The she lay her cheek to his rougher skin and beard, closing her eyes and hoping and she brought out the power within her. Time passed and she almost gave up.
She felt his jaw move next to hers as he tried to form the word.
“Eh. Eh. Dis. Ehri. Ssss”
She moved back, encouraging him with a wary smile.
“Er-is.” Her name made it out of his mouth. “Eris.”
“Nem!” She breathed out his name.
“Eris.” He said as clearly as he could. “Than.” He swallowed and tried again. “Thank you.”
“I have not hurt you?!”
He shook his head, smiled shyly and stuck out his tongue at her. A perfectly normal, healthy, pale pink tongue. “No” he mumbled around it.
“Oh thank the gods, Nem! I worried it would be like my foot!”
He shrugged. “If it work-ed, I’d not bluh-dy care.”
“Eris.” It was Pierson, walking over quickly, a hand on the hilt of a dagger at his waist. “An Attavine found- what, what has happened? You two are as thick as thieves and as sad as widows!”
“Pierson, we’re not sad-”
“Not sad.” Said Nem, making Pierson take a step back in surprise. “I’m not sad, Pierson” His voice was clearer by the moment.
“Good gods. Nem!” Pierson rushed to the larger man who stood to accept the embrace he brought with him. “Good gods!!”
The noise was noticed by others in the camp, and she saw Jayk start towards them, before being stopped by Orrin of all people. The storyteller was looking at the three of them with a curious look on his face. If he realised what had happened Eris expected there’d be some outpouring of religious enthusiasm soon. But instead he seemed calm, thoughtful even, as he dealt with the indignant lad.
“Eris? You did this?!” The two men parted, and Pierson was staring at her.
“I should have done it before, I just didn’t know if it would be the same as it had been, or like…” she gestured at her foot before the air was pushed out of her by Pierson’s embrace of her. “Agh! Careful Pierson, I can’t breathe!”
Now the Attavine were paying attention, and they were approached by Redril. “I do not think this is because of the news Pierson has heard from our scouts.”
“No. No it is not. Eris… Eris Atta-Sutith. My friend here. Has healed my tongue and brought back my voice.” Said Nem. His voice was indeed back, now that he was more and more familiar with having a whole tongue in his head. His voice was deep, a rich slow sound as he thought his words out.
“Sure as blood is blood, we won’t be able to shut you up now, Nem!” Pierson punched the mountain-voln’s upper arm in good humour. “And I for one am glad of that! Perhaps you can even give Orrin a run for his money in the telling of stories!”
Redril smiled. “This is a day of renown indeed! Eris Atta-Sutith.” He bowed as he said her name.
“Please don’t do that.” She said quietly, but he either didn’t hear her or ignored her.
“I am in your service.” Redril continued. “For the great things that you have brought to pass for my people, and for your mountain-voln friend.”
She tried to share a look with Pierson, but she saw the same gleam of excitement and pride in his eyes. Other Attavine who were gathering were sharing the news, and she saw that golden spark flit between them as they heard what more healing had happened; their eyes turning to her with wonder. They had lost children, brothers, sisters. But it was all forgotten for a moment as they thought only of those she’d saved, and of the miracle of Nem’s new voice. She fought the urge to run, as she had done when she’d first healed herself and landed herself with the strange black shape at the end of her leg in the place of her hacked off foot. No pony was standing ready at hand any way.
“You had news, Pierson?” She put as much authority into her voice as she could, using the glamour the Attavine had come under, their focus on her, to at least move onwards as quickly as possible.
“Oh, yes… an Attavine scout followed a trail from the river to the South. Ireblade land. It lies near the king’s road we know between Tralis and Bara.”
“The woods we walked through?”
Pierson nodded and Redril stepped forward. “We’ll be attacking on the twilight.”
“Nonsense.” Said Eris simply. “You’ve a band of half healed and half dead warriors. Even if we join up with you – and not the boys who travel with us – even if we do, you still have less than half a chance!”
“What they have done… what they have become, cannot be borne. They betrayed their voln to the god king. The woods cry out for revenge!”
Eris frowned, holding up a hand when he began to say more. “Shush. I am listening.”
A bright laugh from among the crowd about them. Orrin.
“The trees say you misheard them.” said Eris finally.
“You are mocking me!”
“Yes. Yes, I am Redril Attavine. I am indeed mocking you.”
Anger flared red across his face. “My people have suffered and died and you-!”
“Am trying to stop more from dying.”
“Child-” he began again, beginning as though to explain to a much younger girl than Eris.
“Oh no.” Said Nem quietly and stepped back a little.
The bitter taste was in her mouth again, the thickness of it there too. Atta. She felt it filling her mouth until she could not contain it, and it began to leak like dark blood from her lips. She didn’t even know she was doing it until the Attavine also took steps away from her. They began to whisper the same word to each other, over and over again. Atta, atta, atta. The poison of their people in its most unrefined form. Deadly. She spat, and spat again. Someone passed her an emptied water skin and the poison could go there, sizzling on the leaves by her feet and in its new container. The anger passed slowly as the skin was filled, and finally she wiped a dark green stain away from her lips and across the back of her hand. The skin on both smarted, but that passed.
“Atta.” Redril said in awe.
“Green your arrowheads Redril. Use this.” She passed him the waterskin, which he took extremely carefully. “Take it with you to the Ireblade and kill your people. Your tired and sick people. Take the poison after taking the cure. Be as stupid as the city-voln say we are. Do this and never see me again.”
Redril paused. “Atta, what would you have us do?”
She looked about the people. Her companions; Pierson, Nemnir, Sarai, Callia, Jayk, Orrin, all the lads they’d saved from a castle far away. She saw all twelve of them hanging about the goings on here; some tall, some still growing, some short and resenting the others, some small for their age, some big. Boys who’d all told her their names at one time or another, and she still only partially remembered which was which. Jayk, Rog, Benjiv, Sasik, Scal, Pav, Dresin, Gerdik, Faval, Vanden, Kei, and Cass. The Attavine; men, women and children. All of them looking to her for guidance.
“Give me back the waterskin.”
Redril passed it back to her.
“Now is not the time for revenge.” She held out a hand, shaping it into a cup. Into that she poured some of the atta from the skin, a thick dark liquid that pooled in her palm. “Now is the time for healing.”
She concentrated on the Atta. “Sutith.”
The Attavine who could see gasped as the liquid paled into something silvery that dripped through her fingers onto the floor of the forest. She poured the rest across her palm and in touching her it changed as well, becoming the same shimmering, pearl like fluid.
The final drips she caught there and did not change. She drew her dagger from its sheath at her waist and ran the flat of it through the atta that was left; holding the blade up to glisten and drip.
“In time Redril, in time there shall be revenge on the Ireblades. Sure as blood is blood, I will see them pay for the children. For Redval. And then…” what had to come next could be beyond her. Beyond anyone.
“Eris Atta-Sutith?” said the Attavine leader.
“And then the button men who got them to do this dreadful thing. And then Lios.” Gasps she ignored. “But for now, we heal. We train. And we feast.”
She looked up at Nemnir, still standing near and one of the few who were not entirely entranced by her power. “We have something to celebrate I think. Even after all the loss and sadness.”
“If you are lucky, lass, I will even try to sing again. A mountain-voln song.”
She tried to hide a smile, trying to maintain the dignity of the moment she had created, but it escaped from her as Orrin’s laugh had done as when she’d mocked Redril, no matter how risky it had been. A smile for Nemnir, who returned it and then looked to the crowd about them.
“You heard her right, didn’t you?” His voice, deep and rich, carried further than its volume would have suggested. Soon all the camp was at the task. For now revenge was forgotten. For now.