Armin slammed open the door to the room he was sharing with Ossman. The larger man jumped at Armin’s sudden entrance. “I take it the council meeting didn’t go well?” Ossman asked.
“It was a Light-Blasted success,” Armin growled, going over to the chest of books at the end of his bed. “We have Marketta’s support, even if she was flathing smug about it, and we’re getting ready to make a run at the Vacuity Engine. Everything’s going flathing swimmingly. It’s like a Shadow damned party.”
“Okay,” Ossman said, carefully drawing out the word to make it abundantly clear the level of disbelief he was sitting on at the moment, “So…why are you acting like you want to set this entire keep on fire, preferably before you let anyone out.”
“Tythel,” Armin growled, slamming the book he’d brought to the meeting on top of the pile. The bag of golden dragon eggs was at the bottom of the crate, in a hollowed out copy of Herespon’s Accounts of Imports and Exports in the Late Cardomethi Empire, Volume III, a book so dry and dull that not even Tythel would want to open it out of curiosity. Four hundred pages of “Then the Empire traded to the Kingdom of Cohalt thirty silver talents for three thousand bronze swords, which the Cohalti accepted. Then the Empire traded to the Nations of the Breach eighteen silver talents for two thousand pounds of beef, which the Breachers accepted. Then the Empire traded the three thousand bronze swords and two thousand pounds of beef to the Lost Legion in exchange for Three Years Service, which the Legion accepted.” On and on.
Of course the pages were safely preserved, and the hollowed out part was just blank pages. He was keeping an important secret from a friend, but Tythel could forgive him for that if he told her soon enough. Destroying a historical document? She’d probably set him on fire.
“Ah,” Ossman said, when Armin didn’t elaborate. “So you’re angry because she…what, exactly?”
“You know why,” Armin said, not looking up from the box.
“Actually, I don’t.” Ossman sat up. “You’ve been furious at her, but every time we’ve tried to talk about it you’ve sputtered into incoherent rage. Which, incidentally, tells me you’re probably not in the best frame of mind to talk with her. Which, need I remind you, I told you before you went to that meeting.”
Armin slammed the lid of the chest shut. “We went to that lair because she told us we’d find gold there. There was another route for her to get gold that wasn’t nearly as dangerous. Clarcia and Guiart died because of her lie.”
“Right,” Ossman said, leaning forward and resting his head on his thumbs. “Like I said. Incoherent rage.”
Armin turned to Ossman, feeling the anger welling up in his chest again. “I was perfectly coherent there,” he growled.
“Oh, you said coherent words. But you didn’t make a coherent case.” Ossman shook his head and sighed. “Armin. Think about it. She had no way of knowing what would happen.”
“It still is…I mean…” Armin snarled. “Damnit to Shadow, Ossman, if not for her lie Clarcia and Guiart would still be here.”
“And you wouldn’t know how to translate Theognis’ text. And we’d only have one dragon’s horde, not two.” Ossman held up a hand to forestall Armin’s objection. “Some of the servants were talking about the load of treasure Tythel and Eupheme arrived with. It was easy to put the pieces together.”
“But-” Armin started to say.
Ossman shook his head. “I don’t know what happened in there. And I’m not saying Tythel is blameless. You are right that lying to us was wrong, and she should have told us everything so we could have made an informed decision. But that doesn’t justify your anger. It doesn’t justify half of what you said in there.”
“You have no idea what I said in there.”
Ossman shrugged. “If you gave her half the vitriol you have shown me, what you said wasn’t justified.”
“You don’t get it,” Armin said. “You turned down all your chances to lead. You don’t want it. And that’s fine. But I was given command, and I can only be as good a leader as the information I have.”
“Mmm.” Ossman held up a hand. “Okay, indulge me for a second. Let’s say she had given you complete information. What would you have done differently?”
“I would have…” Armin’s objection died on his lips. He hadn’t really given it any thought. “I don’t know. But it could have made a difference. We might not have even been there in the first place.”
“Maybe. So you hate her now?”
Armin sighed. “No. I…I don’t know. I’m just so angry.”
Ossman stood up and walked over, putting a heavy hand on Armin’s shoulder. “Look at me,” Ossman said.
Armin looked up into Ossman’s eyes. Ossman had always towered over Armin, but something in his face now…it was the first time Armin had ever felt small next to his friend. “What?” Armin asked quietly.
“Are you angry at her? Or are you blaming someone else for the deaths that happened, because you don’t want to blame yourself.”
Ossman was a big man, and most of that size was in muscles. Armin was a scholar who was in good shape. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ossman didn’t even flinch when Armin punched him in the chest with all of his might, but it did. Armin shoved off his hand. “Go flath a rusty sword.”
Ossman pursed his lips, but didn’t say anything about the punch or the insult. “When you’re ready to admit that’s the real problem, I’ll be here. We have too much history together. But you and Tythel don’t have that history, and she’s been burned badly recently. Don’t expect her to wait for you to get your shit together.”
“It’s…” Armin turned towards the wall, trying to hide the furious tears that were blurring his vision. “She’s not perfect. She did lie to us.”
“Yes,” Ossman said, his voice holding that unique gentleness of the supremely strong. “She did. And that is a problem. But if she had told us the truth…Theognis still would have arrived behind us. Clarcia and Guiart would have still died. And do you know who’s falt that would have been then?”
Armin whirled back to Ossman, ready to defend himself, but Ossman didn’t hesitate before continuing.
“Theognis. It would have been his fault. Same as it is now. Stop blaming Tythel when you were the one in charge, and when you do stop blaming her, don’t blame yourself for not seeing the future either.”
Armin’s anger died, and he turned back to the crate. Ossman went back to his bed and sat back down, grabbing a book to give Armin time to process his fury.
“I’m a jerk,” Armin said.
“Yes,” Ossman said, turning a page.
“No, I mean…I said some really ugly things to Tythel.”
“Yes,” Ossman said, going to the next page.
“You don’t understand, I told her-”
Ossman didn’t look up from his book, just held up a finger. “You want to tell me because you want me to absolve you of what you said. I won’t, because I can’t. If you want absolution, you’re only going to get it from the person you wronged.”
Armin winced. “If I talk to her now, I might say something I regret.”
“Then grow up, figure out how to not, and talk to her when you have.” Ossman turned another page, not even looking at Armin.
Armin wanted to vent further, but before he could, there was a knock on the door. “Lumcaster Armin?” said a voice from outside.
Armin hopped off the bed and went to the door. “What is it?” he asked the messenger outside.
“Someone was caught trying to break into the Keep. Said he has to speak to the Princess. We couldn’t find her or the Duke, so you were next. Sir…it’s an Underfolk.”
“I thought they were all hiding underground,” Armin said, then his brain caught up with his mouth. “Wait. Is this the same one from…”
“Isn’t saying, sir. Just says he needs to talk to the princess.”
Armin nodded to the man. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. For now, I want a dozen guards on him. No, make it two. If this is the same one who battled Nicandros to a standstill, we don’t know what he’s capable of.”
His issues with Tythel and his decision about the eggs would have to wait. War didn’t pause for any man’s fury. Least of all the fury of those who nominally lead.