Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, has unique ideas regarding physical therapy.
I woke up in softness.
What I probably should say was that I woke up in a soft bed. But . . . that just doesn't convey how soft this bed was. You know those old cartoons where people sleep on fluffy clouds? Those guys would wake up screaming in pain if they got suckered into taking one of those clouds after they'd been in Mab's bed.
The fire in my chest had finally begun to die away. The heavy wool lining coating my thoughts seemed to have lightened up. When I blinked my eyes open, they felt gummy, but I was able to lift my arm, slowly, and wipe them clear. I'd gone jogging on beaches with less sand than was in my eyes.
Man. Being mostly dead is hard on a guy.
I was in a bed.
A bed the size of my old apartment.
The sheets were all perfectly white and smooth. The bed was shrouded in drapes of more pure white, drifting on gentle currents of cool air. The temperature was cold enough that when I exhaled, my breath condensed, but I was comfortable beneath the bed's covering.
The curtains around the bed parted and a girl appeared.
She was probably too young to drink legally and she was one of the lovelier women I'd ever seen in person. High cheekbones, exotic almond-shaped eyes. Her skin was a medium olive tone, her eyes an almost eerie shade of pale green-gold. Her hair was pulled back into a simple tail, she wore pale blue hospital scrubs, and she had no makeup at all.
Wow. Any woman who could wear that and still look that good was a freaking goddess.
"Hello," she said, and smiled at me. Maybe it was just the bed talking, but the smile and her voice were even better than the rest of her.
"Hi," I said. My voice came out in a croak that hardly sounded human. I started coughing.
She placed a covered tray on a little stand beside the bed and sat down on the edge of it. She took the cover off the tray and picked up a white china cup. She passed it to me, and it proved to be filled with not quite scalding chicken noodle soup. "You do that every day. Talk before you've gotten anything down your throat. Drink."
I did. Campbell's. And it was awesome. I flashed on a sudden memory of being sick when I was very young. I couldn't remember where we'd been, but my dad had made me chicken noodle soup. It was the same.
"I think . . . I remember some of it," I said, after several sips. "Your name is . . . Sarah?" She frowned, but I shook my head before she could speak. "No, wait. Sarissa. Your name is Sarissa."
She lifted both eyebrows and smiled. "That's a first. It looks like you're finally coming back into focus."
My stomach gurgled and at the same time a roaring hunger went through me. I blinked at the sudden sensation and started gurgling down more soup.
Sarissa laughed at me. It made the room feel brighter. "Don't drown yourself. There's no rush."
I finished the cup, spilling only a little on my chin, and then murmured, "The hell there isn't. I'm starving. What else is there?"
"Tell you what," she said. "Before you do that, let's shoot for another first."
"Eh?" I said.
"Can you tell me your name?"
"What, you don't know?"
Sarissa smiled again. "Do you?"
"Harry Dresden," I said.
Her eyes sparkled and it made me feel good all the way to my toes. More so when she produced a plate that was piled with chicken and mashed potatoes and some other vegetables that I had little use for but which were probably good for me. I thought I was going to start drooling onto the floor, that food looked so good.
"What do you do, Harry?"
"Professional wizard," I said. "I'm a PI in Chicago." I frowned, suddenly remembering something else. "Oh. And I'm the Winter Knight, I guess."
She stared at me like a statue for several seconds, absolutely nothing on her face.
"Um," I said. "Food?"
She shivered and looked away from me. Then she took a quick breath and picked up an odd little fork, the kind they give to kids with motor control issues-it had lots of rounded edges-and pressed it into my hand. "If you're willing to go for three, we'll have had a really good day."
The fork felt weird and heavy in my fingers. I remembered using forks. I remembered how they felt, the slender weight of them, the precision with which I could get food from the plate to my mouth. This fork felt heavy and clumsy. I fumbled with it for a few seconds, and then managed, on the second try, to thrust it into the mashed potatoes. Then it was another chore to get the stupid thing to my mouth.
The potatoes were perfect. Just warm enough, barely salted, with a faint hint of rich butter.
"Ohmmgdd," I muttered around the mouthful. Then I went for more.
The second forkful was easier, and the third easier than that, and before I knew it the plate was empty and I was scraping the last of the remains into my mouth. I felt exhausted and stuffed, though it hadn't been all that much food. Sarissa was watching me with a pleased smile.
"Got it all over my face, don't I?" I asked her.
"It means you enjoyed the food," she said. She lifted a napkin to my face and wiped at it. "It's nice to know your name, finally, Harry."
There was the sound of light, steady footsteps coming closer.
Sarissa rose immediately, turned, and then knelt gracefully on the floor with her head bowed.
"Well?" said a woman's velvet voice.
My whole body shuddered in response to that voice, like a guitar's string quivering when the proper note is played near it.
"He's lucid, Your Majesty, and remembered my name and his. He fed himself."
"Excellent," said the voice. "You are dismissed for today."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," said Sarissa. She rose, glanced at me, and said, "I'm glad to see you feeling better, Sir Knight."
I tried to come up with something charming or witty and said, "Call me."
She huffed out a surprised little breath that might have been the beginning of a laugh, but shot a fearful glance the other way and then retreated. The sound of her sneakers scuffing on the hard floor faded into the distance outside the curtained bed.
A shadow moved across the curtains at the end of the bed. I knew whose it was.
"You have passed your nadir," she said in a decidedly pleased tone. "You are waxing rather than waning, my Knight."
I suddenly had difficulty thinking clearly enough to speak, but I managed. "Well. You know. Wax on, wax off."
She didn't open the curtain around the bed as much as she simply glided through, letting the sheer cloth press against her, outlining her form. She exhaled slowly as she reached my side, looking down at me, her eyes flickering through shades of green in dizzying cycles.