Dawn crept over Hillsdale like a thief, slipping into the window and robbing Tythel of a beautiful dream where she was in Karjon’s lair with her father and Eupheme and Tellias and Armin and Ossman, and he was telling her that Nicandros had gotten sweetrolls. Then the lair had turned into a palace and she was sitting on a throne, but it was also Karjon’s horde, and she’d had her own horde of books – somehow recovered from the drowned library of Golmanni. She knew that because a fish was telling her.
The beauty had started to decrease the more logic started to intrude.
“Good morning,” Eupheme said brightly as Tythel stirred.
Tythel groaned. “Do you ever sleep? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep.”
“I sleep,” Eupheme said. “I just only do it when you aren’t in danger. Or potential danger. Or there is a possibility of danger. No matter how remote.”
Tythel forced herself up. The ache between her wings was less, and Tythel wanted to try to stretch them. As if Eupheme had read her mind, her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. “There’s always a remote possibility of danger,” Tythel murmured, shaking her head to try and clear it. “So when do you sleep?”
“Between moments,” Eupheme said.
“I don’t know what that means,” Tythel said.
Eupheme smiled. “I know. Now, Otis stopped by. The tailor is willing to work on the unique request, discreetly. There’s a small question that still needs answering. Color.”
Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed, clearing the last blur of sleep. “I’m sorry, but…color? Does that really matter all that much right now?”
“Well…” Eupheme hesitated, and Tythel motioned for her to go ahead as she settled into a sitting position. Eupheme moved behind her with a brush and began to work on Tythel’s hair. “You have the right to the royal colors. Purple, black, and gold. It would suit you well, I think, and it would send a clear message you are claiming your heritage.”
Tythel frowned in thought. The idea of wearing something so bright to a battlefield was a serious concern, not to mention the audacity of wearing the royal colors when she hadn’t even made a real claim to the throne. It was a step she needed to take, sending her formal claim to the various nobel houses. Assuming Duke d’Monchy hadn’t done that already. No, he can’t. He needs the locket to seal it properly. So that was something she had to do, and it felt wrong to do so before she’d made an official statement. And then…that would be that. She’d officially have declared her intention to rule once the Alohym were defeated.
“Your hair,” Eupheme said, breaking Tythel’s train of thought.
“What about it?”
“It changed. It’s…coarser. And…well, feel for yourself.”
Eupheme bought some of her hair around, and Tythel ran her hands through it. There were far fewer strands than before, and each one was significantly thicker than it had been. It was like running her hand through thin copper wires. “It’s like scales,” Tythel said after a moment. “I was wondering like that. Hair isn’t something dragons and humans share in common. I guess this is the next closest thing. I figured either this would happen, or it would fall out. Still might, I suppose.”
“You don’t seem bothered by that.”
Tythel shrugged. “Hair is something humans have. I’ve gotten used to it, and it doesn’t bother me enough to cut it off, but I won’t mind if it’s gone.”
“You are a strange woman.” Eupheme said, and Tythel could hear the smile in her voice. “So…the colors?”
“I’m not sure.” Tythel explained her earlier thoughts about claiming the color too soon.
“Then we could have it made for when you make the claim.” Eupheme said. There was an edge to her voice, one Tythel couldn’t quite place.
“Is something bothering you?”
“Tythel. You’re my friend. I’m here for you and I’m fighting in this resistance. But you’re also my princess and will be queen one day. So far, though, you haven’t done much in that regard. Anything, if I’m being blunt, aside from that one statement in the aftermath of killing Rephylon. I know you’re hesitating on this, but after what Otis told you right now…we need you to be what you are. We need to know there is something after the Alohym are driven back, that we aren’t just going to replace them with more chaos. More riots and death. You can be that symbol.”
“I’m not certain about that,” Tythel said. “I’m…not good at being human. I can’t smile and wave without the expression looking fake. I can’t read people, to try to figure out what’s going on beneath the surface. The only time I’ve ever led anything, the first time it was a raid that ended with everyone getting captured and us barely escaping. The second time Tellias ended up…ended up like that.” Tythel gestured in the direction of Tellias’ bed. It was hidden by a curtain, for privacy, but with her hearing Tythel could hear the faint rasping of his labored breaths.
“What happened to Tellias wasn’t your fault,” Eupheme said.
“Wasn’t it, though?” Tythel asked. “He was there because he was following me. I should have sent him to rejoin with the resistance.”
“And then you and I would be dead. Or do you think we could have handled the three of them alone?”
Tythel shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. But that’s not the point. I didn’t think about the danger I was putting you both in. I was just focused on ending the threat. That’s been me since I started this. Everything I’ve done…I haven’t thought about the consequences. And look where it’s gotten us! Nicandros serves the Alohym. Tellias is in a limbo between life and death. Armin and Ossman went off to a dangerous swamp because I was too afraid of giving up my father’s horde. What right do I have to lead anything?”
Eupheme continued to work the brush through the coarse strands of Tythel’s hair. She was silent for several seconds. “You’re aware of it,” Eupheme said. “You’re aware of it, and you regret it. You’ll do better in the future.”
“And if I don’t?” Tythel said, feeling very small.
“Then I’ll convince you to use your position to create a new government. Abdicate your throne after this is all done, once stability is restored. But right now, we just need a symbol. We can figure the rest of it out later. But with that symbol, we hope. And hope is in very short supply.”
“Promise me,” Tythel said. “Promise me that if I won’t be right, you’ll tell me. Promise me you won’t let me become…I’ve studied history, Eupheme. I know what bad rulers can cause. Even ones that aren’t malicious. Incompetent rulers cause famines, wars. They make plagues worse. They watch their people riot and end up in civil wars and they don’t even understand how it happened. Promise me that you won’t let me become that.”
“That’s the final tasks of the Umbrists,” Eupheme said. “I promise.”
Tythel didn’t need to wipe her eyes. The transformation had taken care of that. Her nicitating membranes were still needed to take care of the burning. “Thank you. Then…I suppose one in the royal colors would be good. The rest should be in practical colors, though. I’m not going into a battlefield dressed like a flower. Browns and greens that will hide me, thank you very much.”
“I’ll get two in the right colors. Just in case.”
It was nice to hear that the smile was back in Eupheme’s voice.