It was difficult to say how long the room had been empty--had it been five years or ten?--but the years had been suitably long enough to have lost that smell particular to sickrooms. The housekeeper, as I've said before, was very adamant about the upkeep of vacant rooms, and this one was no exception. Far enough out of the way of major hallways, personal apartments, and meeting halls, it still stood with a threatening air of readiness at the end of a long passageway, where the windows looked out to the sea.
The bed had been dressed with stiff white sheets and given a light woven coverlet; the room would not get cold enough in the late spring weather to require any more blankets, and besides, the large fireplace had been built up and was hissing and crackling merrily to ward off any presumptuous drafts. Many extra pillows had been added to the bed by attentive ladies of the court, many of whom tended to embroider pillows as a natural extension of their limbs and found invalids very useful for disposing of the fruits of their labors.
The present occupant was feeling nauseous and ill inclined to be thankful for the scented, beaded, and beribboned trinkets. Being left alone with nothing to do so that she could convalesce was not her idea of resting. After her morning toilette was completed and she had been abed for an hour watching the rain outside, the only really sensible thing to do seemed to be to pick at the fringes on the more lumpy, uglier pillows, and so she tore apart several before being discovered and scolded.
Finally, luncheon hour came and a few visitors arrived. It wasn't likely that there would be any evening visitors. Another feast, another round of speeches, and another dance or concert or story, and everyone would be exhausted. She would have to connive and scheme to get one of her visitors to bring a book or some embroidery. No, no embroidery, she thought, looking in disgust at the overwhelming sea of cushions before her. Maybe some more handkerchiefs, though.
The door creaked and opened just enough for a small, mouse-like woman to step through and smile apologetically.
"I do hope--I mean, that is, I hope you won't think I'm intruding--and I don't want to intrude, really--but I wanted to ask, if you've got the energy, you understand, and just stopping by to see maybe, if--well, how are you feeling?"
She stayed for a half of an hour and talked at length about her daughter's illness last autumn while nervously rearranging the countless pillows by size and intricacy. The invalid nodded sympathetically and blew her nose only twice during the conversation, desperately searching for a clue as to who her visitor could be.
There was no time for a favor to be asked of her; she left quickly at the sudden entrance of three young women who laughed and wore ribbons in their hair. They gossiped and warmed themselves by the fire before flitting off to see if the cook had any oranges, which they felt would do any sick person no end of good.
The most surprising visitor was a young maiden in a long green gown, whose solemn face it was very difficult to meet when one had itchy, puffy eyes and a very sore, red nose. She tried very hard not to laugh.
"My name is 'Melia. May I please brush your hair?" The request was made with an air of decorum that could not be easily gainsaid.
"Of gourd," she acquiesced, humbly. It was meant to be "Of course" but at the moment her nose was not cooperating with any effort to articulate coherent speech.
The green-gowned Amelia must have bewitched the creaky door, because when she awoke in the late afternoon, her hair was brushed to a silky shine and there was no sign of the girl. The rain pattered on the window and the hills and the sea outside, making the coals in the fireplace hiss and sputter every now and again. Sighing, the invalid began to pick apart the tassels of a pillow case whose fabric dye had been a serious mistake.