“So are you going to say anything?”
Tythel didn’t mean to snap when she asked the questions, but she couldn’t help it. Leaving the meeting of the council had her on edge, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that Eupheme was judging her.
If the outburst startled Eupheme, it didn’t show. “Something on your mind, your highness?”
They’d both been silent since leaving the meeting, weaving between the broken stones that were all that remained of Hallith. Eupheme had claimed what seemed to be the upper floors of an inn for their quarters, although for all Tythel knew it was actually a manor of some Hallithian noble, or barracks for some particularly high ranking soldiers. Whatever it had been, it was close to the Reliquary, and only had one room that remained intact enough to sleep in. Perfect for the two of them.
“You know what’s on my mind,” Tythel said, moderating her tone. “I’m sorry I snapped.”
Eupheme shrugged off the apology. “Difficult choices breed anger. It’s natural.”
“Surely you have some thoughts on it, though,” Tythel said as they walked through the doorway of their temporary home. “You’re not made of stone.”
Eupheme smiled, a smile Tythel couldn’t parse. Shadow take me, I wish I’d learned facial expressions sometimes. “No, your highness, I’m not. However…when you spoke of the hoard before, it had a reverence I didn’t understand.”
Tythel sighed. “Eupheme, I’m not sure how to take that.”
“Can I be blunt?”
“Please,” Tythel said as they took seats on the bundles of cloth that served as beds.
“Alright. If you were a human, raised by humans, I’d think you were a selfish bitch.”
Tythel let out a huff of air in shock. “Well, I did ask for blunt.”
Eupheme nodded. “But you’re not fully human, and you weren’t raised by humans. There are differences between the way you see things and the way I do. Often I think it’s one of your strengths. It would be hypocritical of me to judge you only when it goes against what I think is right.”
Tythel sighed, flopping on her back onto the blankets. “So you think it’s wrong.”
“Yes. But I also don’t think I fully understand the significance. As far as I can see, it’s a collection of treasure and coins. It seems like it’s more than that to you.” Eupheme laid down on her stomach, propping her head up on her arms.
“It’s so much more than that,” Tythel said with another sigh. “It’s…I’m not sure how to explain.” Tythel turned to face Eupheme. “Let me ask you something. If it would help defeat the Alohym, would you eat a handful of live centipedes?”
Eupheme made a face. She’d confided her fear of the creatures during one of their late night talks, when Tythel had complained Eupheme seemed too fearless. “No. I mean, I would try, but I know I’d fail. And I can’t imagine how it would.”
“I can’t see how it would either. But…the idea of plundering my father’s hoard for…for material gain?” It was Tythel’s turn to make a disgusted face. “Even for the good of the world, it’s appalling.”
Eupheme frowned. “I can understand, I think. But…what do dragons do with their hoards?”
“It’s a hoard,” Tythel said. Eupheme looked at her blankly, and Tythel groped for the right words. “It’s just…it’s a hoard. You don’t…do anything with it. You hoard. You have your parent’s hordes, and you divide it among siblings if you have any. Then you add your own treasure to it, and then…and then you have it. A part of your parents you keep with you, and you grow it and care for it and pass it along to your children.”
Eupheme regarded her for a long moment. “It’s like a garden,” she said finally.
Tythel snapped her fingers. “Yes. Exactly like a garden.”
“If it was a garden, then, let me ask you something. If someone came to your garden, starving to death, would you deny them fruit from it?”
Tythel closed her eyes slowly, showing how deeply the question hurt her. From the way Eupheme winced, Tythel thought she understood. “It’s different. Fruit in a garden will regrow on its own.”
“Yes, it will. But if the city was starving, would you let them eat all the fruit, even though it meant you could not plant any more trees?”
Tythel put her face into the cloth in frustration. “I guess it’s not like a garden,” she muttered. “The analogy doesn’t work.”
“It doesn’t? Or you don’t like the analogy because it makes you uncomfortable?”
Tythel sat up fully. “Because it makes me uncomfortable, okay?”
“At least you admit it.” Eupheme said, rising to sit herself. She was frowning as she did. “I wish things had been done properly,” she muttered.
Tythel cocked her head in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Your books had little about my order, didn’t they?” Eupheme asked.
“What did they say?”
Tythel was failing to see the relevance to their conversation, but went ahead regardless. “They said you served Royal families. That you were guards against assassins and assassins yourself. Little else in terms of the general.”
Eupheme nodded. “We work hard to keep out of the books. Most authors don’t spend time describing the shadows cast by the figures they follow, and that is what we are.”
Tythel took a moment to regard her own shadow. It flickered in the torch they used for light, dancing on the cloth and stone. “Then…tell me what I need to know.”
“If things had been done properly, I would have been raised alongside you. Myself and at least three others, girls around our age. We would have been like sisters to you, although also not your equal. We would have spent our childhood learning your habits, your whims. The hope is you would have chosen one of us to adopt as a true sister in all but inheritance, your closest companion with whom you share your every thoughts.”
Tythel leaned down to rest her arms on her knees and her head in her hands. “That’s how it always was?”
“Always. It means you have an advisor you can trust implicitly, one who is even more trustworthy than your own siblings would have been, since she never would have a claim to the throne so no reason to betray you. And I – she – would have had a lifetime learning your moods, your thoughts, to the point where she could read your intent without you saying a word.”
“That sound wonderful,” Tythel said. “To have someone who knows you that well.”
Eupheme nodded. “It also would have meant I could have understood where you were coming from with this, Tythel. But I don’t. The wealth in Karjon’s hoard could fund the resistance for months, at least, and the books could be the key for cracking the cipher. I don’t understand how you can keep that to yourself.”
Tythel let out a low, tired breath and looked down at her feet. “It’s…it’s like making blades from his bones, shields from his scales. It’s like desecrating his grave.” She could feel her nictitating membranes wiping away the tears that were forming. “I don’t know of any other way to explain it.”
There was silence for so long, Tythel wondered if Eupheme had slipped away. Finally, the other woman spoke. “I suppose I can understand that.” Eupheme came over and put an arm around Tythel’s shoulder. “I won’t press you on it again. I just want to ask one thing. If he were alive, do you think Karjon would hesitate to spend that entire treasure to keep you safe?”
Tythel opened her mouth to speak, but the sound turned into a sob. She buried her head in Eupheme’s shoulder, and Eupheme held her and let her cry. “How many times do I have lose him?” Tythel choked out. “First to the Alohym, then the egg, and now his hoard…how many times do I have to say goodbye to my father?”
Eupheme didn’t answer her at first, just held her and ran her hand through Tythel’s hair and letting her cry. “Don’t think of it at losing him,” Eupheme said gently. “Think of it as letting him still help you. I wish I had known him so I could say this with certainty, but from what you’ve told me…don’t you think he would have wanted that?”
Tythel gave Eupheme a grateful series of blinks. “Yes. He would have.” She pulled away from Eupheme and wiped her eyes. “Light and shadow, I’m a mess. I hardly seem like a princess or a dragon, do I? Just a whiny girl.”
Eupheme smiled. “Your highness, if things had been done properly, my duty would have been to be the person you could whine to.”
“Well…guess you get to do that anyway.”
Eupheme laughed. “It is my honor to be able to do so.”
Tythel wiped her eyes again, knowing they would be red and raw but feeling as if a great weight had been lifted.. “Thank you, Eupheme.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll do it. Tomorrow. First thing tomorrow, I’ll offer it as an alternative.”
Eupheme smiled. “Wonderful. And what, then, shall we do with tonight? More mournful staring off the walls?”
Tythel did laugh now, and shook her head. “No, not that. I think tonight I’ll spend among the others.”
Eupheme nodded in approval, and the two women headed to find what trouble Armin had gotten himself up to, or see if Ossman was able to step away from his duties. They would drink, and dance, and have altogether a wonderful time.
None of them had any way of knowing it would be the last chance they had time together for quite some time.