70. A Trace of Fire brings the Winter

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When I awoke, I was slumped in the visitor's chair, my head resting on my shoulder. My eyes didn't want to open, but I knew where I was sitting without looking. No one in London except Mr Rikkard Ambrose owned a chair this hard and uncomfortable. A soft groan escaped my mouth.

"Ah. You are finally awake."

The voice was cool, and as distant as Timbuktu. I didn't need to open my eyes to recognize it, either.

"What... happened?" I moaned.

"You went to the bathroom to get your shoes. On the way back you stumbled and passed out. I believe you hit your head."

Slowly, memories started coming back. The memories he spoke off came first – but there were faint images of others, too. I had bumped my head? Some part of me did feel as if a bruise were likely to develop, but it wasn't the back of my head. Almost unconsciously, I reached up and touched my lips. They felt unusually warm and swollen.

Could one knock oneself out by falling on the mouth? I wasn't sure. And shouldn't I have knocked my teeth out in the process? I felt my jaw. All teeth were still firmly attached. But my lips... My lips felt different, somehow. Not really in a bad way. Tingly, and hot. If that's what keeling over did to you, maybe I should do it more often.

Mustering all my energy, I forced my eyes open. Mr Ambrose stood over me, looking even more like the statue of some Greek god for the fact that he was towering above me. Any moment I expected him to start throwing thunderbolts.

Touching my lips again, I met his gaze. For a moment, something in his eyes flashed, something that was gone so quickly that I had probably imagined it.

"Did... anything happen?" I mumbled. "Anything else?"

Not a muscle in his face moved. "Other than you falling and nearly cracking your head open on the floor, Mr Linton? No. I must inform you that if you wish to remain in my employ, you will in the future have to refrain from such effeminate displays of clumsiness. I have no time for them. Do we understand each other?"

"Y-yes, Sir."

"Good. Then maybe you can finally leave now. I wish to have my office to myself. Your presence here is distracting."

I got to my feet. Apparently, the floor still wasn't interested in a peace treaty. It wobbled threateningly under my feet as I made my way to the door. Mr Ambrose, who walked beside me, though, didn't have any problems, which confirmed my suspicion: he had been in cahoots with the floor all along! They had worked together to do... something.

Yes, something had happened.

But what?

If I only I could remember. Yet the memory was just out of my reach.

Had they collaborated to knock me down? But why would they hit me on the lips to do so? Surely, it would have worked better if they had tried the back of my head. Besides... I couldn't believe that Mr Ambrose had anything to do with my silly accident. The yellow piggies would have warned me if they saw him sneaking up on me.

"You would have, wouldn't you?" I asked one of them, standing in the corner and playing with the long tails of Napoleon's army uniform. It nodded solemnly.

"What?" Mr Ambrose asked.

"I wasn't talking to you. Come on. I want to get out of here before the floor tries to eat me."


The whole way down the stairs Mr Ambrose kept a tight hold on my elbow for some unfathomable reason. Only when we had arrived in the cavernous entrance hall did he let go of me. But when I started towards the front door, he shook his head.

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