They didn’t reach Bardstown till late into the evening, as the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon. The guards on the road did stop them, but their inspection was only a token one, just giving everyone a quick looking over and opening two crates.
Once they were into town, they headed towards the local hostel, reaching it as the last rays of sunlight slunk away like a thief hiding beneath a window. The hostel which was attached to an Inn, with a sign proclaiming it to be The Silver Crown. Nicandros, Armin, and Tythel would be staying in the Inn, as would Urdin, Ossman, and Eupheme, as personal guards for each of them. The rest of the troops would be put up in the hostel, while Haradeth and Lorathor were heading out into the woods to begin preparations.
Once they had secured rooms, Tythel and Eupheme went to theirs, and Tythel flopped on the bed with a loud sigh. “It has been so long since I’d slept on anything soft!” Tythel said, an honest exclamation that also seemed like it fit the character of a spoiled merchant’s daughter.
Eupheme crossed her legs and sat one of the chairs, grinning as she did. “Don’t get too excited. We’re only here until your father sells his wares, then we’re on to the next town.”
“Let me have this, please,” Tythel groaned as she sat up. They both knew that they’d only get a few hours of sleep. Trying to hide in plain sight for a full day would be pushing their luck too much, just begging for someone to catch them in the act of destroying the factory. If they could have, they would have made camp somewhere until nightfall, but reaching the town so close to sundown it was decided that the risk of discovery was too high if they had camped. Safer to risk sleeping in the town for a least a bit.
Tythel agreed with the decision, and the fact that it meant a meal that wasn’t fish and a bed that wasn’t dirt or sand was all the better in her estimation. She hadn’t thought living in a dragon’s lair would make her soft, but the weeks on the road and then in the undersea base had worn on her more than she’d realized. It also helped her relax enough to focus on smaller things. “I don’t understand why fornication is so funny,” she said to Eupheme.
Eupheme froze, except for her forehead, which furrowed. On Nicandros, Tythel would think the expression would mean confusion, and she hoped that was what she was getting from Eupheme. “I…if I may ask, why do you mention it?”
Tythel rolled over to face Eupheme fully and recounted her confusion and misused phrase from earlier. By the time she was finished, the young Umbrist had stuffed her knuckles into her mouth to try and hold back laughter. “So you think it is hilarious too. I thought it might be a male thing. Light and shadow, how do people reproduce if the mere mention of sex triggers laughter!”
Eupheme cleared her throat a few times to get her amusement under control. “In character,” she said, her voice pitched low to make sure only Tythel could hear it. In that same low voice, Eupheme continued, “it’s taboo to speak of, your highness. It’s funny because it’s a violation of that taboo, and because you were…well, you were essentially propositioning Armin.”
A slight pause and then Eupheme cleared her throat, and a bit louder said “I think you should rely less on your knowledge of books to guide you. It’s often far more complicated in reality than the stories portray.”
Tythel could only sigh. It made some sense, and she couldn’t ask more questions right now. Or any question she really had, to be honest. Even casual conversation with Eupheme would be impossible right now, since they’d have to play their roles the entire time. “I think I’ll spend some time reading, if-” Tythe caught herself. If she employed Eupheme, she wouldn’t be asking her if it was alright.
Eupheme gave her a small nod of approval, and stood up, “If you’d like, I can go and fetch some dinner for you.”
Before Tythel could answer, her stomach did for her, a low growl that made her blush. “If you woul-” Tythel sighed. Manners were going to be a challenge. At least we don’t have to do this for long. “Thank you,” she said.
Eupheme nodded and left Tythel to her reading. Dinner was roast beef, and Tythel and Eupheme devoured it together. “You don’t want to take it with the others?” Tythel asked
“Oh no,” Eupheme responded after swallowing the bite she’d been working on. “I prefer to avoid crowds when at all possible, so the fact that you want to eat in private is a welcome change of pace.”
“Well, then I’m happy to provide it,” Tythel said, blinking. “Although you seem fairly comfortable around Armin and Ossman and the rest.”
“Being able to seem comfortable with something and liking it are two very different things.” Eupheme took another bite of her food and then pitched her voice low again, “do you think most people who live in towns like this like the Alohym, your highness? Bardstown was so known for their musicians that rulers the world over requested them. Now they’re known as the place that has the factory that makes crawlers. Do you think they like that, or are just versed in seeming comfortable with it?”
Again, Eupheme paused to let Tythel think, and then said louder, “after all, you seem comfortable with sums and figures, but I know how much you hate those.”
Tythel smiled and laughed, as she thought a merchant’s daughter would. If her attempt to smile bothered Eupheme, it didn’t show on her face, and Tythel felt a surge of gratitude for that. “Sometime, Eupheme, you’re going to tell me more about you,” Tythel said, as quietly as she could manage.
“Your highness, I am whoever I need to be.” Eupheme said with a smile. Something about that smile struck Tythel as more enigmatic than most were to her eyes.
After they ate, Eupheme went straight to sleep. Tythel’s mind was to busy for that, and pulled out Karjon’s notes instead.
“Hey dad,” she said, her voice so low that even if Eupheme was awake, she’d hear nothing. “Sorry I didn’t talk yesterday, it was a…well, I had to get straight to sleep. Early morning. And I don’t have long tonight. We’re getting up early. I’ll tell you about it later.” Tythel sniffed, and wiped her nose. “I think you’d be proud of what’s about to happen. It’s like something out of the Phaedor Cycle, when the Order of the Radiant first started to cast off the rule of…” she choked out a small, bitter laugh. “You know the story.”
She wanted to say more, thought she should say more, but it was harder tonight. Maybe it was because she was so worried about Eupheme overhearing. Instead of continuing, she opened the notebook to the last page she had read.
It was harder to read, too. This part of his notes had been written for her specifically, and it felt like talking to him again, more than it ever had before.
A dragon’s fire is born of two things, their magic, and their emotions. You have emotions,
strong ones. Enough where you’ve been able to create some flame, after being near my magic so long. Now that you are in part a dragon yourself, you will have magic of your own, and it should come much more naturally. Ghostflame, however, will be orders more difficult. Every dragon learns from birth to harness their emotions into flame and shape it with their magic, but you are coming to it older, more mature, your emotions already shaped without the flame.
You’ll need to learn to harness those emotions in a way you never have before. Ghostflame is not possible with the raw, unfettered emotions that fuel Dragonflame. This will require the strength of passion, the fire of anger, the brightness of joy, the intensity of grief – but focused to a fine point, not running rampant across…
“You thought you might die,” Tythel muttered, her eyes wandering back to the word grief on the page, “or you wanted to make sure I was ready if you did. Why didn’t you tell me? Or were you waiting – did you think you had more time?” The grief started to well up again, and she was about to fight it down – then stopped herself. It was there, it was part of her. If she wanted to master this, she didn’t need to push down the emotion. It was right there – she need to focus it.
She spent another hour practicing, and she did not manage ghostflame that night. What she id manage was to make herself exhausted and wracked from delving so deeply into her pain, and by the time was done she was too tired to even cry anymore. She did her best to take comfort in the fact that she’d gotten the dragonflame brighter than she’d managed before, even getting flecks of blue at the edges of the flames.
All that was left to do was hope nothing tomorrow depended on it.