Tythel woke up to a thousand little pains that were swimming in a deeper sea of ache.
She barely remembered Eupheme leading her to the Inn that was rapidly being converted into a makeshift hospital for the wounded. The memory of being bandaged was lost in a haze of pain. Someone had given her something to drink afterwards, and she’d fallen into a dreamless sleep.
She remembered waking up once. Haveron, the sour-faced doctor from the camp, was there, standing over her, talking to someone she couldn’t see. “We could save the eye, but it’s beyond surgery. We’d have to risk using light-”
And more and more and more and more… The sight of those terrible mutants flashed through her mind, and Tythel found the strength to reach out and grab his wrist, causing exclamations of surprise. Haveron winced as Tythel tried to speak. Her tongue felt like it was a dry cloth, and she could only manage to shake her head. “Your highness, I want you to understand, once the eye heals it will be beyond even the light to restore your sight. The nerves were severed. That will never repair itself naturally.”
Tythel shook her head again, as firmly as she could manage.
“I understand. Rest then. We won’t go against your wishes.”
Relieved, Tythel slipped back into that dreamless sleep.
Now it was morning. The Inn was full of the sounds of the wounded and quiet bustling. The doctors were gone.
“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Haradeth said. He was leaning against the window and looking out over the city.
“The others?” Tythel asked, her throat raw from medication and flame.
“Alive,” Haradeth answered. “Much of their army broke when Rephylon’s death reached them. A few defected or surrendered, more fled. I guess they were terrified of whatever could kill a god. The remainder fought throughout the night. There’s still some pockets of fighting. Theognis is holed up in the old castle, but he’s not risking trying to break out. The city is ours.”
Tythel’s eyes widened. “We’ve…managed to claim a city?”
Haradeth nodded. “We can’t keep it. The Alohym main force will be here by tomorrow. We need to be long gone when they get here – we can’t hold out against that.”
Tythel nodded glumly. We’ve accomplished nothing. We’ve gotten ourselves right back to where we were at the start of that, and we call this a victory?
“No, don’t do that.” Haradeth’s voice was a snap. “We won, Tythel. For the first time in sixteen years, we faced the Alohym in battle and actually won. This is going to galvanize the resistance. Many of the former prisoners are staying with us. Soldiers wearing full imperiplate have defected. We have control of some of the Alohym’s greatest weapons, and when we get them to our Lumcasters, they can find ways to recreate it without unlight. And word is spreading – the Alohym are not immortal, they can be killed. This is a triumph!”
Tythel was shocked by the passion in his voice. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to discount-”
Haradeth chuckled. “Don’t apologize. You’ve only been doing this for a few weeks, you can’t be expected to see the bigger picture yet. And…you need to learn to start acting like a Princess.”
Tythel flushed. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Rumor has already started that you died after killing Rephylon and we’re hiding it. We need you to meet with some civic leaders, to appear to the crowd and wave.” Haradeth shrugged. “We need to prove to people we still have the woman that can kill an Alohym.”
“I don’t know if I can do it again,” Tythel said quietly. “I barely did this time. It only worked because Rephylon was arrogant, talking to me, letting me get in attacks. I would have died if Rephylon wasn’t playing me.”
“Don’t tell anyone that,” Haradeth said in an urgent hiss. “Don’t you dare tell anyone else that it was luck. Right now people have hope. You can’t take that from them.”
Tythel leaned back, startled by the intensity of his warning. “If they follow me thinking I can reliably kill Alohym, they could die.”
“The Alohym will be hesitant to fight you again. They don’t know it’s luck either. Tythel, we have a chance to win this. But right now, much as I hate it, it hinges on the belief that you can kill these monsters.”
“If I can’t, how can we win?”
“Theogines’ notes.” Haradeth patted his pocket. “Theognis knew where the Vacuity Engine was. We need to finish breaking the code, but once we do…we can find it. We can win. But right now, the only flathing way we’re going to do that is if we hold on to the myth of the princess the Alohym fear.”
“I don’t like it,” Tythel said. “I’ve seen what secrets do when they come out.”
“Some secrets have to be kept,” Haradeth growled.
Tythel pursed her lips, then nodded. “I’ll not share.” In that moment, Tythel felt the same animosity towards Haradeth he’d displayed towards her. Even though he was right, it sickened her to keep more secrets from her friends. It’s not his fault, she reminded herself.
“What did I do? Why do you…I don’t know. Dislike me? Hate me? ” The words were out of Tythel’s mouth before she could think it through.
Haradeth seemed surprised, but recovered quickly. “I suppose that’s a fair question. Honestly? You’re an angry child who wants to use our resistance – the people I care about, the people who are fighting for the good of this whole world – to pursue your own personal revenge. You don’t care about the people, just some individuals, and if we win those people are going to want to put you on the throne. I shudder to think of what you’ll do there.” Haradeth held up a hand before Tythel could object. “Don’t…don’t argue with me about it.”
Tythel glared at him. “I’m supposed to just accept you calling me a selfish monster?”
“No.” Haradeth said with a shake of his head. “You’re supposed to prove me wrong. Words won’t do that.”
Tythel’s glower deepened. “How am I supposed to prove it? Anything I do you’ll assume is because i want-”
Haradeth shrugged. “Maybe you can’t. It doesn’t matter, anyway.”
“How could that possibly not matter?”
“Because,” Haradeth said, “we’re using you too. We’ll never stop being useful for your revenge, and you’ll never stop being useful to our resistance. We have a term for that in nature – symbiosis. Like the birds that clean the teeth of a crocodile, even though it could devour them in a single bite.”
“And which one is which?” Tythel asked.
That got a grim smile out of Haradeth. “I suppose we’ll find out.” He stood up abruptly. “A couple healers are going to be along soon, They’ll give you some herbs to help you past the worst of the pain. We need you to be busy today, because we’re leaving with the dusk.”
“Okay.” Tythel still fumed from Haradeth’s accusations, but she didn’t have to like him to work with him. As he turned to leave, she spoke up. “Haradeth, was there any word of…did anyone else show up to the battle? That we weren’t expecting?”
Haradeth paused and turned back to look at her. “No. He didn’t show up, Tythel. I never imagined he would. He no longer could find his vengeance with us.” Haradeth studied her with an unreadable expression. “I see why you two got along so well,” he said after a moment.
With that, Haradeth left.
Tythel felt the grief and anger well up within her, and forced them aside as best she could. You killed an Alohym. The resistance won. This is a time to celebrate, not stew.
There would be time for that later. For now, the doctors were arriving, and she had her medicine to take.
Then it was time to be what everyone wanted her to be.