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“How are you feeling?” he asked Annette. The question could be interpreted as concerned, but truly Bill only wanted to know how long it would be until they could get to work defeating the sorcerer.
The sadness in her brown eyes told him she understood his meaning, though. She used her arms to drag herself up to a sitting position on Trevor’s bed. “Better, thanks, but I still can’t move my legs.”
This was going all wrong. How was she supposed to help them when she was paralyzed from the waist down? The sage and his mysterious enchantress friend must be deluded or lying. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were in league with the sorcerer. This was probably all a trap, a connivance to hand him back over to his parents. Who were supposedly also Annette’s parents.
He couldn’t see the resemblance, though. She was far too kind to be related to him.
“Will, what’s wrong?” the girl asked.
“Nothing,” he muttered, handing her a bowl of stew courtesy of Trevor. The sage and Steven were talking by the fire, pouring over an ancient, dusty book that sounded completely boring and tedious.
She took the bowl but waited for the food to cool. “I may not have known you long,” she said, “and you remember me for even less time, but I can clearly see that’s a lie. Please, tell me what’s troubling you?”
He could ignore her, could walk away, but the only other thing to do in this tiny little cottage was join Trevor and Steven’s boring book conversation. Bill burst out, “Why does it have to be you? What’s so special about you?”
Her shoulders drooped. Surprisingly, he felt a twinge of guilt.
“I don’t know.” Her voice was quiet. “There’s nothing special about me. I was born in the dirt and I lived among the ashes.”
Everything inside him froze. “How do you know that?”
“My father told me—”
“No. How do you know those words? I heard them before—I said them, just before I left Poldar to take the cure to Ferngold. How do you know them?”
“I told them to you,” she corrected. “We were just beginning our journey, and you wanted to know why I was barefoot, so I said that and added—”
“‘What need have I for shoes,’” he finished the quote for her. He stared at her, took in the tiny details of her face, and felt like he was seeing her for the first time. Somewhere in the back of his memory, he had seen her before. There was no way she could have known that phrase, no way someone could have told her, no way this could be a trick. They were right. “I’ve said that phrase before,” he said. “You’re telling the truth. I did know you. My memory really was stolen from me.”
Her small, rough hand gripped his. “Don’t worry, Will. We’ll find a way to get it back,” she promised.
The cottage door banged, and the three young people froze. Trevor and his dog acted unconcerned, the mutt barely opening an eye and the old man waddling over to open the door.
Outside, a man dressed in the blue and gold livery of Clachan gripped the doorframe, clutching his side. “You’re the sage?” he gasped.
“Indeed I am. Do come in and have a seat,” Trevor beckoned him inside.
The stranger staggered in and collapsed onto one of the stools. Trevor himself poured two cups of tea, handed one to the other man, and sat in his upholstered chair, while Steven joined Bill and Annette on the bed. “Who do you think he is?” Steven whispered.
“A royal servant,” Bill muttered back. That was clear for anyone to see from his clothing.
Sipping the liquid in his cup, Trevor kindly asked, “Tell me, good man, what brings you to my humble cottage?”
“Something horrible’s happened to the King and Queen and all the princes and princesses,” he answered, leaning forward. “A dark magic attacked them and turned them almost into stone. They turned black and froze, like all the life left them.” Annette’s hand, still holding his own, tightened. “The land’s growing black like them, and Poldar’s armies are amassing at the borders. But they say there’s still life in their bodies, and you have magic. Can you save them? Can you save us all?”
“But that’s what happened to the Fern,” she spoke up. “Isn’t it?”
“It is,” Steven agreed.
“Then he’s behind this,” Annette concluded. “The sorcerer. We have to go after him.”
Bill laughed aloud. “You’re joking. It’s impossible. Trevor says you’re the only one who can defeat him, but you can’t even stand up.”
She grabbed his arm and looked him directly in the eyes. “We have to. Will, if we don’t, we failed our mission from the Telling Tree. We saved one kingdom only to let another one fall. If we don’t find a way, all of Clachan will end up dead.”
Thanks for reading! Chapter 23 should be up on Monday.