I swallowed. That didn’t sound good.
‘Has anyone given you anything strange to eat or drink?’
I scratched my head. ‘No. Everything I’ve had has been from the canteen. I had coffee this morning with Amy but she drank it too.’
‘Could she have slipped something into your drink?’
It was highly unlikely. I grimaced. ‘I doubt it, though right now it feels like anything’s possible.’
‘I’ll check this Amy out. If she’s done anything to you, given you something to drink which is spiked or brushed some kind of herb mixture against you which has hurt you, then I’ll make sure she never sees the light of day again.’ His voice was low but I was taken aback by his vehemence. I’d never seen Winter so irate. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists as if he wanted to punch something. I watched him, half fascinated, half concerned. Then his words trickled through.
‘Wait,’ I said slowly. ‘I did touch something.’
He stilled. ‘What?’
‘Belinda’s vial. When I was on stage, I changed her clothes so I could get a better look at it.’
‘I saw. You’re lucky you got away with that. It looked highly suspect to me.’
‘That’s because you knew what I was up to. Everyone else was watching Belinda,’ I said dismissively. ‘Anyway, I touched her vial. Not the contents but my skin definitely brushed against the outer glass.’
‘Plenty of poisons and herblore spells work through touch.’ His expression shifted. ‘Did you manage to work out what was inside it?’
I shook my head. ‘No. Just that it’s some kind of silvery liquid with orange and black threads moving around inside it.’
Winter’s eyes grew sharp. ‘Moving independently?’
‘As far as I could tell.’
He nodded grimly. ‘Okay. I’ll see if I can get hold of the rushes for today and we can use them to get a closer look. There were plenty of cameras pointed at the stage. One of them must have a decent shot of the vial. If we can get a good picture, together with your description, someone back in Oxford is bound to know what she’s keeping so close to her chest.’
‘Why would a fêted celebrity want to raise the dead?’
Winter gave me a long look. ‘Why would anyone?’
Indeed. ‘I should get back. If I’m too long, they’ll send someone after me.’
‘Good,’ he growled. ‘They should be looking after you better. Drink lots of water. If there is anything untoward going on here, that will help to flush it out of your system.’
‘Am I going to be alright?’
‘As far as I can tell.’ He tilted his head. ‘You’ll still be annoying though. And your hair will still do that weird thing where it sticks out at the side like…’
I thumped his arm. ‘You can stop that now.’
Winter grinned briefly before sobering up. ‘I won’t let anything happen to you, Ivy. I promise you that.’
I licked my lips. All of a sudden I felt very hot. It was probably another side-effect. ‘You know,’ I told him, looking serious, ‘if this isn’t poison, and if I really am just tired, then it’s clear that work of any sort is very bad for my health.’
Winter leaned forward and brushed his lips feather-light against my temple. ‘If you say so, darling.’
I pulled back and looked at him. ‘Rafe…’
‘I know.’ The blue depths of his eyes turned a shade darker. ‘We need to have a proper conversation. Not about magic or dead people rising from their graves but about us.’ He licked his lips. ‘This isn’t the time though.’ His hand touched my cheek. ‘You said you liked me.’
‘I do.’ Even with the weariness permeating every bone in my body, it took almost everything I had not to jump on him then and there. He was right though; this really wasn’t the time. ‘When all this is over…’
He nodded. ‘We’ll talk.’
Barry’s voice drifted over from down by the cabin. ‘Ivy? Is everything alright?’
‘It’s fine.’ I offered Winter a crooked smile. ‘I’ll talk to you again soon.’ I held up my pinkie towards him.
He stared at it. ‘Is something wrong with your finger?’
His brow furrowed. ‘Huh?’
‘Never mind.’ I reached up on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek. Then a wave of dizziness overtook me and I swayed. ‘I really do need to lie down.’
Winter took my arm and helped me stumble back down the slope. I should have felt rage or worry or something like that. All I felt, however, was brimful of delight.
I couldn’t have said with any certainty how long I was out for. When I woke up, birds were already tweeting the dawn chorus and light was streaming in through the cracks in the timber frame of the cabin. Harriet was snoring just as loudly as she had on the boat yesterday and, as far as I could tell, both Mike and Lou were also still out for the count. For a long moment, I revelled in the chance to finally stretch out and doze. Unfortunately the pressure in my bladder wouldn’t permit me to stay in that position for long.
Groaning, I stretched and got up before wandering outside and greeting the latest cameraman, who was lounging on a rock nearby, with a grunt and an admonition not to follow me. I curved back round the cabin in the same direction as I’d taken to talk to Winter the day before, pausing briefly at my hallucinated bloodstain. It was still just a shadow. Not blood. I breathed out; with any luck, I was now completely back to normal.
I hunkered down behind a bush for a pee then, just as I was standing up, I heard a rustle and heavy footsteps plodding towards me. Alarmed – and suddenly wondering whether this was really happening – I straightened up. Hallucination or not, I’d meet it head on. My magic reserves were back to normal so, even if this were another damn zombie, I reckoned I could manage.
There was a heavy sigh followed by a curse. Then the familiar face of Gareth, the farm helper who’d found what was left of Benjamin Alberts, came into view.
I dropped my hands and broke into a smile. ‘Gareth! How are you?’
He froze, obviously startled to see me. ‘What … what are you doing here?’
I gestured towards the cabin. ‘Filming.’
He relaxed slightly although his lip still curled. ‘I might have guessed. I skirted round the perimeter and avoided the security guards but I thought all the action was taking place further downstream. There were a lot of cameras there.’
Another team had probably set up camp down that way. ‘There are a lot of us about,’ I told him cheerfully. ‘Why are you sneaking past security to get here anyway?’
‘I’m not sneaking. All Scottish lands give right of way. It’s not illegal for me to be here.’
I held up my hands. ‘I wasn’t trying to suggest it was.’
He seemed slightly mollified. ‘I’ve lost another sheep,’ he said. ‘My…’ he hesitated ‘…my mum is getting pissed off. I thought I saw tracks leading down this way but now I’m not so sure.’ He glared at me. ‘All your lot have muddied everything.’
Given he’d already told me that he wasn’t much of a tracker, I doubted it would have made much difference. All the same, I tried to look apologetic. ‘I saw a sheep over the other side of the river yesterday. It was on its own.’ It was probably not a good idea to tell him I’d decided it was an evil omen. Gareth was sensitive enough as it was, without thinking he might end up falling across another dead body.
He cursed under his breath. ‘Bloody creature.’ He paused. ‘Thank you.’
I curtsied. ‘You’re welcome.’ He gave me a half smile in response.
I looked him over. I didn’t know him well but he certainly appeared healthier than the last time I’d seen him. Maybe those gym workouts had helped after all. I grinned to myself. Nah. Not a chance. It was more likely that the counselling sessions I’d helped arrange had done the trick. It might have only been a couple of days but spilling out your heart to a stranger could have a remarkable effect. It really did help to offload.