My eyelids peacefully, slowly opened. The widening slits let my sight travel towards and into the shadow above my head. I was lying motionless, my back cooled by a stone slab beneath me. No longer did I wake from dark dreams with a jerk. No longer did I try to chase my nightmares away. I simply observed the misty border between dreaming and waking shifting through my mind, transforming dreadful night visions into uncomfortable, yet ordinary memories. And now the quiet, motionless world behind the curtain was invaded by a hiss through gritted teeth, tailed by the whip of a female voice.

“What is that thing sitting on your neck? A hollow pumpkin filled with manure? The annoying lizard is not a boar whose snout you might kick and wait till it collapses. What the hell were you thinking?”

I did not feel like pulling my sight from the soothing warm dimness fluttering under the vault above me. But shooing away things one does not want is a feeling. And feelings stir thoughts.

“Well, at least I’ve tried to smell it. And you know what it smells like? Like a carcass, three days old, full of rotten air. You’d say you smell smoke or sulphur, right? But he smelt of an unburied corpse. Glows like Doribor’s forge, but smells like death.”

I managed to glimpse an irritating smile cut through several days of stubble.

“Who cares about his smell? Who damn well cares?!” A yell mixed with hysteria and fury.

My eyes roved from Dral’s vigorous eyes to Keleia’s back muscles tense with rage, to the blackened skin of her calf.

“But that was close,” said Dral, with an apologetic smile.

“Close? You mean you flying past me through the air when it hit you with its tail? Is this the close you mean?” Keleia fiercely raised her hand to strike. In half motion there came a shocked shriek as blood from her suture dripped to the floor.

I sat straight to face the door, suddenly open. Shimmering light accompanied by the smell of burning tallow oil squeezed in, followed by a monk wearing a green chemist’s cowl. “What the hell were you thinking?” The  knuckles on his clenched fists went white as he spat the anger of spicy saliva on the sullen couple, “Do you know how much effort it took to bring you back to life? Brother Noris is dead, Pedorino has lost his marbles, we have to change his nappies and feed him sweetened gruel. It’s you who’s come to save us, is it? You’re nothing more than two toothless hags squabbling over rotten apples. Tricksters. Heroes? No way!”

Before frail Áel in the corner of the room opened her mouth to object, the monk jumped in, grumbling: “We sacrifice literally everything, not excluding our lives, for the sake of ragged people who pretend to be saviours and warriors. And you…” he looked at Dral, his face twisted with anger, “you find it easy to bring yourself back, don’t you? Do you know the true price?”

“Sofien, brother.” Everybody jumps when they notice my presence. I did not even need to shout to stop the honourable monk of the Order of Saint Michael before his lips let out another biting remark.

“You may believe that Tamariel of Davir is merely a legend. But trust me. He was real, a hero nearly so brave as in the tales. Now, tell me why. Why do you think he never defeated the dragons? Why was it he never slaughtered a single one of them?Answer!”

Sofien was hunched in response to the dagger of my question stabbing his mind. No answer.

“Because he had no further opportunity. A second, third or fourth. He didn’t stand a chance without being allowed to learn from his mistakes. Bravery and a skilled sword are not enough to defeat a dragon. They are not from our world. They do not respect our rules or meet our expectations. They drink Faer and are fed fear. But if you feel you’d do better, here’s my suggestion. Next time, you can keep us company to teach us how to control our emotions better once we are standing a few inches from their maws. What do you think? You are welcome to show us how to rule over your will once their reptilian tongue slips into your mind and injects the infection of their own desire. Brother Noris and brother Pedorino volunteered. They knew what to expect and what the risks were. Be honest with yourself. Do you feel sorry for them or are you worried your fate is not much different? Or would you also like to find out what it feels like when your arm gets torn off and you end up roasted in fire, marinated in tar saliva? Do you want to learn what it is like to die and awake again with memories of your own death?”

“You’re far too hard, Maeldur.” The baritone of the superior of the monastery smothered the glowing coals, which were just about to catch fire. “Brother Sofien, would you be so kind as to help to prepare herbal bandages?”

The kind monk must have grieved over the loss of his brothers. He must have been scared. I was unfair. Yet our only chance was to not succumb to the luxury of feeling pity.

“Hard? You know it’s nothing like that.”

“Perhaps.” Kavilin’s mellifluous voice murmured. “But you need him as much as we need you. None of us has much of a choice and it is not desirable to make our cooperation harder for each other.”

Indeed, I did agree. Dral leaned against a granite surgery bench and Keleia rested her head on his shoulder. Áel suppressed her pride, resting her chin on her knees and tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

“We don’t owe him anything. Neither does he owe anything to us. Without exception, we are all paying usurious interest for the Battle at Arakius. He must bear that in mind.” I turned to face my friend, to warm to his soft, friendly look full of hope. And despite all the fire  burning inside me, a cold shiver went down my spine when my eyes tripped over the frigid blue eyes of Taesiri standing behind his shoulder.

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