The work was nasty and brutal. A few men had needed Tythel’s dragonflame to cauterize them, and after that was done she was pale and shaking. Nicandros had tried to send her away, but the sound of them still groaning in pain was impossible to ignore, and she’d headed back to fetch bandages and do what she could.
It wasn’t much. They didn’t have the advanced magic of the Alohym, only some of their healing bandages like what was currently wrapped around Tythel’s arm, and other than that had to rely on more crude methods. The only had one actual doctor, a sour faced man named Haveron. Once they’d used up the bandages, he’d set her to heating tools before dunking them in what he called “pure water,” which apparently cleansed them of invisible demons that caused infection.
“Most of my profession followed the Alohym once they proved the invisible demons. Say what you will of the Alohym, hmmm, but their medicine is far more advanced than we were.” He had her following him around to cleanse tools as he used them, and that last piece of information was delivered as he sewed a man’s leg shut.
Tythel was glad she had not eaten or was certain she would have already vomited it back up. “Why did you not, then?” she asked, trying to keep her mind off the gruesome sight.
“Oh, hmm? Why did I not follow the Alohym in their conquest of us?” He snipped off the end of the thread and handed her the tools to cleanse in flame. “My wife wanted to fight against them. She was overheard talking about it in a tavern with people she thought she could trust. For that the Alohym had her executed in the center of town, and were coming to execute me before I was pulled out by Nicandros.”
Tythel let the dragonflame die down before the tools were too hot, and dropped them in the pure water to cool. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Haveron nodded. “We all have our tragedies. Few fight against the Alohym without some personal loss motivating them. Now then, go back to our young demigod friend and get more pure water”
That thought lingered with Tythel as they went to find Haradeth. It seemed true enough, from what she had heard, and from what she had heard and could see, it was plain that this rebellion was on its last legs.
The Alohym were in many ways the perfect dominators to have arrived. They directly improved the lives of those they ruled with teachings about invisible demons and fancy tools like the skittering carriages, and at the same time crushed any rebellion so brutally it terrified any others from attempting to rise up. On top of that, arcwands like what the resistance had and what Otis had owned, civilian tools, were inferior to their own unlight versions of the same.
If she was to get vengeance for Karjon, if she was to reclaim her kingdom, she was going to need something to balance the scales. She’d hoped Lathariel would prove to be that, but without her forest…how can we possibly stand against a threat that great?
“Haradeth, we need more pure water.” He hadn’t left his mother’s side since they had arrived here. Lathariel still slumbered, her breaths low and irregular. He looked at her and sneered.
“Then get some from the ocean, princess. I need water to purify.” Everything in his tone screamed dismissal.
Tythel walked the short distance and scooped a bucket, fuming. “Here,” she said, plopping it down before Haradeth.
He reached out, small vines stretching up and into the water to draw out the salt an other impurities. “It will take some time. You can go bother someone else, I’ll send someone unimportant for you when it’s done.”
She hated being at odds with him without knowing what she’d done. Attempting to smooth things over, she glanced at Lathariel and said, “I’m sorry about-”
Haradeth cut her off, his tone tense and tight. “It will take some time. You can go bother someone else. I’ll sen-”
It was her turn to interrupt him. “Enough of this,” Tythel snapped, having reached her limit. “What did I do to you?”
“There are men dying right now, and you want to have this fight?” Haradeth sneered again. That expression was so often coupled with a tone that at least made it clear to Tythel that it wasn’t a positive reaction.
“I have nothing else I can do to help right now, so until that water is clean, yes, I flathing do.” Tythel crossed her arms and planted her feet.
“Fine.” Haradeth stood up, meeting her eye to eye. “You’re the daughter of cowards, raised by a coward, and if that had made you a coward I could understand that. But it didn’t. You turned out insane. You’re not natural, you’re not right, and anyone who trusts you is as mad as you are.”
Tythel blinked a few time, tilting her head in confusion. “I don’t-”
Haradeth motioned at her face. “That’s it, that right there. What kind of lunatic turns their head to the side like that?”
Tythel flushed, snapping her head upright. “I..I mean, that’s…” for once, Tythel found words were failing her. How do you explain that you were merely reacting the way you had watched growing up? “I’m a dragon?” she finished, knowing how weak it sounded.
He rolled his eyes. “The water’s done,” Haradeth spat out, bending down to grab the bucket. “Go on. Pretend you’re human and help some of the actual good people here survive.”
Confusion and frustration from the argument helped distract her through the rest of the day’s brutal work, at least in between patients. When she was right there, watching the person suffer and knowing there was nothing she could do, she could focus on nothing else. By the time they were done, close to evening, she was barely standing. Nicandros and her had hiked the day before, then the fight in the woods, then spent most of the night walking through the tunnel, then a day of taking care of the wounded from the battle the night before, with the only breaks being those needed for food.
On top of that, they had lost as many as they had saved. The wounded were almost all sitting on injuries that had gone untreated for an entire night of walk through the tunnel, and many of their injuries were lousy with dirt from that. A few had died during the walk, and several more had just clung onto life long enough to see the sun one more time. Every time life faded from one of the injured, she was reminded of Karjon, and her grief threatened to well back up.
By the time she was done, it was all she could do to crawl into a bedroll, pack still safely tucked at the bottom by her feet, and fall asleep.
Exhaustion did nothing to keep the nightmares at bay.
In the dream, everywhere she turned, she was back among the wounded and the dying, but every patient was Karjon, and he was dying over and over around her. Haradeth was sitting there with that curled lipped expression, whispering the word monster over and over again. Beside him, Lathariel weapt tears of blood from sockets that had been burned empty with unlight. Every time she and Haveron got to a new Karjon, the dragon melted into one of the people who had lost that day, and they joined Haradeth in whispering “monster” at her. They grew into a corus, a horrible dirge calling her a monster, until finally she sat up in a cold sweat, awake.
The camp was quiet, only the gentle sound of waves on the shore and some cries of seagulls. Even with those relaxing sounds, it was some time before her eyes dried enough to let her sleep again.