When Tythel had been young, an aeromane had moved into Karjon’s territory. Aeromanes were one of the few predators that would dare try hunting in a dragon’s territory, their four wings and large eyes giving them superior mobility and the ability to escape the larger and more intelligent dragons, their green fur hiding them well from the air. However, few regions had enough wildlife to support both an aeromane and a dragon, and Karjon’s territory had been no different. After a year of managing to evade Karjon, the aeromane had depleted most of the of the local wildlife. Karjon could just fly further to get new prey, but the aeromane had become desperate in the later days of its life. Desperate and frantically hungry – so much so it had attempted to attack Karjon’s lair after picking up Tythel’s scent.
Tythel never forgot the hungry, haunted look in the creatures eyes before Karjon had managed to slay it. She never forgot its panicked desperation, the frantic need that had clawed at it so strongly it had risked diving into a dragon’s lair.
In Nicandros’ eyes, she saw a twisted refection of the look in the eyes of that starving aeromane. “You…you know how he died?” Nicandros asked, his voice hoarse.
The look in his eyes frightened her so much, Tythel could only nod.
“Tell me,” Nicandros whispered. Tythel felt her resolve draining. Why did I decide to speak with him? Wouldn’t it have been better to not put him through this? At her silence, Nicandros’ hand lashed out and grabbed her by the arm, squeezing. “Tell me!” Not a request, but a demand.
“He was…he was part of the group that came to attack us,” Tythel said, forcing the words out. She had to lick her lips. When had her throat gotten so dry? “It…he was in imperiplate. One of the soldiers in the sky.”
Nicandros’ grip didn’t soften. If anything, it grew tighter, so much that it was even starting to hurt a bit. “What. Happened.” Nicandros spat the words through clenched teeth.
“They were firing on him, Nicandros! On my father! I had…I’d just undergone my change. I threw dragonflame. I hit one in the foot, disrupted his unlight. He…he fell.”
Nicandros didn’t let go of her arm. “If he fell,” Nicandros hissed, “if he dropped like you said, how do you know it was Thomah!” He was shouting now.
Tythel couldn’t look him in the eyes. “He survived the fall. I found him in the woods. We fought. He mentioned his name when we did.”
Nicandros just stood there, and finally Tythel couldn’t ignore the grip on her arm anymore. “Nicandros…you’re hurting me.”
The words were soft, quiet things. They got through to Nicandros, who unclenched his hands. “I…” He swallowed hard. “I guess I can…I mean, it was in the heat of the moment. He…he attacked you.” Nicandros was sweating, and moved his hand up to wipe his brow. “You were acting in…you were protecting yourself.”
He opened his mouth to say more, but saw Tythel’s expression, saw her nictitating membranes flashing to fight back tears. Whatever he had been about to say died on his lips. “Right?” he whispered.
Tythel shook her head. “I found him in the crater he’d made when he landed. When he woke up, he thought I was…some sort of traveler. I didn’t ask. He was confused, disoriented. His plate had been shattered by the fall. I,” Tythel fought back a sob as she saw the look in Nicandros’ face. “I was so angry! I’d just watched Karjon die! I didn’t know he was your son, I didn’t even know you!”
“What did you do?” Nicandros asked, but it wasn’t angry this time, it wasn’t demanding. It was the most forlorn thing she’d ever heard come out of another beings mouth in her life, like he was standing at a great distance. It was like he was hollow, empty.
“I attacked him, Nicandros. I started the fight. I…that’s where I got my hammer. And my shield. After I…” Tythel took a deep breath. She couldn’t go on, she couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Say it.” The dangerous, desperate edge was back in Nicandros’ voice. “You did it, girl. You did it and now you don’t get to be a coward. Say it!”
“I used my flame!” Tythel shouted. “He’d helped kill my father and I killed him. Shadow forsake me, I burned him alive!”
Nicandros reeled back. For a moment, Tythel thought it had been too much for him. That she’d broken something in the older man, and he’d keel over dead right there. He certainly looked halfway to a corpse. His eyes were sunken, his skill pallid. “I thought…I thought he died in one of their border skirmishes,” Nicandros said in a harsh whisper. “It was the only reason I could think of for refusing to tell me. But…of course they wouldn’t tell me, wouldn’t give me the body. Dragonflame leaves marks, and dragons were supposed to be extinct.” He looked up at her again. “It was you. You murdered my son.”
Tears stopped as fear replaced them, and Tythel backed away from Nicandros. “Please, put the sword down,” she asked.
Nicandros looked at it. He seemed surprised to find the unlight blade in his hand. Seeing the weapon made Tythel feel sick, reminding her of the blade that had sliced her in the barracks. “That’s right. This can hurt you, can’t it?” Nicandros asked, almost softly.
Then he sheathed the weapon. “I’m going.” He said, with finality. He started mounting one of the horses.
He cut her off. “No, Tythel. No. I came back to fight for one reason, and one reason only. I thought the Alohym had murdered my son. And now…I don’t know if I can stand the sight of you. I can’t stomach being around you. And I certainly, under no circumstances,” Nicandros raised his eyes to meet Tythel’s, and it seemed the desperation had finally settled on an emotion. Hatred. Tythel could read it in every line of his expression. Pure, unadulterated, loathing, “can work with you.”
Tythel didn’t fight back the sob this time. “You promised,” she cried, in desperation, “you promised I wouldn’t lose you.”
The look Nicandros gave her had something else besides hatred in it. Maybe it was sorrow. Or maybe it was just grief for his son’s murder. “I lied,” he whispered, and kicked the horse into motion.
He whirled and cut her off again with a snarl. “You’re dead to me, your highness. What could a dead woman possibly say?”
Tythel stepped back from the snap, shrinking. “Where will you go?” she asked, her voice quiet.
“None of your flathing business. I’ll go to Cardon and become a sellsword. I’ll go to Ryhmmeria and become a drunk. I’ll go to Shadow and rot and I swear on all I hold holy that if I see you again I’ll take you with me.”
Tythel couldn’t look at him anymore. She turned her head away. “He killed my father,” she said, quietly.
She could hear Nicandros spit. “You killed my son.”
When Tythel finally found the strength to look up, he was gone.