What will he do to Ilsa when the time comes?
I shudder and move toward the mortar, peering into it. The herbs aren’t familiar to me but otherwise look and smell perfectly ordinary. I give them a suspicious prod with the pestle and they crumble like any other dried plants, so I get to work.
When my hands grow hot and red from grinding and I pause to rest them Meremon’s eyes spark with interest. He takes them in his and studies them with the zeal of a fortune teller. What’s so fascinating? Is it strange to him that my hands grow red through exertion? After a moment I pull away and he reluctantly lets me go.
He’s creating something in a cast iron cauldron heated by magical flames. It’s thick and green and makes a plip-plip sounds as it boils.
I finish the grinding and stand at a loss for a moment, waiting for more instructions, but Meremon has busied himself with the mixture and doesn’t notice. The cabinet of little drawers are a jumble, so I get to work on the contents, gingerly sorting the chicken feet from dandelion roots and what I think are strips of dried tongue.
Filax brings a tray of food for two and places it on a pile of books. The necromancer ignores it but I’m ravenous, and I help myself to a large slice of good soft bread with fresh butter and honey. I marvel at the food with every bite, wondering how Meremon can ignore such a delicious meal. The bread in the village is coarse and dry because the flour is milled from our second-rate grain. The grain that made this bread must have come all the way from the capital, and I savor it.
A few hours later Meremon pours his concoction into a glass jar, holding it up the light and admiring it. He seems pleased with himself. I want to ask if it’s something to help the children in my village but before I can work up the courage to speak he places the jar on a high shelf and strides out of the room.
I don’t know what to do after that. Follow him? Go to my bedroom? It’s still light out and there’s so much to do in the laboratory. Meremon makes such a mess and every surface is littered with objects. I keep working, but my eye strays to the jar on the shelf again and again.
It could be medicine. He might have been lying about not being able to do anything for the children. He probably just wants a free servant to clean up after him for a few weeks. I could steal that concoction and run away. There are enough daylight hours for me to get down the mountain before nightfall.
Pretending that the work I’m doing is taking me innocently in that direction, I edge closer and closer to the jar. What else could it be but medicine? What else could have been so important for Meremon to work on today? I don’t believe him that a necromancer is no good to the sick until they’re nearly dead. What would he need all these ingredients for if all he does is play around with dead things? The only undead being I’ve seen in his house is Filax. Meremon must know more magic.
Twenty minutes later I’ve convinced myself: all I need is the contents of that jar and everyone in the village will be safe and happy again.
I listen for a moment for the sound of approaching footsteps and then carry a stool over to the shelf where the mixture stands. Meremon is very tall and it is a low stool, and when I’m standing on it I have to strain on my tiptoes to take hold of it.
“What are you doing?” a slow, deep voice asks in my ear.
Meremon must have come silently into the room while I was intent on the jar. I shriek and drop it and have to grab the shelf to prevent myself from falling. There’s a smash and I look in dismay at the broken jar on the slate floor. Green slime oozes out. Fearfully, I glance at Meremon. He spent all day working on it and I’ve just ruined it.
Meremon intones, “Non speculo,” and the broken glass vanishes, leaving only the slime.
My heart lifts. Perhaps it’s not spoiled after all and he won’t be too angry. I get down off the stool and turn toward the door, not wanting to wait around and find out.
Ropes appear from nowhere and wrap around my body. I gasp in shock, completely immobilized with my arms pinned to my sides. I’m impelled by some unseen force to turn and face him.
“I’m sorry. I thought it might have been for the villagers. I just wanted to—to look at it.” Does he know I’m lying and that I intended to steal it? I whimper, wondering if I’ve just made him so furious that he won’t help the villagers at all now.