Eris tried to attend to her own task and not grimace at every heavy step or every snapped branch. True, they were only scrubbing pots, or clothes, or gathering fresh water, but did they have to make so much Lios-be-damned noise?!
She glared up from her red raw hands and the tunic in them. One of the lad’s by the size. Certainly not Nem’s, who stood nearby the stream, towering over all of the scurring boys, and Eris. She slapped the tunic on a rock as she watched them all at work, noticing Jayk also watching the lads from his own washing work by the water nearby, crouching as well.
“They’ll get better at the wood’s ways.” He said, no doubt noticing her frowning.
Eris tried not to mutter small curses. Between Pierson, Sarai and Callia they should have learnt some of the ways by now, but still there were twenty-four extra feet with them on their path, twenty-four extra chances to make noise. It probably irked Eris more than the adults, being both nearer to their age, and still quieter than them even with the wyrd foot that made her step clumsier than she’d been before. Unconsciously she shifted in her crouch, flexing the ankle of her left foot, feeling but not feeling the lattice pushing against the thick mud by the water.
She felt Jayk’s eyes on her again. On her foot. She met his dull grey eyes with her sharp green ones, and he looked away. Pouting she stared on, making him feel uncomfortable this time. He was older than her, a three or four year more, his face pockmarked with scars under a long grey shag of hair. The hair was common amongst all the lads they’d saved from the road, but the scars weren’t. Bluntly Eris asked about it. “Was that from the retch-fever?”
He reddened, the scars becoming more apparent. “No. Retch-fever don’t pox the skin. Thought you were a healer.”
“I am. And I know what retch-fever does. Wanted to know if you did too.”
“Think I’m lying?? You think this is a lie?!” He pointed to the scars, his raised voice catching Nemnir’s ear. The big man looked over to them, but didn’t move. Yet.
Jayk then spoke slowly, softly “It was sewer-pox. Got it a year or so before the retch-fever hit the streets. You get the one, and live, you don’t get the other. My mother and sister got the retch-fever… I didn’t.”
Eris nodded, that she’d heard from her mother. She’d dealt with both of them when they’d found their way out of the cities on breath and blood of soldiers, making it to woods-voln and mountain-voln. There wasn’t much you could do for either, the sufferers made it or they didn’t. The only blessing was that surviving either meant you were immune to the other, and to another bout of the same. Some blessing though when those around you were dying.
Jayk shrugged, looked to where two lads were fetching water under Nemnir’s supervision as though gathering his thoughts. Or maybe his courage. “Sarai said you are a true healer.” He unconsciously rubbed at his cheek as he spoke.
“Sarai? What would Sarai know?”
“Pillowtalk from Pierson I suppose. Aint going to be from Nem is it! I mean… um… well… because he don’t talk, not because they share a pillow. Or they don’t. They might I suppose….” Jayk was redder still, and she watched him digging his own stuttering grave with a cool look.
“Yeah, she said you brought Nem back from the dead.” He looked at her then, hope in his eyes. “And then there’s your foot too-”
“I can’t do nothing, don’t think on it.” She said sharply.
He nodded, thoughtful, rubbing his cheek again. “Do you remember I told you about the priest who said he could heal my mother and my sister?”
“In Tralis. I remember.”
“I’m going to kill him one day.”
“Is that so?” She said again, intent on squeezing out the tunic as though they were merely washerwomen discussing their grandchildren. “I’m going to kill someone too.”
“The one who took your foot?”
“Just makes sense someone did that to you. And if I was you, I want to kill them too.” He nodded grimly. “I want the man who bought me from the workhouse too. And who he works for. I’ll slit their throats.”
“Why not add Lios to the list while its growing?!”
Jayk was quiet, going back to his washing. “Why not?”
Eris held in her laughter. “Because he’s a god.” But then she remembered her joke to Verla, of how she would start her own army, to shadow the sky with her own poison greened arrows as her people took out Lios. “He can’t die.”
Jayk shrugged “That’s what the priests told us when they came to the workhouse. Droning on and on about how Lios was immortal, and how obeying him could bring us peace after the grave. Same priests at the temple taking coin for healings in his fucking name. They weren’t true, so maybe him being immortal aint either.”
Eris looked at Nemnir. Silent Nem who’d lost his tongue at the hand of a Button Man. And behind the Button Man, or way above him up a chain of city-voln given command and power, right at the top of that pile of excrement, was Lios. Even the boy who’d taken her foot was a part of a thread reaching back to Lios, starting with that Button Man who’d ordered him to cut her!
But she laughed self-depreciatingly. “I don’t have an army, do I?! And there’s been a bloody army fighting Lios for years on the front and even they aint got him yet!”
“They’re fighting men, you know Lios is in the centre of the world, Liosinium.”
“Oh yeah, so there’s no need for a bloody army then, to get into the most fortified city in the world?!”
He smiled ruefully and splashed her with some of the water in his hands. “Sharp tongue!”
She laughed and she caught Nem watching them, concern on his face. By the bastard gods, what else had Sarai been blabbing about?? She hadn’t told Pierson about her bloods had she?! Eris had gone to both the older woods-voln women when she’d first found the stain on her underthings, knowing exactly what it was and what to do about it, but not being able to scout for the plants she needed on her own without raising Pierson and Nem’s curiosity. Had Sarai gone ahead and told them anyway? Even after Eris had shared with them her mother’s recipe for the powder that stopped them and did away with the need for the wads of cloth the two women had made do with for years? More than that, it stopped babies coming and she’d have thought that would have bought their silence, if nothing else did!!
Eris was fuming and didn’t hear Jayk speaking for a moment. “What?”
“I said, Nem’s very protective of you.” He was whispering, not wanting the large man to hear.
That made her stop in her internal raging. If Nem was concerned it was because he wanted to protect her… not because he was worried she’d be stupid now she was… well, not quite a woman, but still, surrounded by lads near enough her age. She’d helped out with enough birthings to know how that worked. Knew enough not to seek it out, yet. So she sent a quick, bright, smile to Nem, and got one in return. “He is.”
“S’pose it’s because you healed him. Chances are he’ll need that again…”
“I think I need to get back to the camp and make a start on hanging these out.” She stood, always finding it strange as her two ankles moved in just slightly different ways to each other. “I want to talk with Pierson too.”
“Of course.” Jayk smiled, and there was genuine warmth there. Eris did her best to return it, feeling a strange disquiet at being around the boy.
Leaving the stream, she walked past the other lads with her bundle of clothes dripping from her arms. They were still at work at the many chores Pierson gave them. Give them their due, she’d never heard whisper of complain from them. She thought it was likely that their ‘workhouses’ had put them to harder tasks, and even if they weren’t woods-wise, at all, they were at least grateful for Pierson and his firm’s efforts in trying to help them. So why was she on edge after speaking with Jayk? He was not appealing to her, as her mother had explained some men might be to her one day. He wasn’t horrible either, even if he thought his scars made him so. It wasn’t even his confession that he wanted to kill the priest. She just didn’t know what it was. But before she could think on it more, she was back to the camp, where Pierson, Sarai, and Callia were at their own work, tending to a roarer, two bows and several arrows.