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I grunted and rolled onto my side, snuggling deeper into the covers.
“Siena.” The voice was soft but insistent. A boy’s voice.
My mind slowly registered that someone was talking to me, waking me.
“Siena, I’m back.”
I pried an eye open and tried to focus on the person crouching next to my head. The room was lit by a torch he held. I wrinkled my nose at its acrid smell, and he moved it away, tucking it into a sconce on the wall.
When he came back I was finally able to see who it was. I should have recognized him from the start, but my mind was still mired in the bog of sleep. “Remi,” I mumbled.
“You are quite the sleeper.” He chuckled.
“You have no idea.” I forced my other eye open. His face looked dirty and weary, thinner than it was when he left. But his eyes shone with happiness. I dared to hope he was happy to see me.
I smiled and said, “You made it back.”
He nodded. “I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m sorry for waking you.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said, my voice still thick with sleep.
“Go back to sleep,” he said and brushed my hair away from my face. “We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Okay,” I mumbled as my eyes drifted shut again.
In the morning, as I stretched languidly in bed, I wondered if I had imagined it. Did Remi really show up in my cabin in the middle of the night? It seemed like a hazy memory now, like the tail end of a nice dream.
When I exited my cabin, I found it was late morning. A man rushed up to me and pressed a small bowl into my hand. It was filled with a thick, golden goo.
“Honey,” he said. “For aiding me.” He took my other hand and held it against the bowl so that both his hands were cupping mine around the bowl. Then he looked into my eyes. “I might have died were it not for you.”
Before I could react, he turned and left, disappearing into a thicket. I stood there, staring down at the bowl in my hands. Honey was a rarity, difficult to acquire. This man had been gathering it yesterday when a poisonous snake had taken him by surprise. He had stumbled back and collapsed not far from Zelly’s garden, moaning for help.
“Wender!” She had recognized the honey collector immediately.
I remembered seeing the swollen bite marks on his ankle, quickly turning dark purple. His entire leg had started to bloat, and he burned with fever.
I had easily healed the bite itself, but the venom had already infected his blood, was spreading up his leg. I had to help his body combat the poison until it had passed out of his system. It took a long time. When the man’s leg had finally shrunk back to normal, he was able to sit up, his fever gone.
Zelly had helped me wobble back to my cabin, where I fell into bed. It had been late afternoon. I was pretty sure my bouts of prolonged, deep sleep had become famous in Foresthome.
I dipped my finger into the honey and poked it into my mouth, smiling as the sweetness coated my tongue. I would bring it with me to share with my breakfast companions. Ever since the fire, Sember followed me everywhere. Nirrin came and went according to her whims, but Sember would seek me out every day, asking about my gift and about her own. I could tell her gift frightened her, and maybe she felt safer being near me. Like if she were to lose control, I would be there to fix things. I understood her guilt completely, but I found it difficult to imagine being afraid of my own abilities, such an intrinsic part of myself.
Sember and Nirrin grinned and waved at me when I arrived. Nirrin looked as if she were about to burst with excitement.
“Did you hear?” Nirrin crowed. “Remi is back!”
“Is that so?” So his visit last night had been real after all. I fought back an incriminating blush.
“Yes! Everyone’s talking about it! He has news,” she said ominously.
“Oh?” I kept my voice noncommittal, even though I was dying to know what he found.
“There’s going to be a meeting later. We all get to find out!”
I acknowledged this with a nod, and Nirrin exhaled in exasperation.
“Aren’t you excited to see him?” she squealed. “He’s been gone, like, forever!”
“Of course. I’ve missed him too, you know.”
“But you don’t look excited,” she said petulantly, as if I wasn’t being honest.
Little Sember came to my rescue. “Maybe not everyone gets excited on the outside like you do.”
Her insight actually surprised me, especially for a six-year-old.
“Really?” Nirrin seemed to ponder this, as if it had never occurred to her. “People can be excited inside while they look bored on the outside?”
“I look bored?” My eyebrows shot up. I tended to keep my feelings to myself, but . . . did I come off as uninterested?
“Kind of,” Nirrin answered.
“She does not,” Sember retorted.
“I’m just being honest,” Nirrin said, rolling a berry around her tray with a finger.
“Well, I think you’re being mean,” Sember said, lifting her chin. I noticed her hands clenching into little fists.
“It’s okay, Sember,” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think she meant anything by it. Maybe my face is a little boring.”
Her green eyes studied my face before saying, “No, I think it’s beautiful.”