(Amaris and Sion working together. Tag teaming. Finding and learning to trust new friends.)
“Slow.” Amaris shuffled her feet with such caution she hardly moved.
“I know, alright.” Sion’s voice bordered a shout.
Amaris rolled her eyes. She had warned Sion to walk at a child’s pace at least five times, that she remembere. But no hesitance would be wasted, they needed steady, well-placed steps, or Waylen would be in a worse state. They neared the tree line which had seemed closer before half Waylen’s body weight, at least if not more, bore down on Amaris’s arms. Sion did well supporting his share of Waylen’s heavy form. Amaris hugged Waylen to her chest, keeping as even a balance as she could. Sion had placed his grip around Waylen’s hips and let her feet dangle, this way he could better carry the weight, since Amaris insisted on cradling her friend’s head while they moved her.
Aside from her one dramatic episode, Waylen showed no signs of consciousness, so Sion convinced Amaris they should move away from the battle scene. And the open road. Amaris had to agree, of course, but moving Waylen was delicate work. Amaris could not have comprehended Waylen’s healthy, firm physique being as heavy as she now found it to be.
“How far are we going?” Sion asked as he and Amaris began maneuvering sticks and forest rubble.
“I don’t know,” Amaris curled in her lips and scanned for a level space. “I don’t want her to wake while we have her in our arms. If she jumps, or startles at all . . .”
“I understand. So?”
“Let’s set her under there,” Amaris tossed up her head, hoping Sion would understand her instructions. If they both started off in different directions, it would set Waylen’s possible healing back the two full days she had been tended to. “The one with the one low branch around back, but none in front.” Amaris did not care where they settled Waylen so long as there was shelter.
“I see it.”
They dodged bumps for a few more yards and then both knelt down together. Amaris slid her hand out from under Waylen’s head. She sighed, “putting down a blanket first would have been a good thought.”
“We are not thinking, just managing.”
Sion retreated to camp and came back with Waylen’s cape, which he rolled up and set under her head, and the blankets she’d been given which were laid over her again.
“I need my things.” Amaris looked at Sion with the charge she did not want to repeat anymore.
“Then go and get them.” Sion crossed his arms across his chest. Amaris moaned, and obeyed. She shoved her medicines, knife, and scattered possessions into her satchel, though they overflowed the top like dough which had risen too much. She scooped up her sword, swung her quiver over her shoulder, her cape over her arm, and grabbed her bow. If anything else remained, it wasn’t important enough to remember. She balanced her spilling bag with the top of her hand which held her bow she almost wanted to drop and be done with it. She could drop it all in just a second. She looked up from her pile and saw Sion leaning over Waylen. He sat close to her, and slid his hand out of hers when Amaris’s racket distracted him. What was this?
“Is something wrong?” Sion asked.
Everything. Amaris shook her head and found a spot near Waylen to drop her possessions. Sion looked at her over his shoulder. “Please, tell me you cleaned your sword.”
“Of course.” Amaris pushed the hair out of her face. “I do not appreciate your insults.”
Sion shrugged. “Just wondering. What with your overseeing Waylen’s every breath, hardly sleeping, touching food your food like it would give you the plague, how am I to know you took the precious time to clean the gore from your blade.”
Amaris covered her mouth at the reminder of the battle.
“Sorry. My intention was not to make you sick.”
Amaris swallowed and removed her hand. “No, no it was not.”
Sion mumbled and shook his head.
“You have things you need, as well. Go get them.”
Sion smiled smugly. “As you wish.” Amaris did not miss Sion’s fingers brushing against Waylen’s as he stood.
“And Sion, would you please locate Adreaga and Briair?”
Sion did not turn to look at Amaris. “You could not have done that, right?”
Amaris slipped back into her position beside Waylen. When Sion came back, the twins trailing behind him, she told Sion his assistance was not needed.
“Well yours is, with all due respect. None of us are on speaking terms with the dragon.”
“Emirrol,” Amaris corrected.
“Exactly my point. If he is going to continue guarding our injured, oughtn’t you discuss it with him first?”
Amaris glared. “One does not simply have a conversation with a dragon. Come, let me show you.” Amaris brushed past Sion.
“Now Amaris, use your senses.”
“Fine, stay with her.”
“That’s what I had planned.” Sion mumbled.
Amaris did find a way to not only request but also secure the continued guard from Emirrol. He seemed willing, and she felt obligated to spend certain time with the creature each day in gratitude for his help. Indeed, she and her company could not have stayed anywhere near the ambush site without such vigilant protection. It was especially important to stay put because even if Fleecel could ride fast with two riders — as she may well have need should pursuit break out with both Amaris and Waylen on her back — Briair’s horse would likely be slowed. Sion’s horse had perished in the fight, leaving Briair’s stallion their best horse aside from Amaris’s. Illuma’s horse they had found fallen, with slashed legs, answering why she had fallen behind when the company fled.
Amaris gave a small effort to appear happy for Emirrol’s sake, but could sense he knew she was ill at ease. All she wanted was to return to Waylen, but instead she tried to trust Sion while she entertained their most important guest. Sion would at least fetch her, she hoped, if the need arose, if Waylen stirred. Amaris directed her attention to the dragon once more. She wished he could come closer to where they had moved Waylen, but Emirrol could not get his large torso and broad back between the trees without tearing one out. Instead, he seemed in agreement to stay watch as well as he could through three layers of trees. Amaris hoped he would take drastic measures to reach them if necessary. When they did continue toward the city, Amaris planned to ask Emirrol to watch them from the sky, because they had no choice but staying within sight of the road; Waylen could guide them no further.
Sion did not surrender his spot to Amaris when she returned. She crossed her arms and loathed his using Emirrol to try and separate her from Waylen. It would not work. Amaris sat on the other side of Waylen.
“You are not needed here.”
“What did you say?”
“You need sleep,” Sion said. “I am not sure how you have not fallen down already.”
“I slept after the battle.”
“You were passed out from smoke!”
Amaris glared. “She needs me.”
“I can keep watch over a sleeping woman as well as you.”
Amaris did not like the sound of Sion watching Waylen, and almost said so. “Sleeping? If only she could claim such a tranquil state.”
“I can check for fever, keep her comfortable, and should anything beyond my knowledge arise, I will fetch you.”
“No.” Amaris felt hot tears stinging her eyes. “I am not leaving her.”
“And if I think she is ready to pass,” Sion’s voice softened. “You will know.”
Amaris denied herself the ability to cry, and choked on the effort, before she started blubbering.
“Come here.” Sion held out his hand.
“Why? She is the nearest to family you have. I know that.”
Amaris bit her finger, convinced she needed no comfort. She could not afford it. But before she could solidify her resolve, Sion moved to where she sat and pulled her toward himself. Her weak frame collapsed against Sion. She pounded his chest and screamed into him. “This is my fault!” Sion did not deny her claim, and she recanted her decision to fight to stay strong. Sion kept Amaris upright while she sobbed. Since when could this boy handle her sorrow? Yet when she finished crying, each part of her quivering, her eyes burned, and her throat sore— surely she had attracted Adreaga and Briair’s attention as well— Sion seemed calm, well composed, and ready to keep going. Amaris had to push against Sion’s frame to even sit up. Sion placed his hand behind her back, but Amaris pushed it down.
She leaned over and kissed Waylen on the cheek, Sion’s hand grasped her arm, probably afraid she would fall on the injured. Amaris pulled back and turned to Sion. “Anything happens, I have to know.”
“You have my word on it, Amaris.”
After a shaky breath, she exhaled and forced herself to leave. Using Sion’s shoulder as a crutch, Amaris managed to stand. She situated herself far from Waylen and rolled into her cape, and then everything faded.
“Now she is mine, Sion.” Enough sleep is enough.
“It may be your time to watch over her, but I do not think Waylen belongs to anyone.” Sion did not move.
Amaris settled beside Sion. “You can leave us; go rest or something.”
“Yes, I can.” Sion put his hands over his knees, but did not otherwise move.
What, now he wanted to help Waylen? Or was he only helping himself. Sion’s sudden change in behavior toward Amaris’s friend unnerved her. “If she were awake, you would be as far away as possible.”
Sion chuckled. “If only . . . perhaps. Would that not be a wonderful challenge to face, finding a way to get along?”
“It took her sacrifice for you to see what I have told you of her all this time?”
Sion bit his lip, Amaris felt sure she wanted to hear his thoughts on this topic.
“Sorry, is your tongue stuck on something?”
“Same thing that has your manners in a cage.” Sion stood.
“You hated her last week.”
“Amaris, I never hated that woman, but she deserves to live.”
“Of course, but—”
“And I owe you no explanations.” Sion’s eyes dropped to Waylen’s pale face before he left Amaris alone.
Amaris could have woken Sion. He would have watched Waylen and Amaris could have slept. But she already struggled to keep her sobs quiet. She didn’t want Sion seeing her in a teary mess. Amaris needed solitude. Each time she looked at Waylen, she felt the sharp pain in her chest which had become habitual overnight, and had to bite her lip to stay silent. Amaris cupped her hands around over her mouth, trembling in the chilly night. Her eyes drooped, but she knew they would never close, not until someone else sat beside Waylen. Sion was awake, and giving Amarisher space. Eventually though Amaris felt his hand on her shoulder, such a warm palm. Her eyelids dropped, and she forced them open, before they started sliding closed again.
“Are you ready to sleep now?”
“Not really, but I will.” Amaris laid down beside Waylen.
“Leave to somewhere you will not be waked.”
Amaris closed her eyes.
“At least move to her good side in case—”
“You would have to wake me anyway.” Amaris said, eyes still closed.
Sion sighed, but Amaris felt a warm blanket drop over her. “You trying to burn her? You were cold, she was not. Maybe you would do better to tend to yourself next time.”
Amaris did not answer. After some time, she scooted farther from Waylen. At the rate of her tossing to even try and rest, she might hurt Waylen while sleeping. She looked up and stared at the towering trees under a hazy sky. Grey, damp, and quiet.
“You look sick.”
Amaris ignored Sion.
“Try for real sleep, or we will be taking care of you.”
“She looks sick.” Amaris glanced at Waylen.
Nothing should be about her anymore. Could protecting the last valuable Tempth wait, fade for a while so Waylen could take precedence?
“If you could look at yourself . . .”
Amaris fixated on Sion. “I would what?”
Sion moaned. “Not listen to me.”
“Exactly.” No one besides Amaris had the medicinal knowledge necessary to sustain Waylen. She told herself so every time she considered leaving Waylen’s side, and such thoughts complicated simple sleep, but she did lose consciousness. She stirred once and rolled onto her elbows, ready to wake, although her head felt heavy, and her eyes still blurred. Then she slid down again, and slept sounder than before. Evening arrived before Amaris felt rested enough to remain awake. She teetered to sitting position. She blinked for several minutes, until Sion handed her tea. She mumbled thanks and took a sip. She did not recognize the flavor.
Sion nodded, and Amaris noticed he watched her close.
“If you drugged me, there will be hell to pay.”
Sion smirked. “If only I had the means.” He put the back of his palm to Amaris’s forehead. She slapped his hand.
“Making sure you are not burning out our best resource.”
“Not my intention.” Sion sounded flat. He fetched food for Amaris and asked if she could take any of her own medicines. Amaris ignored Sion’s fretting and began examining Waylen, trying to think of a change she could make to the woman’s care. Nothing improved. Amaris decided she would start applying any combination of medicines she could, and found her satchel dropped beside her before she could fetch it. She thanked Sion, and started her new method. With Sion’s assistance, Amaris changed Waylen’s bandages, leaving a cleaner wound packed with three different medicines. She even crumbled some small yellow petals into Waylen’s mouth to dissolve.
“Now what should I put in your food when you are not looking?” Sion asked.
Amaris smiled as she finished putting things away. “I know every taste, you would fail. Besides, I assure you I am in perfect health.”
Sion seemed dissatisfied. “I told you, you look sick.”
“Let that alone.” Amaris would know if she had fallen ill. Sion did not appear himself, either, and Amaris had not even set eyes on Adreaga and Briair all day. If they went home without her knowing, she would wish them well. Doubtful.
Sion stayed near Waylen, and said nothing more. At length Amaris assured Sion of her full consciousness, but had no response. “You don’t have to stand guard over her.”
“And you don’t have to watch her die alone.” Sion said.
“Who told you she is dying? I am the only doctor here, and I have declared nothing of the like.”
“You never would, even if you knew it to be true.”
“If this is not death, how can she be so tortured? She can barely breathe, Amaris.”
“There is no good in debating her health.”
“She has none.”
“If I believe that is true, I cannot take care of her.”
“Do not lie to yourself, her passing will only be worsened.”
“Touching that you care about my emotional state. But I will live.”
“Sure you will. The rest of us,” he shrugged, “we will find a way to manage without her.”
Amaris opened her mouth, ready to yell, but Sion’s eyes were glassed over. “Wait.” Amaris dropped her head into her palm. She had tried ignoring this. “How long have you . . .” Amaris found no speech to finish her question, and Sion turned his face aside. “Sion, do you care about Waylen . . . more than I—”
“Realized? Would allow? Every wanted to notice?” Sion did not look at Amaris.
Amaris sighed. “I cannot have been so horrid as that.”
“No. I was. She is your friend, I know you want her protected.”
“Is that the reason for your vigilance?”
Sion set his jaw, and turned farther from Amaris. “I care more deeply than I thought. Be content with that.”
Sion had said more to Amaris in the one phrase than she thought a paragraph of explanation would have supplied. Amaris narrowed her eyes. “Tell me if she needs me.” She stood.
“Wait! I do not think I can stay awake . . .” Sion fumbled for more words, but said nothing else.
Amaris nodded. “Rest, then.”
Sion nodded. He seemed stiff, insistent perhaps on holding in tears Amaris had never noticed before. She wondered if their absence or her ignorance had concealed them.
“If she does wake up,” doubt surfaced in Sion’s tone.
“Adreaga or Briair will get you if I can find them.”
“I will give you better help.”
“I know you will.”
“And . . .” Now the red veins in Sion’s eyes seemed obvious. “I can say nothing else.” Sion made himself obscure. A while later he returned to where Amaris could see him, and laid down. Perhaps Amaris had not been the only one to lay down and fight off sleep. After a full week of sleepless shifts watching the sick woman, Amaris and Sion needed more than basic rest, and got less than that. She shook the tired out of her head and turned to Waylen. Perhaps if she did not recover, Sion and Amaris still could.
Waylen’s knuckles turned white, and Amaris felt nervous about the woman’s strain. Waylen had scrunched her eyes shut and clamped her teeth for twenty minutes while Amaris tried to subdue the pain. She watched Waylen squirm, and press her head against the ground until her shoulder hovered inches above the earth which Amaris knew irritated the wound. Waylen complained every minute of the burning, and begged Amaris to make it stop. Amaris could do nothing but press a small pile of herbs into the regrowing skin where Waylen’s shoulder had gaped open the week before, so she bandaged the wound again and tried to settle Waylen.
“Struggling will not help,” Amaris set her hand on Waylen’s perspiring face. Waylen’s eyes shot open and she grabbed Amaris’s arm. Her loose strength worried Amaris.
“Get me out of this place!”
Why did she ask, demand, removal every time she woke in an agonizing spell? “We are safe. We will protect you, dear. Please rest.”
Waylen’s scream would have attracted everyone in camp had she not already captured their attention. Everyone wanted to help Amaris, but after Waylen’s third episode, only Sion hovered, and he said nothing. Amaris attempted to sooth Waylen until the woman passed out again.
“At least she drank something this time.”
Amaris nodded. “This is draining, Sion.”
“I know.” Sion rubbed his hand over Amaris’s back.
“I cannot tell if she is delirious, recovering, or getting worse.”
“Perhaps she has found a way to do all those things.”
Amaris sighed. “For now, she is not dead. That is all I know.”
“Let us hope it lasts.”
Amaris knew in her gut that nothing was ending soon. She could try and sleep off each episode before the next occurred. If Waylen’s waking continued to increase, Amaris felt sure her own strength would fail to keep up with the Manori.
“Amaris, please, she needs you.”
Amaris struggled to pull herself into full consciousness. “I know.” But her muscles felk limp with exhaustion, and her eyes slipped closed again. Adreaga shook her into consciousness again. “Get Sion,” Amaris shoved the girl away.
“He is with her already,” Adreaga cried. The girl only reacted well to stress when she kept her mouth closed.
“Fine.” Amaris pushed herself up and forced her vision into focus, and meandered toward Waylen.“What is it, Sion?” Amaris asked while rubbing her eyes of sleep that had not settled.
“Amaris!” Waylen screamed.
Amaris dropped to her knees and grabbed Waylen’s hand, jolting into alertness. “I am here.” Amaris tried to not scold herself for hesitating in going to Waylen. Sion sighed the moment Amaris took his place.
“How long has she been like this?”
“I tried to calm her.”
“Come here,” Waylen’s feeble voice silenced the others as she reached for Amaris’s face.
Amaris bowed a little closer. Waylen pulled at Amaris’s hair until the latter laid beside her. Waylen’s eyes searched Amaris. “Do not leave me.” Waylen tried to wrap her arm around Amaris, but failed. Amaris held Waylen’s face to her own. “Be safe, Amaris. Please.” Then Waylen’s eyes closed, and she breathed lighter. Amaris laid for a minute next to Waylen, and then tried to sit up as the blood slowed in her veins. Sion lifted her, and Amaris leaned against him, silent for a few minutes until she could find her tongue.
“She is worried about me.” Amaris almost laughed. “Ridiculous.”
“It is her nature, Amaris. That is what she does; protect. She almost died doing so, and I doubt she can get back to living without the same.”
“Well that had better change, because she needs our watchful eyes, not the other way around.”
“I agree.” Sion nodded, quiet for a moment. “Go back to sleep.”
Amaris could not argue. Sion fetched a blanket and set a place for Amaris near enough Waylen that the one could watch the other sleep. Amaris recovered enough strength this way to pay attention to Waylen again. She lost count of how many times her friend awoke disoriented or in a painful rage. As Waylen grew stronger Amaris found herself always arguing the neurotic woman into a semblance of sanity. Waylen wanted to leave, she wanted her sword, she wanted safety she already had. She wanted control that Amaris would never give her. Waylen struggled to lift her head, but she wanted a weapon, and even said she would ride a horse if they could move on, as if she walking or shifting were a viable alternative. Amaris wanted to tie her friend’s hands down and drug her to sleep. If only she had the resources and heart to do such.
“Sion!” Amaris waited with impatience. She ignored Waylen’s claims and pleas. Never before could she have thought to harm Waylen in such a state. Anyone would be safe from her fury behind such sickness. Not now. Amaris held Waylen’s arm and looked at the eyes cried dry and still tearing. “I am sorry,” Amaris said, her soft voice spurring the breakdown she fought against. Waylen, even sad and hurting as she was, seemed to understand. Amaris met Sion half way to his reaching Waylen.
“Watch Waylen.”. Amaris left camp and hid behind the trees where she slid to the forest floor and watched as greens and browns blurred together into a dark puddle. She prayed in silence that Waylen might be wrong. But the woman spoke with clarity this time, without painful screams and sobs. Waylen had worded her explanation with precision, so Amaris believe her.
He story? Illuma, after being trapped and left behind, had, in the short time Amaris took returning, thrown in her lot with the enemy. She fought against Waylen and then stabbed her when the latter refused to fight the Alaquendi. Then she fled, leaving Waylen to bleed unconscious.
Amaris tried to imagine her mentor, her friend, her very motivation for waking up in the mornings over a decade’s time, turning her over to the enemy. She could not fathom Illuma doing this thing, and nor could she picture her friend thrusting a sword through Waylen. The image sent a stab of pain through Amaris. She grabbed her stomach and started sobbing. Waylen’s fits of fear made sense now, because the enemy might return, and with more damaging effects, since they had located Amaris Tempth, the most vital target. Amaris sobbed herself to a headache and lay shivering on the ground while she waited for death to wash over her. Meanwhile, her few remaining allies sat vulnerable, waiting for their injured to heal with a dragon keeping watch for a devastating blow which might destroy him and annihilate Amaris’s small band of brave misfortunes.
Sion, who always seemed to remember Amaris, visited her for a brief enough moment to return with a blanket. After laying it over her, he sat beside Amaris and rubbed her arm. The tender touch squeezed out emotion Amaris wanted to stop. “I cannot justify grieving her after her actions.” But Amaris wept still.
“I can think of nothing more fitting than your tears for that woman.”
Sion’s soft tone butchered Amaris’s pathetic defense and she cried again. Illuma gone, destroyed by wrath or betrayal, Amaris could see no hope in her venture, no reason to save Waylen, no purpose to do anything but disband the others and walk alone into the South where she could be slaughtered properly, without dragging others down with her.
“I know she did not deserve that.” Sion said.
“Which one?” Amaris tried to not laugh in pain at the irony.
Amaris closed her eyes tight and cried until she passed out. She awoke alone, and began worrying for Waylen. Sion had to have left her for a reason. She had no more time to grieve her loss.