Chapter 24 (Everin)

For the others, the journey through Thistleton had been uneventful. So many people bustled up and down the city streets that hardly anyone batted an eye at boy with bandaged arms and a swollen face. Cora, Ford, and Tress kept their heads down and let the horses carry them into the heart of the city.

Everin, on the other hand, struggled to simply hang on to Cora as she steered their horse down the streets. From the family of nobles who passed in a horse-drawn carriage to the disheveled beggars who stood at street corners, it seemed that everyone in Thistleton carried pain with them. They all blurred their pallet of colors into his surroundings wherever he turned.

There were soldiers, too. Men and women who carried swords at their hips and wore tunics with King Valen’s yellow feather insignia painted across the front. Everin assumed that they’d stayed behind after the royal procession passed through to maintain order amongst the citizens who weren’t enlisted. They hung around street corners, generally appearing disinterested in the flow of people around them. Whenever Everin and the others would pass by a group of them, they were sure to keep their heads down and pointed away from the soldiers. Tress simply kept his head down for the whole ride. There was nothing for him to see, and he was busy processing the shame and apprehension writhing around inside his dark blue aura.

Finally, they reached the wide stone building that matched Tress’s description. Everin, Cora, and Ford, climbed off their horses. Ford left Tress riding atop the animal as he guided it to the building’s entrance.

As they’d dismounted, Everin had noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye. One of the dozens of auras on the street had begun moving in their direction. People were moving about up and down the street; however, so he didn’t think much of it. There weren’t any soldiers in the immediate vicinity, so he didn’t think they’d been recognized.

Cora knocked loudly on the wooden door of Edoll’s home. Moments later, it swung open to reveal a young boy.

“Hi, are you looking for Edoll?” he asked. His eyes scanned the group until they fell on the blind boy standing behind Ford.

“Tress, is that you?” The boy asked incredulously. “I heard you ran away.”

Tress spoke up. “Yes, Dellan, it’s me. I left Thistleton for a bit, but I’m back now.”

The boy, Dellan, nodded. The wounds and bandages on Tress’s face and limbs were obvious. “And it looks like you could use some of Edoll’s help. I’ll take your horses out back. You can go in and see her.”

“Thank you,” Cora said.

Tress explained, “Dellan is Edoll’s son. He helps her around the clinic and will train to become one of the town healers when he’s older.”

Dellan beamed at the mention of his name. He was missing one of his front teeth. Ford helped Tress climb down from the horse so that he could hand the reigns off to Dellan. As Tress cautiously lowered himself to the ground, Everin heard a noise behind him. A shuffling of feet as someone approached.

He and Cora whirled around. Everin recognized the aura immediately as the one that had begun moving their way moments earlier. It belonged to an older woman, one of the beggars who lined the street. She was short with a hunched back and hair that was beginning to gray. Her skin was caked in a thin film of the dirt.

“Pardon me,” she spoke up. Her voice was raspy and thin. “Could you young people spare anything for a poor old woman? My husband was enlisted into King Valen’s army a few weeks ago. We already had no money, and I haven’t been able to find a job. Please, just a coin or two to help pay for some food?”

Before Everin could respond, Dellan spoke up.

“Don’t worry about her. All the beggars in this city make up sob stories to trick visitors into giving them money.”

Despair crossed the woman’s face. She opened her mouth to beg for a change of heart, but Everin interrupted her.

“It’s okay. She’s telling the truth.”

The woman’s mouth didn’t close, hanging open in surprise. Her aura was a deep teal color. One of the deepest he’d seen in all of Thistleton so far. It was blue with loss and loneliness, and green with loving concern. The colors blended into a vivid aura that washed over her like murky green ocean waves. There was no way she could be faking an aura that painful.

The intensity of her sorrow, her situation, even her face, it reminded Everin a little too much of Margoline. He thought about the caretaker he’d left behind. He wondered if she missed him. He couldn’t say that he missed her, but he also couldn’t say he still hated her. He’d been resentful of her after his parents’ deaths, but since seeing Margoline’s dark blue aura, he felt like he understood her. He’d been given a kind of closure by seeing her suffering – an insight into what she’d been going through. It didn’t necessarily mean he could shake off all the mixed emotions and bitter memories he associated with Margoline, but it helped him understand why she’d been the way she had.

Everin returned his attention to his surroundings. He looked at Ford, who nodded, reaching into the pack he wore and fishing out some of the money they’d taken from the Elderwood ghosts. He deposited the money, at least a dozen silver coins, into her shaking palms.

“Thank you,” she breathed. “I don’t even have the words to say how grateful I am. Bless you. All of you.”

Ford gave her a smile. “I hope it helps.”

The woman quickly dropped the coins into a pocked of her tattered dress, as if she were afraid that Everin would change his mind. She earnestly shook Ford’s hand and gave a curt bow in Everin, Cora, and Tress’s direction before hurrying off in the direction she’d come from.

Dellan looked at Everin and Ford in disbelief.

“She totally played you,” he remarked.

“It’s okay. I trust Everin,” Ford said.

Everin gave him a thankful smile as he handed the reigns of his horse to Dellan. The boy began to guide both animals around to the back of the building as Everin, Cora, Ford, and Tress all walked inside. Ford hastily shut the door behind them. As they’d searched for Edoll’s home, they’d passed a few of King Valen’s soldiers who’d remained to patrol the city. A quiet anxiety had gnawed at the back of Everin’s mind for the entire time they’d been in the open. If McCarthy had put out orders to find him, it was possible he could’ve been recognized. It was also possible that some of the locals could’ve recognized Tress past the bandages and swollen face. Everin let himself exhale slightly once they were within the security of Edoll’s place.

Moments later, they heard footsteps on the creaky wooden flooring. A tall woman appeared in the doorway of one of the rooms. When she saw Tress, she gasped.

“Tress, you’re back! Did you desert after the draft?” She appeared to take in his cuts and bruises as well as the painful swelling of his broken nose for the first time. “And what happened to you? Does your mother know you’ve returned? She’s been worried sick.”

Tress gave a meek smile. “I can explain everything, Edoll. Just please, don’t tell my mother about this.”

Edoll frowned. “What’s wrong? Here, why don’t you come lie down on a table. You can explain what’s happening while I take a look at you.” She turned and walked down the short hallway and into another room. Ford grabbed Tress’s hand and led him after the healer. Everin and Cora solemnly followed.

Inside the room, Edoll stood beside a clean bed. Medical instruments lined the table that ran along the wall. Unlike Gamah’s instruments from back home, which were made mostly from wood or cheap metal, these appeared to be made from hardglass. Since the material could only be recovered from ancient ruins, it was much more expensive to procure. Yet another example of the affluence of Thistleton, Everin thought. Edoll turned to watch Ford lead her new patient into the room. Tress took slow, cautious steps, being careful to feel the ground in front of him with his foot before putting his weight on it.

“What’s going on here, Tress? Are you having trouble walking?” she asked.

The boy winced and slowly shook his head. “Edoll, I can’t see. I…I’m blind.”

The casual ease in her demeanor immediately sobered as she began to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and the extent of Tress’s injuries. She pointed at Ford.

“Help him to the bed. Tress, I need you to tell me everything that happened to you.”

Ford complied, guiding the boy to the bedside. Tress sat down on the mattress and took a deep breath. He told his story to Edoll. He explained how he’d run away after being drafted by King Valen’s royal procession. He recounted his flight into the Elderwood Forest and getting robbed by the ghosts. He described how one of the ghosts had smashed the handle of his sword into the back of his head and how he’d been unable to see after the impact. Lastly, he told her about how Everin, Cora, and Ford had found him, fought off the ghosts, and brought him back to Thistleton. By the end of his story, Tress’s eyes were watering.

“Please, Edoll, is there anything you can do? I’ve disgraced my family by deserting. They probably wouldn’t accept me just for that alone. But now, I’m a cripple as well. I can’t live like this. I have nothing to live for.”

Fear, shame, despair, and several other emotions crept into his voice as he struggled fight back the tears pooling in his unseeing eyes. The blue light from Tress’s form had reached an intensity that filled the room.

Edoll placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t fix what you did by deserting. If Valen’s soldiers find out you’re here, there’s nothing I’ll be able to do to stop them from taking you. But I’ll let you stay here for the time being, and I’ll have a look at your injuries.”

Tress nodded quickly. “Thank you, Edoll. I understand. Do you think there’s anything you can do to fix me?”

The healer looked her patient up and down. “None of these cuts and scratches look infected. I have a salve that should help them heal. As for your vision, I can’t really say. Your eyes work just fine. It’s an injury to your brain that the ghosts inflicted. I’ve heard of a few cases like this – blindness caused by a traumatic impact to the back of the skull. It all depends on how your brain heals. Some patients were eventually able to completely see again, others remained completely blind for the rest of their lives. Most got some degree of eyesight back, but not all of it. We’ll have to wait and see what happens to you. It could take days, months, or even years, but there’s a chance your vision will return, at least partially.”

Tress nodded. Relief evident on his face. Edoll hadn’t given him a cure, but she’d given him hope. For now, that was enough.

The healer turned to Everin, Ford, and Cora. “It seems that some thanks are owed to the three of you as well. If what Tress said is right, then he owes his life to you. Especially you, Everin. Even I’ve heard stories about the Elderwood Ghosts. Taking them on is no small feat.”

Everin felt a strange feeling stir within his chest. It wasn’t cold and tight, like the sadness that so often made its home there. This feeling was warm and even pleasant. Pride? Satisfaction? Dare he even consider it – happiness?

He was about to respond when he heard a door open down the hall. There was the sound of clomping footsteps running toward them. A moment later, Dellan appeared in the doorway.

Slightly out of breath, he said, “I went and found Tress’s mother, and I told her the news. She’s on her way here right now!” He smiled, obviously proud of himself for his contribution.

All five figures in the room froze, shocked. Everin had completely forgotten about Edoll’s son. It was Tress who spoke up first.

“Dellan, you can’t let her come in here. Please.”

There was a sharp tone of desperation in his voice. Everin saw flickers of green flare into his blue aura.

“What? Why don’t you want to see her?” he asked.

“I just can’t!” Tress snapped. “I’ve disgraced her. I’m a disgrace. Please, send her away before she gets here.”

Just then, another figure appeared in the doorframe.

“Dellan, you said he’s here?”

She had a frantic look in her eyes. Her long, dark hair swung back and forth as she whipped her head around scanning the interior of the room with concerned eyes. In an instant, they locked onto her son.

“Tress,” she breathed.

Upon hearing his mother speak his name, any composure that Tress had was stripped away. He turned away, burying his head into a pillow. His shoulders shook as he let the sobs overtake him.

“Please don’t look at me.”

His mother stared at her son, shocked. Her aura glowed an even brighter green as she took in the injuries on her son’s arms and legs. As if in a trance, she slowly stepped forward towards her crying son. Slowly, she wrapped her arms around him. Neither of the two figures said anything for an eternity.

Finally, Tress hesitantly pulled his face away from the pillow. He still didn’t face his mother. “I know. I was a coward. I deserted.” The words were hollow and glum.

His mother reached out and patted his check with her hand. He jerked, surprised by the contact.

“Tress, we can deal with that. What’s important is that you’re back.”

“Wait, that’s not just it,” he said. “I…I’m blind. Mom, I’m blind. I might never see again.”  Telling his mother somehow made the fact more real. The realization that he might be in that state for the rest of his life washed over the boy. Everin winced as waves of blue energy poured off his figure and dissipated into the surrounding air.

Tress’s mother glanced at Edoll, who nodded, confirming what the boy said.

Tress finally gathered the willpower to face his mother. His eyes stared blankly ahead. “I really screwed up. I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry.”

The woman holding her son was silent for a moment. Everin couldn’t even begin to understand the chaotic tessellation of colors that were swirling in her aura. Green and blue energies wrestled through the air, dotted with splashes of bright red light.

Whatever emotional turmoil she felt, Tress’s mother spoke with a calm, unwavering voice.

“Tress Grant, you’re my son. I love you. You could be a deserter, you could be blind, you could be the most hated person in Allomoria, and it wouldn’t matter. I’m your mother. I’m going to help you get through this, whatever it takes.”

“Why?” Tress asked. “Why don’t you hate me? I committed one of the most dishonorable acts in Allomoria.”

His mother simply shook her head. “You think I care about King Valen and his stupid war? All that matters is that I have my son back. I’m sorry, too. I wish I’d been more open with you. I wish you didn’t think you had to hide your plans to run away from me.”

Tress didn’t answer. He just buried his face into his mothers’ shoulder. His eyes weren’t wet anymore, as the tears had already run out, but his body was still racked with dry, heaving sobs.

His mother looked over at Everin, Cora, and Ford, her own eyes glistening. “Did you three help Tress get back here?” she asked.

Cora nodded.

She smiled a grateful smile at them. “There’s nothing I’ll be able to do to truly repay you, but if there’s anything, anything at all, that I can provide you with, just name it.”

Ford spoke up. “Well, we are traveling to Doronhine and only have two horses. If you could help us find a third horse to take us there, we’d be really appreciative.”

Tress’s mother looked at them. “You’re going to Doronhine? It’s going to be terribly busy up there as King Valen prepares for his war.”

Everin responded, “We know, but we have some urgent business to take care of before King Valen and his soldiers leave the capital.”

“You’re seeking an audience with the king?”

Everin shook his head. “Someone else in the castle who’s associated with the military.”

Tress’s mother mulled over their request. “I have a horse you could take, although I’d need him back soon. How long will you be staying in Doronhine?”

“No more than a day, if everything goes according to plan,” Everin replied.

She nodded. “Consider him yours for now. I’ll help you get going soon, just give us a few moments, please.”

Everin nodded. He noticed that weariness had crept into her voice. She was worn out, not physically, but emotionally. She couldn’t see it, but she’d been producing a spectrum of multicolored energies, casting bright rainbows of light into the room. It was enough to exhaust anyone.

Edoll quietly led the group out into the hall. Through the crack under the old wooden door, Everin could see flashes of blue light emerging from the room. He didn’t feel so bad about the energy this time. His urge to siphon it away from them wasn’t there. This wasn’t all-consuming sorrow, as he was used to seeing. This suffering was necessary. This sporadic shining of azure light was what reconciliation looked like, Everin realized. As ironic as it sounded, in order to heal, Tress and his mother needed to have this moment – they needed to experience this suffering together.

A weak smile appeared on Everin’s face. For the first time since emerging from the pool in the ruins, Everin felt like he’d helped. He hadn’t cured Tress’s eyes, but he’d given him an opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness. He’d given him a second chance.

Next chapter:

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