Tythel found Armin below, showing one of the doctors how the device he’d used to purge Tythel of Unlight poisoning worked. “You need to be careful,” he was saying. “I got an abject lesson last night in what too much light can do to a man, and it’s worse than it use to be.”
The doctor nodded and Armin turned and saw Tythel, giving her a smile. “Ty-” he glanced around at the group of doctors and wounded soldiers. “Your highness,” he amended, slapping his fist to his chest.
Tythel opened her mouth to object to Armin’s use of the title, but remembered Haradeth’s words. “You need to learn to start acting like a princess.” Tythel gave Armin her best smile and hoped it wasn’t too unnerving. “Armin. I’m glad you made it through the battle.” She looked over the rest of the soldiers. “All of you.”
That got some smiles from the soldiers, so she didn’t think she’d done too poorly. “Might I have a word, your highness?” Armin asked. Tythel nodded, and let Armin lead her away. “You okay?” He asked.
“I’ll live,” she said with a happy blink. “You?”
Armin nodded. “Look, Eupheme and Ossman are outside. They’ll want to see you too. But…there’s a crowd, Tythel. People who want news about you.”
“What…what do I do?” The idea of facing a crowd was somehow more frightening.
“Say something inspiring, hold up your good hand, and then get out. Haradeth’s going to be waiting for you at the Mayor’s manor, there’s a Crawler waiting to take you there.”
Tythel took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this.”
“I know you can,” Armin said. He motioned like he was going to hug her, saw her bandages, and instead put a hand on her good shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Thank the light for that,” Tythel muttered, and headed to the door.
“Wait!” Armin said, stopping her short. He went over to one of the doctors and came back with a black eyepatch. “I heard about your eye. Figured this would look better.”
Tythel frowned. “How bad is it?”
“You haven’t seen it yet?” Armin asked.
“There weren’t any mirrors up there.”
“Oh.” Armin shrugged. “It’s gone a bit milky. Besides, the eyepatch is a bit more stylish. I’m sure if you think about it, there’s been some leader or another who wore an eyepatch, so there’s precedent.”
“Yuana Qui, Pirate Queen of the Umbral Isles,” Tythel said promptly, noticing Armin’s evasion and deciding not to press him on it. She was aware of the darkness in her vision, but held out a small hope that her continued transformations would eventually heal it. And if it doesn’t, it’s not like I need depth perception to bathe something in flame at close range, or whack it with a hammer, she through wryly before continuing. “She was known as the Scourge of Valaetia, and for thirty years raided their coasts. Although she wasn’t actually a pirate, but a Tsani privateer that had been hired by the Cardometh Empire to disrupt trade between members of the Valaetinian Confederation, something she did well until…” Tythel trailed off and tilted her head at Armin. “I lost you.”
“Sorry, Professor,” he said with a grin and a shrug. “I never studied history much. Now go. Your people are waiting for you.”
‘Crowd’ undersold the number of people waiting outside. It was overwhelming. They can’t all be for you, Tythel tried to console her self. Some have to be waiting for word on their loved ones.
Then the cheering started. Tythel let the sound wash over her, trying not to let panic set in, and then held up her arm. “We’ve won a great victory today!” Tythel said, recalling the speech Xiongnes had made on the steps of Llansire after they had repelled an invasion from Carthomere. “We’ve beaten back the Alohym, and proven them to be false gods. We’ve driven them from this city!”
That invited another wave of cheers. She waited it them to die down, her heart pounding. I hate this oh Light it’s worse than facing down Rephylon. She was suddenly glad for the eye patch, since it hid part of the crowd from her and the panicked look in that eye from them. Keep your voice steady, Tythel. Don’t quaver. Don’t throw up. “I tell you now, people of Dawnchester. The fight is not over. The fight may not be over for some times. But today we have proven that the fight is not lost! That we are not broken! We will fight until we are victorious, until we have reclaimed not just our cities, not just our kingdom, but until we have reclaimed our world! So stand tall, people of Dawnchester! Today, we have taken the first steps on a long journey, and we will still be standing tall at the end of this road!”
Another round of cheers. Tythel lowered her arm, knowing the speech had already been falling apart at the end. “Best to end it on a high note,” she muttered to Armin.
“Say that you have to go or something,” Armin said “but remind them the fight isn’t over.”
The cheering died down as Tythel agreed. “I must go for now. There’s much to do, much to prepare for. But I swear to you, so long as I draw breath, I will not stop fighting. As long as any one of you draw breath, our resistance stands strong. Never let that flame die out from within you, and never let memory of this victory fade!”
Tythel all but lunged into the crawler as the final round of cheers started.
Ossman and Eupheme were waiting inside. Ossman gave her a broad grin. “Didn’t think you’d get to go to this meeting without us, did you?”
Tythel laughed, drunk on relief from being away from the mass of people. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Good,” Eupheme said. “I’d hate to become cross with you.” She frowned with worry. “How do you feel?”
“The tea they gave me to numb the pain is still working. I’m not looking forward to when it wears off.” Tythel blinked with amusement. “If that happens during the meeting, would one of you please distract everyone until I can get more? I don’t know how useful I’ll be groaning in pain.”
“Don’t worry,” Ossman said. “I’m certain Armin will do something stupid to draw their attention.”
“Hey!” Armin objected. “That’s hardly fair. I’ll do something intentionally stupid to draw their attention.”
Eupheme snorted. “There’s many things I believe about you doing stupid things, Armin. Premeditation isn’t one of them.”
“Of course not. I meditate afterwards, to reflect on what I did.”
We did it. Tythel thought to herself with a grin as Ossman and Eupheme groned. She rolled her eyes as she, settled back into her seat. Now, she thought, letting her friends banter, now this feels like a victory.
She wished Karjon was there to share in the triumph. She wished Nicandros hadn’t gone to…wherever he had gone. She wished she’d escaped the fight with injures she was certain would heal, and she wished she had more confidence in her ability to defeat an Alohym in a fight again.
For now, however, she pushed those thoughts aside. For now, for the first time since this had started, Tythel allowed herself happiness untainted by fear or grief or uncertainty.
It was, after all, what Karjon would have wanted for her.
End of Book 1. Series resumes September 25th.