to let Meg examine her. If anyone can tell us what the situation is with our new Joi, it's her."
     "But first you suggest we use her to bring His Majesty back to health."
     "It's worth a try," said Rim. "At this point, anything is worth a try. I'm not sure it will work, but we're running out of options. Even though I'm not an expert at Gic's Syndrome, I can tell Sor is dying. He's given up, and if he doesn't start fighting for his life, there's not a thing that the greatest healer in Devforth can do for him."
     "You intend to present her to him as his former wife?"
     "Nothing so deceptive. I'll bring her to the sickroom, sit her next to the bed, and have her tend to him. Any questions he asks, she'll answer by urging him to get better. He's not in a position to hold lengthy discussions and I think his mind is too muddled by fever to allow him clarity of thought. It may work."
     "And if it doesn't?"
     "Then we've done the best we can, and we'll have to get ready to swear our allegiance to King Erd."
     Jav scowled. He hadn't approved of Sor's choice from the beginning. Not that any of the twenty men had been suitable. Of them all, however, Erd had been by far the worst - filthy and stinking of manure, with shifty eyes and a stubborn tongue. According to Meg, he had been a peasant of Vorti in his previous life - some name that the king apparently recognized. As a result, Erd was now heir to the throne of Vorti.
     "He's not that bad," said Rim. "At least he didn't try to ingratiate himself like the rest of them. He was forthright and honest, which is probably why Sor picked him. And he didn't want the job - that's another mark in his favor. You know what they say about people who want to be king."
     "Let's hope it doesn't come to that. That man couldn't rule the back alley my men found him in, not to mention this city."
     "That's why he'll need good advisors, especially in the beginning."
     "I won't be one of them. If Sor dies, not only will I leave the palace, I'll get out of Vorti," said Jav. There was always the hope that Erd would run away, but it seemed unlikely he'd get the chance since he was under arrest. Once he had made it plain that he had no desire to be king, Sor had ordered him confined until his coronation. Not in the dungeons, of course, but it was a gilded cage nonetheless, with a dozen guards to watch him. Even a chancellor couldn't arrange for a man's escape under those circumstances.
     Rim shrugged. He was too old to leave Vorti, but even had he been less decrepit, he would have stayed. King Erd would need all the help he could get, and more than a few of the city's chief citizens might follow Jav's example when they discovered the identity of their next ruler.
     During the course of their discussion, the two men had reached the little throne room. Nodding to the four guards on duty outside, Rim and Jav entered the chamber where Joi was waiting.
     She had been given a bath to wash away the weeks of grime earned working in an inn, then dressed like a queen, in a fine azure gown that set off her complexion and eyes. With buttons down the front, it was a simple dress of the kind Sor's first wife would have worn, the only frills being white lace trimming around the collar and sleeves.
     "Do I have to wear those?" demanded Joi as soon as they entered. She was pointing at the pair of satin slippers lying halfway across the room where she had apparently flung them.
     Rim glanced at her feet. Not even a half-hour's scrubbing had been able to wash away all the ingrained dirt, and there was nothing that could be done about the callouses. If the girl had ever worn footwear in her life, it had been long ago.
     "We do not go about in bare feet in the palace," said Jav. "Certain...sacrifices...have to be made."
     "It's unnatural."
     "It's necessary," replied Rim. "Put them on."
     Frowning, Joi went over to the slippers and slid her feet into them.
     "You remember what you're supposed to do?" asked Rim.
     Joi nodded. "I tend to King Sor as I would any sick person. Wet cloths to the forehead and chest and a constant monitoring of his pulse. If he asks me anything, I'm to tell him that I'm waiting for him to get better."
     "There will be a healer there at all times, so if anything serious or unpleasant happens, you won't be expected to deal with it. The most difficult part will be to remain awake and alert. It may take several days before we can let you leave his side."
     "I don't need much sleep," said Joi. "I can manage for however long is necessary."
     "Good," said Jav. "Then I think we're ready."

* * *

     Sor had imagined that dying would be easier, less painful, and above all, quicker. In his case, however, it was proving to be an unbearable experience. Time had lost all meaning and it seemed that he had been in this delirium forever, always getting weaker, yet never reaching the end. He was aware that there had to be an end sometime, but, for all he understood of his condition, it might be another millennium before it came.
     He was having difficulty differentiating the past from the present. In his more lucid moments, he recognized that his current chancellor was Jav, not Rim, and that his old aide was there in his capacity as a healer. There were other times, however, when the only one in the room he recognized was Rim. On those occasions, Jav's face was no more familiar than that of any of the healers who swarmed around his bed, prodding and poking at him.
     They were encouraging him to fight this malaise, but Sor was as tired of fighting as he was of living. He remembered what it had been like before he had gotten sick, and, while that was preferable to lying here suffering, it was not better than dying. He wanted there to be an end, a surcease. He wanted his emotions back, something that could never happen in this lifetime.
     He supposed that the wanting in itself was an emotion. Proof, if any were necessary, that he wasn't drained of feeling. But so much was gone. He had been a good king at the start of his reign - or at least he thought he had been. Then he had burned up his emotions. A man could not govern if he didn't care about the people he was ruling. They had tried to overthrow him once. History would not be kind to his reign. Not that he cared. He just wanted an end.
     Someone was calling his name. It seemed like from far away. Sor almost didn't listen; it was easier to remain here, cocooned in silence, than to risk contact with the material world. But his body and mind were restless, and the peace of this place could not last for long. Stillness was for the dead, not those yet trapped in tormented physical shells.
     The voice grew louder and more distinct as Sor concentrated upon it. It was familiar, but it demanded a monumental exercise of willpower before he recognized it as belonging to Chancellor - ex-Chancellor - Rim.
     "Your Majesty? Can you hear me, Your Majesty? Are you awake, Your Majesty?"
     Sor was aware of his body now. It felt wrong, not at all like it used to feel, before he got sick. That seemed a long time ago, but he could remember it. Now, the once-strong legs and arms were like jelly. It took a profound effort to move them, and even then it hurt so much it wasn't worth the struggle. His chest felt leaden, as if something was pushing down on it. Breathing was difficult, each exhalation a chore. His head was fuzzy and he knew that most of his mental faculties had shut down.
     As he reached consciousness, he became aware of heat and dryness. His body was burning up. The cold compress on his head did little to alleviate his discomfort. He was thirsty, too. It seemed like years since his mouth and throat had tasted the balm of a precious few drops of water.
     His eyes opened and the pain of too much light stabbed into his brain. With a groan, he clamped them shut even as someone was demanding that the lanterns be dimmed. It was another few moments before Sor risked lifting his lids again.
     The light was dimmer this time, and not as painful to bear. Squinting, Sor was able to discern shapes and forms, which, as he concentrated, resolved themselves into more recognizable objects.
     Gazing down at him, concern glowing in her bright blue eyes, was Joi. Her long hair fell around her face like a dark veil as she bent to change the compress on his forehead. Her hands were cool and her fingertips gentle as she smoothed back his sweat dampened hair.
     The first geyser of joy, bubbling up within Sor, was quickly capped. Realization was as cruel as a slap in the face. His wife was dead. He had been mourning her for decades. Not a day had gone by when he hadn't missed her comforting presence. What he was seeing - what his eyes were showing him - could not be real. This had to be a delusion, a nasty trick of a demented subconscious.
     "My king," she whispered, her voice not quite as he remembered it. "I'm waiting for you. You must get better. I await your return to health."
     Sor blinked his eyes. Once. Twice. Three times. She was still there. Behind her, he noticed Rim and Jav, watching him intently.
     "Water," he managed to croak. The effort of saying the word made his throat feel shredded.
     The apparition of Joi lowered a wet cloth to his parched lips. Greedily, Sor sucked on it. It was painful swallowing, but the agony lessened with each drop of water that he absorbed. He milked three cloths dry, and even then his thirst was only partially slaked.
     "How are you feeling, Your Majesty?" asked Rim.
     "I'm dying. How am I supposed to feel?" rasped Sor, focusing on the familiar features of his former chancellor, trying to block out the nearer, painful image.
     "You will die only if you don't fight to live. And there is one here who wishes you to live with all her heart."
     "Maybe I'm dead already." He didn't believe that. Death was supposed to be oblivion and peace. He was in too much pain to be dead. But why would this delusion not dissipate? It didn't feel like a fever-induced nightmare, but it had to be.
     "She's real, Your Majesty. You can feel her touch. She is no image conjured by the disease that fights to extinguish your life," said Rim, as if reading his mind.
     Exerting an effort that caused every inch of his body to glisten with perspiration, Sor lifted his arm from the covers and grasped the hand of the woman as she stroked his hair. She was solid. Her fingers, with their nails trimmed short, were long and supple, and her palm was calloused, but that was only to be expected for the hand of a maid.
     "Her name is Joi, Your Majesty," said Jav.
     Joi regarded Sor placidly, then, as his grip began to weaken, she in turn clasped his hand in hers and gently laid it upon his breast.
     "You must fight this disease, Your Majesty," she said. "I need you."
     Sor closed his eyes and let himself drift back to that place of peace. Yet even as his senses withdrew, the last thing he was aware of was her fingertips stroking the back of his hand, too solid to be an illusion, but too impossible to be anything else. He was convinced that when next he awakened, she would be gone.
     He was wrong. Although he had no idea how much time had passed since his last period of consciousness, when Sor next opened his eyes, Joi's face was the first thing he saw. She was sitting by his bed in the same blue dress, mopping his forehead with a cool cloth and running her fingers through his hair. Rim was there also, reclining in a chair with his chin touching his chest as he slept. Jav was nowhere to be seen, but two of the ever-present healers were conferring in whispers near the foot of his bed.
     "How do you feel, Your Majesty?" asked Joi, bending near to his face so she could whisper in his ear.
     Sor could feel her warm breath on his cheek and it sent a chill up his spine. He could also smell her perfume, so much like what he remembered - fresh and clean, with a hint of wild flowers. He closed his eyes and inhaled it.
     Before he could respond to her question, she lifted him into a half-sitting position and brought a cup of water to his lips. As she tipped it, he drank.
     "Are you real?" asked Sor when he had finished drinking.
     "I am, Your Majesty."
     "And is your name Joi?"
     "It is."
     "Are you...were you...my queen?"
     She glanced at Rim, as if to seek guidance, but the former chancellor was sound asleep, and snoring loudly.
     "I cannot say, Your Majesty," confessed Joi. "But it may be so. My memory is not clear, but I know your face, though I recall it as being younger. And there are… other things. I cannot explain how this is."
     "You died."
     At that moment, with a loud snort, Rim came awake. Realizing that the king was conscious, he shifted forward in his chair. Joi spared the healer a reassuring smile, then turned back to Sor.
     "I don't know, Your Majesty, but if we are to be together, you must not die now. I'm waiting for you, My Liege. You must fight this disease and become strong again."
     Sor gazed at her incredulously, wondering if this could be possible. He felt the peace of unconsciousness pulling at him, but he resisted. There was more he needed to know.
     "Rim, who is she?"
     "She is Joi, Your Majesty."
     "I know her name. Who is she? How can what my eyes see be possible?"
     "There are many questions for which I have no answers, Your Majesty. Simply accept what you see. You are not dreaming."
     "Damn your prevarication! Who is she?" The effort of the outburst, shouted at Rim with the gusto of a healthy man, cost the king. Before the healer could formulate a response, Sor was again drifting into blackness.
     Joi's voice followed him, however. "I am Joi. You must recover for me."
* * *

     Two days later, Sor's periods of consciousness were becoming longer and more frequent. Although the healers were unwilling to be overly optimistic, they admitted that the signs were good and if the king continued to progress at this rate, he might survive Gic's Syndrome. Rim's chief concern was that nothing occurred to push Sor to where he might give up the struggle he had begun to wage.
     Joi continued to sit by Sor's bedside, leaving only for brief moments to relieve herself. She ate all of her meals in the sick room and was present every time the king awoke. If the nearly three days she had gone without sleep were taking their toll, she didn't show it.
     After regaining consciousness for the fourth time to find her by his side, Sor ceased to question Joi's presence. It was as if, having assured himself that she was not a figment of his diseased imagination, he was afraid that by prying too deeply into her existence, he might dispel his beacon of hope. Whether he believed her to be his Joi or not was irrelevant. No matter who she was, she was helping the king to recover.
     Jav was delighted. Despite the repeated cautions from the healers that the king remained in mortal danger, the chancellor had become jubilant. Rim, however, was growing more uncertain with every passing hour. He had spent much time studying Joi and he was beginning to reconsider some of his original ideas. He could not say how, but there was something wrong about the situation. Perhaps his unformed plan of Sor marrying the girl had been flawed. Maybe it would be better, when the king had recovered, if she was given her money and sent on her way. If she would go. If things hadn't already progressed too far.
     Joi's words to Sor had not been circumscribed by the prepared lines she had been given. Some of her recent statements had disturbed Rim. She had gone so far as to state that she was Sor's queen, awaiting his return. Jav wasn't bothered by this method of encouragement, but Rim was. He recalled the king's black spells after the loss of his wife and didn't want a recurrence of them once he was forced to come to grips with who this Joi was. But who was she?
     Rim wished he could believe she was the queen reincarnated. He wanted to, but every cell of logic and reason within him rebelled against the notion. Souls returned to Devforth time and time again, but on each occasion not only were they in different bodies, but they never recalled their previous existence.
     The problem was that Rim didn't have an explanation for Joi, nor had anyone been able to offer one he could accept. It was impossible to deny the evidence of his eyes. She looked like the late queen. She had the name, the scar, and the half-memories. But those things did not make her a second coming of the original Joi. Perhaps Meg's reading of her would shed some light. Rim had never known the seeress to be without an answer, especially in a case like this.
     "So what's wrong today, Rim?" asked Jav as he met the healer in the hall outside the king's chambers. The chancellor's wide smile contrasted with Rim's glum expression.
     "I'm becoming concerned about His Majesty's growing attachment to that girl."
     "Joi?" questioned Jav, surprised. "Why? She's the reason he's recovering. And if something more develops between them...we need an heir, anyway. Isn't this what you planned all along?"
     Rim grunted. How could he expect Jav to share his objections when he didn't understand them himself? It just seemed...wrong. "She may have no connection to the original Joi. Just a strange, coincidental resemblance."
     "I'm sure it's more than that. But even if it isn't, so what? Who cares who she is, so long as she supports Sor? And if he marries her, so much the better. He needs an heir, Rim. You know that as much as I do."
     "I don't like all this deception."
     "Strange, coming from the man who set all 'this deception' into motion."
     "We're toying with Sor's emotions. He loved Joi with all of his heart. If this girl betrays him - if they enter into a relationship and it goes sour - can you imagine the repercussions?"
     "And what if she really is Joi?" countered Jav. "What if some kind of supernatural transformation has taken place? Have you gotten so cynical in your old age that you can't accept something like that happening. I can only accept so much coincidence, Rim, and this goes beyond that. I'll admit that I was skeptical at first, but not any more."
     "You think she is Joi?"
     "Perhaps. And when you first brought her here, you thought so too. Oh, you never admitted it, but I could see it in your eyes. Why the change?"
     "Why?" echoed Rim. "Perhaps because I've started to consider things rationally. Perhaps because I've spent hours watching her and don't see the same mannerisms I saw all those years ago."
     Jav shook his head. "I don't mean to doubt your judgment, but if I remember what you told me, you only knew her for a short time, and she was in bed with influenza that period. Not a good way to study someone, is it? Besides, that was, as you said, 'all those years ago'. How faulty could your memory be about someone you barely knew? I trust that Sor's opinion is a more accurate than yours."
     "Sor is sick."
     "Hopefully, not for long. Then we'll let him decide on his own."
     Rim gave up the argument with a shrug. He was too tired to quarrel now, anyway. Or to consider the situation he had created. It was time for him to go home and get to bed. Maybe things would look different in the light of a new day. He doubted it, but it was best to be optimistic. Sometimes, that was the only way to get through this life.
* * *

     Much to Sor's surprise, it appeared he was going to survive. Ten days after awakening from his coma, he was no longer slipping in and out of unconsciousness, and while healers remained cautious about pronouncing him safe, they admitted that signs were "encouraging." Surprisingly, Rim seemed displeased about something - Sor was certain it couldn't be his return to health - and the former chancellor had absented himself from the palace over the past few days.
     Jav, on the other hand, was ecstatic. Although he proclaimed that his joy was solely because of Sor's recovery, the king thought part of the chancellor's glee resulted from the reduction of the immediate risk that Erd would take the crown. Although Sor had been more impressed by the beggar than any of the other candidates - primarily because of Erd's honesty - Jav had been horrified by the thought of such a person ascending the throne.
     However, Sor hardly gave the matter much thought, since the issue that preoccupied him was the woman who called herself Joi. For a time, during the worst of his sickness, he had deluded himself into believing that she was the girl he had married thirty-five years ago. With the retreat of the fever, he began to examine the situation more logically. Joi, while she shared the name and appearance of his late wife, couldn't possibly be the same person. Or could she?
     She had sat by his bedside until his recovery was assured. Jav told him that for five days and nights, she had kept the vigil, never sleeping, until the healers proclaimed that the worst of the danger was past. Only then had she allowed herself to be shown to a bed.
     Even if she was not his Joi, Sor couldn't help responding to her. After Lis, he had vowed never to marry again, but, in these circumstances, that resolve was wavering. For the first time, he wanted companionship, but only from one woman - this Joi, in the hope that she might be his Joi, or enough like her to ease the pain that had eaten away at his heart and soul since the long-ago night of her murder.
     Sor was alone in his bedchamber when there was a knock at the door. Early yesterday, he had convinced the small band of healers that their constant presence was not required and that his recuperation would be facilitated if he didn't have men constantly watching him. They still returned too often to poke at him, but at least he was to be afforded a few hours of privacy each day.
     "Come in," he called, knowing who it would be before she entered. He had commanded a servant to ask the Lady Joi if she would be willing to join him, making it clear that this was a request, not a royal summons.
     She entered timidly, as if nervous in his presence. Now that they were no longer patient and nurse, she appeared intimidated by him.
     "Please, sit down," invited Sor, sitting up in bed and indicating the same chair which she had occupied for so long. He allowed himself a smile, which, after so many years of grimacing and scowling, felt odd on his face.
     "Your Majesty, I don't know what to say," said Joi, taking the seat and folding her hands in her lap. She was dressed in the same blue gown she had worn during every day of her nursing. Sor absently wondered if she had any other clothing. He noted that her feet were bare and bore the marks of a hard outdoor life.
     "I have a few questions to ask you," said the king.
     "I'll answer what I can, but as you've no doubt been informed, my memory is...uncertain."
     "You can't remember anything?"
     "Very little before I came to Vorti. A few images and faces, mainly."
     "Whose faces?"
     "My mother's. My father's, I think. And...yours. Not as you are today, but as you might have been forty years ago."
     "Are you sure it's me?"
     "The features are so alike that either it's you or someone close to you. A brother, perhaps?"
     "My brothers are long dead, and none of them resembled me."
     "Then it must be you. And, Your Majesty, if I may be so bold, I believe we were close."
     Sor shut his eyes and took a deep breath. Regardless of the arguments of logic, his heart wanted to believe something different.
     "I am told you have a scar on your chest. How did you receive that?" asked Sor.
     Joi unbuttoned her dress to the waist so the king could examine the wound for himself. His attention, however, was arrested by her breasts. They were just as he remembered them - small and firm.
     "I don't remember exactly, Your Majesty," said Joi, buttoning up. "In fact, it was shortly after I was stabbed that my memories begin, when I was lying in a ditch on the side of the road and a healer by the name of Sib found me."
     "The man who brought you to Vorti?"
     "The same. As for getting the wound, though, I have no memory."
     "What do you think of me, Joi?" asked Sor.
     "Your Majesty?" she responded, unsure of his meaning.
     "Do you like me? Am I the kind of man you could fall in love with?"
     "Your Majesty..." she began, then hesitated, as if uncertain how to proceed.
     "Go on," prompted Sor.
     "I hope you won't be offended if I say this, but I believe I have already fallen in love with you. It's like the hand of fate. I didn't intend for this to happen, but I've heard that something sometimes develops between nurses and their patients. I was offered money to care for you, but now I want nothing."
     Holding Joi's eyes with his own, Sor brushed his palm against her cheek. She regarded him, then bent nearer until their breaths intermingled and their lips touched. The kiss was at first tentative, but it did not take long for the king's ardor to burn to the surface. Passion replaced caution on his part, and, after a moment's uncertainty, she responded in kind.
     She was just as Sor remembered: warm, supple, and soft. Yielding, yet not subservient. And hungry - hungry for him.
* * *

     After spending several days away from the palace in an attempt to collect his thoughts, Rim decided to return following his fifth day of absence. After receiving a summons the day before, he had sent his apologies, determining that the guild's ledgers were in more immediate need of his attention than Sor, who was recuperating.
     Today, however, his business with the records was complete and he decided to visit the palace and see how Sor was. Hopefully, it would be his last trip there for some time. It wasn't that he didn't like the palace, but he had taken over the Healers' Guild to get away from service there. His main reason for leaving - his age - had not changed, yet over the past several weeks, he had spent more time there than in his own quarters. Sor had a chancellor and several capable healers at his beck and call. He hardly needed an aging, arthritic man whose best days were past.
     Nevertheless, even though Rim's official position was unclear, he had taken it upon himself to contact the seeress Meg. In response to his inquiry, she had stated that she would be more than willing to go to the palace to examine Joi - provided she received an official invitation from His Majesty. Rim didn't think that would be a problem. After all, surely Sor would be curious to learn her true origins.
     A grinning Jav met Rim in the palace's entrance hall. "Welcome back. The king was beginning to wonder if you had abandoned him now that the crisis is over."
     "Not at all," replied Rim, forcing a smile. "But in my zeal to care for His Majesty, I neglected some of the responsibilities of my post as the Master of the Healer's Guild. And King Sor has been in better hands than mine, at any rate."
     "He might dispute that," said Jav.
     "Then he would be wrong. My day is long past," said Rim. He had been feeling melancholy over the past few days as he had begun to contemplate his mortality. Few men, after all, lived as long as he had. Sor's brush with death had reminded the former chancellor of how fragile life was, his most of all. He had never wanted to live forever, but as the inevitable end approached, he considered how fast the years had passed him by.
     "As long as you bring wisdom and friendship, you'll be welcome within the palace walls," said Jav. It sounded like a ritual greeting, not something meant from the heart.
     "Thank you," replied Rim. "So, how is His Majesty progressing? I haven't had a report since yesterday morning."
     "He's recovered much faster than anyone expected. In fact, he may make an appearance in the little throne room tomorrow. No official audiences, of course. It's too early for that. By the way, His Majesty was sorry you were unable to attend the ceremony yesterday."
     "Ceremony?" The summons had simply requested his presence at the palace. There had been no mention of a ceremony. Had there been, Rim would have come.
     "You didn't know?" Jav seemed genuinely surprised. "Perhaps the courier was unclear. I'm sorry, Rim. If' I'd been aware..."
     "What was the ceremony?"
     "A wedding. At high noon yesterday, Sor and Joi were married - or re-married, depending upon your perspective of who she is."
     "They were what??"
     "Married. Are you all right? You don't look well," said Jav, his features creasing with concern as he observed the color drain out of Rim's face.
     "Without consulting Meg?" protested Rim, leaning against a wall. He was suddenly dizzy.
     "They felt it wasn't necessary. Whatever the seeress discovers, they're willing to accept." Noticing the healer's lack of enthusiasm, he added, "This is good news, Rim. Are you sure you're all right?"
     Recovering his balance, Rim nodded. "I'll be fine. This news is a little overwhelming, that's all. Give me a moment."
     A little overwhelming. That was an understatement. Good news. Rim hoped so. With all of his heart, he hoped so. Because if it wasn't, if it turned into a betrayal of any sort, Sor wouldn't be the only victim. All of Vorti would fall with him.


© 2005 James Berardinelli

Back To Main Contents
Back to Chapter Twenty-Two
On to Chapter Twenty-Four