Blurry half reality is what Amaris now knew. Pulled between awake and unconscious, she lost distinction for which came closer to waking. In opening her eyes and feeling the pain bleed through the burning sensations in her flesh, she only collapsed or screamed violently. She didn’t want healing, only death. But she could not allot that reward, not after destroying so many. She owed life more than this; she could do better.
“She is not recovering. How long will you keep a dying woman in your house, diffusing your resources, and breaking your child’s heart in watching her slip? When I get the slightest stability into her health a fever spikes, she swoons, she screams, or she . . .”
“Stop!” Amaris shouted into the dim room. “Please,” tears filled with fear at hearing the heartless tones in the woman’s words. “I do not want to die.” Amaris’s eyes focused just enough to see a figure step slowly closer. “I cannot die. Not because of . . .” Amaris gasped, unable to sit up, air left her lungs each time she inhaled. And then more darkness took her.
In and out of surreal pain, new feelings of tight skin over her wounds, Amaris thought this must be the process of healing. Her body regrew what had been taken, restoring resources as slow as a fresh sapling tree. Whether days, months, or weeks passed she could not tell. Time ceased to matter, only surviving momentary misery to pass forward into multiplied agony occupied Amaris’s attention. She could feel hands at work on her messy body, pulling together parts of flesh, and sometimes ripping them open again. Queer tastes, none of her medicines, pouring into her mouth. Her fingers lost strength after scraping and pulling at the bedding. Her face numbed from wincing, gritting her teeth made her mouth capable of little, and her chest hurt from having to breathe. The dim light punished her eyes. And she stopped fighting. Fate had outmatched her. The little life in a dying Alaquendi had nothing with which to compete against the vast void stretching around her. It would swallow her, of this one thing she felt certain.
By some miracle, or curse, Amaris resurfaced from the ocean of illness, just to the point of conversation. And little time passed before her benevolent hosts wanted answers. The questions Amaris had forgotten during her injuries and withstanding their affect on her. She rubbed head, or she tried. The resulting gentle slide of her fingers did not satisfy the irritation. She could not think well enough to concoct a facade, but she needed one. Fast, because these people wanted an explanation.
The story as told to Amaris, progressed from this family finding her collapsed unconscious and bloodied near their home. No resources, and no clue as to how long she had laid there. They drug her inside, cleaned her wounds, and sent for the physician who had been to the house several times a day for the last seventeen days. The doctor, the woman whom Amaris recalled pleading permission to abandon the cause of saving a dying woman, listened with arms crossed as the father of the house relayed the story. Amaris felt sure she had exhausted this family’s resources, and likely their patience also. She had to produce a story of her own. But the truth burning pain in her heart, the loss of her life, her friends, her destiny. . . Ached too deep to recall even for her own purposes. Those words of truth would get her exiled from these people’s good graces anyway. She could not survive, and for the first time in decades, Amaris did not want to die.
“I cannot tell you.”
Amaris received no silence before multiple voices rose in the firelight, and she passed out. By the time she waked, the family had cleared the room, leaving only the unwilling but faithful doctor alone with her. Amaris’s eyes fluttered open and closed several times before she sustained vision. The long blond hair falling out of the wrap around the face that looked down at Amaris caught the firelight, turning it almost gold. Almost. Amaris tried to grasp her own hair to view it, and failed, her hand dropping off the bed. The woman leaned down and lifted the fallen hand onto Amaris’s chest. Her eyes had enough green to fill a pasture, or for the bold color to frighten Amaris. The woman crossed her arms and pulled back from Amaris and looked her over. “You owe these good people more than an explanation.”
Amaris swallowed, and parted her lips, but nothing followed.
Amaris tilted her head from side to side. Then the woman grabbed Amaris’s arm and leaned close. “I have been a physician and seen horrendous wounds before. You do them a disservice to pretend you received a beating and abandonment. You came to seek shelter in this city. What you run from, does it chase you?”
Amaris saw the black soldiers before her, their presence in her mind swallowed her calm, and tears broke loose.
“That fear,” the woman released Amaris and shook her head. “You cannot be trusted.”
“I am not the one to fear,” Amaris heard her voice quiver, and felt unconvincing.
“Your feud though, if it comes here these people will perish for your sake. For that I will turn you out on the streets.”
“Please do not do this.” Amaris wailed.
“Shhhh,” the woman covered Amaris’s mouth, and the latter choked, spluttering, but did not lift a hand against the woman. She nodded, and the fingers loosed their grip on her.
“What can I do?” Amaris asked.
“Leave as soon as you are well enough. And come up with a good lie to tell them if you will refuse them the dignity of what happened to you. What you did.”
Amaris sighed. She could do this. Maybe.
Amaris explained to the family that she, Femina, had been robbed outside the city while returning to her home in the North. She had been to the city for trade, but had all her profits taken. The family seemed to believe the story, but a man and woman whispered behind the other five people who listened to Amaris’s claim — Amaris had yet to see the child of whom the doctor claimed to be defending by deposing of her. With words of sympathy spoken to Amaris, the room emptied again, but the people Amaris now understood to be the house’s mother and eldest son, remained with the doctor.
“What of this?”
The woman held out a glowing flat orb, alive with crimson shades. Amaris gasped. Her hand flew over her collar bone, but nothing sat where the broach should be.
“Anyone worth their name as a thief would have taken that.” The man crossed his arms across his chest. “It looks as though someone did not care for your jewelry.”
“The most costly item you had on your person, unless you are a rich woman indeed,” the woman stepped in front of her son, shaking the broach at Amaris. “Now you tell your story again, and speak truth, or I will keep this as payment for your silence.”
Amaris smothered a defiant wail before it could escape her lips. She closed her eyes. Helpless against a child in her diminished state, Amaris had to face three adults who held her life and hope in their hands.
“Please, I do not want you to get hurt,” Amaris’s fatigued eyes opened, but her vision blurred. She blinked free of a tear, and saw the disgust against her. “Trust me, I —”
“Why? You trust us, not the reverse. For saving your life,” the doctor’s eyes glinted in the firelight, “you owe more than half truths. Which is not befitting any Alaquendi warrior.”
Amaris’s lip quivered. “How would you know that?”
“None of us have the capacity to shed our dying energy into shimmering hair.”
Amaris lifted her hair before her eyes, and could not help but stare. Only a few burgundy streaks remained. What was keeping her alive? Her voice dimmed to a whisper. “How long did you say I have been here?”
“I am dying.” Amaris’s hand felt like it held iron, so she dropped the golden hair and rested her arm.
“Then do not let your tale die with you.” The mother stepped close and sat on the side of Amaris’s bed.
“Everything will be safer for you if you believe what I said.”
“All lies though,” the man’s voice rose.
“Shhh,” the quiet sound trickled from Amaris’s lips. “I can tell you,” Amaris sighed, she thought of where she could start, what could be left out, what necessary details she would divulge. And then nothing.
Nothing hurt . . . For a moment. Piece by piece the puzzle of pain rebuilt itself in Amaris’s conscious. Blood pounded in her head like surf against the Southern land crags. Arms too stiff to move. She recalled telling Waylen such side effects would ware off, and so relaxed about her inability to move anything besides fingers from shoulders down. The flesh on her side seemed peeling apart while pulling at her internal organs, and her underutilized legs felt board stiff. The physician inside her told her healing hurt, and had begun to flush through her.
“Do not bother talking,” the doctor set a cold rag on Amaris’s forehead as she spoke. “I am tiring of recovering you from swoons into deep fits of unconscious.
“I apologize.” Amaris’s voice sounded like it belonged to her, a familiarity so long in coming that it discomforted her. “I know the weariness you feel.”
The doctor smirked, the first such expression Amaris had seen from the woman. “Loathing your lies, for which I am sure there is a reason, does nothing to alleviate my concerns for your recovery. I pity your state, dear.”
Amaris sighed, “I am sorry for withholding the cause of my condition.”
The doctor nodded, patting Amaris’s hand. “We will keep the militant reasons you are so sick between us until you are well enough to speak with the family about it. And, in honesty, you need never tell them, but I will require an explanation to settle my concerns for their, and my, safety.”
Amaris bit her lip, unsettled by the green eyes set on her.
“Later.” The woman’s silence burdened Amaris, but the doctor broke it after a few long moments. “For now,” her tone rose out of its former depths as she continued. “Tell me how you are doing.”
Amaris huffed. “You are treating me, you must know better than I.”
“Fair point.” The doctor nodded. “Who helped you bind the wound before you arrived? I cannot understand why they would leave you in such unfit condition . . .” The woman shook her head, “but they did. Still, I am curious.”
Amaris shut her eyes before rolling them. “You seem already to know of my self-administering aid.” She looked at the woman. “I did a botched job at best.”
“Yes,” the woman admitted, “but with superior medicine to be sure.”
“That I will grant you.”
“Then, from one physician to another, tell me how you are faring, because I am missing something to turning your health.”
The two women then spoke of Amaris’s bodily harms, what might expedite her healing, and what could be restraining it. Although Amaris could do nothing for the ailing soul within her, burdened by guilt from condemning her company. She touched vulnerability enough to give out her first name, and the doctor, Tracy, did the same. Amaris learned that she had slipped in and out of fevered states, and that her wound had sprung open three times, revealing an inability to maintain a blood clot. Unless she had been poisoned by BG, Amaris did not understand this dilemma. She had for years been dependent on LunaMaya sap to congeal her blood, and perhaps did not notice a condition causing failure for her body to do so on its own. She had little advice to give Tracy, but explained the —hopefully temporary— paralysis, the headache (which had already been assumed,) and other minor aches and pains. When at last Amaris and Tracy had helped each other as much as they could, Amaris began to feel herself fading again.
Her hand felt cold though, and she tried to move it beneath the covers, then realized something almost sharp, and bulbous in her grip. She slid her thumb over it, and her heart leapt, then calm washed over her. They had returned the broach. Perhaps these people could be trusted more than she had hoped. A good person made Amaris wonder about motives for helping. She kept her unsureness to herself, and held the broach as tight as her sore fingers could manage. Tracy provided food for Amaris to eat, with a few herbal mixtures on the side. Amaris made herself consume the portion before falling asleep. After that Amaris began waking on a more regular schedule. Even getting to converse with different family members in her moments of functioning. Tracy limited these interactions so Amaris could rest. The more she rested, the less she needed excess sleep, and within a week she could sit for short periods of time. By two weeks time, Amaris wanted nothing but to leave.
She promised the family a generous funding for their difficulties after she secured her resources. She had learned days before of Fleecel’s being taken by the citadel guard when they found the mare watching over Amaris. They left the woman to her demise, and captured the prized beast. When Amaris reached the citadel, she found Fleecel’s docility had earned her a pleasant enough stay. The animal’s excitement at seeing her mistress disturbed the stable hand who had intended only to let Amaris see the beast, and did not want to lose the mare. The excitement drew the king to the stables, being absorbed with no matters of state. Amaris wasted few words in her rebuke of his majesty’s mistreatment of her, and his endorsing her near demise. In a few short statements the king knew of Amaris’s near death, and then the guards leaving her to rot on the streets while saving the animal, esteemed at a higher worth than her.
Desperation to leave allowed Amaris to demand a purse for her departure. Then she left behind the city which had housed her ailing form. Hoping to find a more secure shelter in the north. She may as well face her people; she had scorched every other path with danger bought with failure. At least she could live a while in the highlands, even if it meant only further surrender of her cause.