Light woke her a second time. Bright sunshine streamed through small windows set high on the gray stone wall. A woman with brown hair stood beside the cot. Who is she? Where was this place? If this was a dream, why did the water feel warm and the cloth rough? The soap smelled of flowers, but the scent was unfamiliar.
She tried to grasp flickering memories of another time, another place. She caught glimpses of women in white and heard a wheezing sound. Her eyes opened again.
“Mother, she wakes.”
At first, she had difficulty making the syllables form words. Slowly she began to understand. A girl with auburn hair touched her arm.
“Who? Where?” The words seemed wrong.
“I’m Sammi. This is the stronghold of Prince Genrai. He’s most anxious that you recover. Who are you?”
She frowned and reached for an answer. Two sets of memories collided. “D...Dian. Where’s the respirator? When will Margo come? Am I well enough for the Olympic trials?”
“What is she talking about?” The voice belonged to an older woman.
“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Perhaps those who follow the one I may not name have a secret language.” She grasped Dian’s hand. “You’re Dian and I’m Sammi. This is Quanta, my mother and first woman of the prince’s inner court.”
Dian flexed her fingers and ran her hands along her body. “What have you done to me?”
“You were ill from wound fever and from a blow to your head. My uncle who is a physician of the Thamaturg feared you would die. He permitted me to use my small skills on you.”
Dian closed her eyes. The memories of other times and places were gone. A deep sadness she couldn’t explain brought tears to her eyes.
“Don’t be afraid,” Sammi said. “You’ll soon be well.” Her brown eyes glowed. “Mother, may I have her for my personal attendant? Can she come with me when I leave this court for the one belonging to the man my father chooses for me?”
“Your father has other plans for her.” The older woman’s dark eyes glowed with anger. “I don’t know why he wants her. Genrai prefers women with more flesh.” She shrugged. “No matter. I’ll send word she’s awake.”
Sammi wrinkled her nose. “She must have a bath. She smells of illness.”
Quanta laughed. “How well you know your father. Send for a restorative broth. After she drinks it have her taken to the baths.”
A short time later the first woman Dian had seen returned with a cup. Dian sipped the savory liquid and pondered over the unfamiliar taste.
When she finished Sammi and the attendant helped Dian sit and then stand. Her legs shook. Her feet felt like leaden weights and her knees refused to bend. By the time they reached a room with three pools, her entire body shook.
“The middle one,” Sammi said.
Two women clad in purple smocks lowered Dian into the bath. When the warm water lapped her skin, she closed her eyes. Dual images arose. In one, she stood in a narrow box where a spray pelted her body. In the other, she swam in a tree-shaded pond. What did these visions mean? While one of the women washed her hair, Dian tried to sort true memories from false ones.
Once bathed the women rubbed her with sweet-smelling oil and combed her hair. She frowned. Had her hair always been this long or this pale? Once her hair was braided, she was wrapped in a towel and helped to the cot.
Dian felt as though she’d completed a month’s training in a single hour. Through a haze of sleep, she heard a man’s voice. “She will live and your father will be pleased. Now you can be marketed as one with healing skills.”
“Thank you, Uncle Maldon.”
Dian opened her eyes a slit. The bearded man wore a gray robe with bands of livid blue at the neck and on the sleeves. The color brought a rush of uneasiness. She frowned. Healers were women. They wore dark blue divided skirts and tunics in shades of blue that denoted their level of skill.
Sleep drew her into darkness and chaotic dreams.