She was awoken not long after dawn by Nicandros shaking her shoulder. “Girl, get up. The leaders are meeting soon.”
She nodded blearily as she forced herself awake. “How long?”
“About an hour. Enough time for you to eat and clean.” He pointed down the beach. “The women are bathing down that way.”
“Alright,” she felt a pang in her stomach and grimaced. “Food first, I think?”
Nicandros sniffed and frowned at her. “I think everyone would prefer you washed first.”
She realized she’d crawled into the bedroll with the same clothes she’d worn yesterday. They were spotted with blood and some other unidentifiable messes, and if she hadn’t slept in the filth, she probably would have smelled it herself. “Oh. I suppose that would be for the best.” She took the bedroll and clothes with her to rinse out and hang to dry.
By the time she was done, she was glad to have cleaned first. The cool water had helped clear her mind of the cobwebs she’d awoken with, and while her thoughts were entirely focused on getting food, at least they were focused.
Breakfast was a poor affair of salted biscuits with nuts and berries taken from Lathariel’s forest, but at that instant they tasted like they were taken from the table of a King. She did her best not to wolf them down, knowing they would have to ration out their food as long as they could.
Not long after that, she found herself vomiting the food into a pit in the sand, hidden from the others by a column. It made sense when she paused to think about it. Although she knew that, in theory, humans could eat such things as easily as meat, Karjon had always fed her with the results of his hunts, and the occasional bush of berries he had plucked out of the earth as a sweet treat for her. She’d never tried to eat anything without meat before, and apparently her stomach would take time to adjust to that level of abuse. I’ll try to catch fish after this meeting.
Still feeling nauseous, she headed to meet the others.
They were gathered in what looked like, to Tythel’s eyes, had once been a temple to Marebellon. The columns were shaped to look like stylized dolphins that had once supporting the building upon their blowholes with their heads bowed in respect to their god, although the roof was collapsed so instead they stared into the sky. One of the heads of the dolphins had fallen off, and its flat top had been repurposed by the gathering as a table.
A map of the southern part of the continent, Claethor, was laid out on top of its head. She recognized a drawing of Karjon’s mountain, which helped her orient herself on the map. She realized, looking at that, how far she’d come already.
They were represented by a green marker on a part of the coast, a tiny little bay that sheltered them from the outside world. It was a good thing they’d taken Lathariel’s tunnel, and that it had been so deep – at one point they’d crossed right under the Weeping Morass. The rest of the map was covered with red markers, and the occasional blue one.
Nicandros was already there with the others, and he gave her a slight nod as she approached. For the first time, she thought to wonder why he was of so much import to this group. He seemed like an ordinary soldier, and yet was treated like a respected general. Who are you, Nicandros?
A question that would have to wait. Haradeth rolled his eyes as she approached. “Your highness. So good of you to join us.”
Tythel gave him her best smile. She really hoped the fact that his lips curled as he shivered and looked away meant it was effective. Nicandros gave her a slight shake of his head to prove that theory wrong, and she dropped it. “Sorry I was delayed. My stomach had some issues.”
She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. The d’Monchy’s shared a look with Haradeth, and since it was with Haradeth she had difficulty believing it was anything good. “As I was saying,” Duke d’Monchy said, his voice firm, “we lost another forty overnight.”
“No!” Tythel gasped, drawing their attention. “We didn’t even have forty more wounded, how did that many die in the night!”
Haradeth scratched his chin, and the Dutchess gave her a wan smile. “Your concern is touching, but we didn’t mean dead. Deserted.”
“We’re going to lose more than forty if things don’t turn soon,” Alya Von Bagget spat, then looked over at Tythel and nodded to herself, “We’ve had a rough year, your highness.” It was somehow odder hearing the title come out of this woman’s mouth that it was from Haradeth’s sarcasm-laced voice, “started with almost a thousand. We’ve had losses and haven’t been able to replenish them, and a lot of people are losing the stomach for the fight. Sixteen years of loss will do that to you.”
Tythel tilted her head to the side in thought, then saw Haradeth’s face and did her best to straighten it self-consciously. “The red are the Alohym, I assume?”
Alya nodded. “And the blue are other groups like ours’, at least their last known locations. We’ve tried making overtures a couple times, and most of them are willing to stay out of our way if we stay out of theirs, but a coordinated effort so far has been…difficult.”
Tythel noted silently that each blue marker was on the coast or in the woods. The red markers dominated the towns and cities and roads. It seemed any kind of resistance was isolated to the fringes of civilization. “Have we had any victories against them?”
Lord Devos picked up here with a growl. “Depends on what you count as a flathing victory. Did we manage to run away without everyone getting killed? Sure. Have we managed to accomplish our objectives? Some of them. Have we managed to kill a single actual Alohym? Go on, give it a flathing guess.”
“I’m guessing not.”
He just pointed at her for confirmation. “And now we’re down, between the dead and injured and deserters, to two hundred and thirty flathing men. It’s just a matter of time. My Abyssals will stand strong, but the rest of these liverless curs are going to abandon us by the end of the flathing week.”
Tythel looked around, but no one seemed willing to object. “I can call up some more beasts,” Haradeth said, his voice glum, “but without the forest we’ve lost most of those loyal to my mother.”
“Not just the beasts,” Devos said, snarling in Haradeth’s direction, “without your mother, how are we going to flathing feed the men? Put shelter over their heads? What the flath are we going to do when the Alohym find us now?” He glanced in Tythel’s direction, “and what the flath is she doing?”
Tythel had wandered away from the table, walking among the pillars. “This was a temple to Marebellon,” she muttered, less to Devos than to herself.
“Girl, what are you doing?” It was the first time Nicandros had spoken since they arrived, and his voice sounded anxious.
“I told you, it was a temple to…did none of you read Shaelni’s A History of the Gods of Carthomere?”
Duke Devos sniffed. “The last known copy of that book vanished a hundred years ago. We have no read it, nor have you.”
“My father collected his copy a hundred years. I don’t think he knew it was the last one.” She found what she was looking for, a giant statue of a clam. “Do any of you speak Carthomeri?”
The Duke started to sniff again, but his wife put a hand on his arm. “I studied Carthomeri.”
“Good.” Tythel bit her cheek. “How far away the most distant soldiers camped from here?”
Lady Von Bagget furrowed her brow. “About a thousand feet.”
“Close enough. Dutchess d’Monchy, would you be so kind as to say “I need the protection of Marebellon, and seek it as his humble servant?”
Everyone was staring at her, but the Dutchess shrugged. “Myso phadori Marebellon pu yeculo versu co’ilehu.”
The stone clam slowly ground open. She wondered what everyone’s changing expressions meant, and had a feeling they were going to be changing again very soon.
The ground began to rumble. “Oh!” she turned to Lorathor, “would you be so kind as to tell everyone oustide to remain calm?”
The Sylvani chuckled and cleared his throat before bellowing in a voice amplified by the ridges on his head “Do not run, do not fear. Stay where you are.” He glanced at Tythel, “I sincerely hope I did not condemn them to a painful death.”
Tythel let her mouth hang open in amusement. “No, nor did you condemn them to a quick one. Watch.”
But already they could see it. This stretch of the coast was beginning to sink, separating from the back of the coast in a sheer cliff. The water, too, was beginning to rush in – but once it hit the high tide line, it struck an invisible barrier. Slowly as they sunk down, the wall of water rose, as did the cliff to their back.
Haradeth was clutching the dolphin head so tightly his knuckles turned white, and Nicandros looked like he was going to be sick. The rest were just staring, their eyes as wide as Tythel had ever seen a human’s go.
In a matter of minutes, they had sunk to where the wall of water was four times as tall as Tythel was, and then it began to spill over the edge. Dutchess d’Monchy gasped as it did, but it did not immediately spill in to drown them – instead, it flowed above them, as if on top of a glass ceiling.
When it finally stopped, they were in a deep twilight of the ocean, just enough light reaching them where they could see. By the same token, they were barely visible from the surface. Everyone slowly turned to look at Tythel, who shrugged. “We’ll run out of air by the end of the week, so when it’s time to surface, Dutchess, please say ‘Your humble servant thanks you for your protection.’ Shaelni’s A History of the Gods of Carthomere recounts how all temples to Marebellon were constructed with such safety measures to hide their occupants in the event of another genocidal attack by the Kaocan League. To make sure everyone is fed, fish will gather along the edges and allow themselves to be captured by hand. I was hoping it would still be working properly.”
Nicandros cleared his throat. “And if it hadn’t worked properly?”
“Oh, that would have been terrible.” She paused just a moment to let concern about what she meant settle in before continuing, “The Dutchess would have said the words, nothing would have happened, and I would have looked quite silly.” She watched the tension fade and the Duke even let out a relieved chuckle. “Now then, we have protection for a week, and anyone who wishes to desert will have to wait until we resurface, unless they want to swim. Haradeth, may I be so bold as to make a suggestion?”
It was a sign of his shock that Haradeth could only nod. “Wonderful. I am not a soldier, and I’m only a princess by blood. What I am, besides a dragon, is a historian. My father taught me a great deal of the wars of the past. Perhaps my perspective there could prove useful. Tell me about what’s been happening since we lost to the Alohym, and we’ll see if I can can come up with anything useful.”
The Duke shared a look with his wife and nodded. “Have a seat. Your highness.”
Tythel did, with no small satisfaction.