When Rianne next opened her eyes, Py was there, dozing in a wheelchair next to her bed. He was wearing a hospital robe, but beneath it, his legs were entirely encased in bandages. He didn’t notice that she had awakened at first, and Rianne checked to make sure they were alone in the room before she spoke.
“You lied,” she said, by way of greeting.
Py was fully awake in an instant. “And you omitted. How are you feeling, Red?”
“Better. Still tired. You?”
Py poked at his bandaged leg. “I imagine this should hurt quite a bit, but they have me bound six ways from Sunday. No pain is nice, but it won’t let me move my legs either. I’m not much for sitting around.”
Rianne sought Py’s mind, finding the bindings and wards the doctors had used. “The doctors are healing your legs with magic, but they need to be immobile to heal. I’m surprised they let you out of bed to visit me.”
“They didn’t. No one was looking and I was bored.”
“Oh,” Rianne might have taken issue with him being out of bed, but she really was glad to see Py. That, and she really wanted to know…
“Why didn’t you tell them I used magic on the wall?”
Py face immediately brightened, as though he’d been waiting for her to ask. “Perhaps I didn’t say anything because I’ve fallen desperately in love with you and I want more than anything for you to feel the same way about me.”
Rianne’s eyes got very wide, but when she looked at Py, he was grinning broadly, just barely holding back laughter.
“Let’s pretend that’s not the reason,” Rianne said.
“Okay, how ‘bout this,” Py offered, “You saved my life and I didn’t want them to take away those red robes you like so much.”
It was true that if anyone in Conservation found out that she had intentionally used magic on the wall, they would strip her of her status and bind her from any magic more powerful than what it took to warm a cup of tea. Still…
“But it was my fault the zombie attacked us. If I hadn’t been channeling a spell…”
“The self-important mania that you magical folk seem to wallow in does start to wear after awhile, Red. I’ve seen what happens when magic calls ‘em. There would have been plenty more than the one.”
Rianne thought back to when the Greybeard had awakened her earlier. That whole conversation was hazy, but she remembered that he had said something along those lines too. Py took her hand and met her eyes. Rianne felt reassured. It hadn’t been her fault.
“You never mentioned that you’re the Greybeard’s apprentice.”
Rianne had thought that might be coming. “What did he say?” she asked.
“You mean that Eller guy? He said he was from the office of the Greybeard and that he was sent to make sure that the Greybeard’s new apprentice was okay.”
Rianne noted that Eller hadn’t revealed himself as the Greybeard to Py. Everyone always said that they had never actually seen what the Greybeard looked like and Rianne was starting to wonder if perhaps his identity was purposefully kept secret.
Py continued. “He said he was waking me up to thank me for looking out for you, but he definitely made sure to get the whole story from me when he did. At the end, he asked me to take care of you. He said you were doing very important research for his office and that it would be disastrous if you came to harm.”
Rianne frowned. She had the sudden sense that the Greybeard knew exactly what had really happened on the wall last night. And the only reason she could think of that he would go along with Py’s story was because she was doing what he expected her to do. She was on the right track to figuring out the secret that he refused to tell her and what she’d done last night should have led her closer to it.
Using magic without binding didn’t call the zombies. The only problem was that she had no idea what she was supposed to have learned from this aside from what it felt like to be very tired.
“I’ve only been his apprentice for three days,” Rianne said, as much to fill the silence as anything. “I’d have told you, but you’d only have made fun of me all the more.”
“Yeah, I would have,” Py smiled, “I still might.”
“I just… I thought it would be something to be proud of, but I’m not. I didn’t know what I was getting into.” Rianne wasn’t sure how much she could or should say to this boy. “It’s like everything’s a great big riddle or game or something, except that people can really get hurt if I mess up. I’m just not sure if I’m the right person for this.” It was a hard thing to admit. Rianne was used to being the best, but she usually knew what was expected of her and it usually revolved around magic. She felt lost.
“I think you probably are the right person for it,” Py said. “I’ve never heard of anyone using magic on a zombie and living.”
Rianne slowly nodded. She might have thanked Py for his reassurance, but just then there was a commotion and screaming in the corridor outside her room. Through the open door they saw several healers pass by, wheeling a man on a stretcher who appeared to fighting the bindings holding him in place. A moment later, a similar commotion preceded another set of healers and another stretcher. This time, a man lay unconscious, his tattered clothing covered in blood.
“That’ll be the third attack today,” Py said quietly. “Older woman came in earlier in hysterics, yelling about her husband still being on the wall. They eventually bound her to sleep, but from the sound of it, they got hit like we did. Only they weren’t as lucky.”
“Three attacks in twenty-four hours?” Rianne asked. ‘What does it mean?”
“No idea, but I’m not looking forward to resuming my post tomorrow.”
A healer appeared in the doorway, coming opposite the direction of the two new injured. He had blood on the front of his robe. He reached in to close the door, pausing for a moment when he realized that the room had a second occupant. He looked sternly at Py for a moment, but seemed in too much of a rush to scold him. Instead, the healer pulled the door shut, disappearing behind it. They heard a good deal more screaming from somewhere down the hall.
Rianne looked down. Py was still holding her hand.