Yosha sat by her cot, staring at her pale face. He watched her narrow chest rise and fall in shallow breaths. He wanted to count every heartbeat.
What is wrong with me?
“Have you been here all night?”
Yosha glanced up as Esthis set a stool next to his and sat down. He nodded. “I’ve slept and eaten, but yes, I’ve been here.”
Esthis sat without speaking for some time. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much hair on anyone’s head before.”
Yosha allowed a soft chuckle. “Well, it isn’t as thick as some people’s hair, but it’s definitely longer than any of our people can grow theirs. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that shade of black, either.”
“You’re right about that. It’s almost blue, I think. Most of the black hair I’ve seen is sort of red. Did anyone tell you that she had strips of black fabric woven in her hair? It took us a while to figure out that it was fabric because it matched her hair so closely.”
“We?” Yosha glanced at his sister.
“Mmm. After the meeting, I came over to check the medical machines, and they asked me to help undress her. She was wearing eight or nine layers; it was amazing. We saved them all, but I don’t know how many of them can be repaired. Those fabrics are so delicate, and the stitches are so tiny, and the embroidery is so intricate–! It must have taken a hundred seamstresses ten years to make just one layer! And her under– oh, maybe I shouldn’t talk about that. But the fabrics are so silky, so smooth. I don’t know that anyone in our world could make fabrics like that.”
Yosha nodded. “She comes from somewhere else, Esthis. It stands to reason that they would be able to make fabrics that we can’t. I’ll wager that we have some things that they don’t.”
“Such as what, o wise and knowing one?”
Yosha let the side of his mouth curl upward. “Well, I think that her world must be cooler than ours. Do you see the beads of sweat on her face?”
Esthis leaned forward. “You’re right. The sheets are getting damp, too. Heya! We need a nurse over here!” She stood and looked around the partition.
Yosha looked up as well. He’d been so focused on her that the rest of the healing tent was a shadow to him. In truth, there were enough lamps hung from the support poles that even at night there were no patches of shadow, save under the cots the recovering soldiers lay on.
Her cot was one of four set apart by folding screens; the other three were occupied by senior officers. This was the largest tent in the camp, even larger than the one Hannes used for all his strategy meetings. Rows of cots filled the interior, packed so tightly that the nurses and physicians could hardly walk between them. Nearly sixty men had been injured fighting at either the Hollows camp or in the mines.
The bottoms of the outer tent walls were rolled up and tied in place to allow the mid-afternoon breezes to cool the interior. The light filtering in meant that the lamps were turned off, preserving either oil or electrical power, depending on their construction. Yosha stood beside Esthis and looked down the rows of cots.
Esthis waved and caught the attention of one of the nurses. The man waved in acknowledgement and lifted the tray in his hands to indicate he would be with them momentarily. She nodded and walked back over to the unconscious woman.
“She looks so young,” she muttered.
“Does she?” Yosha replied. “I can’t tell.”
“You can’t?” Esthis looked at him. “Well, what do you see?”
He reflected for several seconds. “I still see her the way she looked to my soul. She’s bright. And so strong, even though she’s so small. She’s a tiny pinpoint of energy, but … Essie, I don’t know how to say it. She taught me how to be strong. She showed me what to do to defeat Luvaris. I can’t remember all of it now, but when she was with me, I felt … powerful. I felt like I could do anything.
“It was as if she could give me all the things that Luvaris promised me but never gave.”
Esthis laid a hand on his thin arm. “Yosha– I’m sorry.”
“For– for everything.” She rubbed his arm before turning to the nurse, who hurried up and bobbed a short bow.
“How may I serve, Princess?”
“This patient is sweating quite a lot. We’ll need to keep a close watch to ensure that she stays dry but doesn’t become dehydrated.”
While Esthis discussed the care with the nurse, Yosha turned back to her. He felt more rested now, so he let his soul slide a tiny bit out of his body, just enough to let him really see her. The blazing glory nearly blinded him, and he drank it in.
Even unconscious, wounded, and stranded, she dazzled. Yosha had seen hundreds of souls over the past year, from Luvaris to Yechez to ordinary men and women. Every soul had its own shape and feel, and some were stronger than others. Luvaris and his Reeves had incredible strength, but that power came from the twisted magics of that damnable crystal. Her strength was all her own, and it seduced him in ways that Luvaris couldn’t match.
The nurse moved across his field of vision, startling him. And then he saw it.
Darkness reveals light, no matter how small the light may be. However tarnished, however muted, light always shines in the darkness.
Light of Dawn struck.