Martina’s eyelids fluttered open. For a second she wondered where she was, then it all came back: the cave, the mojh, the fire… Funny, she hadn’t expected the afterlife to look like a hunting cabin. She rolled over on the cot and threw up.
“Oh good, she didn’t lose the baby.” Without even lifting her head, Martina made an obscene gesture in the general direction of the comment.
“I think she’s trying to tell you that she’s not pregnant, Patrick,” said a soft, familiar voice to the right. Martina finally looked up to see Malize reclining on the next cot. Her hair was still singed, and her midsection was wrapped tightly with bandages. Pain was clearly written on her face, but with typical Verrik reserve she shrugged it off and offered Martina a genuine, if pained, smile. “You’ve been out since the battle. Believe it or not, we won. And we’re all alive. The villagers brought us back here to tend to us.”
Martina opened her mouth to speak, but as she tried to form words, suddenly she felt what seemed like a thousand sharp pins lodged in her throat. She fell back and weakly threw up again.
A moment later, Martina felt a cool hand on her forehead. Despite her own obvious injuries, Malize had gotten up to check on her. “Let me see that... Oh gods, your throat,” Malize murmured as she pulled back the bandage. She touched the wound and Martina felt the skin pull back together, the pain ease. She should know better, she’s got her own wounds... Martina looked up and mouthed the words thank you. Malize smiled.
With her throat soothed, Martina began to fumble at her neck. The ring... It was gone. Before she could panic, Malize pulled a thin chain out of her pocket and draped it around Martina’s neck. Martina dropped the ring under her blouse before anyone else could notice and pulled herself up to give Malize a grateful hug. “Ow!!” Malize muttered, but then she giggled and hugged Martina back.
“Look who’s awake.” Patrick had crossed the room to Martina’s bedside. While he was up and moving, there was no doubt that the battle had taken a toll on him; there was a large, angry gash on his cheek that Martina instinctively knew no amount of transfer wounds or battle healing would ever completely erase. He seemed cheerful, though, and Martina suspected he was secretly looking forward to showing Lady Liana the physical proof of his valor. “How do you feel?” Martina held up one hand and wiggled the fingers. So-so.
“Hurt anywhere else?” Martina shrugged.
“Are you hungry?” Martina nodded.
“Gods. This is the quietest you’ve ever been. It’s kinda nice.” Martina made another obscene gesture. Patrick laughed as he turned back to polishing his sword. “Back to normal.”
In the middle of the room, Phaeryn was cheerfully amusing several of the villagers with some faen legends. If he had any injuries, he didn’t seem to notice as he merrily flitted around. Martina wasn’t sure what had happened with Orey and Neffer in the south, but Phaeryn’s screams during his nightmares had told her more than she wanted to know. Now that the two were no more than a bad memory, Phaeryn seemed years younger.
Syskrin was sitting quietly in a corner, tinkering with his runes and smoking a pipe. Some of the villagers had seemed terrified of him at first, but after a few days most had decided that he wasn’t so scary after all, especially while he was refilling their water supplies. Mojh were all but forbidden from the Aged Peninsula, where they existed only in horror stories. Syskrin was the first mojh Martina had ever really interacted with, and she found him nothing short of fascinating. She was especially amazed at his absolute calm in the face of everything. Was that part of being a mojh, or had he always been that way? And what was it like eating raw meat all the time? She was still too shy to ask.
“Martina! Guess what!” Patrick bounded over, looking extremely pleased with himself. “I was able to cobble together some supplies. We can finally have your ceremony!”
The ceremony. The weapons specialization ceremony was all that Martina had talked about or thought about for weeks. But there just hadn’t been time to have it before leaving Thayn... Martina smiled for the first time all week.
Then she felt another spasm in her throat. “Mmmmhmmmphmhmmph.”
“What did she say?”
“I think she just said How the fuck am I supposed to go through a fucking ceremony when I can’t fucking talk.” Malize’s voice was as serene and polite as if she were ordering a bottle of fine wine in the best restaurant in Thayn. She’d long since gotten used to Martina’s neverending barrage of salty language.
“Here. I got this from one of the villagers.” Patrick pulled out a bottle and without even pausing for a moment poured it down Martina’s throat. He actually got most of the foul-tasting potion down before Martina’s reflexes kicked in and she knocked the bottle from his hand.
“If I hadn’t been slashed and burned to shreds yesterday, you’d be picking your ass up off the floor,” Martina croaked. “What the fuck happened to my voice? I sound like I smoked every pipe in the Elder Mountains.”
It was true. Martina’s voice had seemingly aged ten years overnight.
“It’s not so bad. Kind of throaty.” Malize murmured reassuringly.
“Nice try, Malize. Well, at least it won’t affect my ability to sling these.” Martina gingerly pulled herself to her feet and grabbed her rapiers. “It’s showtime.”
The ceremony was held in a smaller cabin in the woods, darkened and filled with the smoke of incense. A few villagers participated, as well as the young Sibeccai boy they’d found in the village. Patrick had explained to him what an honor it was to participate, and if the boy had any hard feelings over Martina tackling him on their first meeting, he certainly didn’t show them. Patrick, still weak himself, moved them through the ceremony as quickly as possible. Normally Martina would have secretly enjoyed the pomp of a big, elaborate ceremony, but under the circumstances, just staying on her feet was enough. There would be time for other ceremonies later, assuming they all lived through this.
Afterwards, an exhausted Martina was about to collapse onto her cot when she noticed the Sibeccai boy, pacing the cabin with the spear that never left his side. She wondered how he was dealing with all of this. There just hadn’t been time for anything more complicated than staying alive; she couldn’t even remember his name. She judged his age to be maybe fourteen.
Suddenly Martina remembered another fourteen-year-old, much like this one, lost in the world, no family, no friends... He looked utterly forlorn, as he usually did when Patrick wasn’t around. Martina began to rummage in her backpack. The boy looked up at the noise, and Martina beckoned him over.
“Thank you for helping with my ceremony,” Martina began, then realized that even if she weren’t trying not to talk in hopes of recovering some of her voice, she still wouldn’t know what to say. Instead, she grabbed his hand and placed something in it, folding his fingers around it.
It was the dart the faen had struck her with in Thayn. When she’d pulled it from her arm Martina had pocketed it, thinking it might come in handy, but in the heat of battle she was generally too busy with her rapiers to go looking for anything else. It was small, though, just the right size for young hands, and one could practice with it even in a mountain cabin. Besides, it was well-made; possibly the finest weapon he’d had yet, even if it were little more than a toy. “A gift. With my thanks.”
The boy looked at the dart, and slowly, shyly smiled. Martina smiled back, or at least she thought she did, before collapsing into a deep sleep.