Ghosts’ Prey, Chapter Seven, Part Three

She followed Milly across the courtyard and back into the room of sleeping farm-voln. With only a few hours before dawn she lay back down to fuzzy headed and fitful napping. Echoes of her dream of Orrin and the others mixed again with the last few resounding roars of the great lions to the East. But eventually, just as she finally sunk into deep enough sleep, the rest of the room began to stir. Lissy fed her babe from her breast and held court even as she lay down with the small child. Ebert and his older sisters were quickly set to tasks. Milking the cow creatures, carving up large loaves of brown bread and spreading honey on them, clearing away the bedrolls. Eris watched from the floor in a corner, bleary eyed and so out of place in her woods-voln leathers.

Thoma stared at her as he took his place in the largest chair at the table.

“How old are you, girl?”

Eris shrugged. “Somewhere around my fourteenth year. I don’t know for sure.”

“I thought you were older than Milly, and she’s sixteen. Are all woods-voln girls so tall?”

She paused and thought over her answer, before deciding on the truth. “No. I made myself taller.”

Ebert, sweeping up dust and ash around the fireplace stopped to stare at her, but Eris ignored his slack-jawed look.

“How is that then?” Thoma went on, his voice calm, but jittery movements betraying a certain nervousness as he drank from a large tankard of milk.

“I wanted it to be so, and it was so.” She said, remembering the dull ache in her bones every time that she’d urged them to grow, calling on Sutith to make it so.

“And will you do the same to me?” He indicated his missing arm.

Eris stood and walked towards the man, putting certainty into her steps even if she did not feel it in her heart. “I will heal you. I have healed others.”

“Were they all so badly maimed? And so many years ago?”

“I helped my friend Nemnir Mountain-Voln speak again after button men removed his tongue a long time ago.” She held onto the memory of his first words to her after the healing.

I did that, she thought, I can do it again.

“When?” Hope in his voice. She stopped beside him. His missing arm, the right, was on the other side of him from her as he sat at the head of the table. Eris looked away from his desperate grey eyes to seek out Lissy’s brown ones. She’d put the babe in the cot and she was clearing away the plates they’d eaten from.

“Can you take the children out?”

She nodded and ushered them out with her, against Ebert’s protests. Milly gave Eris an intense look as she went out. Her words about abandoning Lios echoed in Eris’ head. And all I’ve got to do is return his arm and scare away some ghosts. That’s all.

Lissy had stayed, wringing a cloth between her hands. “What do you need? Fire? Water? Cloths?” she asked, as though they were preparing for a birthing.

Eris paused, taking a deep breath. She no longer needed strong emotions to call upon Sutith, but still she was unsteady and uncertain she could do this. She needed to pause before she could speak again. “Help him take off his shirt, and then get him to lie on the table.”

Lissy bustled at the tasks she’d been given, helping Thoma to strip and to reveal the twisted flesh carelessly pulled together over the empty socket his arm had been ripped from. She helped him to lay down on the table, his head away from his usual place at the top table so that Eris could take a seat next to his maiming.

“Will it look like your foot?” Thoma said, staring up at the rough wooden beams of the room. “Black and twisting…”

Nemnir’s had been perfectly normal after she had healed him. Orrin bore no black skin over the place where she’d cut him. Jayk’s face had been smooth and normal after she’d taken away his scars.

“It will be like your other arm.” She tried to sound sure.

Lissy moved closer on the other side of the table, clasping Thoma’s one hand in both of hers. Eris nodded and closed her eyes as she placed each of her palms about the twisting flesh that was all that remained of the arm torn from him decades ago. She held the image of Lissy holding Thoma’s hand in her mind as she called upon Sutith.

Then the power stirred in her and rose through her body like a river swelling with spring’s melting. Between her palms and his badly stitched flesh she felt the wetness of Sutith. A murmur from Lissy almost made her open her eyes, but she concentrated on calling out the power inside her. Sutith, she urged. Sutith. Return what was taken. Sutith.

Thoma’s groan did however make her open her eyes to see how he was doing. The misshapen flesh patched together over his shoulder was moving as though something underneath was pushing against it. But the tremors were slowing and Eris was already feeling tired from the effort. She leant forward, bringing her forehead to rest on the man’s flesh. Flesh to flesh, she urged the Sutith into him. It was too hard!

She tried to hold onto the certainty she’d felt when first walking towards the man. She’d been the one who’d filled the water of the Ireblade with Sutith to take away the pox they’d brought upon themselves by helping the button men. She’d been the one who’d banished Verla’s poison from Nem’s blood. She’d saved Orrin from the ghost!

She gritted her teeth and willed the Sutith from herself into Thoma’s flesh. She imagined bone making more bone as she’d done with her own limbs. Taller, longer… she’d wanted to be taken seriously by the adults who claimed to follow her. She’d wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. With Pierson, Callia, Sarai… Orrin.

But you’ll need to do even more growing if you’re to stand shoulder to shoulder with Nemnir Mountain-tall, my lady. Orrin’s imagined words were unbidden in her head as beads of sweat emerged on her brow. She smiled, did he even suspect what she’d done to herself?

Thoma’s second groan threw her from her distraction, and she looked. The flesh was parting, something white was pushing through. There was pain here for him, the new having to be born from the old. Lissy had been right, it was a birthing.

Lissy tried to calm him. “My love, my love.” She muttered to him, stroking his hair from his forehead and wiping at the sweat there with her apron. “It returns… my love.”

Just how much did Lissy admit to herself, Eris wondered. Looking up at her now, entirely devoted to this man on her table, Eris wondered if she ever allowed herself even the smallest moment of truth. The story was obviously much more comforting. Her Thoma had come back to her. Did it matter that he was older, taller… or city-voln now? Eris watched the two of them through eyes near shut in the effort of summoning the healing, in awe of the power of the love that she saw in their eyes.

She channelled those feeling into the making of his arm. Awe, love, devotion. And then flesh and muscle flowed like water along the growing course of the bone, diverting into smaller streams where the long bones became numerous jointed smaller bones in his hand. She let out a final tired gasp as the flesh completed its path, and fell back from the man. Her own arms hung near useless at her side as Thoma raised both of his as marvelled at them, comparing one to the other.

Then he used both to hold the face of the woman he had found alone on the farm with four children. Waiting. Hoping for Thoma to return. Hoping so much that it happened.

“My love.” He said to her, sighing the words as though he’d been holding them inside himself for years. “My love.”

She pressed her cheek against his new hand. Eris looked at it wearily. There was nothing to tell the two arms from each other. Just as Nem’s tongue had been good and whole, so was Thoma’s new arm. A moment of bitterness that she could not make something as perfect for herself was washed away by Thoma sitting up from the table and then leaping down to kneel down beside her chair.

“You have… you. You! I cannot…!”

“I have done what I said I would do.” She said in a pale voice.

“Lissy, bring the mead from Altoin’s last gift. She looks faint!”

She was aware of a cup being pressed to her lips, and she drank the warming and sweet liquid. She returned a little to herself after, painfully aware of the shirtless Thoma kneeling by her and not sure where to look.

“You shouldn’t be kneeling.”

Somehow her words inspired Lissy to do the same as Thoma, and she came to kneel by him. In their eyes she could see the same fervour she sometimes saw in Orrin’s, and it suddenly made her miss Pierson’s more sensible and dry way of talking to her. Sarai would have said something cutting but loving. Callia would have been proud but quiet. And Nem would have just smiled his warm smile.

“I don’t know how to thank you.” Thoma looked younger somehow, like a measure of his sadness had been removed as his arm had been replaced. “I was younger than you when my arm was taken. I should have died, but worse than that I lived to become a master in the castle.” He paused and his eyes, shining with burgeoning tears, stared into hers. “I said that if you rid us of the ghosts as well I would give you the thing that I took from the castle. The thing that I believe belonged to the bastard gods.” He nodded to Lissy, and she stood to get it, running from the room. “But I do not want to keep it from you until you have dealt with the ghosts. Because I think it belongs to you now. Because you are one of them. You have to be!”

Lissy returned as Eris was still trying to form an answer to deflect Thoma’s new devotion. It shone bright like a fire in the dark room.

In Lissy’s arms was something long and thin, wrapped about in an old woven rug covered in the dried grass from the barn, as though it had been buried deep within the yellow stuff. She laid it on the table and rolled out a sword. It was plain looking, a dull short sword in the city-voln style with a leaf shaped blade and a small handguard.

Eris’ breath caught in her throat, it was near enough a twin to the one she still saw sometimes when she closed her eyes; the sword that the Gyreblack boy had held over her and then slashed again and again into the lower end of her calf to cut away her foot. But this sword she saw now was older, the edges of its blade were both dull and pitted with age. She stood and took it from Lissy to look closer and saw that the hilt was wrapped about with decaying leather and the pommel was a roughly worked lump of metal. It was an ugly, brutish weapon.

“You think this has something to do with the bastard gods?”

Thoma got up from his knees and shrugged his shirt back on, awkward with two arms making the movement for him now. “The castle by the sea was old, but parts of it were older. It was like some kind of creature that builds it home on its own back. Parts were added over the centuries, but underneath there was an older castle. Most of the masters went as they were bid, taking the boys to and from their cells. Cooking. Cleaning… blood mostly. But sometimes I would go off of the path. It was dangerous because it was easy to get lost, and lost for good, there. But I did once find a large chamber deep in the heart of the castle. A grand looking place where the dust was untouched and the air stale. In there I found the sword, just thrown to one side like it was nothing. I was younger then. I thought perhaps it could be used to get me from the castle. But I never took that chance. I did take it with me when I fled the fall of the castle, though. I don’t think it kept the woods-voln from piercing me through with greened arrows, but on the road it made me feel stronger.”

“It’s just an old sword.” She hefted it as she’d seen Nem do with his greatsword. It moved well in her hand, but it was nothing remarkable.

“Look on the pommel. There’s a mark.”

She turned it to glance at the pommel. It was hard to see but he was right. There was a mark there. A few scratches as though someone had put the point of a dagger to the metal. She traced the lines with her fingertip. The outline of a bastard god, the usual arms, shoulders, and head. But there were no further identifying marks. No crown, or arrows, flowers, or shaded half to tell her which god the sword’s owner was drawing attention to. But within the body of the bastard god there were other scratches. Straight lines at angles spelling out a name.

She breathed out the name as she read it. “Lios.”

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