The weight bearing down on his chest had lessened considerably, but the pain was still there even with what, unknown to him, substances had been given to him for it. He could take a breath without cringing, cough without hearing some horrific rattle that echoed behind his ribs. It wasn’t that things were entirely better and Dianna had already warned of the dangers he had yet to escape from, but he didn’t feel so miserable.
He never again thought that he would be so thankful for the air filling his lungs.
Emery had been there for a while, chatting, filling him in on any information that may have been useful. Their camp was safe, undiscovered and guarded. They had supplies, some gathered, some bought, and even some given to them. The Dravara had since stopped attempting to hunt them down, Emery explained, or so it seemed. Nothing, as they both knew, was certain in the matter of the resistance. Silas wasn’t sure how the news made him feel, some part relieved, but also curious in the worst way as to just why they were left alone.
However, things had since moved away from practical things he had missed in his absence and had begun to traipse off from the initial subject.
“Em,” he croaked, surprised by the weakness that still clung to his voice. “I hate to stop you, but-“
The man stood, bowing his head apologetically. “Right, you don’t need me going on about nothing. I’ll let you rest. Dianna said she’ll be back soon…not sure when, but she said soon. Rest up, won’t you?”
“I’ll do my best,” he assured.
Emery smiled, nose twitching, a nervous tick, Silas supposed. “See how you’re feeling in a bit. There are taverns nearby, nice ones. I’ll take you up there if you’d like, find you some company for the night-“
“Not anymore, Em.”
He nodded slowly. “Like to say I’m disappointed, but I never cared for it either. Granted, none of that sleeping with people is for me, but…still. Too much,” he paused, hands gesturing wildly in the air, “you know what I mean.”
Silas laughed quietly. “Actually, I don’t think I do.”
“Rest,” Emery directed, smile breaking away as he yawned. “Don’t pull any stitches or you’ll have Dianna to answer to and she’ll-“
“I know,” he sighed, “I know, beat me bloody. As if I’m not already bloody enough.”
Smiling, Emery shoved the tent flap aside and was gone out into the night.
Silas shifted in bed, wincing and lifting his arm to look down where the wound was only to stare back away again. It was late, darker than pitch outside, and the campsite was quiet. Pain, he thought, was something he could deal with in the company of friends. Even so, Dianna’s warnings of infection still worried him. He tried his best not to think too much on it and instead, he let his eyes drift to the cloth ceiling.
Exhaustion clung to his limbs, chaining him down to the cot he found himself on, and his throat was raw. However, his mind was too busy running scenarios to allow sleep to take over. Despite the comfort, the softness of the thin mattress beneath him and the weight of the blankets over his body, he couldn’t even consider it. It was strange to feel safe, warm and out of the elements after days of sleeping on hard ground.
Safety, however, had always felt wrong without Evander there with him.
“You should be asleep.”
He looked up. “I know. I was talking to Emery.”
A scoff and her eyes shot behind to the closed tent flap. “He just can’t seem to leave anyone alone, can he? Doesn’t he know better?”
She walked in slowly, eyes weighed down by the shadows beneath them. Her shoulders were slumped, hair falling down from the scarf that usually held it in place, and a tired smile tugged at the corner of her lips.
“Do you want something to help you? My stores are high right now, take what you can while I still have it. I have a feeling we won’t have as much soon.”
“Why do you say that?”
She only shook her head. “Got a feeling, that’s all. Somethings just bound to happen and a part of my head keeps itching every time I think about it.”
Silas frowned. “No, I don’t need anything.”
Dianna moved closer carefully, letting out a huff as her hands reached up to undo the wrapping in her hair. He didn’t blame her for keeping it up as it was as unruly as it was lovely. Both of them were southern, half from what he knew, but just what land they came from, what foreign place, was a mystery to him. They were wonderful, dark eyed with skin to match, freckled still, and achingly similar.
“May I sit?” she asked, running a hand through the newly freed locks.
A chair, one of the few that existed in their inevitably temporary campsite, was pulled up beside his cot, and she leaned heavily forward. Her hands moved carefully, peeling back the blankets and he heard a sharp hiss of air through her teeth when she sat back again.
“You’re lucky we found you.”
He shrugged, breathing out a sharp sigh.
“Are you alright?”
“Beyond that, are you?”
Silas hesitated, glancing up towards the tent flap caught in a night breeze, watching it wave lazily for a few seconds before his attention moved back to her.
“For your brother?”
Dianna slumped, still combing her hands carefully through her hair and crossing her legs at the ankles. Her shoulders rose in a half defeated shrug. “We’ll do everything we can to get him back. Your brother is just as important as any of the rest of us. You know we look out for each other, watch out for the people that can’t watch their own backs.”
Swallowing, Silas shook his head. “And what if our best isn’t enough? I swore,” he paused, clearing his throat, “that he, above anything else, would be safe. I failed him.”
“You didn’t fail him,” she assured, a certain sincerity in her tone. “You were hurt. Not to mention…you had to take care of that girl of theirs. You did what you could and that’s all anyone can ever ask of you.”
“It wasn’t enough,” he insisted. “It never has been…ever. In everything I’ve ever done, my best has never been enough-“
“You stop that,” Dianna called sharply. “I won’t have you blaming yourself for any of this damned mess. You’re vexing lucky to be alive and right now, you’ve got to focus on getting better and making sure that girl-“
“Fina,” Silas cut in. “That’s her name.”
Dianna nodded. “Fina,” she repeated, “you need to keep her hopeful. We all need that right now, her most.”
He leaned back, letting his head sink down into the pillow beneath it. “Where is she?”
“Josephine’s with her. Both of them are set up in your tent,” she explained, stretching an arm tiredly above her head. “The two were sleeping last I checked.”
“Good, and the others?”
Once again, her shoulders rose in a shrug. “Sleeping too, I guess. It’s late, you know?”
Silence fell briefly
Silas shifted where he lay.
“Have you talked to him yet?”
Dianna looked up, nodding.
“What did he say?” Silas asked, swallowing.
“About you?” Dianna stopped then, feet uncrossing briefly only to move into the very same position again. “He didn’t say much.”
“And what about Aurora?”
There was a moment where neither spoke, both with eyes downcast until Dianna clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Being honest with you, he’s afraid of going that close to the border for your brother. That bounty hunter, Crossvale, is dangerous enough-“
“He doesn’t seem too dangerous,” Silas snapped. “I shot him from his horse, would have done it a second time if he didn’t get me-“
“But you didn’t.”
Silas grit his teeth.
Dianna’s arms crossed in front of her. “Going east at all is dangerous, but going after someone the Dravara are bound to be looking for is worse. It threatens us, all of us and everything we’ve fought for. You have to understand that, Allikeo.”
“I made a promise I’d get Sarafina’s father back and I made a promise long ago to keep my brother safe. I’ll ride east on my own. I’ll right straight into the vexing stronghold if I have to-“
Her tone hardened. “Make any move off this cot and I’ll clobber you.”
His eyes narrowed. “I intend on keeping my promises. I’m not going to let a child be orphaned and lose the only person I have left if I can help it.”
“We need you alive and your brother, wherever he is, needs you too. We’ve lost people like you before, good men, strong women…fighters. You won’t make it east and if you die, that’ll do no good in getting your brother back. We can’t afford to lose you, no one can.”
For a moment, he was silent, seething, until something cracked and his rage faltered. His eyes fell, a lump rising in his throat. “If he dies, it won’t matter what happens. If he dies, I die too. He’s the only thing I have left. You need to understand that.”
Dianna didn’t answer for some time, only nodding her head slowly, understandingly from what he could tell. Silas felt sick, nauseous, but it wasn’t caused by pain, the aching throb in his chest that beat behind his ribs. He wondered if there was a clock somewhere, something ticking away the time they had left to run. He wondered if Aurora’s time was up or if his neared.
Perhaps his had been up for a while and he had just failed to notice.
“I know what it’s like to lose someone like that, lose family. I’m very sorry for this, for everything.”
Silas swallowed, wincing. “I know you do. Have you heard from her?”
Dianna smiled. “You always ask the same thing and my answer doesn’t change, but I have actually. I got word she was south again, alive and that’s all that matters. I think she’s happier there, away from this old hunk of ice.”
His face lit up briefly. “I’m glad. That’s wonderful. It really is.”
A hum was the only answer he got.
The fire, the flames and screams of men caught behind bars. They were bad men, he tried telling himself, vile people thrown in a place they deserved. And yet, he was there, a runaway’s aid. Mira was there, a defender forced to kill. Emery was there, a drunk caught in the wrong place. A prison of the wrongfully accused, enemies of the Dravara too lowly to execute. That’s all it truly was.
They fled. They escaped.
The fire was an accident, a distraction gone wrong.
He wondered if Emery’s scars still hurt, if Mira’s dreams were still terrorized by memories of sharp fiery tongues that crept up walls, engulfing everything until nothing was left behind but ash.
Silas shook his head. “I’m s-sorry. Did you say something?”
She leaned forward, hand touching his arm. “You should rest. I’ll speak with him again tomorrow if you would like me to, try to convince him.”
“I would appreciate that,” Silas croaked.
“I’ll do everything I can. I swear that much, alright?” Dianna sighed then, rising to her feet slowly. “We should both get some rest for now. Do you think you could drink something? You need to eat soon to keep your strength, but if for now you can only handle water, it’s all I’ll give you.”
He shrugged, trying not to pull at his stitches as he moved.
Dianna walked to the other side of the tent, a large octagonal thing that, in some ways, was achingly similar to what the faeloren had far east. It was equal parts eerie as it was somehow comforting, familiar after spending so much time wandering.
Silas just watched her, unable to move much beyond letting his head fall back again. Sneaking off, leaving without being noticed was out of the question. They would be watching for certain and Aero was certainly not fit for such a journey. The old horse could travel, but at such a speed and with so little time, it would surely be the end of them both.
Reaching the east was simply an impossibility.
“Drink this,” Dianna called gently, pushing a glass into one of his shaking hands.
Silas propped himself up as best he could, weight resting on one elbow as he tilted it forward and downed the contents quickly. He handed it back quickly, gagging falsely at the taste that clung to his tongue.
“That wasn’t just water.”
Dianna shrugged in mock cluelessness. “Must’ve been something left behind that didn’t get washed away. Besides, you need sleep.” She set the glass down behind them, motioning towards the other cot across from him. “I need sleep. We can all use some rest and goddesses know you wouldn’t be sleeping any time soon. It’ll wear off soon. By morning, you’ll feel just fine again.”
Part of him wanted to be the least bit annoyed, but instead he only breathed out a sigh and let his eyes shut.
“Don’t tell me you still snore.”
Silas snorted, laughing. “It won’t keep you awake.”
They were quiet then and it wasn’t long before he could hear her breath slow, quieting as she slept. Silas stayed awake, as awake as he could manage, for some time. His mind was working, still spinning despite whatever he had been given. He thought about Mira again, about Emery.
He thought about iron bars, broken noses and friendships forged once bones healed. Even if a nose healed crookedly and to that very day, Emery’s face always looked some part bent, hanging at just slightly the wrong angle, there were no hard feelings. He considered that perhaps that was why he always kept his head slightly turned, tilted like a curious hound.
Silas laughed at the thought.
It was strange to think he had the resistance at his back still, never lost them due to some mistake or failure. They were capable, stronger than he was in every way possible and somehow, they didn’t leave him behind either. There were days he didn’t remember his parents, not fully, not after returning home with most of his memories washed away, hidden behind a primal sense of fear.
When he thought of family, he thought of Evander, but it wasn’t just his brother anymore. It was them, all of them. It was the people that had stayed, refused to let him go and kept by his side even through the flames, through the blood that spilled down over an old oak table, and through the bite of iron around tired wrists.
And yet, he would wake to find the very next morning, they had ridden east without him.