As soon as the door closed, the chains holding her in place opened as if they had received some command. Through her grief and tears, Tythel barely had the presence of mind to notice, let alone to move away from them. Instinct alone drove her, some small part of her brain raising a horrible image of those chains snaking up to lock themselves back in place. The one around her neck was still locked tight, keeping her from making it too far, but it gave her enough room to crawl over to the pile of hay and curl up into a ball to grieve her father all over again.
It was a terrible thing they were asking her to do, and it took what felt like an eternity before Tythel had managed to get the tears back under control, although she hadn’t still hadn’t reached a decision. As terrible as the price was, the idea of seeing her father again, having him whole and living…Light forgive me and Shadow take me, but it might be worth the price. She knew one thing for certain: she hated Rephylon for making the offer, for dangling her father in front of her like a carrot for a horse.
Those thoughts were driven away by the sound of Nicandros being shoved back into the cell adjacent to her, and Tythel scurried over to the opposite wall. “Nicandros! Are you alright?”
There was a long pause before Nicandros spoke, and for a moment Tythel imagined him sitting there, his tongue sliced out of his mouth, trying to speak but unable to conjure the words. Finally he did, his voice its usual gruff growl. “Yeah. I’m better than alright, it seems.”
Tythel tilted her head at that, for the moment glad Haradeth wasn’t there to frown at the motion. “What do you mean, better than alright?”
Nicandros sighed. “I lied earlier, girl. I was half dead, and was wondering if I’d finally be facing the Shadow’s embrace. They stuck me in some kind of tube. Sowed my guts back up, patched up every little injury, even knit my ribs back together. Probably so they can torture me better later, would be my guess.”
Tythel punched the wall in frustration, hard enough that it hurt her hand and put a miniscule fissure in the stone.
“What was that?” Nicandros asked, his voice sharp with worry.
“Damn you to Shadow, Nicandros. You don’t get to do that. Don’t you dare tell me you’ll be fine if you’re not. What if you hadn’t come back? What if you had died in the cell next to me?” She was nearly shrieking by the last word.
“Tythel…” he said, his voice soft, but she was having none of it.
“No, Nicandros. You promised you weren’t going anywhere. That includes to the Shadow. If I have to drag you out of its embrace, I will, even if you’re kicking and screaming the whole way! But I can’t do that unless I know how close you are, do you understand? I’m not losing anyone else!”
“Alright,” Nicandros said in that same soft tone, “Alright, I promise.”
“Good,” Tythel growled, her nictitating membranes still flashing to hold back the tears that had almost spilled forth. “I know why they healed you, though. And why our cells have such thin walls we can speak. I know exactly what they’re doing.”
“What is it, then?” Nicandros’ words were rushed, excited. She couldn’t blame him. The more they knew, the better the chance they might find a way out of this.
“To prove to me they could.” Tythel reached up to press her fingertips against the wall, wishing instead of flimsy nails she had a dragons claws, so she might score the stone the way Karjon had in times of extreme frustration.
There was silence before Nicandros spoke, and Tythel could practically see him giving her that deep frown and tapping his chin. “I don’t follow,” he said after he’d turned over her words enough.
“They promised to bring Karjon back from the Shadow, to return my father to me.” Tythel had to fight back the urge to sob out the words, wondering when she’d become so prone to tears at the slightest provocation. “They healed you like that to prove that they could. Make their offer more tempting.”
This time, Tythel couldn’t picture Nicandros’ face during the silence that followed. When he spoke, his voice was rougher than she’d ever heard before. “After what they patched me up from, I’d believe it,” he growled, “Light forsake them, but it seems possible. Bastards. Absolute bastards.”
Tythel nodded, even though he couldn’t see her, and then realized she might have misunderstood him. “For which part?” she asked.
“For making the offer!” Nicandros’ voice was louder than she’d heard it in casual conversation before, and his throat was raw with emotion. “For making the offer and for not-“ he himself off.
“And for not making the offer to you.” Tythel finished for him.
“Yeah, that.” Nicandros’ footsteps began to sound from the room next to her, that unique pattern she finally thought she had pinned, where the left step always landed just a bit heavier than the right, and the right foot would brush the ground for an instant before it actually settled onto to the ground. “If they could…well, if they offered, it’d be flathing hard to turn down.”
Tythel settled into a sitting position next to the wall. “Yeah, it would be.”
Nicandros’ footsteps abruptly stopped. “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you, girl?”
“I’m sorry.” Tythel buried her forehead against her knees. “Light damn me, but…can you understand at least?”
Nicandros paced back to the wall, and slid down to sit right behind her. If not for the wall, their backs would be touching. “I had a son,” he said, the soft tones returning to his voice.
Tythel didn’t say anything. It felt like a spell had been cast over the room, and any word might shatter the delicate spellwork like glass.
“He was a little older than you, by a couple years. Headstrong little brat sometimes. You would have liked him.” Tythel felt a smile form on her lips in spite of her despair. “I didn’t tell him about what I was doing when I was away from him and his mother, and his mother…well, she didn’t much like that I was still out fighting when there was a child who wanted his father. I tried explaining to her that I wanted to make sure our son had a better life, but she…” Nicandros chuckled, a sound filled with far more pain than mirth, “It doesn’t matter now, I guess. She died a couple years back. Crawler accident. I was all set to return home, but my son, he wanted to be a hero, and in keeping what I was doing from him, I accidentally sheltered him from the truth of what the Alohym were.”
She heard a meaty thump behind her, the sound of Nicandros driving his fist into his palm in frustration. “By the time I got back, he had enlisted. I gave up the fight as soon as I heard that. I couldn’t…could you imagine meeting your own kin on the field of battle? And with those damn helmets they wore, what if I…” Nicandros sighed. “I couldn’t risk it.”
“Of course not,” Tythel said, quietly.
“I was going to tell him when he got on leave. Was going to risk everything. Maybe he’d have seen the truth by then, or maybe…” To her mounting surprise, Tythel realized she could hear tears being wiped away from Nicandros’ face. “I never got the chance. He died serving the Light forsaken Alohym. They wouldn’t even give me his body for a proper burial! Wouldn’t even tell me what he had died fighting for! It was enough to get me back into the fight. Wasn’t more than a few days later that Freda called me about you.”
“I’m so sorry, Nicandros.” Tythel wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Thanks. But the point of all this, girl? I’d be tempted too. But think about this; you father, he hid you from the Alohym. He spent your entire life protecting you from them. Do you think he’d want to be alive, if it meant you were serving those damn things?”
Tythel sniffed and wiped her nose “No, I suppose not.”
“Then there’s your answer.” Nicandros said, and Tythel could hear him nod, the rustle of the cloth as he did. “Karjon wouldn’t want that for you, or for him.”
“It’s…” Tythel sighed. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I kind of hate you for it.” Realizing he couldn’t see her face, she quickly clarified, “Not really. I don’t actually hate you or anything. But…”
Nicandros chuckled. “I know exactly what you mean.” And then his next words came, and with them Tythel’s breathing stopped, her heart started pounding, and a she had to fight back a wave of nausea as terrible realization swept over her.
“I’d kind of hate you too if you talked me out of getting my Thomah back.”