Seymour let himself fall back upon the bed and lay there for a moment in silence, studying his splayed hands. They were trembling, and his fingers felt unpleasantly cold and tingly. So did his face.
The world seemed to be undulating around him. He reached desperately for the man’s forearm and closed his sweaty hand around his wrist as if it might grant him a sense of stability.
“What is it, Seymour?”
“I don’t feel very well.”
“I know.” Simon patted him on the hand before gently trying to detach him from his arm. “You’re feverish. Don’t worry though: the nurse went to look for something that’ll make you feel better.”
Simon freed himself of Seymour’s grip and poured him a glass of water from the pitcher on the nightstand. “Here you are.”
“Thanks,” Seymour mumbled, taking the proffered glass in both hands like a child. He brought it to his lips, his hands shaking so violently that he nearly spilled it, and took a few sips. The water felt good upon his parched throat, and so he quickly gulped down the rest of the cup. He likewise drained the refill that Simon handed to him, relishing the sensation of the cool, sweet liquid as it made its way from his eager mouth and into his dehydrated body. He knew he would later regret drinking so fast, but he just couldn’t resist.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long after the water hit his empty stomach that the unpleasant tingling that he had been experiencing previously evolved into fully fledged nausea. He forced the empty cup back into Simon’s hands and lay back once more with a miserable groan.
“Are you alright there?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
Seymour shook his head, taking a handful of sheet from the bed on each side of his body and squeezing hard. “Want…Seoc!”
Fiona, who had been on her way out of the infirmary, heard him and snorted derisively. “Keep dreamin’, merman!”
At that very moment, there came a tremendous clatter from the corridor, and like an answer to a prayer, Seoc himself burst through the door, nearly knocking his sister to the ground in his hurry. The creature called Raif flew in after him, its tail curled up between its legs, and both man and dog made a beeline for Seymour. Before the Aechyed could blink, Seoc was beside him—no, on top of him—his arms around him and his lips pressed up against his mouth. Surprised by the sudden turn of events, Seymour could only lie there, frozen, until Seoc came to his senses and broke off the kiss.
“Oh, hell,” said Simon.
Fiona sighed. “Seoc, ye’re an eedjit, y’ ken? A complete an’ utter moron!”
Seymour craned his head to see around Seoc so as to determine what was wrong. Then he saw, and his heart sank. The nurse had returned from her search for a fever-reducer, and by the way she was standing, paralyzed by shock, it was clear that she had arrived at the scene just in time to witness Seoc’s impulsive display of affection.
“I’m sorry!” Seoc’s face was contorted with dread. Trembling, he climbed down from Seymour’s bed, his eyes welling with tears. “Rezyn, I’m sorry! I…I did no’…I was no’ thinkin’. I’m sorry!”
Rolling her eyes, Fiona reached into a pocket on her dress and produced a handful of coins. These she thrust at the nurse. “You saw nothin’, y’ ken?”
The nurse accepted the bribe and nodded curtly, wordlessly depositing a flask of medicine on the nightstand before striding pointedly away to hide herself in the supply pantry once more. Fiona, Simon and Seoc followed her progress with their eyes. Seeing that the group’s attention was now focused away from him, Seymour took the opportunity to vomit over the side of the bed.
“Do I really kiss that poorly?” Seoc asked, presumably in jest, although Seymour was currently too distracted by his own discomfort to properly analyze Seoc’s intent.
“No, little fish.” Seymour paused to retch again. “It wasn’t your kissing.”
Seoc glanced rapidly around the infirmary. “Is she gone?”
Fiona and Simon nodded, so Seoc sat down by Seymour’s side and lay the Aechyed’s feverish head in his lap. Meanwhile, Fiona found a rag and set about cleaning the vomit up from the floor before Raif could get to it, and Simon kept watch.
“Are you goina be sick again?”
Seymour shook his head to the best of his ability. He didn’t think there was anything left in him to throw up.
“Puir Sey.” Seoc ran his fingers through the Aechyed’s hair. “Rezyn, today has just been one unrelated nightmare after another.”
Simon laughed darkly. “Unrelated? I wouldn’t put any money on that. In fact, I’d say they all had the same cause.”
“You mean ta say that our trouble on the pass this mornin’, Seymour’s illness, that vampire woman, that mob that chased us across the Carvil, my brother hatin’ me, Henry attacking us, and the spectral presence in my bedroom were all caused by the same thing? ’Cause that seems rather far-fetched ta me.”
“That’s exactly what I mean to say. And you left out one thing: the bell. You heard it ring, didn’t you? But there aren’t any bells to ring so in this castle, are there?”
Seoc stopped stroking Seymour’s head. “You heard it too? I thought I was imagining it!”
“Of course you were imagining it. Everyone in the castle was imagining it. You can’t hear a thing that doesn’t physically exist. But just because something doesn’t have a physical form doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. Ideas are real, even though your eyes can’t see them and your ears can’t hear them. They are real and powerful. Deadly, even. A person can become so obsessed with an idea that it possesses them. An idea, rightly placed, can make the snow deeper and the drop more dangerous. It can weaken the body and make it more susceptible to stress or infection. It can drive greed betwixt allies and summon vicious enemies. It can inspire fear where no fear is warranted and turn jealously into violence. And who is to say that this very same idea could not raise the dead? If it can trick an entire castle into hearing a bell, it may as well delve further into the realm of the supernatural.”