After they had removed the stained couch that Adair’s weight had bent and bowed over the years, they brought another grand chair for her to sit upon. It was both fine and ridiculous; made of an attractive honey coloured wood covered over with thick coats gold paint and rich red velvet cushions.
It wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted her Atta back. She wanted Jayk back. But she thought that taking control of the barracks of Emphon was another step towards that. Their fear had taken her further, but something more like loyalty might get her all the way to her goal.
Then they brought her strange fruits and sugared cakes. Those she waved away. Then she surprised the button men by asking for whatever the soldiers were fed on. Weak mashed root vegetables and a grey looking meat in grease was handed to her by a solider with apologies in his eyes. Orrin sat by her and ate the same, casting longing looks at the sweeter treats.
Then she demanded that they brought her the sick and the wounded.
She did what she could, glad suddenly of the ridiculous chair as she weakened herself sending Sutith into soldier after soldier, all coming to her with burns, scars, and great festering wounds.
“Enough.” Orrin whispered to her urgently, leaning towards from his own fine chair at her right. “You can only do so much!”
She quietened him with her eyes and beckoned forward the next man, a greasy haired farm-voln. Something occurred to her.
“But where are the mountain-voln? Where are their wounded?”
Sigdre cleared his throat, looking awkward. A small man next to him chuckled. This she already had learnt was the final of the three high generals. Willem. The one with a ‘friend’ in Marchan’s brothel. So far, she had only had a moment or so with him, but it had been plenty long enough to learn that Willem was a man of little thinking. His task was strategy, and the other high generals mostly left him to his devices in an attic room of the barracks. There a great plain had been crafted out of real soil and closely cropped grass. He had scores and scores of small lead figures of button men and soldiers, and he could play out all the out charges and retreats to his heart’s content. Usually no one paid him much mind.
“They aren’t here, Eris Atta-Sutith!” Willem laughed, his eyes darting about as he did. “The mountain-voln stay out there!” He gestured roughly northwards and Sigdre pushed his hand until he pointed eastwards. “Ah yes, quite right Sigdre. That way, Eris Atta-Sutith. In camps out there, nearer the damned Front.”
“Tell me High General Willem,” She leant forward, “Do you still cut the tongues from the mountain-voln who do not follow orders?”
Willem giggled, and she felt Orrin suddenly shift in his seat, readying himself to get between the two of them. Her rage would not have been stopped by her priest, but she had asked the question already expecting the answer to horrify her, so she was in control of herself.
“Send for them. Have Jayk bring the mountain-voln back again. And I will give them back their tongues.”
“The lad you seek is surely already on his way…” Began Sigdre, his hands held out in the sign for peace. “We can send more messengers into the Front for the mountain-voln wounded of course.”
“Do it.” Her voice was cold. She was cold. “And… and now all of you can leave me.”
The button men paused, instinctively rejecting taking orders from her. But they had seen healing after healing. Some of them had even felt the flow of Sutith into their veins. The latter were her most loyal new followers, and they helped to usher the rest from the room. Sigdre turned to go and then faced her again.
“I’ll check on Adair. The Rickarns are nothing if not obscenely possessive of their belongings, and I fear you have hurt his feelings, taking over his ‘small court’ like this. He is likely already penning a love sonnet to Lios, begging the god-king to send his wrath against you and to restore him to his wretched couch.”
“And you, Sigdre?” She looked him over, taking in the numerous golden tokens of Lios’ favour on the high general’s armour. So many golden buttons. A man did not have so much without his own kind of love for Lios. “What are the Brants like? Ambitious? Loyal? Dangerous?”
Sigdre laughed warmly and she knew then that his weapon was his charm, “The Brants are a smaller family, Eris Atta-Sutith. We have little sway over Lios or his moods. What we do have is a certain entrepreneurship. An independence of thinking that can get us in serious trouble. As High General for Munnitions I have employed this queerling mind of mine for devising a fantastic new device, the great roarer. This should of course have won me Lios’ greatest favours, but alas no, I am left alone and unrewarded in stinking Tralis. I think sometimes that our god-king fears new techne and the great changes it might bring us.” He sighed dramatically, and Eris pretended not to notice Orrin’s impatience with the man’s dramatics.
“You offered to take me and Orrin to Liosinium, away from Adair’s plans, but for your own benefit. Great villas. Denosians slaves. Wealth beyond measure.” She listed his desires, “And now what do you seek Sigdre Brant?”
The man smiled slyly again, “I merely seek to serve.” He bowed and left the room.
A sound of growling disproval came from Orrin, surprising Eris, who’d only ever heard his optimistic cheer before.
“I don’t trust him either, my priest.” She said quietly, hoping naming him so would reassure him of their connection.
“Eris,” He leant towards her again, whispering even though there was no one left in the audience room to hear them. “Eris, what game do you play now? We should leave!”
“Not without Jayk.” She said firmly.
“He left us long ago.” He said sadly, “Perhaps his decision is his own.”
“Not without Jayk.”
He nodded and then spoke in a strange tight voice. “You care for him.”
She rose from her over-gilt chair, and gathered up the mass of skirts that Estille and Marchan had put her in. Nothing about the movement was natural to her, and her skin ached to be surrounded and protected by her usual leathers instead of these layers and layers of soft silks. She walked to a dirty window and looked down to the courtyard of the barracks where soggy looking soldiers stood in huddled groups. Some were holding out newly healed limbs to others, and revealing unbroken skin beneath festering bandages.
“I care for all of them.”
“I don’t… I don’t understand?” He came to stand with her, his grey eyes concerned as they locked eyes.
“Every single one that I’ve healed. Its more than just the dreams of Jayk that brought me here, Orrin. I feel beholden to him.”
“I see.” That same tightness again.
“I’m not sure that you do. I feel like I am beholden to all of them. Every single one that I’ve ever healed. They are my Atta.”
He smiled, and she saw for a moment the usual light-heartedness of her companion. “You stabbed and healed me once, my lady. Does that make me even more special than these button men?”
Suddenly she took his hand with hers and pushed what little strength she had left in her into him, filling him with that warm glow of comfort that she only knew as Sutith.
He gasped a little as her strength flowed into him, and he bowed his head. She assumed it was in some kind of religious reverence, but then she felt the gentle touch of his forehead against hers, their hands still entwined between them.
“Eris.” He whispered softly, his voice full of something she took to be awe.
Her weakness overcame her, and she left him to walk slowly to her chair. He strode back to her, full of new strength and caught her as she stumbled barely a step from the throne like seat. He gently helped her down and found old brocade curtains to drape about her and to pillow so that she could rest.
“Orrin, they cannot see me like this.” She spoke, her voice both hoarse and weary.
He nodded, and she watched him from under closing eyes as he carried his chair towards the door to take up sentry duty.
She woke later from dreams of those she’d healed and those she’d harmed. Strangely since she’d only ever known pain from him, the Gyreblack boy was among them, walking through the crowds of familiar faces. He slunk past Jayk, Nem, Orrin, Thoma, Sarai, Callia, the girl-child in her mother’s arms, too many woods-voln to count, and now, the faces of weary soldiers, city and farm-voln alike. She shouted in her dream, pointing out his dark shadow as he walked among them, but she was ignored. Waking suddenly, she was certain for a moment that his face was just above hers, but focusing her eyes she realised it was just an eddy in a strange mist that was filling the room. Orrin was walking towards her, angrily pushing it away from him as he got to her.
“What in the name of Li-” he stopped himself. “What is it?!”
She shook her head, standing up and about to say that she had no idea, when suddenly Sigdre Brant ran in with a few button men at his command. Eris straightened her back and attempted to look less like she’d just woken.
“What is this, Sigdre?!”
“Worry not, its just the fog of the Front. It blows in sometimes when the wind is heading this way.” He smiled but she noted worried lines at the corners of his eyes. “Nothing to worry about. The soldiers can sometimes become a little… difficult when this happens. It reminds them of the war on their doorstep you see. Some become panicked. Some start fights. A few had to be reprimanded last time for hunting down a homeless man and killing him in the gutters of Manegold Street. But you are safe here-”
He was interrupted by the sound of shouting in the halls somewhere behind him, and all the men about him drew their roarers. She grabbed Orrin’s hand.
“Don’t be scared.” He whispered to her.
“I’m not. I just don’t want to lose you in the mist.” She smiled up at him.
“I’ll stay with you, I promise.” He squeezed her hand, and the touch of his palm on hers sent a glow into her body, as though he had made her a Sutith of his own. She tightened her grip on his hand in return.
The shouting grew in volume and they could make out words. Violent words.
“Give me a roarer!” Orrin shouted at Sigdre, and the older man just laughed.
“You ever even wielded one, forgotten second son of Bara?”
“We don’t have time-”
The door was pushed open and the button men with Sigdre leapt to hold the incoming soldiers back. But even as they did Eris saw one of them turn and punch a companion rather than protect the room. The men pushed past the small resistance and stumbled inside. Orrin went to push Eris behind him, but she moved past him.
“Hold there!” She shouted.
“High General Rickarn orders us!” A common soldier responded, one still wearing dirt stained bandages around a head that she had placed healing hands on not so long ago. “For Rickarn!”
Sigdre shot the man in his head.
Eris screamed mutely, her ears suddenly ringing with the thunder from the roarer and making her deaf. Other shots followed, adding to the mist with their own smoke and stinking up the room with a burning metallic stench that Eris had never smelled before. Orrin’s hand slipped from hers as he ran to the dead soldier’s body to search frantically for his roarer.
She saw a button man turn his own roarer on Orrin and she charged at him, pushing through the encumbrance of her flowing skirts to stagger the soldier back, slapping a small dose of the first greening that came to her mind onto his cheek and into his blood. He collapsed, spitting and shaking, and she turned back to Orrin who’d pulled a military dagger from the soldier and was looking up into the lion’s mouth of the roarer of another button man. The second roarer fell away as Sigdre withdrew his sabre from the man’s gut, turning then to cut at another man’s arm with the bloodied blade, and to push him back out of the room.
Running to Orrin, she grabbed for his hand and pulled him away from the body at his feet. Sigdre tried to block their path, even raising his sword towards them.
“Let us pass!”
“It isn’t safe out there!”
“Out of the way!” She yelled, feeling something angry and red stirring in her own chest. The mist swirled about her skirts as she drew up poison into her free hand, her mouth, and even into the skin of her body. It drenched her fine silks and started to hiss from her, blending into the mist and turning it darker, shading it with a green hue. Sigdre backed away.
“Where are you going?!”
She didn’t answer, instead taking to her heels with Orrin, running down the hall passed confused and bloodied soldiers.