The room was definitely unfamiliar. Through his headache and with blurred vision, Michal tried to sit up, but out of sheer fatigue and in great pain, he only ended up flopping back down on the pillow. He felt like a frog, with his legs splayed out in the bed, twitching spasmodically. He also felt dry and shrivelled up, starving hungry. He croaked slightly, his words coming out in a low moan. “Wodaaaaa…wodaaaaa…prosze, wodaaaa.”
Someone else was in the room, and they came over, staring down at him, a huge grey and pink blur. “It’s all right, son,” he said, gently. “I don’t think vodka will do you too much good, I think you’ve had enough of all that. Perhaps I should get you some water instead.”
Michal didn’t quite understand what this person was saying. He had a vague idea, but the only word he had made out in all of that was the word vodka, which was not what he had meant at all. He cleared his throat in desperation. “Nie wodka, woda,” he said again, as clearly as he could manage, but the man had left the room, leaving him to whimper quietly to himself again and turn slowly onto his side. Why didn’t he understand? In what language was he talking?
The door opened and closed again. The man looking after him came back through the room carrying a glass of water, which was what he had asked for, offering it to his charge like a priest giving communion. “Here, sit up a bit. Don’t slurp it, sip.” He gently used his hand to push him up into a sitting position.
Not wanting to drink too much in one go, Michal took a sip from the glass, and felt it go down his throat. He took another, and another. The man put the glass down on a table beside him, and for the first time sat down. He prattled on, but his patient didn’t catch much of what he was actually saying. He seemed to have lost the capacity to understand this strange language, though he believed he once had understood it.
The fever had a hold of him, however, and before he could think his way back into understanding where he was, the water mixed with the toxins in his system and he vomited. He looked embarrassed and immediately began to apologise in his own language.
“There, there, son. A natural reaction,” the man said, coming back over to clean up the bile on the floor. “Once you come out of your fever, you’ll be able to keep things down. This will teach you a bit of temperance, won’t it?” He patted Michal’s head and felt his forehead. “You can’t stay in my personal quarters being sick like this. We’ll get you signed in properly when you get better. Perhaps you’ll have regained your command of Breston by then. You had a pretty impressive litany of curse-words when I picked you up last night.”
Michal began to work out where he was. He put out his hand, grasping for the water.
“Not now,” the person said. “Wait a while. It won’t kill you; you know what they say about fevers, that it’s the body’s way of fighting what’s going on inside you. You’d bring it straight back up again. I wish I could get you some goddess-milk to settle you down, but I don’t think you’d swallow it in this state either.” He strode over to the mantelpiece. Michal could see him pick something up, but it was difficult to see what he had in his hands, even as this man came back towards him.
Suddenly this enormous man took his patient’s dark hair in his hands. Michal tried to bat him away, angrily.
“Come now, son. It’s a little shaggy,” he said, crossly, “and I have to do this, don’t want you bringing lice into my nice clean spike, do we? Haven’t had a typhus infection in years, and I’m not going to have one now. You’ve been lying in muck and manure, boy; they had to drag you out of a puddle. Horseshit all over you. I gave you a wash, but I don’t want it breeding.”
Michal was too weak to wrest the strong arms away from his head. The old man continued to yank and cut, rolling him over on his side and then onto his front to get at the back of his head until most of the curl had gone, leaving a short, uneven remnant. At several points his nose and mouth were pushed against the pillow and he had to twist his face to get a breath of air. His tormentor slapped him. “Hold still!”
Finally the ordeal was over. “There now, you won’t go infecting the honest working people I have downstairs.” He wet his fingers by dabbing them in the water glass and gently cooled Michal’s forehead, afterwards getting up to fetch a rag which he used as a damp compress. “Now you just sleep. I’ll turn the light down for you. I’m not off to bed yet, though. No rest for the wicked, eh? In the morning I’ll take you to the infirmary where we can get you some better help.”
Michal simply whimpered, turning his face to the wall. The trembling was so bad that it made him wail in terror. The ogre calmly turned his back and muttered, “Well, that’s what you get when you drink the city dry, boy. It’s your own fault.”
He adjusted the wick on the large oil lamp on the sideboard. Michal relaxed slightly, glad that the man had stopped talking and the light had stopped hurting his eyes. He could now focus slightly better; the room was a parlour and an office combined; there were files and papers out on the small table in front of the fire on which his captor was working. He himself seemed to be lying on a day-bed that had been made more comfortable with a bolster and sheets. He supposed he must have fallen somewhere, and been brought into someone’s home, but he couldn’t understand this rough treatment. Tired and sick, he tried to sleep, only to be woken up by church bells chiming nine. And ten. And eleven. Each successive time he woke up, he would drift off within a quarter of an hour.
By the time what turned out to be the last bells at midnight went, the room was dark and the man had gone to bed.